By JOSEPH PERSON
NEW ORLEANS – Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is back in school and back with the coach he's worked with the past two seasons – and said Friday he is fired up about both developments.
Making an appearance for Gatorade at the Super Bowl media center, Newton talked about his return to Auburn this semester and his excitement about quarterbacks coach Mike Shula's promotion to offensive coordinator.
Echoing the comments of veteran wideout Steve Smith this week, Newton said continuity was key after former coordinator Rob Chudzinski left to become Cleveland's coach last month.
“It was very important. I think that's what they tried to do as far as keep everything as simple as possible, keep everything around the genre that we've kind of been keeping things. It's going to be very exciting,” Newton said in an interview with the Observer.
“I've been talking to (Shula) and he's been giving me some ideas to think about. I think it's going to be a working process, but at the same time we're going to have fun and take it to higher heights.”
Newton said he was pleased Chudzinski had the opportunity to become a head coach.
He also said his relationship with Shula was “unbelievable,” and credited the former Alabama coach with helping his development the second half of last season. After a turnover-plagued start to 2012, Newton accounted for 19 touchdowns, with only four turnovers, over the final nine games.
He had a 94.7 quarterback rating during that span, and broke Jake Delhomme's team record by going 176 passes without an interception.
“I think a lot of credit goes to him with me honing in to a lot of things that he's been coaching me up to do. I don't think it's going to be any different,” Newton said. “I think he's going to coach me even harder, especially with his microphone as far as coaching has gotten a little bit higher. And guys are going to have to listen to him now.”
Newton was speaking after an event promoting the importance of nutrition. Gatorade recently analyzed Newton's diet, and he said the results were enlightening – and prompted him to ease back on the Little Debbie cakes.
“I must say, I was a junkie,” Newton told the small crowd that attended the Gatorade presentation.
Newton enrolled at Auburn last month to work on finishing his sociology degree – a promise he made to his mother when he left school two years ago. Newton, who is a semester and a half short of his degree, said being back on campus was wild initially.
“It's smoothed out now. When I first got on campus, it was kind of a circus. But that's kind of what I expected,” Newton said. “But it's nothing but love, man. You go back and you see people's reaction. You take a couple of pictures and you see what it does to a particular person, and you appreciate your influence.”
During Super Bowl week last year, Newton said he wanted to cut down on his interceptions in his second season. He did – throwing 12 in 2012 after 17 as a rookie. Newton said Friday his goal for his third year is to improve his consistency.
“Let me focus on being consistent in the intermediate game, the quick game, first and second down, controlling those downs before you get to the third downs,” he said. “If you're focusing on those two downs, then you put yourself in better situations come third down.”
As for Sunday's Super Bowl matchup, Newton said he's a fan of San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick – his roommate at the combine two years ago – but gave the nod to Baltimore and retiring linebacker Ray Lewis.
“I'm rooting for (Kaepernick) as far as individual. But I think the purple and gold is going to do their (thing),” Newton said. “I think it's the year of the Raven. And when I say Raven, I'm putting a 'y' after 'a.' Ray-ven.”