Ron Rivera and Cam Newton began their Panthers careers at the same time in 2011. Newton as the No. 1 overall pick fresh from a national championship at Auburn, and Rivera a rookie head coach with a defensive background.
The pairing worked well in Carolina for years, and eventually included a Super Bowl trip, but much of that relationship had to be established in their first season.
It's almost hard to remember that back in 2011 there were questions about Newton's ability to succeed in the NFL, including some ugly anonymous comments about his future during the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine. Newton proved all that noise very wrong, winning Rookie of the Year in his first season and later winning the 2015 NFL MVP award.
Newton obviously can play and succeed in the NFL, and Rivera's belief in his ability was a huge part. Newton said as much after the Panthers fired Rivera earlier this year.
"This one hurt deep," Newton said via his Instagram page. "Will be forever grateful because of the impact you had on my life. Thank you for giving me an opportunity. Thank you for believing in me. I can go on and on, but most importantly, thank you for allowing me to be me."
Plenty of players talked about Rivera in glowing terms, Josh Norman and Gerald McCoy among them, but everyone knows that the quarterback position is the most important on a football team. Rivera is a defensive guy, so his relationship with the QB will never be completely about scheme, or completion percentage, or any of the minutiae that drowns so many pro passers.
Rivera is about actual human relationships, and his bond with Newton could be truly important for Redskins rookie passer Dwayne Haskins.
As a rookie, Newton found significantly more success than Haskins. Their first-year numbers don't even compare:
- Cam Newton (2011) - 16 starts, 60 percent completion rate, 4,051 passing yards, 21 TDs, 17 INTs
- Dwayne Haskins (2019) - 7 starts, 58 percent completion rate, 1,365 passing yards, 7 TDs, 7 INTs
Again, this isn't about comparing numbers. Rivera embraced Newton as his starting quarterback from Day One. Haskins barely got coached until halfway through his rookie season.
Former Redskins coach Jay Gruden did not want to draft Haskins; the coach made that clear. When the rookie struggled in training camp and the preseason, he got shoved to the end of the bench.
When Gruden was fired after an 0-5 start, interim head coach Bill Callahan devoted more time towards Haskins' development. Whether that was Callahan's decision or something he was told to do is irrelevant now. It worked. By the end of the season, Haskins looked like a different player than the sheepish rookie that threw three interceptions in a Week 4 relief appearance in New York.
In his last six quarters, Haskins completed 72 percent of his passes for 394 yards with four touchdowns and zero interceptions. What might be an even bigger sign of growth was that Haskins took just three sacks in his last two starts compared to nine sacks in the two starts prior.
Haskins showed a ton of improvement late in the year, and that's plenty for Redskins fans to be excited about. It sounds like he will get to continue to work with offensive coordinator Kevin O'Connell too.
Beyond that, however, with Ron Rivera on board, Haskins should finally have the full support of his head coach. Ask Cam Newton how much that means.
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MORE REDSKINS NEWS:
- Fired Up: A strong quote from Rivera's former player
- New Sheriff: Ron Rivera hired
- Not a Competition: Smith on Haskins