By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
Shortly before the NFL season began, Carolina Panthers Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil took out a full-page ad in a Charlotte newspaper declaring the Panthers Super Bowl XLVII champions.
Never mind that Carolina went 6-10 the season before and plays in the same division as the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons.
It was a move that could have caused internal strife, a lockerroom divide that would derail the season before it started.
Instead, it was met as a breath of fresh air by coach Ron Rivera and by quarterback Cam Newton, who was the guest speaker at Sunday’s Big Atlantic Classic Tip-Off Banquet.
“I wouldn’t say it (added) pressure. If anything, it made everybody understand and be aware of what’s at stake,” Newton said in a press conference prior to the festivities. “I don’t think anybody on my team felt as if this is going to be an added pressure on us. One thing that it did do, it made us realize the talent level we do have on our team.
“People are labeling us to be a team of the future, playing for the future and just being a team that could be on the brink of being good. I think we made strides this (past) season and hopefully we will make strides this offseason to get us back on track moving forward for next year.”
The Panthers finished 7-9 and did not qualify for the playoffs. But there is talent, like Newton said, and he leads the way.
A college career highlighted by a Heisman Trophy and BCS national championship at Auburn was rewarded when the Panthers made him the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft.
Newton has had a record-breaking first two seasons in the NFL. He became the first quarterback to throw for 400 yards in his debut with 422 against Arizona, then followed it with a 432-yard day against Green Bay. The 854 yards represent the highest two-game passing total ever for a rookie quarterback.
The Atlanta native finished his first season with rookie records of 4,051 passing yards and 706 rushing yards. In doing so, Newton was named the NFL Rookie of the Year and was a Pro Bowl selection.
Both records were surpassed in 2012 — the passing record by Indianapolis Colts’ Andrew Luck and the rushing total by Washington Redskins’ Robert Griffin III, who was originally set to be the banquet’s speaker but was forced to pull out because of recent knee surgery.
Those three, along with Seattle Seahawks rookie Russell Wilson, as well as San Francisco 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick, represent what could one day be a changing of the guard at the quarterback spot. Right now, the likes of Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees come to mind as the league’s elite signalcallers.
“It’s very different,” Newton said. “The picture that people are painting for quarterbacks in this league has to be different. Gone are the days of the quarterbacks who just sit in the pocket and have a big arm. Nowadays, you have to be mobile, to some degree. I’m not saying you have to be like a Robert Griffin and run a 4.4 or 4.3 and be able to scramble out of the pocket. But you have to be able to pose a threat to the defense.
“Just having that one skill set, it’s becoming rare. It’s becoming extinct. You look around the league, you see Russell Wilson. Andrew Luck has the skill set that he still can be mobile at times. Robert, obviously, and a quarterback that is in the Super Bowl (on Sunday), Colin Kaepernick. You see what he did to the league — put the whole league on notice with his performances in the playoffs.
“So it’s kind of changing, but at the same time you still have to be able to throw the football in the pocket. It’s kind of give-and-take.”
Newton signed autographs for upward of 1,000 fans before and after his presentation and even sang “Happy Birthday” to one fan. He fielded about 30 questions, including:
n One young fan asked, “Can you catch a pass?” Newton responded, “I hope so,” before receiving a toss from the young boy.
n Another young fan asked, “If I bring this up there, would you sign it?” Newton said, “I’m waiting on you, man.” He then signed the memorabilia for the youngster.
n One fan asked Newton who he is picking to win Super Bowl XLVII. He said he is a fan of Ray Lewis and is going with the Baltimore Ravens to beat the 49ers. He earlier said he is thankful the Panthers have not played the Ravens so Lewis, who will retire after the Super Bowl, never had the chance to hit him.
n Finally, a Carolina fan asked Newton if the Panthers will make the playoffs in 2013.
“You know what, we will make the playoffs,” Newton said. “You can document it.”
Not exactly a full-page ad, but a guarantee all the same.
— E-mail: gfauber@