IMPACT FIRST-YEAR PLAYERS WILL BE FEW AND FAR BETWEEN
QUARTERBACK CAM NEWTON, whom the Panthers drafted with the No. 1 pick, spent much of his lockout at the IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla., where football director Chris Weinke, the 2000 Heisman Trophy winner, and two-time Heisman finalist Ken Dorsey put him through mental and physical workouts that mimicked what would have taken place at Carolina's minicamp. Each day began with 90 minutes of classroom work and offensive installation. That was followed by two hours on the field, lunch, more classroom work and another session on the field. As a result, Newton is one of only two rookie QBs with a shot at winning a starting job. (The Vikings' Christian Ponder, who also trained at IMG, is the other.) The first-year players who are most likely to make an impact this season play positions that rely less on coaching and more on talent and instinct. Here are six who will thrive.
Mark Ingram,RB, Saints Ideal situation for the 2009 Heisman winner from Alabama: New Orleans has a strong line, a lethal passing game and a creative play-caller in coach Sean Payton.
Von Miller,OLB, Broncos Pass rusher is a position that requires minimal coaching, and Miller, out of Texas A&M, has the size, strength and intuition to excel.
Nick Fairley,DT, Lions Some thought Auburn's Lombardi Award winner was a top five talent, but he went 13th. If motivation to prove people wrong isn't enough to inspire him, playing alongside Ndamukong Suh should be.
Jimmy Smith,CB, Ravens Character concerns pushed the Colorado standout down the draft board to No. 27, but Baltimore has the veteran leadership to keep him in line. Few corners have Smith's blend of size (6'2", 211 pounds) and athleticism (4.46 in the 40, 36-inch vertical).
Da'Quan Bowers,DE, Bucs He had 15.5 sacks as a junior at Clemson but slipped to the second round because of a right-knee injury. He'll have playmaking opportunities on a defensive front that includes second-year stalwart Gerald McCoy and first-round pick Adrian Clayborn.
Prince Amukamara,CB, Giants G.M. Jerry Reese says the former Nebraska star will have a shot at starting; if the Giants' pass rush regains its disruptive form, it could create opportunities for Amukamara to excel in coverage.
Newton trained like a pro, which puts him in position to start.