Commentary

Newsome focused on learning to be a field general

Originally Published: June 25, 2008
By Brendan Murphy | ESPN.com

Kevin NewsomeTom Hauck for ESPN.comAfter his senior season, Kevin Newsome will head to Ann Arbor to play for Rich Rodriguez.
LAS VEGAS -- The temperature on the practice field at UNLV soars to triple digits. Kevin Newsome, one of about 70 participants at an Elite 11 regional quarterback camp, wears a sweat-soaked black shirt and listens attentively to instructions. The Class of 2009 ESPN 150 Watch List prospect is battling much more than the heat index.

The future Michigan Wolverine is fighting a host of detractors. Although these pundits are quick to point out that Newsome has the abilities to play in the Big Ten, they question whether he is a college quarterback.

Newsome thinks his doubters have gotten the wrong impression.

"People think because you come out a week after you're done with track and not throw the ball well that you're not a good football player," Newsome said. "Even if I am not throwing the ball well, I just need a chance. You can't be perfect at everything. So I am giving up track and going to stick with my love -- and that's playing football."

Outdueling the competition

Kevin Newsome isn't the only multitalented quarterback in the Class of 2009. Here's a look at some of the top dual-threat prospects capable of beating the opposition with both their arms and legs.

Top multi-purpose QBs
Name High school Commitment
Aaron Murray Plant Senior High School (Tampa, Fla.) Georgia
Richard Brehaut Los Osos High School (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.) UCLA
Blaine Dalton Blue Springs South High School (Mo.) Missouri
Bryn Renner West Springfield High School (Lorton, Va.) North Carolina
Tate Forcier Scripps Ranch High School (San Diego) Undecided
Tajh Boyd Phoebus High School (Hampton, Va.) West Virginia
Tyrik Rollison Sulphur Springs High School (Texas) Undecided
Jacob Karam Friendswood High School (Texas) Texas Tech
A.J. Highsmith Hightower High School (Fort Bend, Texas) Miami
Shavodrick Beaver Rider High School (Wichita Falls, Texas) Michigan
Nathan Scheelhaase Rockhurst High School (Kansas City, Mo.) Undecided

It's easy to see why some erudite football minds would think Newsome's star is not destined to shine brightest calling the signals.

Newsome, in contrast with most of his rail-thin peers at the Vegas combine, has a body more like Walter Payton's than Peyton Manning's. The 6-foot-2, 215-pounder who recently won the Virginia state championship in the 110-meter hurdles has skills that could translate to his lining up at wide receiver on offense or possibly in the defensive backfield.

He is quick to halt any speculation about his future position.

"I am going to be a quarterback," he said. And, according to Newsome, Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez agrees.

So, like the Troy Smiths and Vince Youngs who came before him, Newsome will have to show that there's little distinction between an athletic quarterback and an athlete who plays quarterback. Or at least to prove that he is a little bit of both.

"I am still working hard," he said. "It's difficult, my father always says, 'jack-of-all-trades and master of none.' And that's true. I won state in the hurdles, so I wasn't able to practice my game much coming off track season. Give me another week, maybe another month, and I'll be fine."

The athletic quarterback quandary is one that Tee Martin, the former University of Tennessee standout who now coaches at the Elite 11 camps, knows plenty about.

"When I was in high school I remember being a guy who was very talented and athletic, and no one had really honed my QB skills until I got to college," said Martin, who spent a week working with Newsome this past spring.

"When I got to college I learned more about being a total quarterback, and it worked out for me. I kind of see that situation with [Newsome] not having a QB coach [in high school]. … He's the kind of kid who will get to college, gets coached up and gets into a system where he winds up being really good."

[+] EnlargeKevin Newsome
Tom Hauck for ESPN.comNewsome's body type could be suited to play positions on both sides of the ball.
If Newsome's success at the next level is system-dependent, there is no better place for him than Michigan.

During his previous head-coaching gig at West Virginia, Rodriguez molded Patrick White into one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation. Rodriguez also had success coaching athletic quarterbacks at Tulane and Clemson.

"I think it will be a good fit for him at Michigan with what Coach Rodriguez is doing," Martin said. "I think it will be a great opportunity for him to go in there and get a system that will fit his skills."

It's no secret college football is moving away from the days of slow-paced, plodding offenses. Some version of the spread option, of which Rodriguez is among the pioneers, has been used by Texas and Florida, two of the past three national champions.

[+] EnlargeKevin Newsome
Tom Hauck for ESPN.comNewsome, a natural athlete, is at his best throwing on the run.
It's thus all the more astounding that doubt still surrounds dual-talented field generals. After all, why wouldn't a coach want his most dangerous playmaker to touch the ball every play?

"To me," Newsome said, "quarterbacks are supposed to be the most athletic people on the field."

The knock on Newsome and other prospects with his pedigree generally has been a perceived lack of throwing accuracy. Players such as Brad Smith (Missouri) and Anquan Boldin (Florida State) -- both of whom went on to play wideout in the NFL -- had the skills to make plays but struggled when confined to the pocket.

Tom Luginbill, the national director of recruiting for Scouts Inc., said Newsome needs to refine some his fundamental quarterbacking skills.

"He needs to settle in as a passer, develop patience and discipline and work through progressions with speed and timing, yet play under control," Luginbill said. "He has a tendency with his strong arm to spray the ball around, and his improved footwork will help sharpen his accuracy."

Luginbill added that even in Rodriguez's ground-oriented attack, a quarterback needs to have some proficiency as a passer.

"In Michigan's offense the quarterback just needs adequate arm strength but must have a very good sense of timing and accuracy in the short and intermediate ranges and must show they can throw when on the move," he said.

Newsome is committed to making the necessary improvements to be a Big Ten quarterback, among them his decision to stop running track to concentrate on football. Martin said that when he spent time with Newsome in Atlanta, his protégé showed to drive necessary to succeed.

"He's a hard-working kid," Martin said. "He's very athletic, and we haven't seen the best of his game yet. He was down in Atlanta with me for a week. And I got a chance to put him on the ball and watch film with him and see how it translates to the field."

On paper, Newsome bears little resemblance to the statuesque Michigan quarterbacks of the past. And if he ever holds down the starting spot for the Wolverines, it's safe to assume he won't ever throw for 3,000 yards. But it's entirely possible that he'll eclipse 3,000 total yards.

Still, the common quality he shares with Michigan's past quarterbacks may be intangible: his team-before-self approach to football.

"I see myself as a quarterback who can get away from guys," he said. "I do what it takes. It's all for the team."

Brendan Murphy is an associate editor at ESPN.com. He can be reached at Brendan.R.Murphy@espn3.com.

ESPN is in production on a special that will profile the top prospects at the Nike and Elite 11 training camps. The information used in this article was gathered as part of that television production process.

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