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Newton impressive on the podium, but questions persist

by | CBSSports.com National Columnist
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Cam Newton walked into a room where the brain trust of one NFL team waited. He smiled and shook the hands of everyone. Immediately, one of the men who had never met Newton until that moment was struck by his sheer height and bulk. Later, he'd be stunned by something else.

"Maybe the most mature prospect I've met in a long time," said one general manager.

In another meeting Newton answered every question asked, some of them allegedly intensely personal. There was no defensiveness or evasion. The executive knew Newton has been coached extensively by handlers but he didn't come off that way, another team official explained.

"I expected a jerk," said the executive, "but I was wrong. Decent guy after all."

There will be various reports, different reviews and numerous opinions about Newton's off-field combine experience, but the consensus of a handful of team executives interviewed by CBSSports.com was that Newton not only survived the exhaustive interview portion of the combine, he might actually have changed a few minds.

In fact, if Newton is later indeed picked high in the April draft, it's possible this weekend of interviews will be looked at as sealing the reason why.

Newton described the interview scene as "coaches are asking you questions left and right." He added: "They keep you on your toes." Newton also stated he met with the Dallas Cowboys for 15 minutes on Friday night.

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Again, opinions vary, and there will certainly be NFL executives who didn't like Newton but it seems -- at least based on these officials' opinions -- that Newton alleviated any concerns at least a few teams may have had about him being an un-coachable prima donna. His combine interviews could've erased his earlier gaffe of pontificating on the merits of icon-ism before playing a single pro snap.

Are all teams convinced Newton has his head in the right place? Maybe not. This is the draft. Opinions are like, well, you know the saying.

One source of Newton questioning comes from extensive files assembled on him by various team and league security gumshoes whose only mission is to find every possible piece of dirt on a draft pick.

One general manager said the file(s) they have on Newton read "like a Grisham novel." But apparently, at least according to several NFL team sources, Newton has handled a number of the Auburn questions -- allegations of pay for play -- extremely well.

These files are supposedly more of an indictment of football in the South than Newton. (The files allegedly portray a handful of current and former high profile college coaches in a very unflattering light.)

Some of the remarks of the executives to me about Newton were, to say the least, coded. They describe Newton as "well spoken" and "articulate." But beyond the loaded language there was also genuine belief Newton possesses the maturity to lead a franchise.

The media got a glimpse of what teams saw with Newton when the quarterback met with them on Saturday afternoon. While another top throwing prospect, Ryan Mallett, came off as a stone, cold punk when meeting with the media, Newton seemed more polished.

Polished isn't the word. The difference between Mallett and Newton was striking. Mallett was the egotistical jerk Newton is supposed to be.

Though there was one moment where Newton let his guard down and his sometimes cocky nature was on display. When speaking to the Sirius radio network, Newton was asked if he's getting used to an "entourage" following him -- meaning the mass of media. "That's not my entourage," Newton said, "that's my waiting list."

That's my what?

When asked if people perhaps mistook his confidence for cockiness, Newton explained: "I'm not sure. I'm a confident person. It was instilled in me at a young age to believe in myself." He does do that. There were at least three, third person references.

There is a long way for Newton to go. There will be plenty of people who think he's a phony or simply better at hiding his disdain for authority than Mallett is.

"What I did in the past is in the past," Newton said.

Newton this week has talked extensively about that past. He'll continue to do so in the near future and beyond. Again. And again. And some more.

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