Before Bill Belichick said he'll be faced with "a hard decision" following the quarterback competition at Patriots training camp, he said he'd be looking for two things from the eventual winner at that position: "consistency" and "production."
The pertinent question after Tuesday's practice was whether or not Cam Newton would be able to check the first of those two boxes after he submitted a highlight-filled day on the fields behind Gillette Stadium.
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Neither Newton nor Mac Jones have been all that consistent through six training camp practices, but if Newton can repeat what he showed in the Patriots' first padded workout of the summer, he'll have the starting job sewn up.
Let's dive into the details with our latest Quarterback Report ...
Though the practice was heavily focused on the running game and stopping the run -- only 13 of 46 (28 percent) competitive 11-on-11 reps were pass plays -- there were some strong passing-game reps to tally up.
In the 11-on-11 periods, Newton went 5-for-7 with well-placed touchdown passes to Nelson Agholor deep and Hunter Henry short. Second-year safety Kyle Dugger was in tight coverage on both scoring plays.
|Cam Newton||5 for 7||6 for 10||11 for 17 (64.7%)|
|Mac Jones||1 for 6||6 for 6||7 for 12 (58.3%)|
Jones, meanwhile, had a harder time. He went 1-for-6 in those 11-on-11 periods and was intercepted by Ja'Whaun Bentley. He should've been picked by Anfernee Jennings, but Jennings -- Jones' old teammate at Alabama -- dropped it.
In the competitive 7-on-7 periods (there were two), Newton went 6-for-10, including a nice completion to Jonnu Smith along the sidelines that required some fancy footwork on the tight-end's part.
Jones went 6-for-6 in the 7-on-7 periods, with the highlight from his performance in those spots being an accurate throw to a sliding Jakobi Meyers between defenders.
Newton finds another gear: Not since Week 2 of last season has Newton looked so impressive as a passer. And even back then, almost a year ago, he threw a pick and should've thrown another. On Tuesday, with fewer opportunities to challenge through the air, there were no such hiccups. And there were just as many impressive deep shots.
After a slow start in 7-on-7 work -- his first two competitive passes of the day were broken up, one by Kyle Dugger and one by Michael Jackson -- Newton really picked things up in the one-on-one period.
He dropped a beauty in the bucket for Nelson Agholor deep down the field, which was dropped. He hit N'Keal Harry on an acrobatic back-shoulder pass ... then hit him again for a toe-tapping grab ... then hit him again for a leaping back-shoulder completion. All were accurate, and they had to be.
Belichick evaluates what he's seen from Newton, Jones in camp
In the 11-on-11 work, Newton's legs were featured a little more often, but he also had two of his best completions of the day. He hit Agholor deep again -- this one caught -- for a deep touchdown with Dugger in close coverage. Later he found Hunter Henry in the back of the end zone despite close coverage from Dugger. Both had to be placed in very specific spots to avoid being batted away or picked, and both were where they needed to be.
Newton's down-the-field effectiveness had been limited through the majority of camp after five practices. Not the case at the sixth. If he can consistently rip off days like Tuesday and pair that passing-game work with quarterback-specific run-game packages, he'll be hard to unseat.
Rough day for the rookie: Jones had three passes that ended up in the hands of defenders on Tuesday. A fourth should've ended up in the hands of a defender. Yet the moment in practice when he may have received the hardest coaching was after a series of hand-offs.
Josh McDaniels was doing some emphatic teaching -- complete with various hand gestures -- following a stretch of handoffs in 11-on-11 work. There was likely some teaching going on after the practice when it came to Jones' picks.
The first two came in the one-on-one period. One was intercepted by Dugger when Jones' pass banged off the hands of a laid-out Henry. Another was picked when Myles Bryant undercut Jakobi Meyers' route. Did Meyers run his route flat enough? Should he have come more downhill? Was it simply an inaccurate pass? Hard to say from the media's vantage point about 100 yards away.
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Then came Jones' pick in 11-on-11 work. After turning to fake a handoff -- the focus of the majority of the 11-on-11 periods -- Jones spun around quickly and fired into the middle of the field. It was a forced throw to Bourne that was snagged by Bentley. Later, Jones did something similar when he tried to hit tight end David Wells in the middle of the field after whipping his head around toward his target following a play-action fake.
Jones had an opportunity for some redemption late when he floated a good-looking ball to Agholor in the back corner of the end zone on his final competitive 11-on-11 rep of the practice. Though Agholor reeled it in, he was called out of bounds by the officials in attendance.
So the ping-ponging between Jones and Newton continues.
Jones had a better Day 1. Newton had a better Day 2. Days 3 and 4 were a wash. Day 5 went to Jones. Day 6 went to Newton.
The production has been there on certain days, which Belichick has to appreciate. The consistency? Not so much.
Newton will have a chance to reverse that trend when the Patriots take the field again Wednesday morning.