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On the same night Bill Belichick drafted a quarterback in the first round for the first time in his career, he made it clear that Cam Newton wasn’t being immediately supplanted as the team’s starting quarterback for Mac Jones.
But when Belichick met with reporters Tuesday before training camp practices begin a day later, his tune changed ever so slightly and he didn’t entirely put down the notion of there being an open competition for the starting quarterback job between the veteran and the rookie.
Jun 16, 2021; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton (1) participates in a drill during the New England Patriots mini camp at the New England Patriots practice complex.
“Every one of us has to go out and establish our level of performance in whatever our role or capacity is,” Belichick said. “It’s a new season. 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. We all have a lot of work to do. That includes all of us. So we go out and do anything, so it’s pretty much a clean slate.”
More:The five top storylines heading into Patriots training camp
When the New England Patriots hit the field for their first official practices of the summer, the spotlight will certainly shine the brightest on Newton and Jones.
Newton struggled throughout his first season with the Patriots last year, showing a better ability to move the offense with his legs than his arm as he threw only 8 touchdowns compared to 10 interceptions.
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Jones, who the Patriots selected at No. 15 overall back in April, came onto the team with lofty expectations before ever taking a snap given the organization hadn’t used a first-round pick on a quarterback since drafting Drew Bledsoe with the top choice in 1993. Leading Alabama to a national championship while completing a sterling 77.4 percent of his passes on the season also raised the hype around Jones that he could make the transition to the NFL quicker than other rookies at his position.
Jun 10, 2021; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (50) participates in drills during OTAs at the New England Patriots practice complex.
Jones seemed to get a hold of things rather quickly, impressing during minicamp and OTAs while Newton worked through a hand injury. Grasping the offense was something Newton said was difficult for him and he has worked to become more comfortable pre-snap before trying to execute the Patriots attack.
More:Cam Newton trying to have better understanding of Patriots offense as QB battle heats up
How Jones handles learning the offense remains to be fully seen and could decide who ends up winning the position battle.
“Every year is pretty much a clean slate for me with everybody,” Belichick said. “Myself, other coaches that have a lot of experience, players that have a lot of experience, we all have to start all over again. New players, how fast and what kind of impact they’ll have there’s really no way of knowing or predicting. You just have to take it day by day and see how it comes along.”
Starting center David Andrews didn’t tip his hand on which quarterback might have the early edge at the start of training camp.
Andrews plans to work with both Jones and Newton as he looks to form a solid relationship with all the quarterbacks on the depth chart, something Andrews said he has done throughout his career.
More:Patriots using first-round pick on Mac Jones signals him as quarterback of the future
“I’ve always tried to build a relationship with whatever quarterbacks we have because we’re going to work together at some point. I don’t ever exclusively work with one quarterback,” Andrews said. “It’s just like there’s going to be different guards playing beside me and different centers playing next to Shaq Mason at times. You try to build that rapport with everybody because obviously guys are going to be injured and there are going to be changes at times.”
Business side of things
After bypassing OTAs and minicamp earlier this offseason, All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who partially tore his quad last December, arrived for training camp last Thursday, reporting with the other injured players on the roster.
Dec 10, 2020; Inglewood, California, USA; Los Angeles Rams tight end Tyler Higbee (89) runs against New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore (24) in the first quarter at SoFi Stadium.
But that doesn’t mean all is resolved with Gilmore’s contract. All indications are Gilmore is still looking for a new deal as he is set to be paid $7 million this year, which is well below market value for the top cornerbacks in the league.
More:Report: Stephon Gilmore holdout appears over as he reports to Patriots training camp
While Gilmore went public with his displeasure over his contract, Belichick wouldn’t broach the topic.
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“We’re not going to talk publicly about contracts,” Belichick said.
Belichick stuck to that same play in his playbook when asked about wide receiver N’Keal Harry, who came out earlier this month and asked for a trade through his agent.
“I’m not going to talk about contracts and personal situations,” Belichick said.
Gilmore’s situation takes priority over Harry’s given the substantial impact Gilmore, the 2019 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, has made on the Patriots while Harry has been a bust since being selected in the first round out of Arizona State.
Gilmore opens training camp on the active/physically unable to perform list as he continues to rehab his quad. He can come off that list and get right to practicing at any time, and his teammate Devin McCourty know the value of his return.
“All that stuff usually gets resolved,” McCourty said. “Whenever a player’s contract comes up, it’s between the player and the team. That will all be figured out. It was good seeing my guy again. Like I’ve always said, he’s one of the best corners in this league. He’s been the best guy for the last couple of years, obviously Defensive MVP. He’s really made this defense operate at a different level when he’s out there. Any time get an opportunity to be out there on the field with him gives us a better chance of winning, makes us a better defense. It’s great having him here in the locker room and on this team.”
Belichick couldn’t put a percentage on it, but he felt a good portion of his team had received a COVID-19 vaccination on the precipice of training camp.
Jun 16, 2021; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots defensive lineman Carl Davis (98) reacts during the New England Patriots mini camp at the New England Patriots practice complex.
“Quite a few of them. Most of them probably,” Belichick said. “Whatever the protocols are, we’ll follow them. Those are individual decisions.”
To try to encourage more players to get vaccinated, the NFL implemented tough penalties last week regarding COVID-19 outbreaks of unvaccinated players. If a team can’t play due to an outbreak, they could be forced to forfeit and have the loss count toward its playoff seeding.
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Also if a game is unable to be played due to unvaccinated players causing an outbreak, both teams would lose out on their game checks.
Per league protocols, the Patriots will have to differentiate in some fashion between vaccinated and unvaccinated players during training camp. Some teams have done this by having players wear different color wristbands.
“For us, we’re all here trying to figure all of this out,” McCourty said. “One of the things we saw last year when COVID got in our building was it was about us as a team doing what’s best for each other. Not really worrying about anything else except for the guys that were in this locker room. I think that’s how this year will be. Whether it’s wristbands, whether it’s conversations of vaccinated, non-vaccinated, whatever that is and wherever we need to be as a team to be comfortable, I think that’s what we’ll do more than anything.”