Published: Thursday, September 6, 2012 at 7:32 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, September 6, 2012 at 7:32 p.m.
TAMPA â" Although he doesn't wear a cape or blue tights, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton does go through a transformation once he steps on the field. He does seem faster than a speeding bullet when he breezes by hapless defensive backs. He also seems more powerful than a locomotive when he barrels over linebackers. Just look at how he leaped over the Tampa Bay defense for one of his 14 rushing touchdowns in 2011.
Newton may not be a mild-mannered reporter off the field, but he plays like Superman on it.
Tampa Bay defensive tackle Gerald McCoy has another nickname for Newton â" Houdini â" after the famed magician Harry Houdini.
"I didn't get a chance to face him last year due to injury," said McCoy, who missed both games after suffering a biceps injury. "I watched plenty of film on him. The guy is good. He's an escape artist. That's not easy to find being so young, knowing where to escape, knowing where to step up in the pocket and how to get out. But he can do it. Surprisingly enough, as athletic as he is, he likes to sit in there and throw it. He uses his feet to buy time not to run down field. We have to be ready for everything. We can't give him any open lanes because he'll take them."
McCoy will get his first chance at playing against Newton Sunday when the Panthers face the Bucs in the season opener for both teams.
Not many people knew what to expect from the Newton last year. Although he had success at Auburn, no one knew if could have the same kind of impact on the next level.
He did and then some.
While the team did not have a banner season, finishing 6-10, Newton was, well, super.
He passed for 4,105 yards, the most ever by a rookie quarterback in the NFL. His 35 combined touchdowns (21 passing) also established a new rookie mark. Finally, his 14 rushing touchdowns set a league mark for most rushing touchdowns for a quarterback.
Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano said he has seen athletic quarterbacks when he coached at Rutgers but stopping them is another matter.
"Just because you're familiar with it doesn't mean you can stop him," Schiano said. "He proved that last year. He's just a tremendous talent; a tremendous football player and someone that we need to make sure we have accounted for. And then we have to go make the play."
Newton made play, after play, after play against the Bucs in two games last season.
In the first meeting, Newton threw for 204 yards and one touchdown and rushed for 54 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-19 win at Tampa. Then, showing his versatility, in the second game in Charlotte, Newton threw for 171 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 65 yards and a touchdown as Carolina cruised to a 48-16 victory.
Newton, however, said he is not looking back.
"I just think that was last year," Newton said. "My focus this year will be executing this offense to a tee and coming out and holding myself accountable to what I do and what my responsibility is each and every play.
"This is a new season and we're coming on with a new slate," he continued. "A lot of things that we struggled in last year can't be the things we struggle in this year.
"I think that's the thing we worked on in the offseason and hopefully we can have the mentality to come in and do the proper things we can to get a win this upcoming week."
So, how will the Bucs stop him?
"We just have to get at him," McCoy said. "We have to make him uncomfortable early. I never got to see him uncomfortable last year and it's going to be our goal to make him uncomfortable and see how he reacts to that."
Some Kryptonite-laced chains wouldn't hurt either.
NOTES: Bucs cornerback Anthony Gaitor (hamstring) was limited on Thursday. Corner E.J. Biggers (foot) was also limited. They are unlikely to play on Sunday. Meanwhile, receiver Arrelious Benn (knee) practiced fully for the second straight day and could be a game-time decisionâ¦The Bucs game against the Panthers will be blacked out locally.