SPARTANBURG, S.C. (AP) — Emotions boiled over and got the best of Panthers quarterback Cam Newton at practice on Monday culminating in a heated scuffle.
Fights are common during training camps, but rarely involve franchise quarterbacks.
Newton went at it with cornerback Josh Norman, a skirmish that ended with both players at the bottom of a pile and having to be separated by teammates. Neither player was injured.
The altercation occurred after Norman made a sliding interception against Newton, got up and began to return the ball toward the opposing end zone as defensive players are instructed to do by their coaches. Newton pursued, but coach Ron Rivera said Newton got stiff-armed by Norman along the way.
"It escalated from there," Rivera said.
As the whistles blew signaling the end of the play, Newton sped up his pursuit of Norman and tackled him near the end zone. The two wrestled on the ground for a few moments as some other players piled on.
Newton and Norman were eventually separated.
An irate Newton got up shouting at Norman — "hit me like that again and you'll know something" — as he was being restrained by teammates.
After the altercation, veteran linebacker and defensive leader Thomas Davis screamed at the fifth-year quarterback, "That's stupid. That's stupid."
Newton recently was anointed the team's franchise quarterback, signing a five-year, $103 million contract. Davis and other team leaders know the Panthers cannot afford to have him get hurt.
Panthers center and team captain Ryan Kalil said "I've seen Cam do a lot more dumb things than that" and that he doesn't worry much about the 6-foot-5, 245-pound quarterback.
"He's a tough guy," Kalil said. "You've seen it in how he has come back from car wreck. He takes a lot of hits as a running quarterback. He has taken hits in the pocket when we haven't protected well and he hasn't complained. So he's a tough individual. So that kind of solidifies his persona and that is who he is."
Rivera said Monday after practice this is normally the time during training camp when tempers began to flare, but acknowledged, "You really don't expect it to be your quarterback."
"The thing I try to take away from it, as you look for the positive in it, is hey, he stood up for himself and the other guy stood up for himself," Rivera said. "I know it's the quarterback, but we treat everybody the same. That's the way I'm going to look at it. That's my spin on it."
Neither player was made available to speak with reporters after practice.
Newton was wearing a red jersey during practice, which is supposed to signal to other players to not touch or tackle him. But it was Newton that instigated the fight when he went after Norman.
They're both extremely competitive players and two of the biggest trash talkers on the team, often overheard jawing at the other side of the line. Normally those words are just talk, but this time it turned nasty.
Even after the altercation, Newton and Norman continued to jaw at each other from across the field with Newton daring him to do it again.
"They are always chirping, but that is part of the competition," Rivera said. "That is what happens. The big thing is you have to be able to handle it because it's going to happen in the game. You have to learn that when you get to this situation you deal with it, cope with it and handle it better the next time. Unfortunately it got more physical than it needed to be."
Rivera isn't worried about emotions spilling over into the locker room.
Teammates said Newton addressed the team immediately after practice on the field.
"That was a note to us that we're a family and we have to stick together," running back Fozzy Whittaker said.
Rivera, who played nine seasons for the Chicago Bears, was asked if he's ever seen a quarterback go after another player in practice.
"Yes, remember I played with Jim McMahon," Rivera joked.
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