BOSTON (AP) — Like all NFL teams, the Patriots face a variety of unknowns heading into a 2020 season in the midst of the ongoing pandemic.
So it’s no surprise Bill Belichick is being coy about his expectations for the quarterback position as his team prepares for the start of training camp.
Assuming he’s healthy coming off foot surgery in December, free agent pickup and 2015 MVP Cam Newton would seem the front-runner to win the job over second-year Jarrett Stidham and veteran backup Brian Hoyer as they vie to succeed Tom Brady following his departure to Tampa Bay.
Belichick said the evaluation process hasn’t started with no work on the field yet as 80 players began arriving at the team facility this week.
“That spot’s the same as all the others on the team,” Belichick said Friday during a conference call with reporters. “We’ve got a long way to go. I can’t control how players perform. That’s up to them. We’ll give everybody an opportunity and we’ll see what happens.”
Newton was released in March by Carolina, the team he’d been with since being selected as the top draft pick in 2011. His best season was 2015 when he led the Panthers to a 15-1 record in the regular season and an NFC championship. He threw for 3,837 yards and combined for 35 touchdowns en route to earning league MVP honors.
But the foot injury limited him to two games in 2019. That was after a shoulder injury also severely hampered him in 2018.
During a roundtable discussion earlier this month with Odell Beckham Jr., Todd Gurley and Victor Cruz, Newton said that the specter of trying to replace Brady was “the elephant in the room” surrounding his signing. He also acknowledged wondering how “me and Belichick are going to mesh?”
He’s attempted to answer by trying to begin the jelling process with existing Patriots players prior to reporting to camp.
Newton has been all over social media in recent weeks while working out with Patriots receivers. A photo posted Friday on Julian Edelman's Instagram page showed Edelman and Newton posing with Patriots receivers Jakobi Meyers, Damiere Byrd, N’Keal Harry and Gunner Olszewski after a workout session.
It’s a sign of the kind of desire Newton said he has inside to prove himself to teams that passed on him in free agency.
“You’re getting a dog. You’re getting one of these ticked-off dogs, too,” he said during the roundtable.
Belichick is choosing to start training camp with 80 players instead of 90. Starting with 90 would mean they’d have to break into two practice groups. By staying at 80 he said he can keep everyone together. All teams must cut down to 80 players by Aug. 16.
“We felt like this was the best option for our team, so that’s why we did it,” Belichick said.
The roster has already taken a hit after six players, including starting linebacker Dont’a Hightower, safety Patrick Chung and tackle Marcus Cannon, opted out of playing the season over concerns about COVID-19. Running back Brandon Bolden, fullback Danny Vitale and offensive lineman Najee Toran also elected to skip the season.
Belichick declined to say if any players had tested positive for coronavirus since they began reporting to camp. But he said the team will adjust as necessary, adding he respects the players who have already decided not to play,
“Each one of us is unique and we all have different lives, situations, families, environments,” he said. “So there’s no two situations that are the same. Everybody will have to make their own decision on that."
Belichick said he is unsure whether more players will exercise that option before training camp officially opens with an acclimation period next week.
“I have no way (of knowing). No crystal ball. It’s kind of cloudy right now,” he said.
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