CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- New Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator Norv Turner hasn’t worked with an NFL quarterback that runs as much as Cam Newton, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to take away the strength of the 2015 NFL MVP.
“He’s incredible as a runner," Turner said on Tuesday. “He’s an amazing player at that position. That’s a real threat to defenses. Defenses are really bothered by that.
“He’s always got to have that threat to run. Depending on who we’re playing and how we’re playing, it’s always going to be a part of what we do."
Newton has rushed 828 times for 4,320 yards since entering the league as the top pick in 2011. That’s more than any other quarterback during that span.
Turner’s most famous quarterback pupil, Troy Aikman, rushed 327 times for 1,016 yards in 12 years with the Dallas Cowboys. Phillip Rivers, also developed by Turner in his early years, has 335 carries for 573 yards in 14 years.
Turner believes allowing Newton to run -- and at the same time improve the quarterback’s passing fundamentals -- gives the Panthers the best chance to fulfill the ultimate goal both shared during a brief meeting after Turner was hired on January 12.
“As I told Cam, when you do this, you want to have a chance to win a championship," the 65-year-old Turner said when explaining why Carolina was the right place for him to return to coaching. “This team was in the Super Bowl a couple of years ago. It’s a talented football team."
Turner admitted there are some technical issues in Newton’s game that need work. One of them is holding onto the ball too long and taking unnecessary sacks. The other is throwing off his back foot.
Both sometimes go hand in hand.
“Cam has great confidence in his arm. Sometimes he holds a ball to keep a play alive [and] there isn’t a lot of room to step up," Turner said. “You have to throw it that way sometimes.
“So, yeah, when he has the opportunity and when it’s a clean [pocket] and all those things are there, we’re going to work hard like we would with anybody to get his weight transferred and have good form and technique as he’s throwing."
Turner also said it’s important to get those around Newton playing at a high level, beginning with a young receiving corps led by Devin Funchess.
“There’s some technique things we’ll zero in on with Cam and there will a major emphasis on the details of the route running, style of routes, things where we can do as much to help Cam and get the ball out quicker," he said. “That helps the protection and helps out everybody."
Finding ways to stretch the field vertically more as Newton did during his first couple of seasons under former Turner disciple Rob Chudzinksi also will be an emphasis. That will coincide with one of Turner’s strengths: a dominating running game.
“If you have ability to run the ball, which we will do and will have, it should create opportunities to have explosive plays in the passing game," Turner said. “That’s something we’re going to work hard at.
“You have to stretch defenses to make them play the entire field."
Turner didn’t get into personnel decisions, like whether the Panthers will keep 30-year-old running back Jonathan Stewart to share the backfield with 2017 first-round pick Christian McCaffrey. He never mentioned Stewart’s name during a 20-minute conference call.
But he did talk about McCaffrey, who led the team with 80 catches for 651 yards this past season in addition to rushing 117 times for 435 yards. Turner said he had a breakdown of every pass thrown to McCaffrey, which made up about a fifth of those Newton attempted.
Turner pointed out that he’s worked with dynamic backs like McCaffrey in the past. Among those were LaDainian Tomlison and Darren Sproles at San Diego.
“We’ve had success with backs like Christian, so we’re going to look at things we’ve done in the past and build on things he had success with," Turner said.
Turner noted the offense he inherited from offensive coordinator Mike Shula, fired two days after the season, really isn’t much different than he ran at San Diego.
That and familiarity with Carolina coach Ron Rivera, who was the defensive coordinator at San Diego for three years under Turner and a position coach for another year, made the Turner’s decision to return to coaching easy.
“The terminology is amazingly pretty much what we had at San Diego, what we used in Minnesota," said Turner, who resigned as offensive coordinator of the Vikings after a 5-2 start to the 2016 season due to a difference in philosophy with coach Mike Zimmer. “There’s some tweaks, some code names, some things that are a little different.
“But when I get in here and started looking at everything, they haven’t changed a whole lot. ... We’re going to build on the things this group has done and done well."
That begins with making Newton a better decision-maker and more efficient passer.
“As he expressed to me -- and I feel the same way -- there’s an excitement and nervousness." Turner said of his conversation with Newton about the upcoming changes. “When you have change, everyone gets that nervousness.
“But sometimes that nervousness is good. It gets your attention and it’s not status quo, and you use it as an opportunity to improve."