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Oct 25, 2020; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton (1) and head coach Bill Belichick look on from the sideline as they take on the San Francisco 49ers in the second half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Cam Newton returned to practice for the Patriots on the first day of mandatory minicamp on Monday. It appears that he’s still in line to be the starting quarterback in 2021.

But reporters can’t just continue to deny what they’re seeing with their own eyes. Which is that Newton is still having trouble throwing the football accurately.

That didn’t stop head coach Bill Belichick from going to bat for Newton, again, when he spoke to reporters before practice on Tuesday. Obviously, Belichick isn’t going to throw Newton under the bus. But he doesn’t have to say anything about him, really. Instead, he points out something that, to be fair, is factually undeniable.

“Cam’s way ahead of where he was last year at this time, there’s no question about that,” Belichick said. “As you would expect, [Newton] has a good year of experience under his belt. He’s able to start the process at the beginning and not be in a catch-up mode, like he was [in 2020]. I mean, he was really just starting at this point last season, but he’s well ahead of that, just from the year of experience and the succession of building blocks that he’s been able to just stack up, like all the players have that have been here since the start of the OTAs and the offseason program back in April, that they’ve been able to stack those days and those learning experiences together, ask questions on things that they need clarification on and build to the next level when they’re ready to put another brick on the pile.

“So, it’s good for all of us, good for Cam, it’s good for all the players that can go through that process.”

Belichick even could’ve sold it harder than he did. Newton wasn’t even signed with the Patriots on June 15, 2020. The signing was announced on June 28. So Newton wasn’t even here, let alone starting the process of getting up to speed with the Patriots offense and getting ready for the season.

Clearly, a full offseason of preparation should help Newton as far as gaining a deeper understanding of the system and building better chemistry with his teammates. But even if he knows the whole playbook inside-and-out, and knows exactly which play to make on every snap, the question is does he have enough physically to execute them on a consistent basis?

It’s not fair to make a sweeping judgment on Newton and his likely successor, rookie QB Mac Jones, based on one clip of just a couple of throws. But the below video from NBC Sports Boston shows a stark contrast between Newton and Jones when throwing the ball. It simply comes out of Jones’ hand better and smoother.

Newton’s accuracy was spotty during Monday’s practice, according to multiple reports. Jones, meanwhile, had his best day of all the practices that have been open to the media, despite he and all the quarterbacks struggling to get a consistent grip on the ball in the rain.

And, to be fair to Newton, he had this solid throw to Kendrick Bourne in the end zone, via Phil Perry.

Still, it’s the consistency. Game to game, series to series, play to play. Can Newton look more like the guy we saw in Week 2 last season against the Seahawks, or in Week 17 against the Jets, on a weekly basis? That’s what Belichick seems to be banking on for 2021.

So, if and when Newton is once again the starter to begin the season, the question will be whether the full offseason actually benefitted him, or if he simply doesn’t have enough physically to get to the level the Patriots need.

MORE: Patriots Minicamp Notebook: Cam Newton Returns

Matt Dolloff is a writer and podcaster for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff and follow him on Instagram @mattydsays. You can also email him at mdolloff@985thesportshub.com.