- Ohm Youngmisuk, ESPN Staff Writer
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- When the NFL world got its first glimpse of Cam Newton in his first preseason game last year, Perry Fewell had a front-row seat.
He had the distinction of being the first defensive coordinator to go up against the 2011 top overall draft pick last August.
And the Carolina quarterback left a lasting impression on Fewell, even if it was for only a few offensive series.
Fewell wanted to test the rookie and brought pressure. Jason Pierre-Paul was a monster in that game with two sacks. But the New York Giants coordinator remembers leaving that game awfully impressed with Newton's poise under pressure.
"After that game, I said he was a franchise quarterback," Fewell recalled of Newton, who completed eight of 19 passes for 134 yards in a 20-10 Panthers win. "We pressured him a lot, and he seemed to handle it and he seemed like if he missed the pass, he knew what his read was, he knew where to go with the football and just missed the throw.
"He was determined that he was going to make it right," Fewell continued. "I felt like this guy has a lot of poise. Just with some experience and some time he's going to be a really nice player."
To Fewell and just about everybody else's surprise, Newton didn't need much time at all to not only adjust to the NFL but shine brighter than any other rookie quarterback who has ever played the game.
The offensive rookie of the year passed for a rookie-record 4,051 yards and rushed for 706 more to become the first player to pass for 4,000 yards and rush for at least 500 yards in a single season. He set a rookie record with 35 touchdowns (21 passing and 14 rushing). The 14 touchdowns on the ground were a record for NFL quarterbacks.
Needless to say, the defending Super Bowl champs have their hands full Thursday night with Newton and the Panthers.
Fewell's defense enters Carolina having had trouble stopping Tony Romo and Josh Freeman in its first two games. The Giants' defense has surrendered 51 points thus far and has had difficulty covering wide receivers. Prince Amukamara, last year's first-round pick, is probable to make his season debut and help a banged-up secondary.
The Giants must improve their coverage against the likes of the dangerous Steve Smith and get pressure on Newton. Defensive ends Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora also are still searching for their first sack of the season, and now would be a good time to get it.
"I think our reputation, in some ways, is hurting us," Tuck said of offenses trying to get the ball out quickly and using double-teams to combat the Giants' vaunted pass rush. "It's still a young season. We'll figure out ways to get our pass rush going."
Stopping the run is incredibly important against a Panthers team that can pound the Giants on the ground with Newton, DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart (who is listed as questionable) and Mike Tolbert.
This could be a game in which the Giants' linebackers play a key role. Besides helping stop the run, the linebackers will have their athleticism tested over the next two weeks by Newton and Michael Vick -- two of the most athletic quarterbacks in the NFL.
During the offseason, the Giants began to do some prep work for Carolina, knowing they wouldn't have as much time to prepare during the season since there was such a quick turnaround from Sunday's win over Tampa to Thursday's game.
"It's funny because we play a lot of running quarterbacks this year," Tuck said. "It is something that we had to get ahead of a little bit. You got the Cam Newtons of the world, the Vicks, the [Robert Griffin IIIs], Alex Smith, Aaron Rodgers, guys that can get out of the pocket and hurt you with their legs, too."
Fewell has his most athletic set of linebackers in his three seasons as defensive coordinator. With Michael Boley, Keith Rivers and Jacquian Williams, he hopes to counter with enough speed and athleticism to contain Newton and Vick or any tight end or running back in space.
"Well, I do like our athletes at 'backer," Fewell said. "There's no doubt about that. When we face a guy like Cam and a guy like Michael, you have to have 11 guys.
"But I do like the speed of our 'backers and the way that they can run and be able to defend these guys," Fewell added.
The Giants could employ a spy to help defend against Newton and Vick.
"If it's necessary, yes, I'll use a spy," he said. "Versus an athletic quarterback like Cam Newton or Michael Vick, there's no doubt about it."
Besides being disciplined up front and not giving Newton any avenues to run through, the secondary is going to have to do a better job of covering and giving the defensive ends time to chase Newton.
Cornerback Corey Webster, who has struggled at times in the first two games, believes the Giants can improve their coverage by being more aggressive at the line of scrimmage with receivers.
"If we can be cognizant of where the playmakers are and put our hands on them and just not let them run free [off] the line of scrimmage, that eliminates a lot of that problem that we did in giving up the big plays," Webster said.
"We need to have a very aggressive approach by putting our hands on the receivers," Webster continued. "I think in a couple of plays in the [Tampa] game, we played a lot like a softer coverage. No receiver wants to be touched off the line of scrimmage."
Fewell has had less than three days this week to prepare for Newton and the Panthers. That is why the Giants did some prep work during the offseason and in training camp.
After seeing him in his preseason debut last year, Fewell knew Newton would be testing defenses around the NFL.
Now, Fewell and the Giants will try to stop the reigning offensive rookie of the year in a game that counts.
"It's fun. These are the fun games that you want to play as a defender," linebacker/defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka said. "It is going to be a test of our abilities."
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