Cam Newton as Ben Roethlisberger II
By Bruce Feldman
December, 5, 2010 10:03 AM ET
Cameron Newton's greatness as a college quarterback was established weeks ago. Now, we're all just searching.
Tapping the Page Down key on my laptop as I sifted through Twitter as the supersized, do-everything Auburn Tigers junior was lighting up South Carolina in the SEC title game Saturday evening, it was apparent we're shoulder-deep in the hyperbole phase with Newton.
In sports, we crave the need to compare. Everybody has to be like somebody else. We're all compelled to do it. Coaches do it, too. The attempted answers often are more cosmetic than anything else.
Many have likened the 6-foot-5, 250-pound Newton to another towering quarterback who excelled in a spread offense, namely Vince Young, formerly of the Texas Longhorns. Others suggested Daunte Culpepper, David Garrard and Tim Tebow, the guy Newton used to play behind at Florida.
I thought Ben Roethlisberger was a more intriguing comparison.
George Whitfield, the self-described "Quarterback Builder" from the San Diego area, knows Roethlisberger's skill set as well as anyone else. Earlier this year, Whitfield, a 33-year-old former college and arena football quarterback, spent a month working with the Steelers star as he tried to stay sharp while sidelined with his league suspension.
"The comparison comes from both being big and 'playing big,'" Whitfield says. "To me, it's like watching an eighth-grader playing against fifth-graders. And Ben and Cam are both really, really underrated passers -- accurate and pretty consistent, but neither are really featured as a passer. They're more just playmakers. I think Ben could do well in New England's offense, and I think Cam could do well in Stanford's offense.
"The size and playmaker thing is special. Most people can't imagine how big they are and how athletic they are. Earlier this year the Saints nose tackle was wrapped around Ben like a scarf, and he just shrugged him off. You see Cam doing similar things."
Newton actually is faster than Roethlisberger, maybe two-tenths of a second faster on a stopwatch in a 40-yard dash, Whitfield suspects; he thinks the Auburn star may be a sub-4.6 guy.
Newton came into this season known primarily as a running quarterback. He certainly has lived up to that part by setting an SEC rushing record for a quarterback and notching six games with at least 150 yards rushing. However, it's his exploits as a passer that have really wowed observers who are conditioned to look for flaws. (Mel Kiper added him to his NFL draft Big Board a few weeks ago.) In Newton's past seven games (with four of those matchups against top-20 opponents), he has a 16-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He leads the nation in passing efficiency at 188.16, a figure that's almost 25 points higher than that of last season's top guy (Tebow) and almost 10 points higher than Sam Bradford's stat in 2008, when he won the Heisman.
After studying Newton's passing mechanics, everything is "clean," Whitfield says. "You just don't see a lot of guys who can consistently power the ball and also feather the ball."
"Cam's arm is really good, really strong. I don't think it's a JaMarcus Russell-type strong, but he can match up with a Josh Freeman and a [Matthew] Stafford and those young guys who can really throw it, but he's gonna have to use a little more of his lower body when he throws. You see him throw flat-footed a lot."
Part of that stems from the system Newton plays in. Whitfield said a big deal for Newton when he makes the transition to the NFL will be that he doesn't throw in rhythm. He and similar quarterbacks such as Tebow catch the snap, crouch down and pop back up. "They don't have to use steps to drive the ball," Whitfield says. "Cam's gotta get that down. He has the arm and the tools. It's just a matter of his feet and having the sense of urgency while being organized to be on time.
"If he can focus on stepping in and driving the ball more, he'll shave another tenth of a second [off the delivery of] the ball and will be able to hit the receiver two steps sooner coming out of his break."
As for those comparisons of Newton to Tebow and Young as a pro prospect, it's not even close, according to Whitfield, because of the Tiger's accuracy and consistency as a passer. "The array of balls Cam throws is amazing," he says, as he proceeds to rattle off different types of throws he's seen Newton make this year. "He's a true passer, whereas some guys are just throwers. He has the best combination you can have, and this is a guy who really has only played two years, one at Blinn [junior college in Texas] and this year at Auburn. He's something special."