SAN JOSE, Calif. — Not all first overall picks pan out. Far from it, actually. Since 1998, there have been 12 quarterbacks taken with the top selection and the list includes the likes of Tim Couch, JaMarcus Russell, David Carr and (often injured) Sam Bradford.
So what talents, intangibles did Cam Newton possess that allowed him to take on such pressure, thrive and lead Carolina to a 17-1 season?
The Buffalo Bills certainly coveted Newton. We'll have more on that later tonight online with insight from former general manager Buddy Nix and what could have been for the Bills that 2011 NFL draft.
In the meantime, here's a conversation I had with the Panthers quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey. The former Miami (Fla.) star broke in with the Panthers the same time Newton did. In 2011 and 2012, Dorsey served as a pro scout. And since then, as Newton's career has truly taken off, he's been the quarterbacks coach. At this rate, he'll be a candidate for a coordinator job somewhere. It's been a good fit. Now, Newton takes on the NFL's No. 1-ranked defense.
On how Cam Newton has become the face of the franchise: “He’s able to handle a lot — all the outside stuff, everything. He’s able to handle that stuff really well, a lot better than most people. More than people give him credit for. He dealt with it in college. And he deals with it well now in the pros. He has an innate ability to block stuff out and focus on what he needs to focus on.”
On what Newton does to keep that focus: “Part of it’s just inside him—not letting anything that’s said about you bother you. So it’s just an internal thing. And he has a routine. Especially during the season, he stays in that routine and it works for him. Everybody’s going to do things differently. He’s found that gel that works for him.”
On if you need a certain mentality to handle the pressures of being a first pick: “For sure. And I know this, you get better in this league through reps. Especially game reps. There’s going to be good, there’s going to be bad. But it’s about weathering that storm as a player and as an organization to go through those growing pains and come out of that tunnel on the other end and I think that patience and hard work he puts in especially is, now you’re getting that result.”
On something we don't know about Newton: “His preparation is extremely underrated. Obviously, a lot of people see how talented he is physically and they forget about the time he puts in preparation-wise. The notes he takes, I wish people could see them. They’re so meticulous. He takes time writing stuff out and puts it down so it helps him remember it.”
On his first impressions of Newton: “I really was appreciative he was willing to accept the coaching I was giving him. It was my first NFL coaching job and this was his third year in the league—so he had that experience—but he never brushes anything off that I tell him. And I appreciate that. I think he respects the things I’m telling him and having played six years in the NFL you have a little bit of credibility with that—and with Shula’s experience — it’s a good conglomerate to bring it all together.”
On if a team needs to hit rock bottom to land such a generational talent: “Yeah, and a lot of it’s been in the right place at the right time. Look at Pittsburgh and where they were drafting when they took Roethlisberger and he fell. You just never know, based on the situation, based on everything. And especially as a college guy coming to the NFL, you never really know. You do all your homework. You take as educated of a guess you can take but, at the end of the day, when they get there, it’s what can we do to help him succeed as coaches and what can he do to succeed.”
On if Newton is such a generational guy who could play anywhere: “I think so. His skill-set fits so many different schemes. Now, I think what we do helps him be comfortable and gives us a lot of flexibility. With the group we have—and Cam especially—you can be as creative as you want but at the same time you have to be careful not to take it overboard.”