September 22-24 2009. I'm in Billings MT visiting a friend and find myself at the Metra Rodeo complex watching the Three Can Tango, in which cowgirls individually raced their horses weaving through three tightly spaced barrels. Speed was paramount, but knocking down a barrel brought an automatic disqualification, so making the precise curl around each barrel cleanly was even more important.
Hang with me here as I will tie his all together shortly.
I watched dozens of horses that weekend, each with different racing styles and personalities. Most could be described in one of three categories:
1. Fast and reckless. These horses were the most physically gifted, but were not precise, knocked the barrel down, and were disqualified as a result.
2. Slow and careful. These horses carefully approached each barrel, taking several small steps to curl around each barrel, resulting in a slow time and no awards.
3. Precise but decisive. These horses were fast, yes. Not the fastest but fast. In addition, they were not intimidated by the challenge of curling their large bodies around the barrels. Rather they attacked the barrel with speed, decisiveness and precision. These horses, of course, won the competitions and brought home the trophies and prize buckles.
Two years ago, I wrote a post on CSR that guaranteed Cam Newton would lead the Carolina Panthers to a Super Bowl championship. As a Panthers fan, I continue to hope my prediction will come true, even soon. But I am less confident now that Cam has what it takes. Let me be clear, I am a fan of Cam and a big supporter. I am the opposite of those who hate on Cam because he wears a towel on his head, or smiles too much.
The only legitimate criticisms I have heard about Cam in these 2 years have been his accuracy (he misses his targets more often than most elite QBs in the NFL do) and his leadership, or lack of it (moping on the sidelines and pouting at the press conferences when he loses). While both of these have some merit, they are not my primary concern. I believe Cam's accuracy is adequate and will improve. I also believe he is showing real signs of progressing as the team leader the Panthers need him to be as he matures as a young man.
Before I state my concern, let me very clear. There are MANY reasons to be optimistic about who Cam Newton is as the Panthers QB:
1. Arm strength
2. Physical strength and prowess
4. Poise in the pocket
5. Dedication and work ethic
6. High character and strong support system (forget the teenager who took a laptop, Cam is not the kind of young man who will end up on a police blogger, he has a good head on his shoulders and good family support system)
7. Intelligence. Cam is no dummy. He is a sharp, smart kid. The NFL is not too big for him mentally.
Accuracy and leadership? While not strengths, I believe these two aspects of Cam's game will be sufficient to get us a Super Bowl win.
So what is my concern? Back to the horses.
1. Cam has worked very hard at not being like the #1 horses who were fast and reckless. With that strong arm comes the temptation to zip and squeeze passes into traffic, resulting in multiple drive-killing turnovers. He has made a conscious effort to cut down on his mistakes, and he has succeeded. Becoming less mistake prone was one area in which Cam greatly improved from Year 1 to Year 2.
2. Here it is. I haven't heard anyone else emphasize this (maybe they have, I just haven't heard it). Cam seems to me to be most like the second category of horses which were slow and careful. What do I mean? Well, I don't mean Cam is not fast, because he is. We all witnessed his speed in the open field in some of his great runs such as the long TD run versus the Falcons.
But...Cam...is not....quick. First, in his running. He has a slow first and second step. It simply takes a few steps to get his big body moving towards the hole. This is why we saw RG3, Wilson and Kap having much more success in the read option than Cam did. He is fast, and his scrambling ability is an important strength of his game. But Cam is not quick. For this reason (and for the sake of keeping him fresh in the 4th quarter), I would scrap the read option and utilize Cam's running ability more in QB draws, rollouts and more scrambles when his receivers are covered. Which leads me to the second, and most important point I am trying to make:
Cam is also not a quick decision maker. He is not decisive enough. I'm not sure why this is. Perhaps guarding against throwing INTs has brought with it the quality of being overly cautious. Maybe it's something else pertaining to going through his progressions. But Cam must, needs to, HAS to improve his ability to make quick, decisive passes. He holds the ball too long. His release is quick enough I believe. But there is some kind of disconnect that keeps him from making quick, decisive passes to his receivers.
In a related note, Cam needs to be willing to scramble more. I totally get that Cam is a pass first QB, not a running QB by nature, and that is a very good thing in my opinion. But when he doesn't find an open receiver, or pull the trigger for whatever reason, he does not scramble out of the pocket, again, quickly enough. Ben Roethlisberger does this, and for him it is a mixed bag of his toughness resulting in more completions but also more sacks. But Big Ben is slow, Cam Newton is fast. Therefore Cam needs to learn to be less like Ben in the pocket and a little more like Mike Vick. Why? Because he is FAST of course.
To sum up, my biggest concern with Cam's game is that he is not quick enough in the read option, in his decision making as a passer, and in his decisions to leave the pocket into the open field to help the team with his ability as a runner.
3. Yes, Cam is swift. He is fast, and he has learned to not be a turnover-prone, reckless QB. But slow and careful won't bring an NFL Title to the Carolinas. Cam needs to learn to be decisive and precise. Quicker passes. Quicker scrambles. Quicker decisions. Quicker thinking. Yet precise and skillful.
Is this a quality that can be developed? I honestly don't know, but I certainly hope so. It may very well be that Cam's best years might be well ahead of him, that his success will be long awaited similar to John Elway's.
But this is a big deal. For the Panthers to win a Super Bowl, Cam Newton needs to be...