By JOSEPH PERSON
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton indicated this week he wants to be a team captain someday.
But with a couple of the cornerstones of the franchise seemingly entrenched as offensive captains, it could be a while before Newton gets to wear a “C” on his jersey.
Wide receiver Steve Smith and left tackle Jordan Gross, the team's longest-tenured players, have been selected the offensive captains the past several seasons, in voting by their teammates.
“You've got to look at the team as a whole. I just think there's guys who have been with the organization a lot longer that have been in that role for a long time,” veteran center Ryan Kalil said Thursday. “So it's hard. There's only two of them. I would say there's a couple other guys that would be in that mix. But it'll be a while before it transitions to somebody else.”
In response to a reporter’s question Wednesday, Newton said he would like to be a captain and understands the responsibility that comes with it.
“I recognize – and everyone knows around the league – when you're a team captain that's not just a patch on the jersey. You're holding yourself to a higher standard with being accountable,” Newton said. “I'm going about it each and every day and trying to make that happen.”
Newton has been criticized by fans, media and even teammates for his on-field demeanor at times during his first two seasons. But Panthers coach Ron Rivera, who referred to Newton as “Mr. Mopeyhead” during Newton's rookie year, said he's seen Newton take on more of a leadership role of late.
That doesn't necessarily mean Newton will be a captain when the Panthers vote on their 2013 choices in September after the opening-week, 53-man roster is set. Since moving to permanent, season-long captains in 2002 – after using different captains each week under former coach George Seifert – the Panthers have never had more than two captains on offense, defense or special teams.
In 10 of the 11 seasons since 2002, the Panthers have had five captains – two on offense, two on defense and one on special teams. Carolina employed two special teams captains in 2011 – kicker John Kasay and safety Charles Godfrey.
Smith has been a captain for four seasons – 2007 and every year since 2010. Gross has been captain every year since 2009, and replaced quarterback Jake Delhomme as an offensive captain in 2007 after Delhomme was injured.
“I never came in saying I’m going to be a captain,” Gross said Thursday. “You look who it’s been and it’s usually… like Pep (Julius Peppers) was a captain and he’s not a vocal guy. But he’s somebody that I loved looking at during games because it made me feel better.”
After leading the Panthers to the Super Bowl in 2003 during his first year in Charlotte, Delhomme was a captain for his final six seasons with Carolina.
Besides Gross and Smith, the Panthers' other captains last season were special teams captain Jordan Senn, linebackers Thomas Davis and Jon Beason, and defensive end Charles Johnson, who replaced the injured Beason.
Gross said the qualifications for being a captain are varied and hard to define.
“It’s not always the loudest guy that’s doing the most you can see from the stands,” Gross said. “Just a consistent person that guys rely on.”
Like Newton, Kalil said he also would like to be a captain, but knows he might have to wait.
“I think Steve is somebody, Jordan's somebody, they've been here a long time and are very well respected, not only in the community and the organization, but with teammates, as well,” Kalil said. “So I don't think it's just a matter of years and age. But the longer you've been here, the more time you've had to prove that role and earn that right.”
But there could soon be a vacancy or two among the offensive captains. In restructuring his contract this offseason, Gross, 32, agreed to a deal that voids after this season, essentially making it a 1-year deal.
When Smith, 34, re-signed a contract extension last year, he indicated he only planned to play a few more seasons.
But Gross said there are only so many captain spots to go around.
“When the team says you’re one of the guys that we can count on the most, that’s when it will happen. And that may be when guys roll off, too,” Gross said. “So if (Newton) is not a captain, I don’t think it should be a huge story. I mean Kalil could be a captain. DeAngelo (Williams) could be a captain. Greg Olsen could be a great captain. But you kind of get tenured sometimes.”
Newton says he understands he has something to prove.
“Team captain is solely based off of your peers,” he said. “I'm going about it each and every day, trying to do my part to prove not only to my team, but first myself, that's a big responsibility on the field and off the field.”
- Scott Fowler contributed.