I’m guilty of it. You’re guilty of it. We’re all guilty of it in one way or another. Society has an infatuation with whatever’s new. Last seasons prematurely tagged, “Greatest QB draft of all time” is a premium example of this. Fans were in a frenzy with this new “Pistol” offense, and the “read-option” play. Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson and first-year starter, Colin Kaepernick – redefined what the QB position would look like henceforth. The shortsightedness of NFL fans have seemingly left out the guy who I think will be the best of them all. That man is Cam Newton.
The one thing that irks me about our culture as a whole, is that we often times let personal feelings get in the way of giving a true judgment of an individual. Out of all the noted new-age, duel-threat QB’s, Cam Newton is by far perceived to be the least likable. I believe this to be due to a multitude of instances and preconceived notions, some I will detail later. The most poignant of which being his rocky college career.
Once thought to be the successor to Tim Tebow and the high-powered Florida Gators, Newton found himself in trouble for a myriad of situations including: The theft of a laptop, alleged payments in the form of cash, and moreover an alleged academic fraud centered around a term paper. The culmination of these incidents prompted Newton to transfer to a junior college, where subsequently he dominated the lower level of competition.
Despite the troubles at Florida, his play at Blinn Junior College led to the kind of recruitment he saw as a prep player at West Lake High School in Atlanta, Ga. Newton chose to stay in the SEC and attend Auburn University. Simply put, brilliance ensued! Without the benefit of preseason hype, or even being on a highly ranked team to start the season – Newton led the Auburn Tigers to an undefeated season – en route to a national title victory. All the while collecting a bevy of postseason accolades, including the prestigious Heisman Trophy award.
Gus Malzahn, the offensive-coordinator (now Head Coach) of Auburn, developed an offensive system that highlighted the physicality and overall athleticism of Cam Newton’s game. At 6’5, 250 lbs – running a 4.5 forty-yard dash, Newton is an athletic marvel. Newton’s speed is a bit of a conundrum, just when you couple it with his size. But when meshed with the vision of an ‘elite’ running back – you get an athletic force of nature. At the QB position non-the-less. His arm talent and overall QB acumen is also very good. He shows uncanny pocket awareness and the ability to throw on the move. He has a very strong arm and can make the most difficult of throws look routine.
In just one season, the marriage of Cam Newton with the no huddle, uptempo, multiple- formation set he guided at Auburn, led him to being the #1 overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft by the Carolina Panthers. Throwing for 30 Td’s/7Int’s, and rushing for an astounding 20 additional TD’s cemented him as such.
Much like at Auburn, offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski and quarterbacks coach Mike Shula – designed plays with Cam Newton’s athleticism in mind. Versions of the plays that had people drooling over this years crop of young duel-threat QB’s, were already being ran in Carolina during the 2011 season. Coach Chud’s creativity was on full display throughout his two years at the helm of the Carolina offense. The diverse group of running threats at Carolina’s disposal led to some unique plays once only seen at the collegiate level.
Since this is a part of the “Schemed to Death” series of articles I’m highlighting for the summer, which focuses on coaches/coordinators who are destined to change the NFL as we presently know, we’ve got to get to this game film and show you how Cam Newton and the Panthers offensive coaching staff were at the forefront of the exciting style of play we will see going forward.
Here we see Cam flanked by #35 FB/RB Mike Tolbert and #34 RB Deangelo Williams. They bring the tight end #88 Greg Olsen in tight for some extra blocking. They are optioning off the right defensive end. If the end crashes for the original hand-off to Tolbert, Newton will keep the ball and start the traditional option to Williams going left. If the end stands his ground he can give the ball to Tolbert or use Tolbert as a lead blocker and run between the center and left guard.
The end goes for the hand-off to Tolbert, now the fun starts.
Now they will option off of the free safety coming to help in run support. These types of plays are designed to get the offense in a more favorable situation by having more options that the defense can block. Here the safety has to choose which battle he will contend. He has to decide between tackling Newton who has the ball, or taking out the running back and hoping someone will tackle Newton.
The safety chose to tackle Newton. Bad idea as Newton pitches to Williams who has nothing but clear space ahead! Now that’s ‘Schemed to death!’
The beauty of a play like this is that with Newton’s size, you’re not afraid of him taking hits down-field like this. He’s about 50 lbs bigger than the safety and can absorb these hits with ease. Guys like Robert Griffin and Russell Wilson will be a lot more susceptible to injury because of their lack of bulk. Newton weighs about 20 more pounds than even a decent sized QB like Colin Kaepernick, while being just as fast!
Another variation of this play out of this set involves the same fake to Tolbert, but this time followed by a pass to one of the outside receivers not pictured. So as you can imagine, all these options continuously keeps the defense on it’s heels.
The 2011 season continued Newton’s ascent towards stardom, as he had by all accounts the finest rookie year ever by a quarterback. He threw for a rookie record 4,051 yards with 21 TD’s/17 int’s while completing 60% of his passes for an 84.5 rating. In addition, he set the record for rushing TD’s by a QB with 14 to give him 35 total TD’s! Add in 706 yards on the ground, and you have one of the finest all-around seasons for a QB regardless of league tenure.
Let’s take another look at how a prodigious, athletic marvel like Newton – works in one of the best schemes in football. Coach Chud/Shula’s, power run, option laced, down-field pass attack.
Here is a well designed play by former Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, now head man of the Cleveland Browns. Newton is flanked by tight end Greg Olsen and running back Deangelo Williams. This is a designated QB run with a read option like fake to Williams while Olsen crosses his face to block the safety who is blitzing to disrupt the play. Since this play is going to the left, they will allow the stand up outside linebacker and the blitzing nickel corner to get up field – while angle blocking the play to the right.
The defense is in a cover 3 which is a zone defense where both corners and the deep safety are responsible for a third of the field. So that means each of those players have to play off their respective men. The space given does not bode well for such a well-blocked play. Like expected, the defense reacts to the potential dive play by Williams.
With the angle blocks engaged, including the one on the blitzing safety by Greg Olsen, Newton sees nothing but green grass in front of him. The outside receivers will now act as lead blockers if Newton makes it to the second level of the defense.
72 yards later Newton has himself a TD!
In 2012, Newton had what fans and media deemed a “Sophomore slump”. This wasn’t in the least bit true. He threw for 3,869 yards with 19 TD’s/12 Int’s while completing 57.7% of his passes for an 86.2 rating. His avg of 7.98 yards per completion, (3rd in the NFL) were up from his rookie season of 7.84. He also added another 8 TD’s on the ground, with 741 yards rushing. If that’s a sophomore slump, I shutter to think of what he will accomplish when people think he’s played well.
I believe this misinformation is due to Newton’s perceived arrogance. Every move of his is scrutinized, similar to what the NBA’s LeBron James has had to deal with in his career. People criticize Newton’s body language in bad times as well as good. His first down and TD celebrations are met with vitriol by NFL purist. Never before have we seen a QB enjoy himself on the field the way Newton has. He has a Deion Sanders’ like flair for the spotlight. People would rather see him behave more like a Peyton Manning, and just hand the ball to the ref and shake his teammates hands.
As much as I love how Manning operates, there is plenty of room in sports for people to be themselves. I personally don’t think Cam should change anything about the way he operates. The only thing he needs to do is win, and the vitriol will fall upon deaf ears. Society in general doesn’t like for people to be different. It will take a guy like Newton to break barriers and change the way a QB is perceived. This will only open up more doors for other young men to follow in his footsteps.
2013 will see possibly the greatest group of QB’s at one time the league has ever seen. From Andrew Luck, to Sam Bradford, all the way to aforementioned duel-threat prowess’s of Kaepernick, Wilson and Griffin III – this league will see some high-caliber play from guys who aren’t even over the age of 25. I believe the 24 year old Cam Newton will be at the forefront due to his uncanny size, speed and power. His ability to throw, coupled with the many different schemes that now offensive coordinator Mike Shula will continue to design – will ensure that Cam Newton and his Carolina Panthers continue the trend of……Scheming this league to death.
Twitter: @Uptown Murf