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Real challenge just beginning for Panthers, Newton

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Dan Parr
Associate editor

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Posted April 28, 2011 @ 8 p.m. ET
By Dan Parr

We don't know what GM Marty Hurney's legacy will be, but he has chosen one of the most polarizing players in the draft's history to help decide it.

In the face of critics who told him he would forever tarnish his image and set his franchise back years if he drafted Cam Newton, Hurney spent the first overall pick on Cam Newton, a big, strong, fast quarterback with the arm strength and charisma to pull the Panthers from the bottom of the league and transform the franchise.

Now comes the hard part.

The Panthers, no doubt, have done their homework. They know that Newton has his flaws. Coming from a simplified offensive system at Auburn, it's going to take great coaching and incredible dedication from Newton to get up to speed with and eventually master the terminology of coordinator Rob Chudzinski's offense. Newton has to convince his teammates — some might have their doubts about the Heisman Trophy winner — that he's a leader they can trust.

Newton will inherit an offense that scored a league-worst 12.2 points per game. The team's best receiver, Steve Smith, wants to be traded. The Panthers have a solid offensive line when healthy and a deep backfield, but Jimmy Clausen — who was considered one of the most NFL-ready quarterbacks in last year's draft — often looked completely lost as a rookie starter for Carolina last season and led the team to one win in 10 starts.

The Panthers have to make a decision about Clausen. Hurney likes him and has defended him at every turn. Will the keys be handed to Newton immediately or will it be Clausen that opens next season as the starter while Newton prepares for the job that eventually will be his?

Either scenario could result in another difficult situation for the Panthers. If Clausen leads the team to a hot start, when will it be time for Newton to get his chance?

Hurney made a tough call and took a big risk. He and new head coach Ron Rivera have their work cut out for them as they look up to three other NFC South teams who boast certainty and Pro Bowl-caliber players under center.

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