Panthers' Cam Newton
solar eclipse 'trending up' in Charlotte

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Two big moments will happen in Charlotte on Monday.

One is the solar eclipse.

The other is Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton will begin to increase his repetitions in hopes that he can make his preseason debut in Thursday night’s game at Jacksonville.

“With him, it’s going to just be about how’s he feeling, how’s he feeling, how’s he feeling -- and that’s the biggest thing," coach Ron Rivera said on whether the 2015 NFL MVP will play against the Jaguars.

“Everything is trending up."

Because of the eclipse that will occur early Monday afternoon, the Panthers will practice from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. No need to conflict with a moment so rare it isn't projected to happen again in the Charlotte area for several hundred years.

It probably seems like that long to the Panthers since Newton has competed in a full practice. He began training camp on a pitch count, and after five days of throwing was restricted to almost no throwing for two weeks as he rehabbed from offseason surgery to repair a partially torn rotator cuff.

He’s gradually had his reps increased over the past week, but he still hasn’t thrown in team drills outside the red zone. Most of his throwing has been on short to intermediate passes.

But with the third preseason game approaching, the Panthers would like to get at least a glimpse of their starter against another opponent. That doesn’t mean it will happen. Rivera has said he would be OK if Newton didn’t play in any of the preseason games, saying the goal is to be ready for the Sept. 10 opener at San Francisco.

So if there is a setback over the next couple of days, Newton could be held out.

But ideally, Rivera would like Newton to get on the field against the Jaguars.

“We’re going to increase the throws and make a decision as to what’s going to happen with Jacksonville," Rivera said. “Again, he’s on target. We’re happy with it. His workouts really have been good."Carolina’s first-team offense was not good in Saturday’s 34-27 loss to Tennessee in Nashville. That unit had two turnovers on its first three drives and gained only 8 yards in those series.

That and bad field position -- Carolina started the first three drives at the 10-, 18- and 10-yard lines -- didn’t give quarterback Derek Anderson and company much of a chance against the Titans starters.

But once the offense settled in, the protection was good and rookie running back Christian McCaffrey was dazzling with a 17-yard touchdown run and 38-yard reception on a screen pass. You could see the excitement from Newton on the sideline as McCaffrey did his thing. Anderson was also excited.

“The kid is special, and we just got to get the ball in his hands and let him do his thing," he said. “He’s got great vision and, like I said, you just give it to him and we will see what happens. He makes plays.

“He’s done a great job. I am sure his workload will increase as we get going."

Sixth-round pick Alex Armah, a fullback out of West Georgia, made a push for a bigger workload and perhaps a roster spot with his 20-yard touchdown catch and special-teams performance. Second-round pick Curtis Samuel, a wide receiver out of Ohio State, also should get a bigger workload as he progresses with a hamstring injury. Adding his speed and playmaking at the slot position with what’s already been seen from McCaffrey introduces another element to the offense.

But today is about increasing the workload on Newton. Until he proves he can go through more throwing without fatigue or soreness, until he faces live competition, there will be doubt about whether he will be ready for the opener.

Rivera and the Panthers don’t appear concerned. They understand that, like the eclipse, Newton’s talent doesn’t come along often. So they’ve protected him in rehab the way they will protect their eyes with special glasses when the eclipse occurs.

"Everything’s been positive, you know," Rivera said. "It’s been really good."