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Cam Newton to get most of Carolina Panthers’ first-team reps this week

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Cam Newton will get most of the first-team practice reps this week in anticipation of him being ready to make his first start on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium in his second go-around with the Carolina Panthers.

The 32-year-old quarterback will be facing the Washington Football Team and former Carolina coach Ron Rivera, who made Newton the top pick of the 2011 draft out of Auburn.

“He did a great job [Sunday] having 10 plays that he was kind of ready for,” Rhule said Monday of Newton’s role in Sunday’s 34-10 road win over the Arizona Cardinals in which he backed up PJ Walker. “We’ll start getting him ready. If he’s ready to start, great.

“If he’s not quite ready to do everything, obviously PJ’s available. It’s kind of that plan right now.”

Newton produced two touchdowns, a 2-yard run and 2-yard pass, on his first two plays against Arizona. He finished with eight plays, completing three of four pass attempts for 8 yards and a touchdown and rushing three times for 14 yards and a touchdown.

This came less than four full days after the 2015 NFL MVP signed a one-year deal that could pay him up to $10 million.

“There’s a lot to learn in a short time,” said Rhule, reminding that Newton must fully grasp the two-minute package and end-of-game package, among other things.

One thing Rhule isn’t worried about is the attention Newton, who has what many have described as a large personality, gets. While he emphasizes the game is about the team, not just one player, he understands with Newton comes added attention.

“I want everything that Cam brings,” Rhule said. “I don’t want Cam light. I want full Cam as long as Cam is focused on football, which he is, so it’s easy. I want full Christian McCaffrey as long as Christian is focused on football. I want Brian Burns to do his ‘Spider-Man,’ whatever he does, as long as he’s focused on football.

“We had a team [Sunday] that was really focused on football. We have to have a team this week that is really focused on football. Cam will help us do that.”

Rhule hopes to see that energy in the entire team this week at home, where Carolina is 2-3 this season with three straight losses to the Philadelphia Eagles, Minnesota Vikings and New England Patriots.

He understands the importance of winning at home for Carolina, currently the No. 7 seed in the NFC with a 5-5 record, to make a playoff push.

Rhule also understands the importance of Newton, who helped the Panthers to a league-best 15-1 record and trip to the Super Bowl in 2015, to the Carolinas.

“I took my daughter to the daddy-daughter dance on Friday night, and I had two little girls, 5 and 7, ask if I was the coach of the Panthers,” Rhule said. “I said, ‘Yes, I am.’ They said, ‘Is Cam really back?’ I assume if that’s being brought up at the daddy-daughter dance, it’s being brought up everywhere.”

The vibe will intensify on Sunday, with Newton making his home debut and Rivera his first trip to Bank of America Stadium after being fired following the 2019 season.

That Washington is coming off a victory against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who lead the Panthers in the NFC South by 1.5 games, only adds to Rhule’s urgency to have Newton and his team ready.

“We came back late last night,” said Rhule, sipping from a cup of coffee. “There was no Victory Monday. There was no day off. We’re back here working today because we have to become a consistent team.”

In terms of Newton, Rhule just doesn’t want another 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty from the quarterback as Newton got Sunday for taking off his helmet and screaming “I’m baaaack” repeatedly following his first touchdown.

“I just told him, ‘Don’t do that, please,”’ Rhule said. “I don’t want to kick the ball off from the 20. I think he said, ‘Say less. Got it.’

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NFL asking teams for more vaccination information after Antonio Brown, Mike Edwards suspensions

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In an effort to avoid further suspensions like the ones handed down to Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Antonio Brown and defensive back Mike Edwards, NFL officials spent the past week calling multiple teams to inquire whether players who had gotten COVID-19 had been vaccinated on site at the team’s training facility or off site at another location, league sources told ESPN on Saturday.

League officials want further information on this in order to ascertain whether any other players have misrepresented their vaccination status, sources said. Teams have been leery about players using fake vaccination cards and have warned some of them about the severity of such an offense.

While there do not appear to be any active investigations over fake vaccination cards, the league wants to make sure no other players attempt to game the system.

Even Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians called for the league to take further and stronger action.

“There’s a lot more to the story,” Arians told reporters Friday. “I just hope they don’t stop looking.”

The league was so bothered by the actions of Brown and Edwards that it wanted to suspend them up to eight games, sources said. The league argued for six- to eight-game suspensions for each player, which would have ended their 2021 seasons.

But after negotiations and discussions with the NFL Players Association, the two sides settled on three-game suspensions for each of the three players disciplined this past week. Brown, Edwards and John Franklin III, each were suspended three games, with each player waiving his right to appeal.

But others around the league are predicting that this will not be the last players suspended for their vaccination status.

Fake vaccination cards are not part of the jointly agreed to COVID-19 protocols, because such violations are federal offenses, and any player who attempted to use a fake vaccination card would open himself up to a federal investigation — worse than discipline that the NFL could impose.

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Conditional 2022 second-round pick Colts sent to Eagles for Carson Wentz on track for first round

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The conditional 2022 second-round pick that the Indianapolis Colts sent to the Philadelphia Eagles last offseason for quarterback Carson Wentz is on track to become a first-round pick.

The Eagles need Wentz to play 75% of the Colts’ offensive snaps this season to turn the pick into a first-round selection in next year’s draft, a mark Indianapolis is on track to hit Sunday in Houston.

The second-rounder could also become a first-round pick if Wentz plays less than 70% of the snaps but the Colts go to the playoffs.

As it currently stands, Wentz has played 747 of the Colts’ 759 offensive snaps this season — 98%. The Colts average about 63 plays per game, putting them on pace to run about 1,075 plays this season. If the Colts maintain that same average over their last five games, Wentz could clear the 75% mark by playing every snap on Sunday.

Wentz, 28, has thrown for 2,790 yards this season with 21 touchdowns and five interceptions. The Colts enter Sunday’s game 6-6.

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Los Angeles Rams not optimistic RB Darrell Henderson (thigh) will play

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The Los Angeles Rams will test running back Darrell Henderson Jr and his injured thigh before Sunday’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, but the team is not optimistic about him being able to play, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Saturday.

Jaguars running back James Robinson, who is listed as questionable for Sunday due to heel and knee injuries, plans to try to play, a source told ESPN. Robinson has been hobbled for weeks with the injuries, but was feeling better Saturday.

Henderson is officially listed as questionable with a thigh injury. The Rams’ top running back, Henderson has rushed for 648 yards this season with five touchdowns.

If Henderson is not able to go, Sony Michel is expected to start for the Rams. Michel has rushed for 305 yards and a touchdown since he was traded to the Rams before the season.

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