WASHINGTON (AP) - Cam Newton. Robert Griffin III. The last two Heisman Trophy winners. And, yes, by the way: Newton voted for Griffin.
They can throw. They can run. They are trying to lead their respective struggling franchises back to the playoffs. If they both get there - and go on to win a championship or two - they could be the vanguard of a new era of option football in a league that loves to copycat success.
For now, the two players who are linked in so many ways are preparing for their first head-to-head meeting, when Newton's Carolina Panthers visit Griffin's Washington Redskins on Sunday.
"I think they're the same," Washington defensive lineman Kedric Golston said. "But totally different."
Same enough for Panthers coach Ron Rivera to look at Redskins video and say "Hey, we do that," when preparing for a common opponent earlier this season. Same enough that Griffin's six rushing touchdowns stand out among quarterbacks - until they're compared to the NFL-record-for-a-QB 14 piled up by Newton last year. Same enough that Newton's rookie season was proclaimed a success despite Carolina's 6-10 record, much like Griffin is being praised for his performances on a team on pace to finish with the same record.
And, yet, totally different. Newton is power and strength; Griffin was a hurdles champion in the Big 12. Newton is 6-foot-5, 245 pounds. Griffin is 6-2, 217. Newton is better built to take a hit from a defender; Griffin will leave the defender in the dust. They're different enough that Rivera had trouble finding a player to mimic Griffin during practice this week, proclaiming: "It's hard to simulate that guy."
"The thing about Robert Griffin that's a little bit different from our guy is that he's more of a north-south runner," Rivera said, "because he's got such great speed."
Here's another difference between the two: Newton is in his second year, while Griffin is in his first. It's an obvious statement, but Rivera points out that teams have had a season to study his quarterback and adjust to the Panthers' scheme, accounting in part for the offense's struggles this year. He expects the same will happen to Griffin and the Redskins.
"It's exactly a big part of the situation. Teams do handle us different," Rivera said. "I think as people get to study more and more as to what Washington is doing, it'll make it tougher on them. But right now, they're enjoying the opportunity. It's new, it's fresh, it's different."
The Panthers (1-6) have lost five straight, but the last four have been by a combined 12 points. They held a fourth-quarter lead in all four of those games. Rivera says his players "need a morale-boosting victory," and Newton this week gave one of those off-the-rails answers when asked if he's learned how to "handle losing the right way."
"I could care less if it's the right way to lose. ... At some point in an athlete's career you feel like you're in a lose-lose situation," Newton said. "When you pour your heart out, you get condemned. When you try to be something or do what people expect and you say it, then you get condemned. I think the root of all evil for that is to win football games. I find myself not doing either one of them at times. That's the bad part."
The Redskins (3-5), meanwhile, have lost two in a row even though Griffin ranks among the league leaders in several categories. Coach Mike Shanahan has called this game a "must-win" if Washington is to break its streak of four consecutive seasons out of the playoffs.
Defensive coordinators around the league consider these two quarterbacks a nightmare because they upset the weekly routine of game plans designed around pocket passers. At least this week the Panthers and Redskins defenses should be well prepared - because they practiced against their own team's option throughout training camp.
"The whole offseason we got a look at all the stuff they do, so I think there will be a lot of carry-over to what Carolina is doing," said Washington defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, whose unit ranks last in the NFL against the pass. "I really do think it is a help."
For their part, both Newton and Griffin downplayed all the comparisons this week. Griffin was savvy enough to cite other quarterbacks he'd prefer to have on his "be-like" list.
"I'd rather be compared to an Aaron Rodgers or a guy like that, someone who's won Super Bowls," Griffin said. "You want to go out there and win."