Coming out of college, I had the impression that Cam Newton had impressive mental toughness. It came out in the middle of Auburn's season that his dad had tried to get paid for sending him to a college, and Cam seemed to ignore it, and just keep dominating.
Last year, he flashed really impressive talent, and some huge plays as a rookie. It seemed like he was the next big thing in NFL Quarterbacking.
The 2012 season is going terribly for Cam, though, and for the Panthers, who just fired their longtime GM Marty Hurney.
Newton's stats are down from his rookie season, but the most troubling thing is how he seems to be handling adversity. In a word, he's handling it terribly, and it's really raising a lot of questions about his mental makeup.
To wit, here's what he had to say following Carolina's 19-14 loss to Dallas yesterday:
I’m going to leave this (media) room and I’m going to bring in a suggestion box and I want your suggestions to be in that suggestion box because I sure don’t know. I really don’t. I wish I could tell you. But the only thing I control, sweetheart, is myself. Offensively, I am the leader of this bunch and we haven’t been getting the job done.
Everybody probably remembers Nolan Nawrocki's controversial scouting report on Newton, and that he got slammed for it at the time. It was easy to slam - especially since Nawrocki himself had never met the player - and it seemed like it could definitely be code saying "Yeah, he's talented, but did you notice that he's black?" (On the other hand, Nawrocki has no reputation for demonstrable racial bias in his scouting, and nobody really stuck up for him very well on that score.)
You have to start considering whether Nawrocki may have been correct in what he wrote about Newton's issues with maturity, accountability, and relationship with his team. Newton basically threw his whole team and organization under the bus yesterday, and it's becoming weekly must-see TV. I'm very familiar with the University of Florida program, and I know that even before Newton got caught with the stolen laptop, and got booted off the team, the coaching staff had soured on him, and promoted the clearly less-talented John Brantley ahead of him.
Immature players can mature and improve themselves, and as I'm fond of saying, the NFL is a dynamic system, where many, many people are passing each other on the way to getting better or worse. Newton is going to have to improve his play on the field, and also his mental approach to things off the field, because he's starting to show some Jeff George qualities, minus the mullet.