There's no denying that coaching deficiencies are a major reason for the team's current – and past – struggles. Poor scheming, lousy clock management and a general lack of game awareness have plagued the Rivera regime time and again. I've documented these inadequacies extensively over the last few years.
Until recently, the general sense was that Cam Newton's development was inhibited mostly by crummy coaching and a lack of playmakers on offense.
However, Panther Nation – via sports talk shows, Internet message boards and other discussion platforms – is beginning to change its tune on Newton, especially after last Sunday's tortuous loss to Arizona.
Is it possible that Newton just isn't a franchise-changing quarterback?
It's a difficult question to ponder for Panthers fans. Outside of a few good seasons with Jake Delhomme at the helm, the quarterback position has been mostly a carousel of mediocrity throughout the team's 19-year history. Not to mention, Carolina whiffed on Jimmy Clausen in 2010 before taking Newton first overall in the 2011 draft.
A rare blend of size, speed and strength, Newton certainly passes the eye test. He's 6-foot-5 and nearly 250 pounds with 4.59 speed and a rocket launcher for an arm.
Newton was able to rely almost exclusively on superior athleticism to win a national championship and Heisman Trophy at Auburn. But at the NFL level – where all the players are first-rate athletes – success doesn't come on physical talent alone.
In fact, the common thread among the best pro quarterbacks is unrelated to athleticism. Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers all share a few key ingredients: excellent leadership ability, superb mental toughness and an extremely high football IQ.
The biggest concerns with Newton have always been about the mental requirements of playing quarterback at the highest level.
Now in his third year as Carolina's starting signal caller, the grace period is over for Newton. But the 24-year-old is still struggling with many of the same issues that troubled him as a rookie. He struggles making pre-snap reads, fixing protection schemes, avoiding the blitz and making quick decisions in the pocket. He frequently locks in on Steve Smith and fails to go through his progressions to find the open receiver.
This narrative is not a unique one. Vince Young, JaMarcus Russell and even Michael Vick were all highly touted, physically gifted quarterbacks who lacked the mental makeup to achieve long-term success in the NFL.
Newton clearly has a long way to go before we lump him in with that group or any other. A new coaching staff, offensive scheme and a few more weapons may transform him into a completely different player.
Regardless, Newton is nothing more than a middling quarterback right now. He will have to become significantly tougher, sharper and smarter between the ears to turn the Panthers into a perennial playoff contender.
The clock is ticking.
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