By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — Any way you break it down, Cam Newton struggled as a passer in his first season with the Patriots last year.

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While a part of that had to do with personnel, and while another part of it had to do with some bad throws, the fact that Newton didn’t get a real offseason or any preseason to learn the Patriots’ offense surely didn’t help matters.

Now with a year under his belt and a full spring of OTAs and minicamp, the veteran QB is in better position to perform this year for the Patriots.

“Yeah, well, Cam is way ahead of where he was last year at this time, there’s no question about that, as you would expect,” Bill Belichick said on Tuesday morning, before the team’s second minicamp practice. “He has a good year of experience under his belt, and we’ll start the process at the beginning, and not being in catch-up mode like he was last year.”

Newton of course didn’t sign with the Patriots until June 28 last year. Considering teams didn’t hold OTAs or minicamps last year amid the COVID-19 pandemic, he didn’t miss any on-field instruction. But Newton still had a very short window to learn the Patriots’ playbook, and he had no preseason games or joint practice sessions to get live reps in that offense.

“I mean he was really just starting at this point last season, but he’s well ahead of that, just from the year of experience and from the the succession of building blocks that he’s been able to stack up,” Belichick said. “Like all the players that have been here since the start of the OTA and the offseason program back in April, they’ve been able to stack those days and those learning experiences together, ask questions on things that they need clarification on, and build to the next level when they’re ready to put another put another brick on the pile.”

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This year is obviously a bit different for Newton. He proved last year that he could stay healthy. This year, on another one-year deal, he’ll be looking to prove he can still be one of the better quarterbacks in the league while also fending off competition from first-round pick Mac Jones.

How well Newton does in that endeavor won’t be known for sometime. Through training camp and the preseason, the Patriots will get a better idea of which quarterback will give them the best chance to win when the season kicks off in September.

As for that competition, Belichick offered some general observations on the dynamic at play among the four quarterbacks — Newton, Jones, Jarrett Stidham, and Brian Hoyer — on the roster.

“They’re all hard working, they all put in a lot of time and ask good questions, really try to stay on top of the material,” Belichick said. “Brian, of course, has the most experience. Jarrett and Cam both have experience in a little different ways — Jarrett’s been with us a little bit longer, Cam’s obviously had more NFL experience and the playing experience from last year. And Mac has the least amount, but he’s learning quickly and working hard at it. So we’ll see how it all goes but they’ve done a good job of trying to process the information that we’ve given them. Josh [McDaniels] obviously does a great job with quarterbacks and Bo [Hardegree] is helping him out there as well. So we’ll see where it all takes us.”

For now, though, Newton is simply in a much better spot than he was a year ago at this time, when he was still looking for work.

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“That’s good for all of us. It’s good for Cam. It’s good for all the players that go through that process,” Belichick said.