Published February 25, 2011
INDIANAPOLIS – Much of the buzz at the NFL Combine has surrounded Auburn quarterback Cam Newton's unusual decision to perform the complete battery of workouts this weekend.
Missouri's Blaine Gabbert isn't conceding anything to him.
Newton won the Heisman Trophy and a national championship, then declared himself eligible for the NFL draft a year early.
Gabbert said he, Washington's Jake Locker and Arkansas' Ryan Mallett all are competing with Newton to be the first quarterback chosen. Gabbert, who will wait until his pro day on March 17 to throw, said he expects the battle among the top quarterback prospects to continue until the late April draft no matter how well Newton performs at the combine.
"He may move up on the draft boards in your eyes, but I'm still going to go out and have a great pro day and still work my tail off," Gabbert said. "Nobody knows what's going to happen until draft day."
Gabbert said he'll have a formal interview with the Carolina Panthers, who have the No. 1 pick, on Saturday.
Aware that there were questions about his mechanics and ability to thrive in a pro-style system, Newton worked out for the media earlier this month in San Diego. Now, in his quest to prove he's the best quarterback available, he's putting his reputation on the line again at the combine.
"He's a fantastic athlete and he's got a lot of upside," Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. "There will be certain teams out there salivating over Cam Newton, no question about it. It will be interesting to see where he ends up."
Even Gabbert acknowledges that Newton is impressive.
"He has all the talent in the world, but we're going to compete and fight it out, and may the best man win," he said.
There's no question about Newton's tools. He's 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds with a strong arm, durability, speed, strength and a winning track record.
"What he accomplished last year in college football is as good as there can be," Houston coach Gary Kubiak said. "He's got a bright future in our league."
Newton will have to deal with questions about his past. The NCAA ruled in December that he was unaware of the pay-for-play scheme created by his father, Cecil, and the owner of a scouting service. Cecil Newton and Kenny Rogers — a former Mississippi State player who worked for an agent — sought money for the quarterback to play for the Bulldogs.
Answering those kinds of questions are a part of the process.
"Everyone wants to do their research to make sure that individual fits into their scheme and their system," Dimitroff said. "What's right for one team might not be right for another team."
Gabbert has no reason to back down. The 6-foot-5, 235-pound pocket quarterback started the past two years and finished his college career by passing for 434 yards and a touchdown in a loss to Iowa in the Insight Bowl. He passed for 3,186 yards and 16 touchdowns this past season.
In 31 games, Gabbert threw for 6,822 yards, fourth best in school annals.
Locker was expected to be one of the first quarterbacks taken last year, but he chose to return to Washington. Though his senior year was considered a disappointment, he still is considered a high draft choice because of his raw tools.
Locker said he feels returning to school was worth it.
"As a player and a person, I'm a lot more prepared for this process," he said. "I don't think I would have been as prepared for it last year. I feel a lot better after having another year and playing in the system that I did."
He said the most worthwhile part of his final season was beating Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl after being blown out by the Cornhuskers in the regular season. The Huskies were winless during Locker's sophomore year.
"To be able to finish the way we did — Holiday Bowl victory, third in the Pac-10 — to go through that 0-12 season, then to be able to finish the way we did is something that will stay with me for the rest of my life," he said.
Locker, whose pro day will be March 30, said he'll do everything except lift weights this weekend. Even if he's not the first quarterback chosen, Locker said he's in an ideal position.
Mallett, 6-foot-6 and 240 pounds, led Arkansas to the Sugar Bowl. He passed for 3,869 yards, 32 touchdowns and 12 interceptions this past season. Gabbert said the combine is one of many elements that will determine who wins the competition among the quarterbacks.
"It's just an opportunity for us to get drafted as high as possible," he said. "I know Cam, Ryan and Jake are all working hard to be the number one guy. It's going to be a fun next few months."