Excitement, uncertainty encompass Hurney, NFL as draft week begins
Panthers GM Marty Hurney has done homework on potential No. 1, Cam Newton
Ten thoughts about the draft, including a first-round trade likely to happen
Quotes of the Week, Stat of the Week, 10 Things I Think I Think and more
There's a different feel to this draft. It's somewhere between indifference and total confusion. Last week, co-hosting the Sirius NFL Radio "Opening Drive'' show with Bob Papa, we had only two callers on hold midway through the show, at 9 a.m. "That's how it's been like almost every morning,'' Papa told me off the air. "Last year before the draft, the lines were jammed every day. Now, not so much.''
It'll be interesting to see if there's the typical draft fever Thursday night at Radio City. Will Roger Goodell get booed? Will he get a cool shoulder from the drafted first-rounders? Maybe ... but in the end this draft will be a very fun story because it's got so much that we won't expect.
"A total chess match,'' said my friend Rick Gosselin, the longtime NFL columnist for the Dallas Morning News, whose first-round projection on the morning of the draft is always the first thing I look for on draft day. "There's no real number-one quality pick, and you've got a screaming need for quarterbacks by so many teams, with no lock franchise quarterback in the draft. I see trades, maybe two teams moving down because they don't want to over-draft quarterbacks, and maybe two other teams trading up from the second round to get quarterbacks low in the first round. It's one of the most unpredictable drafts I remember.''
The draft, as well as what's wafting through Marty Hurney's head this morning, the real story with an important first-round foot, Ryan Mallett shooting himself in his, Bill Parcells parceling out a few draft secrets, a coach and a tornado, another offseason ordeal for Brandon Marshall, and Peter King the Juror. Just another manic Monday.
Excitement. Danger. Insecurity. Fear.
You want to know what you're feeling if you're the Carolina Panthers and you're on the clock right now, with the first pick in the draft? Those four words: excitement, danger, insecurity and fear.
In 1985, I moved to New Jersey to cover the Giants for Newsday. In those days, the Redskins were the big Giants rivals, and I got to know my counterpart from the Washington Times. His name was Marty Hurney. Always working, always trying to find an angle, always trying to beat the bigger Washington Post. Really knew his stuff. We weren't close friends -- never have been -- but we talked quite often. I respected his work ethic tremendously.
I have this picture in my head of Hurney with a notebook in the Redskins locker room at old RFK Stadium, walking around with grim determination, trying to talk to as many guys as he could one-on-one. As Hurney climbed the NFL ladder, first with the Redskins, then in San Diego and finally with Carolina as GM, I always saw that same look. Whatever he was doing, he was going to try to outwork you doing it.
Now his team has fallen miles behind the rest of the NFC South. My view is that Hurney likes Jimmy Clausen a little bit, but really doesn't know if he's the answer in a division that features quarterbacks Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and rising star Josh Freeman. It's a quarterback league, and he knows he probably needs one. His owner, Jerry Richardson, has in effect given him the keys to the 2011 draft and told him to take the best man, regardless of position.
So this weekend I tried to put myself in Hurney's position. I believe it's very likely he'll take Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, even though he knows how dangerous Newton is. And assuming he does, knowing a little of what makes Hurney tick, I'm going to tell you how I think Hurney will be feeling over the next three days and nights prior to the 8 p.m. beginning of round one.
(Could the Panthers pick someone else? Still possible, but I believe unlikely. I'm told they believe they need to take a calculated risk here for the long-term best interest of the franchise.)
I think Hurney will be staring at the ceiling at 4 in the morning once or twice this week. He won't sleep well. He'll wonder about a guy who threw 292 major-college passes (Eli Manning threw 1,383, Peyton Manning 1,354, Carson Palmer 1,334, Sam Bradford 893). He'll think about how Newton didn't see enough of the blitzes and coverages in one year at Auburn that he'll see in the NFL, how he'll be learning on the job under the unrelenting microscope of a nitpicky media. He'll wonder how much offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski will have to pare down his playbook for a guy who stepped into the huddle at Auburn and called "Thirty-six.'' That's right; his plays were numbered at Auburn, called from the sideline, and so, as pointed out by Jon Gruden on his QB TV show the other night, Newton has to learn the complexities of NFL play-calling too.
That's the bad. That's the risk. That's why Hurney will go over Newton a few more times in the middle of the night this week.
Hurney will also think these thoughts:
Newton has good pocket presence. He can make every NFL throw. He hasn't seen many NFL-caliber pass-rushes or pass-rushers, but the film from Auburn shows he doesn't crack or get jittery when the pocket breaks down. He's heard Houston Nutt, Nick Saban, Steve Spurrier say the kid's got it all. He's watched Newton bring Auburn back from a 24-0 deficit in a national-championship-type game at Alabama, against Saban's vaunted defense, to win 28-27.
Hurney knows Newton walked into a junior college in Texas in 2009 and convinced a team of total strangers to follow him, and the team won the national JC title, and he knows Newton walked into Auburn in 2010 and convinced a team of total strangers to follow him, and the team won a national college championship. He knows he has the "it'' factor, whatever "it'' is. He knows he's not at his best on the board or in the film room -- he didn't need the Gruden TV show to tell him that -- and he knows that could be trouble, but he knows Newton's willing to learn.
And he'll know more than any of us. My guess is that, individually and with members of the Panthers staff, Hurney's spent a good eight hours with Newton. He had staffers go to his JC in Texas and to Auburn and to his more disastrous stay, at Florida.
If the pick is Newton, Hurney will know he's going to take the slings and arrows of the experts (and I do not use that word sarcastically, because I respect the work and opinions of those who do the video analysis of the draft for a living, all of whom have serious reservations about Newton being a franchise quarterback), and he knows his career is on the line. Not so funny thing: Hurney's mentor in the business, Bobby Beathard, lay the groundwork for three Super Bowl championship teams in Washington. But after Beathard moved to San Diego, chose Ryan Leaf with the second pick of the 1998 draft and later retired, what does he hear occasionally out at dinner or in airports now? "Hey, Bobby, how could you ever have picked Leaf?''
The money's good to be a GM, I'm sure, and the responsibility is exciting, and if Hurney doesn't want the heat, he never should have gotten in the arena. But that doesn't make this decision any easier. I think he'll take Newton, and even then, I don't think he'll sleep easy.