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Cam Newton set just about every rookie quarterback record imaginable last season, as he helped turn the Carolina Panthers from a dreadful 2-14 mess into an exciting and promising 6-10 squad.
So Newton's assessment of himself as a "bad teammate," in an interview with Yahoo Sports' Jason Cole, seems at odds with his performance on the field.
"I was very immature," Newton said when asked about his sometimes moody reaction as losses piled up. "I'll be the first one to tell you, the pouting and the moping, I kind of overdid it. I know that. I was a bad teammate. I shut off to some people who gave unbelievable effort. … That's where I have to mature."
This is not the first time Newton's demeanor has been a talking point. Throughout his rookie season he was criticized for sitting on the bench with a towel draped over his head during difficult games. His own teammates, linemen Jordan Gross and Ryan Kalil, told him to act a little more upbeat.
“They always get on me," Newton said after Carolina's Week 15 win against Houston -- a game in which Newton was much more animated, both with the Panthers' offense and when the defense was on the field.
"I have a bad tendency of showing my emotions on my face. I have to change it, and I'm trying to change it. But those guys constantly stay in my ear, saying, 'You've got to be that same leader from the first quarter to the last quarter.'"
That Newton is still discussing that aspect of his game nearly six months later tells us a couple of things:
1. Newton is taking his teammates' words seriously. Instead of brushing off Gross and Kalil and anyone else who told him to lighten up, he's making a genuine effort to do so.
2. Newton knows how important it is for him to be a leader of this Panthers team, both now and in the future.
While Newton will ultimately be judged on what he does with the ball in his hands, the Panthers have to be thrilled that their superstar QB is trying to grow up. We're not all that far removed from the moment when Newton's selection at No. 1 overall riled up draftniks everywhere -- I'll admit that I was far from sold on Newton's ability to translate his game from the college level to the pros. The most common questions surrounding Newton were about his personality, and whether he had the character to lead an NFL team.
Through one season the experiment has been a tremendous success. It will only continue to be a success, however, if Newton keeps playing at a high level and the Panthers reach the playoffs in the near future.
For that to happen Newton has to become more than just an elite athlete. He must be the Panthers' Tom Brady, their Aaron Rodgers or Eli Manning -- a quarterback who makes everyone around him better on the field and who displays unwavering leadership off it.
Newton's not quite there yet. And no one should expect him to be a complete product after just one season in the league. But his vow to be a better teammate in his second season is yet another step in the right direction, and another step closer to proving all of those pre-draft doubters wrong.