After news broke that Cam Newton had agreed to a one-year contract with the Patriots Sunday evening, Mohamed Sanu FaceTimed his new teammate.
Sanu congratulated Newton on his deal and asked what he was up to this week.
I’m gonna be in L.A.
Oh shoot, I’m gonna be in L.A.
“It was just so coincidental,” said NFL trainer Drew Lieberman, a 2013 Wesleyan graduate who has been working with Sanu the past two years.
Once both players arrived in California, they scheduled a private throwing session Tuesday afternoon at UCLA. According to Lieberman, the workout lasted about an hour and featured only routes on "air," meaning with no defenders.
The goal was simple: Start building chemistry.
“More than anything, just spending quality time together and learning each other more as people and as teammates,” Lieberman said. “I think that’s what pays off down the road. The quicker you build that chemistry, the quicker things start to click.”
The focus stayed on fundamentals, with Sanu becoming familiar with how the ball spins out of Newton’s hand and Newton becoming familiar with how fast Sanu gets to breakpoints and accelerates out of his routes.
The pair met up again Wednesday and have plans to get together later in the week as well.
Sanu, who underwent offseason surgery to repair a high ankle sprain, is “100 percent cleared,” Lieberman said. Newton, who underwent surgery to repair a Lisfranc fracture in his left foot, also appears to be rehabbing well.
In addition to the operation on his foot, Newton has recovered from two procedures on his throwing shoulder within the past three years.
“They both looked great,” Lieberman said. “It’s up to Cam how much he wants to throw, how much his arm can handle for the day.”
Newton posted footage from the workout in a short hype video on his Instagram page Thursday morning. He captioned the post with a quote from Sanu: "We active."
In another clip shared on Lieberman’s instructional channel, The Sideline Hustle, Sanu asked Newton: “I don’t get it. How do you get bigger and bigger every time I see you?” Sanu then turned to the camera to note, “The thing is, he leaned out.”
There was a shared sense of eagerness between the players, according to Lieberman. Newton missed all but two games last season, while Sanu has acknowledged his underperformance since getting traded to the Patriots in October last season.
“They’re on a similar mission, like two guys in a contract year, two guys who feel like they have something to prove,” Lieberman said. “They both just want to get back to themselves. When they’re at the top of their game, they’re two of the best at what they do.”
For Sanu, that means revamping his work ethic. Lieberman, who has been living with Sanu, said they've been working at least six hours per day, training, executing ball drills, and watching film. Sanu also has a team for physical therapy as well as a speed coach.
“He’s a guy that can walk out of bed and have 60 catches and 600 yards pretty much every year of his career,” Lieberman said. “I think for the first time — he’ll admit it, too — he’s got that laser-focused, Mamba-mentality type of thing, where I think everything he’s done is going to go to another level.”
Sanu, who will turn 31 in August, averaged more than 700 receiving yards per season while in Atlanta. His production dipped last season in his first year as Patriot, but both Lieberman and Sanu have expressed confidence that won’t happen again.
Sanu is under contract in New England through the 2020 season.
“People can doubt it,” Lieberman said. “They should have their doubts. Like he said, he didn’t play his best last year, and that’s something he’s going to have to deal with, but all it is is fuel for him.
“He’s looking at it, ‘I got five or six more years left to play in this league, I want to do something to be remembered.’ He realized to do that, he’s got to make some changes.”
Tuesday marked Newton and Sanu’s first workout together as teammates, but the duo previously connected in Atlanta, where Newton grew up and Sanu spent three-plus seasons as a member of the Falcons.
Though the starting quarterback job in New England is still up for grabs — Newton will be competing against 2019 fourth-round draft pick Jarrett Stidham and veteran journeyman Brian Hoyer — Newton’s presence has generated a great deal of buzz.
“I mean, he’s Cam Newton,” Lieberman said. “You add that sort of talent, that sort of personality, that sort of charisma, that sort of leadership to the room, it certainly is something that just excites everybody and is going to raise everyone’s level of play.”
There was certainly plenty of excitement to go around Tuesday.
“When you look in the mirror, what do you see?” Sanu asked Newton.
“I see a dog,” Newton replied.
“When you’re looking this way,” Sanu said, “you’re looking in the mirror.”