Patriots QB battle heats up with solid days for Cam Newton, Mac Jones
After two days of tight defense, the Patriots offense opened up and made some strides on day 3 of training camp in Foxborough. The Pats notably focused on the deep passing game, with Cam Newton and Mac Jones virtually splitting the reps.
The good news: both quarterbacks showed up and made their share of plays.
Newton didn’t start great, with one pass looking like a miscommunication as the ball sailed toward no one in particular. He also overthrew wide receiver Nelson Agholor on a deep ball and had a pass intended for James White tipped. Jones followed up Newton’s first sequence by completing three straight passes to Brandon Bolden, Agholor, and Kendrick Bourne. The pass to Agholor was through a tight window with Dee Virgin in coverage. The pass to Bourne was arguably the best-looking pass play of the day, a rainbow into Bourne’s bread basket in the corner of the end zone.
Newton responded, at one point completing seven pass attempts in a row. One of them was a slightly off-target deep ball to Agholor, but the receiver made a nice adjustment tracking the ball in tight coverage. Another went to tight end Matt LaCosse under pressure, as linebacker Josh Uche beat left tackle Isaiah Wynn off the edge and would’ve had a chance at a “sack.”
Completing three of his final five pass attempts in 11s, Newton passed the eye test. Agholor made the play of the day as he dove backward to reel in a catch in the back of the end zone, but the ball was well-placed in a spot where only the receiver could get it. Newton followed that up with a drop in the bucket to Gunner Olszewski over the shoulder of slot cornerback Jonathan Jones in the back corner of the end zone.
Jones later hit Bourne over the middle for a “touchdown.” The next two incompletions were more on the receivers or defense than the quarterback. Kyle Dugger broke up a pass intended for LaCosse and Devin Smith dropped a catchable ball in the end zone. Jones’ final attempt had no chance, as Agholor was sealed off by his coverage and the ball hit the turf.
Overall, Newton was 14-for-20 in 11-on-11 drills, while Jones was 8-for-18. Agholor also had a drop on a pass attempt from Jones, who seemed to deal with tighter defense in general.
As the incumbent, Newton remains the first quarterback to take reps in competitive team drills and appears to be maintaining a slight edge over Jones in the competition. But based on both of their post-practice press conferences, their first with reporters in person, the competition sounds like a friendly one.
“I’m pretty much here for him,” Newton said of Jones. “Just like Brian [Hoyer] is here for him. I hope – well I know. It’s reciprocated on all fronts.”
“With any relationship and meeting someone new regardless of position or if he’s a teammate or not, you have to form the bond and trust,” Jones said. “[Newton’s] been a great teammate. He’s helped me and made it a lot of fun. Your first couple of practices as a rookie is gonna be hard, so he just tries to stay positive with me and that’s just who Cam is. Hopefully I can learn, try to be like him in some ways, and have fun with it. We’re gonna grow together and help each other win games, hopefully.”
This is just conjecture, but Newton and Jones seem to be speaking like a pair who already know the tentative plan, which would be Newton starting the 2021 regular season as the starting quarterback. Jones likely needs to create significant, undeniable separation to even have a chance at starting Week 1, and he’s not close to that level yet. Even just based on the merits of the first three days of camp, Newton could be considered to have the edge.
But Jones has certainly shown promise, glimpses of a Patriots-style starting quarterback. His quick release and subtle movements in the pocket tend to hearken back to – never mind. He still has a long way to go, as Bill Belichick would remind everyone every day.
The good news: Jones is making enough plays to make the quarterback competition interesting. Newton is also treating the situation like just that, a competition. And it became a little more intriguing on Friday.
“Ever since I’ve been here it’s been a quarterback competition,” Newton said. “I think that’s, in essence, the underlying Patriot way. Every position has a competition and quarterback is no different. Brian Hoyer is supposed to make me better, I’m supposed to make Mac Jones better, Mac Jones is supposed to make Brian Hoyer better.
“For us, it’s just the mentality to have that championship mental toughness each and every day and the desire to get better.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.