After seeing Joey Gatewood in Auburn's spring game, can we chill on the Cam Newton comparisons for a bit?
It took one pass.
One pass was all that was needed before the SEC Network broadcast crew made the Joey Gatewood-Cam Newton comparison during Auburn’s spring game.
Naturally, their comparable size and mobility were brought up. After all, the 6-5, 235-pound true freshman quarterback wore No. 1 like Newton. Then there’s the obvious that Auburn fans hope that Gatewood is Newton 2.0.
I get all of that. But after watching Gatewood’s performance on A-Day, it might be best if we held off on that comparison for the time being.
No, that’s not a rash take after seeing an early enrollee play in an exhibition game. Even the loudest folks in the Gatewood-Newton crowd probably quieted their chirping a bit after Saturday. Perhaps it disappointed them that Gatewood didn’t blossom and look like a capable backup option for Jarrett Stidham in 2018…after being on campus for 3 months.
Instead, Saturday served as a reminder that Stidham must, must, must stay healthy this year. Clearly, Gatewood has a long way to go to look like one of the great college quarterbacks of the 21st century in anything more than his physical makeup.
Perhaps we should’ve seen that coming. He reportedly struggled with taking too many sacks during Auburn’s scrimmages. Gatewood didn’t look like he was fully up to speed on Saturday. He didn’t get much help from the second-string offensive line, and some of the freshman mistakes were evident.
He held on to the ball too long and was stripped by Marlon Davidson. Gatewood also didn’t recognize pressure at his own goal line and was “sacked” by Nick Coe for a safety on a bull rush up the middle. There were times on the zone read when he didn’t read the defensive end and his running back got clobbered. On the few times we saw Gatewood wind it up, he was rarely accurate (4-for-12 for 0 yards in the first half).
In other words, Gatewood made the first-team Auburn defense look really good. In reality, the Tigers might have one of the best front sevens in all of college football and expecting an early enrollee quarterback to do anything but struggle was probably a bit ambitious.
And while I’m calling for a suspension on the Gatewood-Newton comparisons, I’m by no means down on the kid.
Gatewood did have a bright few moments on Saturday that weren’t teachable. His ability to scramble and turn it up field on the zone read could one day work wonders in Malzahn’s offense. Gatewood might be one of the few quarterbacks who would’ve looked significantly better going live. I don’t doubt his ability to get to the second level and meet SEC defensive backs with a head of steam.
But I also know that Malzahn’s system needs a true dual threat quarterback. Gatewood won’t have a chance to get to the second level if defensive coordinators load the box because they know he can’t beat teams with his arm.
Maybe one day, Gatewood’s arm will be his biggest asset. That’ll just take time. Let’s not forget that he played a bunch of different positions in high school. There was a reason he was listed as an “athlete” as a recruit. He’s still learning how to play the position.
There’s no doubt that Gatewood has rare athleticism for a guy his size. There’s also no doubt that he already throws a pretty good ball.
Still, there’s doubt as to whether he’ll ever come close to truly living up to that Newton comparison as anything more than a runner. Even Newton, who isn’t considered a particularly accurate NFL passer, completed 66 percent of his passes and threw for 30 touchdown passes in that magical 2010 season at Auburn.
Obviously nobody is saying that Gatewood is going to match Newton’s Heisman season anytime soon (at least I hope not). And obviously sweeping generalizations shouldn’t be made from watching an early enrollee play in front of a crowd for the first time.
But sweeping generalizations for kids who haven’t played a college down are dangerous, too. Malzahn was the one who threw out the comparison in the first place. He made sure to add that Gatewood was close to Newton “physically,” though that was still more than enough to get the hype train fired up.
I’m still on board with some of the hype surrounding Gatewood. It’s not every day that you can plug in a guy with his size and mobility. If Malzahn and Chip Lindsey can somehow turn Gatewood into a passer — a massive “if” — those Newton comparisons could eventually be fair.
After Saturday, though, I’m pumping the brakes on Gatewood’s lofty comparison until further notice.