Patriots quarterbacks talked competition, expectations, replacing Tom Brady

"I wake up pinching myself each and every day, and it’s so surreal coming down One Patriot Place each and every day and seeing the whole ambiance."

Cam Newton
Cam Newton in 2019. –AP Photo/Mike McCarn, File

Cam Newton and fellow Patriots quarterbacks spoke to the media for the first time since reporting to New England for the (unusual) start of training camp.

Both Brian Hoyer and Jarrett Stidham also conducted virtual press conferences, but unsurprisingly it was the 31-year-old Newton who attracted the most attention. More than 80 media members tuned in to hear what the July free agent signing had to say.

His arrival in 2020 corresponded with Tom Brady’s exit, a progression that was a predictable topic of discussion.

“It’s a breath of fresh air, to be honest with you,” Newton said when asked about coming to New England, albeit to replace Brady. “A challenge I have to accept each and every day. But no challenge is ever going to be greater than the personal challenge that I challenge myself personally. We all know what that was, and what that is, and it needs no mention. But at the same time, for me, I think I have my hands full trying to learn as much as possible in a short period of time.”

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And like Newton, second-year quarterback Jarrett Stidham (who also attended Auburn) isn’t thinking about the post-Brady era in those specific terms.

“I don’t really look at it as replacing Tom Brady,” said Stidham. “I just want to be myself. I want to be a leader for this team and be the best teammate that I can be for this team.”

That Stidham is talking in terms of possibly replacing Brady is indicative of a larger Patriots theme: For the first time in years, New England enters training camp with a quarterback competition.

Asked about having to compete for his job for the first time since he entered the NFL as a No. 1 overall pick in 2011, Newton had a sweeping response.

“Well as far as competing, you compete every year,” Newton explained. “Doesn’t matter how much a person’s paid, doesn’t matter how much a person [has] experience, doesn’t matter how much a person knows or doesn’t know. I think we’re all competing each and every day and I’ve been competing every single day. Doesn’t matter what the team was, because at the end of the day, you’re one game away [from losing your job] as I’ve learned in this past year.

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“At the end of the day,” Newton added, “it’s just about proving your worth and doing your part.”

Newton, the 2015 NFL MVP, was released by the Panthers in March after lingering injury issues led the team that had originally drafted him to move on. He remained a free agent well into the summer.

“Honestly, the wait was so long that I’d be lying to you if I didn’t say that a lot of different pretensions didn’t kind of creep into your mind,” Newton admitted. “But yet through it all I had an unbelievable supporting cast.”

Though Newton couldn’t recall the exact circumstances of first learning of New England’s interest in him, he said he was “blown away” by the Patriots’ “professionalism” in the process.

He explained his enthusiasm for being with a new team.

“I’m still constantly in — I don’t want to say disbelief at this particular point in time, but it’s a surreal moment,” said Newton. “Nobody really knows how excited I am just to be a part of this organization, in many [more] ways than one.

“Just following up such a powerful dynasty [that] is enriched in so much prestige, lineage and success that for me a lot of people would hide from the notion to do certain things,” Newton continued. “But to me, I think this opportunity is something I wake up pinching myself each and every day, and it’s so surreal coming down One Patriot Place each and every day and seeing the whole ambiance.”

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Questions remain about whether Bill Belichick and Newton can work together effectively.

In Newton’s words, football is a universal language.

“I’ll just say there’s a perception, but at the end of the day, it’s football,” said Newton. “I’ve loved it ever since I’ve been here. I’ve been here going on a week now. And you hear rumors about certain things, but once you finally get settled in on things like that, none of that really matters. It’s just all about finding a way to prove your worth on the team.”

Alongside Newton and Stidham will be veteran Brian Hoyer. The 34-year-old is native of Ohio, yet he admitted he was planning to become a full-time New Englander even before the team brought him back in free agency in March.

“It was an easy decision for me,” Hoyer told reporters. “For me, my wife and my family we actually decided to make New England home last fall. We bought a house here last November. We were moving back here and I planned on kind of commuting if I was still with Indianapolis. When this opportunity came I was obviously eager to jump at it.”

The Patriots, according to Belichick, are still in Phase 1 of the NFL’s special protocol due to the coronavirus pandemic. The team tentatively plans to begin padded practices on Aug. 17.

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