FOXBOROUGH — Much has been made this season about Cam Newton’s ability to bestow humorous nicknames that stick to his teammates.
Joe Thuney is “Smokin' Joe,” Isaiah Wynn is “Winnie the Pooh,” Shaq Mason is “Free Mason," and Julian Edelman is “Highway 11,” just to name a few.
However, a long time ago in a film room far, far away, Jon Gruden, a quarterback Yoda of sorts, planted a nickname on Newton that is just as apropos today at it was back in 2011.
“I haven’t seen many guys walk through my doors that look like Cam. I call him ‘Slam. Slam Newton.’ That was the nickname I gave him,” the Raiders coach said Wednesday, recalling the chat the two had as part of Gruden’s “Quarterback Camp” feature on ESPN.
“He’s a power forward playing quarterback. He’s oversized for the position, but he’s gifted so much athletically, it’s incredible what he’s accomplished, and his durability is really impressive. And I’m glad to see him healthy again, by the way.”
Gruden was dazzled by the Heisman Trophy winner back in the day, and he’s been equally dazzled by the way the New England offense has ingratiated the former MVP.
“Cam looks like he’s the usual Cam,” said Gruden. "He’s a threat to do a lot of different things. It’s a credit to the Patriots. It’s a credit to their coaching staff to be able to change gears that fast, that well.
“I guess you’d expect that from a Patriot coaching staff, but he’s impressive, and the way that they change gears is very impressive, as well.”
Preparing for opponents has been a particularly difficult task this season given the lack of preseason tape, but Gruden feels his Raiders have a good grasp on things, considering Newton’s experience in the league.
‘“Cam looks like he’s the usual Cam. He’s a threat to do a lot of different things. It’s a credit to the Patriots. It’s a credit to their coaching staff to be able to change gears that fast, that well. ... I guess you’d expect that from a Patriot coaching staff, but he’s impressive, and the way that they change gears is very impressive, as well.”’
Jon Gruden on Cam Newton
“We do have a pretty good background on what Cam’s been able to do, but also we have an expectation of where they’re going with certain personnel groupings,” Gruden said. “But it’s a tough operation. It always is when you play against Cam Newton and the New England Patriots, and now that they’ve joined forces, it’s double trouble for every defensive staff, every coach, and every team that comes in there.”
Though Newton is coming off a pair of injury-shortened seasons, Gruden is still struck by the quarterback’s ability to consistently make plays despite the physical abuse he’s endured his 10 seasons in the league.
“It’s amazing. Honestly, I don’t know how he’s done it,” said Gruden. "He’s taken a lot of hits in the pocket — like most quarterbacks do. And they run power plays to his left and he’s taking people out with his right shoulder. He gets up and throws a bullet across the field. I don’t know how he does it.''
Much the way Newton will be the Raiders' problem Sunday, the Patriots will face their own challenge in quarterback Derek Carr, who has helped Las Vegas to a 2-0 start.
New England safety Adrian Phillips has solid knowledge of Carr from his time with the Chargers, who see the Raiders twice a year.
“When he first got there, they were successful. They had a real good team, and then there were a few years he was battling injuries and people were kind of talking down on him,” said Phillips, who leads New England in total tackles (17) and solos (13). “Now he’s back healthy and he’s paired up with Gruden, he’s making plays, he’s making those throws that you saw when he first got in the league.”
Phillips, who is thriving in a hybrid linebacker role, anticipates the Raiders using their speed to try to stress the secondary.
“It’s going to be an exciting matchup just to see [Carr] at full health and see him control their offense,” Phillips said. “They’re letting him sling it. They’re not scared to throw it downfield with him and they’re not scared to let him control the offense to check to a certain play that he likes.
"It’s going to be really interesting to see how they come out and try to attack us.”
James White and David Andrews were missing from the Patriots’ first practice of the week, a full-pads session under clear blue skies. White is with his family after the death of his father and hospitalization of his mother following Sunday’s automobile accident in South Florida. Andrews, who hadn’t missed a practice or game snap this season, is dealing with a hand injury. If Andrews is unable to play against the Raiders, Hjalte Froholdt and practice squadder James Ferentz, who has filled in at center several times over the last few seasons, are logical candidates to step in … Four players were listed as limited: receivers Edelman (ankle) and N’Keal Harry (ankle), linebacker Brandon Copeland (knee), and defensive tackle Adam Butler (shoulder) … Linebacker Josh Uche (ankle) and tight end Dalton Keene (neck) were not on the report, giving the rookies hope they could make their professional debuts Sunday … Gruden expressed his condolences to Bill Belichick and White for their recent losses. “From our coaching staff and our team, we wish our best for those guys during a tough time,” said Gruden.