(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Large, thick glasses like Steve Urkel wore in the 90s sitcom "Family Matters." You may see someone wearing them around Halloween. But in an NFL setting? Thursday afternoon, they were again on the face of a whistling Cam Newton as he strolled through the Panthers locker room.
You could assume the funky frames have nothing to do with how Newton handles an NFL defense. But they do represent a certain swagger of the Panthers most important player.
"That confidence he showed us through camp and a couple preseason games is why we feel comfortable with him," Panthers WR Brandon LaFell said.
Despite a swirl of controversy in college, which was followed by more questions about his character, Newton has done and said all the right things since April’s draft. But the biggest debate remains: is he ready to start in the NFL?
"Slowly but surely I'm feeling comfortable in this offense," Newton said Wednesday.
Just imagine trying to learn Chinese with less than two months of coaching. Then you have to stand up on stage to give a speech. That’s the equivalent of what Newton’s facing.
Sunday, he’ll step up on that stage. He may nail a few of his lines, but to expect him to be fluent, would be foolish.
"Evaluating a guy off a practice, after a training camp, to say he’s blossomed, it’s really hard to get a feel for it if you haven’t had a game," Panthers WR Steve Smith said. "This offense is getting more complex. It’s like college. I’ve got flashcards, just constantly taking notes."
So if Smith, who’s about to start his 11th NFL season, is still learning, what does that mean for Newton?
It means don’t expect him to be the franchise savior Sunday. Don’t expect him to be the franchise savior this year. But that doesn’t mean he won’t be down the line.
Whatever happens in Arizona or throughout this season, the sample size won’t be large enough to make a final decision on Newton’s ability to play in the pros.
Perhaps we’re about to see a learning curve like Josh Freeman has experienced in Tampa Bay. In 2009 as a rookie, he threw 10 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. In 2010, Freeman threw 25 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Sometime this season, Newton may have a five interception game like Freeman did against the Panthers in ’09. But Newton will also provide electric moments like his preseason touchdown run against the Bengals.
So maybe he’s the next Freeman. Or maybe, Newton will end up changing the quarterback position. He could also be a bust.
Some may pretend and predict, but even if they could see through Newton’s fashionably questionable glasses, no one truly knows what will unfold over the next 17 weeks.
It’s going to be a bumpy ride at times. So buckle up, sit back and please don’t jerk those knees.