SAN JOSE –- Nobody would ever confuse quarterback Cam Newton’s playing style with his position coach, who forged a six-year NFL career.
“I played one year in the CFL," Panthers quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey said, "and we did have some zone read, but ..."
There was no need for him to finish the sentence.
Dorsey, 34, a native of Orinda who starred at Miramonte High, finished in the top-five of the Heisman Trophy balloting two times in his ultra-successful career at Miami (Fla.). The 49ers selected him in the seventh round of the 2003 draft. He spent three seasons with the 49ers before finishing his NFL career with three years with the Cleveland Browns.
Dorsey was not known for his mobility. In his 17-game NFL career, Dorsey rushed for a grand total of 18 yards. But Dorsey has been a major influence as Newton has flourished into a sensation.
The No. 1 overall pick of the 2011 draft stands as the best of the league’s dual-threat quarterbacks and, perhaps, the sport’s biggest star. There is little doubt Newton played his best football this season in his third season working closely with Dorsey.
Newton threw for 3,837 yards with 35 touchdowns and 10 interceptions while rushing for 636 yards and 10 touchdowns as the Panthers lost just one game entering Super Bowl 50 against the Denver Broncos.
“A lot of it is just reps,” Dorsey said. “You look at Cam, he had the one year at junior college and the one year at Auburn, so it’s not like he’s ever been a four-year starter.
“The more reps he gets, the more comfortable he gets. That’s the same with everybody, Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, anybody. The more comfortable you get seeing things, the more you can just react.”
And nobody does that as well as Newton.
“He has a tremendous football IQ and feel for the game,” Dorsey said. “There are times when you say, ‘That’s a play I don’t know about. I didn’t coach him to do that, but I’m glad he did it.’
“He’s just got a tremendous feel. He prepares and he does a tremendous job of understanding our concepts. At the end of the day, when he’s got to step out of the box and make a play, he’s got a great feel for when to do that.”
Said Newton, "I think it's more understanding now. I get it at some points, I do. I still need to understand more, but I'm willing to correct my wrongs and say, 'I'm not perfect.'"
Newton has been with Carolina offensive coordinator Mike Shula since his rookie season. The continuity has enabled Newton to continue to build from year to year without starting over.
“I think it’s very huge,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “You can also throw Ken Dorsey into that mix as well. All of us have really grown together for a period of time. You can’t really develop that kind of relationship of trust until you’ve been around each other for a while.”
Coincidentally, Dorsey’s lack of stability as an NFL player helped steer him toward his new career.
“In six years, I had eight different offensive coordinators,” Dorsey said. “So whether I knew I was going to get into coaching or it just happened that way, it kind of worked out that I got a lot of different ideas on X’s and O’s or thinking back to my meetings with coaches and what worked and what didn’t.
“I wasn’t thinking about coaching from Day 1 in San Francisco, but as time went on I knew I didn’t want do anything else but football.”
Dorsey said he remains in contact with many of his 49ers coaches, including Mike McCarthy, Jim Hostler, Ted Tollner and Greg Knapp.
Last year at the NFL Scouting Combine, Dorsey spoke with Knapp, the Denver Broncos’ quarterbacks coach, about the challenges of coaching a player who has already achieved a high level.
“Peyton (Manning) has the offense down, so what do you do in the offseason to challenge him?” Dorsey asked Knapp. “That type of advice is huge.”
And that will likely be the challenge Dorsey faces with Newton, who is likely to be voted as the NFL Most Valuable Player on Saturday – the eve of Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium.
“The biggest thing for me is, you lift all your weights with one arm, the other arm becomes insufficient,” Dorsey said. “We try to focus on being an all-around passer, an all-around quarterback technique-wise.
“He’s going to do whatever he feels like and whatever we feel like he’s got to do to win the game. He’ll throw the ball one time and hand it off every other time if it means we’re gong to win the game. ‘Whatever it takes’ is his mindset. That’s where we mesh really well.”