Tom Sorensen

Sorensen Classic: When picking Cam Newton had fans, Marty Hurney on pins and needles

Cam Newton, right, holds up a jersey with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell after he was selected as the No. 1 overall pick by the Carolina Panthers in the first round of the NFL football draft on April 28, 2011, in New York.
Cam Newton, right, holds up a jersey with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell after he was selected as the No. 1 overall pick by the Carolina Panthers in the first round of the NFL football draft on April 28, 2011, in New York. AP

Editor’s note: This column originally published on April 28, 2011.

Marty Hurney, the Carolina Panthers general manager, holds many things dear – family, football, hard work, grudges.

You take a shot at Hurney, he remembers.

The idea of saying I told you so does not offend him.

Lately, he hasn’t had the opportunity.

If Carolina invests the first pick in the NFL draft on Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, and Newton becomes the player the Panthers anticipate, Hurney can tell the world I told you so.

If Newton fails to become that player, Hurney will have to drink his domestic beer where nobody knows his name. The only place left in Charlotte will be the bowling alley on league night, where patrons care more about a 3-10 baby split than a record of 2-14.

I’ve been writing for more than a month that Hurney will take Newton. I didn’t make the story up. There was early evidence, and the rest is instinct. You have to believe, right?

But I don’t know that the Panthers will. They could take Georgia receiver A.J. Green or Louisiana State cornerback Patrick Peterson, or they could trade down.

Yet I still believe they will take Newton, and not merely because I’ve written that they should and will four to seven times.

The gamble is tremendous, the biggest in the franchise’s 17-draft, 16-season history.

Unlike Green, Newton will not be an immediate star and probably not a starter.

The pick will be based not on what Newton is, but on what, under Carolina’s tutelage, he can be.

Newton’s detractors, and they are legion, gleefully replay the sequence from “Jon Gruden’s QB Camp.” If you do not like Newton, you either saw the show or pretended you did. Based on the anti-Newton readers from whom I’ve heard, “QB Camp” was the highest-rated program in ESPN history.

Gruden called a play, throwing in options, snapping his fingers, and asked Newton to put it into words.

Newton stood at a dry-erase board, lost.

How do you explain it? Auburn’s fast-twitch offense doesn’t require such verbiage? Dry-erase boards have yet to come to eastern Alabama?

What do you think is easier to teach: A) How to call a play or, B) how to escape a speed-rushing end, shake off a tackle by the cornerback, outrun a linebacker and wait for receivers to break free?

Newton is the most scrutinized draft pick of all time because the draft is all desperate NFL fans have. Other league activity takes place in a board room or a courtroom. So a nation turns its lonely eyes on the big quarterback with the shaky past.

Most of the questions about Newton are legitimate. How will he adjust from Auburn’s highly effective playground attack to a sophisticated NFL offense? How will he learn to run not as an end in itself but as a means to find an open man? How hard will he work?

And that smile – real or fake?

How will fans react? What will the reaction at Radio City Music Hall be when the Panthers make their pick?

Even though some of those fans camped out Wednesday night for tickets, their reaction doesn’t matter. Panthers fans have been waiting for the draft since September. Their reaction doesn’t matter.

Nobody picks a player No. 1 to generate attention. You take a player first because he can do more for your team than anybody else.

The Panthers have never had an elite quarterback. Remember the work of Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger in Super Bowl XLV, the way they moved to keep a play alive? Carolina has never had a quarterback who could do that.

I’m not saying Newton is Rodgers or Roethlisberger. But if he ever attains what they have, the pick is a blazing success.

Time will be required. So give it to him. Newton doesn’t have to start the 2011 season opener. Let him sit. Let him learn. Not all investments come to fruition right away.

Hold on. The Panthers invested their top pick last season, No. 48, on a quarterback. How can a team justify that in consecutive seasons?

If Carolina were taking Stanford’s Andrew Luck, you think this would be an issue?

Newton is so big and athletic he could be the prototype for what comes next.

That’s hyperbole. Sorry. I’ve written so many columns about him I get carried away.

This isn’t.

If the Panthers draft Newton, Hurney eventually will be able to have a beer anywhere he wants, and not have to worry about falling pins covering the sound of I told you so.

Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Sign up for his newsletter, and follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen

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