INDIANAPOLIS — Cameras captured his every step through the corridor and into the club-level lounge that serves as the NFL Scouting Combine media center at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Almost on cue, reporters and photographers cleared a path that winded around the massive crowd in front of Podium C, allowing Auburn QB Cam Newton to make as grand an entrance as this event has ever seen. Saturday’s turnout even exceeded the one drawn by last year’s star attraction, Tim Tebow. But that was to be expected, given that a combine-record 715 media credentials, nearly 100 more than last year, had been issued.
Newton seemed fully aware of what this moment meant, that it was the first major opportunity for the NFL world to become more familiar with the player who exploded into college football prominence last season. And he promptly seized control of it.
Newton did something extremely rare for this setting. He read from a prepared statement. In short, he attempted to put his own spin on recent comments he made to Peter King of Sports Illustrated about being an “entertainer and icon,” the latest controversy to dog the Heisman Trophy winner. Newton tried to sound humble but not necessarily apologetic. He wanted to convey that he was misunderstood, although he didn’t say he was misquoted.
Newton also made a clear effort to shift the focus away from what he said and place it on what he plans to do, which, unlike another highly-projected quarterback this year (Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert) and others in previous years, is to fully participate in combine drills Sunday.
Once the session was opened to questions, the grilling began in earnest. Newton heard it all, from character issues stemming from his father allegedly offering him to colleges in exchange for cash and from his reportedly stealing a laptop computer and items from teammates’ lockers. Known for being light on his feet, Newton showed superb skills in not directly addressing those issues and avoiding any notable slips or falls along the way. It was a contrast to the clumsier and more guarded performance of Arkansas QB Ryan Mallett, whose character also has come under heavy scrutiny when he met with the media about 30 minutes earlier.
Like other prospects, Newton was clearly coached on how to answer questions. He seemingly addressed everyone as “Sir,” with a polite smile accompanying almost every utterance.
The media generally gave Newton high marks for how he handled himself and that none of this was too large for him. King, in particular, was impressed with how Newton addressed the “entertainer and icon” comments. But it doesn’t mean he is out of the woods with future NFL employers, who will want an explanation for why he made the comments in the first place.
“Teams want a guy who is only concerned with one thing if they pick him in the first round, being a great football player, and not concerned with being anything else,” King said. “I think he addressed it fine, handled it honorably, but it doesn’t erase it as an issue. It’s still going to be an issue with Cam Newton.”