The evolution of Cam Newton’s throwing motion from the combine to 2019

The evolution of Cam Newton’s throwing motion from the combine to 2019

Every NFL team’s hopes and dreams rest on the shoulders of their starting quarterbacks. The only problem for the Carolina Panthers is theirs has had two shoulder surgeries in less than two years.

Cam Newton’s accuracy hasn’t always been consistent but his shoulder issues are the cause of the slew of errant throws and missed opportunities for the Panthers’ offense in the last two seasons. He completed a career-high 67 percent of his passes in 2018 but that has more to do with the improvement of his scheme with Norv Turner, who was hired as offensive coordinator last year, and the fact he also threw a career-high percentage of passes under 10 yards.

In the past, Newton was able to make up for his accuracy issues by completing big-time, tough throws and using his legs to produce but as he gets older, he won’t be able to rely on his athleticism as much. For the Panthers to get back on track, he’ll have to be more consistent than he’s ever been in the pocket.

To improve his accuracy and longevity, Turner made it a priority to rework Newton’s throwing mechanics when he was hired last offseason. Newton’s mechanics have been a point of contention ever since he entered the draft in 2011. They weren’t Tim-Tebow-bad but they definitely weren’t as smooth or efficient as they could be.

If training camp clips are any indication of real improvement, Newton might have made the most notable transformation to his mechanics late in his career than any other quarterback in recent memory. To help me break down the different phases of Newton’s mechanics, Quincy Avery, who is a personal coach for NFL quarterbacks including Deshaun Watson and Dwayne Haskins, will provide commentary.

At the 2011 combine, Newton’s throwing sequence was off, which prevented him from using his lower body and hips to put power behind his throws and caused him to use too much of his upper body.

“The first thing that moves should be his hips and the front shoulder should still be closed to the target,” Avery explained. “Tom Brady does an excellent job of that. Cam just didn’t have that early in his career and he was mostly an arm thrower.”

What it means to keep the front shoulder closed:

— Ted Nguyen (@FB_FilmAnalysis) October 20, 2018

When Avery says “open” or “closed” he is talking about whether the hips or shoulders are perpendicular to the target or parallel to the target. If the front of the shoulder or hip is perpendicular to the target, it’s closed. If the front shoulder or hip is parallel, it’s open.

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“If you start opening up your left side too early, the right arm starts moving too much on a different plane. His left side would pull his head away,” Avery said. “His head would work at an angle and now his right arm is always changing trajectory and launch points because it’s never consistent because it’s being pulled so hard by his left side.”

During his rookie season, Newton often looked like he was throwing off his back foot. The root of this problem goes back to opening his left side too quickly.

“Early on, you’d see him kind of jump and his left leg would fly open and nothing would look under control. It would always look like he’s throwing off his back foot,” explained Avery. “His whole body would be out of sequence and he would end up lifting the ball immediately and it would end up looking like a javelin or a push.”

Panthers quarterback coach Scott Turner spoke to reporters, including The Athletic’s Jourdan Rodrigue, about the process of fixing Newton’s mechanics. When the coaching staff started reworking Newton’s mechanics, they started with his feet.

“Not to get too technical, but you strike the ground with your back foot to generate power, then it moves through your hips into your upper body,” Turner said. “If you put your weight on your back foot, the weight isn’t transferring and the power isn’t (transferring).”

Turner brought up a lot of the points that Avery did but also highlighted they needed to rework Newton’s mechanics to keep him healthy. Usually, if a quarterback’s mechanics are working for him, coaches won’t tinker with them. Turner worked with Philip Rivers in San Diego; Rivers has one of the most unorthodox motions in the league but it works for him.

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“As far as making him a little more compact in his upper body, a little bit more closed-off so he’s not as open throwing the ball,” Turner said. “And just to make him as efficient as possible, while putting the least amount of stress on (his arm) — I mean, you’re going to put stress on your arm. It’s throwing a football, it’s not a natural movement. But as little as we can on his shoulder, just to take care of him.”

Last year, Newton’s sequencing was getting better — he was doing a better job of keeping his shoulder closed but his motion was still elongated and he was still swinging his foot rather than stepping straight into his throws.

Clip from 2018

Unfortunately, his shoulder injuries last year halted some of his work on those mechanics.

In training camp this season, though, Newton’s mechanics look much more efficient from the feet up. His first step into throws is smaller and more direct toward his target. His windup is shorter but most importantly he’s keeping his shoulders closed so he’s transferring power from his lower body more.

“His hands are separating from the ball right when his front foot hits the ground so now he’s in sequence and he’s much more balanced and he’ll be able to generate much more force from the ground much better than he did early in his career,” Avery said. “If you look at the new version of him throwing, you’ll see him separate the ball and get to what is called ‘equal opposite,’ so his arms are parallel to the ground and the tip of the ball is pointing toward the target and the back is pointing directly away.”

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We’ve seen reports of quarterbacks changing their mechanics before only to revert to their old ways during the season when the speed of the game is turned up and they don’t have as much time to work on their fundamentals. The key for Newton is to stay healthy.

“If he starts getting nicked up and he’s missing practice and he doesn’t spend the time doing the individual work to maintain his progress then you might see him revert back to his old motion,” Avery said.

If Newton can maintain the changes he’s made to his throwing motion, he might be able to keep his completion percentage high while throwing the ball downfield more than he did last year. His new offense with Turner provided Newton with more easy opportunities than he’s seen in the past and should continue to.

Most analysts, including myself, thought the combination of Turner and Newton would be a strange fit because Newton is used to playing in the spread and running spread options, while Turner deployed a more traditional “pro-style” offense. However, Turner proved naysayers wrong and his offense with the Panthers turned out to be one of the more creative ones in the NFL.

Turner has built an offense that showcases Newton’s talents. They had stretches last year where they looked like they could be one of the more explosive units in the NFL, but obviously they were limited because of Newton’s health. Not only did Newton miss passes, which undoubtedly affected the timing and execution of the offense, Turner likely had to hold back on calling some option runs and longer developing route concepts to keep Newton from getting hit. With time to get healthy and armed with new throwing mechanics, Newton could be in line for a huge season.

(Photo: John Byrum / Getty Images)