Bill Belichick was playing coy as usual during his Monday morning press conference. There was no hint that Cam Newton would not be present on the practice field some 90 minutes later. Nor was Belichick ready to name a starting quarterback for the Sept. 13 opener against Miami, even though all signs point to Newton.
“When we’re ready to do it, we’ll do it,” Belichick said.
But by Monday afternoon, Belichick sure seemed ready to name Newton his starter. Appearing on SiriusXM NFL Radio, the usually reserved Belichick openly gushed about Newton, from his work habits to his personality to his competitiveness.
“Nobody works harder than Cam does,” Belichick said. “Cam’s the type of player that works on things that he’s not as good at, and really tries to improve on a daily basis. And that’s something I really respect about him. That’s not easy for players — really, any of us to do.
“I can see why he had the kind of success he had at Auburn and Carolina.”
Newton, 31, missed practice for the first time Monday, though his absence was excused, per multiple reports. Jarrett Stidham, Brian Hoyer, and rookie Brian Lewerke each got extra work.
Newton has been in Foxborough for only a month, but certainly seems to have fit in well. He already has developed a unique handshake with every member of the starting offense. Julian Edelman recently made a social media post comparing Newton and himself to Superman and Batman. And Newton apparently has won over Belichick, too.
“He’s got a great personality,” Belichick said. “He gets along with everybody, he’s very social and has a great presence, whether it’s in a small room with a couple people or in a bigger group.”
Belichick also raved about Newton’s competitiveness.
“He’s very, very competitive on the field,” Belichick said. “Everybody’s competitive, but I think there are different degrees of it. Looks like, based on what I’ve seen, I would put him in the top echelon of that.”
"Nobody works harder than @CameronNewton."— SiriusXM NFL Radio (@SiriusXMNFL) August 31, 2020
Needless to say, @Patriots coach Bill Belichick has been pleased with his new quarterback.#GoPats | #PatsCamp pic.twitter.com/f00oXOOHoS
The Patriots certainly got a motivated player when they got Newton to agree to a one-year, minimum-salary contract in late June. While the money is short, the Patriots are giving Newton, a former No. 1 overall pick coming off two injury-plagued seasons, the chance to prove that he is healthy, productive, and worthy of being a franchise quarterback again.
But the Patriots didn’t make any promises, other than to let him compete with Stidham and the other quarterbacks.
While Stidham has struggled with a lower-body injury and inconsistency this training camp, Newton, apparently, is crushing his opportunity.
“His competition extends way beyond the field,” said Belichick. “It’s off the field and in meetings and training and so forth. It’s important for him to be the first guy up the hill when we run sprints. It’s important for him to be first in everything that he competes in, and you can see the effort and the amount of energy that he puts into that.”
This was rare praise from Belichick for a player who has been practicing with the team for only four weeks. Even Tom Brady, who won six Super Bowls for the Patriots, sometimes felt that he wasn’t appreciated by Belichick and found praise hard to come by.
But the Patriots certainly have liked what they have seen from Newton.
“Whenever you have a player like Cam, who’s a high-profile player in the league, I think, along with him travel expectations and unfair judgments that have been passed along the way,” said Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater.
“But I’ve really enjoyed my time with Cam. I think he’s a very thoughtful person. I think he cares a great deal about football, and I think he’s tried to really invest relationally in our locker room and in our young players. That’s been fun to watch.
“There’s always going to be outside noise as to what type of person he is, but all we can do is judge people off of our experiences with them. I’ll tell you, it’s been a pleasant experience with Cam thus far.”
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.