Patriots

Can Patriots QB Jarrett Stidham handle the spotlight? Ex-coach has encouraging take

Can Patriots QB Jarrett Stidham handle the spotlight? Ex-coach has encouraging take

It's always tough being the guy who follows the guy, and that's the challenge Jarrett Stidham likely will face during the 2020 NFL season.

Tom Brady left the Patriots as a free agent in March after winning six Super Bowl titles and setting plenty of records in his 20 years with the franchise. Next up at quarterback figures to be Stidham, who's the favorite to win the starting job over veteran Brian Hoyer.

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Being the one to replace Brady is going to put tons of pressure on Stidham. Fans, fairly or not, will expect great performances from him right away. And, as anyone who lives in this region understands, these fans aren't afraid to call out players who don't play at a high level.

Should we be confident Stidham can handle the spotlight? Troy head coach Chip Lindsey, who was the offensive coordinator at Auburn during Stidham's time with the Tigers, seems to think so.

“I know he’s extremely excited about this opportunity,” Lindsey told NESN.com's Doug Kyed. “I think he’s a guy that’s kind of -- when you come play at Auburn in the SEC. I don’t know how much you’re familiar with this league or not, but you’re under the microscope every week. You’re playing the biggest game of the week every week it seems like.

"He’s had his fair share of being in the limelight, good and bad, and I think he understands very well that, as a quarterback, by nature of the position, you get more credit than you deserve and more blame than you deserve. I think he’s totally comfortable with that and very comfortable with himself, which I think will serve him well.”

Lindsey is right about the SEC. No other conference in college football puts players under more pressure. It's the best conference in the nation, and 11 of the 19 FBS champions this century call it home. It's not the same as the NFL, obviously, but playing in that kind of environment where just about every opponent has NFL-caliber players on defense certainly benefited Stidham.

The only way to find out if Stidham can be a quality starting quarterback at the pro level is to give him a chance, and based on everything we've seen from the Patriots this offseason, it looks like his opportunity will come sooner rather than later.

Will Cam Newton conquer Patriots offense in time to start by Week 1?

Will Cam Newton conquer Patriots offense in time to start by Week 1?

All things being equal, there’d be no reason Cam Newton couldn’t make his case to be opening day starter for the Patriots in 2020.

But all things really aren’t equal between Newton, Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer.

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First, Newton has to show he’s recovered from foot and shoulder problems that marred his last two seasons. From all indications, that’s a formality. The Patriots expect Newton to have no physical limitations.

Second, Newton has to make up the system stagger that Stidham and Hoyer have on him. There are a lot of plug-and-play positions on a football team. Quarterback isn’t one of them. The position demands its owner know his job cold AND the responsibilities of 10 other guys.

That’s less of a sure thing.

Stidham’s been with the team through two offseasons, got specific tutelage throughout 2019 from offensive assistants like Mick Lombardi and has had 15 months to eat, drink and sleep the Patriots' way of doing things.

Hoyer’s been around it even longer.

Newton’s been with the team a little more than a week. Sources say he’s already into the playbook, learning the language and there’s no concern he won’t master it. But demonstrating that mastery on the practice field and in preseason games? Newton may not have that chance.

Two weeks of preseason have been lopped. Right now, the league and players are wrangling over how to ramp-up the early stages of camp. The union, according to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, wants 80 players on rosters as opposed to 90, just 20 players at a time at the facility during the first 21 days of camp and 40 during the next 10-day phase of non-contact practices. So that’s 31 days of players in shifts from the time camp theoretically opens on July 28. There are then 10 practices (eight padded) and the two preseason games.

It’s inevitable that a full-go Newton will be the Patriots' starter at some point in 2020. And over that proposed 41-day period, there will be plenty of time for Newton to show the arm strength, mobility, poise and leadership the team presumes he’ll bring.

But will it be enough time for Newton to show he can run the Patriots offense as smoothly as Stidham and Hoyer? Who gets the first-team reps in camp? Who starts the preseason games? Is weight placed on the crispness of the whole operation when they do hit the field or — if it doesn’t look just right — is that chalked up to the acclimation period?

“I think Jarrett Stidham is going to make this closer than most people realize,” said Chris Simms, an analyst for NBC Sports and Pro Football Talk. “(When the Newton signing happened) I thought, ‘Ooohh, this far into the offseason …?’ I just thought the Patriots would stand pat with Stidham. I know they really like him. This is going to be hard to overcome.”

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On further review, Simms realized the equation will ultimately boil down to who’s the better player: Newton or Stidham?

“The more they play around with Cam Newton, the more they’re going to realize, ‘Whoa, there’s just a whole other facet of our playbook here that we can dive into and be very effective with Cam Newton over Stidham too,’ ” Simms said. “I would imagine Cam Newton is going to be the starter and Jarrett Stidham will be his very willing backup.”

From indications I’ve gotten, this will be an open competition. The starter’s job isn’t promised Newton. Importantly, the sense is that Newton understands that. And the belief is that if he’s not the starter coming out of camp, he wouldn’t pull the ripcord and demand his release so he could latch on elsewhere. Both sides want this to work. Both sides know that work is what it will require.

When you sit back and think about it, trepidation and presumptions about what Newton would expect his situation to be is what led him to the Patriots.

“He got screwed over by his own team, then Covid-19 hurt him with being able to get the medical checks,” said Simms. “So all the seats were filled for starting quarterbacks. I’ve been saying that nobody would sign Cam Newton except for a few teams because he would disrupt or divide a locker room (if he’s not the starter).

“If he’s your backup, everybody’s going to go, ‘Man, did you see our backup today? Did you see that throw he made? Did you see that run he had? Did you see that throw he made on the run?’ And everyone’s going to say, ‘Why aren’t we starting him?’ That will ruin a football team,” said Simms. “That’s why he was on the street. But this is a situation that certainly makes sense.”

It does because Newton isn’t trying to beat out a quarterback the team drafted high and planned to hand the reins to. Stidham’s a promising player they took a shot at. His flag isn’t planted anywhere on the depth chart.

The question isn’t whether Newton is good enough to start over Stidham. The question is how quickly a Patriots offense that’s been built around a pocket assassin morphs to meet Newton halfway.

Simms says that shouldn’t be an issue.

“It’s the most versatile playbook in the NFL,” he said. “There’s no team in the NFL that can reinvent their offense, or their team or the mantra of their team on a regular basis. I don’t think this is going to be a huge adjustment for them where they say, ‘Oh my gosh, we have to invent this whole new playbook.’ A lot of these plays are in their playbook. Now, instead of putting them on page 185, now we move them up to the first 40 pages of the playbook because they’ll be more of a staple that way.”

Bottom line? Pandemic or not, teams don’t generally wait until June 28 to acquire their starting quarterback for an upcoming season. The Patriots have.

We’ll find out if that means, “Ready or not, here comes Cam!” in Week One.

Devin McCourty has bigger concerns than NFL shortening preseason

Devin McCourty has bigger concerns than NFL shortening preseason

The NFL reportedly is taking action in the face of the coronavirus pandemic by shortening the preseason from four games to two.

But Devin McCourty and his brother Jason know the league still has more pressing issues to tackle.

Here's how the New England Patriots defensive backs reacted to the preseason news Sunday night on their "Double Coverage" podcast.

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"Does it matter?" Devin said, via ESPN's Mike Reiss. "We have to figure out, 'How do we get back in the locker room?' When we go back, are we straight to training camp? What is that procedure? ... For us as players, we still want to know, 'How is everything going to function and work?'

"Don't get me wrong, everybody is working towards that and building. There's calls and everything. But I think that is more important than whether there's four preseason games, two preseason games, no preseason games.

"All that stuff will work itself out. All that stuff matters if the first phase of us being back in training camp is going well. If that doesn't go well, then there is no anything. For me that has been more my focus. I haven’t really cared what the preseason games look like."

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The NFL has stuck to its 2020 timetable, with training camps still set to begin in late July and the regular season set to start in early September. But the McCourtys aren't alone in wondering whether players can safely practice and play amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"At this point, it's just like, 'What is the safest way to get back on the field and to actually have a season?' " Jason said. "If that means we're reducing preseason, whatever the case is, obviously we have to do what we need to do."

The NFL has had the benefit of time compared to the NBA, Major League Baseball, NHL and MLS, which have implemented rigorous safety protocols as they attempt to restart their seasons.

But with training camp rapidly approaching, the NFL will need to come up with its own plan quickly if it wants to safely hold the 2020 season.