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Cam Newton on taking so many hits: 'I'm not in the sport of ballerina'

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SPARTANBURG, S.C. – The number 587 is associated with Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton like it’s a part of his name.

It seems every time Newton's name is mentioned in the media there is a notation that he’s been sacked or hit while throwing and rushing 587 times -- 270 times more than any other quarterback since 2011.

There was a time when coach Ron Rivera was concerned with every hit. He encouraged Newton to slide instead of dive forward to reduce the contact.

Newton even took sliding lessons.

The attitude since Newton signed a five-year, $103.8 million extension has leaned toward letting the face of the team do what he does best.

Newton certainly doesn't plan to change the style that has netted him 2,571 rushing yards and 33 rushing touchdowns, more than any quarterback in the league the last four years.

Newton actually feels "more vulnerable in the pocket than outside of it," and not due to a lack of faith in his offensive line.

"I'm always getting questioned on how I run," Newton told ESPN.com. "I never, up to this point, got that wild shot like I see other players take. One of those hits where you’re like, 'Gollee, he just got killed.'

"I'm always the one either delivering the blow or sliding away from the hit."

The hit that resulted in Newton fracturing a rib in a preseason game against New England last year wasn't vicious. The defender's knee hit Newton in an exposed spot just below the back of the shoulder pads as the quarterback dove to the ground.

And Newton may have been able to avoid that if he weren't under strict orders to be careful while rehabbing the left ankle that required offseason surgery.

"Sacks, touches, hits, I'm fine," Newton said. "I'm walking tall. This is a football game and it's supposed to be played as such. I'm not in the sport of ballerina, gymnastics. This is a physical sport. I knew what I was signing up for when I decided to play this game."