Newton dealing with 'new reality' where Panthers want to limit scrambles


Newton dealing with 'new reality' where Panthers want to limit scrambles

FOXBORO -- Something's not quite adding up. 

When Bill Belichick spoke about Cam Newton on Wednesday morning, he described a quarterback who is still the toughest in the league to defend when he's on the move. 


When Panthers coach Ron Rivera discussed his quarterback later that day, he spoke about a player who's still adjusting to a new offense, "an older guy," and someone living in a "new reality."

So which is it? Both coaches actually have valid points. 

From Belichick's perspective, Newton is less than two years removed from being named the NFL's MVP. Though the results haven't been there for him in 2017, it's quite possible that the abilities that once made Newton so dangerous are still there simmering beneath the surface. If the Patriots assume the worst, they could be setting themselves up for failure, particularly after they were frustrated by Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson's mobility in Week 3.

On Rivera's end of things, he's in the process of trying to get his quarterback to adhere to a different playing style. The Panthers value Newton's athleticism, arm strength and decision-making, and they made moves in the offseason to try to preserve those for as long as possible. Drafting Christian McCaffrey in the first round and Curtis Samuel in the second gave Carolina two dynamic threats who provide the ancillary benefit of helping protect Newton from himself. Instead of holding onto the football, extending plays, chucking deep, and absorbing big hits, Newton, in theory, should be able to release the football more quickly and cut down on the shots he takes with McCaffrey and Samuel in the fold. 

It just hasn't worked out to this point: The Panthers have scored 45 points in three games. But Rivera is hoping that things improve with time since Newton missed much of training camp recovering from shoulder surgery.

"We're still adjusting," Rivera said Wednesday on a conference call with Patriots reporters. "Our quarterback didn't have the luxury of going through training camp so we've kind of had to start working on timing the last couple weeks of training camp and we're starting to see it come together. Just wish it could've happened a lot sooner, but that's kind of where we are with the new weapons we have."

Newton, 28, has already started to change his game, it seems. He was credited with just three carries last week against New Orleans after 11 combined carries through the season's first two weeks. Last year he had a career-low 90 rushes in 15 games, and it's pretty clear the Panthers would like to see that number continue to dip.
"It's something that's kind of his new reality," Rivera said. "He's an older guy. We don't want him to have to take the hits like he has in the past. At the same time, we've drafted a couple of guys with the versatility and trying to get the ball in their hands. We're trying to develop that rapport that he needs to have with those guys to be successful."

Rivera has reason to be encouraged as McCaffrey went over 100 yards receiving in Week 3 against the Saints, but even he acknowledged there's still growth that needs to take place. Starting with a quarterback who needs to make up for lost time.

"Right now, the biggest handicap, obviously, we have is time," he said. "We didn't get to do things that we wanted to do during training camp, obviously. Now we're in a little bit of catch-up right now."

Reports: Patriots among NFL teams taking a look at Manziel

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Reports: Patriots among NFL teams taking a look at Manziel

Johnny Manziel said 10 days ago, "I'd go to New England in a heartbeat," when asked about the Patriots as a potential landing spot.

That seemed like wishful thinking at the time, but they're taking a look at him...along with 12 other NFL teams, according to ESPN's Eric Williams. 

Tom Brady's current backup Brian Hoyer is, like Manziel, an ex-Cleveland Browns quarterback. Manziel would again be competing with Hoyer for the Pats' No. 2 job should New England take a chance on "Johnny Football", the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner from Texas A&M, who's been out of football the past two years because of substance abuse and emotional problems.

FOX Sports' Bruce Feldman had it at 12 teams watching Manziel work out at the University of San Diego and said the Patriots gave Manziel a weigh-in.


Patriots re-sign offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle

Patriots re-sign offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle

The Patriots have agreed to re-sign offensive lineman LaAdrian Waddle, his agent Scott Casterline confirmed on Twitter.  Waddle hit unrestricted free agency when the new league year began and made a visit to the Cowboys earlier this week. In the end, though, he chose to return to the team that claimed him off of waivers at the end of the 2015 season.

Waddle, who turns 27 in July, appeared in 12 games last season for the Patriots. He was the first right tackle the Patriots turned to when Marcus Cannon suffered an ankle injury mid-season against the Chargers. He ended up playing 51 snaps against the likes of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram without allowing a sack. He then started the next three games against the Broncos, Raiders and Dolphins and held star rushers Von Miller, Khalil Mack and Cameron Wake -- all of whom rush primarily off of the offensive right -- without a sack. 

Injuries forced Waddle (380 snaps on the season) to split the right tackle position with Cameron Fleming (543 snaps), but he was the primary backup when healthy. Waddle started the Divisional Round playoff game against the Titans but suffered a knee injury and was removed for Fleming. 

Both Fleming and Waddle visited the Cowboys this week, and the fact that Waddle has re-signed with the Patriots may impact Fleming's decision moving forward. 

The Patriots went to great lengths to build tackle depth last season, and adding Waddle to the roster helps them retain some of that depth after losing their left tackle, Nate Solder, to the Giants via free agency. Waddle could be an option on the left side, but the vast majority of his work since entering the league as an undrafted rookie in 2013 has been on the right side. 

The Patriots now have Fleming, Marcus Cannon, Cole Croston, Tony Garcia and Andrew Jelks on their depth chart at tackle. Croston, Garcia and Jelks are all headed into their second years as pros. Croston remained on the 53-man roster all season -- an indication that the Patriots liked him enough not to expose him to the waiver system -- but did not see meaningful snaps. Garcia and Jelks both missed the entirety of the 2017 season on reserve lists. 

Once the Patriots lost Solder to the Giants, it seemed to be of paramount importance that the Patriots re-sign either Waddle or Fleming. Behind Cannon, there were simply too many question marks not to have one return. The Patriots could opt to draft a tackle, but this is considered an average year at that position in that there are few ready-made NFL players and several developmental types.

Before the Super Bowl last season, I asked offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia how the team was able to manage offensively with backups at right tackle for much of the season. 

"It's not like [Fleming and Waddle are] not good players," Scarnecchia said. "They are good players. Their skill set seemed to fit that position pretty well. They have the traits that we covet. And they're both really smart guys, very willing learners, and they're both driven to be good and they want to play good. And I think all those things have manifested themselves when they've been out there playing. And we've been very, very pleased with what they've done for us this year, essentially splitting that position."

Asked about the aspects of the game the Patriots worked on with both Waddle and Fleming last year, Scarnecchia said, "For us it transcends everything. Obviously run-blocking and pass-blocking. They're both good at those things. Are they great at those things? No. But they've been able to steadily improve over the last two years to the point where we put them out there and no one's worried. And it's been that way the whole season after Marcus got hurt. Yeah they've done a nice job for us."