Sep 20, 2012; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) runs on to the field before the game at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-US PRESSWIRE

The Quarterback (R)Evolution: Part Six - Cam Newton

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As we all know, Cam Newton was the #1 draft pick of the Carolina Panthers in the 2011 NFL Draft following a 2-14 season in 2010. That year, the Panthers’ offense languished and scored 17 TDs – barely 1 a game. They had drafted Jimmy Claussen from Notre Dame the year before in round 2, but his own rookie campaign was a dismal display which left fans and coaches alike wanting for offense. It also cost John Fox, a very good NFL coach, his job.

Newton had just won the National Championship at Auburn following a National Championship at Blinn Junior College. These successes followed a freshman year at Florida, behind Tim Tebow, where a young, immature Newton was accused of stealing a laptop computer and of academic dishonesty. These questions about his character remained through the draft, but the Panthers did their due diligence and drafted him #1.

The pick drew inevitable comparisons with JaMarcus Russell immediately. Both big, strong guys with cannon arms. Both were from very successful college programs in the SEC as Russell had attended LSU. Oh – one more thing.

Both are black.

The racism bubbled through comments from users on NFL.com, ESPN.com and countless other pro football websites.

Newton is “Quarterback Zero” for the most recent phase of the Quarterback (R)evolution: The rookie starting quaterback.

Yes, first-year Panthers’ Head Coach Ron Rivera had installed a run-first, vertical passing offense that Cam seemed well-suited for. Even after a lockout-shortened rookie training camp, Newton came out firing. Literally.

He had over 400 yards passing in EACH of his first two games and led the NFC in passing yards at that point….second only to some fellow named Tom Brady of the AFC.

September 30, 2012; Atlanta, GA, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) passes against the Atlanta Falcons during the second half at the Georgia Dome. The Falcons defeated the Panthers 30-28. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-US PRESSWIRE

Teams certainly took notice and had to defend every square inch or Newton could put the ball there from anywhere. He has a rocket arm – as big an arm as anyone in the NFL – and Rivera actually tailored the entire offense around Cam. He had installed designed runs, like the QB draw, and made use of “Cam’s Cannon” by taking shots early and often down the field.

In fact, Cam’s early rookie season was so successful that WR Steve Smith, frustrated over poor QB play for years and had wanted a trade, changed his tune and loves playing in Carolina once again. He had had 5 1,000-yard seasons and 4 in a row until 982 in ’09 and only 554 in their 2-14 season.

That all changed with Cam’s arrival. Not only did Smith become Newton’s favorite target, he had the second-best season of his career with nearly 1400 receiving yards and a lofty 17.6 yds/catch. The offense that was 32nd in the NFL the previous season vaulted to 5th overall, scoring 41 TDs instead of the 17 from the previous season.

Newton also set a record for all quarterbacks – ever – with 14 rushing TDs and only Philadelphia Eagles’ RB LeSean “Shady” McCoy had more scores on the ground than Newton last season. Newton threw for 21 TDs to 17 INTS and, considering the fact Newton had only a single season at Auburn as a big-time program’s starting QB, and considering the lockout-shortened training camp, Newton’s progress exceeded EVERYONE’s expectations. Everyone’s.

All this came after a rag called Pro Football Weekly and their alleged “writer” – Nolan Nawrocki – wrote this about quarterback Cam Newton:

“Very disingenuous — has a fake smile, comes off as very scripted and has a selfish, me-first makeup. Always knows where the cameras are and plays to them. Has an enormous ego with a sense of entitlement that continually invites trouble and makes him believe he is above the law — does not command respect from teammates and will always struggle to win a locker room…Lacks accountability, focus and trustworthiness — is not punctual, seeks shortcuts and sets a bad example. Immature and has had issues with authority. Not dependable.”

Send your emails and letters to NOLAN NAWROCKI at PRO FOOTBALL WEEKLY 302 Saunders Rd. Suite 100 Riverwoods, IL 60015. I’m amazed the ultradoofus still has a job. Not a SINGLE WORD of what he wrote was accurate. The closest thing I’d give him is the “fake smile” – you know, the same “fake smile” that EVERYBODY uses at some point or another. Newton sure doesn’t use one on the sidelines, especially when he’s losing, but that’s another story.

Mr. Nowrocki rightly drew a ton of personal criticism for his comments and had people wondering why a so-called “professional” writer would indulge in such personal attacks while ignoring all of the good things Newton brought to the table. Like oh, I dunno….winning TWO national championships, the Heisman Trophy, leading the SEC in rushing (as a QUARTERBACK!), his arm strength, or anything else.

Newton survived the onslaught, gave Nawrocki a genuinely fake smile (for which I blame him not one single bit), and went on about the business of proving him wrong from the opening snap of game one.

Sep 30, 2011; Atlanta, GA, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) carries the ball against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Liles-US PRESSWIRE

Consider Newton’s system and the numbers he put up as a rookie. His completion percentage, 60.0, is pretty close to West Coast-style offense completion percentages, which I’d say should be in the 60-65% range. However, his passing yardage of 4,051, was an NFL rookie record for a season and pretty darned good totals for anyone in any offense short of Drew Brees or Tom Brady whose offense calls them to throw 40+ times a game in any case.

His yards per attempt, at 7.8, reflect the vertical passing aspect of the offense. So, he brings the best of both worlds – the completion percentage of a West Coast quarterback with the yards per attempt of a deep passing offense. What’s not to love there?

If you throw in his rushing statistics into his passing, you see total yards from scrimmage at 4,759 with 35 TDs and 17 INTs. Those are elite QB numbers…and he did so – again – as a rookie.

When talking about the dual threat Newton possesses, we also have to acknowledge that Ron Rivera and Offensive Coordinator Rob Chudzinski installed some college plays specifically so that Newton could run them using his unique talent.

The “read-option” play is part of the Panthers’ every-day offense: It’s where Newton in this case runs to one side or the other with a RB behind him and further wide so that Newton can “read” where the defensive end goes and once the defender commits – either to him or the back – Newton reacts accordingly. If the end stays home, looking to keep Newton from running, he pitches to the running back for an outside run. If the end stays with the back, Newton tucks the ball and runs it off-tackle. That’s the “option” part.

That one play symbolizes the odd evolution that NFL offenses began last year with Newton and Tim Tebow. NFL teams are now “innovating” the college offense into their playbook.

And it all started with Cam Newton.

Next up…the Fab Five

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