At this point we've had a good amount of time to see Cam Newton wearing the red 'no hit' jersey running both the second, and first team offenses for the Carolina Panthers in training camp. In less than a week we'll get to see him under live fire from the New York Giants in the first preseason game. While some dismiss preseason football as pointless folly, I'm definitely in the camp that believes it can be an extremely important predictor for a team's future success (or lack thereof).
We'll have ample discussion about the Giants game throughout the week, but today I thought we'd focus on Cam Newton (surprise) to get a feeling for how he's been doing in training camp and where he is based on what we saw at Auburn, and at the NFL combine. If you haven't done so already, I strongly suggest you watch the six minute video of Cam found here in Kris Mynatt's post. It will help you get a good sense for what I'm going to talk about today.
In short, Cam Newton is a project. There are still many areas where his game needs to be polished, but he's looking much better than we saw prior to the draft. Though there are some suspect areas in his mechanics, he is a lot further along than I expected him to be at this point. The pure fact alone that he and Jimmy are trading off in camp for who looks better supports the idea that Cam is as NFL ready as anyone at the position at this point.
If you want the 'long version' of Cam's breakdown, including more in depth analysis you can find it after the jump.
Areas of Improvement
I don't want to give Cam too much effusive praise because there are still areas he needs to improve. Not everything about a young player is perfect, and while some will take this as condemnation of him as a player, please understand I'm as optimistic about his future as anyone. That being said, I'm not going to pretend that everything he touches turns to gold.
- His backpedal under center still looks unnatural and his gait is such that he's still not hitting his mark on 3 and 5 steps drops with regularity. However, prior to the draft he was missing his mark by a foot to a foot and a half, now I'm seeing it being about half that; We are seeing improvement.
- On short routes he's lofting the ball too much, as opposed to driving the pass between the numbers. As much as the short, safe routes will be utilized at times by this offense he will need to tighten this up, or give up some costly interceptions.
- Selling the play fake/handoff is another area of improvement needed. Cam was used to selling his one step drop and run at Auburn, and did so to great effect but that offense did not give him many opportunities to work on traditional play fakes. He's getting better, but right now they're still fairly poor. In the same vein, his pump fakes are exceedingly slow when compared to his actual passes; you can see them from a mile away.
- Running more: I know this seems like a bizarre critique, but I'd like to see Newton taking off more often. There have been times where yards were left on the table while Cam waited for a route to develop. That being said, I feel that the coaching staff are probably dissuading him from running as much as he does, so this could be an element of coaching.
Honestly, the criticisms of him are minor compared to the areas he's excelling in. As I said before, it's remarkable how quick he's been catching on to the NFL game.
- Cam's deep pass accuracy has been right on the money for much of the week. He's leading receivers well and hitting them in stride. Only rarely are we seeing adjustment on the part of the WR, and this is a testament to how much he's improved.
- The pocket presence Newton has displayed it astounding for a rookie QB. Whether the pocket is collapsing, or just being tightened he's moving extremely well to avoid the rush while keeping his eyes downfield. In this way he looks a lot like Ben Roethlisberger in his rookie season.
- Jimmy Clausen didn't possess the command of the huddle needed to inspire teammates, but Newton has done the exact opposite. There is a certain swagger the offense possesses with Newton under center that we don't see when another QB is in. The leadership aspects we've heard about are shining through.
- Shaking off mistakes: This is one of the key areas young QBs struggle in. We see them get inside their own heads too much when they make a bad play and then repeat the same errors. We saw this from both Matt Moore and Jimmy Clausen in 2010. Cam displays a poise after making an error where he is cleary upset, but he quickly synthesizes the coaching and lesson from it and moves ahead with confidence.
Cam Newton should be the Carolina Panthers' starting QB in 2011, that much is clear. He brings a confidence and ability to the offense that isn't possessed by another QB on the roster. There are still areas he needs to improve in, but as it stands he will learn those on the job. The time is now for Cam Newton to take over this offense, and I suspect he'll surprise some people in preseason.