CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Cam Newton is no longer with the Carolina Panthers.
That means the Panthers are now Teddy Bridgewater’s team — or at least that’s the way the team’s new quarterback is feeling with training camp activities getting underway.
“The (Panthers) told me from the jump, ‘this is your team,’” Bridgewater said. “Just being around the guys a couple of days already, they’re feeding off my energy and I’m feeding off theirs. So it definitely feels like this is my team.”
Bridgewater realizes he has some big shoes to fill.
Newton was the franchise’s best quarterback — and possibly its best player overall — ever before being released earlier this offseason. A league MVP in 2015, Newton led the Panthers to a 17-2 record and an NFC championship and still holds almost every passing record in team history.
Bridgewater said that while he’s “honored” to follow Newton, he won’t try to emulate the player Carolina fans came to know as “Superman.”
“One of the biggest problems I had my first year in New Orleans was I wanted to be like Drew (Brees),” Bridgewater said of the Saints QB. “I had to do everything Drew did in order to have success like Drew. But eventually, I learned that Drew Brees is Drew Brees. Cam Newton is Cam Newton. I’m still Teddy Bridgewater. So I can’t go out there and try to be something that I’m not. I play the game the way I play it.”
Newton’s departure from Carolina was unpleasant at times, as the QB voiced his displeasure several times over being released partly because of his past ankle and shoulder injuries.
Bridgewater can relate.
He was the Vikings starting QB before a devastating knee injury — he tore his ACL and dislocated his kneecap — in the summer of 2016. It took him nearly 16 months to recover and when he returned it was clear the Vikings had moved on, placing their future in the hands of Kirk Cousins.
He’s been eager for a starting job ever since and now he has it in Carolina after signing a three-year, $63 million contract.
“With Cam, it was one of those situations where I understand, as a player, you’re a competitor, you want to get back out there and get that opportunity to show that you’re still this elite guy,” Bridgewater said.
Panthers general manager Marty Hurney has been raving about Bridgewater’s leadership, calling him a “winner everywhere he’s been.”
“I think he has excellent feet in the pocket, has a very compact release, gets rid of it very quickly,” Hurney said. “His leadership skills, you can talk to anyone that’s been around him, are highly regarded by anyone that’s been with him.”
His teammates have taken notice.
Bridgewater organized a private “three-day minicamp” with his teammates to develop some chemistry away from the stadium and got a chance to see his personality close up.
Panthers center Matt Paradis said Bridgewater brings a “reassuring presence” to the huddle.
“He’s very calm and collected,” Paradis said. “He’s sharp, and he’s moving quick and is commanding the huddle.”
Wide receiver D.J. Moore said teammates flock to him.
“He’s got a friendly personality and it’s rubbing off on everybody, so that’s the best thing,” Moore said of Bridgewater.
It should help the Panthers that Bridgewater spent a year working alongside offensive coordinator Joe Brady while with the Saints — which is important considering NFL teams weren’t able to practice this offseason because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Joe was the guy who went the extra mile and made sure I was on top of protections, run calls, different things like that,” Bridgewater said of Brady, who joined the Panthers after helping Joe Burrow and LSU win a national championship.
“So our bond started there. Joe was the guy during pregame going over play calls making sure if something happened to Drew, I was ready.”
Bridgewater said the Panthers will incorporate a “high percentage” of the Saints’ game plan into their offense with some “different wrinkles” that Brady picked up last year at LSU.
“I’m excited about that — and just being familiar with this system, it has been huge, especially for us not being able to meet in person during OTAs and the spring,” Bridgewater said. “I had the opportunity to get with the guys and reiterate the language, go over installs with the guys before training camp. So having that comfort level, that experience in this offense has been a huge head start for us.
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