Bill Belichick decisively named Cam Newton the Patriots’ starting quarterback last weekend. Newton earned that label in the team’s first padded practice of 2021 training camp on Tuesday in Foxborough.
With the full pads strapped on for the first time, the focus on offense was heavily on the running game and option plays, which saw Newton get a few carries. But when it turned to the passing game, Newton went 5-for-7 in competitive 11-on-11 drills. He threw two touchdowns: one deep to receiver Nelson Agholor, who made a slight adjustment to the ball in the end zone to beat coverage by safety Kyle Dugger; and another over-the-shoulder touch throw to Hunter Henry from inside the 10.
Newton’s two incompletions were a throwaway straight into the turf and a pass to Kristian Wilkerson that was caught out of bounds. The Patriots had the aid of real referees making calls on the field and the sidelines.
Jones struggled in the same 11-on-11 session, going 1-for-6 with an interception by linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley on a pass that appeared intended for receiver Kendrick Bourne. Third-year linebacker Anfernee Jennings also nearly had an interception that he dropped. Agholor caught one that the referee ruled out of bounds, which drew protests from him and Newton from the sidelines. Cornerback Joejuan Williams had a pass breakup against Wilkerson.
Newton and Jones each had a chance to run the two-minute offense to close practice, but this session was more at half-speed. Newton was 4-of-5, while Jones closed well, going 5-of-6.
The Patriots offense with Newton is generally starting to take shape: power run game, run-pass options, short-to-intermediate passes with the occasional deep shot. Newton has shown improved accuracy and decision-making, which maybe isn’t saying much compared to 2020. But the offense should certainly be improved with a better Newton and far better weapons in the passing game.
Big question for Newton, now, will be consistency. He’s off to a strong start with full pads, but a mantra of the Pats has been “stacking days.” Newton has never been the most consistent with his throwing accuracy, and it’s continued to pop up at times in 2021 camp. He’ll need to prove he can show day-to-day consistency starting on Wednesday.
But Newton is the unquestioned starter after six days of training camp, and Jones has a long way to go to earn enough trust from Belichick to even garner consideration. It’s important to realize that we’re not watching the 2020 version of Newton, and while he may still show his warts throwing the ball, he is markedly improved from a year ago.
Tuesday only reinforced the stark reality that Newton remains the starting quarterback, and he’s miles away from losing his grip on that job.
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.