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Cam Newton embraces ‘put up or shut up’ pressure for Patriots

Cam Newton is facing a big year.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Cam Newton is less than two weeks away from the most significant challenges he’s faced in his career when the Patriots open training camp on July 28. For the first time, he will compete for a starting job, with first-round pick Mac Jones expected to make a strong push to play Week 1.

Given his struggles last year, his relatively inexpensive contract, and Jones’s emergence, Newton has no illusions about his situation coming into the 2021 season.

But the former NFL MVP is showing no signs of wilting under the pressure.

“I know who I am,” Newton said on ESPN Radio’s “Keyshawn, JWill and Zubin” show Thursday morning. “At times, I do remind myself people forget who you are, and what you’ve done. So now I’m in a position where I need to be my best self. It’s really put up or shut up time.”

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The scrutiny around Newton’s position with the Patriots has been intense since Jones was drafted, despite coach Bill Belichick naming Newton the starter heading into the season. Jones’s solid spring practices and steady improvements, mixed with some unevenness from Newton, did nothing to quell the calls for the newcomer to supplant the incumbent.

But the 10-year veteran isn’t letting the competition with Jones become personal, instead praising the rookie.

“I’ve been playing this game long enough to know, like, that’s the right pick,” Newton said of the Patriots’ selection of Jones. “I’ve said it numerous and numerous times. What you’re not going to get out of me is a disgruntled person.

“Mac and Cheese [Jones] is a person who, ever since I’ve seen him, has came on into the locker room with a business approach, doing the initiatives of learning his teammates, understanding that, ‘I’ve got to raise my level of play from the collegiate level to the professional level.’ So when Mac was picked, there was no type of ill-will feelings, and there’s still no ill-will feelings because competition brings out the best in everybody.”

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That competitive spirit may have inspired Newton’s best performance of the spring on the last day of mandatory minicamp — a reminder of what a healthy, confident Newton can do with his arm.

He also said he’s felt “a shift in comfort in knowing more” of the Patriots’ offense after learning on the fly during last year’s unusual offseason. Combined with a (hopefully) clean bill of health after years of injuries, Newton could take advantage of a revamped receiving corps, especially new tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, and return to something resembling his pre-injury form.

Can Cam Newton bounce back in 2021?John Tlumacki

Of course, he acknowledged, all that talk is cheap until the real practices begin.

“Me having this conversation in July is irrelevant,” he said. “This is just going to be the clickbait for the next 24 to 48 hours — ‘This is how Cam feels.’ But truth be told, nothing is going to matter until July 22 [when he reports to the team facility].

“For me, the Patriots’ organization has been impeccable. So my time there has been everything I could have asked for. I guess it’s now time for me to uphold my end of the bargain, through and through.”