Having sprouted past 5-foot-11 when he was in the 10th grade, Cam Newton has no experience as an overlooked underdog.
Winning the Heisman Trophy and being the first player taken in the 2011 NFL draft brought to Newton a level of expectation and scrutiny far beyond what other players can fathom.
Despite their differing circumstances, the 6-5 Newton and the 5-11 Russell Wilson are members of an exclusive fraternity of NFL quarterbacks who have been asked to lead their teams as rookies.
And since the experience is fresh in the mind of the second-year Newton, he was asked this week for advice he might pass along to the rookie Wilson, who will take snaps for the Seahawks on Sunday when they visit Newton’s Carolina Panthers.
“This is a long season,” Newton said. “No matter how the season is going, you have to play 16 games, win or lose.”
Newton passed for 4,051 yards last season and was named NFL rookie of the year and ended up in the Pro Bowl. In the process, his combination of size, speed, arm strength and running ability set new standards for the position.
But when addressing the crucial component of success for a rookie quarterback, Newton mentioned nothing of physical gifts.
“You have to have a strong foundation of mental capacity, and not let your values alter by no means,” he said. “If you believe in something – no matter how the season is going – you just have to be strong as a person. In this league you’re going to have success, you’re going to have downfalls, but on those downfalls, you have to treat it like a speed bump and not a roadblock.”
In a literal, physical sense, Newton stands head and shoulders above Wilson. And since Wilson was a third-round pick, comparisons to Newton aren’t absolutely fair.
But it’s instructive to see that Newton also went through a period of adjustment. In his first four starts, he had five touchdown passes and five interceptions. Wilson has had four and four.
In the first four games this season, Wilson has the same number of touchdowns and one fewer interception than the now experienced Newton.
The main statistical difference, however, is that Newton generates so many passing yards (1,013), while the Sea-hawks are last in the league in passing yards (523).
Carolina coach Ron Rivera said that Newton’s rookie season had “a lot of highs and lows,” and that in his second season, Newton still is operating only 70 or 80 percent of the playbook.
Even though they used the first overall pick in the 2011 draft on Newton, Rivera said the Panthers had Wilson in for an interview at the NFL combine.
“We had to take a look at him,” Rivera said. “And I think he’s a heck of a football player. I think it’s just a matter of time before everything comes together for (Wilson and the Seahawks). Our formula with a rookie quarterback was protecting him with the offensive line and put playmakers around him, and that’s what they’ve done.”
Rivera said the key with Newton was to whittle down the playbook early and find what best suited him, and then stick with that.
A three-interception performance last week in a loss at St. Louis focused a brighter spotlight on Wilson. His passer rating of 73.5 is 27th in the league, although that’s higher than two first-round rookies (Ryan Tannehill of Miami, 66.4, and Brandon Weeden of Cleveland, 60.4), and also better than veterans Michael Vick (72.7), Matt Cassel (70.4) and Mark Sanchez (69.6).
But with the league’s leading rusher Marshawn Lynch at peak production, and the Seahawks ranking No. 2 in overall defense, the absence of production in the passing game is an obvious factor in the team’s mixed results – standing 2-2 going into Carolina.
Newton made a good point: It doesn’t matter if you’re the first person taken in the draft, or a third-rounder, if you’re a starting quarterback in the NFL, taking criticism is part of the job.
“In this league, you get scrutinized …” Newton said. “It’s not new to me, nor is it new to any other quarterback that plays in this league. That’s something that you just sign up for. Of course you get all the great recognition when your team is winning, and you get all the (critical) recognition when your team is losing also.”
The best way to deal with that?
“You just have to have thick skin and roll with the punches.”Dave Boling: 253-597-8440 firstname.lastname@example.org @DaveBoling