Chris Weinke sat behind his desk Tuesday afternoon, expressing lots of awe but only a slight shock about the rookie season of Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.
Weinke’s got a unique perspective on this one from several levels. Before Newton, Weinke was the only rookie quarterback in franchise history to start a season opener until Newton did it in 2011. Weinke started for the Panthers in 2001, a complicated season in which he was surrounded by a bad team with George Seifert on his way to a 1-15 record in his final year as an NFL coach.
Weinke also has a unique connection with Newton. As Director of the IMG Academy football program, Weinke spent seven weeks working with Newton last spring and summer as the NFL was in a lockout and players weren’t able to work out with their coaches.
“Was I like everybody else, a little surprised at what he was able to accomplish?’’ Weinke said. “Yeah, history shows rookie quarterbacks struggle. I know that as well as anybody.’’
Newton went out and threw for more than 400 yards in each of his first two games, became the first rookie in NFL history to pass for 4,000 yards in a season and set an NFL record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (14) on his way to being named Offensive Rookie of the Year.
That didn’t come as a total shock to Weinke, who was one of several independent coaches to work with Newton last offseason. Weinke’s not the kind of guy that’s going to claim he was the reason for Newton’s success. He gives the credit to Newton, but there’s no doubt Weinke played some role in what transpired in Carolina.
Weinke said his satisfaction came from watching Newton prove so many critics wrong.
“If you go back in history a little bit, coming out of college, there were a lot of question marks and the media really built those things up,’’ Weinke said. “Then he gets on television with (ESPN’s) Jon Gruden and people think, 'Hey, there’s no way this guy’s going to be able to absorb an NFL offense and be successful.'’’
Weinke said that was never a concern once he got to spend time with Newton. Most of their work together came after Newton was drafted No. 1 overall and had a chance to grab a Carolina playbook during a brief stoppage of the lockout.
“What I found from Day 1 with that guy is he’s unbelievable in the classroom,’’ Weinke said. “I tell this story all the time. The first day I got him in the classroom and we started installing their offense. I go over personnel groups, formations, concepts and protections. Then, we went out on the field and we did some fundamental work and went over some of the concepts and did all the footwork. We came back in after and I put 30 questions up on the board and quizzed him. Thirty for 30. From Day 1, I knew this kid was going to be special.’’
Weinke said he only expects Newton’s success to continue going forward.
“To me, I knew he was going to have more success than people probably thought he would,’’ Weinke said. “But to accomplish what he accomplished? No, I can’t quite say I expected that. I can tell you this about him. He wants to be great. He does not just want to be good. He’s not going to rest on his laurels. At the end of the day, he’s always going to try to find a way to get better.’’