JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- At 65, new Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator Norv Turner is much closer to the end of his career than the beginning.
Former ESPN analyst and onetime Super Bowl-winning quarterback Trent Dilfer believes the same goes for Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, 28, because of the way he’s used in the running game.
And he doesn’t think that will change significantly under Turner, who was hired a week ago to replace fired Mike Shula.
“I think they’ve got four more really good years in him," Dilfer said of Newton. “You might as well put the pedal to the metal. You might as well drive that sucker as fast as you can, and part of that is letting him run the football."
Dilfer calls himself “the biggest Norv Turner fan out there." Turner was the offensive coordinator for the 49ers in 2006, when Dilfer was spending the tail end of his playing career in San Francisco. He has no doubt that Turner, a former NFL head coach at Washington, Oakland and San Diego, will be good for Newton’s development.
While Turner is known as an old-school coach who relies on the traditional running game, Dilfer pointed out that Turner has put in a lot of hours since 2014 studying the RPO (run-pass option), which is prevalent in college football. He reminded that Turner’s son, Scott, who will be Newton’s position coach, also has experience with the RPO. If anything, Dilfer believes Turner will put Newton’s double-threat ability to better use, even though it may ultimately shorten the quarterback’s career.
“I’ve always said this about Cam: If you’re not letting him run, you’re turning him into a below-average NFL quarterback," Dilfer said. “If you let him be himself, then you have one of the top 10 players in the National Football League.
“So I’d rather have one of the top 10 players for four more years than a below-average guy for eight years."
For now, there is only speculation about how much Turner will let Newton run. But Dilfer has gotten to know the man who coached Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman and future Hall of Famers Philip Rivers and Drew Brees well enough that he has an idea of what to expect.
“Norv’s a believer in allowing the quarterback to be himself," Dilfer said.
For Newton, the 2015 NFL MVP who led the Panthers in rushing in 2017 and has rushed for more yards than any NFL quarterback since 2011, that means being a big part of the running game, as he’s always been.
“I’ve said this multiple times on television that Cam Newton is going to go down as one of the great playmakers our league has seen," Dilfer said. “But I don’t think he’s going to have a 15-year career because of the way he plays."
Carolina coach Ron Rivera said when he hired Turner that the move was made to further Newton’s career. He never mentioned lengthening it.
“He does a really good job of -- this is going to sound a little bit weird -- but he’s going to major in what you do well already," Dilfer said of Turner. “So he’s always going to put you in a position to succeed.
“Then, at the same time, he has this great way of almost tricking you at getting you better at things you’ve resisted before."
What Newton does best is run the read-option, the only offense he’s been a part of since college. He also has a nice touch on deep balls. What he doesn’t always do well is make smart decisions in the passing game. He takes sacks when he should get rid of the ball.
Dilfer believes Turner will help correct those things and continue to let Newton run. “If you’re a fastball thrower, he’s going to let you throw a lot of fastballs," said Dilfer. “He’s not all of a sudden going to say you now need to throw 32 off-speed pitches in a game.
“But when you do throw those six off-speed pitches, a lot of work has gone into those off-speed pitches."
Newton’s mechanics also come into question at times. He’ll throw off his back foot or while off-balance, resulting in errant throws and interceptions.
Turner will help with that, according to Dilfer. “Tying his feet to his eyes, having better balance, loosening up his stroke a little bit, the overall mechanics of being a passer," he said. “I don’t mean the micro[-manage] way of 'your hand goes there, your arm goes there.' Just how your feet and eyes and arms are all synced together."
Dilfer said having a quarterback that is proficient at the RPO, an extension of the zone-read concept, will only expand Turner's ability to keep defenses off-balance. He said running back/receiver Christian McCaffrey, the eighth pick of the 2017 draft, also will benefit greatly from working with Turner.
“When you have a Swiss army knife player like McCaffrey and a Swiss army knife quarterback, you have a lot of moving pieces," Dilfer said. “But there’s a lot of creative stuff you can do stuff with them. Norv and Scott will get in the lab and get the most out of it."