FOXBORO, Mass. — All eyes were on Cam Newton and Mac Jones at Friday’s New England Patriots organized team activities practice — one QB got hurt and the other sputtered.
Newton only participated in one round of team drills Friday before getting checked out by the Patriots’ medical staff with an injured hand. He stayed on the practice field but didn’t attempt another throw. He did check in briefly with Patriots owner Robert Kraft.
Jones was nearly intercepted and mostly relied on short check-downs to running backs in the second practice open to the media.
The lesson here: Don’t panic and don’t overreact. Because that’s what seemed to happen after New England’s first open OTAs session last Thursday when the rookie, Jones, looked pretty good in an extremely small sample size but was ultimately overanalyzed for work in a walk-through setting. He went 2-of-3 in 11-on-11 drills last week, and it sparked a reaction as if he’d led the Patriots on a Super Bowl-winning drive.
Jones is probably pretty good, and he may still one day be great, but we don’t really know one way or the other yet after two days of practice access. It is worth noting that everyone from left guard Mike Onwenu to head coach Bill Belichick has had nothing but good things to say about Jones.
Jones has yet to complete a pass in team drills to a wide receiver in front of the media. He connected with tight end Matt LaCosse and running back Tyler Gaffney last week and Gaffney, running back J.J. Taylor, fullback Jakob Johnson and tight ends Hunter Henry and Troy Fumagalli on Friday. He should have been picked off on a pass to Henry, but Kyle Van Noy dropped the ball to the linebacker’s dismay. Jones also held the ball a little too long and ate a “sack” (quarterbacks aren’t touched in OTAs, but rookie defensive tackle Christian Barmore got there to disrupt the play).
It’s fine. He’s a rookie.
He looked like one Friday as the Patriots try to ramp up the intensity in practices, and he looked like a veteran last week. Jones wound up going 8-of-11 overall Friday with a large number of check-downs, the near-interception and a tipped pass from defensive back Myles Bryant.
Newton was 2-of-3 with a sack and missed on a longer pass to wide receiver Nelson Agholor. (He’s still dipping his shoulder on longer throws.)
It was actually third-year pro Jarrett Stidham who stood out at the quarterback position. He went 9-of-10 in 11-on-11 drills and 4-of-4 in 7-on-7s. The Patriots quarterbacks, as a whole, only completed 10 passes to wide receivers on Friday, and Stidham alone had five of them. While Jones and Brian Hoyer looked more gun shy, Stidham was willing to open it up at times.
Hoyer was 3-of-4 in 7-on-7s and 4-of-9 in 11-on-11s. Two of Hoyer’s six incompletions were dropped.
After Newton went down, Jones was first up in 7-on-7s, and Stidham led off 11-on-11s.
So, where are we at in this quarterback competition? Nowhere. Newton is still the presumed starter as long as he’s healthy. It was actually an underreported storyline that he stayed healthy for 15 of 16 games last season and only missed Week 4 after a positive COVID-19 test.
After that, it’s anyone’s guess how the depth chart will sort itself out in three months. There’s still time for a QB to pass Newton. The Patriots would probably like Jones to be the first- or second-stringer. He’s the first-round pick, and he’s the presumed starter of the future. But Stidham showed Friday he can still make things competitive with the rookie. Hoyer will probably only stick around in a backup or third-string role.
Newton’s injury didn’t appear serious. He stayed on the practice field, after all, but it is something to monitor moving forward if it lingers. An injury knocked Stidham out of the starting race last summer. Newton is No. 1 on the depth chart right now, but missed time on the practice field can change things.
Overall, let’s not jump to any conclusions, though. Last Thursday’s practice would have led you to believe Jones was the Week 1 starter. Friday’s session looked to have Stidham in the driver’s seat. We’re seeing small and incomplete samples of quarterback play during unpadded spring practices. These practices matter and each small peek is valuable, but the real competition ramps up when practices start to stack together in July and August.