By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Friday marked the first full-on media day for the New England Patriots in the 2020 NFL season. Unsurprisingly, the main topic of conversation — whether the chat involved coaches or players from the offensive or defensive side of the ball — of course revolved around one Cameron Jerrell Newton.
The 31-year-old quarterback was the MVP of the entire league just five seasons ago, when he led the Panthers to a 15-1 record and a Super Bowl appearance. Injuries have really inhibited Newton from building upon that MVP season, to the point where he found himself released by the Panthers this offseason and left unemployed for 86 nights — a duration which he carefully tracked.
At the end of that unknown stretch, though, Newton landed himself a job with the New England Patriots, the greatest dynasty of the salary cap era, and a team that had just said farewell to Tom Brady, the greatest quarterback of all time.
And though more than a month has now passed, Newton said Friday that he still finds that landing spot difficult to fully believe.
“Man listen. I’m still constantly — I don’t want to say in disbelief at this particular point in time, man — but it’s just a surreal moment. Guys, nobody really knows how excited I am just to be a part of this organization,” Newton said via video conference call. “In many ways — one, just following up such a powerful dynasty that is enriched in so much prestige, a lineage of success. For me, a lot of people would hide from the notion to do certain things. But for me, man, I think this opportunity is something that … I wake up pinching myself each and every day.
“And it’s so surreal, coming down 1 Patriot Place each and every day, and seeing the whole ambiance,” Newton continued. “Not only that, but seeing so much support around this team in Boston and Foxboro, it’s just such a great environment. … It was crazy. I found myself just putting on shirts, that’s like … I don’t know when that moment’s gonna be, but I’m just gonna keep doing what I’m supposed to do while I’m a member of the Patriots so that some day it will click that this is the norm.”
While Newton’s arrival came with plenty of fanfare and national attention, the Patriots have maintained across the board that Newton will have to compete for the starting quarterback job with second-year QB Jarrett Stidham and veteran backup Brian Hoyer. Newton — who referred to his fellow QBs as “Hoysty” and “Stiddy” — was careful to not take anything for granted at his new workplace.
“My job is to come here and compete, put this team in the best situation to win, do my part, be as accessible to the team to Coach Belichick and to Coach McDaniels as possible, and to just get better each and every day,” Newton said, already sounding like a seasoned Patriot at the podium. “We all have a challenge in our everyday life with trying to be the best particular person that’s possible, and it’s no different in the professional realm. My job every single day is to just become the best professional quarterback that I can possibly be. … I’m just looking forward to the challenge.”
While Newton’s resume far exceeds both players’ combined NFL accomplishments, Newton stressed numerous times on Friday that he works every day to try to match his own expectations and goals for himself.
“I don’t have to prove nothing — especially not to nobody. Now I have to prove it myself. That’s the daily challenge,” Newton said. “I don’t think nobody’s expectations will ever surpass my expectations for myself. I’m just looking forward to the challenge, and knowing and picking up this whole system — not only the philosophical way of the offense but also how things are run. This isn’t a team — I’ve only been kind of geared toward one particular team in one particular city. But now moving to a whole other residence has kind of put the onus of trying to adapt, and that is something that has been rather the interesting part.”
On that part of the equation, Newton’s work with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels figures to be a critical element. Though the team has yet to hit the practice field to play any real football, both McDaniels and Newton said that their relationship is progressing well in the early going.
“I think it’s our job to help every player figure out how to process the information and go out and be able to play fast and be aggressive on the football field. I really do. I know we’re asking a lot about the quarterback position, but it applies to all new players,” McDaniels said. “[Newton] is a smart football player. He’s played a lot of football. He’s seen a lot of stuff. Guys in our league rarely have the type of success that he has had in his past without understanding the game. So he learns well.”
Earlier this summer, Newton shared a quote from Julian Edelman on Instagram, in which Edelman warned Newton about the Patriots’ complex playbook by saying “this [bleep] is calculus.”
“Yeah, that’s what [Edelman] said. First time I called him, we were both excited just to be on the phone with each other. Then all of a sudden he just said, hey bro, this ‘explicit’ is calculus. And he said it and it was just funny — from that whole 15 minute conversation, that’s the only thing that I remember. It’s calculus! You know, at the end of the day, football is still football, and you can’t make it too much than what it already is. Josh has been there every step of the way, as well as Coach Jedd [Fisch], and we’ve just been hammering away. All the quarterbacks have been trying to learn this whole system for what it’s worth, and we’ve been assisting each other on that as well.”
While coaches were quick to speak often about the competition at the quarterback position rather than discussing Newton as a starter, inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo shared how someone like Newton can help the defensive side of the ball during practice.
“When you look at our schedule this year, we’re going to play a bunch of mobile quarterbacks. 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,” Mayo said. “Looking forward to the challenge. I think Cam is a heck of a player.
From his own playing days with the Patriots, Mayo remains familiar with the scouting report on Newton.
“I remember a big, fast, strong, physical guy. And any time he got into the second level, I mean, he was trying to run over everyone,” Mayo said. “But he can sling it as well. So I don’t put him in this category as far as a quarterback who just likes to run. This guy, he also has a great arm and can make all the throws.”
As for actually making those throws, it’s proven to be quite difficult for Newton in recent years, as he’s undergone two surgeries on his throwing shoulder. Combined with a foot injury that cost him almost all of last season (and forced him under the knife once again), Newton’s recent injury history is extensive.
But on the positive front, Newton rehabbed hard through the winter and has never stopped working out through his unemployed spring and summer. When it comes to hitting the field healthy, Newton is ready to let it rip.
“At this particular point in time,” Newton said, “I am a full go.”