Cam Newton may be ready in June

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera wouldn't rule out Cam Newton participating in a June 16-19 minicamp, which would put the fourth-year quarterback more than a month ahead of schedule in his recovery from ankle surgery.

"I really don't know what the schedule is, especially with him,'' Rivera said following Wednesday's second day of on-the-field workouts. "But I wouldn't put it past him. I really wouldn't.''

Newton underwent surgery to tighten the ligaments in his left ankle on March 19. Team officials estimated at the time the recovery would take four months, which would have the two-time Pro Bowler ready in time for the start of training camp.

Even though he hasn't taken any snaps in drills, Newton has thrown some off to the side during the first two days of the third phase of OTAs. He stayed late after Wednesday's workout to throw to first-round draft pick Kelvin Benjamin, a 6-foot-5 wide receiver out of Florida State.

He's showing no signs of limping from the surgery, although he skipped some drills such as high steps that might have put excessive pressure on the ankle. He also walked between drills instead of running and leading the way as he normally does.

"He's been looking good,'' Rivera said. "I'm excited about it. He says that foot is getting stronger and stronger every day, so we're excited for what's happening to him.''

Asked if that meant Newton was ahead of schedule, Rivera indicated he didn't know what the schedule was.

"Honestly,'' he said. "I don't want to say yes or no because I don't know what the schedule is. But he's been doing a nice job. I know he's thrown a few balls. He just seems to feel pretty good about himself right now.''

While Newton is out, backup quarterback Derek Anderson, along with Joe Webb and Matt Blanchard, have been working with a brand new set of wide receivers.

The top four receivers from last season are on other teams. Steve Smith, the team's all-time leading receiver, was cut and then signed by Baltimore. Brandon LaFell signed with New England, Ted Ginn Jr. with Arizona and Domenik Hixon with Chicago. Hixon saw his career end on Tuesday when he tore his ACL for the third time.

While Rivera is anxious to see Newton work with Benjamin and free agent signees Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant and Tiquan Underwood, he's not concerned.

"He's doing a nice job of trying to be around,'' he said. "He's integrating himself into the meetings and the drills. He's doing a good job talking to the young guys, talking to the veteran guys about what he's seeing and looking for as quarterback.'' Newton seems particularly interested in developing chemistry with Benjamin, and not simply by staying after practice to throw to him. He took Benjamin to his home in Atlanta for the Memorial Day Weekend.

"The nice thing was there was a little bit of a connect there with the two of them,'' Rivera said. "It's kind of funny, because Kelvin told him, 'I ain't never been to a big city.'

"So with that Cam said, 'Let's go.' They hung out a little bit. He showed him the big city, the bright lights.''