The Buccaneers open the 2012 season hosting Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers Sunday afternoon. Wednesday, Newton spoke to the Tampa Bay media via conference call and said, despite his numbers last season, he must improve. Bucs' players also talked about what they must do in order to start the season with a win.
Panthers’ quarterback Cam Newton was the consensus rookie of the year last season and you would be hard-pressed to find anyone on the Buccaneers roster that would disagree with the accolade.
Although he was on injured reserve and didn’t play against the Newton in 2011, count Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy as a believer.
“This guy has a lot of vet in him already,” McCoy said. “After a full year, you could see it last year, [his] decision making got better as the year went on. Not just with his passes, but he has to decide whether or not he is going to keep it or hand it off. He is just a different breed. He is an escape artist. He can do it all. So we just got to be ready for it.
“Most people are so afraid of him running the ball. The reason I say he has got a lot of vet in him is because he uses his legs to get open so he can pass it. He is not a run-first guy. Most people think he is, but you just don’t throw for 4,000 yards for no reason. He likes to pass the ball. As big as he is he likes to still have open lanes so he can pass.”
The former Auburn star defied the odds last season and despite not having any offseason, learning a new playbook and having a new coach, the Heisman winner completed 310-of-517 passes for 4,051 yards and 21 touchdowns. And that was just through the air. Newton also set an NFL quarterback record with 14 touchdowns on the ground.
Even with those gaudy numbers, Newton knows there are things he must improve on.
“My focus on this year will be executing this offense to a “T,” Newton said. Coming out and giving my teammates and holding myself accountable to what I do and what my responsibility is on each and every play. I think the final test is how do I come out week No. 1 and perform.
“With the preseason being over with and training camp and OTAs behind me. I think the challenge is not just on me, but the overall team on how we can better finish each and every game.
“It is a new season and we are coming on [it] with a clean slate. A lot of things that we struggled in last year can’t be the things that we struggle in this year. I think that’s the things that we worked on in the offseason. Hopefully we can have the mentality to come in and do the proper things that we can do get a win this upcoming week.”
Second-year linebacker Mason Foster knows that Newton will make his fair share of plays, but the key to beating the Panthers will be limiting how many splash plays Newton has.
“He is a great athlete,” Foster said. “I think he is going to make his plays still. People may be more in tuned to his running this year, but he got better just like everybody else got better. We are going to see [him] Sunday. First game of the season so you are definitely going to see him.
“And he is a really good passer. A lot of people [because] he is such a good runner forget that he can throw. He has great control of his offense. So he is always tough. He can option and he can drop back and pass. You just got to get out there and stop him.”
Defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan talked about the difficulty and challenges that Newton presents to the Buccaneers in a press conference this afternoon at One Buc Place.
“We, just yesterday – just to get us depressed – watched all of his scrambles from a year ago,” Sheridan said. “And he’s really hard to tackle in the open field. Even if you have guys kind of assigned to him and have leverage on him, he has the ability to make a guy miss just like a tailback does. So absolutely, it’s a whole other world than we’ll be playing the other weeks of the season.”
In a conference call with the media Wednesday afternoon Newton talked about the new Buccaneers defense and the difficulty in game planning without the benefit of any film.
“I think it comes down to execution,” Newton said. “This week is somewhat of a challenge for us to grasp. Not only a whole new scheme, but also just kind of wondering how these guys are going to attack us. I think that’s the challenge. You know for us to come out and execute [and] running plays as given and understand what the coaches want from us each and every play.”
Wednesday afternoon cornerback Aqib Talib summed up Newton to the crowd of reporters who surrounded his locker.
“He is the most versatile quarterback in the league,” Talib said. “He is a great quarterback [and] a great running back. He even caught a pass against us last year so a great receiver also. [He] is just a great athlete playing quarterback.”
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