FOXBORO — The reps have started to skew toward Cam Newton. Heavily.
It began last week for the new Patriots quarterback, when Jarrett Stidham was limited in practice with an upper leg injury. It continued this week, when Newton received a whopping 40 reps in 11-on-11 periods on Monday. The breakdown leaned toward Newton once again on Wednesday when he saw 16 of the 25 team reps.
It looks like the starting quarterback job belongs to Newton. It looks like Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels want Newton to get as many snaps as possible in order to get him up to speed. But don't tell that to Newton.
Asked Wednesday afternoon on a WebEx call with reporters if Newton believed he was the starter, he answered emphatically.
"Absolutely not," he said. "Every day is a work day for me. That label is not important to me right now. There's so much that I need to get better at, so much that I need to learn, so much that I need to get comfortable with throughout this process. That's the last thing that I'm pretty much worried about, knowing that there are certain things when I come to the line of scrimmage and it's just not as firing mentally as I want it to be, rather than other plays that may be called."
The two-minute drill has been one area in which the Patriots offense has struggled with Newton behind center. Though he's been accurate in the short-to-intermediate areas, though his legs still have the ability to provide defenders headaches, effectiveness in the hurry-up period has been hard to come by for Newton for three consecutive days.
On Wednesday, Newton attempted nine passes in the no-huddle period. With white noise pumped in via speakers next to the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium, Newton went 4-for-9. He was sacked twice — once by Deatrich Wise and once by Derek Rivers. He was picked off by safety Terrence Brooks, and he very nearly threw another pick to Stephon Gilmore. He missed a deep ball to veteran receiver Mohamed Sanu, and Julian Edelman dropped one.
It wasn't pretty. Nor was it anything close to efficient with Brian Hoyer taking snaps. (Stidham did not participate as he continues to be limited to playing in specific practice periods.) Hoyer went 4-for-8 and was sacked by Brandon Copeland.
Even though Hoyer's results weren't what the Patriots offense would deem a success. Newton explained after the workout that he looks at Hoyer's grasp of the offense — he shows clear command at the line of scrimmage and has a bevy of checks and audibles at his disposal — as something to shoot for.
"I see, personally, like, Hoyster go to the line and he's just as sharp as can be," Newton said. "For me, asking questions, he answers them. Stiddy [too]. There's things I know I need to become better at. Until I get those things done, everything else is irrelevant."
Patriots Talk Podcast: Pats can’t keep playing the waiting game with N’Keal Harry | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube
Newton will still provide the Patriots with a jolt in his own way.
He also brings to the table a physical skill set that neither Hoyer nor Stidham can match. His combination of arm strength and athleticism remains rare, even as he approaches his tenth season in the league. Plus, few players practice with more energy. He's consistently heard lifting up offensive teammates or jawing at the Patriots defense, keeping the competitive levels of the workout high.
"I think that's Cam's personality," Belichick said Wednesday morning. "I think you see that in the morning going into the squad meeting or you see it on the practice field or in the dining room or whatever it happens to be. That's kind of the way he is."
But even Newton knows he has to do more than that. There's an execution level he's hoping to reach with his team's first regular-season game less than three weeks away. And he knows he has a ways to go to get to where he wants to be.
"It's a work in progress each and every day for me," he said. "Every day is a work day. Every day is another day to learn more. I think that's an ongoing process for me... It's more or less trying to manage this offense in a way where I feel comfortable, and every day is a new challenge."