Patriots

Takeaways from Day 2 of Patriots camp: Cam Newton turns heads with strong finish

Cam Newton shook off an uneven start with one of his best team drills of 2021 while Mac Jones faltered to end practice.

Cam Newton Patriots
Cam Newton. Steven Senne/AP
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Anyone who expected a day full of quarterbacks airing it out during Thursday’s Patriots training camp practice didn’t get what they came for at first. The team focused heavily on the run game to start off team segments as the squad builds up to padded practices, which can begin next Tuesday.

Then, once the throwing began, it felt like a repeat of yesterday: nothing to write home about with Mac Jones continually looking like he could rise up and steal the quarterback competition from the incumbent Cam Newton.

Six plays at the end of practice flipped that narrative on its head — at least for today.

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After a rough finish to yesterday’s practice, it was the veteran Newton making the biggest statement of the day and the rookie looking like, well, a rookie. In the process, the former MVP gave a glimpse of the improvements he could make on last year’s performance, though more consistency is still needed.

Here are the big takeaways from Thursday’s Patriots practice as well as a number

Cam Newton picks it up.

Sitting in the media tent just before the last team segment of practice, one could hear the whispers already.

Mac Jones might be the starter by the first preseason game. Newton’s probably done. All that talk about improving his mechanics, and he’s no different.

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To be sure, Newton’s penultimate 11-on-11 segment left a lot to be desired. Though he had a possible touchdown throw dropped by Jakobi Meyers on a slant route, he sailed one over an open Hunter Henry down the seam for a potential score and missed low to Henry again for the last throw of the drill.

Where was the guy that lit up the last day of training camp – the one that needs to show up consistently if he’s to save his job?

That former MVP-type form finally revealed itself in on his last six plays of practice.

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Newton went 5-for-6 with a crisp performance that included a strike to Jonnu Smith off of play-action and two straight touchdown tosses to Brandon Bolden and Henry.

The Bolden throw was arguably the best of the day by any quarterback: an out-route delivered before Bolden had left his break, perfectly on the sideline away from the defender. That level of anticipation has too often eluded Newton in spring practice and his first two days of camp.

The Henry touchdown somewhat redeemed his earlier miss to a similar spot and also spoke to Newton’s comfort level throwing in the middle of the field to tight ends. Look for those two to hook up frequently if the incumbent earns the job.

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After the segment, Newton got a visit from head coach Bill Belichick, who seemed to be showing his approval for the performance.

What had been a fairly pedestrian, maybe even slightly below-average, day for Newton turned on a dime, which is notable after his rough finish to Wednesday’s practice. He’ll need more moments like this to seize the starting quarterback job.

Mac Jones gets a taste of adversity.

For about the first hour-and-a-half of practice, Jones again looked a bit better than Newton on the whole despite the two having similar “stats” for the day. He also had one of the best throws of the morning to Jakobi Meyers during 7-on-7s – a corner route for a red zone touchdown that combined touch, timing and anticipation in a way Jones frequently has this spring and summer.

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Then, things got tough for the rookie, who endured arguably the most frustrating practice stretch he’s had yet as a Patriot.

His 1-for-3 showing during his second-to-last team segment wasn’t necessarily bad on the whole, but his last miss of the period – a slightly overthrown ball to N’Keal Harry in the back left corner of the end zone – stood out because it was exactly the kind of throw he feasted on Wednesday morning.

The uncharacteristic performance continued throughout Jones’s last six plays of practice.

His first pass to Jakobi Meyers was broken up by Joejuan Williams. He spiked his second into the ground on a crossing route at Meyers’s feet – a throw that obviously irked him. After a quick-strike completion to tight end Troy Fumagalli, he threw wide of Meyers on two straight plays – first on a slant that should’ve been a touchdown and then out the side of the end zone.

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He did finish with the short touchdown throw to Sony Michel, but his anger with the misfires was palpable.

Jones, not unlike Newton at one point during minicamp, took his helmet off and stormed off the field as the field goal unit ended the practice. Both Brian Hoyer and Newton came over and talked to him, with the visual of the veteran comforting the rookie trying to take his job resonating to close out the day.

The first-round pick has looked like a rookie before, of course. But this was one of the first times he repeatedly struggled after generally bouncing back well from mistakes in the past. He has discussed in the past how harshly he critiques his own performance, and it seemed like the perfectionism got the best of him Thurdsay.

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It’s a reminder that Jones is still learning how to navigate the ups and downs of the NFL, even though he’s progressing steadily so far in his rookie campaign. He had plenty of “good bucket” moments to build on going into Friday’s practice. We’ll see how he handles the “bad bucket” plays and rebounds.

Quick hitters

— Jones undoubtedly strikes a unique figure among the quarterbacks both in terms of physical stature and in the easy way in which he throws the football.

An early warm-up drill gave the rookie a chance to reveal another piece of his personal style of playing the position.

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During the drill, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels instructed the quarterbacks to drop back and throw a pump-fake toward their right before hitting a stationary target along the numbers to the same side. Specifically, McDaniels mimicked taking his left hand off the ball to throw the fake, then re-gathering and delivering the ball.

Both Newton and Hoyer, who went before Jones, practiced the drill that way – taking a hand off the ball for their fakes before throwing.

Jones, however, kept both hands on the football and instead threw a quick (almost to the point of being imperceptible) shoulder fake to the target before releasing the ball. He later used a more exaggerated version of that shoulder fake during a later segment with receivers.

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This move isn’t new, nor is it strange that different quarterbacks throw pump-fakes in different ways.

But it is interesting to see these little details about how the first-round pick operates. It might not look as flashy as the one-handed pump-fakes of Newton, Ben Roethlisberger or even Tom Brady. But as long as it gets the reaction out of the defense that he wants, that’s all that matters.

–The Patriots got their first look at new camp quarterback Jake Dolegala, who was signed Wednesday after news came down that Jarrett Stidham is out indefinitely due to an injury. Belichick confirmed the third-year Pats quarterback “will miss some time” before practice.

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Dolegala didn’t get any run in team segments and probably won’t make the team assuming everyone else stays healthy. But the 6-foot-7, 240-pounder certainly looks the part on the field and has a lively arm. We’ll see if he gets a chance to show his skills in preseason competition over the next few weeks.

–The defense didn’t have quite as impactful a day as it did yesterday, which happens sometimes as safety Adrian Phillips hinted Wednesday. But what doesn’t happen as much are the mental errors the Patriots defensive unit displayed.

At one point, both Davon Godchaux and Deatrich Wise Jr. jumped offsides during a red-zone drill after Newton threw a hard count. The infraction earned the offense a free play, though Newton wasn’t able to connect with a receiver in the end zone. Godchaux and Wise took a lap after the play as punishment.

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Then, the defense couldn’t get the correct personnel group on the field at the start of a team segment, causing a hold-up in practice and earning a rare on-field scolding from Belichick.

–Running back Damien Harris took a tumble during a pursuit drill in which receivers catch a pass from the quarterback and run away from defenders.

As Harris tried to run up the sideline, he got tangled up with a hard-charging Kyle Van Noy and was slow to get up from the turf. He did get up on his own and spent some time with trainers, with Van Noy and other running backs checking in on him.

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By the end of practice, the former Crimson Tide running back appeared as strong and good-spirited as ever and spoke to reporters before heading inside.

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