Newton ready to command Auburn offense

Get ready Auburn Fans the Cam Newton show is starting this Saturday.

In about 597 ways, give or take, Cameron Newton has been asked if he’s prepared to lead Auburn as its starting quarterback since he arrived on campus in January.

He was asked, perhaps, for the final time Tuesday, four days before he will take the field before 87,000 fans Saturday against Arkansas State — roughly 174 times the amount that watched him in his Blinn (Texas) Community College debut last season.

Newton replied with the same confidence and same grateful attitude he’s had since Auburn snagged him away from Mississippi State in the New Year’s Eve coup of a commitment. He then was asked if he was sick of answering questions and just wanted to play football.

His answer to that particular query came as a surprise.

“That’s what you sign up for,” he said. “You never get tired for it. Coach (Gus) Malzahn said the great players and great teams embrace the process and this is part of the process.”

This first stage of the process will end a couple hours before Saturday’s 6 p.m. kickoff, when Newton and his teammates go through Tiger Walk and make it to the locker room.

Getting him there, more than nine months in the making, will only be half the battle, Malzahn said.

What happens for roughly three hours against the Red Wolves will set in motion the entire second half of the process.

“Until you actually get to see somebody in the heat of the battle, there’s some questions that we’ll learn after the first few games after we get to know each other even better going through those times,” Malzahn said. “And he’s got a good handle of the offense, but I really expect him each week to get a better grip and a better grasp as we go.”

A proper analysis of how Newton got to this point would involve breaking up the past nine months into two distinct parts: Before he was named starter and after.

The expectations placed on Newton’s shoulders were higher than any of the signees Auburn brought in with its banner 2010 class. He was once considered the heir apparent to Tim Tebow at Florida and absolutely thrived in his one year at the junior-college level, convincing many that he could step right in at Auburn or Mississippi State and snatch the starting job away from whomever held it.

His legend preceded itself shortly after he committed to the Tigers.

“There were rumors going around,” offensive tackle Lee Ziemba said. “Some people were saying he was 7-foot tall.”

Newton checked in slightly shorter than that, but gave Auburn a quarterback with a defensive end’s body and a wide receiver’s speed. His impact was felt immediately during Auburn’s month of spring practice, as players on both sides of the ball raved about his cannon arm and instant leadership credibility.

Coaches were more tempered in their praise and, at Auburn’s A-Day game, were accused by one prominent media member of “sandbagging” Newton’s portion of the scrimmage. He passed the ball just eight times and only ran with the first-team offense once.

“What we were going to do was rotate our quarterbacks accordingly,” Chizik said. “However that unfolded, it unfolded.”

When spring practice ended, Newton was surprisingly no higher on the depth chart than when he arrived. Two days later, he was named the starter, kicking off the second half of his offseason metamorphosis, one that largely involved garnering the trust of his teammates.

During the summer, when workouts are voluntary, senior tailback Mario Fannin would often catch Newton “pulling sleds” and lifting by himself on Fridays, Saturdays, any days, really.

“You can’t do anything but respect him,” Fannin said. “Just his hard work alone just pretty much sealed the deal for us. And we understood where he was trying to go and we understood where we were trying to go. It just balances everything out.”

He doesn’t have to be friends with everyone on the team, but it’s clear that camaraderie has been established. A glance outside the Auburn Athletic Complex on Tuesday spotted three new motor scooters parked next to the one Newton has been riding since school started — “The Cammy Cam Bike Club,” he called it.

Like Chris Todd’s Chevy Camaro last year, Newton’s motor scooter has been a constant fixture in front of Auburn football’s headquarters all summer and in the final weeks heading into Saturday’s game.

“I’m just trying to learn information that will give me the edge on the field that I can take,” he said. “I’ve been spending a lot of time up here, but I think that’s what’s expected of me being a starter, you can’t just come in when everybody else is here. You’ve got to do what’s expected of you and a little bit more.”

Over the summer, Malzahn added tweaks and attributes to his fast-paced offense that would cater to Newton’s strengths. That likely means more zone reads, more designed runs and more plays that allow Newton to create on the fly.

“Every gameplan will be centered around that in terms of us being a productive offense,” Chizik said. “But he’s done well. We’re proud of what he’s done.” | 737-2561

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