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Though Comparisons Persist, Robert Griffin III, Cam Newton Downplay Link

By ZAC BOYER

zboyer@freelancestar.com | @ZacBoyer

(Originally posted 11/1/12, 12:02 a.m.; Updated 11/1/12, 11:31 p.m.)

ASHBURN – The comparisons are expected, if not natural. Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton have revolutionized the quarterback position in recent years, demonstrating an ability to throw and run the ball at both the collegiate and professional levels.

Newton

Griffin

They both won the Heisman Trophy after their junior seasons, then left for the NFL – Newton as the No. 1 pick of the Carolina Panthers two years ago, Griffin as the No. 2 pick of the Washington Redskins in April. They’ve electrified their fan bases, secured lucrative endorsement deals and given their teams a renewed chance at success.

“I mean, I can see why [they’re compared],” Redskins left tackle Trent Williams said when asked if they’re the same style of quarterback. “It’s a fun conversation, but in all actuality, no.”

When the two lead their teams against each other at FedEx Field on Sunday, the contrasts will be apparent. Both can throw the ball well – Newton had more than 4,000 passing yards last season, becoming the first rookie quarterback in league history to reach that mark, while Griffin was also on pace to reach it before the Redskins’ loss at Pittsburgh last week.

But at 6-foot-2 and 217 pounds with world-class speed, Griffin is quicker and more elusive when he takes off running. Newton, at 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds, is more of a big-bodied bruiser who is easier to catch but much more difficult to bring down.

“I see the athleticism they both possess,” Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said. “They both have very strong arms. Both of them are tremendous competitors, want to win. There’s something about the two of them that when they’re on the football field, they’re dynamic. I think that’s kind of where all the comparisons lie. I think that it’s one of those things that you see these guys have special athletic ability, and they’re a lot of fun to watch.”

As the second of the two players to enter the league, the comparisons have followed Griffin much more. Newton, in essence, had provided a template for success for dual-threat quarterbacks – one many players and coaches around the league expected Griffin would follow.

In the lead-up to the Redskins’ season opener at New Orleans, Aaron Kromer, at the time the Saints’ interim head coach, used Newton’s role in the Panthers’ offense as a rough estimate for Griffin’s ability. Tampa Bay safety Ronde Barber did the same when the Buccaneers prepared to host the Redskins in late September.

Both later found out their expectations were slightly off the mark.

“We are quarterbacks,” Newton said. “That’s about the only similarity. There’s a lot of things that he brings to the table that I don’t have, and a lot of things that I bring to the table. I try to resemble not only his game, but other quarterbacks in the league that I may like in their repertoire and try to apply them to my own.”

One advantage for each team this weekend comes, of all places, on the defensive side of the ball. While teams will rarely, if ever, have their top offense face their top defense in practice during the season, going head-to-head in training camp and the preseason allowed the defenses to get an extended look at what the offense was running.

Normally, head coach Mike Shanahan said, a team will spend nearly half its practice time during the week devoted to stopping a scheme that’s unique to its opponent. With some experience facing their quarterback in August, each defense should be able to refine its technique and have a better chance of containing the run.

The more successful quarterback will, of course, be the one who leads his team to victory. That’s where Griffin, who has been often unsettled, but understanding, of the comparisons, doesn’t mind drawing his own parallel.

“I’d rather be compared to [Green Bay quarterback] Aaron Rodgers or a guy like that, someone who’s won Super Bowls,” he said. “But it’s not my job to try to compare, so I’ll let you guys continue to do that. Like I’ve told people many, many times, I won’t be playing him. I’ll be playing his defense, so have fun with the comparisons.”

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