Cam Newton surprised his Carolina Panthers teammates by making an unexpected return to the field during the last day of minicamp on Thursday.
Newton hasn't participated in any Organized Team Activities or live on-the-field drills since he had offseason surgery on his ankle, but has said repeatedly that he will be healthy and back up to speed when the Panthers open training camp on July 25.
Because of Newton's limited physical training and rehab since the surgery, he said he was a little sluggish following Thursday's 7-on-7 workout.
"My mind was moving faster than my body," Newton told reporters at the end of workout. "I'm feeling better than I thought I would at his point. Today is a step forward. Moving forward, this doesn't stop for me."
Coach Ron Rivera didn't let anyone else know that Newton would be participating in Thursday's workout. Rivera knew that Newton had been medically cleared to participate on Wednesday, but wanted Newton's appearance to be a surprise.
"It just shows the team that he's coming, he's getting ready, and he's working hard to get himself ready," Rivera said. "It was good to see his teammates see him out there."
Newton's participation was a sign of his leadership and commitment to the team, who is undergoing some major changes since winning the NFC South last season before losing to the San Francisco 49ers in the divisional round of the playoffs.
The Panthers lost the majority of their receiving corps from last season, including Steve Smith, the team's all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards, as well as starting left tackle Jordan Gross, who retired in the offseason.
Newton and wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, the Panthers' first round pick in the NFL Draft this year, are expected to workout together in Charlotte in the weeks leading up to training camp.
Newton will also have to get used to throwing to new receivers Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant, and Tiquan Underwood.
Thursday's 7-on-7 drills gave him his first opportunity to do just that, though the results were mixed.
"He made some good decisions, made the right reads," Rivera said. "He just didn't deliver the ball where he needed to. That will come with time."
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