TRAINING CAMP: Newton shakes off rust, returns to practice

SPARTANBURG, S.C. — Cam Newton was back doing what he does at practice — dancing, playing up to the crowd and, most importantly, throwing passes.

Newton showed no ill effects from offseason shoulder surgery as the Panthers opened training camp Wednesday night at Wofford College.

[IMAGES: Carolina Panthers first day of training camp]

Newton, who underwent surgery to repair a partially torn rotator cuff in his right throwing shoulder in March, fired several passes in the 10 to 20-yard range in his first practice with teammates since the end of last season.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera said he was very pleased with the velocity Newton had on the ball, but added there is room for improvement.

"He was a little rusty early on and his timing was off a little bit, but it was practice one and you can see he was getting more and more comfortable back there," Rivera said.

Rivera said the Panthers will keep Newton on a "pitch count," limiting his throws in practice.

Newton said through a team spokesman that the practice was another step in the recovery process.

"It's a start," Newton said. "Everything felt good, but we have a long way to go to get where I know we can be. Tonight was just fun getting out on the grass in front of the fans and throwing it around a little bit."

Panthers coverage:

Panthers coach Ron Rivera said he was very pleased with the velocity Newton had on the ball, but added there is room for improvement.

"He was a little rusty early on and his timing was off a little bit, but it was practice one and you can see he was getting more and more comfortable back there," Rivera said.

Rivera said the Panthers will keep Newton on a "pitch count," limiting his throws in practice.

Newton said through a team spokesman that the practice was another step in the recovery process.

"It's a start," Newton said. "Everything felt good, but we have a long way to go to get where I know we can be. Tonight was just fun getting out on the grass in front of the fans and throwing it around a little bit."

LAST YEAR:

Quarterback Cam Newton suffered through the worst statistical season of his career. An injury-plagued offensive line failed to protect him adequately, and the team's young secondary struggled early against the pass.

The Panthers went from being the No. 1 offense in 2015 to 19th in 2016, prompting them to spend their first two draft picks on versatile running back Christian McCaffrey and wide receiver Curtis Samuel, as well as add pieces on the offensive line.

Newton played the final month of last season with a partially torn rotator cuff. Concussions ended the seasons of two key starters: linebacker Luke Kuechly and offensive tackle Michael Oher.

Oher has since been released after failing his physical.

Kicker Graham Gano missed several big field goals in 2016, causing the team to draft Harrison Butker to compete.

Tight end Greg Olsen had a strong season and was clearly the team MVP in 2016.

The entire defensive line returns, along with free agent pickup Julius Peppers. The Panthers were second in sacks last season (47) but the defense finished out of the top 10 for the first time in five years.

IMPORTANT ADDITIONS:

DE Peppers, OT Matt Kalil, CB Captain Munnerlyn, WR Charles Johnson, rookies McCaffrey and Samuel, S Mike Adams.

IMPORTANT LOSSES:

OT Michael Oher, OT Mike Remmers, WR Ted Ginn Jr., WR Philly Brown, FB Mike Tolbert, defensive coordinator Sean McDermott, GM Dave Gettleman, assistant GM Brandon Beane.

CAMP NEEDS:

All eyes will be on Newton, who's returning from right shoulder surgery. He's expected to throw at training camp and should be ready for the season opener.

Matt Kalil, Ryan's brother, takes over at left tackle, but the right tackle position is up for grabs between Daryl Williams and rookie Taylor Moton.

Olsen and linebacker Thomas Davis are up for contract extensions. The team already extended the contracts of defensive tackle Kawann Short and guard Trai Turner this offseason.

Kuechly returns after missing the last six games in 2016 with a concussion.

EXPECTATIONS:

The Panthers are going for it all after finishing 6-10 one season after reaching the Super Bowl. They have one of the most experienced teams in the league, particularly with the addition of free agents Peppers, Munnerlyn and Adams on defense.

The team added versatile playmakers in McCaffrey and Samuel on offense to take some pressure off Newton, whose production dipped significantly last season.

Carolina's well positioned to challenge for their fourth NFC South title in five years and another conference championship, while playing a fourth-place schedule.

Rivera: Newton lighter, more confident and ready to throw

Coach Ron Rivera said he's excited to see a lighter, more confident Newton test his surgically repaired throwing arm when the Panthers take the field Wednesday night for practice.

Newton reported to training camp Tuesday at Wofford College at 246 pounds - he has weighed as much as 260 in the past - and Rivera said the league's 2015 MVP is on schedule in his rehab from surgery to repair a partially torn rotator cuff.

"Cam had a good week last week (throwing) from what I understand," Rivera said. "So I am excited to see him in action."

Look for Newton to be on a pitch count.

Rivera said head athletic trainer Ryan Vermillion has a plan for Newton this summer, but wouldn't elaborate on the details. But it's clear the Panthers will limit his reps in some capacity, at least at the beginning of training camp.

Rivera wouldn't say if he expects Newton to play in the preseason or if he'll hold him out until the regular season.

"The doctors will see how he is after every day" of practice, Rivera said.

Newton was not made available for interviews Tuesday.

Rivera said at the NFL scouting combine during the winter that Newton's confidence was affected last season. But he believes the seventh-year quarterback has regained his swagger after throwing last week with teammates in Baltimore during their annual team bonding vacation.

Rivera expressed optimism that Newton has made steady progress in his recovery from offseason surgery on his right shoulder. He played the final month of last season with a partially torn rotator cuff. The original plan was to allow Newton to recover through rest after the season, but eventually Newton opted for surgery.

Rivera also said wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin is "where he needs to be" in terms of weight. The two-time NFL Coach of the Year expressed concern about Benjamin's weight back in minicamp.

In other injury news, center Ryan Kalil will be limited as he continues to work back from a shoulder injury that ended his season prematurely last year.

NOTES: The Panthers waived defensive end Ryan Delaire (knee) after he failed his physical, and waived-injured wide receiver Charles Johnson after he underwent surgery on his right knee. ... The team signed center Greg Van Roten, who was most recently with the Jaguars before being released in May. Van Roten has appeared in 10 career NFL games after originally signing with Green Bay as an undrafted free agent in 2012.

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