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Despite lingering uncertainty, Browns preparing as if Cam Newton will play


This week, it's the other team that's dealing with some uncertainty at quarterback.

Make no mistake about it: Cam Newton, despite some ups and downs this season, is the quarterback of the Carolina Panthers' present and future. His status for Sunday's game, though, remains one of the NFL's biggest question marks heading into the penultimate week of the regular season.

Newton didn't play in Carolina's win over Tampa Bay last Sunday because of the injuries he suffered in a car accident earlier in the week. Newton has two fractures in his lower back but was able to practice for the first time since the accident Wednesday. He was officially listed as limited but reporters on the scene noted Newton was able to connect with wide receiver Stephen Hill on a 60-yard pass.

"We do expect him to play," Browns coach Mike Pettine said. "I know there's still a little gray about that, but we do fully expect him to play. That's a big part of our prep."

Because of Newton's versatile skill set, the preparation is different from normal weeks. It's also different from whatever the Browns do to ready themselves for potentially facing Newton's backup, former Brown Derek Anderson, who is a more traditional, drop-back passer.

Anderson, who also started the season opener, led the Panthers to a 19-17 victory over the Buccaneers by completing 25-of-40 passes for 277 yards and a touchdown. Before this year, Anderson hadn't started a game since 2010, when he was with the Arizona Cardinals.

Anderson threw for 3,787 yards, 29 touchdowns and 19 interceptions while leading the Browns to 10 wins in his Pro Bowl 2007 season.

"Derek has done a really good job. As you guys know, he's had a lot of success. He had some success with you guys in Cleveland and did a nice job," Carolina coach Ron Rivera said. "He's a very smart, heads-y player. I think his ability to come in and fit in is because of the style of offense. You guys saw the style of offense because of Chud (former Browns coach Rob Chudzinski). We're very similar. We do a couple of different things obviously, but Derek, he's been a solid pro for us and he's been a great mentor as far as working with Cam and working with (Panthers QB) Joe Webb."

Newton, though, will be the one under center if he's physically cleared to play. The former No. 1 pick has had his ups and downs throughout his fourth NFL season but he remains one of the league's top dual-threat quarterbacks.

Newton's rushing totals (82 carries, 425 yards, three touchdowns) are the lowest they've ever been, but he's come up big with his feet in some of the Panthers' biggest performances. In the Panthers' tie at Cincinnati, Newton ran for 107 yards and a touchdown. Earlier in the month at New Orleans, he had 83 yards and a score in a Panthers' rout of the Saints.

"He's a very talented guy," linebacker Paul Kruger said. "I don't know how big he is exactly but he looks like a D-end out there. He's a talented guy obviously throwing the ball out there."

The Browns haven't seen many mobile quarterbacks this season because there simply aren't all that many in the NFL at the moment.

In an Oct. 5 comeback victory in Nashville, Tennessee's Jake Locker had four runs for 34 yards and a touchdown against the Browns before he left the game with an injury. Jacksonville's Blake Bortles ran five times for 37 yards. MVP candidate Andrew Luck led the Colts with 37 rushing yards in a game earlier this month.

Working in the Browns' favor? The defense is squaring off against a mobile quarterback every day in practice.

"He's a lot like Johnny (Manziel)," defensive end Billy Winn said. "He's able to just take off with the ball and pick up the yards he wouldn't be able to without running or throwing the ball. It changes the dynamic of the game and makes it harder on us because we have to worry about an extra weapon they have, which is the quarterback run game."

Though Pettine and most others on the team believe Newton will return to action for a pivotal game toward the Panthers' playoff hopes, Kruger said the Browns are preparing for both Newton and Anderson at this week's practices.

"You hear different things on whether he's playing or not. I would expect he'll probably want to play," Kruger said. "It's a big game for them."

And a big opportunity for the Browns defense to bounce back against a unique challenge.

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