On this afternoon, he dumped a few things into his locker stall before a team employee escorted Newton toward his weekly news conference. As reporters entered, he glared impatiently, and when the questions began, he labored through a dull seven minutes, speaking in a monotone. This is the same player who often sits alone on the sideline, a towel draped over his head.
Newton, the No. 1 overall pick in 2011, even moped through an answer about his historic first NFL season, when he passed for a rookie-record 4,051 yards but the Panthers finished 6-10. “Far from a dream season, as I can remember,” he said.
This time last year, Newton was having the same impact that Washington Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III is having now. Newton, like Griffin, is an athletic passer with a priceless smile who won a Heisman Trophy in college and was seen as a player who wouldn’t just become a winner in the NFL; he might change the game.
Now the Panthers are 1-6 as they prepare to face the Redskins Sunday, and one reason is that Newton no longer surprises opposing defenses. Teams prepare for him, and compared to last season, when he seemingly could do no wrong, he hardly has looked superhuman. Newton has responded with an attitude that has turned off reporters and is a concern for teammates.
“This team doesn’t have leaders,” veteran wide receiver Steve Smith said flatly when asked about Newton’s leadership.
Weeks earlier, Smith called out Newton for sulking on the sideline. After a loss last month to the Dallas Cowboys, Newton publicly called for changes and offered to install a “suggestion box” to curb the losing. Longtime General Manager Marty Hurney was fired a day later. Coach Ron Rivera said Newton, 23, hasn’t yet grasped that his words and actions are continually watched and interpreted, and seven games into his second season, Newton’s play and demeanor haven’t translated into much hope.
“I couldn’t care less,” Newton said Wednesday, “if there’s a right way to lose.”
It all begs the question: Is this just a young player showing his immaturity and inability to control his emotions, or is this a preview of the hangover the Redskins and their fans might feel if, like Newton, Griffin doesn’t change the game, but, rather, the game changes him?
The secret is out
Rivera sat in a black chair, discussing the yin and yang of a potential superstar. It’s not a short conversation, and at age 50, after years of playing linebacker for the Chicago Bears and pacing sidelines as a defensive coach, standing too long can make a man’s back hurt.