He’s big, fast, can sling the ball downfield and has leadership for ages. Cam Newton looks like a dream quarterback for the Carolina Panthers to build a new image around. If he’s so great, then why was he ranked so low on Mel Kiper’s Big Board and thought to maybe not even be a first round talent?
Newton has all the intangibles, but it's not how big or strong a quarterback is. It is how intelligent a quarterback is both on and off the field. Newton needs work in both areas and it may be better he never see the field in 2011, but that probably means Clausen will start and the coaching staff already has little faith in him.
A lot is invested in Cam, but there are five major areas in need of improvement if Newton is to be the next Panthers franchise quarterback.
The first flaw that is brought to attention is the college system Newton played in. Auburn’s offense is a spread offense that requires a lot of shotgun and passing.
The problem is that in the NFL, unless named Peyton Manning, a quarterback lives under center. This will be the first challenge Newton needs to face as Jimmy Clausen played his college career under center and still fumbled snaps, so what will happen to a guy who is rarely so close to the center?
As part of the Panthers, Newton better get used to it. He also needs to get used to handing off the ball to the running back, which is sometimes taken for granted and can lead to a huge play for the defense. The Panthers run the ball 60 percent of the time on a bad day. Even with Ron Rivera at the helm, the Panthers will still be a run-first offense.
The best part about the run is that it sets up the pass using play-action, another concept Newton needs to get used to. There’s a massive difference between faking a hand-off to a back that’s right next to him and taking the snap from behind center, faking the hand-off, and rolling out in a timely manner. Rivera plans to utilize Newton’s arm strength and he will need to excel at the play-action in order to use that beautiful cannon.
One of the more difficult challenges for Newton is his progressions on his reads. Carolina will have more than two receivers on the field running routes, but Cam needs to realize it.
This is more of a natural challenge than a technical one. He needs to be confident in his offensive line and receivers that they will do their jobs. He cannot just look at his primary reads then take off. The NFL defenses are bigger, faster and seeing a quarterback looking to run the ball is like Christmas.
There will be times when it will be the best option to run, but Cam will need to work that urge out of his system. Let the line protect and the receivers run their routes. If he just gives his teammates a chance than he can realize that the play will gain more by design than by his ability to run.
Unfortunately, due to the lockout if Newton does start he will need to rely on his athleticism. He nor his teammates will have the playbook down to a science even if the lockout ended tomorrow. He should still go through his reads, but in his first season it may actually be more beneficial for him to make something happen. If he does, I just hope he learns how to slide.
Numbered plays and running to the coach for plays only works from peewee through high school, maybe college. In the NFL, the number 38 or 12 only says what seats the parents are seated.
Now, a common misconception is that Newton is an idiot as shown in his interview with Jon Gruden. In reality, the interview just proved that Auburn didn’t have any long play calls. Gruden asked, “Can you name a lengthy play from the Auburn playbook?” Newton answered, “No, we really don’t have any long plays just numbers.”
This does NOT mean he can’t remember plays nor is he a half-wit. This just says that Auburn does not have any three minute long plays that are called. Too often are stories spun in favor of reads and the truth and context get lost in the garbage.
Now, it will be different for Newton to have very long play calls but all that requires is repetition and memorization. The comfort level will not be there at first, but as the season goes on he should become more familiar with terminology. Overall, I expect it will take until 2012 for Newton to get familiar with the new style of play-calling.
You don't want to meet this guy in a dark alley
Carolina used to be the opposite of the Cincinnati Bengals in that even the smallest character flaw could turn them off from drafting a player. This season, the selections of Newton and Brandon Hogan shows that the Panthers are going more for talent and relying on the coaches and veterans to keep the character flaws in the past.
They will have their work cut out for them with Newton. He has the most off-the-field issues of anyone in the past decade taken first overall. Between the laptop, pay-to-play and a few academic inquiries Newton does have an unsettling past.
The good news is that those issues are in the past and now that he is in the NFL he has a chance to reinvent himself. In two years, if he stays straight and plays well no one will remember his flaws from college. If he does stray a little, there’s a whole offensive line, backfield and coaching staff to keep him on the path.
Worst case scenario, the Panthers leave him in the same room with Steve Smith and Jon Beason for 30 minutes and see if he’ll have character flaws then.
The biggest concern for Newton is his accuracy. He went 50/60 at the combine with half his misses being catchable balls. He did well at his Pro Day also. He’s proven to have the arm strength and has shown great touch.
The National Championship game just won’t get out of my mind. Granted, his receivers weren’t top notch by any standards, but that game should not have been close. He missed a wide open running back five yards away that would have resulted in a touchdown and I believe they had to kick a field goal. This is unacceptable in the NFL.
Panthers fans already had to suffer a year of Jimmy Clausen getting the ball on the opponents 20 after an interception just so they could lose four yards and kick a field goal. He has David Gettis and Brandon LaFell who are both tall, and Steve Smith can catch anything remotely close to him, but the coverage is tighter in the NFL so the accuracy will need to be greater.
Newton has the chance to take Rivera’s vertical offense and make it exceptional, but if these five issues aren’t addressed he and the franchise will be stuck looking to remodel the basement year in and year out.