New England Patriots

FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - SEPTEMBER 01: Cam Newton #1 warms up during New England Patriots Training Camp at Gillette Stadium on September 01, 2020 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

By Bob Socci, 98.5 The Sports Hub

The son of a preacher danced to the Sunday gospel blaring from the speakers, high-stepping to the God’s Property song “Stomp” and pausing only to point to the bright blue sky during a mid-afternoon stretch.

We’d first heard his teammates testify to the different “dynamic” that Cam Newton brought to New England with his energy — or “juice,” as one of them put it — weeks ago. And for the past 14 days those of us privy to Patriots training camp had witnessed his exuberance for ourselves.

Climbing the steps to the practice fields, bounding into view from our far left and bellowing out daily greetings to football ops staff in the bleachers to our far right. Each day setting a tone different from what we’ve been accustomed to past Pats camps, often turning up the volume on his almost constant banter.

On the final Sunday of August, we got to see an even higher-spirited Newton exulting to the sounds of singer Kirk Franklin. He even celebrated with the youngest member of the quarterback flock, dance-turning rookie free agent Brian Lewerke.

Truth is, Newton’s not here to lead a Patriots revival. After dominating their division for two decades, they just need him, in his own way — distinct from that of Tom Brady — to help them maintain their way.

Cam Newton brought his own unique brand of energy to Patriots training camp every day. (Photo by Steven Senne-Pool/Getty Images)

Cam Newton brought his own unique brand of energy to Patriots training camp every day. (Photo by Steven Senne-Pool/Getty Images)

But for a former league MVP whose last two seasons in Carolina were lost largely to injury, becoming a Patriot is an opportunity for his own career rebirth.

Not that Newton is officially anointed the starter. Nor ready to proclaim himself as such.

“Absolutely not,” he told reporters last week.

Bill Belichick has also said as much. So for now, No. 1 in the red practice jersey is No. 1-A on the depth chart.

MORE: Cam Newton Opens Breakout Door For Patriots RBs

On Sunday, when the Patriots broke from their stretch lines into different stations and the song list shifted to old-school R&B, Newton and Brian Hoyer split the QB reps almost evenly. Each presided over the two-minute offense late in practice.

But it was Newton we saw throwing to Julian Edelman during Thursday’s extensive 11-on-11 work and Friday’s “game simulation.” And Newton we’ve seen forming such a good rapport with Edelman of late that the receiver captured — and captioned — their chemistry in a social media meme.

Julian Edelman and Cam Newton hope to forge a productive partnership in their first season together. (Photo by Steven Senne-Pool/Getty Images)

Julian Edelman and Cam Newton hope to forge a productive partnership in their first season together. (Photo by Steven Senne-Pool/Getty Images)

With or without the title, it sure looks and feels like Cam’s the QB. It also sounds that way, listening to everything else Belichick says about Newton. Some of the latest were words he spoke on SiriusXM radio during Monday’s “Moving The Chains.”

“He’s here early. He stays late, and he works very hard,” Belichick told Pat Kirwan and ex-Patriots backup quarterback Jim Miller. “You know, some players like to go to work on things that they’re good at, [like] you know if you’re strong on the bench press, then you just keep throwing more weight on the bench.

“But Cam’s the type of player that works on things that he’s not good at and really tries to improve on a daily basis and that’s something I really respect about him. That’s not easy for players, really for any of us, to do.”

MORE: Edelman Adjusting To Grind Of COVID Offseason

There’s been much for Newton to work on since signing his one-year deal with the Patriots. Cast in a new environment and new offense in a compressed training camp, understandably, he’s experienced inconsistency.

But on Sunday, albeit in shorts and shells, Newton seemed more sure of himself. He ended the practice by orchestrating the two-minute offense to set up a field goal try. He took his final snap, clocked the ball to the ground and caught the bounce, before playfully circling through the secondary.

Defensive teammates yelled, “delay of game!” Newton gibed back with a howl of laughter. Again, his personality as colorful as his flamboyant wardrobe was on full display.

“[Cam] loves his job,” says Matthew Slater, the longest-tenured Patriot. “He’s just a fun guy to be around.”

Cam Newton has earned high praise from his new Patriots teammates. (Photo by Steven Senne-Pool/Getty Images)

Cam Newton has earned high praise from his new Patriots teammates. (Photo by Steven Senne-Pool/Getty Images)

“He is a very positive guy and brings energy to the field, energy in the weight room, energy in the meeting rooms and the locker room,” adds Deatrich Wise Jr. “[Cam’s] always an upbeat kind of guy, so having that around definitely picks the team up if we don’t have any energy.”

Hearing many others echo Slater and Wise, it’s fair to wonder if Newton’s good vibrations are being overplayed. But in a time heavy with tragedy and turbulence, such lighter moments can’t be over-appreciated.

Not only by those of us in the media — observing from mostly empty bleachers, while smiling behind our cloth masks — but by Newton’s teammates as well.

Especially given what they — like us — have gone through since March.

MORE: Patriots Name Three Team Captain For First Time

Their quarterback of the last 20 seasons left a free agent and was soon joined by the big guy who used to bring the juice and joy into their locker room. The coronavirus forced them to face that reality for their homes, via Zoom calls.

As a string of killings sparked a national reckoning over racism and social injustice, they opened themselves to each other to talk about their experiences. Some of which the team members retold in a moving TV special.

Eight of them — a league-high number — later opted out of the 2020 season. Half — Brandon Bolden, Marcus Cannon, Patrick Chung and Dont’a Hightower — did so with a combined 11 Super Bowl rings.

Dont'a Hightower was one of a league-high eight players to opt out of the 2020 season for the Patriots. (Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports)

Dont’a Hightower was one of a league-high eight players to opt out of the 2020 season for the Patriots. (Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports)

On the eve of camp, fellow longtime leaders Slater and Devin McCourty, who was still grieving the loss of a child, spoke of the pain in Black communities. Weeks later, they found themselves doing it again.

Society’s ills, like a pandemic, don’t simply go away.

We’re now at six months — and counting — of widespread misery and uncertainty. Who couldn’t use some uplifting?

“The things that are going on in the world can bring people down, can make people lose hope, can definitely sway people to different mindsets and it effects everybody differently,” Wise said on Wednesday. “From the pandemic, and injustice going on in the world, from all the other things that are going on.”

SOCCI: Coaching Stands Out At Patriots Camp

Wise praised all the leadership the Patriots possess in their socially-distanced locker room, where they allow time and space to exchange ideas and emotions.

“One thing that brings us together is the leadership that we have on this team. Being able to not only play together, but aside from the game, creating a space for us — a lot of people have different thoughts and don’t have outlets to vent, so they may use sports, they may use football to vent,” he observed. “Then there are other ways that players talk and vent on the team to spray that positive energy that we talked about.

“Whether it is in group circles or in 1-on-1s, I feel like we have leaders that people always pull aside and talk and express themselves in multiple ways so that (they can) can go about their day in a positive manner. That is one thing I feel like this team is great at, coming together, being open, being light-hearted and also bringing the energy both on the field and off the field, in all categories.”

FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - AUGUST 26: Cam Newton #1 of the New England Patriots makes a throw as Jarrett Stidham #4 looks on during Patriots Training camp at Gillette Stadium on August 26, 2020 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Cam Newton of the New England Patriots makes a throw as Jarrett Stidham looks on during Patriots training camp on August 26, 2020 in Foxborough, Mass. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Gillette Stadium’s stands will be empty for the season opener in a week and a half, when Newton, presumably, has the ball in his hands for his Patriots debut. Based on other impressions from training camp, he’s likely to confront challenges similar to those that Brady encountered in 2019.

Who at receiver will have the speed to separate? What can the tight ends lend, with two rookies learning on the fly? And will there be enough depth on the offensive line?

Adding to those questions is the outcome of the Pats last encounter with the Dolphins in December and the opponents awaiting them in the months ahead. It will take much more than positive energy to make it to the NFL’s promised land in February.

Nonetheless, watching Newton try to get there ought to inject much-needed fun into these trying times.

MORE: Cam Newton Brings Energy From Field To Dining Room

Another of Sunday’s selections was the tune, “H.A.P.P.Y. Radio,” in which Edwin Starr sang about a natural, musical high to help the days go by.

As it reverberated, Newton transitioned from dance moves to drop backs. Between steps, he greeted backs and receivers with the personalized handshakes they’ve developed in their brief time together. The sun shining and Newton’s smile beaming, the Pats then got to work playing a game.

For those of us lucky to be there on this day, in this summer — whether shouting it to the sky or saying so to ourselves — there was reason to give thanks.

You can hear Bob Socci on the call of the game on every game day for the New England Patriots, right here on 98.5 The Sports Hub. You can also hear him on his own The Gridiron And Beyond podcast at 985TheSportsHub.com.