CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- Panthers rookie quarterback Cam Newton said when he picked up the phone, he was surprised to hear Michael Vick on the other end.
"He was giving me (advice) on what he thought I needed to do, as far as what I'm capable of doing," said Newton, the top pick in this year's NFL draft. "He's been through my situation. . Obviously he's a person that I idolize and whatever he says right now is golden."
Vick, the former Virginia Tech star who was the No. 1 pick in the 2001 NFL draft, wasn't thrown into the fire as a rookie the way Newton will be Sunday when the Panthers open the regular season against the Arizona Cardinals, but he's seen -- and overcome -- his share of adversity.
Newton will surely see his, too.
He's been chosen to start the season opener after just five weeks of learning the team's offense because of the NFL lockout and he has the weight of an entire city on his shoulders, even though coach Ron Rivera has been careful not to label him the team's savior.
When asked if he wanted to be the opening day starter rather than sitting and watching for a few games, Newton responded, "That's not something that's relevant right now. I'm just happy I have the opportunity to start and I'm just trying to put this team in the best situation."
Rivera said the one thing he's learned about Newton is he's hard on himself, largely because he doesn't want to let his teammates down.
"I think that has shown his maturity," Rivera said.
As for playing Newton right away, Rivera said the NFL has entered an era where teams can't afford to wait to play their top rookie draft picks because of the money they've invested in them.
"When you have to release veteran guys so you can get under your cap, the guys who were drafted in the first, second or third round, now all of a sudden they have to get on the field," Rivera said. "You don't see a seasoning process with a lot of guys these days."
Newton will open his NFL career in the same stadium where he helped Auburn University win a national championship earlier this year. But it was clear he doesn't want to dwell on his college accomplishments, brushing those off as irrelevant.
"You can't still linger with those collegiate things in your back pocket," Newton said. "You might as well clean your pockets out, because nobody cares."
The Cardinals certainly won't.
They're eager to turn things around after floundering last season with Newton's current backup Derek Anderson at the helm. They've added Kevin Kolb at quarterback and are viewed as a contender in the perennially weak NFC West.
Newton will play his first real game on the road, which is never easy.
But center Ryan Kalil believes the rookie is ready to handle it.
"A lot of guys, media and even teammates, were curious to see how he would handle a lot that has been given to him in a very short period of time and I think he's done well with it," Kalil said. "He's taken it in stride. I think he has a calm, collective cool about him that I think is inspiring and guys getting excited about. So I'm not worried about the crowd noise at away games."
Like Kolb, Newton has been forced to learn a new offense in just five weeks.
"A lot quarterbacks were put in this situation, so you can't say, `Man, it happened to me' when everybody was locked out," Newton said. "But you can't just linger on the past. You have to keep a positive attitude."
Newton said he's becoming more comfortable with the Panthers offense slowly but surely.
"It's one less thing I have to think about each practice as far going and getting my play, knowing what my reads are and where I'm hot and where I have to slide the lines to. So that's a positive sign," Newton said.
Then, with a measure of confidence, he added, "If I feel like I can get that 100 percent through this offense, then watch out."
If Newton has learned anything at all in this offense it's this: that wide receiver Steve Smith is always open when running his routes - at least in Smith's mind.
"Yeah. One man on him, (it's) `I'm open,"' Newton said. "Two men on him (it's), `Just give me a chance.' Three men on him it's, `No matter what, throw it up and see what happens.' Don't ever tell Steve that he was covered or he'll give you one of those looks. Also, you don't want to get on his bad side either."
NOTES: Rivera said he expects that middle linebacker Jon Beason will play Sunday against Arizona. Rivera also said that cornerback Darius Butler, who was claimed off waivers from New England, will see action in certain nickel packages this week. Derek Anderson and Jimmy Clausen split reps behind Newton on Wednesday and Rivera said he hasn't named a No. 2 quarterback.