His critical eye may frighten some of the quarterbacks of the 2011 draft class, but former NFL coach and current ESPN broadcaster Jon Gruden has as much intel on "these guys" (to use his vernacular) as anyone analyzing them pre-draft. In preparation for his QB Camp shows with Auburn's Cam Newton, Missouri's Blaine Gabbert, Washington's Jake Locker, Arkansas' Ryan Mallett and TCU's Andy Dalton, Gruden crunched a bunch of game tape and then put those kids under the microscope. On a Tuesday media conference call, Gruden gave his grades on the QB Camp Five. And for a guy who was infamous for being brutal with young quarterbacks when he was a coach, Gruden certainly found enough to like about this group.
Gabbert: "I do think Blaine Gabbert is a Top 10 pick. All you have to do is see the ball come out of his hand. He's got a very quick, strong arm, prototype size. He's over 6'4", 235 pounds, a finance major, so you know he has intelligence. He has speed. I mean, Gabbert ran very well at the combine. He's elusive back there. His scrambling and play making ability I think will be very enticing. Once again, here's a junior quarterback that comes from a very unique, different style of spread offense at Missouri where he's been in the no‑back set, and the shotgun predominantly. But I think his physical talents are very noticeable to everybody."
Newton: "Cam Newton with 14 career starts, the thing that impressed me, not only his physical attributes and his size, but his charisma. I think his eagerness to learn and prove that he can adapt to a pro style on offense. He showed very good retention to me in the meetings and the material that we covered. I just like the look in his eyes, the eagerness and feeling that he has a lot to prove to everybody including himself. I think Newton impressed me the most in that regard.
"This is not a typical pro-style attack. Cam Newton is a tailback at times playing with a direct snap at Auburn. He's carrying the football much like Cadillac Williams did, and Bo Jackson did on power running plays. But it's a direct snap with some underneath misdirection. When they do throw the ball, a lot of it is off the play action. But I have seen him be very accurate. If you watch the South Carolina game late in the season to win the SEC Championship, he makes a couple of beautiful deep throws against Oregon in the National Championship game. I think he can make the throws. I think it's a matter of him learning and getting conditioned to what the coach wants him to do, and he can do it. This guy has tremendous ability.
"It's not his fault that they don't huddle. This is a no‑huddle offense. I don't believe Auburn ever huddles. I saw them live against Oregon and never saw them get in the huddle. A lot of their signals come from the sideline. As a matter of fact, every one of them does. That is just the way the Tigers operate. Cam Newton will learn quickly what to call formations, what to call shifts, what to call motions. That is something that I learned. What he's got to get ready for right away is learning the terminology and how to spit these plays out clearly, quickly, and get the team up to the line of scrimmage where he has time to deal."
Locker: "Well, Jake Locker said what he was going to do, and he did what he said he was going to do. He said he was coming back for his senior year. He said he wanted to take Washington to a bowl game, and I admire that about him. He could have walked away from the Husky program and potentially been the number one pick a year ago according to a lot of analysts. But he wanted to do what he said he was going to do, and that is a trait that I really admire.
"This is one tough guy. I mean, Jake Locker has played for two head coaches. He had to endure an 0‑12 season. This guy took a lot of punishment. The whole offense was built around No. 10. From a running standpoint, from a passing standpoint, this guy was involved significantly on every snap for the Huskies. He does have to improve his accuracy. But I think when you're hit a lot and asked to do as much as Locker's been asked to do, sometimes your fundamentals wane a little bit. They disappear in key situations. He does have a good, strong arm. He's an outstanding athlete. He's got very good elusiveness and straight line speed with some power, and I think he loves football. I think there is a real passionate fire inside this guy that somebody's going to capture. He would be a fun guy to coach. I know that."
(On Locker's accuracy issues, and whether that can be improved at the NFL level): "Accuracy can be improved. Sometimes it's because of your fundamentals. Sometimes you're out of rhythm, you're in the shotgun, you're underneath the center. Sometimes you're under duress and out of rhythm. Sometimes you're hurrying, you're playing too fast. You're anticipating congestion around you when maybe there isn't.
"I just think he needs to go back and reestablish his fundamentals and work hard at that. He'll get the right position coach that's going to help him do that. But accuracy sometimes can be terminal. Sometimes you can't cure that. I think that is a big concern with Jake Locker, because he does miss some throws. But if you pick up the Southern Cal film from this year, if you pick up the Oregon State film from this year, you can see what this guy's capable of doing. He can be a one‑man wrecking machine. There is a brilliant talent inside this body he's got. It's a matter of regaining his fundamentals, confidence and composure a little bit, and he'll be fine."
Mallett: "I think he does get it. He comes from a unique background. His mom and dad were teachers and coaches. Football is very important to him. The thing I really liked about Ryan Mallett was his background playing under Bobby Petrino at Arkansas. And I know Coach Petrino well enough to know that he coaches quarterbacks hard, very demanding. If you watch Mallett play, he's in a lot of pro style situations, underneath the center, in the shotgun, audibling, check‑with‑me's. They do a lot of good things on offense at Arkansas. Ryan Mallett can draw protections, blocking schemes, and he does have a beautiful throwing motion that I know a lot of guys in the league are excited about. He can really hum it.
"So he has that ability, I think, to throw the football from a lot of different areas. In the pocket he can get it out of his hand with a lot of velocity in a hurry. And I think he's got a very good football aptitude being in Coach Petrino's attack for the last couple of years."
(On the drug rumors): "I can't comment on any of that because I'm not aware of that. That's the best way I can put it right now. But obviously that's a red flag if that's the truth."
Dalton: "I think Andy Dalton can play in any offense. I think when you become a pro quarterback and play in the National Football League, as the hash marks change, the field becomes more available. When you're on a college hash mark and you're throwing the ball to the wide side of the field, that's almost an impossible task for anyone.
"So I think putting the ball in the middle of the field favors Andy Dalton. I've seen him be an accurate passer down the field. I've seen him manage a high‑volume offense with great success at TCU. He's got four years of production. And if you look at Texas Christian football, who would have thought they'd be 13‑0 and Rose Bowl champions?
"I really think Andy Dalton can fit any offense. But the more you put on him above the neck mentally to make decisions and play the game with his heady nature, I think the better Andy Dalton's going to be. He's an outstanding, well‑versed quarterback that I think will fit a lot of schemes."
And to those who wonder where Gruden gets off talking about draftable quarterbacks, given his own poor record of quarterback development with the Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (former Bucs quarterback Shaun King is among the unimpressed), Gruden has a surprise: He agrees with you … to a point.
"I miss working with the quarterbacks. And I agree with Shaun. I wasn't totally successful in developing all the young quarterbacks. Although Bobby Hoying and Ty Detmer did okay, and Chris Simms helped us win a division title. But I did fail miserably in developing Shaun King, and I'm sorry he'll miss our show."