Heisman trophy winner Cam Newton has already gotten a taste of what living in the fishbowl type world of an NFL quarterback can be like. His comment about being "an entertainer and an icon" got tons of national attention and led to Newton beginning his NFL combine press conference with a prepared statement last month. To his credit he accepted fault for how the comments were construed.
"For me seeing how it did happen I felt it was somewhat misunderstood," he said. "It was partly my mistake of not making myself clear. That was my fault."
Newton was also asked about his alleged missteps at Florida that led to his dismissal and about the NCAA investigation as to whether there was a 'pay for play' violation on the part of his father. The Auburn quarterback never let those distractions affect his play on the field, and at the combine he politely declined to address his alleged offenses during his time in Gainesville.
It spoke to Newton's cool under pressure, begging the question is Newton unflappable?
He was characterized as frustrated just a day later when he completed just 11 of 21 passes in throwing drills at the combine and admitted as much in an interview on NFL Network shortly thereafter.
"I think he was a little frustrated by his inaccuracies," said NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock. "He didn't throw a bunch of completions. When you don't have your receivers and you're throwing the 10-yard speed out and you're hitting fifth step and the coaches are telling you to throw to an area, it's different. You've been coached your entire life to throw completions. So there is a little bit of contradiction in your head that has never done this before. I kind of feel empathy for these kids. I appreciate the fact that he agreed to throw."
Adjusting to the pro game is going to be the biggest hurdle for Newton, and it could prove to be the most adversity he's ever faced on a football field. Having been a dominant player since childhood because of rare physical skills he's never had to overcome challenges that the game can present.
"I want to see how Newton deals with not having all the answers right away," said ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper. "He had all the answers wherever he's been. He's been the man. He's been dominant. When he's not how does he deal with defenses giving the best to him and him needing to adjust his game on the fly, when he knows he needs to take snaps from center and he needs to get into his drops and the timing and precision? How does he process all of that? That's the thing for all these young quarterbacks. How is he going to deal with the fact that he's not going to come in and take over early?"
NFL clubs don't have the luxury of seeing him in an NFL setting beforehand. They have to make a projection. Newton is physically gifted and comes across as intelligent. Can he convince the NFL decision makers that he's committed to being the best NFL quarterback possible?
He began that effort in his combine press conference where he talked about the game being his sole focus more than once.
"Football is my number one priority. I want to make that perfectly clear," Newton said. "I know it's going to be a challenging transition. But for me I've been working out in San Diego with three unbelievable coaches. For me I'm going to continue to work on my craft and become the best quarterback possible.
"Everybody knows I've been in a spread offense and I have been trying to work as much as possible on trying to be fluid in coming from under center with the three step game, the five step and also the seven step drop. I have been working day and night, in the film room, on the chalkboard or on the field throwing routes."
Newton also chose to be isolated as he prepares for his NFL career rather than train at one of the large athletic performance centers that often train a dozen or more NFL prospects at once.
"I know myself and I know how I need to be focused especially during this time," he said. "I need to be more focused than ever. I was motivated to want to be great and that's what I am trying to do."
He also tried to align his work ethic with that of some of the game's best signal callers to hopefully show NFL talent evaluators he's serious about succeeding as a pro quarterback.
"I admire the guys like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning who are professionals at what they do," he said. "No offense to either of those guys, they might not run the fastest 40. They may not jump the highest in this year's combine. They might not jump the farthest in the broad jump, but I'll guarantee from what I've heard from their teams you're not going to outwork them. They're in doing film study before the offensive coordinator is watching film. I respect that."
As convincing as Newton's words might be NFL clubs are going to decide for themselves if Newton is committed to work hard every day knowing his elite athleticism is what has largely carried him to this point.
"Once you get a baseline skill set on a quarterback, the most important thing is what kind of kid is he," asked Mayock rhetorically. "Is he the first one in the building in the morning? Is he a leader of men? Do you watch as much tape as your quarterback coach? Can he process and assimilate information? Those are the hard parts of evaluating quarterbacks."
And the difficulty of that evaluation with every quarterback is what draftniks label as risk, something almost no draft analyst debates as being part of the package with Newton.
"There is going to be a risk because we're talking about a one-year wonder and the intangibles have to be checked out," said Kiper. "That's Cam Newton."
But Newton is determined to turn NFL personnel executives into believers.
"I'm a confident person," he said. "It was instilled in me at a young age to believe in myself first and foremost because if I don't believe in myself who is going to believe in me? I'm going to try to make a lasting impression on these different organizations that will be the deciding factor in picking me."