A specimen off it, and very much a specimen on the field. Newton comes to represent the Quarterback of the future, the perfect inter-fusion of intangibles that combine the fleet - footedness and running of Michael Vick, and the pocket passing skills of traditional trigger men like the great Tom Brady.
It almost seems unfathomable however, but for a while he appeared a marked man, as prior to the 2011 draft, critics were lining up in their droves to argue against his right to the number one pick in the upcoming draft. One such critic, Pro Football's Nolan Nawrocki, was particularly vocal - "Very disingenuous - has a fake smile, comes off as very scripted, and has a very selfish me first attitude. Always knows where the cameras are, and how to play for them". He was really going for it now - "Has an enormous ego with a sense of entitlement that continually invites trouble and makes him believe he's above the law (a possible reference to an allegation citing the theft of a laptop whilst at The University of Florida). Does not command respect from team mates, and will always struggle to win a locker room". Not done there, the tirade continued still further - "Lacks accountability, focus and trustworthiness - is not punctual, seeks shortcuts and sets a bad example".
Interesting. Though doesn't sound like the Cam Newton that turned up at the IMG Academy armed with the Panthers playbook, of which he would proceed to meticulously study under the guidance of former Panthers Quarterback Chris Weinke, or the same man that in just a few hours prior to his selection on the 28th of April, sat down with NFL networks' Deion Sanders and declared "You could put me in any system, and I will adapt", "Two people I always talk about as far as preparing for each game is concerned, are Tom Brady and Payton Manning. You have to respect that", and in potentially the most emphatic broadside to his detractors, Newton addressed the failings of past first round picks such as former Oakland Quarterback JaMarcus Russell, and a steely determination not to replicate the mistakes that effectively ended the aforementioned career "If a particular athlete does this, and made a mistake doing it, and me knowing that growing up and listening to it, growing up and seeing their mistakes, why would I do the same?".
Though in his debut season, the Panthers were to finish 6-10 (3-5 at home), below .500 (.375), and 3rd in the NFC South, Newton had announced himself to the public with some scintillating performances, one of which being an impressive introduction at Arizona, where he threw for 422 - yards, two touchdowns, a pass completion percentage of 64.8%, and one interception in a narrow 28-21 defeat.
On the face of it, one may argue that on the whole his displays, through often brilliant, were tinged with the odd injudicious decision, but I think it would be unfair to look at this as anything other than the teething troubles invariably associated with an inexperienced player very much in the infancy of his NFL career. Not to expect the mistakes commonly associated with rookie trigger men would be fool hearty in the extreme.
However, what we saw was a rookie that emphatically superseded the 302 yards, 1 touchdown and three interceptions offered up by a certain hall of famer, and fellow number one pick in Payton Manning, when the great man made his very own debut way back in 1998.
Newton’s debut season achievements were given even greater scale when he destroyed another Manning record, this time younger brother Eli's debut season total yardage of 1, 043 in 2004, by accumulating a staggering 4, 051 yards. Impressive though it may be, the true test of a Quarterbacks evolution would come courtesy of the acid test otherwise known as the sophomore year...
The 2012 season
In truth, it's been very mixed bag thus far, and it seems that Newton, despite his precocious gifts is beginning to, if he didn't already, find out just how uncompromising and humbling an experience being an NFL Quarterback is.
Often going from the sublime, a case in point being his demolition job of the New Orleans Saints in week two, where he threw for 253 - yards and a career high 71 - yards rushing, which culminated in a 35 - 27 win, to the ridiculous, a 36 - 7 capitulation at the hands of a New York Giants team missing two of it's star performers in Hakeem Nicks and Ahmad Bradshaw.
If Newton was the fire that ignited the victory over the Saints, he was very much the hose that damped the flames in Charlotte, as his overall performance took on the look of a titanic struggle, where he was pressured into three interceptions, and five turnovers, two of which returned by Joe Adams. A performance that led Newton to remark in his post - match press conference "Who wants to support something that puts on a performance of embarrassment out there, and that's what that was" He continued - "If I was a fan of the Carolina Panthers I would be holding my head down at the product that was out there".
It's this defeatist attitude, or perceived attitude, that has led many within the game, even some within the Panthers organisation, to question his mental state, and how this may, or may not be, impacting upon his capacity to lead. A subject that provided the focal point of discussion on the Sunday 23rd (September) edition of NFL Networks: Around the League - Players only.
Former Rams Runningback Marshall Faulk, seemed to support the notion of poor leadership by stating: "However your feeling internally, you can't display that on the external (referencing the sight of a Cam Newton, petulantly hiding under his Gatorade towel, whilst sat on the sideline). People can't know emotionally, your on a roller-coaster, and the Quarterbacks we're taking about, like Cam Newton and Jay Cutler, they don't know how to internalize those things. If you watch the Tom Brady's, if you watch Drew Brees, if you watch Payton Manning, you watch those guys that have been there and done that and understand how to handle it. They show you what leadership looks like, because they constantly direct every question about another player, or a bad play on them, and how they could have done better, made the play better made the team better...".
However former Rams Quarterback, and Superbowl 34 M.V.P Kurt Warner, appeared to sympathize with Newton by suggesting :"We've all been there in situations where emotions get the best of us. I'm not saying I've bumped offensive linemen at all, but we've all been in situations where emotions get the best of us", although like Faulk before him, former Buccaneers Defensive Tackle Warren Sapp echoed concerns about Newton's leadership by declaring :"Do you show up a consistent rock ready to do your job, ready to support your team - mates, ready to get that support, because if your not ready to do that, your not a leader, in no shape nor form".
On a personal level, I feel that former Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin's assertion that Cam Newton's development, specifically from a leadership standpoint, carries the most weight, as leadership is not always something that comes naturally, and that it is indeed a 'process' one that will develop and evolve in accordance to challenges met throughout the course of time. The key is, developing the ability to confront those challenges head on, hopefully with a stoic determination that will instil and inspiration in equal measure.
Deion Sanders asked: “Cameron Jarrell Newton, who are you?".....Time will tell.
image: © pdaphoto