Newton to interview with the Panthers this week

Potential top pick hopes he can reframe his off-the-field image

Staff writerApril 3, 2011 

— Cam Newton comes to town this week for the job interview that could make him the first pick in this month's NFL draft.

He'll talk football with the Carolina Panthers, who own that pick, but perhaps as many of the questions will be about off-the-field topics. From controversies at each college stop to scouting reports that border on personal attacks, Newton has always been in the eye of the storm, for reasons that only occasionally involve his play.

The Panthers have to decide if the potential payoff is worth the alleged risk.

"They want to know everything; They want to know who I really am," Newton said when asked what teams want to see when he makes in-house visits. "During this whole process, I've done a lot of explaining of who I really am. And I'm extremely comfortable with that, because I know this is a multi-million dollar investment, and they have to know who they're picking.

"You know, it's fun, and I look forward to talking to team after team about who I really am."

Former coaches describe him as a grinder and a leader. Critics call him a thief and a phony. Game tape shows a different kind of athlete, a quarterback who could change the way the position is played.

When he arrives in Charlotte on Thursday, he'll have a chance to state his case, including during a meeting with owner Jerry Richardson.

The Panthers want to see if he can translate his substantial physical skills to the NFL level. They've given him a stripped-down version of a playbook, and when he gets here, they want to see him repeat and adapt that information. They want to put him on the board and talk about attacking defenses. They've already put him through an extensive private workout at Auburn.

"I don't think people are going to see many negatives (on the field)," longtime NFL scout Gil Brandt said at Newton's pro day.

Yet off-the-field issues follow him.

From an investigation involving a stolen laptop that led to his departure from the University of Florida to allegations his father accepted money to steer him to Auburn, Newton's story has been well-told.

George Whitfield, who has tutored Newton on the nuances of being a quarterback, said he sees a player unmoved by the harsh words against him or his father.

That includes a scathing scouting report in Pro Football Weekly last week that called Newton "very disingenuous," with an "enormous ego."

Brandt, who has talked extensively with Newton's parents, said Cecil Newton has volunteered to step back to shield his son from some of the criticism.

"This stuff is just another bug on the windshield," Whitfield said. "After you've hit 50 driving down the road, you don't even notice the next three. This whole thing has become a pageant, and we're not even talking about football anymore."

Oh yeah, football.

Scrutinized since leaving Florida, Newton has since gone 25-1 as a starter and won a pair of national championships. The first came at Blinn Junior College in Texas, where tales of Newton being less than a leader were news to his coach.

Brad Franchione coached Newton at Blinn, and said it was clear from the first day on campus that Newton was different.

"He was the kind of leader (who) would challenge the competitive nature of these guys," Franchione said. "I'd say that during his year here, there were 25 or 30 practices that happened without coaches, because Cam was pushing his teammates.

"The defensive guys might not have liked him in practice all the time, but on game days when he was leading the team up and down the field, they didn't mind."

Franchione said he only had to discipline Newton once, for being late for a team meeting. That cost him the first quarter and the first series of the second in a game against Northeastern Oklahoma. Blinn trailed by two touchdowns when Newton took the field. Blinn won 55-42.

"When I had him, he was still learning what his personality was, and what kind of leader he was going to be," Franchione said. "But I think when he gets to the NFL, he's going to be a huge success, because he's been successful wherever he's been."

He's also getting used to the spotlight. Moon said he sees a confident kid with an easy way about him in their interactions. He admits he wished Newton hadn't uttered the now infamous "icon and entertainer" line.

"He stays focused and he stays pretty humble, believe it or not," Moon said. "He's good around people, he has this infectious personality. You see him after games, up in the crowd with the students. I've seen him as we're traveling, staying in hotels, the way he handles himself when people approach him. He understands what he is and who he is."

More than college stats or championships, that ability to rise above might be Newton's signature quality.

Moments before he threw for scouts at his pro day - a crucial and pressure-laden workout after an uneven performance at the NFL scouting combine - Newton sauntered to the sidelines and wrapped Kristi Malzahn in a huge hug. For a minute, he stood with the wife of Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, talking about nothing consequential.

When he returned to the field, to another moment under the microscope, Kristi Malzahn beamed.

"He's the most focused kid I've ever seen." she said with a laugh. "Nothing bothers him. ... Nothing."

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