Patriots

No substitute for Cam Newton's experience as Patriots practices heat up

Patriots

So far so good for Cam Newton. 

It's one thing to be praised by new teammates, from Julian Edelman to Isaiah Wynn and Lawrence Guy. It's another to earn some early plaudits from Bill Belichick. But that's exactly what Newton received from his new head coach on Friday morning.

Belichick, of course, is careful not to single out players even when asked specifically about an individual. Therefore, in answering a question about Newton during a WebEx call with reporters, Belichick did not share impressions on Newton alone. But when he did highlight what he's seen from his new quarterback, the sentiments were nothing but positive.

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"We've done a lot of meetings, a lot of walkthroughs," Belichick said. "A lot of information has been transferred to all the players. He's worked very hard, I'd say, as all our players have. We have a hard-working group. Those guys are ready to go and we've put in some long days. They've been very attentive during the process.  

"I'd say all the quarterbacks, at that position, those guys have been locked in, been focused, worked extremely hard. All four of them. When they all get in the huddle, everybody has a lot of confidence in what they're able to do, and the information they have to give the team. Play-calls, adjustments, audibles, protection adjustments, things like that.

"But again, we haven't played anywhere near the speed we're going to be playing at so we'll see how it all comes together at that point. But Cam's a hard-working kid. He really is."

 

At Patriots practice Friday, Newton will have an opportunity to put on display all the hard work he's put in for years prior to his Foxboro arrival. It's the portion of the summer schedule when Newton's experience level should shine through. And if there is truly a quarterback competition underway at Gillette Stadium, it's when Newton could show off a Secretariat-style final-stretch kick.

Why? After months of slow-playing things, Belichick's offense and defense will have an opportunity to square off for real -- kind of. The two sides still won't be in pads, but Friday will be their first up-tempo practice, Belichick indicated. 

For quarterbacks, that means it's time to put their post-snap diagnostic skills to the test. Up until this point, all they've been able to rep with any consistency are pre-snap reads during light workouts, meetings and walkthroughs. But they haven't performed against buzzing defenses from the pocket, so deciphering where to go with the football after the ball is snapped has been a bit of a blind spot, so to speak.

"To this point," Belichick said, "for all positions, it doesn't really matter which position you're talking about, the pre-snap, line of scrimmage and initial assignment -- we've had an opportunity to go over that extensively. And I feel pretty good about where we are there. What we're missing is things that happen post-snap and the fundamentals and execution of our assignments at a high tempo, with contact, against a quality opponent. 

"Those are the things we haven't done, nobody's been able to do. We'll start that process really (Friday), Sunday and next week with pads is when we'll be able to hit those with some solid experiences for the players and hopefully progression. We're about as far as we can go in terms of walkthroughs and calls, communication and all that. But the speed of the game post-snap and what happens once everybody starts moving, we've seen some of that at a slow pace, I would say to a certain degree, but nothing like what is really gonna happen.

" ... Last night should've been our first preseason game. We haven't even had a full-speed practice yet, let alone in pads."

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Reporters will be able to see for themselves how Newton looks in competitive situations starting Monday. But when the speed of practice picks up Friday, who would you expect to be the greatest beneficiary between Newton and second-year man Jarrett Stidham?

Stidham may have had an advantage early in the offseason compared to Newton. He'd spent a full season with the Patriots, learning in their meetings, impressing in their practices. He understood the language of the Patriots offense. He understood what Josh McDaniels demanded from the position.

 

And while Newton has had weeks to chip away at a playbook Stidham has had for a year -- a playbook filled with "calculus," Edelman told Newton -- the former MVP has 125 career regular-season games under his belt plus seven playoff contests. (His 131 starts are more than three times that of third-stringer Brian Hoyer.) Newton has seen live NFL defenses. He's broken them down, deceived them, exploited them in real time. 

Newton's post-snap reactions to blitzes, pressures, man and zone coverages will certainly have to be tailored to his new offense. There will be teaching moments for him in that regard. But he's proven over the course of his career that his internal processing speed can ramp up and excel against the game's best. For Stidham, who hasn't been put in a position to take any snaps of consequence, that just hasn't happened yet.

Indeed, 47 days after he signed, Newton may feel more at home than ever as the intensity at Patriots practice heats up.