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ben volin | on football

Cam Newton brings a new weapon to the Patriots: his legs

Cam Newton ranks third all-time in rushing yards by a quarterback.
Cam Newton ranks third all-time in rushing yards by a quarterback.Mike McCarn/Associated Press

There is no comparison between the résumés of Tom Brady and Cam Newton, of course.

While Newton has won an MVP award and led his team to a Super Bowl appearance, there is no question that Brady, even at 43 years old, is a more proficient passer, a more accomplished winner, and even more durable than Newton.

But there is one area in which Newton unequivocally has Brady beat — with his feet.

Cam Newton runs up field against the Dolphins in a 2017 contest.
Cam Newton runs up field against the Dolphins in a 2017 contest.Mike McCarn

Brady has been deadly with his arm and brain, but he runs with the ball only as a last resort. He has averaged 54.6 rushing yards per season, or 3.7 yards per game.

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But Newton is a threat on the ground, bringing an entirely new dynamic to the Patriots offense (assuming he beats out Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer for the job, of course).

“It’s certainly not something I’m accustomed to using a great deal,” Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said.

In just eight full seasons as the Panthers quarterback, Newton has become one of the NFL’s all-time great rushing quarterbacks. He’s third in NFL history with 4,806 rushing yards, behind Randall Cunningham (4,928) and Michael Vick (6,109). Newton’s 58 rushing touchdowns and 7.5 rushing attempts per game are the most all-time for QBs.

For McDaniels, plays that used to be 10-on-11 with Brady are now 11-on-11 with Newton. The Patriots can now call designed runs for their quarterback, or read-option plays.

“Cam makes you account for that extra player,” said ESPN analyst and 11-year NFL quarterback Dan Orlovsky. “When you have a running quarterback, you have now evened the running game, and it becomes one-on-one football truly in the run game.”

The Patriots had a hard time containing Cam Newton in this 2013 game.
The Patriots had a hard time containing Cam Newton in this 2013 game.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Newton’s athleticism could help compensate for a Patriots receiving corps that has few proven weapons behind Julian Edelman and James White.

“It takes away or minimizes their greatest weakness, because their weakness is 100 percent their skill players on the outside,” Orlovsky said. “And it accentuates or maximizes their strengths, which is the offensive line and run game.”

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Newton’s résumé features an impressive list of dual-threat accomplishments. Among them: Most career games with one passing touchdown and one rushing TD (32); only player in NFL history with 30 passing TDs and 10 rushing TDs in a season (2015); and first player with 4,000 passing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns in one season (2011).

Newton has rare speed for someone who stands 6 feet 5 inches and 245 pounds, with runs of 56, 69, and 72 yards in his career. He also can run right over defenders, with 1,621 of his career rushing yards (33.7 percent) coming after first contact.

“I just remember a big, fast, strong physical guy, and any time he got to the second level, he was trying to run over everyone,” said Patriots linebackers coach Jerod Mayo.

Cam Newton has done well when it comes to making something out of a broken play, like he did here against New England a few years ago.
Cam Newton has done well when it comes to making something out of a broken play, like he did here against New England a few years ago.Jim Davis

Newton may be most dangerous on third down, when he can take a broken play and pick up the first down with a scramble. Newton has converted 179 third downs with his feet since entering the NFL in 2011, finishing first among quarterbacks in every season except 2018, when he was second.

“The designed runs, I don’t think you have to do a lot of them, but I think if you do just enough, and sprinkle it in, you give the defense something they have to prepare for,” said Norv Turner, Newton’s offensive coordinator in 2018, on a recent SiriusXM show. “And the threat I always thought was Cam’s biggest was when the play broke down and he was able to take off and run, particularly on third down, and get those big first downs on third down.”

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Newton also can help the Patriots defense prepare to face other athletic quarterbacks on this year’s schedule: Lamar Jackson, Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes, Kyler Murray, Deshaun Watson, Tyrod Taylor, and Josh Allen.

“When you look at our schedule this year, we’re going to play a bunch of mobile quarterbacks,” Mayo said. “So any time you can go against a mobile quarterback each and every day in practice, it will definitely get us better on the defensive side of the ball. We’re looking forward to the challenge.”

Many of Cam Newton's runs have ended with him celebrating in the end zone.
Many of Cam Newton's runs have ended with him celebrating in the end zone.Joe Mahoney/Associated Press

Of course, there’s a major question: Are the Patriots getting the big bad Cam Newton that can run over defenders? Newton has nine years of NFL wear and tear on his body, lost most of his 2019 season to a foot injury, and is about 18 months removed from surgery on his throwing shoulder.

He said last week that he is “full go” for Patriots camp, and “as far as how I feel right now, I feel amazing.”

Newton also has spent the last several years trying to slim down. Former Carolina coach Ron Rivera previously said that Newton played the 2016 season at 265 pounds, and Newton said during 2017 training camp that he was at his actual playing weight of 245 pounds for the first time since college. In 2019, Newton embraced a vegan diet, and said he was targeting 235 pounds.

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An unnamed coach recently told The Athletic, “I don’t think he is Superman any more. … Cam was 265 and bigger than everybody. He looks skinny now, like he is 235 and wants to have ripped abs, and that’s his choice. Is he going to have that power running element?”

Turner, currently not coaching, doesn’t think Newton’s health will be an issue.

“I would have to think that New England, before they signed him, were pretty darned thorough in terms of making sure they knew he was healthy,” Turner said.

But no one, not even Newton himself, knows if he will be the same runner when he hits the field with the Patriots next month.

“The first thing is, ‘What’s Cam’s willingness to be a runner still?’ ” Orlovsky said. “That’s a question that has to be answered. We haven’t seen that since the injury.”



Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin.