INDIANAPOLIS – What does Matt Rhule have to say about Cam Newton?
That was always going to be the big question for Carolina's new head coach at his first NFL Combine, but things ratcheted up when Ian Rapaport of NFL Network reported that the team is planning to move forward with Newton a few hours before Rhule was set to take the podium.
Everyone wanted to hear what Rhule had to say on the matter, and he wasted no time addressing it.
"I know there will be a lot of questions about Cam (Newton). My son keeps calling me asking me questions, so I figured I'd address that right off the bat," Rhule said.
"From my perspective, I'm unbelievably excited to get to work with Cam. Coming from the outside, you kind of know as a fan, but just on a personal note getting to know him, he is a diligent guy. He's working so hard both in Atlanta and in Carolina to get himself healthy. You meet him, he's this massive man, impressive man, and I've really enjoyed getting to know him. I've enjoyed getting to sit down in the cafeteria when he comes by, sit down in my office. I think he's doing a great job. For me, the way he balances being a great father, the way he balances being a great quarterback, and the things he's done in the community are really, really important. I want to make sure I say that. I'm excited to get him healthy. Obviously, that's the number one goal for us. He's doing a great job of doing his part. We have to make sure we're doing our part as we try to get him healthy for the 2020 season."
OK then. Certainly a strong statement in support of the former NFL MVP.
Rhule was then asked about Newton's status as the starting quarterback. There's a lot we still don't know about the 2020 Panthers – like who will be added via the draft and free agency – but here's how Rhule answered the question.
"I don't think I'm going to say anybody's a starter yet. Just in the first year I think it's really important for me as I go in there that I want to create a culture of competition," Rhule said. "I want to create a culture where nothing is promised to anybody.
"That being said, I don't think that has anything to do with Cam, that just has to do with overall philosophy. When it comes to Cam, Cam's a special player. Really the only thing that matters right now is getting him healthy. But I want to make sure I say I'm excited to have him here. I want him to be here. I want to coach him."
Rhule may not have answered the starter question directly, but he knows what a healthy Newton is capable of.
"When healthy, I think there's no doubt about who he is and what he can do," Rhule said, "so we just have to get him there."
So we've established how critical it is for Newton get healthy. Rhule emphasized that Tuesday and it's what owner David Tepper has been saying all along.
What does that timeline look like? Rhule didn't want to speculate, pointing out that it all depends on how Newton's body responds to treatment.
"We have to make sure we have a process," said Rhule, who admitted he uses that process word frequently. "We bring him back slowly and with a new system, Joe Brady's first year in the system, that we make sure he's in the meetings and all those things so that he learns the system. His talent, there's not a question about that. It's really just a matter of making sure that he's full speed when he comes back."
Here are some other notes from Rhule's media availability:
On approaching the seventh overall pick: "We're going to look at the very absolute best fit at everything. I think when you're picking seventh it usually means that you have to do something, you have to get an impact player, so we'll look for any impact player. That's really the process that we're in here. I'm probably not even thinking Draft enough yet, I'm probably more thinking combine, because from my perspective, I don't want to miss out on a player. I want to get the very best fit for us, so to me, how do you do that? You're really diligent in the process along the way of the formal interviews, the weigh-ins. Especially being my first combine in this role, I want to make sure I do a good job and I'll try not to let anything slip through the cracks. I'm so focused right now on just this, then when the draft comes, Marty and I will get together and definitely make the right picks."
On how his coaching staff took shape: "Really, I thought we were able to get a couple really key hires. Getting Pat Meyer and the experience he's had as an offensive line coach, and getting Jason Simmons coming in as a pass-game coordinator. I kind of used up some of those spots that I was planning on using. Then as I went through and just getting on the phone with Dick Vermeil (former Head Coach), really getting on the phone with Tom Coughlin (former Head Coach) – I said to myself like I have these amazing resources from Hall of Fame coaches. So, I've utilized probably that more than anything else.
"On defense, I have such amazing respect and confidence in Phil Snow (defensive coordinator), and what I wanted to do was put in that room a bunch of great teachers, but also a bunch of guys with a lot of experience. So, you bring Mike Fair in (defensive line coach) whose been a long-time NFL D-line coach – learned under Rod Marinelli (Raiders defensive line coach). You bring in Jason Simmons who's been a player and coach for however many years. You bring in Al Holcomb (run defense coordinator) who I worked with at the Giants, who was here before and has been a coordinator. You bring those guys in – I wanted to have a great room. I don't have the chance to go in there very often. I'm usually doing head coaching things right now, but I think when I go in there's such a great – it's like a think tank. Those guys are talking and there's not a lot of egos. I thought it was good, but to get some of those guys there, they deserve titles. They are that good of a coach. So, I wanted to get them here and kind of roll."
On versatile players in college: "I would just call it the 'positionless player.' The days of saying, 'Hey, we need this mike linebacker.' There are certain traits you're looking for, but you're looking for positionless players, because the offenses in the league are changing, so the guys on defense have to be able to do a lot of things. I think we're just looking for traits. We're looking for guys like, 'Hey, this guy can really do this,' or 'He can really do that.' I think you're seeing a lot more of that in the combine as college football has really spread out. We're going to try to stay ahead of the curve on that, make sure we keep bringing guys in who can do a lot of different things for us that give us multiplicity within the roster."
On finding players who fit the vision: "I think it comes down to traits and how they fit, that's why that whole process we had about, 'Hey, this is our vision for what a three technique looks like in our defense.' Well, it doesn't mean we have to go out and find the best three technique in college, it means we have to go out and find the guy in college who has the traits we think we can coach. I think it's really a fun process to find those traits and say, 'Hey, what's the vision for them within what we do?'"
On his objectives for the Combine: "Just to answer questions. To make sure that any questions we have about a player we answer. Sometimes, the best thing you do about players is say no, he's not a fit for us – which is fine, but get as much information as possible. As we talked about, the scouting and the coaching department really seeing things the same way."