Carolina Panthers quarterback coach Scott Turner was struck by all the changes in uptown when he returned to Charlotte following a five-year absence:
The glut of apartment and condo buildings, the gleaming BB&T Ballpark with its skyline views and the myriad activities at Romare Bearden Park.
Turner also noticed growth in the person he’ll be spending pretty much all fall with — Panthers eighth-year quarterback Cam Newton.
When Turner left after the 2012 season to join Rob Chudzinski in Cleveland, Newton was a 23-year-old who’d thrown for nearly 8,000 yards his first two years but had not tasted a winning season.
More than five years later, Newton has won an MVP and taken the Panthers to a Super Bowl while still facing questions about his accuracy and generating a debate on how much to run a 29-year-old quarterback.
“I think he still played the game the same. I think his decision-making has gotten better over time, just because of experience,” said Turner, an offensive quality control coach under Ron Rivera from 2011-12.
“As far as the type of person he is, yeah, he’s definitely changed. He was a rookie or a second-year player when I was there. And now he’s going into his eighth year. So just carrying himself, being a leader. He’s been a captain for a while now. That’s where I’ve seen the biggest change.
"He’s still the same guy, but just older.”
Turner, 35, also is a little older, but still young enough to connect with Newton on a different level than his father, offensive coordinator Norv Turner, 66.
Scott Turner said he knows a “decent amount” of Newton’s rap-heavy playlist that was the soundtrack for the Panthers’ OTA and minicamp practices (the music was another change from Turner’s first stint with the team).
But Turner says his relative youthfulness won’t determine whether he and Newton click.
“The good players that I’ve been around in the NFL, they care about one thing. And that’s if you can make them a better player,” Turner said. “If they trust that you can make them a better player, it doesn’t matter if you’re young, old, anything.”
Turner went to high school in northern Virginia when his dad was the head coach in Washington, then was a backup quarterback for two seasons at UNLV. Rivera gave him his first NFL job in 2011, when Newton set a rookie passing record with 4,051 yards under Chudzinski.
Chudzinski, who worked with Rivera on Norv Turner’s Chargers staff, used an offense with more down-the-field throws than what Mike Shula ran with Carolina the last five seasons.
“Chud was pretty aggressive,” Scott Turner said. “And Cam being a young player, he kind of wanted to just throw him in the fire and see how he did.”
And while vertical passes are a big part of Norv Turner’s scheme, Scott Turner spent much of the offseason working with Newton on shorter throws. Much like Shula did last year, Turner wants Newton to get the ball out of his hands more quickly (paging Christian McCaffrey) and understand that check-downs don’t need to have a negative connotation.
Turner has told Newton not to talk himself into a negative play by forcing a downfield throw.
“We’ll move on to the next play, especially first and second down. But even third downs, as well,” he said. “You get it out of your hands and get it to the backs early, especially with our guys that can make plays, they make one guy miss or if the defense is backed off far enough, you can just as many yards as you would if you’d hit that down-the-field throw.”
Turner was in Cleveland for one season before Chudzinski was fired, then was the Vikings quarterbacks coach for three seasons while his dad was Minnesota’s offensive coordinator.
The Turners oversaw quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s Pro Bowl season in 2015, and helped Sam Bradford set an NFL record with a 71.6 completion percentage the following season after Bridgewater tore his ACL during a preseason practice.
No blueprint for Newton
Scott Turner coached against the Panthers twice with Minnesota (both Vikings wins), including a 2014 game in 12-degree temperatures when the Vikings were playing at the University of Minnesota’s stadium.
He also remembers watching Super Bowl 50, when Broncos edge rusher Von Miller and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips were too much for Newton and the Panthers.
But Turner disagrees with the notion that Phillips created a blueprint for the rest of the NFL to follow with his “green dog blitzes” against Newton.
“I think Denver had an elite-level defense with some great players. I don’t think everybody can do that,” he said. “When you’re aggressive and you miss a tackle on Cam, he can make you pay. It’s hard to do that all the time.”
An opportunity in Charlotte
Turner, who replaced the fired Ken Dorsey as quarterbacks coach, recently had Newton and the rest of the Panthers quarterbacks over for a cookout at his south Charlotte home. It’s not a stretch to suggest Turner will spend as much time with Newton during the season as he spends with his wife and two young children.
Turner, who was on Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan staff last year, said the Panthers job was attractive for several reasons — not the least of which was the opportunity to work with Newton again.
“I know that every time I’ve been on, when we got ready to play Carolina that our defensive coaches were worried about Cam,” he said. “They knew he was tough to stop and he’s got a lot of respect from the players and coaches in this league for the way he competes on a week-to-week basis."