"Yeah — he broke my single-game yardage record, and he just broke my single-season rushing touchdown record. Join the crowd -- everybody laughs when I tell them that! My rookie year, I had six rushing touchdowns, mostly because I was running for my life. That was the year we went 1-15."
That was how my conversation with Chris Weinke started on Friday. We were to discuss Weinke's work with Cam Newton at IMG in Bradenton, Fla. over the summer, and the drastic upturn in performance Newton's shown since some shaky throwing sessions at the 2011 scouting combine and at a pro day he put on soon after. The Newton we're seeing now shows a progression I've never seen from a quarteback in a six-month period of time, and I wanted to talk to the guy who was responsible for a lot of that.
But before Weinke started working with quarterbacks at IMG a couple years ago, he had a few moments in the sun as an NFL quarterback after an estimable career at Florida State. When Newton threw for 432 yards in his second NFL game against the Green Bay Packers, he actually did break Weinke's franchise record, set against the New York Giants in 2006. And Weinke did indeed have six rushing touchdowns in his rookie season of 2001, when he was bailing out of the pocket on an abysmal Panthers team.
Things are different for Weinke now — he's gaining a major reputation as a coach for quarterbacks, and his work with Newton has been a big part of that. In part one of our exclusive interview with him, we talk about how he got started in the business, and how he first worked with Newton. You can find part two of our interview here.
Shutdown Corner: When you left the NFL, what got you into being a performance coach?
Chris Weinke: Well, I consider myself a football coach. At the end of the day, I always knew I was going to be a coach. I always knew that I didn't have great athletic ability, but I knew I was a student of the game. None of have a crystal ball, but I knew that my passion lied in coaching. That was kind of my calling, so IMG reached out to me about two years ago. We were starting a dedicated football academy down at IMG, and I had trained there as a player coming out of college. I was familiar with it, and one thing led to another, and now I'm the director of the football academy down there.
I get to work with young guys all the way through NFL guys, and that's where my passion is. So, this created an opportunity for guys like Cam and Christian to come down and be a part of our facility. They could not only get strength and speed training, but position-specific training at the football academy.
SC: Well, let's talk about Cam Newton and the quarterback he was then versus the quarterback he is now. Watching him at the combine and at his pro day, then through the preseason to now … I don't think I've ever seen a quarterback improve his functional mechanics so quickly.
CW: Yeah, and that says a lot about his commitment to get better. The one thing I can say about Cam is that as NFL people evaluated him, they would say that he didn't take any snaps under center. Well, that's not what Auburn's offense called for. He did what he was asked to do at Auburn, and he did it very well. And as these people said these things, I would say, 'Well, that's not fair to the kid, because he was doing what he was asked to do.
So, when you fast-forward, and you try to prepare him for the next level and some of the things he was asked to do, it was a lot of fun to work with him. He was coachable, he's very intelligent, he's able to quickly pick up and absorb the information that I was teaching, and then, he was able to go out onto the field and execute those things. We would work on a daily basis on those mechanics and what he'd be doing at the next level.
Was there a transformation? Yes, but he's also one of the best athletes I've ever been around, so I knew that if he was willing to work and I was teaching him the right things, he would pick up on them and he would have success.
SC: What was your timeline with him?
CW: Cam came to me — his pro day was like six days after the combine, and I hadn't worked with Cam at all up until the combine. He came down for about four days prior to his pro day, and we just tried to work with him as much as possible. Obviously, time was limited. After his pro day, he came down and was really a part of our campus and our facility all the way through the lockout. Sometimes he was there for two weeks and then he'd have obligations, but he spent the better part of May, June, and July down at our facility.
SC: How was he able to get the mechanics of the dropback from under center so quickly, when guys like Alex Smith take years to get that together?
CW: Quite frankly, it does take time. What happens is — and I can only speak to the time I spent with him — any time you make a change or you tweak something mechanically or you're teaching a new concept, it just takes time. What the average person doesn't understand when they're watching the game is that a rookie quarterback — there's a lot of confusion early on. The game is faster, and you're having to comprehend and process more information. I'm a firm believer in the notion that I can watch a quarterback and tell if he's comfortable simply by watching his feet. You can tell if a guy's playing with hesitation, or if he's comfortable.
I could take a camera and put it on a quarterback's feet, and tell you what kind of game he had. So, it goes along with not only taking time to understand the concepts, but also the element of … they're learning a new language. And what happens is that when you can't process that information as quickly as you should, you hesitate with your feet. I think that over time, he's been able to feel comfortable in procession information more quickly than any other quarterback I can remember.
You take all of those mechanical skills and fundamentals that we taught him, and because he's such a great athlete, he picked up on it much more quickly.