NFL Draft: Panthers took a gamble
CHARLOTTE ó Ron Rivera wanted to keep the list of potential No. 1 picks long. Cam Newton wouldn’t let him.
So after months of research into Newton’s stunning one-year dominance at Auburn and his equally disturbing off-field baggage, the new Carolina Panthers coach set up one final meeting with the quarterback last weekend in Atlanta.
“That’s when I felt very, very good that this young man is the kind of guy we’re looking for,” Rivera said.
And with that the Panthers signed off on likely the biggest gamble in franchise’s 17 seasons, wasting little time once Thursday night’s draft began to snag the Heisman Trophy winner with the top choice in hopes he’ll overcome questions about his character and work ethic to become the team’s first franchise QB.
“I’m ready to change this whole organization around, to go from worst to first,” the confident Newton said.
A year after going 2-14 with the NFL’s worst offense, the Panthers bypassed safer choices such as Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson and Georgia receiver A.J. Green for Newton, who dazzled in his only season playing major college football.
“He has special qualities,” general manager Marty Hurney said. “We’ve had a strong feeling for some time that he was the person who we felt could come in and have the most impact on our football team.”
At the draft headquarters in New York, Newton said he got a call from Hurney and Rivera just before the selection was announced. As Newton hugged his family and slipped on a blue Panthers cap, a crowd of about 10,000 fans attending a draft party at Bank of America Stadium began chanting “Cam! Cam! Cam!”
“I do think it’s an exciting pick and it’s a quarterback,” Hurney said, who smiled when asked about the fans’ response after a miserable 2010 season filled with boos and empty seats.
At 6-foot-5 and 248 pounds, Newton combined brute strength to barrel over defenders on the run with a strong, accurate arm. He accounted for 50 touchdowns, and led Auburn to an unbeaten season and the national championship.
But Newton is loaded with unanswered questions.
The College Park, Ga., native started college at Florida but left amid reports he was about to be disciplined for academic cheating. That came after an 2008 arrest involving a stolen laptop, a charge that was later dropped when he completed a pretrial intervention program for first-time offenders.
A Mississippi State booster later claimed Newton’s father tried to get the Bulldogs to pay $180,000 for his son to play for them. Newton ended up at Auburn and was dominate despite an NCAA investigation which eventually determined Newton didn’t know of his father’s pay-for-play scheme.
“As far as my character, that’s something that hits home to some degree but I didn’t dwell on it as much,” Newton said. “People just having the wrong impression of the person that I really am.î
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