FOXBORO, Mass. — The most notable comments in Cam Newton’s first virtual news conference of 2021 focused on the quarterback’s newest position mate, Mac Jones.
Newton said the New England Patriots made the right call by taking Jones with the 15th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, that he supported it “110 percent” and that Jones is a good, quiet kid who’s “holding himself accountable” as he adjusts to the NFL.
With Jones and Newton set to square off in the Patriots’ most intriguing position battle this summer, quotes from one about the other are bound to make headlines.
But Newton also shared a few interesting tidbits about his own game and his attempt to bounce back from what was a frustrating 2020 season.
“I have a constant note that I remind myself each and every day,” Newton said. “‘Pre-snap comfort will help post-snap results for me.’ Last year, Josh (McDaniels), you know, Josh’s system was something that has worked for decades and decades. So, for me, it was up to me to kind of learn it as much as possible. And I’m so grateful to have another opportunity to learn it as much as I possibly can.”
McDaniels’ notoriously complex offense swallowed Newton whole last season. After signing in early July, the 2015 NFL MVP spent months trying to master New England’s offense — a process complicated by a nearly two-week October layoff following a positive COVID-19 test.
Rather than building confidence as he accumulated experience, Newton succumbed to hesitation and overthinking and was benched in two of the Patriots’ final four games.
During a Week 16 loss to the Buffalo Bills, it was revealed that Newton was averaging just five hours of sleep per night as he continued to wrestle with New England’s high-level offensive concepts. He finished the season ranked near the bottom of the NFL in most passing categories, though he was an effective rusher (592 yards, 12 touchdowns).
“In the latter part of the season, it just caught up to me,” Newton explained. “I was thinking too much, I was trying to be something when it just wasn’t enough hours in the day, you know what I’m saying? And it’s not like we weren’t working. Jedd (Fisch) at the time, our quarterback coach, was putting in hours and hours and you know, you can’t simulate real, live bullets, and that’s what it came down to. It wasn’t anything as far as mechanics, it was more or less overthinking and the comfort level.”
Newton now has been immersed in the Patriots’ offense for nearly a full year. Though he admitted he still has learning to do, his comfort level is considerably higher than it was in 2020. Head coach Bill Belichick said Newton is “way ahead of where he was last year at this time” and no longer is in “catch-up mode.”
“My faults, my bads, I’m going to get them next time — those are slowly but surely being flushed out of my vernacular,” Newton said. “And just the expectation of getting back to the standard of The Patriot Way is important for me to uphold. That’s the standard.”
The Patriots also made massive improvements to their skill position groups this offseason, shelling out significant capital for free agent tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith and receivers Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne.
Newton, who returned to the field last Friday after missing three practices with a hand injury, has taken first reps in team drills throughout the spring, signaling his status as the Patriots’ current QB1. Jones led all quarterbacks in reps during Tuesday’s minicamp practice, however, and could knock Newton from his starting spot with a strong summer.
Though he downplayed the effect of having a highly touted rookie in his position group, Newton said he naturally feels like he has something to prove this season.
“Double-duh,” the 32-year-old said. “Yeah. It’s only 32 guys in the world that can say they are a starting quarterback in this league. … I have a job and responsibility to myself to hold myself to a standard that I know I have to play at. It is going to come with proper preparation, and that is what it’s coming down to. It’s going to come down to comfort of understanding the system.”