A lot has happened for Cam Newton since the last time he appeared in an NFL game.
The day was September 12, 2019, and the Carolina Panthers fell to 0-2 on the season thanks to a 20-14 home loss against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Newton would not play the following weeks due to a foot injury before eventually being placed on injured reserve in November. Four months later, the Panthers released Newton. Three months after that, he joined the New England Patriots competing for their starting quarterback position.
On Sunday, 367 days after last setting foot on the field, he will make his return.
When Newton will lead the Patriots’ offense onto the field against the visiting Miami Dolphins, he will not just begin the 10th season of his pro career but also add a new chapter to his personal story: he is now New England’s QB1, and as such in prime position to prove he is still capable of performing at a high level despite remaining on the open market for three months earlier this year. Needless to say, that Newton is looking forward to it.
“The excitement level is on 1,000,” the 31-year-old said during a media conference call on Thursday. “I’m excited, I’m happy just to get back into the rhythm of game week, the preparation. Just the little nuggets that you can often forget. You have to remember I’ve been away from football really for a full year — 16 games, I missed the last games of 2018 and only played two games I 2019, so that’s the equivalent of 16 games.
“So I haven’t really had this whole process for a long time now. So, being around, taking notes, watching film, finding out about different players each and every day, locking in. Excited about the game plan, and more excited about just trying to get in a routine with the newness of either the play calling, the coaches, and even the players.”
Newton will be the central piece within New England’s a new-look offense. Following the departure of Patriots legend Tom Brady in free agency, and with him beating out both Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer in training camp, the team will have a unique presence at the quarterback position that is unlike any regular starting option New England has ever fielded (the closest comparison to him is probably Steve Grogan).
The former first overall draft pick, however, does not seem worried about any comparisons or his natural status as a team leader.
“Right now, where I’m at, I’m in a happy place. I feel motivated, I feel just a lot of great emotions that are going on, that are not hindering me from becoming my best self,” he said. “And yet, through it all, I just like it most that I’m just a piece to a puzzle. I don’t want to be the puzzle. I try my best daily to prove my worth to this team, and understand that there are a lot of guys here that are depending on each other. And I just want to be a person that the team and these coaches can trust and depend on.”
This process is nothing new for Newton: he has been in the league ever since 2011, and has played on every different level — from opening days, to meaningless Week 17 contests, to the Super Bowl. The emotions of the comeback will therefore not stand in the way of him having a successful Patriots debut, he added.
“When it comes to the game of football, I want everybody to understand this: I am the ultimate pro. Let nothing get in the way of my preparation for the game of football. Anything that you may see from me dancing, laughing, this, that, the third, at the end of the day it’s all about being prepared. Now, more than ever, I can say that I am prepared,” Newton said. “I can just check that off my list right now, to ask the question, ‘Am I prepared this week?’ I can gratefully say, ‘Yes, I am prepared.’”
This preparation is also why he doesn’t feel any pregame butterflies, Newton jokingly pointed out.
“I don’t get butterflies. I give ‘em.”