When they were teammates in Cleveland, watching film in the quarterbacks meeting room, Derek Anderson always thought Ken Dorsey would wind up as a coach someday.
And while Dorsey took a bit of a non-traditional route to the profession, the early reviews on the Panthers’ new quarterbacks coach have been positive.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera called Dorsey a “hidden gem.” Offensive coordinator Mike Shula, whose promotion created the opening for Dorsey, said Dorsey’s hiring was “probably the best thing that has happened this year for this organization.”
And Cam Newton, the player who will work most closely with Dorsey, said he was rendered nearly speechless when he learned during the offseason that Dorsey had gotten the job.
“The day he was announced the quarterbacks coach, we had a long talk. We challenged each other. I wanted him to make me the best quarterback he could, and I was going to accept the challenge. I was going to take coaching,” Newton said.
“Coach Shula still has his say-so, so we’re not boxing him out by any means,” Newton added. “I think those two guys work extremely well together and push me to higher heights.”
Newton and Dorsey worked together previously. Dorsey assisted former Panthers quarterback Chris Weinke at IMG Academies in 2011 when Newton trained at the Bradenton, Fla., facility after the draft and during the lockout.
When the Panthers hired Dorsey as a pro scout in August 2011, they said the move was unrelated to Dorsey’s work with Newton – something Newton reiterated Tuesday.
“I’m not going to take any credit for him coming here – let’s get that thrown out there,” Newton said. “Ken is a very passionate person, especially looking back at his career (and) his resume, being so successful. For him, he’s done everything on his own. For our relationship to cross paths as early as it did was just an added dimension.”
Dorsey went 38-2 as the starting quarterback at Miami, leading the Hurricanes to the 2001 national championship. He twice was a Heisman Trophy finalist, finishing third in 2001 when Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch won it and fifth the following year when Southern Cal’s Carson Palmer was the winner.
Dorsey was drafted in the seventh round in 2003 by San Francisco, where he started 10 games in three seasons. He then went to Cleveland for three years, playing behind Anderson and working with then-Browns offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski.
Chudzinski, now the Browns’ coach, was the Panthers’ offensive coordinator in 2011 when Dorsey joined Carolina’s scouting department. As an advance scout, Dorsey traveled to see the Panthers’ next opponent every week and reported back to the team on tendencies and personnel.
Every week was a road game for Dorsey – not that his hours now are any better.
“The big difference is I’m still here just as late, but now I have to be here earlier,” said Dorsey, who is married with two young daughters.
Dorsey said he has leaned on Shula for help in preparing for meetings and planning for practices. Shula said Dorsey has been a fast learner.
“Even though he hasn’t coached, he understands what we are doing and has a fast mind and just a really good way about himself,” Shula said.
Dorsey, 32, is only two years older than Anderson, his ex-teammate and the Panthers’ backup quarterback. But both said Dorsey’s new role hasn’t made things awkward.
“When he and I played together, he helped me. He and I would watch film together, we would do things together. So it’s not that different,” Anderson said. “(Dorsey is) kind of stepping away from being the laughy, joker, helper-guy to the coach, and making sure he commands our attention in meetings. And so far it’s been good. I think he’s going to be one heck of a coach.”
Because IMG’s clientele ranged from middle school to NFL players, Dorsey had to start with the basics when working with the younger quarterbacks. That’s been helpful in his development.
“Sometimes I think you fall into a lull in the NFL. You focus so much on the Xs-and-Os, you forget the mechanics of it sometimes,” Dorsey said. “In the fourth quarter, when guys are just dog-tired and you’re fighting to win a game, that’s what you’ve got to fall back on.”
As for Newton, Dorsey said he’s been working with him to keep his legs under him when he sets to pass.
“He’s got such great arm strength,” Dorsey said. “When he gets his legs and his base into the throw, it’s a huge difference.”
Dorsey praised Newton for taking a “blue-collar approach” this year.
“I always expect good things for Cam. The guy obviously is physically put together,” Dorsey said. “But also mentally, he’s made tremendous strides. I’ve been really excited about the way he’s worked this training camp and this whole preseason.”
Anderson expects good things for Dorsey, as well.
“He always kind of had that coach perspective,” he said. “When we were in Cleveland, he and Chud did a lot of game plan and stuff toward the end of his career. He kind of stepped into that role and he was working, scouting and all that. … He has it in his blood.”