The NFL can forget about labor strife, at least for another week.
The center of the NFL universe this weekend is in Indianapolis at the draft combine, where today’s hopefuls are trying to prove they are tomorrow’s big-timers.
The central figure at this combine is former Auburn quarterback Cameron Newton. The Heisman Trophy winner has pledged to participate in every drill, and why not? The 6-foot-6, 250-pound stud left little doubt about his physical abilities after his jaw-dropping performances that helped lead Auburn to the national title.
Now Newton enters the combine, which started Thursday and will feature the quarterback testing sometime this weekend, on the headline-turning strength of his desire to be more than a football player by becoming an entertainer and an icon.
Yes, an icon.
The absurdity of any NFL player being an icon aside, anyone who doubts Cam Newton the football player does so at his own risk at this point. In his one season with the Tigers, he almost single-handedly delivered a surprising national championship to a program that was the preseason pick to finish fourth in the SEC West.
This weekend, Newton will get the chance to dazzle NFL scouts like he did the rest of college football. The on-the-field stuff will be a breeze. The over-under line on his 40-yard-dash time has been set at 4.6 seconds. His arm strength — which was good enough to generate a 45-yard throw at Kentucky as he was diving out of bounds — is unquestioned.
How he fares in the interview process will be key. Newton successfully handled more off-the-field distractions and turmoil — regardless of whether it was self-inflicted, wholly fabricated or somewhere in between — than any college player in recent memory.
Here’s thinking the Tennessee Titans will be paying close attention to how Newton handles himself. That’s right, the Tennessee Titans. The same franchise that has been set back a decade by the failed union with quarterback Vince Young, a former college superstar who has pouted his way into NFL purgatory.
Each is an elite athlete, but to compare Young and Newton is paramount to admitting you did not watch Auburn play this year. Young’s elongated delivery and short-armed motion would make junior high quarterbacks wince. Newton’s throwing mechanics are flawless.
In fact, Newton’s workouts have been so impressive that draft analysts believe he won’t be around when the Titans pick eighth in the first round.
This is not to say Newton is a sure-fire star. When it comes to first-round picks on quarterbacks there are as many duds as studs. It’s the ultimate conundrum for NFL general managers: You have to have a productive quarterback to win, but a first-round pick wasted on a quarterback bust is the scarlet letter of front-office sins.
So Newton’s potential appears limitless, and there are three undeniable themes that make the Titans seem like his future home.
First, Young’s rocky tenure in Nashville aside, this franchise has had more success with black quarterbacks than any other. Warren Moon and Steve McNair were pictures of stability and success for the Titans and the Houston Oliers before the club moved.
Second, no team in the NFL has more pressing quarterback issues than the Titans. Sure, the Browns and the Panthers and the 49ers may have quarterback situations as bad, but the Titans are right there in the mix.
Third, the Titans obviously value loyalty as much as any franchise in all of sports. Follow along:
Former head coach Jeff Fisher had 16 full seasons despite winning all of five playoff games.
His replacement, Mike Munchak, has been in the NFL for almost three decades and has worked only for Titans owner Bud Adams. Munchak had as much head coaching experience as your cat before last month, but Adams handed him one of only 32 spots at the head table.
Munchak replaced his two coordinators, turning to Jerry Gray to run his defense and Chris Palmer to guide the offense. Want to know what common stop on Gray’s and Palmer’s resumes jumps out? They each previously had worked in Adams’ organization.
Connecting the loyalty dots, Newton’s predraft counselor is none other than Moon. Yep, that Warren Moon, whom Adams lured from the CFL with a then-record contract to quarterback the Oilers on his way to the Hall of Fame.
Not so strangely, the only significant hire Munchak has made to this point who does not have previous experience in the Adams family is new defensive line coach Tracy Rocker.
Rocker, like Newton, was at Auburn last fall.
Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...