CINCINNATI — Terence Newman walked off the practice field Monday in a way similar to the way he walked off the practice fields in Dallas 10 years ago when he was getting ready for his first NFL season. The only difference was the role.
Ten years ago Newman would be picking the brain of veteran players like Darren Woodson after practice. Now it’s Newman whose brain is being picked, this particular day by rookie free agent Onterio McCalebb.
A year ago people were wondering if Terence Newman had anything left in the tank to play cornerback. When the Bengals signed him as a free agent it was viewed from the outside as a precautionary move in case Leon Hall couldn’t make it back from an Achilles tendon tear that short-circuited his 2011 season. Newman ended up starting 15 of 16 games last season and leading the Bengals with 14 pass breakups, leading to a new two-year contract this offseason for the 34-year-old.
Yes, he definitely had more left in the tank and Newman is primed to continue showing he’s still got plenty of football in him as this season approaches.
“I’m out to prove what I can do, and how I can help the team win football games,” said Newman. “I think if you’re a football player you have a lot to prove every year because there is always someone coming in to take your job, there is always someone they’re bringing in they think may be able to take your job. As far as longevity, you are your own boss in a way.
“I didn’t have the greatest year when I was leaving Dallas. I came here and I just wanted to prove to all the people that thought I couldn’t play anymore that I could. I guess in a sense I had to prove that to myself.”
Newman is one of five former first-round picks playing in the Bengals’ secondary; Hall, Adam Jones, Dre Kirkpatrick and Reggie Nelson are the others. He is the oldest of the group but when he became of free agent after the 2011 season the Bengals weren’t hesitant to sign him. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer was the DC in Dallas when the Cowboys took Newman with the fifth overall pick in the 2003 draft out of Kansas State. Head coach Marvin Lewis had seen enough of Newman on tape to know he could fit into what the Bengals wanted him to do.
“It was just a matter of cleaning him up and coaching him into things we want him to do and reinforcing those things from a day-to-day basis with him. Throughout the season last year he proved that,” said Lewis. “He enhances the football team as a person and as a pro. He makes that room better, he makes the team better and that’s what you want to have.”
McCalebb was a running back at Auburn but was moved to cornerback during the rookie minicamp. The Bengals and a few other teams had spoken to McCalebb about making the switch before he chose to sign with Cincinnati. McCalebb hadn’t played the position since he was in high school and the transition isn’t easy.
“There are a lot of things that I don’t know,” said McCalebb. “I can go talk to any of the veterans. Those guys know what they’re talking about. They’ve been playing the position all of their life and this is the first time for me playing it in a while. They’re open to talking to me and helping me out with what I need help on.”
Newman said he saw a light go on in McCalebb’s play during Tuesday’s practice.
“You can see now that he’s understanding, that’s he’s more comfortable and doing less thinking. It’s a good feeling when you see a kid and you see the light go on,” said Newman. “One thing that I know about football is that if you don’t have a guy who is a true guy, who’s going to shoot you straight and tell you that was horse (manure) or keep it real and tell you that was a good job, if you don’t have a guy that can keep it real with you it’s going to be hard to actually get better. You need somebody who understands it and who’s going to shoot you straight and tell you this is what you’ve got to do. It makes it that much easier.”
Newman points to Woodson, whose final season in the NFL was Newman’s first in the league, and Zimmer as being those role models for him.
“Darren Woodson was probably one of the biggest guys who helped me out on many levels; football, if it was financial related or whatever I had a question about he was there to help me out,” said Newman. “(Zimmer)’s a hard-ass but at the same time he’s a genuine guy. He’ll ride you, ride you, ride you and then one day he’ll give you that little bit of satisfaction that every player needs, that you’re doing a good job. (Bill) Parcells was a lot of the same way. He would rip you down, rip you down, but to me I see that as building mental toughness. Things might not be going your way, you get criticism, but how do you deal with it? I think there is a method to the madness.
“If you want to be on a defense or a team that is held accountable, there is nobody better than Zim as far as holding people to be accountable.”
Cornerbacks have to be able to play bump-and-run and hold their own in man coverage for the defense Mike Zimmer wants to deploy to work consistently. Newman was able to fit right into that scheme last season, so well in fact that it allowed the Bengals to move Hall to inside to play against slot receivers and keep Newman and Jones on the outside.
“To me he’s still a kid,” said Zimmer. “Newman’s good. I love the kid. He does what he’s asked to do, he’s a good athlete, he’s quick as a cat and has some toughness about him. He’ll joke around with me because he’s known me for so long. Some of these younger guys are nervous about it right now. I think he’s a heck of football player.”
Newman had other options than returning to Cincinnati. Oakland, in particular, was in the running for his services and Newman admitted that he was “halfway out the door” during the free agency process before re-signing with the Bengals. It’s been a package deal where both sides fit each other well. Not too bad for a guy who last year at this time was looked at as an insurance policy.
“We have a team with quality guys on it. We’ve got some good character teams,” said Newman. “I know this team in the past has had a reputation of having players who’ve gotten into trouble but the character of guys that are on this team is unbelievable. It’s a relatively young team but the maturity level that this team has is important. When you’ve got guys that come in and you’ve got guys who are accepting and willing to try and help out in any way possible to make you feel comfortable, I think that’s important.”