by Bert Bartlett
Former Washington Redskin Joe Theisman was interviewed over the summer, in which he remarked, no, that he was not in the school of thought that top draft choice Cam Newton would make a good NFL quarterback. He complimented the rookie’s physical ability but effectively said Newton’s skill set was not best suited for pro ball. Why so soon, Joe?
A quarter of the way through the season, the rookie has looked like a seasoned vet, hitting on about 3 of every 5 throws, averaging about 350 yards through the air a game, and not throwing more touchdowns than interceptions. He is also finding his way into end zones with his feet, scoring two TD’s against the Bears last week. Hall of Famer Dan Marino had a fabulous rookie season down in Miami way back circa 1984, and Newton is trying his best to keep pace with it.
The pizzaz he brought to Auburn in wining a BCS title last season is much needed in Charlotte, who, like Jacksonville, has attendance and support issues. Carolina is a floundering franchise, and are banking on Newton to restore it. They are 1-3 thus far, and have played some teams close, though it took a half for Green Bay to realize they were in a game, after which they breezed on by the Panthers. Former NFL linebacker and San Diego defensive coordinator Ron Rivera is a work in progress as a first time head coach.
Newton’s main asset as an NFL quarterback may not be his considerable athleticism, but his height. At 6′ 5″, he sees a shorter mountain ridge collapsing around him while standing in the pocket, making his reads of the defenses and progressions to different receivers more logical. He throws a relatively high arc, soft pass, the kind that receivers love, not only because these are easy on the hands, but make them feel they have lots of time to make last second adjustments to catch it. Newton is also bringing some shine to the twilight of the careers of perenially top wide receiver Steve Smith, and former Saints fan fave Jeremy Schockey. The Saints are going to be seeing lots of Cam Newton over the coming years, and the damage he can cause will not be a pleasant sight.
The Panthers have a few good runing backs in DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, but like the Saints, and pretty much everybody in the league right now, are giving up lots of yards and points on defense. They make for something of an eyesore as their uniforms are amongst the league’s ugliest, new wave gone astray.
They have been a divisional pain in the tush for the Saints in recent years, tending to be very competitive in the first of two matchups earlier in the year, then New Orleans having to surrender ugly losses while resting players for the post season.
The Saints have their bright lights to click on in Charlotte, naturally, on offense. Jimmy Graham is unfurling to be a rising star at tight end, having all the components of a young Tony Gonzales, and an Antonio Gates. The Saints may miss some of Jeremy Shockey’s grit but not his receivorship, because of Graham. The sky is the limit for him. If he learns to love to block? Scratch out All Pro and pencil in All World. After the season, Graham’s agent will likely be the first to knock on GM Mickey Loomis’ door, wanting a fat new contract for his client. Loomis would be wise to welcome him in.
Mark Ingram is appeasing to the eyes because he brings a no nonsense, vertical attitude to the running game. He could – and should – become the pride of The Stones Of The Saints offensive line, who need to start answering the bell with more authority after becoming the league’s best unit in 2009.
And where would the Saints be without Mighty Mouse, a/k/a, Darren Sproles? Likely at 2-2 rather than 3-1, and having been blown out instead of keeping it close in Green Bay. His rare, swift fluidity can have defenders groping for air and make them look silly. San Diego’s loss is truly New Orleans’ gain.
The Saints will likely need a 4-2 record or better within the NFC South to win their division. With road games at Atlanta and Tampa Bay on the schedule, superior outfits than Carolina, this game is the first important one of the young season. Numerology says they really need it.
This game has the look of a seesaw affair, with turnovers and penalties maybe playing a large role in the outcome. It will be much more lively than last week’s listless day at the office in Jacksonville, but not likely a work of art. It could get a little kinky.
Rookie quarterbacks do have their bad days. Good seasons do not run in straight lines, and the young ones suddenly and inexplicably forget all that they really haven’t had a chance to learn, but have just been able to feel. Perhaps these odds are the Saints’ secret weapon on Sunday. If Cam turns the ignition key “on”, it could be real close. If Cam gets it jammed in the dashboard, this could be a route. If this is the case it will be interesting to see if their star receiver, Steve Smith hisses a fit and pouts on the sideline, as he has been prone to do in the past. Visting Saints fans could throw him a pacifier as an early Carnival trinket.