SPARTANBURG — Cam Newton was funny and engaging Friday. His smile was so frequent that a Gatorade towel probably wouldn’t have been big enough to hide it.
So what do we conclude from Newton’s demeanor in his first interview of Carolina’s training camp?
Applying all the insight I can muster, I conclude he’s in a good mood.
We work too hard to ascribe to athletes qualities that might not exist. Newton turns morose after losses so we proclaim he’s not a leader. Newton sits by himself on the bench during a game so we proclaim he’s not a good teammate. Newton sticks a towel over his head so we proclaim he’s not a good leader or a good teammate.
We write and say these things with such regularity that they become part of Newton’s legend, permanent as a tattoo – even though we have no idea if they’re true.
Because Newton begins a 14-minute interview Friday by saying “Good afternoon” and laughs and tells jokes and answers every question without reviewing them, does this mean, that at the age of 24, he has turned some mythical corner?
I doubt it. Newton, who wears a green T-shirt and a black cap, black shorts and black shoes, has yet to take his first hit of camp. Nobody he throws the ball to or hands it to or blocks for him has been injured. The only practice has been a walk-through, and Newton says it was very good.
So I don’t find the interview telling or terribly important.
But it is interesting.
When a reporter forgets the question he plans to ask, Newton says, “You all right? And adds: “A speaking concussion over here.”
Newton laughs about seeing himself in the Charlotte Observer Friday, looking 11-feet tall on his Segway.
“Front page?” he asks.
Asked how fast the thing moves Newton says, “About 5 mph.”
You looked like you were flying.
“Because y’all were standing still,” he says.
Newton throws his head back and mimics the Segway trying to drag his 245 pounds up a hill and suddenly Newton morphs into 340-pound tackle Byron Bell and the Segway is struggling so mightily it might need a tow. Newton says the Panthers will run a more “conventional” offense this season, meaning more handoffs and fewer quarterback zone reads and, presumably, fewer passes.
Does this bother him?
Newton asks what he’s supposed to do and pretends to look to the sideline at offensive coordinator Mike Shula after a handoff is called.
“Hey! Call another play.”
Several teammates, among them center Ryan Kalil and fullback Mike Tobert, say they see a difference in Newton. Kalil says that in your third season instincts and awareness pick up and the game slows down.
“I think as time progresses anybody would start to sink their teeth into something and get confidence,” Newton says. “But for me it’s about that to a degree, but more importantly understanding what this offense is about and knowing each and every person’s assignment and just being an ultimate field general.”
A 6-5 quarterback with speed, moves, strength and a big arm who also is an ultimate field general would be formidable.
Are you more comfortable telling teammates what to do because you’re in your third season?
“It’s not that big of a deal because at any given time anybody can speak up,” says Newton. “I’m just doing my duty. If something needs to be said, it has to be said, whether it’s from me, Derek Anderson, Jimmy (Clausen) or anybody. Everybody has a microphone on this team.”
Should a quarterback be handed a bigger microphone than his teammates?
He shouldn’t. He has to earn it. And leading has little to do with announcing that you want to lead, which Newton has stated.
Leading manifests itself in several ways. Here’s one: When things aren’t working, a leader refuses to panic. In the huddle of a tight game he tells teammates they’re going to get the first down, the touchdown or the victory. He believes so strongly that they do. And, more often than not, they do it. “I don’t think that’s a rare thing Cam goes through,” tight end Greg Olsen says about the evolution of a player. “I think that’s just a natural growing process and maturation process of all young players. We all went through it.
“But we weren’t quarterbacks. And we weren’t the No. 1 pick and the Heisman Trophy (winner). He is no different than every other young kid who’s come in the league. It’s just the rest of us didn’t get nit-picked for every facial expression we made.”
Leading has nothing to do with towels.
Winning doesn’t, either.