March 08, 2011
One week and one day after a performance at the NFL scouting combine that saw him go 11-for-21, Cam Newton lined up at Auburn's pro day to try and redeem himself. I did an extensive scouting report on Newton's combine throws, and came away about as impressed as you'd imagine … not very.
The question is, how did Newton's pro day performance differ from the throwing he did at the combine? It's unfair to expect too much development in just over a week, but Newton would be throwing to his own receivers this time, and given his comments about that factor in Indianapolis, his ability to connect with his own guys would be scrutinized.
"I underestimated the timing aspect of playing quarterback," Newton said. "You had receivers from the SEC, the SWAC, the MAC. … I was somewhat frustrated, but at the same time, I was having fun out there."
Based on what I saw him do on his pro day, Newton still has work to do in several areas. As was the case at the combine, when Newton tried to throw to a spot with touch and an arc to his throw, he was all over the place. This has a lot to do with the fact that he's still learning to take snaps under center and make five- and seven-step throws. He's slow at the back of his drops, his weight transfer (the "bounce" that allows the body to guide a throw when it's done right) is inconsistent, and I think that's at the root of it. He went 50 of 60 in his scripted throwing session with three or four catchable balls that were dropped by his receivers.
In a positive sense, there are no weirdnesses to his delivery — the ball absolutely zips out of his hand and he's got a compact release and a fairly consistent release point. He's a bit better on the timing of his underneath throws, though he's still very iffy on longer crosses. He seemed to be overcompensating for the fact that he sailed a bunch of 10-yard outs in Indy by throwing fastballs to his receivers on similar routes this time. That's all well and good, and it shows the work put in, but I wouldn't trust Newton consistently with linebackers in his face — I think he's going to over-adjust on his lack of touch with zoomers, and he's going to get some passes batted down in the NFL when he can't just outrun people.
Newton made a decided effort to show rollouts out of play action, and the stretch plays so popular with the Colts, Saints, and Texans. His long footwork is better, though still too slow to survive against NFL defenses, and this really showed up when he took a five-step drop and did the back-and-forth/side-to-side stuff before throwing to a spot dictated by a coach.
At this point in his career, Newton is doing his deep arm a disservice because he can't drive the ball consistently with touch downfield. He's actually better throwing across his body on short stuff, but when he tries to clear his shoulder, plant, and make a defined deep throw, it's all guesswork at this point. Right now, he does not possess the ability to line up his timing on those types of passes, and that's even when he's given his own receiver to work with.
In the grand scheme of things, I think Newton helped himself a little bit here. People expected improvement from a kid working with a coach as respected as George Whitfield, and certain little improvements were obvious over the combine. The larger issues, which showed up in both throwing sessions, weren't going to be fixed with a week of practices, anyway. There's going to be a point in time when Whitfield and Warren Moon and all the other advisors will have to cut bait, and Newton will be left to stand or fall on his own merits, and find the next level based on coaching, and his own willingness to break down the flawed aspects of his game and rebuild certain things.
I like that Newton's trying to put himself in uncomfortable situations — under center, throwing into the wind — and that has to be taken into account when his less-than-impressive throws show up. He's not nearly NFL-ready, and he's not the best quarterback in this draft class (to me, Blaine Gabbert takes that prize in a landslide), but he's making his prospects more and more interesting by virtue of the word he himself used … you don't often see this kind of "transparency" with a quarterback prospect rated this high.
And as Greg Cosell of NFL Films told me in Indy, Newton must be given the time expected for any spread offense convert. From a tools perspective, he's ahead of the game. It's just a matter of the "little things" catching up.
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