The 2020 season was a unique one for the entire NFL, and for Cam Newton in particular. He remained unsigned for almost three months after his release from the Carolina Panthers, and when he finally found a new team Coronavirus restrictions prevented him from joining his teammates until the start of training camp.
Newton still earned the New England Patriots’ starting quarterback gig, but he had to learn one of the most challenging offenses in football on the fly — all while playing with one of the worst skill position talent in the league. Add the fact that he missed time during the season due to a positive Covid-19 test and you can see why he struggled with consistency while finishing as one of the worst statistical passers in the league.
Now heading into his second season in the system, he is in a different position. With one year of experience under his belt, he is ahead of where he was in 2020 — something Bill Belichick himself acknowledged during a media conference call on Tuesday.
“Cam’s way ahead of where he was last year at this time. There’s no question about that. As you would expect, he has a good year of experience under his belt and he’s able to start the process at the beginning and not be in a catch-up mode like he was last year,” Belichick said.
“I mean, he was really just starting at this point last season. But he’s well ahead of that just from the year of experience and from the succession of building blocks that he’s been able to stack up.”
Entering his second year in the system, Newton is playing on a new one-year contract that he signed with the Patriots before the start of free agency. While that pact allows him to compete for the starting gig yet again, it does not guarantee that he will win the competition against Jarrett Stidham, Brian Hoyer and first-round rookie Mac Jones.
That said, Newton was the first man up during all practices open to the media so far this offseason. Even though he suffered a hand injury during OTAs and later looked inconsistent during the first practice of mandatory minicamp, he still appears to be the frontrunner to earn the QB1 spot for a second year in a row — all while continuing to serve as a team leader and a mentor for the Patriots’ quarterback of the future, Mac Jones.
As far as his own process is concerned, Belichick was not the only member of the Patriots’ coaching staff to point out how far he has come since last spring.
“He was certainly at a point when he got here that was a unique situation having really no experience and no exposure to our system prior to training camp starting. I honestly can’t remember a time in my career when we had a player that has done that. Even the rookies that get drafted get information prior to the end of the spring. It was a unique scenario,” said offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels earlier this month.
“He worked his butt off to do it, then he came back certainly this year at a much different position. He has a different grasp of the offense, a different understanding of the terminology. Now we’re working on refining the precision, the details.”
Despite the challenges he faced, Newton still had his positive moments in 2020.
Not only was he voted a team captain just two months after his arrival, he also proved himself a key member of New England’s run-based defense. Serving in a dual-threat capacity, he carried the football 127 times for 602 yards — an average of 4.7 yards per carry — as well as 12 touchdowns. His passing output was sub-par at times, but he apparently did enough for the Patriots to give him another chance.
Now, it is about taking advantage of. Not only will he try to do that in an offense that was rebuilt during the offseason, he also has one year of experience to fall back on.
“Like all the players have that have been here since the start of the OTA and the offseason program back in April ... they’ve been able to stack those days and those learning experiences together, ask questions on things that they need clarification on and build to the next level when they’re ready to put another brick on the pile,” Belichick said.
“So, that’s good for all of us. It’s good for Cam. It’s good for all of the players who can go through that process.”