Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFC North [Print without images]

Saturday, February 26, 2011
Combine'11: Polar performances from QBs

By Kevin Seifert

INDIANAPOLIS -- I don't know how much attention NFL teams pay to the media portion of the scouting combine. After all, teams get 15 minutes of face time with 60 players to ask their own questions over the course of the event.

This much is clear, however: If the Minnesota Vikings were watching Saturday, they would have seen distinctly different approaches from two of the quarterbacks they are no doubt evaluating here. Arkansas' Ryan Mallett started it off with a series of increasingly testy responses to questions about character concerns. Auburn's Cam Newton, meanwhile, opened with a statement addressing an over-the-top comment he recently made and went on to project himself as a confident, passionate and well-spoken potential No. 1 overall pick.

Let's start with Mallett, who of the two is much more likely to be available to the Vikings at No. 12 overall. In the past week, there have been vague reports about his character and personal decisions. When the first question of his news conference centered around that issue, Mallett sneered at the reporter and said: "First one, huh?"

He added: "I'm not going to talk about that right now. I've got the interviews with the team, and the teams got to know what they need to know, and I'm going to leave it at that."

I'm not sure it's fair to judge a prospect based on his answers to a series of questions about unsubstantiated and unspecific allegations. And there is a big difference between a news conference and private meetings with teams. Hopefully, Mallett was more forthcoming in the latter.

But if part of any good job interview is to evaluate how a candidate responds to uncomfortable situations, Mallett failed Saturday. As the questions persisted, he suggested the original reports were planted "for a reason" but refused to address them in detail.

"I'm talking about it with the teams," he said. "We've discussed it and everything is good."

Again, I don't want to pretend that Mallett has an obligation to divulge his innermost secrets during a combine news conference. But his tone indicated an immediate frustration that, if it translates to his performance on the field, suggests he isn't mature enough to handle adversity at an NFL level.

Even when asked on-field questions, Mallett's responses bordered on arrogant. Queried about his accuracy and mental acuity, he said: "Seven thousand-plus yards and 60 touchdowns in two seasons. That's how I respond on that."

Newton, on the other hand, took a proactive approach to dousing his own issues. Speaking this week with Sports Illustrated's Peter King, Newton said: "I see myself not only as a football player, but an entertainer and icon." The comment suggested that Newton might not be single-minded enough to succeed as a No. 1 overall pick, but Newton was quick Saturday to provide context.

"I understand that my obligation is to be the best possible football player that I can be," Newton said. "I know and believe that. The recent comments were made during the announcement of my new endorsement sponsorship. I want to be the best possible ambassador for them, just as I want to be the best possible ambassador for whatever team I am lucky enough to play for."

Newton said his comments were "somewhat misunderstood" but said it "was partly my mistake for not making myself clear, and that was my fault."

Newton stuck to some important themes for the rest of the session, noting several times that he is too competitive to skip the throwing portion of the combine, as many blue-chip quarterbacks have done in recent combines. It's obvious that Cam likes himself some Cam -- he referred to himself in the third person twice -- but his reaction to the pressure of the moment was especially enlightening in comparison to Mallett.

Some observers believe Newton won't get past the Buffalo Bills, who have the No. 3 overall pick. The Vikings will certainly have to trade up if they decide he is their top target. Mallett? If Saturday's performance was any indication, he still will be available even after the Vikings make their pick at No. 12.