ESPN NFL analyst Jon Gruden hosts another one of his excellent quarterback camp specials at 6 p.m. Thursday on ESPN. Gruden had film and workout sessions with five top quarterbacks — Andy Dalton (TCU), Blaine Gabbert (Missouri), Jake Locker (Washington), Ryan Mallett (Arkansas) and Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton (Auburn).
Gruden answered questions from the media in a conference call this week:
Q: Was there one guy you sat down going into the QB camp that you came away really impressed by or you may not have thought as much of until you sat down with him and broke down the film with him?
A: Cam Newton with 14 career starts, the thing that impressed me, not only his physical attributes and his size, but his charisma. I think his eagerness to learn and prove that he can adapt to a pro style on offense. He showed very good retention to me in the meetings and the material that we covered.
I just like the look in his eyes, the eagerness and feeling that he has a lot to prove to everybody including himself. I think Newton impressed me the most in that regard.
Q. What were your impressions of Mallett? Do you think he gets it in terms of what’s going to be required of him in the NFL?
A: I think he does get it. He comes from a unique background. His mom and dad were teachers and coaches. Football is very important to him. The thing I really liked about Ryan Mallett was his background playing under Bobby Petrino at Arkansas. And I know Coach Petrino well enough to know that he coaches quarterbacks hard, very demanding. If you watch Mallett play, he’s in a lot of pro style situations, underneath the center, in the shotgun, audibling, check‑with‑me’s. They do a lot of good things on offense at Arkansas. Ryan Mallett can draw protections, blocking schemes, and he does have a beautiful throwing motion that I know a lot of guys in the league are excited about. He can really hum it.
Q. Can I get your take on Jake Locker? You seem to have a pretty good connection with him during that QB Camp episode. Wanted your take on how close do you think he is to the NFL level, and the accuracy concerns and other concerns you think he still needs to work on?
A: This is one tough guy. I mean, Jake Locker has played for two head coaches. He had to endure an 0‑12 season. This guy took a lot of punishment. The whole offense was built around No. 10. From a running standpoint, from a passing standpoint, this guy was involved significantly on every snap for the Huskies. He does have to improve his accuracy. But I think when you’re hit a lot and asked to do as much as Locker’s been asked to do, sometimes your fundamentals wane a little bit. They disappear in key situations. He does have a good, strong arm. He’s an outstanding athlete. He’s got very good elusiveness and straight line speed with some power, and I think he loves football. I think there is a real passionate fire inside this guy that somebody’s going to capture. He would be a fun guy to coach.
Q: Based on your work with Newton and your observation of all these players you’ve talked about at other positions and your knowledge of the Panthers from coaching against them, with the first pick of the draft, who do you see?
A: I think they’re going to take Cam Newton out of Auburn. In this NFC South, I believe you have Josh Freeman, you have Matt Ryan, you have Drew Brees. They have a young guy there now in Jimmy Clausen. But I think with DeAngelo Williams, assuming he’s re‑signed, Jonathan Stewart, Jordan Gross at left tackle, assuming Otah comes back at right tackle, you’re going to have the ability to put together a striking running game with Cam Newton being a part of that. Your good friend Steve Smith out there can still hurt people and off the play action pass and things of that nature while Cam develops. I think there are things this guy can do.
I wish I had more tape on Cam Newton. I don’t think it’s going to happen overnight. But this is the kind of guy you’re looking for. He’s almost 6-6, 255 pounds. And everybody says yes, he sees the best conference in college football, and he really did a great job in that conference this year. I think he combined for 51 touchdowns.
Q: The consensus has been that Newton and Gabbert are a cut above the other quarterbacks in the draft. You’ve talked a lot about Newton, and I think his skills are obvious. But do you believe that Gabbert is a cut above the other quarterbacks in this draft? If so, why? And if you could give speculation on where you think he might go, and the farthest he might drop down in the draft?
A: I do think Blaine Gabbert is a Top 10 pick. All you have to do is see the ball come out of his hand. He’s got a very quick, strong arm, prototype size. He’s over 6-4, 235 pounds, a finance major, so you know he has intelligence. He has speed. I mean, Gabbert ran very well at the combine. He’s elusive back there. His scrambling and playmaking ability I think will be very enticing. Once again, here’s a junior quarterback that comes from a very unique, different style of spread offense at Missouri where he’s been in the no‑back set, and the shotgun predominantly. But I think his physical talents are very noticeable to everybody.
Just like athletes, cheerleaders are getting starter at a younger age these days. A segment of the next edition “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel,” which debuts at 9 p.m. Tuesday, explores the world of mini-cheerleading.
Here’s the synopsis as supplied by HBO:
Mini-Cheerleaders. Competitive cheerleading is a grueling physical sport, testing the limits of even the most dedicated athletes. So imagine pre-pubescent girls, ages 5 to 8, tumbling, dancing, stunting and flying through the air on the national stage in true competitive fashion. Just like the big girls, they don lipstick, glitter and miniskirts, too. Leading up to the United States finals, Real Sports correspondent Andrea Kremer explores the lesser-known world of mini-cheerleading.
Other stories include profiles of Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins and two-time Paralympic track champ Marlon Shirley, and a look at the New Jersey-based health organization P.A.S.T. (Pain Alternatives, Solutions & Treatments) that provides pro-bono treatment to former athletes.
St. Louis Cardinals fans are in for a treat as Albert Pujols is profiled on “60 Minutes,” 6 p.m. Sunday on CBS. You also might stick around and watch Oklahoma cowboys Jet and Cord McCoy in “The Amazing Race” at 7 p.m.
Here’s a synposis of the Pujols profile from the network:
When he’s not helping the Cardinals win baseball games with amazing statistics and prodigious home runs, Pujols is helping others. And not just because he is a nice guy. It’s because he was once one of those others, a poor boy in a poor country. Now a rich superstar, he says charity is his passion. Pujols, who some consider the greatest player in the game today, talks to Bob Simon for a “60 Minutes” profile.
Pujols took Simon and “60 Minutes” cameras down to his native Dominican Republic on one of his regular visits to help the country’s poor. His foundation provides essentials like medical care and mattresses to the residents of shantytowns called bateys.
“This is not so I can be Mr. Nice Guy, ‘Look at that baseball player…’” he tells Simon. He is as dedicated to helping others as he is about playing ball, maybe more so. “It’s my passion and I believe this is what God is calling me to do… I was one of those little boys with no hope.” His foundation also supports people with Down syndrome, another passion for Pujols, whose daughter was born with it.
Pujol’s warm feelings for his fellow man do not extend to National League pitchers, however. On the rare occasion a pitcher keeps him off the bases for a game, the next day he’s out for blood. “Whoever is pitching is going to pay up,” smirks Pujols.
Unlucky pitchers have been paying up for years. Pujols hit his 400th home run last August to become just the 47th player in history to reach that plateau. But he did it in the first 10 years of his career. Over that period, in each season, he batted over .300, had more than 30 home runs, and drove home 100 or more runs — a feat unmatched by any great player the game has ever know.
Pujols is a legend already, ensconced in the statistical pantheon so venerated by the game’s biggest fans. Says baseball writer Peter Gammons, “If you look at history, there is no doubt that he is in the top 10 players of all time … No question he is going to be a Hall of Famer.”
For teenagers with Down Syndrome, Pujols is already a hall of famer. Cameras capture him dancing with dozens of them at an annual prom he throws for the teens – the highlight of the year for them. “And for me too,” says Pujols.