Ron Rivera: Cam Newton's confidence 'shook' after 6-10 season

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Wednesday that quarterback Cam Newton's confidence, in addition to his torn rotator cuff, needs fixing this offseason.

Rivera said Newton, who is scheduled to have rotator cuff surgery Thursday, had his confidence shaken during the Panthers' 6-10 season. A year earlier, Newton guided the Panthers to the Super Bowl and was named MVP.

"He's going to have to rebuild his confidence,'' Rivera said during the NFL owners meeting in Phoenix. "It was shook. Let's be honest. I'm not going to lie about that. The young man went through a tough time and we went through a tough time.

"Why? Because of the injuries we incurred on the offensive line. That was probably the biggest thing. It just kind of shows the importance and significance of protecting your quarterback.''

Newton was sacked three times and was the target of several controversial hits that weren't flagged in a 21-20 season-opening loss against Denver. He was sacked eight times in a Week 3 loss to Minnesota.

After an October win against Arizona in which the defender wasn't penalized for a hit below the knees, Newton said he no longer felt safe in the pocket and that he planned to discuss the no-calls with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

"That had a lot to do with it,'' Rivera said of the impact the controversial calls had on Newton's confidence. "When you go through the situations we've gone through and had the difficulties we've had, it's tough. We as a football team have to make sure we put the right types of players in position.

"And again, it goes back to you've got to protect your quarterback and put playmakers around him. We've got to do that. I'd like to believe that we're doing those things right now that we need to do in the offseason."

The Panthers signed left tackle Matt Kalil to a five-year, $55.5 million deal in free agency to shore up Newton's blindside protection.

Michael Oher, who was the left tackle during Carolina's 15-1 2015 season and the first three games last year, missed the final 13 games with a concussion. Oher remains in the concussion protocol, but Rivera expects him to be available to compete this season at right tackle with Daryl Williams.

The Panthers also extended running back Jonathan Stewart's contract through 2018 and signed free agent receivers Charles Johnson and Russell Shepard to give Newton more weapons.

"I like the guys we've added on to our offensive line,'' Rivera said. "I like the playmakers we're trying to establish around him.

"We're getting a much more healthy Kelvin Benjamin back. I'm excited about having him ready to roll, and Devin Funchess."

Rivera admitted the Panthers may have put too much last season on Benjamin, coming off an ACL tear that ended his 2015 season in training camp. He expects Benjamin to return to his 2014 rookie form of nine touchdown catches and 1,008 yards receiving.

"I just think we're in a good situation going forward," Rivera said of Newton and the offense.

Rivera, however, admitted all the hits last season did make Newton uneasy in the pocket and led to statistically his worst NFL season since being drafted first overall in 2011.

"He's human,'' Rivera said of the player that celebrates rushing touchdowns with a Superman move. "For anybody to sit there and think he wasn't ... again, you've got to understand, he's human.

"He's a tough-minded football player and does everything he can to win. It was a tough year, but I also think it was a great learning experience for all of us, a humbling experience and something we can build on as we go forward."

Rivera said losing six games by three points or less also took its toll on Newton, as it did with the entire team.

"I know he was frustrated a lot last year, because we were so close,'' he said. "It's hard. You lose six games by three points or less, you lose them on the last drive or two, that's tough. That's tough on anybody.

"Let's say you win half of them, and you win the right half of three of those six games, we're in the playoffs.''

Newton won't be able to throw for 12 weeks and won't be able to throw with the team for 16 weeks after the surgery, which means he should be ready for the start of training camp.

But Rivera said Newton will be involved with everything else during offseason workouts as the offense evolves to make the quarterback less involved in the running game.

"For the last six seasons, Cam has shouldered so much of that responsibility,'' Rivera said. "We are in a position where he is a veteran quarterback. He's matured more and we have to be cognizant of that in terms of what we're going to do on the offensive side of the ball."

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