While ESPN has become a bit of a safe haven for literally dozens of retired players and terminated coaches who have no business on television, occasionally they come up with a gem. If you cast the net wide enough, you have to, right?
I think Jeff Van Gundy is excellent on the NBA on ESPN (and the television watcher in me hopes he's not a front-runner for the Rockets' now-vacant head coaching job), and I think similarly Jon Gruden has been a great addition covering the NFL.
As good as Gruden is on Monday Night Football (and he is excellent), ESPN's use of Gruden come draft time in his Camp Gruden segments makes for outstanding television to even the most casual NFL Draft fan. I'd even go as far as to say you don't even have to care about the draft to find Gruden's film sessions with future quarterback draft choices riveting stuff.
Among the campers in Camp Gruden last year was Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen, who Gruden showed some tough love to by calling some of Clausen's film "embarrassing to Notre Dame"...
Florida's Tim Tebow also spent some time under the Gruden microscope, and I have to say you can see why teams fall in love with Tebow when they meet him....
This year's series includes Arkansas's Ryan Mallett, TCU's Andy Dalton, Washington's Jake Locker and (yes) Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton. Gruden sits down with each of them to go through the usual drill of picking apart their games and giving pointers on what they'll all need to work on to be successful at the next level.
Of course, it takes two to tango. There reaches a certain point with a student where their capacity to absorb (both experiential and mental) is so low that you may as well be giving advice to the wall.
If there is an imaginary line for such a capacity in the NFL evaluation process, Cam Newton (based on the few minutes of Camp Gruden footage) clearly falls below that line.
Watch the Gruden sessions with Mallett, Dalton and Locker...
All of them show up in film room / "gym rat" gear (T-shirts, shorts). They're all interactive, they're all real, and all three take cracks at diagramming plays they ran in college on the white board, which should be the equivalent of filling out your name and address on a job application.
Now, observe Cam Newton...
(Note: ESPN's embedding has been screwy, so if you can't see it go to this link.)
In fact, let's mini-diary this thing chronologically....
0:00 -- Cam Newton is in a tie, sweater vest and a white dress shirt, which is the outfit straight out of Chapter 1 of Dress for Success, assuming you're trying to land a job as an investment banker or a patent lawyer. For purposes of getting a job as a quarterback, it's Exhibit A that perhaps Pro Football Weekly's Nolan Nawrocki was correct in his scouting report where he had the following to say about Newton:
Very disingenuous -- has a fake smile, comes off as very scripted and has a selfish, me-first makeup. Always knows where the cameras are and plays to them. Has an enormous ego with a sense of entitlement that continually invites trouble and makes him believe he is above the law -- does not command respect from teammates and will always struggle to win a locker room . . . Lacks accountability, focus and trustworthiness -- is not punctual, seeks shortcuts and sets a bad example. Immature and has had issues with authority. Not dependable.
If it's possible to hurt yourself and validate a scouting report that calls you a "phony" by dressing up nicely, Newton managed to do it.
0:05 -- Gruden: "Flip right, double X, Jet 36, Counter, naked waggle, 7-x quarter." Seriously, I think if Gruden had recited one more play sequence, Newton would have started banging himself on the head like Raymond Babbitt when Charlie tried to get him to fly to Los Angeles in Rain Man.
0:10 -- Gruden asks Newton for something "a little verbal" from Auburn's playbook. Basically, he's asking him for a play -- ANY PLAY -- in Auburn's entire playbook. Newton's response: "Wow, you're really putting me on the spot."
Um no, Cam. Having Dwight Freeney breathing down your neck in a hostile road environment two seconds after the ball is snapped, that's "on the spot." An ESPN analyst asking you to name a play that you can both playfully discuss in a film session, that's called a casual inquiry. The question wasn't meant to be difficult, Cam. If that film session were Jeopardy, Gruden's question was the equivalent of asking you to choose a category. You're screwed, big man.
0:30 -- At this point, Gruden realizes that he's got someone with severe village idiot potential on his hands and he bails him out -- "You don't get in the huddle much [at Auburn], do you?" To which Newton replies, "We really don't." Then he goes into an explanation of his college offense that is absolutely priceless:
"Our method is simplistic equals fast. It's so simple as far as you just look to the sideline and you see 36 on the board, and that's a play!"
Transcribing it in writing doesn't begin to do justice to Newton's voice inflection as he tries to make "36" sound like some magical recipe for untold riches. Seriously, I half-expected Newton to begin telling me how play "36" would generate income for my downline and set me up for financial security within three years.
0:44 -- Gruden actually has to tell Newton that one of his biggest challenges will be in calling plays and learning a playbook, which is like telling someone who just bought a car that one of their biggest challenges will be putting the key in the ignition and turning it to start the car. Underrated comedy is Newton taking fake notes on his notepad. Seriously, what could he possibly have been writing? "To do: Learn how to call plays."
1:11 -- This is where it starts to get special. Gruden asks Newton how he handles all of the criticism and Newton, instead of just saying that he feeds off of it and takes it personally, he goes into some contrived analogy where he's a gun and the criticism is the ammunition (which makes no sense, by the way). He supposedly puts all the criticism in his "mental chamber," a receptacle that is probably very roomy and where the criticism eventually dies from loneliness.
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2:35 -- Realizing that Cam Newton is to chalk talks what the Kardashians are to molecular physics, Gruden is like "Fuck it, may as well go throw the ball with this specimen." (Gruden says it more politely than I do.)
So what does this all mean for Newton's stock? Probably nothing; some team will be dumb enough to fall in love with the rocket arm and the big frame. But the fact of the matter is Ryan Mallett, who has been dogged by allegations of drug use and sounds like he could be the next gator hunter introduced on Swamp People, came across ten times more impressive than Newton in his Gruden session for the simple fact that he didn't seem scripted and he came across as a student of the game while breaking down a play on the chalkboard.
Hell, the fact that he made it to the chalkboard at all puts him ahead of Newton. This flameout is going to be fun to watch.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from noon to 3 p.m. weekdays and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.