By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Bill Belichick is a master at getting his message across without overtly stating it. That is to say, if he doesn’t want a story line or topic to have any life at all, he’ll shut it down abruptly. And if he wants to allow for the possibility of life to another aspect of the football team, he’ll address it generally without necessarily specifying anybody by name.
So, when asked Tuesday if the Patriots have an open competition at quarterback, Belichick’s answer was notable. He didn’t say yes, but he definitely didn’t say no.
Here was Belichick’s response:
“As I said, every one of us has to go out and establish our level of performance in whatever our role or capacity is. So it’s a new season. You know, we’ve done some things in the spring but this is really the start of football season in terms of the team building part here in training camp. So we all have a lot of work to do. That includes all of us. So until we go out and do anything, then it’s pretty much a clean slate.”
In a follow-up question, Belichick was asked specifically if that clean slate applies at quarterback, too.
“Including the coaches and all the players.”
For a man who chooses his words carefully, the message seems clear. If Cam Newton wants to remain the starting quarterback of the New England Patriots, then he better be sharp when the footballs start flying in Foxboro this week. Because unlike on draft night three months ago, there’s no more guarantee that “Cam is our quarterback.”
On the one hand, this could just be generic training camp speak from the man who’s coached at more training camps than most of us can really imagine. The message itself is true enough; players have to prove they’re good at camp in order to make the roster.
It’s different now, of course, because the quarterback position was locked in stone for the past 20 or so years, first with Tom Brady for two decades, then with Newton last year.
Newton’s shaky play in 2020 combined with the first-round selection of Mac Jones out of Alabama creates a dynamic that hasn’t been seen in Foxboro since … 1992?
And though Jones wasn’t perfect in OTAs and minicamp, and while the rookie clearly has some work to do in terms of building an NFL body, the 22-year-old enters the NFL with as impressive a resume as possible. He set an NCAA record last year, completing an absurd 77.4 percent of his passes. He threw 41 touchdowns and just four interceptions, including nine touchdowns and zero picks in two College Football Playoff games, en route to leading the Crimson Tide to a perfect 13-0 record and a national championship.
Newton, entering his 11th year, threw eight touchdowns and 10 interceptions last year with the Patriots. A significant part of that struggle was related to the lack of pass-catching talent on the Patriots’ roster. Still, Newton knows he’ll have to be much, much better in all aspects of his passing game if he wants to remain the starter in New England.
Perhaps Belichick’s comments were made to keep Newton’s attitude locked in for camp. Perhaps it was meant to fire up the rookie to see what he’s got.
But the fact that Belichick didn’t dismiss the conversation out of hand shows that the quarterback reps on the practice field during camp and then the preseason will absolutely be a story worth following this summer in New England.