In early March, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton flew to San Diego and had dinner at a Mexican fusion restaurant with Jameis Winston and his private quarterback coach, George Whitfield.
Whitfield had trained Newton before the 2011 draft, and Newton was back returning the favor by mentoring Winston, who was entering the NFL draft out of Florida State.
“What are you thinking about most at this level?” Newton asked Winston. “Go ahead. Give it to me.”
The questions poured out and Newton gave advice, Whitfield said. But it wasn’t “stay out of the headlines” or the cliché “take care of your body.”
“Cam was trying to either encourage him on matters or dispel some of the big (questions) a rookie may have,” Whitfield said. “He was giving him the same sound advice that any upper-level management person would give to any young, up-and-comer in the mailroom. Be a professional, be in early, be in every day. You can’t lead from the middle.”
It’s advice Winston has tried to apply in his first year as an NFL quarterback, and he gets to see Newton, whom he considers a sort of mentor, this weekend when Winston’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers host Newton’s Panthers.
Cam was trying to either encourage him on matters or dispel some of the big (questions) a rookie may have.
Private QB coach George Whitfield, on a pre-draft dinner meeting between Cam Newton and Jameis Winston
There are plenty of similarities between the two. They both won national championships and Heisman Trophies. They both dealt with issues involving the law and NCAA enforcement. And both went No. 1 overall in the draft.
That’s about where the similarities end.
Winston is 6-foot-4 and 231 pounds and looks even heavier inside the pocket. Newton is 6-foot-5 and can play at 260 pounds but can escape the pocket with ease and run past defenders.
“If Hummer built a sport model, that would be Cam,” Whitfield said. “And it can go all terrain. It’s faster than the average car on the road. It’s got a towing power. It’s got an incredible (navigation) system.
“Jameis is like a big-body Mercedes-Benz. There’s an awful lot that you’re going to get in terms of engine modification and sophistication. It’s an upper-level vehicle. It can get you to the airport if you’re late, but it’s not really designed to drag race.
“But both of them will take care of you. Both will get you where you want to be, and you’ll have both for 15 years. They’re both high-end vehicles, but they are not the same.”
Winston has shown steady improvement through three games this season, even though he has completed less than 50 percent of his passes twice. He has four touchdowns and three interceptions, a 52.2 completion percentage, and he’s taken seven sacks.
Jameis is no different than myself in a lot of ways, but we are extremely different in a lot of ways as well.
Cam Newton, on Tampa Bay rookie and fellow No. 1 pick Jameis Winston
Meanwhile, Newton has been in early season MVP talks in leading the Panthers to a 3-0 start. He has accounted for all seven of Carolina’s touchdowns, and his two interceptions have come when he was hit while throwing and on a dropped pass.
But Newton isn’t far removed from where Winston is. Newton also began his rookie season 1-2, and he has grown on and off the field.
“Jameis is no different than myself in a lot of ways, but we are extremely different in a lot of ways as well,” Newton said. “He’s a person who wants to win, who has won, and I always tease him that there’s nothing that he’s got that I don’t have.
“I was that age at one point and I don’t think the same at the age of 26. I understand that and I know that. You could tell him that every single day of the week, but until he lives and until he’s in the league for X amount of years, he will have a newfound respect for things.”
Since his Heisman-winning season two years ago, Winston has shown an uncanny ability to scan the field quickly as the play develops. That seems to have translated to the NFL even if he has been inaccurate on some throws.
From his coach to Carolina coach Ron Rivera to Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis, many believe Winston has the ability to be an effective NFL passer as long as he’s given time.
“You start out as a rookie and you don’t know a lot about the league and what to expect, so you set the bar right then,” Bucs coach Lovie Smith said. “Jameis could throw the football when he came in here. That’s why we picked him and he made good decisions and protected the ball. He’d like to have one of those throws back from last week, but he’s protected the ball well lately and made the throws.
“He’s an NFL quarterback who is going to be a great player.”