Newton, Roethlisberger and the Cardinals

March, 2, 2011
3/02/11
12:00
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Cam Newton and Ben RoethlisbergerUS PresswireSome of the comparisons between Cam Newton, left, and Ben Roethlisberger are difficult to ignore.
They stand 6-foot-5 and weigh more than 240 pounds. Both quarterbacks possess the strength and mobility to extend plays even after defenders latch onto them. They have strong arms, but both struggled with accuracy at the NFL scouting combine. Scouts thought both could have used more seasoning at the college level.

Ben Roethlisberger seemed like a solid citizen upon leaving Miami (Ohio), but character concerns cropped up once he reached the NFL. Cam Newton's character came into question before and during his brief career at Auburn. Both have run afoul of the law.

Roethlisberger struggled to read defenses early in his NFL career, a concern for Newton after two seasons as a college starter, including only one at the NCAA Division I level.

The similarities between Roethlisberger and Newton do not line up across the board. Newton has superior speed and raw running ability. Scouts thought Roethlisberger possessed strong leadership skills and an admirable work ethic in college. They sound less convinced about Newton on those fronts. Still, these quarterbacks share enough in common to make me wonder whether Roethlisberger's first offensive coordinator with the Steelers, Ken Whisenhunt, should view Newton as a similarly gifted prospect and someone his current team, the Arizona Cardinals, might consider drafting fifth overall this year.

"That is a really interesting question with a lot of moving parts in it," Steve Muench of Scouts Inc. said. "I think you are right about comparing them. It's not a bad comparison."

Muench hasn't felt good enough about Newton overall to recommend drafting him among the top five. His feelings solidified after watching Newton perform at the combine and, more importantly, seeing and hearing about how Newton interacted with media and NFL teams. Even if we give Newton a pass on the potential NCAA violations at Auburn, what about the allegations he stole a laptop from a teammate's locker at the University of Florida in 2008?

We discussed these and other issues over the phone this week. I'll pick up the conversation with Muench's thoughts on how Newton has handled questions about off-field concerns.

Steve Muench: I would have loved to have heard him say, 'Yeah, I did it, it was a terrible mistake and this is what I was thinking at the time,' or say he did not do it. Come across as an honest person, someone who isn’t trying to fool people. It’s the way he talks about this stuff. When he talks about it, it's about him going through adversity, like he is playing the victim or they were out to get him or this is something he never should have had to go through.

Mike Sando: Those are fair points. I also get the feeling Newton is either slick or coached up to the point he cannot project sincerity. He is also only 21 years old, so we shouldn't expect a finished product here. Getting back to the comparison, it's not like Roethlisberger has projected himself favorably over the years. But his physical abilities are undeniable. Same thing with Newton.

Steve Muench: I would say the No. 1 similarity, and you saw it also with Daunte Culpepper early in his career, is their power on top of their mobility in the pocket. They cannot only sidestep and spin out of pressure, but they can also make accurate, strong throws when they have guys hanging all over them. Like Roethlisberger, you give him a seam and you turn and run, and he is going to burn you. He is going to extend drives with his feet.

Mike Sando: Roethlisberger has reached three Super Bowls in his first seven seasons. Scouts questioned his ability to start right away, but the Steelers went 13-0 with him under center as a rookie.

Steve Muench: We have to remember, as flashy a quarterback as Ben Roethlisberger is and with the plays he makes, he plays on an excellent football team. He landed on an excellent team. Ben Roethlisberger ended up with [coach] Bill Cowher on a team with great leadership, and then you see he is the best he can be, basically. Now, what happens if Roethlisberger ends up on the New York Jets when he came out -- in a bigger market, without as good leadership around him, and a different head coach? What happens then?

Mike Sando: No question, the Steelers had the ideal support system in place. They were known for having a strong defense, strong ownership, almost unparalleled coaching stability and some influential people in the offensive huddle, from Jerome Bettis to Hines Ward. Newton wouldn't find those things in Arizona or any other place he's likely to land early in the draft.

Steve Muench: If you are going to say the concerns about Newton are overblown and point to Roethlisberger, you have to include that part. On top of that, I will say it’s not like they didn’t have problems with him when Cowher was there. There was the motorcycle incident. But it seems like with Tomlin there the last four years, there have been more. That is not Tomlin's fault. There was more senior leadership on offense when Cowher was there. I find the comparison fascinating, but I don’t think it’s fair to say, 'Look how good Ben has done.' He has won two Super Bowls with two very good teams and he was suspended for four games this year. He is one mistake away from having a serious issue.

Mike Sando: I suspect the Steelers would draft him again anyway, knowing all they know.

Steve Muench: I am not sure they would. Bottom line, they got to three Super Bowls in his first seven seasons, and it is incredible. But I think the Rooney family seriously considered trading him when this stuff came out. They could not get the value. He has been to two Super Bowls [at that point] and you thought about trading him? That is telling. It is impossible to find quarterbacks.

Mike Sando: The Cardinals can vouch for that. As much as they need a quarterback, they have shown no indication they're leaning toward taking Newton. If anything, they have sent signals suggesting otherwise. Their top personnel man, Steve Keim, has said a team can't take a quarterback fifth overall without knowing for certain that quarterback is 'The Guy' on and off the field. There might be too many questions about Newton.

Steve Muench: Cam Newton has the physical tools to be the No. 1 overall pick. There is no question. The biggest concerns are how he is going to read defenses and his character. His combine interview with the media was not good. His interviews with teams, we have heard some have not gone well. He has referred to himself in the third person. There are warning signs there. You invest that much money in a quarterback to lead your franchise and deal with all that stuff, it is risky.

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