When Tom Brady left the New England Patriots in free agency, his former backup stayed behind as the presumptive heir to his former starting quarterback position. Jarrett Stidham may have only attempted a handful of regular season passes during his rookie season, but he showed enough promise over the course of his first year in the league to be projected to make a serious push for the role even after veteran Brian Hoyer was re-signed.
Then came Cam Newton, however, and a different outlook with the former NFL MVP on board: Stidham was no longer projected to have the inside track for Brady’s old job, but rather to engage in a competition with the long-time Carolina Panthers starter. That competition began the instant Newton signed his contract, and through the first few full-pads practices of training camp looked to be a close one — neither QB was able to gain a significant edge in terms of reps and performance.
That all changed last Thursday. Newton threw 17 passes during team drills that day, compared to Stidham’s six (of which two ended in interceptions). As it later turned out, the second-year man was limited because of a hip injury.
Fast forward one week and the situation has not drastically changed in his favor: while Newton is well on his way to become New England’s starting quarterback this season, Stidham is mostly playing second or third fiddle. Nevertheless, his mind still appears to be aimed at the same targets that he was focused on entering training camp.
“My goal has always stayed the same, whether that be here at the end of training camp leading into the season or whether it be throughout the season,” the 24-year-old pointed out during a media conference call following Thursday’s limited scrimmage. “Whatever it may be, it’s really just to learn and get better. I’m only in my second year, so there’s a ton of room for me to grow, a lot of room to improve and learn in a lot of different areas.
“So, that’s kind of my big thing: I just want to continue to learn from the guys in the quarterback room, whether it be Cam or Hoy, or Jedd [Fisch] or Josh [McDaniels], whoever it may be. Just continue to learn from those guys and really try to help myself get better, and really excel on the field every day.”
Getting better was also the theme of the current week for Stidham. While he still saw only limited action as he continued to work through his hip issue, he also proved himself a more accurate and more confident passer when compared to earlier parts of training camp. His performance on Thursday may not back this up from a statistical perspective — only 6 of his 13 attempts were successful — but he did complete 16 of 17 throws in team drills between Monday and Wednesday.
Still, the starting quarterback train seems to have left the station without him on board. Much like Cam Newton, however, Stidham does not seem to be concerned about his standing on a hypothetical depth chart at the moment.
“How I view things is everyday is a competition, whether I’m first string, second string, third string, fourth string, fifth string,” he said. “I don’t view it as that, I just view it as a great opportunity to get better with my teammates every single day and to compete really hard. I look at it as competing against myself too, and trying to learn and grow every single day to help myself get better each and every day I go out there on the field.”
Stidham will continue to get his fair share of opportunities to further improve before the regular season gets kicked off in mid-September. And even if he may not end up as Brady’s immediate successor, the process will still go on.