I'm not a psychologist, and I don't play one on TV. But I wouldn't be surprised if a bunch of last year's Panthers and Panther fans ended up seeing one after the agony of last year's 2-14 demise. It was a long, agonizing and disheartening season. One of the intriguing aspects of this for me is, how will some of our players respond as they show up for the 2011 campaign?
1. Jimmy Clausen. This one is the most intriguing one to me. You have to feel for Jimmy and the things he has experienced the past 12 months. He was unsuccessful in an offense that seemed doomed from the beginning. An offense in which neither he nor any other Panthers QB succeeded the entire year. Most of the year he became the go-to interview guy having to answer all the tough questions that came with loss after loss. And now, with the drafting of Cam Newton, what must that do to his head?? Now I've witnessed Jimmy bounce back from a catastrophic frosh year for the Fighting Irish to achieve some success in his collegiate career. But what do you think? Will Jimmy show up focused, competitive, to the point of making a case for being the Panthers' starting QB in 2011? Or will all the losses and the drafting of Newton get to his head to the point of negatively affecting his ability to play the position, this year and in the coming seasons?
2. Armanti Edwards. The difficult last 12 months for Clausen might only be surpassed by those of Armanti Edwards. First, the on field failures. The fumbles/muffs resulting in losing the punt returner position. The difficulty in learning the new position of WR.....and not catching on quickly enough to be in uniform most of the year. Having to answer all of the questions regarding warranting the trade and loss of a #33 pick for yet to be fulfilled "potential." Then the drafting of Aloha Rainbow Warrior, another slot guy in the 2011 draft. Plus the off the field trouble for his dad; how difficult that must be for Armanti! So here we are, days away from training camp 2011. What do you think? Will Armanti show up ready to win a position on the 2011 Panthers squad, focused, determined, having worked hard to learn what he needs to succeed in this league? Or will all of the adversity get to his head, resulting in the kind of nervousness and indecision that result in a timid shrinking back, not making the grade in this league?
3. Chris Gamble. Regarded by some as a top ten corner in this league, Chris was benched at the end of last year in favor of hard working, great attitude, tenacious former Gamecock Captain Munnerlyn. Having been considered the Panthers' top corner for many years, this must have come as a shock to him. He's not quite old enough to be considered too old to still play at a high level. The vibe from the benching, IMO, had more to do with attitude than performance. Either way, it had to be rough for a "top corner" to end the season on the bench watching others play his position. What do you think? Does 2011 bring with it a new beginning for Gamble, a new zest to not only win his job back, but to excel as a top corner in this league once again? Or, was last year the beginning of the end for Gamble....symptomatic of a bad attitude and lack of desire for the game he once had?
4. Cam Newton. I know I'm going to catch some flak for this one. But it's such a strong hunch for me I just have to say it. First, let me preface by saying this: I think I speak for many in saying, it has been hugely encouraging to observe Cam's work ethic since being drafted by the Panthers. I for one was afraid we had drafted a prima donna who felt he was entitled to be a star without working hard to earn the respect of his teammates. The "icon" and "entertainer" quotes scared the heck out of me. It is looking like, thankfully, this was a wrong and unfair perception I had. That is, Cam is seeming to show he is an extremely hard worker, with a desire to be great (at least personally, hopefully also for his team to be great, translated into winning championships) and a deep commitment to doing what it takes to achieve to that greatness.
Having said that (and at this point I really wish I had a real psychologist to give a name to this), I am still afraid of one thing. Everywhere Cam has played he has been the best player bar none. Every team Cam has played on has achieved great success. I have to tell you, I do have a negative hunch with Cam, and it is only a hunch, but I still fear it nonetheless. I think his personality type is one that has to succeed in order to keep his attitude good, or up. Coach Chizik recently emphasized in one of his interviews, something like "Cam wants to be the man, he HAS to be the man." I can see Cam being a great leader with a great attitude, provided he is playing well and the team is achieving success. I am far less certain of what would happen to Cam's head if, worst case scenario this year, he comes out, has a terrible first year, and the team goes 3-13. I keep thinking of Magic Johnson, all smiles and a terrific attitude and leader when the Lakers were winning championships. But when he was coaching and the team underachieved for him, or even now when his Lakers don't meet his expectations, he kind of sulks and goes into a funk. That magical smile, in adversity, is no longer there. The opposite of this would be a Jake Delhomme kind of attitude; I think all of have a lot of respect for how Jake was a stand up kind of guy, even when the ship was sinking. His leadership never faltered even through many disappointments and failed expectations.
What do you think? Is Cam's success as a Panther predicated on everything going well? When (and this league, it is a when not an if) adversity strikes, do you believe Cam will continue to be a strong, positive leader for the team? Or do you think adversity would lead him to experience a meltdown, like Vince Young, or at least a "sulk funk"?