Carolina Panthers

Hometown buddies vye for spot on team

CHARLOTTE -- Quinton Teal and Cam Newton have always been close.

They grew up five minutes apart in a small town and shared the same pick-up football games as boys. They play the same position. Their jersey numbers are one apart.

And after tonight, they might have one more chance to see which one of them gets to stay with the Carolina Panthers.

The two reserve safeties are likely fighting for one job (if any), but right now, they're still enjoying their unlikely reunion. Both grew up in the Bennettsville area and played for Marlboro County from the small-fry level through high schools, where their paths diverged.

No. 29 Newton went to Furman. No. 28 Teal to Coastal Carolina. But here they are again, standing side by side in the Panthers' secondary.

"It's just like the old days, playing with him," Teal said. "It's kind of crazy. What's the odds of being here playing the same position with somebody you've known since you were 9? That's kind of weird."

Strange, but true, and so far in Panthers camp, the 25-year-old Newton gets to play the role of mentor.

Since he's 22 months older and has nine games of experience in the league, he's been playing counselor to Teal throughout camp.

"It eases it a little bit," Teal said. "You've got to listen to the coaches, but you've got somebody who can help you, give you advice off the field, help you with stuff the coaches can't do."

"Yeah, I look at it like it's a blessing," Newton added. "It's a natural feeling being back there with each other; we're in our best interests. It's a funny situation, but it's starting to feel natural again."

They've competed for years, since Teal and Newton's little brother Syvelle (the former South Carolina quarterback) would tag along with the older kids for the spur-of-the moment games. Baseball, basketball, football, whatever. There were seldom organized outings to parks, or even rules sometimes, as they'd square off wherever they all happened to be at whatever hit them at the time.

"We lived like five minutes from each other, so it didn't matter," Newton said. "We were mostly like backyard kids, or in the dirt, it didn't matter. Any place we could get tougher.

"It's like we're meeting at so-and-so's house, and we'd all end up there."

Now, the two have much more than neighborhood pride on the line.

Since the Panthers remade their entire safety position this offseason, there's a reasonable chance for one of them to stick here, and that would be quite a feat for either.

Newton bounced back and forth between Atlanta's practice squad and active roster three times in two years, and when the Falcons cut him for the fourth time last December, the Panthers snagged him for the final week of the season (he didn't play).

Meanwhile, Teal was undrafted from a small school, so he walked in the door with the same background Newton had two years ago in Falcons camp.

With Mike Minter retired and Nate Salley injured for most of camp, the pair played together with the second group most of the time they were in Spartanburg. They might get more action together tonight against New England, though Salley has worked at free safety alongside Newton with the second group in the last few practices of camp.

The Panthers likely have three of the four safeties they'll keep locked up (with Chris Harris, Deke Cooper and Salley), and there's a chance they'll bring in another when other teams make cuts, leaving no room for the pair.

Newton's the more polished of the two, while Teal has intriguing range for a team short on safeties who can cover ground.

Best-case scenario, there's a chance one of them might make the regular-season roster, but not the other, though they're trying to block that thought from their minds. After all, there's always the practice squad (both are eligible), but it would take getting cut to land there.

The Panthers make their first cuts next Tuesday (down to 75), and get down to their final 53-man squad on Sept. 1.

"You can't think about that," Teal said. "You can only go out and play hard and do the best you can. You do the little things, and it will take care of itself."

That's where Newton's experience kicks in. Having been in a pair of camps before this one, and been cut before, he knows the business could well interrupt their friendly reunion. But he vowed it would never hamper their loyalty to each other.

"I told him how the business is," Newton said. "I've been in the league two years, and I've experienced the business side of it. As a matter of fact, it's strictly business. I told him to go out and work hard, I'm going to help him any way I can, any questions he has or anything. We're both working for the same goal.

"I'm trying to be a good teammate, and even before that, being a good friend."