English: Let Cam be Cam

Published 9:42 pm Wednesday, December 28, 2011

By Jim English

What exactly is an “expert”?

I’ve heard it said that experts built the Titanic, but an amateur built the ark. Good point.

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I’ve also heard it said that when you break down the word “expert”, you have “ex” – another word for “has-been”, and “spurt” – which is nothing more than a drip under pressure.

Presumably, when someone is presented as an expert on a particular subject, it is assumed that person knows what they are talking about. And as long as the expert sticks to what he has learned, without doing too much speculating about the future, he can usually retain his status as someone to be listened to with some credibility.

But if there’s one thing that recent national politics has shown us, it’s to trust in past performance instead of what the experts tell us will happen in the future.

That being said, no one should have really been shocked by the performance of Carolina Panthers’ rookie quarterback Cam Newton this season. Probably the only thing that should be considered a surprise in his success is how early it came, and the sheer magnitude of his achievements.

The predominant doubt surrounding whether to draft Newton coming out of his Heisman Trophy and National Championship winning season, was whether or not he would be able to develop into a “pocket passer”. There was no doubt about the strength of his arm, nor his running ability. But to be a successful quarterback in the NFL – according to the “experts” – you need to be able to stay in the pocket and deliver an accurate pass with consistency. After all, if a team is going to pay that kind of money for a quarterback, they don’t want him running all over the field getting hit and potentially getting hurt. We’ve all heard the arguments, right?

A couple of problems with that:

First, If you didn’t want Cam Newton, why did you draft Cam Newton? Early on, Carolina seemed to be in agreement with the experts that Cam needed to be staying in the pocket more – throwing instead of running so much. But it has become obvious that he is at his most dangerous when he has the freedom to run when the opportunity is there. His best evidence to date may have been his Christmas Eve performance, in which he ran 49 yards for a TD, and threw one 91 yards for another.

And secondly, how many NFL quarterbacks have you known to get injured while running the ball? When do the vast majority of injuries occur to NFL quarterbacks?……When they’re standing in the pocket.

So if you’re going to draft Cam Newton to be your quarterback, let him be Cam Newton.

By being Cam Newton, he has simply followed up arguably the best single season by a QB in NCAA history, with quite possibly the best single season by a rookie QB in NFL history.

He has already surpassed the rookie mark set by future Hall-Of-Famer Peyton Manning, and he did so throwing 83 fewer passes. He has run for more TD’s in one season than any QB in league history, and in fact, is already one-third of the way to the career mark……after one season in the league.

With Newton’s success has naturally come team success for the Panthers, as well. Their 6-9 record is a vast improvement over last year’s 2-14 mark (which ironically earned them the right to pick Newton with the first overall selection). And their offense ranks 4th in points scored and 5th in total yards – two categories that they ranked dead last in the previous season.

Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn was given a lot of credit for his team’s championship run last year, and the offensive numbers would suggest that he deserved it. But if you actually watched the games, you may have noticed something, particularly in their numerous come-from-behind victories.

In the first half of those games, when one would presume they were going with the gameplan they had prepared, they often had trouble getting things going. It was in the second half – when they seemed to give Cam more freedom to be Cam – that Auburn began to dominate.

The Carolina scouts must have noticed, too.