Here’s what former NFL head coach and current ESPN analyst Jon Gruden had to say about Cam Newton, Patrick Peterson and others in a Q&A.
Q. Do you expect the lockout and everything that’s going on around the league to affect fan interest in the draft?
JON GRUDEN:I think the draft is a big vehicle for these teams to get better. Right now there is no free agency, so it’s paramount that the draft is a tool for these teams to get better. I think the real fans are excited to see some football again.
Q. Could you provide some insight into how teams are approaching the draft differently given what you’ve just talked about with free agency and stuff?
JON GRUDEN:Well, I think right now it’s the only method that these teams have to improve their teams, not only for the immediate future, but for the long‑term future. I’ve visited with several former colleagues of mine that right now during these draft meetings are much more thorough than they’ve ever been before.
Every coach, every scout, every member of the organization is sitting in on these meetings to study, learn about every player that’s available in this year’s draft because there are no players in the building for the off‑season program. So I think the research is much more extensive, much more thorough, much more calculated. I think every member of the organization from an overall standpoint is going to be much more prepared.
Q. Was there one guy you sat down going into the QB camp that you came away really impressed by or you may not have thought as much of until you sat down with him and broke down the film with him?
JON GRUDEN:You know these five guys that we had in, three of them are juniors: (Cam) Newton, (Blaine) Gabbert and (Ryan) Mallett. They’re all underclassmen.
Cam Newton with 14 career starts, the thing that impressed me, not only his physical attributes and his size, but his charisma. I think his eagerness to learn and prove that he can adapt to a pro style on offense. He showed very good retention to me in the meetings and the material that we covered.
I just like the look in his eyes, the eagerness and feeling that he has a lot to prove to everybody including himself. I think Newton impressed me the most in that regard.
Q. When you were working with these quarterbacks over your career, you have a rookie quarterback say you like his arm, but his mobility isn’t that great or you like his feet, but he’s not as accurate. How difficult or how easy is it to get him to develop into your system?
JON GRUDEN:That’s the challenge. Repetition is the mother of learning. A lot of these young guys that are coming into the draft today have never even been in a huddle. This is a no‑huddle, speed attack, spread offense that they’re running in college football. So just teaching them the nomenclature, how to get in and out of the huddle and communicate all the verbiage is the number one challenge. Then these offensive coordinators today will cater their offense to the strengths of a young quarterback while they develop their perceived weaknesses.
But it’s a process. All these guys need to get stronger. They need to learn to play faster because the pro game is so much quicker. It’s a challenge. There is no question. Their fundamentals must improve. Lot of these guys have never taken a snap from center. There are some real obstacles that only time can develop. That is the challenge with any young quarterback.
Q. Following up on that, it seems like no matter how much time, money and expertise is poured into the evaluation of these quarterbacks, it’s still an inexact science. What are the one, two or three things that you never know about playing quarterback in the NFL until you’re playing quarterback in the NFL?
JON GRUDEN:Well, the big thing is you never know how these guys are going to respond to getting hit. The blur‑like images that they see. The tight windows that they have to throw into with tremendous anticipation and location, it’s no different than being a Major League Baseball pitcher. If you’re off six inches, someone’s hitting it out of the park.
But these quarterbacks have to have tremendous poise, tremendous toughness. They have to have a great knowledge of how defenses work. How pass protections work, how patterns adjust against bump and run coverage, off coverage, rotation coverages, where the hot receiver is. It’s a process that’s never ending.
That’s why you’ve got to try to develop an urgency and a respect in terms of preparation with every young quarterback. They’ve got to walk in day one and feel that urgency to improve, whether it be fundamentally or from a knowledge standpoint. They’ve got to respect the defenses. They pay their coaches and players a lot of money too. They’re paid to stop and demoralize quarterbacks, especially the young ones.
Q. Does the money change some guys? Once they’ve got the money, can their attitude change? Is that a hard thing to decipher too, what guys are going to just be that guy no matter what they’re getting paid?
JON GRUDEN:Well, that’s a good point. There is no question that money and fame changes a lot of people. I think passion is an ingredient that you’re looking for. I really think at the end of the day, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning would play the game for nothing. I’ve seen Drew Brees and Philip Rivers on the practice field, how they love to compete, they love to play, and they love to win. I think that’s an area that you’ve got to really look for is passion and how much urgency a guy’s going to show for his everyday performance.
Q. When you look at Andy Dalton, you see him evolving into what long‑term? Is he best for a west coast offense, or could you see him becoming a starter in any style of offense? And, Jay, if you could talk about how the movement of the draft to three days changed things and helped or hurt from a TV perspective?
JON GRUDEN:I think Andy Dalton can play in any offense. I think when you become a pro quarterback and play in the National Football League, as the hash marks change, the field becomes more available. When you’re on a college hash mark and you’re throwing the ball to the wide side of the field, that’s almost an impossible task for anyone.
So I think putting the ball in the middle of the field favors Andy Dalton. I’ve seen him be an accurate passer down the field. I’ve seen him manage a high‑volume offense with great success at TCU. He’s got four years of production. And if you look at Texas Christian football, who would have thought they’d be 13‑0 and Rose Bowl champions?
I really think Andy Dalton can fit any offense. But the more you put on him above the neck mentally to make decisions and play the game with his heady nature, I think the better Andy Dalton’s going to be. He’s an outstanding, well‑versed quarterback that I think will fit a lot of schemes.
Q. What were your impressions of Mallett? Do you think he gets it in terms of what’s going to be required of him in the NFL?
JON GRUDEN:I think he does get it. He comes from a unique background. His mom and dad were teachers and coaches. Football is very important to him. The thing I really liked about Ryan Mallett was his background playing under Bobby Petrino at Arkansas. And I know Coach Petrino well enough to know that he coaches quarterbacks hard, very demanding. If you watch Mallett play, he’s in a lot of pro style situations, underneath the center, in the shotgun, audibling, check‑with‑me’s. They do a lot of good things on offense at Arkansas. Ryan Mallett can draw protections, blocking schemes, and he does have a beautiful throwing motion that I know a lot of guys in the league are excited about. He can really hum it.
So he has that ability, I think, to throw the football from a lot of different areas. In the pocket he can get it out of his hand with a lot of velocity in a hurry. And I think he’s got a very good football aptitude being in Coach Petrino’s attack for the last couple of years.
Q. There are reports coming out yesterday that Mallett might have admitted some drug use in some of his private meetings at the combine. Good move, bad move, any thoughts on that?
JON GRUDEN:I can’t comment on any of that because I’m not aware of that. That’s the best way I can put it right now. But obviously that’s a red flag if that’s the truth.
Q. Can I get your take on Jake Locker? You seem to have a pretty good connection with him during that QB Camp episode. Wanted your take on how close do you think he is to the NFL level, and the accuracy concerns and other concerns you think he still needs to work on?
JON GRUDEN:Well, Jake Locker said what he was going to do, and he did what he said he was going to do. He said he was coming back for his senior year. He said he wanted to take Washington to a bowl game, and I admire that about him.
He could have walked away from the Husky program and potentially been the number one pick a year ago according to a lot of analysts. But he wanted to do what he said he was going to do, and that is a trait that I really admire.
This is one tough guy. I mean, Jake Locker has played for two head coaches. He had to endure an 0‑12 season. This guy took a lot of punishment. The whole offense was built around No. 10. From a running standpoint, from a passing standpoint, this guy was involved significantly on every snap for the Huskies. He does have to improve his accuracy. But I think when you’re hit a lot and asked to do as much as Locker’s been asked to do, sometimes your fundamentals wane a little bit. They disappear in key situations. He does have a good, strong arm. He’s an outstanding athlete. He’s got very good elusiveness and straight line speed with some power, and I think he loves football. I think there is a real passionate fire inside this guy that somebody’s going to capture. He would be a fun guy to coach. I know that.
Q. To follow up on that, if you’re not accurate in college, you won’t be accurate in the pros. How much do you buy into that? Isn’t it more a factor of what the guy’s situation is and where he’s going?
JON GRUDEN:Accuracy can be improved. Sometimes it’s because of your fundamentals. Sometimes you’re out of rhythm, you’re in the shotgun, you’re underneath the center. Sometimes you’re under duress and out of rhythm. Sometimes you’re hurrying, you’re playing too fast. You’re anticipating congestion around you when maybe there isn’t.
I just think he needs to go back and reestablish his fundamentals and work hard at that. He’ll get the right position coach that’s going to help him do that. But accuracy sometimes can be terminal. Sometimes you can’t cure that. I think that is a big concern with Jake Locker, because he does miss some throws. But if you pick up the Southern Cal film from this year, if you pick up the Oregon State film from this year, you can see what this guy’s capable of doing. He can be a one‑man wrecking machine. There is a brilliant talent inside this body he’s got. It’s a matter of regaining his fundamentals, confidence and composure a little bit, and he’ll be fine.
Q. The offense that (Rob) Chudzinski wants to install here with the Panthers, apparently there is going to be a long vertical stretch, maybe more emphasis on touch passing on the deep balls. I know Newton has the arm strength. But as you studied the tape of him, do you think he has that touch deep or could develop it?
JON GRUDEN:I think he does have touch on the deep throws. Again, he’s only played 14 games at the Division 1 level. His passing statistics are good. His down the field accuracy at times is outstanding. He had some deep balls drop this year that were right on the money.
This is not a typical pro style attack. Cam Newton is a tailback at times playing with a direct snap at Auburn. He’s carrying the football much like Cadillac Williams did, and Bo Jackson did on power running plays. But it’s a direct snap with some underneath misdirection. When they do throw the ball, a lot of it is off the play action. But I have seen him be very accurate. If you watch the South Carolina game late in the season to win the SEC Championship, he makes a couple of beautiful deep throws against Oregon in the National Championship game. I think he can make the throws. I think it’s a matter of him learning and getting conditioned to what the coach wants him to do, and he can do it. This guy has tremendous ability.
Q. The blogosphere has been buzzing about Cam sort of freezing on your question about a more complex play call. Do you think he can hand all the intricacies of an NFL offense as well?
JON GRUDEN:Yeah, it’s not his fault that they don’t huddle. This is a no‑huddle offense. I don’t believe Auburn ever huddles. I saw them live against Oregon and never saw them get in the huddle. A lot of their signals come from the sideline. As a matter of fact, every one of them does. That is just the way the Tigers operate. Cam Newton will learn quickly what to call formations, what to call shifts, what to call motions. That is something that I learned. What he’s got to get ready for right away is learning the terminology and how to spit these plays out clearly, quickly, and get the team up to the line of scrimmage where he has time to deal.
Q. When you were a coach preparing for the draft, was it hard to try not to put too much stock into what you see in the combine and pro days, and to sort of stay true to a guy mostly based on what he’s throwing?
JON GRUDEN:Well, that’s the million dollar question. You know, you’re going to hear a lot of guys drafted a little earlier than expected. If you just read the reports that the scouts have written about these guys prior to the combine, they’ll certainly elevate their draft status with a great workout at the combine.
Let me say this in fairness to that, a lot of these guys you don’t get to see do certain things on their college tape that you see at the combine. You see a quarterback take a three‑step drop and throw a slant. You see a wide receiver run a post corner route. You see a guy go through the gauntlet and catch six or eight passes on the move, three over his right shoulder, three over his left shoulder. So the combine, let’s not kid ourselves, is very, very important in terms of seeing some of these guys do things that you haven’t had a chance to see them do on their college film.
And everything you get on tape needs to be evaluated. From the physical, to the character, to the combine workout to the game performance, it’s big. Guys do sometimes I think overshadow at the combine, and take advantage of their one‑on‑one physical skills and really propel themselves in the draft, and sometimes that’s not right.
Q. What would be your advice to these guys who are going to be drafted who may not have a place to go for a while because of the lockout? What would be your advice to them as far as staying in the groove and getting up to speed with their teams?
JON GRUDEN:First thing I’d do is find a projector and I’d find somebody that can get me game film of what I’ve got to learn. This is going to be a huge step for these guys. That’s why they’ve had 14 OTA days in the past, and that’s why they’ve had 14 preseason days and an extensive off‑season to get these young players, rookie players some of them not even drafted get acclimated so they can compete and help their football team win.
Not only do they have to get in great shape, but they’ve got to learn the specifics of what defense they’ll play in, what offense they’ll play in. They’ve got to start to learn the personnel that’s in the National Football League. Who Darrelle Revis is, who Antonio Cromartie is, et cetera, et cetera. There is a tremendous amount of football that needs to be learned. So I’d encourage all of them to stay in shape, find a projector and start studying film because the great players aren’t locked out. They have access to information and they’re going to use it to their advantage.
Q. I know you got to see Terrelle Pryor play in the Rose Bowl a year and a half ago. Do you think he has the potential to play quarterback in the NFL down the road?
JON GRUDEN:I’m flying to Columbus tomorrow. I’m going to spend a few days down there watching the Buckeyes in spring practice. I’ll have a better feel for that after I sit down and watch them. But let me say this: The quarterbacks I’m seeing coming through here in the last few years are getting bigger, stronger, and they’re getting abnormally large. When you look at the size of Tebow, the size of Cam Newton, now you’re talking about Terrelle Pryor, Blaine Gabbert, Ryan Mallett, if you get with the right coach who can cater an offense to Terrelle Pryor’s ability ‑‑ I stood on the field right before the Rose Bowl. I thought Terrelle Pryor was Julius Peppers. That is the kind of size he has. I’ll know more when I see him live in the next few days in practice and how he is behind the scenes. But everybody’s looking for big, explosive athletes. The way they’re protecting quarterbacks, that is the one reason I really like Cam Newton. You can’t tackle these guys below the legs. They’re hard to bring down. If you watch Roethlisberger and Josh Freeman create plays, it’s a huge advantage for guys of this size. You can’t bring them down. So I think there is a chance for Pryor. I just will know more after I see him personally.
Q. What offensive linemen have stood out to you so far? What is the decision like in terms of the drafting an interior guy as opposed to an outside guy?
JON GRUDEN:I think you want to put the premium on the outside guys that can protect the passer. They’re usually the hardest guys to find. This is a strange year from the standpoint that there aren’t a lot of pure left tackles in the draft. Don’t get me wrong, you want to have some thump and versatility with your guards and your center. But from an offensive tackle standpoint, there really isn’t a lot of pure left tackles like there have been in years past. Tyron Smith at Southern Cal is projected to be left tackle, but he plays right tackle at USC. He’s not the biggest guy. So you have some concerns with ‘can he go to the left side’? Is he going to be big enough and quick enough to make an immediate contribution?
Nate Solder from Colorado has a huge upside. But remember he’s a converted tight end and a work in progress. Castonzo at Boston College is probably the most polished guy. He started 50 games at B.C. You see him in a pro style on offense. He’s the guy, I think, in this group he’s the most polished. Carimi reminds me of a John Runyon type at Wisconsin. Gabe Carimi might end up playing on the right side. Could eventually kick inside and be just a mauler. He can cream you, if you ask me. Derrick Sherrod at Mississippi State is interesting. They just don’t throw the ball in a drop back setting very often, so he’ll be a work in progress as a pass protector. And there are some that tell me they think he’s a right tackle. But it’s hard to find a left tackle that can come in and play quickly at that position. Inside I think the Pouncey kid at Florida is going to be a very good center. I don’t think he’s a guard. There are some guys in there that can play, but it’s not the strength of this draft, the interior of the offensive line.
Q. Based on your work with Newton and your observation of all these players you’ve talked about at other positions and your knowledge of the Panthers from coaching against them, with the first pick of the draft, who do you see?
JON GRUDEN:I said it a couple weeks ago. I think they’re going to take Cam Newton out of Auburn. In this NFC South, I believe you have Josh Freeman, you have Matt Ryan, you have Drew Brees. They have a young guy there now in Jimmy Clausen. But I think with DeAngelo Williams, assuming he’s re‑ signed, Jonathan Stewart, Jordan Gross at left tackle, assuming Otah comes back at right tackle, you’re going to have the ability to put together a striking running game with Cam Newton being a part of that. Your good friend Steve Smith out there can still hurt people and off the play action pass and things of that nature while Cam develops. I think there are things this guy can do.
I wish I had more tape on Cam Newton. I don’t think it’s going to happen overnight. But this is the kind of guy you’re looking for. He’s almost 6’6″, and 255 pounds. And everybody says yes, he sees the best conference in college football, and he really did a great job in that conference this year. I think he combined for 51 touchdowns.
Q. Cam Newton is visiting the Broncos today, and of course they have Tim Tebow. You had them both in your camp in the last two years. Is it true that Cam is superior with the throwing mechanics and a better athlete because he’s faster, but Tebow is far better in the intangibles? That’s what I’m getting as everyone talks about these guys.
JON GRUDEN:Well, Tebow’s body of work was much more extensive than Cam’s. Cam Newton has come from nowhere. I was watching film with Cam Newton. I showed Cam Newton throwing a pass for the Florida Gators against the Hawaii Rainbows two years ago. Cam Newton has exploded on to the scene out of nowhere and threw in 14 games. Whereas, Tebow was a Heisman Trophy winner as a junior, came back for his senior year, and part of two National Championship teams. They’re different guys. One’s a left‑handed guy with different mechanics. And Newton is a work in progress in his own right. But they are similar from the standpoint that they both physically dominated college football. I think there are some interesting intangibles with Newton also. You’re getting a guy that you can build a very unique offense around.
I hear the elevator music. I don’t know what is reality. I just got to spend a day and a half with Cam. I was impressed with him. I know people that have had him in for individual meetings. They like his retention. They like his attention to detail. There are some similarities in that they’re physical status type guys. I’d like to have either one of them.
Q. On D‑tackle, Marcell Darius seems to be rated higher than Nick Fairley coming into this draft, and Fairley’s getting this criticism on work ethic and technique. But production‑wise, Fairley about doubled Darius this past year. Your thoughts on those two guys?
JON GRUDEN:Well, Darius, if you watch Darius play two years ago, his film is even better than it was this year. He got hurt in the Arkansas game. That ankle lingered throughout the season. He missed the opening game because of a rules violation. But I think Darius is a different player than Fairley. Darius is a three‑position player in a 3‑4 front. He can play nose, either defensive end. He is legitimate, sheer power. This is a power player. He is rare. You’ve seen the physical nature this guy’s put together with a rare combination of explosive physical play, and a guy that’s well‑versed under Nick Saban.
Fairley is an under tackle. He’s the guy that reminds me of Kevin Williams of the Minnesota Vikings. He’s a one‑gap penetrator and a premier pass rusher in his draft, if you ask me. A lot of the sacks and hits he put on quarterback were not by accident. He, again, has one year of production, really. I think he’s on the rise. I think he’s getting better. I think Coach Rocker at Auburn did an excellent job with Fairley developing him.
Q. Not talking about elite receivers like A.J. Green or Julio Jones, but what traits do you think mid-round receivers need if they’re going to step in and be able to contribute right away as rookies?
JON GRUDEN:I think versatility number one. You see a guy that can be a third receiver. Back‑up at X, back‑up at flanker, maybe helping the return game. You’re looking for a guy that can show some versatility and come off the bench, throw the cape off in mid‑November and make a play for you. So those are some traits.
Obviously, speed is at a premium nowadays. And there are some interesting guys. When you look at Titus Young at Boise State. This Edmund Gates is coming out of nowhere at Abilene Christian. Guys that can really run. Then you have the creative playmakers. Guys like Randall Cobb that play the position like maybe Hines Ward. He is a quarterback at Georgia, where Cobb is a quarterback at Kentucky, a Randle El type player. A guy that you can use maybe like a Brad Smith of the Jets. But there are a lot of guys, I think John Baldwin at Pitt, size guys that become red zone, leaping freak targets that you can take advantage of, and Torrey Smith is another guy.
But from a trait standpoint you’re looking for a guy with versatility, aptitude, and a guy that can come off the bench and potentially help you in the kicking game, and help you in your three and four receiver sets.
Q. Who is the best of that second tier group in your mind?
JON GRUDEN: Boy, I really like, I don’t know that he’s second tier, but I love Titus Young at Boise State. He scored over 20 touchdowns in the last two years. He can return. You put him in a tight slot split, and he can get anywhere he wants to go fast. I love Randall Cobb at Kentucky. I think these two guys have tremendous upside and they’ll be good players in the league.
Q. The consensus has been that Newton and Gabbert are a cut above the other quarterbacks in the draft. You’ve talked a lot about Newton, and I think his skills are obvious. But do you believe that Gabbert is a cut above the other quarterbacks in this draft? If so, why? And if you could give speculation on where you think he might go, and the farthest he might drop down in the draft?
JON GRUDEN:I do think Blaine Gabbert is a Top 10 pick. All you have to do is see the ball come out of his hand. He’s got a very quick, strong arm, prototype size. He’s over 6’4″, 235 pounds, a finance major, so you know he has intelligence. He has speed. I mean, Gabbert ran very well at the combine. He’s elusive back there. His scrambling and play making ability I think will be very enticing. Once again, here’s a junior quarterback that comes from a very unique, different style of spread offense at Missouri where he’s been in the no‑back set, and the shotgun predominantly. But I think his physical talents are very noticeable to everybody.
Q. Christian Ponder at Florida State, have you gotten to spend much time with him? Have you broken down his film? What do you think of him as a quarterback and as a person?
JON GRUDEN: I have not had a chance to individually work Christian Ponder out. I have had a chance to study his tape. Here’s a guy that is a three‑year starter. He’s won 22 games at Florida State, Senior Bowl MVP. He’s already graduated. There are a lot of upsides here. He’s had some injuries, which are the big concern. He’s a great leader. Two‑time team captain of the Seminoles. Two years ago he threw for almost 70%. I think the injuries got to him a little bit this year.
But you see a couple tremendous throws in the Florida game. One, a red zone post where you see the anticipation, the accuracy, the toughness in the pocket. There are a lot of guys I know that that like this guy because he’s got the aptitude to learn. He’s got the leadership traits that you want, and he’s got a lot of playing experience. And Jimbo Fisher does some good things on offense. But I think he’s an accurate, intermediate passer. People want to see him push the ball maybe a little more down the field. Like to see a little more arm strength. But I think those things will develop and come to Ponder when he gets healthy and continues to physically get stronger. He’s a very good collegian. He’s got good enough size, good enough mobility, and he’s won a lot of games and shown tremendous toughness for the Seminoles.
Q. When the Bengals drafted (Carson) Palmer in ’03, they had him sit behind (Jon) Kitna for a year, and that seemed to be the model. But at some point in the last couple years the model has shifted and teams are putting guys right in there. Why do you think that’s been?
JON GRUDEN:Well, I think there’s been a need at the position, unlike there has been for some time. I think if you look at the top 14 or 15 teams that are drafting at the end of the month, you could say that all these teams could use a quarterback. When there is a tremendous need and you get a quarterback early in the draft, sometimes that quarterback’s better than the ones that you currently have on your roster. That is the big reason. There is a need for young quarterbacks to come in here and play.
We just lost Kurt Warner two years ago. We’re losing Brett Favre this year. Carson Palmer right now, his status is unknown whether he’s going to play again. Somebody’s got to replace these guys. And if they don’t have that quarterback in house to do it, it’s going to be a young guy from the draft. So I think that’s the big reason.
Q. Can you compare A.J. Green and Julio Jones? And if you had one significantly higher than the other?
JON GRUDEN: Well, we have A.J. Green as the clear‑cut number one receiver in this draft. 6’4″, incredible ball skills, over the middle toughness, almost looks double jointed at times the way he can come out of breaks. He gets up the field in a hurry. Just looks polished, a tremendous college football player. That’s rare if you ask me. This guy has made some amazing one‑handed catches. He can get down the field and double move you. He’s good after the catch. They tell me he’s a tremendous worker and a fine young guy. You know, Julio Jones has played through a lot of injuries this season. Doesn’t quite play in the same offense where you see him run the same patterns as A.J. Green. But where Julio helped himself is going to the combine and running that fast and jumping that high on a bad wheel. Julio Jones from a natural receiving standpoint might not have as pure of hands as A.J. Green, but he is good enough to be a force in pro football with that size, speed and catching radius. But we love A.J. Green a little bit more than Julio Jones.