INDIANAPOLIS – Not much will be at stake at the Scouting Combine on Sunday, other than quarterback bragging rights and millions of dollars.
Led by Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton, the quarterbacks will go through physical testing and position drills on the FieldTurf surface of Lucas Oil Stadium.
Auburn’s Newton, whose polished and candid performance at Podium C in the media room of the stadium on Saturday pretty much put the “entertain and icon” controversy to rest, intends to take part in all of the drills, unlike the player who is challenging him for quarterback pole position, Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert.
“My biggest thing first is to prepare for the NFL,” Newton said. “I know it's going to be a challenging transition. I have been working out with three unbelievable coaches. George Whitfield, my quarterback coach, Doug Hicks, my trainer and conditioning coach, and also Ron Sheffield, my speed coach. During that time, I felt as though I wanted to do something at the Combine. I wanted to come out here and compete, because that's what I feel like I wanted to do … have fun competing.”
Sunday will be Newton’s chance to overtake Gabbert in the quarterback pecking order. On the advice of his adviser, Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon, Newton has been working in San Diego for more than a month with Whitfield, who runs a private quarterback academy and counts Ben Roethlisberger among his most famous pupils.
While there, Newton has been refining the footwork and techniques that will be necessary to run a traditional, pro-style offense. Even such a seemingly simple skill as taking a snap, dropping back three steps and throwing an on-rhythm pass have been taught since Newton worked from the shotgun in Auburn’s spread attack.
“For me, I’m just going to continuously keep working on my craft,” Newton said. “And that's to become the best quarterback possible during this transition. Obviously, everybody knows that Cam has been in a spread offense and I have been trying to work as much as possible on trying to be fluid in coming from under center, with the three-step game, the five-step, also the seven-step drop. Me and George have been working day and night in the film room, on the chalk board or on the field throwing rocks.”
While Gabbert will not throw on the advice of his agent, Tom Condon, all the others except Alabama’s Greg MeElroy (hand) will participate in drills. That includes Washington’s Jake Locker, a third first-round prospect, Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett, whose testy exchange with reporters about drug rumors certainly rubbed team executives the wrong way, and Florida State’s Christian Ponder.
In all, 18 quarterbacks are at the Combine, and the day will be just as important for the large group dueling for draft position. That list includes stars from non-BCS conferences (TCU’s Andy Dalton, Idaho’s Nathan Enderle and Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick), big-school stars lacking overwhelming arm talent (Iowa’s Ricky Stanzi and Wisconsin’s Scott Tolzien), a big-school star whose stock plummeted after being benched because of a fatigued shoulder stemming from offseason surgery (Texas A&M’s Jerrod Johnson) and a Division II star (California-Pennsylvania’s Josh Portis) who promised to “put on a show” with his Newton-esque skill-set.
“I think coming from a smaller school,” said Kaepernick, one of many quarterbacks in this draft who must show they can thrive outside of a spread offense, “people doubt what I am capable of because we didn’t play a big school every week or do things like that, but when it comes down to it … football is football and you have to perform.”
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.