Ron Rivera likes progress of Cam Newton, Panthers

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The progression of Cam Newton this spring is one reason coach Ron Rivera is budding with optimism as the Panthers continue preparation for the 2013 season.

The return of three starters from injuries doesn’t hurt his enthusiasm either.

Rivera said along with Newton’s steady improvement and the return of Ryan Kalil, Jordan Gross and Jon Beason, the fact that the team is ahead of schedule with play calling installation has him feeling good about the direction of the team seven weeks before it reports to training camp.

Rivera said the third-year quarterback continues to show improvement in practice and notices him building better relationships with his teammates.

“The nice thing you see and the thing I really like is the progression of our quarterback,” Rivera said Thursday after the conclusion of OTAs. “I think Cam has done a really good job. I think his rapport with the rest of the team has been really good. I’m seeing some things that really give you reason to be happy and be excited about who we can become as a football team.”

That includes the return of Kalil, Gross and Beason from injuries.

That trio has been to a combined eight Pro Bowls, but they’re just as valuable in the locker room where they’re considered three of the team’s biggest leaders.

Beason missed a dozen games with shoulder and knee issues last season, and has been working out hard on the side with trainers, running full speed and began participating in some individual drills this week. Beason said he should be “full go” by the start of training camp.

Kalil, who missed most of last season with a broken foot after unsuccessfully predicting a Carolina Super Bowl victory, and Gross participated in team drills this week at OTAs helping to lend some needed cohesiveness to an otherwise young offensive line.

“Anytime you get your veteran leaders out there on the football field I think that’s a real big thing for your team,” Rivera said.

And Rivera likes what he’s seeing from the guy who lines up behind them.

Newton is in his third season running the same offensive system and Rivera said that comfort level is noticeable. While offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski left to join the Cleveland Browns, his replacement Mike Shula has said he doesn’t plan to change up the scheme, although he will simplify the verbiage in some calls.

Shula worked with Newton the past two seasons as Carolina’s quarterbacks coach, so there is a sense of familiarity there.

With Newton having started all 32 games in two seasons, he’s well versed at the offense.

In fact, Rivera said the team finished OTAs ahead of schedule.

“Minicamp next week will be all about execution,” Rivera said. “All of the installations are in and we’ve gone through the things we wanted to go through. Now we will give the guys a chance to play fast and see how they do in minicamp.”

That Rivera feels Newton is developing a better rapport with his teammates is a good sign. He’s been criticized in the past for pouting on the sidelines, a source of frustration for teammates.

Even Rivera once referred to Newton as “Mr. Mopeyhead” a few days after a Carolina loss.

Newton said last week in a press conference that he wants to take on a bigger leadership role and, in fact, has his eyes set on becoming a team captain.

Carolina’s offensive captains for the past couple of seasons have been Gross and wide receiver Steve Smith.

“When you’re a team captain, that’s not just a patch on the jersey,” Newton said last week. “You’re holding yourself to a higher standard with being accountable. I’m going about it each and every day and trying to make that happen.”

It could be vital that the Panthers start the season fast.

Carolina started each of the last two seasons 1-5 and failed to make the playoffs under Rivera. After last season owner Jerry Richardson took a week before deciding Rivera’s fate and allowing him to return for a third season.

Rivera feels better prepared than either of his previous two seasons.

“We’re in our third year and most of these guys should know the system, and be comfortable within the system,” Rivera said.

Favre ‘at fault’ in split

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Brett Favre is taking some of the blame for his ugly departure from the Green Bay Packers.

Favre told WGR 550-AM in Buffalo on Thursday that he was “at fault” in the breakup, though he says he feels like “both sides had a part in it.”

Favre also says he has patched up things with Aaron Rodgers. After Rodgers arrived at Green Bay, Favre flirted every offseason with retirement but always came back. In 2008, Favre retired, the changed his mind and asked for his job back, but was traded to the New York Jets during training camp.

Favre retired from the Jets in 2009 before deciding on a return with Minnesota Vikings. The three-time MVP retired from the NFL in 2010 after playing for 20 seasons.

Bradshaw talks with Colts

INDIANAPOLIS — Free-agent running back Ahmad Bradshaw is trying to work out a contract with the Indianapolis Colts, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.

Bradshaw, the former Giants star, visited the Colts complex Thursday and was still negotiating Friday, according to the person who spoke on condition of anonymity because no deal had been reached.

Indy has three experienced running backs on the roster — former first-round pick Donald Brown, Vick Ballard, who was impressive as a rookie, and Delone Carter, who has been prone to fumbling. The Colts also took 5-foot-8, 195-pound Kerwynn Williams in the seventh round of April’s draft.

Browns’ Gordon suspended

Cleveland Browns receiver Josh Gordon was suspended without pay for the first two games next season for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.

Gordon also was fined two additional game checks Friday. He will be eligible to return for the third week of the season.

Gordon, a second-round pick in the supplemental draft out of Baylor, caught 50 passes last season for a team-leading 805 yards and five touchdowns, developing into the Browns’ best deep threat. Gordon was dismissed from Baylor’s team after being twice suspended for marijuana use.

Fast recovery likely for Kelly

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly is anticipated to have a speedy recovery and successful outcome after having surgery to remove cancer from his upper jaw, according to doctors who performed the operation.

The operation, conducted on Friday morning, was described as going “very well,” according to a release issued by Buffalo’s Erie County Medical Center. Kelly is recovering comfortably and will remain in hospital for an undetermined period, the release said.

The operation was performed by Thom Loree, the hospital’s director of head and neck surgery department.

The 53-year-old Kelly announced Monday he had been diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma two weeks earlier.