Could the New England Patriots be prepping for Cam Newton to win the starting quarterback job?
NFL Network's Mike Giardi reported that Thursday's practice was the first time there was a real change in the QB rotation, with Newton getting significantly more reps than Jarrett Stidham or Brian Hoyer.
The switch comes after the QBs rotated reps fairly evenly through the first few days of training camp. Also perhaps playing a role is that Stidham has been dealing with discomfort from a hip injury and is not expected to practice much, if at all, on Friday, Giardi and NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported. Giradi notes it could be a few weeks until Stidham is 100 percent.
Giardi noted that none of the QBs has set himself apart thus far, taken hold of any competition and forced Bill Belichick to name him starter. With the added reps Thursday, Newton didn't wow, per Giardi, but he didn't crash and burn either.
Allowing Newton to take more first-team reps, and more reps overall, signals that the Patriots plan for the former NFL MVP to win the job, if his health allows.
While Newton might not have flashed as he's learning the offense, not imploding is key. Stidham, meanwhile, has suffered from a bout of interceptions.
Belichick said Friday during a video conference that he and his staff don't put too much weight on one rep or one practice, but rather evaluate the entire process.
"I don't think it's really good for us as a coaching staff to over-evaluate an individual play when we have so many plays to work with," Belichick said. "Every player makes mistakes out there. Every player gets corrected. Every player gets coaching points on things they can do better, differently. Ultimately, we're going to reach a point where we have to really evaluate what the performance is."
While the question posed to Belichick was about Stidham's interceptions hurting his chances of winning the starting job, the coach harping on the overall body of work of all players, not just one play or one practice, also relates to Newton.
"I think in the early stages there's definitely timing, confidence, anticipation issues that are different from player to player depending on who they're in there with, what the play was and how things unfolded and so forth," Belichick continued. "Sometimes those are mistakes, sometimes they're learning experiences, sometimes there could be mistakes made by multiple people involved in the specific part of play that need to be ironed out. Again our job is to evaluate the overall performance and progress of the players and I think as we get further into camp that's easier to do when everybody has done their assignment multiple times and multiple looks and they're confident, they know what they're doing and all that. First time through for any of us doing anything doesn't go as smoothly as it does when you've had multiple repetitions at that experience. That's what our job is, that's what we'll evaluate and it's certainly an ongoing one that is going to become more important in succeeding days."
Newton's beginning days in New England have underscored that everything is new for the quarterback as he learns the offense. Giving him time to dive into the playbook and learn with his teammates is necessary for the Patriots to get the most out of the QB, should he eventually be named starter.
It shouldn't be viewed as a coincidence that after talk of a platoon this week, the Patriots upped Newton's reps. With just 23 days until the season opener, they need to see if he's progressing in Josh McDaniels' offense and if he's going to hold up health-wise.
Combine the increased reps with Belichick's comments and Stidham's injury, and the path ahead becomes clear: At this point, it's Newton's job to lose.