It’s all different this spring for Cam Newton.
Last year at this time, the former NFL MVP had been unseated from his perch in the Panthers pocket; he had no football home, and he had no idea what his future held.
All in the midst of a pandemic.
He signed with New England in late June and headed to training camp without the benefit of OTAs or minicamp, and with minimal knowledge about how business was conducted at One Patriot Place.
It was a most unusual position, as Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels explained Thursday.
“He was certainly at a point when he got here that was a unique situation, having really no experience or exposure to our system prior to training camp starting,” McDaniels said. “I honestly can’t remember another time in my career where we’ve had a player that has done that.
“Even the rookies that get drafted, they get information prior to the end of the spring. So, it was a unique scenario.”
Still, Newton seized the starting job, and despite dealing with the coronavirus and struggling with inconsistency and turnovers, he led the Patriots to seven wins. This year, Newton has been all-in on the offseason program, front and center at organized team activities, as he battles to solidify his spot atop the depth chart.
The differences have been noticeable, according to McDaniels.
“He worked his butt off last year to do it, and then he came back certainly this year in a much different position,” said McDaniels. “He has a different grasp of the offense, a different understanding of the terminology.
“And now we’re working on refining the precision, the details, and I always talk to the quarterbacks about trying to master the operation and the things we need them to do. And there’s always work to be done in that area. I don’t care what quarterback you’re talking about, there’s always work to be done.”
Newton has talked about improving his arm mechanics and footwork this offseason, and has been doing that. As McDaniels noted, it’s important for not only Newton, but the entire quarterback corps, to be on top of all the little things.
“Every quarterback has to continue to work on those things,” he said. “Some may have more refined fundamentals in one area or another. Whether that’s throwing mechanics, footwork, shoulders, stride, follow-through, movement in the pocket.”
McDaniels emphasized his point using an analogy that many can relate to.
“It’s like a golfer’s swing, you know what I mean?” he said. “If there’s one thing off with the swing, you could shoot a high number.
“In terms of refining and working at quarterback fundamentals, it’s the nonstop, never-ending process, and [Newton] has really worked hard at it.
“We’re going to continue to work really hard at it with the days we have left in the spring to refine his, and everybody else’s at that position as well, because like I said, I don’t think it’s ever a finished product.”
Patricia a pillar
Bill Belichick said last week he was happy to have Matt Patricia back in the fold and that Patricia’s “advice and counsel and presence have been valuable for us in a lot of ways.”
Outside linebackers coach Steve Belichick echoed his father’s comments, saying he was “excited to have Matty P back,” and the pair enjoy a close relationship going back to Steve’s early days in the program.
“Obviously I’ve grown up under my dad in and outside of the building,” said Steve, “but Matt was the guy who I really worked under directly when I was in [quality control] and when I started, him being the defensive coordinator.
“So he’s a huge part of the foundation that I’ve built as a coach, and I appreciate everything he’s done for me. And, like I said, happy to have him back and have another pillar to lean on.’'
Since his return, Patricia has worked on draft and talent evaluation, contract negotiations, and was on the field for last week’s OTA practice session.
Running backs coach Ivan Fears, who is entering his 31st NFL season and 25th with the Patriots, hinted that he could be near the end of the coaching line. “I’ll let my body determine that one,” said the always-affable Fears. “The signs are coming quickly. I ain’t no way in the world moving like I used to. Father Time is coming fast. He’s on my back pretty damn good.” … Sixth-round pick Joshuah Bledsoe, a safety, is recovering from wrist surgery. “He has been mentally engaged and he’s trying to get better every day and improve,” said safeties coach Brian Belichick … Wide receivers coach Mick Lombardi met former Patriots receiver Chris Hogan right before Lombardi’s media session Thursday. “I enjoyed my conversation with him,” said Lombardi. “If he wants to come out and be an assistant receiver coach or help out at any point, I’ll take any pointers.” Hogan is back at Gillette for the Premier Lacrosse League’s opening weekend. He plays for the Cannons … Count Jerod Mayo among the countless New Englanders suffering through a brutal pollen season. “My allergies are bothering me,” the inside linebackers coach said. “Other than that, it’s been good.” … Noted caffeine guy Cam Achord, the club’s special teams coordinator, said he’s been trying to cut down to three cups of coffee a day.