The questions came fast and furious in the weeks leading up to the NFL draft, and many of them concerned quarterback Cam Newton and his ability to eventually run an NFL offense.
Newton, for good reason, remained quiet and let others speak for him. Now, firmly entrenched as the first overall choice in the draft by the Carolina Panthers, Newton is speaking out.
He did that this week on Mike and Mike in the Morning on ESPN Radio when he admitted that those types of comments were "the one thing I take offense to."
Of course, ESPN analyst Jon Gruden was front and center in pointing out how simplistic the offense was at Auburn. Heck, Newton acknowledged that in Gruden's QB Camp. Gruden also noted that he believed Newton had the ability to learn an NFL offense.
Said Newton, "You can't fault me for not having a lengthy play at Auburn. There was a lot of success we had at Auburn without any lengthy plays."
He also said he isn't pleased with those that say he prefers to run. "A lot of people look at my game and say, 'He likes to run.' Well, obviously, I want to move the football," Newton said. "I go through my whole progression. It's not that I sit back there and get anxious and I run."
In the interview, Newton said he was able to get a playbook last Friday while at the Panthers' complex, and added, "I'm looking at it right now as we speak. I'm working out, the same thing I was doing before the draft. I really don't know when the lockout is going to be lifted, but I can't just sit on the couch and say I don't know what to do. I have a lot of things I can do, like working out, and No. 1 is looking at the playbook."
Meanwhile, in the aftermath of the Newton selection, Panthers quarterback Jimmy Clausen said he won't be relinquishing the starting job without a fight. A second-round pick last season, Clausen was thrust into the No. 1 job on a bad team and won just one of 10 starts.
But on the one day last week when players could work out, Clausen was the first one in the building, which happened to be the day after Newton was drafted.
Said Clausen, "I talked to some coaches and Marty (general manager Marty Hurney) and they said they want me on this team and they're going to give me the opportunity to compete. That's all I can ask for is a chance to compete. It's going to be fun working with Cam and just competing each and every day."
The irony is that Clausen wore No. 2 last season, the same number Newton wore at Auburn.
Said Clausen of the number, "It's mine right now. We'll see what happens."
Asked if there might be a sale involved, Clausen supposedly smiled and said, "We'll see what happens."
Meanwhile, coach Ron Rivera said about getting Newton ready to play, "The bottom line is Cam will play when Cam gets himself ready to play."
Rivera and long-time general manager Marty Hurney talked before the draft about needing to find a franchise quarterback and they firmly believe Newton can be that guy even though questions abound about his ability to make the transition from a simplistic offense at Auburn to a more complicated scheme with the Panthers.
"We've had a strong feeling for some time that he was the person who could come in and have the most impact on this football team," Hurney said.
However, Rivera went out of his way to make sure not to put too much pressure on the rookie.
"He's not drafted to be a franchise savior," Rivera said. "He's drafted to be a part of what we do and how we do it. If this football team is going to win a championship we're going to get back to running the football the way we did and the way this team can."
Rivera said the Panthers did extensive research on Newton -- more than he'd done in the past on any other college player -- because of his troubled background, but he came away satisfied with him after a meeting the weekend before the draft in Atlanta.
"The thing that stood out is he had the situation at one point that could have tore him down but he rose above it and become a champion on the junior college level and became a champion on the NCAA Division I level and won the Heisman Trophy," Rivera said. "So in spite of all of the distractions and the turmoil, the young man rose above it and that spoke very highly of his character being able to learn and grow from his situation and become the player and person that he is right now."
Added Hurney: "He's a very genuine driven kid who has very high goals. All of the time you spend with him you come away with a very good feeling."
Newton becomes the first quarterback selected in the first round by the Panthers since Kerry Collins in 1995.
As for how it will impact Clausen's future with the team, Hurney said, "Jimmy is a good football player and I believe he will play in this league. It's a critical position and all you have to do is look back to our recent seasons and you need depth at that position. I know this: Jimmy is going to come in and compete and he's going to practice as well and as hard as he can and he's going to give everything he's got."
--This was clearly a need-based draft for the Carolina Panthers.
The Panthers addressed their four biggest needs with their first five draft picks, crossing them off the board almost in order.
First up was quarterback, where the team took a bit of a gamble by selecting Cam Newton from Auburn with the first overall pick. They came back with a pair of defensive tackles in Terrell McClain from South Florida and Sione Fua from Stanford.
Newton has been a polarizing pick among fans, but the Panthers have strong feelings about him.
"We've had a strong feeling for some time that he was the person who could come in and have the most impact on this football team," general manager Marty Hurney said.
And it sounds like he has a chance to play relatively soon as a rookie, something that goes against what coach Ron Rivera said earlier this week about the importance of bringing a young quarterback along slowly.
"He'll have an opportunity to play, most definitely. Everybody has an opportunity to play," Rivera said. "Cam will play when Cam gets himself ready to play. I'm putting a little bit of a challenge out there for him. That's what he thrives on."
Quarterback Cam Newton: The Panthers are sold that Newton will be the guy to take them to the Promised Land. Sure, there is plenty of risk involved but sometimes you have to dare to be great. The Panthers are rolling the dice a bit, but there was no clear-cut guy at No. 1.
Wide receiver Kealoha Pilares: He's a slot receiver who could fit in nicely in Rob Chudzinski's offense. Fearless and tough as nails, Pilares gives the Panthers a receiver who isn't afraid to go over the middle and take a lick, a la Wes Welker. They haven't had that in quite awhile.
A closer look at the Panthers' picks:
Round 1/1 - Cam Newton, QB, 6-5, 248, Auburn
He possesses extraordinary size and athletic ability, but the big question will be if he can adapt to running a pro-style offense. He ran a simple offense at Auburn and did extremely well, winning the Heisman Trophy. It's a risky pick, but one the Panthers had to make.
Round 3/65 - Terrell McClain, DT, 6-3, 296, South Florida
He has good quickness and fast feet and will play the three-technique in Carolina's defense. The Panthers desperately needed help here and he could start right away.
Round 3/97 - Sione Fua, NT, 6-1, 307, Stanford
Fua is the type of guy who will look to blow up the center and take on double teams in the middle. He's a solid run stopper.
Round 4/98 - Brandon Hogan, CB, 5-10, 192, West Virginia
Hogan comes with a lot of baggage and a bum knee. He tore his ACL in December and won't be full speed until August. A questionable pick here.
Round 5/132 - Kealoha Pilares, WR, 5-11, 200, Hawaii
His strength is as a slot receiver and could be a valuable weapon on third down for the Panthers. He's a very smart kid who understands defenses.
Round 6/166 - Lawrence Wilson, WLB, 6-2, 225, West Virginia
Great playmaker at UConn, he'll likely be a backup here and help out on special teams.
Round 6/203 - Zachary Williams, G, 6-4, 300, Washington State
The Panthers will look at him as a possible right guard.
Round 7/244 - Lee Ziemba, OT, 6-5, 318, Auburn
He started an Auburn school record 52 straight games. Will struggle to make Carolina roster.
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