The Carolina Panthers open the season in San Francisco this Sunday, and you better believe Cam Newton will be playing. The 28-year-old has been dealing with a sore shoulder, but that won’t get in the away against the 49ers.

“Whenever anybody asks me about Cam, one of the things that always comes to mind about him, first and foremost, is he’s one of the toughest players – not quarterbacks, one of the toughest players – I’ve ever been around,” Panthers center Ryan Kalil said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “You’ve seen the shots he’s taken. They’ve been highlights in the offseason and during the season. The guy is a tough son of a gun and continues to come back. This is not the first time he’s missed offseason or preseason stuff. He had the one shot he took in New England a few years back where he missed a ton of time (because of) the ribs.

 

 

“I think he was hurt more then than he is now with the shoulder thing,” Kalil continued. “Obviously it’s gotten a lot more pub because he’s a quarterback (and) it’s his throwing arm. But from what I’ve seen and what we’ve been doing out on the practice field and the routes that he’s been throwing, he looks like his usual self – and obviously he’s one of the biggest kids I’ve ever met, so he’s still that big kid running around, dancing around, yelling absurd things. But he’s calm. He looks and walks and talks and is playing like Cam, and that’s what I expect to see on Sunday.”

Newton has experienced several highs and lows over the last two seasons. In 2015, he accounted for 45 touchdowns (35 pass, 10 rush), was named NFL MVP, and led the Panthers to the Super Bowl. Last year, however, he completed a career-low 52.9 percent of his passes for 24 touchdowns (19 pass, five rush), as the Panthers finished 6-10 and missed the playoffs.

Enter Christian McCaffrey, an all-purpose dynamo out of Stanford. The Panthers invested the eight overall pick in McCaffrey, and based on preseason reports, they’re going to get their money’s worth.

Will McCaffrey, 21, live up to the hype as a rookie?

“I think obviously everybody hopes so,” Kalil said. “I don’t want to speak for the guy, and I don’t think it’s fair to put as many expectations on him as everybody has, but I got to be honest with you: I’ve been thoroughly impressed with the kid. From his work ethic to his understanding and football awareness, that’s a rare quality to have for a first-year guy. He’s obviously another guy that comes from a football family. I think that stuff rubs off.

“So listen, I think the expectations are high for him, but I think if anybody can live up to it, it’s this kid,” Kalil continued. “He’s just a consummate pro. It takes a long time for guys sometimes to get to that level. To have a kid as young as he is – first year, come in, do the things he’s doing on and off the football field – I’ve been very impressed, and I think he’s set himself up for a really good chance to be successful.”

Kickoff on Sunday is slated for 4:25 p.m. ET.

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