Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011
Posted: 10:35 p.m.
CSNChicago.com BearsInsider Follow@CSNMoonMullin
Lovie Smith has been a defensive coach in the NFL for 15 years. He has seen the great, the near-great, the faux great and just about every form of good in NFL quarterbacks.
But hes never seen one quite like this one, not like Cam Newton.
Were in uncharted waters right now with him, Smith said.
Indeed, this was supposed to have been a uniquely difficult season for rookies. The lockout prevented an offseason for installations of schemes, a special challenge for a quarterback coming into the pro game and in particular for one coming to a team with a new coaching staff.
Newton began his truncated offseason in a brief competition with Jimmy Clausen for the Carolina Panthers starting job. All of which meant that not every coaching moment was being spent on just his development and orientation.
Then Newton went into a season starting with a road game, a game against the defending Super Bowl champion and a third in a rainstorm bordering on epic.
The results were 1,012 passing yards, more than any other rookie quarterback in NFL history, two seven-point losses (including one to the Green Bay Packers) and a win last week over Jacksonville. That gave the Panthers the same victory total they had after 13 weeks last season.
You could talk forever about most of the stuff hes doing has never been done, Smith said. But to go without an offseason, for a rookie, to come in and make the plays and just be able to handle an offense like that, no one has ever done it like this.
Now, what are the Bears going to do about it?
Heres the riddle the Bears will face on Sunday:
Question: How do you tackle a 6-foot-5, 248-pound super-athlete with a football and more speed than virtually everyone chasing him?
Answer: With friends.
Getting pressure on Newton is the plan, just as it is with every quarterback the Bears face. But once the pressure gets there, assuming it does, the approach is different than it is for a shorter, less-imposing player. Those you can take down with one arm or a partial hit.
Its like rushing former Viking quarterback Daunte Culpepper back in the day, said defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. Sometimes when you get close, you go for the ball. Youre always looking for the ball. Its easier knocking the ball out sometimes than knocking these guys down.
But youve got to wrap him up, go high, get on the arm. You go around his waist and he stands up, and youre not hustling getting a bunch of men to him, hes going to complete passes. Hes just tough to get down. Youve got to get the arm and the ball.
A problem with Newton is that for all of his athleticism and speed, he is not behaving like a mobile rookie coming out of college where he could build a career on being a runner first.
The Bears view Newton as a I really see him as a passer, with the ability to escape and get out of trouble. They would prefer he act like an athlete first and a quarterback second.
Hes not looking just to take off, Marinelli said. Hell sit back in that pocket and hes got really good patience and you can have that type of poise when youre that type of athlete. You know you can get yourself out of trouble.
Newton started with 422 passing yards against Arizona, a completion percentage of 64.9 percent and a passer rating of 110.4. He threw two TD passes and one interception.
He went up to 432 yards against Green Bay but threw three interceptions and completed 60.9 percent of his passes. In the monsoon against Jacksonville, his yardage total was down (158). But his team won and he threw more TD passes (1) than INTs (0) for the second time in three games, plus he ran seven times.
Yes, he is a rookie but hes playing at a high level and better than most quarterbacks whove been in the league for however long, said linebacker Brian Urlacher. There are some things he hasnt seen because hes a rookie but hes playing well for a guy whos only played three games.
The learning curve
As dangerous and productive as Newton has been in his early going, this may be only a hint of some things to come, which is not good news for the Bears or anyone else.
It isnt just that Newtons skill set, his abilities to read, his decision-making and other attributes will improve.
Its his attitude.
Newton sought out Tom Brady, Warren Moon and other greats whenever possible and worked at learning his craft. Much better for the NFL if he came in believing that he already knew it all. Not so.
I think success comes if you continue to yearn to be good, or to strive for your common goal, Newton said. Do you want to be average, do you want to be good or do you want to be great?
I think that's what separates the Tom Brady's from the other quarterbacks in this league, the Aaron Rodgers'es from the other quarterbacks in this league. Anybody that stands out as an elite player in this league, it's something that they're doing. They're not being complacent.
Ok, you had a good game, or OK, you had a good practice, but you know that's not the ultimate goal that you want to be. There's something bigger and better that you want to get at.
John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.