On draft night, Bill Belichick was quick to declare Cam Newton his starting quarterback.
The New England Patriots head coach made no such assertions on the eve of his team’s first training camp practice.
Asked whether there will be an “open competition” this summer between the incumbent Newton and first-round draft pick Mac Jones for the starting quarterback job, Belichick referred to the highly anticipated roster battle as a “clean slate.”
“Every one of us has to go out and establish our level of performance whatever our role or capacity is,” Belichick said. “It’s a new season. We’ve done some things in the spring, but this is really the start of football season in terms of the team-building part here in training camp. We all have a lot of work to do. That includes all of us.
“Until we go out and do anything, I’d say it’s pretty much a clean slate.”
Belichick was asked whether that “clean slate” comment included the quarterback position, as well.
“Including the coaches and all the players,” the coach replied.
Newton and Jones saw similar workloads during spring practice. The former NFL MVP led off every competitive period on days he participated (he missed a few sessions with a hand injury), but the rookie actually logged more reps in mandatory minicamp, attempting 65 passes in 7-on-7s and 11-on-11s to Newton’s 58.
Jones, the Patriots’ first top-round QB pick since Drew Bledsoe, tossed a few ugly interceptions but had a solid spring overall, setting the stage for a legitimate training camp competition. Newton still should be viewed as the favorite to start Week 1 but could be knocked from that post if he stumbles and Jones surges.
Newton easily dispatched Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer to win the starting job last summer. He went on to make 15 uneven starts, producing as a rusher (592 yards, 12 touchdowns) but ranking near the bottom of the NFL in most passing categories as the Patriots slogged to a 7-9 record. He now has a much stronger supporting cast and, theoretically, a better grasp of the offense than he had a year ago, which should lead to better on-field results.
Improvement will be necessary if Newton hopes to hold off Jones, who was phenomenally productive at Alabama last season and is considered a good fit for offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels’ scheme.
With no padded practices in the first week of camp, Belichick said the Patriots are “still pretty much in a teaching period” — the term he typically used to describe organized team activities and minicamp. The roster battles will begin in earnest once pads come on and will intensify during the team’s two rounds of joint practices (against the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants) and three preseason games.
Stidham and Hoyer round out the Patriots’ quarterback room. The former was placed on the active/physically unable to perform list last week.
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