February 27, 2011
The morning drills at the scouting combine were absent the marquee name of Cam Newton, but the reigning Heisman Trophy winner (and potential top-three pick) went through all the drills on Sunday, and he threw passes to different receivers as every other participating quarterback did. You can definitely tell that he's learning to transition in a physical sense from the Auburn spread offense to something more standardized, and the Cam Newton I saw inside Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday was a bit of a hybrid between the athlete we've seen and the quarterback he knows he needs to be.
Newton throws with a slightly overhead but very compact delivery -- if anything keeps him out of the NFL success loop, it won't be the way the ball comes out of his hand. He doesn't look like a spread offense guy from that perspective -- there's no huge delivery flaw to be fixed as there is with Tim Tebow(notes).
He hit his receiver on two of three slants -- his footwork is decent in that he can now make three-, five- and seven-step drops, but the footwork is still a little gangly. You can tell that he's still working on a lot of technical issues as an under-center quarterback. In the 10-yard out, he unfolded out of a five-step drop with good mechanics. Results from an accuracy standpoint were iffy all the way through his throwing drills -- he tends to be wild high and threw a few air-balls because his shoulder doesn't clear out through his throwing motion, leading to inconsistencies. He also struggles with the concepts of different arcs for different throws, which is a fairly common problem for college quarterbacks in less-advanced passing offenses.
On the 15-yard turn-and-in, he bounced forward from a seven-step drop and released the ball cleanly. He doesn't appear to have issues with timing and anticipation -- he can and does hit receivers in stride pretty consistently.
Newton airmailed the 10-yard outs to his right -- he threw all three of them over the heads of his receivers. He adjusted better on the post-corner, throwing the first one a bit too far to the sideline (though still catchable). The second post-corner throw was another airball, but the third was right on target. Once again, he displayed a better than expected dropback on longer patterns, though you can still see the rudimentary aspects of his ability to work in a non-shotgun situation.
I spoke to Greg Cosell of NFL Films about Newton -- Greg is also the executive producer of ESPN's "NFL Matchup," the legendary X-and-0 show that's been going strong since 1984. Greg said that as obvious as the "work-in-progress" label is on Newton, he's doing it the right way.
"I think that when a guy can't do something, and you're teaching him to do it, he always looks exaggerated at first because it's something new. But that's coaching, and I think he's absolutely doing the right thing -- he should be doing that stuff as precisely as he can, even if it doesn't look smooth and fluid yet. It will look smooth and fluid, because he's a big-time athlete."
Greg said -- and these are observations that are consistent with my own and many others about Newton -- that the real issues for him at the NFL level will be mental and schematic. How will he handle it when the throws he made in college aren't open in the NFL? How long will it take him to process things well enough in a multiple-read offense? How closely will his NFL team fit its offense to his skill set, and will that team start him too soon?
Newton still has many questions attached to his name both on and off the field, but one day after putting a few issues to rest in his media session, he showed that he's trying to bridge the gap between perception and reality between the lines, as well.
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