AU FOOTBALL: Newton ready to lead Tigers

Newton ready, but still has a lot of learning to do.

Cameron Newton was just as surprised by the timing of the news as everyone else.

Less than two weeks after Gene Chizik said the quarterback decision would likely drag through the summer, Newton was doing what normal football players do at this time of the year: lifting weights.

When one of the trainers flagged him down to meet with Chizik and offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, Newton was taken aback.

He had no idea he’d be receiving the best news of his rebuilt football career to date.

“My first thought was I ain’t did nothing wrong,” Newton said. “So I was kind of nervous at first. When they told me, I just wanted to scream. I had to keep my composure.”

Newton kept his cool, fighting back a smile because Chizik “probably thought I was just joking around.”

This is the type of self-control and composure Chizik and Malzahn will expect from Newton throughout the summer and into August, when he’s expected to maintain his title as the Tigers’ No. 1 quarterback heading into the 2010 season.

“I won’t put any more pressure than what’s already been on my back, unneeded pressure,” Newton said. “I’m just going to continue to do what I do. That’s just lead by example. I’m not going to go outside my means, going outside my persona to do something I’m not.

“Evidently it’s worked so far.”

Indeed it has.

What Chizik and Malzahn saw on film, not only during Auburn’s 15 spring practices, but afterward in a thorough evaluation from start to finish, made all the difference.

Newton completed most of his passes and didn’t turn the ball over much, the latter of which makes him an ideal choice for Malzahn, who detests turnovers more than rainy days. Considering that he didn’t set foot on campus until early January, Newton proved to be quick learner
when it came to nailing down the intricacies of Malzahn’s detail-oriented offense.

His size — 6-foot-7, 247 pounds — and athleticism, which has yet to be displayed because of the orange, non-contact jersey he has had to wear, simply couldn’t be replicated by his competition.

“We were very demanding and very specific on what we were asking him to do,” Chizik said. “He’s done all of those parts — from the weight room to the film study on his own to what he did in spring practice. He’s just taken all of those parts and really done well with it. So that’s just been impressive to me.”

There were the intangibles, too.

Players such as linebacker Craig Stevens said they noticed an immediate presence Newton brought to practice. Playing behind the leader of leaders at Florida, Tim Tebow, Newton didn’t mince words in his first interview after his first practice at Auburn about his plans to lead. Once he earned his teammates’ trust, he said, he would be the player they rally behind.

“I just wanted to get better and make everybody around me better,” Newton said, “so we can get ready and produce.”

Newton’s focus is now centered on the summer, where he’ll serve as the chief organizer of the all-important workouts that coaches are not permitted to supervise.

Not having a No. 1 quarterback named at this juncture, like last season, was expected to hamper the development of chemistry between
Auburn’s first team, which is now largely established with the exception of right tackle.

Not any more.

“Those things are invaluable and I think when people know who is the No. 1 quarterback then it’s easier to do those things,” Chizik said. “Those are the expectations that we have of that position. To be able to lead these guys and go out and do a lot of work on their own.”

Chizik said he has yet to settle on a backup quarterback among Neil Caudle, Clint Moseley and Barrett Trotter. Tyrik Rollison, who did not practice this spring and is expected to transfer to Sam Houston State at the end of the semester, is all but out of the picture.

“Barrett, Neil, Clint, they’ve done everything we’ve asked them to do,” Chizik said. “They’ve all gotten better in their own way.” | 737-2561

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