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A nice smile can't cover up Newton's insincerity

by | The Sports Xchange/CBSSports.com
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Credit quarterback Cam Newton for this much: At least the former Auburn star and Heisman Trophy winner subjected himself on Saturday afternoon to an inquisition by what seemed to be most of the 700-plus media members who gathered here for the annual NFL combine workouts.

Unfortunately for Newton, the sound most distinguishable during an 11-minute appearance on the podium at the Lucas Oil Stadium press room was the sickening noise usually associated with a couple of fully-loaded rail cars crunching together when the locomotive engineer slams on the brakes unexpectedly.

Yeah, it was a train wreck.

If it's true that television adds 10 pounds to everyone, it might have bloated Newton with about 10 pounds of guilt and insincerity. The term "disingenuous" leaps to mind. Give the once embattled Newton his due: He was engaging. He was polite. His smile, when he chooses not to bite on his lip in nervous, Clintonesque fashion, is the equivalent of a neon sign. And he is very quick on his feet, deftly dodging all the queries about past indiscretions and accusations that his father sold him off, parrying with reporters in a laid-back but still impressive mien.

There clearly is an "it factor" at work here. The league, which loves to nurture future stars, recognizes that Newton has presence. Newton's mere countenance on the TV was enough to draw a goodly crowd in front of the flat screen at the Hyatt bar a few blocks away.

But honesty? Forthrightness? Directness? Remorse? Most of those things seemed absent on Saturday afternoon.

It probably didn't help when Newton, clearly on the advice of his agent or league officials, read a prepared statement attempting to explain his interview from earlier in the week, when he suggested he aspired to be an "entertainer" and an "icon." Again, to his credit, Newton didn't fall back on the hackneyed "I-was-misquoted" excuse. But reading an act of contrition isn't the same as reciting it.

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Sure, in his first "you got me and I'm guilty" appearance after his dog-fighting scandal, Michael Vick read from a statement as well. And the rehabilitated Philadelphia quarterback, the league's favorite poster boy for reversing one's fortunes and for avoiding all of the temptations of recidivism, has turned out pretty good.

But there is something that is, for lack of a better term, "un-genuine" about a typed-out and rehearsed text as opposed to an extemporaneous mea culpa. At least three times in his brief appearance, Newton referred to himself in the third person. He fidgeted a bit when asked even a semblance of a tough question.

When scribe Dennis Dillon of The Sporting News had the temerity to actually address the elephant in the room -- the accusations that Newton possessed a stolen laptop while at the University of Florida and was charged with academic misconduct -- the player bobbed and weaved and claimed he wasn't going to talk about the past.

Dillon's question was the cue for Newton's league handlers to issue the "OK, one more question" prompt. Instead of a logical follow-up the succeeding question was, predictably, a teed-up softball, and then Newton was whisked off.

Notable is that, during the recruitment of Newton, agent Bus Cook brought along Brett Favre to help secure the quarterback's endorsement. Favre spent 20 minutes or so alone with Newton, and we can only guess that part of the time was a primer on stonewalling. If so, Newton learned the lesson well.

On The NFL Network's analysis of Newton's appearance, former coach Steve Mariucci cited the prepared statement as a negative. And onetime league general manager Charley Casserly can probably be forgiven for a slip in which he compared Newton to Tampa Bay quarterback "Marcus" Freeman. Of course, as host Kara Henderson corrected, he was referring to burgeoning Bucs star Josh Freeman.

There was, however, this glaring glitch by The NFL Network: One of the network's talking heads and part-time apologists actually alluded to how nervous Newton must have been in front of the media.

Say what? The kid played in the SEC, which (living in Atlanta, I know), proudly touts itself as the best and most-watched conference in the country. He led his Auburn team to a national championship. His eligibility, thanks to the accusations against his father, was under fire, and he was interviewed by NCAA officials. And he won the Heisman Trophy. And he doesn't know what it's like to stand in front of a media horde?

C'mon, folks, some callow babe in the woods, this ain't. On Saturday evening, I called buddy Ken Herock -- the longtime league personnel official (and, again, full disclosure here, one of my very closest friends) operates a service, ProPrep, in which he prepares prospects for the interview process at the combine -- and asked if he had worked with Newton. He had. Even for a prying friend, Herock wouldn't break his confidentiality on Newton, admitting only that he advised the Auburn star to "tell the truth to teams, because they're going to find out all about you anyway."

We've no idea what Newton is telling teams who -- trust us on this one -- are asking about all the details from the incidents in his past. No franchise is going to invest millions of dollars on a guy, particularly a quarterback, who can't look 'em in the eye without blinking, and explain all the issues.

Newton might be able to diagram every sophisticated play asked of him on a grease board, but he'll have to erase a lot of other doubts. And Saturday afternoon wasn't a particularly good public start.

The good news for Newton is that, compared to Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett, who preceded him at the podium and was simply awful, the Heisman Trophy winner was impressive. If Newton was a train wreck, then Mallett was a natural disaster. The potentially bad news for the NFL teams considering Newton, though, was that if he throws the football unerringly in Sunday's workout session for quarterbacks, it might be the only thing he gets straight all weekend.

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