It's the stuff of a made-for-TV NFL dramedy: the cannon-armed quarterback with the million-dollar smile and the 50-cent sulk, joining forces with the beanpole coach with the aw-shucks grin. The two are thrown together in the pursuit of victory and the recognition both deserve yet neither is getting.
Cam Newton, meet your new position coach: Ken Dorsey.
At first, it's a knee-slapper: as if the little boy from Newton's NFL Play60 ad grew up and became Cam's boss with the Carolina Panthers. But as with everything in life and football, it's a different story upon closer inspection.
Newton and Dorsey have at least one crucial thing in common: an undefeated college season. Newton led Auburn to a championship in 2010 and Dorsey did the same for Miami nine years before. You can make an argument that the two are the most dominant quarterbacks of the BCS era, making an allowance for Vince Young and Tim Tebow. Newton did it with all eyes on him, whether because of the unproven allegation that his family took money, or because of his unstoppable talent. He went No. 1 overall to the Panthers in 2011 and is still the franchise's present and future.
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Dorsey won by vanishing in plain sight. He made nary a mistake in his time at Miami, going 38-2 as a starter, and yet attention usually fell to Clinton Portis, Ed Reed, Jeremy Shockey, or any of the other fellow future pros on his team. Dorsey came within one pass of winning back-to-back BCS titles, and Bobby Bowden once called him the toughest quarterback to game-plan against. However, Dorsey was drafted almost as an afterthought by the San Francisco 49ers in the seventh round of the 2003 NFL draft. He went to the Cleveland Browns and then Toronto before becoming a Panthers scout. His first NFL coaching job came last January, when he was hired to train Newton. The Panthers' quarterback admitted shock when the decision was made, and most fans were just as surprised.
How would the star take instruction from a 32-year-old first-time whistle?
"When I have to get on him about something," Dorsey says, "he takes it very well."
Really? Newton is the guy who is so distraught after some losses that teammates have given him wide berth even in a crowded visitors locker room. His rep is one of petulance, not patience.
"Mentally, he's a lot different than what he's given credit for," Dorsey says, explaining that Newton's on-field awareness has grown considerably with the kind of time in the film room that Peyton Manning might appreciate. The two have worked together in the past, as Dorsey was an instructor for IMG before catching on with Carolina. Then as now, Dorsey has pushed Newton to forget the immediate past and worry about the next play or game.
"The day he was announced the quarterbacks coach, we had a long talk," Newton told the Charlotte Observer. "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."
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Mostly, that has meant working on mechanics, including keeping Newton's feet under him when he throws – something extra difficult for a mobile quarterback. But it's also meant an honesty Newton asked for and Dorsey isn't afraid to dole out.
Just like Newton is more of a student than most would think, Dorsey is more of a firebrand than he lets on. It was Dorsey who led the charge to get Larry Coker the Miami job when Butch Davis left for the NFL. Newton has called him "a very passionate person."
Will it work? There's reason to believe so. Newton is now a team captain for the first time, as voted on by teammates. That's a step in itself. And the departure of offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski to Cleveland has been met with some degree of relief.
"The prior offensive coordinator really was positioning himself to just apply for that head coaching job," wide receiver Steve Smith told reporters this week. "I think our offense suffered a bit because of that. At times, we got cute."
New coordinator Mike Shula may use a more vertical offense, which not only benefits Newton's arm but also mirrors what Dorsey employed at Miami. "Cute" need not apply when your quarterback can overpower a defense with his arm or his legs.
It's a little silly how overlooked Newton has been over the past several months. The hype over the reign of young quarterbacks has focused nearly entirely on Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck, Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson. Newton was more successful than all of them in college, Newton is more physically imposing than all of them, and Newton had better rookie-year stats than all of them. He threw for more than 4,000 yards in 2011 and ran for more than 700, with 35 total touchdowns. Newton's media session pouting has stuck to him (as has the losing), even though more popular athletes would probably be given a pass for the same behavior. Dorsey isn't deeply bothered, saying Newton has a "burning desire" and explaining how "Cam even wants to win every meeting."
While the similarities get overshadowed, they indeed have a lot in common: both successful yet somehow underestimated. Shula has called Dorsey's hire "probably the best thing that has happened this year for the organization." We'll see if there are any results on Sunday, as the Panthers host Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks. A win over the team picked by many to go to the Super Bowl would reawaken the Newton buzz and focus more attention on Dorsey. Newton's new mentor may not have the physical tools of the former No. 1 pick, but Dorsey had an interesting answer when asked if he's just as competitive.
"My wife would have a good answer to that one," Dorsey quipped.
If the NFL's odd couple works out, Mrs. Dorsey may start to feel like a third wheel.
- Sports & Recreation
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- Cam Newton
- Ken Dorsey