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Couch: Like Wilt Chamberlain, Cam Newton proves you can be too talented and too quirky for your own good

Op-ed
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I have no idea if Cam Newton is distracted by rap music and dancing between throws in warm-ups. That's what former New England Patriots quarterback Scott Zolak said. It was an interesting idea. Then Zolak was forced to apologize. Media and Twitter mob rule was threatening to cancel him and his Patriots analyst career.

As a tennis coach, I've instructed plenty of players to sing the same song over and over in their heads to crowd out nervous thoughts. People use music in different ways. Newton doesn't look nervous.

It feels like we all will be Scott Zolak soon, searching for an explanation of why Newton is washed up at 32, when he should be entering his prime. He's one of the greatest quarterback talents we've seen, and he reached the mountaintop with an MVP and a Super Bowl appearance. Now he's finished as a franchise QB.

Not even Bill Belichick could breathe life into what was once a no-brainer Hall of Fame career.

Belichick should name rookie Mac Jones the starter for the Patriots' season opener Sept. 12 against Miami. According to reports, Newton will open the season as the Patriots' starter. It's a ceremonial position he'll hold for a game or two at best.

This is Belichick's revenge year after he flopped in 2020 while Tom Brady won the Super Bowl for Tampa Bay. Belichick needs a quarterback. On Sunday in the preseason against the New York Giants, Newton completed 2 of 5 passes for 10 yards and an interception. Then Jones, without one bit of Newton's talent, kept completing passes downfield: 17 yards, 21, 19, 27, 30. He completed 10 of 14 for 156 yards and a 131.8 passer rating.

What's wrong with Newton? Zolak had a point worth looking at. Instead, a woke media and Twitter mob won't allow any consideration of criticism of a black quarterback any more. Zolak spoke with knowledge about what it takes to play quarterback in the NFL. No one wanted to hear that because he was talking about a black quarterback and rap music. And surely that could only signify hatred and racism. Not substance.

"I'd turn off the rap music, because I think it's distracting for Cam here," Zolak said Thursday on his show, "The Sports Hub," on WBZ-FM in Boston. "Because in between every throw, he's dancing. He can't help himself, to where Mac (Jones, by contrast) looks like he came to work again.

"Like, he's here to work. And everything's attention to detail."

Zolak's point wasn't about a black quarterback and rap music. It was about focus and concentration. Newton came back after five days away because he wasn't focused enough to get the COVID testing protocols right. Belichick said those five days gave Jones a chance at the starting job.

You'd have thought Newton, with that pressure on him, would have returned with laser focus. That's the job at quarterback: It's about attention to detail.

Newton's problem is that he has spent his life just far too talented to have to burden himself with detail. He was just too talented for his own good. Quarterbacking is about details, and when you have too much talent, sometimes you don't have to pay attention to the details.

Did Peyton Manning really have incredible athletic talent? I thought when he left college that he didn't have a big enough arm and Ryan Leaf was the better pick.

Yes, I was dumb. Leaf quickly flamed out. Meanwhile, Manning starred with the Denver Broncos when he could barely throw a football across a room.

Dan Marino, super athlete? No. He had great talent, but not so great that he could just ignore the fine details required for the job. Tom Brady? Same thing.

You wonder what Newton was like in junior high or high school. I suspect he was so talented that any time he got in trouble during a game, the solution was obvious: Run. No one will tackle you. You're too good.

When you're way better than everyone else around you, it's hard to grow. It's hard to study. If you're not pushed or challenged or put into tough situations without an easy out, how do you learn?

We do see talented quarterbacks who have skill and detail, too: John Elway and Patrick Mahomes come to mind. But maybe Russell Wilson, always criticized for being too small, became a great quarterback for that very reason. Ray Lewis might have been the best linebacker ever in the NFL.

Imagine if he hadn't been just six feet tall. He might have been worse. Because of his physical shortcoming, he had to become a voracious studier of the game. What separated him from others was his preparation.

It's not just in football, either. In baseball, the best managers are backup catchers who had to learn all the nuances and subtleties to survive.

In basketball, Wilt Chamberlain had all the physical tools, so Bill Russell had to be smarter to beat him.

Chamberlain would eat fried chicken before games and hot dogs at halftime. Newton dances in warm-ups, he celebrates after every play. The best quarterbacks tend to be a little dorky, have a little geek in them from the studying.

It's hard to see anyone taking a chance on him again as a starter. If he's willing, there will be backup jobs available to him, with that talent, for years.

Newton could have been so much more. If only he'd been a little less.
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