Bill Belichick has proclaimed – a couple of times – that Cam Newton is the Patriots starter. We still don’t know whether that sentence would end with the words “and that’s that,” or “for right now.”
Ever since Jones was drafted and Belichick made clear Cam was safe at the top of the depth chart, it’s been clear (to me, at least) Jones would have to win by knockout to supplant Newton by September 12.
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Jones would have to be breathtakingly good AND Newton would have to face-plant. So far, Jones has been really, really good. But Newton has held his own. Going off the evidence submitted so far (and it’s probably only about six percent of the total evidence that will be in by the end of the month), Jones has narrowed any gap but he’s not about to overtake Newton.
Jones sure is getting his chances though. The way the Patriots continue to divvy up reps – both overall and with the first offense – makes it really clear that Jones is being fast-tracked.
The tail-end of Wednesday’s non-padded practice featured the most competitive action of the day. During those final few periods, Jones was 19-for-24 according to our Phil Perry. Newton was 3-for-8. Last week, Jones had a run of 16 consecutive snaps in 11-on-11s.
Ninety-five percent of the time, Newton is the first quarterback out to work with the starting offensive line and tight ends. But Jones gets a fair share of reps with the starters as well, shuttling in for Newton frequently.
Contrast the way the Patriots have the Jones-Newton dynamic with the way the Niners are approaching the Jimmy Garoppollo-Trey Lance situation. Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan made it very clear that Lance – the third-overall pick and the clear heir apparent to Jimmy G. – wouldn’t be taking any first-team reps. And Lance hasn’t. In fact, when Lance took a first-team rep on Tuesday to work on a specific play, Niners media grilled Shanahan on it. And Shanahan made it clear that was a one-off. Lance isn’t working with the 1s.
Out here? Jones is getting plenty of run with the starters.
It’s not like Newton couldn’t use the reps. While Cam showed his edge during Tuesday’s padded practice that was heavy on running game work, the days are piling up where it’s apparent the Patriots are more effective when Jones is throwing it than Newton.
Newton’s improved a lot from 2020. He’s even improved from last week’s practices when he was very slow with his decisions. But the truth is, there’s been a lot of room FOR improvement.
Jones’ consistency and efficiency has been superior to Newton’s. Meanwhile, Jones’ growing workload is evidence he’s in a full-immersion classroom when it comes to the Patriots offense. The Patriots aren’t going to split reps with both players all summer. At some point – probably after the first joint practice – , one guy is going to take a backseat. That will probably be Jones. But before he takes that seat, the Patriots are giving him plenty of chances to step up. And he mostly has.
- After Tuesday’s mega-workout, the Patriots were out of pads on Wednesday and working on the passing game. They will be back in pads on Thursday for what will probably be a hard workout then they’ll have their annual in-stadium practice Friday night followed by (presumably) an off-day on Saturday. They’ll then begin working for their preseason opener with Washington.
- Defensive lineman Henry Anderson and Christian Barmore were at practice. Anderson missed Tuesday after going down hard during Monday’s workout. Barmore left Tuesday’s workout with a toe agitation. Linebackers Raekwon McMillan and Akeem Spence were missing on Wednesday. Wide receiver Devin Ross pulled up lame at the end of a route on Tuesday and may have a leg agitation.
- Fan attendance was good on a mild, cloudy morning. Nothing like we were accustomed to pre-COVID when Tom Brady was here but it was a good turnout.
- Vanderbilt baseball coach Tim Corbin was a visitor at camp and spent at least a half-hour at the start of practice speaking with Belichick. Corbin is a native of Wolfeboro, New Hampshire.
SOMETIMES, IT’S THE DEFENSE
As we dutifully chronicle every quarterback rep in every session of these practices, we do have to remind everyone of one thing. The Patriots have a lot of good defensive players. In Wednesday’s pass-heavy workout, they showed up time and again. There were very few throws made to first reads by Jones and the ones Newton tried were often broken up.
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Jones took a lot of underneath stuff because of coverage. And Newton’s picks were as much the result of good defensive plays as they were bad throws. If anyone wanted to see turnovers from sloppy quarterback decisions, they shoulda gotten an eyeful of Jarrett Stidham last year who’d go on absolute interception binges at times.
- The best throw early in practice was during Mac Jones first 11-on-11 work when he dropped a deep rainbow in to Jakobi Meyers. Coverage was competitive but it looked like Jonathan Jones let the ball drop in and didn’t compete on the catch which is not unusual. Belichick spoke Wednesday about the varied practice tempos the team uses.
- Newton was picked early in practice by defensive back Adrian Colbert on about a 20-yard throw down the left hash. Had it been an actual play, linebacker Harvey Langi probably would have had a sack as he got around the edge on Korey Cunningham. Newton followed that with a pick thrown to J.C. Jackson in coverage on Jakobi Meyers. Excellent catch by Jackson against the taller Meyers. On the next play, Newton couldn’t find his first read and tried a late and sloppy checkdown at the linebacker level that Jackson almost picked as well. Newton then overshot Nelson Agholor by a fair sight before getting a high throw to Sony Michel which was dropped.
- Jones took a bunch of checkdowns when it was his turn then went up top to James White on a route down the sideline. It fell incomplete, out of the reach of the diving White but JoeJuan Williams was flagged for defensive holding on White.
- In Newton’s next session, he was sailing his throws high but was helped out on a nice catch by Kendrick Bourne and then a brilliant one by N’Keal Harry who looked like a soccer goalie laying out for a penalty kick.
- Jones had a pick and a near pick in his next session. First, he threw a smidge high and behind Jonnu Smith who had the throw clang off his hands to Devin McCourty. Jones then threw high to Tre Nixon and was nearly picked by De’Angelo Ross. Jones had a deep completion to Gunner Olszewski on a slow-developing post-corner between Myles Bryant and Cody Davis. The only other noteworthy throw was outside to running back Rhamondre Stevenson on the left sideline. Stevenson dropped it and Jones let him have it.