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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Most Integral Player, No. 5: Cam Newton

We've reached the top half our top 10 countdown, meaning everyone from here on out is going to be vital to Auburn's success this year. Coming in at No. 5 is someone who hasn't played a down for the Tigers yet: quarterback Cam Newton.

If you're playing catchup, links to each player on the countdown appear in a box on the right. You could also find out exactly when new posts go up by following the blog on Twitter.

Now for Newton:
  • Skill level: 3. First things first: You cannot throw for 2,833 yards and 22 touchdowns and run for another 655 yards and 16 scores and not be a talented player. It's simply not possible. I don't care at what level those numbers were achieved, they're impressive and point to a special player. BUT ... let's not confuse the junior college level with the SEC, where players are bigger, faster and stronger, and Newton's natural ability won't be able to take him as far. Just look at his spring game performance, where you could see the skills the 6-foot-6, 250-pound quarterback possessed, even if they were a bit rusty. I'm not saying Newton will not live up to the hype in fact, given the system he's in, the line he's playing behind and the weapons around him, I think he'll do quite well but expecting the same kind of numbers he put up in junior college would be a mistake. I'll withhold judgment in this category until I see Newton do it against SEC competition.
  • Production history: 2. OK, I've already established that I don't completely buy into Newton's junior college stats. What did he do at Florida before that? In 2007, he was 5-for-10 for 40 yards. In 2008, he was 1-for-2 for 14 yards. All of it came in mop-up duty. So, he's not exactly having a Tim Tebow-like career in terms of productivity so far.
  • Position importance: 5. There's not a more important position on the field. And although Gus Malzahn has had great success seemingly plucking people off the street to play quarterback in his system, it's still a position that takes a highly capable person to play it. Malzahn's system is quarterback friendly, yes, but only when the quarterback is skilled enough to make the correct decisions to make the offense work.
  • Backup competence: 4. There is a reason the coaching staff pursued Newton last December. Tyrik Rollison, who many assumed was the heir to the quarterback job, fell out of favor with the staff, getting suspended prior to the bowl game. That left Neil Caudle, a career backup, Barrett Trotter, who missed last year with knee surgery, and Clint Moseley, who was a scout team player, as the other options. So you can't tell me the coaching staff didn't sense that they needed an upgrade at the position to make a competitive push this year. Caudle, the likely No. 2 quarterback this year, has had numerous chances to seize the starting job under two staffs and three different offensive coordinators. Each one chose somebody different to be the starter, which says something.
  • Leadership: 4. Say this about Newton: he can captivate a crowd. His first meeting with the media was a lesson in positive PR spin. He was funny, witty, engaged. He didn't dodge any questions, even when they pertained to the laptop incident that soured his stay at Florida. And we, the media, usually faced with an endless stream of cliches, ate it up. It was fresh. And I think Newton has been that way with his teammates. One of his main goals last spring was to win over the team and earn respect as a player and a leader. It sounds like he accomplished that. Here's linebacker Craig Stevens' take on Newton from April: "He didn't come in too arrogant or anything. He just came in, got to know everyone. And that's crucial at that position get to know everyone and just get comfortable with everyone." That's a big first step there.
  • Total: 18. Of the players on the list, Newton is the biggest boom or bust. He has no track record of being able to succeed in the SEC and has yet to play a significant down at the Football Bowl Subdivision level. But his skills are tantalizing. Not too many players have his arm strength and mobility. What I think will be interesting is to see what Malzahn does with a quarterback of this skill level. At every college stop Malzahn has made do with decent quarterbacks, but none with the physical traits of Newton. Todd was generously listed at 6-foot-4, he was not blessed with blazing speed and his arm strength was a continual point of debate following surgery. Newton's taller, faster and has cannon of an arm. It's no guarantee that he'll do better than Todd, whose senior season will hold up extremely well over time, but it's enough to make every Auburn fan understandably excited about his potential.


Tar Heel Tiger said...

I can think of maybe one or two I would consider "more integral", but not 4. I can't wait to see who else you have selected. Thanks!

Tar Heel Tiger said...

and thanks for the tease about JJ.

Yes or No... JJ told you the date and opponent of AU's first game in the new Arena?

Andy Bitter said...

Unfortunately, no. He said something should be finalized within the next month.

Tar Heel Tiger said...

ok, at least I don't have to wait til Sunday to find out. Merci.

Marcus said...

Do you mean "Football Bowl Subdivision" (last paragraph), or is there some significance to him not playing even at the FCS level?
Can we all just agree to call it DI-A and DI-AA?

Andy Bitter said...

No matter how many times I correctly differentiate between FBS and FCS, I'll still screw it up.

I meant FBS. The point was that he's never played in a significant moment at this level.

(And yes, I'd rather call them I-A and I-AA, but then somebody's feelings would get hurt. And we wouldn't want that.)

Jason said...

Totally agree that Newton won't be a juggernaut...I also don't think he needs to be. Auburn's offense has the goods to be one of the better units in the SEC...all Newton needs to do is not make mistakes (turnovers) and let the game come to him. I think he'll be fine...the big concern for me is the AU defense.

I still think Auburn is another year or two away from seriously contending for the West. Their defense is still going to be very thin.

Then again, if I don't think Ark and LSU are going to be extremely good this year so who knows...it may come down to Auburn and Bama to see who wins the West...

Anonymous said...

I also don't know who the more important four could be.
Concerning last year, I choose to lay at least three of the five losses squarely in the lap of the offense. Dead spells where we went for a half without scoring or a quarter with no first downs made a thin defense try to do what they couldn't. UAT, UGA and KY would have been wins if the offense had not gone in the tank for extended spells in those games.

If Newton can lead the offense to consistent play without the "three and outs" for extended periods, the D will be ok.

SteveFC said...

I don't think there is a more crucial player on this year's team. He doesn't have to do great, but he needs to show the intelligence that Todd did. Championship teams tend to always have two qualities, a solid defense and an experienced QB.

SteveFC said...

Auburn is likely in for a down year next season. We graduate a lot of players. If we don't do something big this season, it will likely be 2012 before we talk SEC championship.

Andy Bitter said...

I agree with SteveFC that Auburn needs to strike when the opportunity exists this year. It'll be replacing practically it's entire offensive line next year and plenty of seniors.

As for Newton, it seems that most people think he's too low on this list. But I'll say this: how high was Chris Todd on last year's list? He was a serviceable quarterback entering the season and when he played decent -- mind you, not spectacular -- Auburn did well. It seems like this offense can succeed even if the quarterback isn't playing out of his mind.

Also, I don't know if I can blame the Alabama loss on the offense. It fared better against a stout Crimson Tide defense than most teams had all season. Kentucky, yes. Georgia, kind of. LSU and Arkansas, the defense has to shoulder a large part of the blame there. So I don't know if losses can be directly correlated to offensive stagnation.

Anonymous said...

I like the low expectations you have for Newton. The comparison to Todd is laughable - the talent disparity between he and Newton make me wonder if they're even the same species. Mark it down - if Newton is healthy throughout the year, he will SHATTER QB rercords at Auburn.

Andy Bitter said...

I wasn't comparing Newton and Todd.

I was pointing out that even a mediocre quarterback like Todd put up incredible numbers in this system, so maybe having an quarterback who can challenge for an All-SEC spot isn't the most pressing need for this team.

Anonymous said...

Also in the last paragraph...I assume you meant that Malzahn has had to "make do" and not "make due"...

Anonymous said...

Good points all the way around, Andy.

I would like to go just a little further than you in regards to the Auburn offense against bama. In one of your replies you stated "it [Auburn offense] fared better against a stout Crimson Tide defense than most teams had all season." No offense scored more points against Alabama last year.

VT is the only team that scored more points (24), but they had a TD by their defense.