It doesn’t take much to change people’s perceptions. Before today’s combine press appearances, Cam Newton was the potential first round quarterback facing the most heat from critics. After the pressers, the heat is somewhat off Newton, but squarely on Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett who withered under the hot glare of media questioning.
Mallett’s main enemy may have been the timing of today’s pressers. Newton was expected to speak yesterday, but postponed his appearance until today. Circumstance placed Newton one spot behind Mallett, who provided the perfect opening act for a quarterback looking to atone after some ill-considered earlier remarks.
Mallett had issues of his own coming into today’s appearances. Questions about his character in general, and about alleged drug use specifically, had been dogging him for awhile. With the bright lights on him, Mallett addressed these problems. It’s safe to say Mallett did not come off like a man ready to handle the media scrutiny that comes with being an NFL quarterback.
Mallett attempted addressing the drug questions. “If people talk about them obviously they can keep circulating or whatever, but I can’t control that and that’s why I don’t even want to talk about it because there’s nothing I can control about it,” he said. Then came the remark that had people scratching their heads: “Obviously, somebody did it for a reason, right before the combine, before the draft. But that’s the last I’m going to talk about it.”
Instead of clarifying his somewhat paranoid-sounding remarks, Mallett opted to walk away from the podium prematurely, leaving the world to make up its own mind. Predictably, the verdict against Mallett came quickly and was very harsh. Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com offered perhaps the most blunt response, tweeting: “That was about 10 times worse than Jimmy Clausen last year. You can decline to answer questions in ways that don’t make you look like an ass.”
Speaking of asses…after Ryan Mallett cleared the stage, it was Cam Newton’s turn to face the cameras and microphones.
Newton’s appearance was by far the most anticipated of the combine. Observers wanted to see how Newton would respond to the accusations of borderline-delusional arrogance leveled against him after an interview earlier in the week where he famously declared himself an icon. Newton, as it turned out, would not disappoint.
In contrast to the defensive Mallett, Newton looked smooth and well-schooled. “First and foremost I understand that my obligation is to be the best possible football player that I can be,” Newton said in response to critics. “I know and believe that.” Added Newton, “I was making the point [with my icon remark] that I want to be the best possible ambassador for them just like I want to be the best possible ambassador for whatever team I am lucky enough to play for.”
Obviously, that statement was pure BS dreamed up by a cagey rep. Fortunately for Newton the tactic worked. By presser’s end, Newton’s critics had backed off, and were instead venting their ire against Mallett who has now become the official future Ryan Leaf of the 2011 draft.
After one press session, Newton has gone from being a jerky whipping-boy to a confident, media-savvy prospect with legitimate star power. Mallett, in the meantime, has become a human dart board.
Is any of this fair? Probably not. It does however demonstrate something very important: style points matter. Today Cam Newton won big style points, even though people still perceive him as a bit of a cocky bastard. Mallett, on the other hand, basically shot his own foot off.
The good news for Mallett is that he will still get drafted. So if he can play, and has a good head on his shoulders in spite of everything, that will still get a chance to bear itself out on the field. For right now though, Newton is the one basking in the glory of media approbation, while Mallett is stuck playing catch-up.
Of course that could all change tomorrow.