Cam Newton pulled into Gillette Stadium for the first time as a Patriot about a week ago.
He chronicled it on Twitter with the caption, “What’s popping?”
It was the first tangible proof that Newton had indeed signed on the dotted line with New England — yet the former MVP quarterback still sometimes doesn’t believe his new business address.
“It’s so surreal coming down One Patriot Place each and every day and seeing the whole ambience,’' Newton said Friday during his first chat with the New England media. “Not only that but seeing so much support around the city of Boston and Foxborough. It’s just such a great environment.”
Newton, who played his entire nine-year career in Carolina before he was released in the offseason following a pair of injury-shortened campaigns, is not daunted by the prospect of following in the six Super Bowl title footsteps of Tom Brady.
In fact, Newton is embracing the challenge.
“Nobody really knows how excited I am just to be a part of this organization in many ways than one, just following up such a powerful dynasty that is rich in so much prestige and lineage of success that for me, a lot of people would hide from the notion to do certain things, but for me, I think this is an opportunity [where] I wake up pinching myself each and every day.”
An MVP just five seasons ago, Newton has been beset by shoulder and foot woes recently but pronounced himself “a full go” as the Patriots prepare for a most unusual training camp — one that for the first time in two decades will feature a full-on quarterback competition.
“I feel amazing. I feel great and probably not any different than anybody that’s in that locker room right now,’' Newton said. “I’m extremely optimistic about that, but yet through it all, it’s just putting yourself in the position to be in the best shape and have your body in the best possible situation when you actually need it.”
Newton will battle Brian Hoyer and Jarrett Stidham (whom he called “Hoyster” and “Stiddy”) for a starting job that’s belonged to Brady since Newton was 12 years old.
Though he’s the favorite in the eyes of many, this will be the first time the 31-year-old Newton hasn’t been assured of the starting job since his time at Florida. Despite being his club’s starter for the last 11 seasons, whether it was at Blinn College, Auburn, or Carolina, Newton has approached every practice as if he were fighting for the No. 1 spot. It’s how he stayed sharp.
“Well, as far as compete, you compete every year. Doesn’t matter how much a person’s paid, doesn’t matter how much a person is experienced, doesn’t matter how much a person knows or doesn’t know. I think we all are competing each and every day. I’ve been competing every single day. It didn’t matter what the team was because at the end of the day, you’re one game away [from losing your spot], as I’ve learned in this past year. At the end of the day, it’s just about … proving your worth and doing your part.”
Hoyer, entering year 12 and stint 3 in New England, is taking a similar mind-set.
“For me, you’re still competing every day you go out. Regardless of what the spot is, it’s always a competition. Bill [Belichick] said that numerous times, you’re going to earn what you get. For me, it doesn’t matter if there’s 15 guys in the room. I’m always competing. When Tom was here I was always competing for the starting job, too. Now, I was probably never going to get that, but I always competed like I was going to try to beat him out. That was the only thing I could do to try and make myself better.”
Stidham, who many anointed the starter after Brady’s departure, doesn’t feel intimidated by Newton’s arrival.
“Honestly, I was excited,” Stidham said, when asked his reaction to the Newton signing. “What a great opportunity to compete with another great player … to compete with Hoy and Cam.”
Though the on-field portion of the competition won’t begin for a few weeks — only strength and conditioning coaches are allowed on the field right now — the quarterbacks have been working with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and quarterbacks coach Jedd Fisch in preparation.
Before camp commenced, all three quarterbacks worked with Patriots receivers during some private workouts, many of which were highlighted on social media accounts.
Newton participated in what he called some “rather interesting” workouts with N’Keal Harry, Mohamed Sanu, and Julian Edelman.
“Just to see how their movements are from in and out of cuts, in and out of breaks, and to actually break the ice,” said Newton.
He smiled when asked about an exchange with Edelman, in which the receiver compared the Patriots offense with calculus.
“It was just funny,” he said. “Calculus. At the end of the day, football is still football and you just can’t make too much on it, than what it already is.”
With a condensed preseason and no exhibition games, performance during full pad rep periods will go a long way in determining who ascends to the top of the depth chart. A challenge will be finding enough time and reps to evaluate all the arms.
“There’s no question the more players that you’re trying to rep and get, let’s just call them similar looks, the more difficult it can become,” said McDaniels. “You’ve got to be creative. We’ll use every period in practice, I know that for sure.”
Fisch is looking forward to the more hands-on portion of camp and believes the competition will bring out the best in all the players.
“Rising tides lift all ships,’' he said. “There’s an opportunity for everybody to keep challenging one another.”