FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Cam Newton and Josh McDaniels took a walk Monday.
Slowly they paced, quarterback and coordinator, following the most casual 2-minute drill in existence. Leading a patchwork offense, Brian Hoyer barked out signals and slung completions left and right against a defense working at half-speed toward the end of practice. Steadily, Hoyer marched toward the end zone, with complete assurance he would get there.
Newton and McDaniels strolled right behind.
As he observed the play in front of him, McDaniels sporadically turned to offer a few words to Newton. Surely, they were some version of this: “Now, this is how it’s done.”
Of course, Newton knows how to operate a 2-minute drill. He could never have become a league MVP or reached a Super Bowl without completing a couple. But Newton doesn’t yet know how to run the Patriots’ offense in such time or under the pressure the regular season will bring.
It was evident throughout Monday’s practice. Not in a detrimental way, but in the way an infant wobbles and becomes anxious when it first tries running after learning how to walk.
During one play in an earlier 11-on-11 period, Newton wanted to make a check at the line of scrimmage and gestured accordingly; usually a display of complete quarterback command, but here a baby step. Because instead of completing his check, Newton paused and glanced back at McDaniels, unsure of his next move right at the time a play clock would have expired.
McDaniels then urged him to continue at the pace he’d begun. Slow and steady.
So Newton took the snap and practice continued until he’d finished 5-of-6 in competitive periods. Most of his completions were some form of a checkdown, the binky of any new quarterback.
Newton, Hoyer and Jarrett Stidham had evenly rotated reps in throughout the day, a sign they’re deadlocked in their ongoing battle for the starting job.
Eventually, through patience and playbook study, Newton’s mental game figures to catch up to his physical abilities. At 6-foot-6 and 245 pounds of rippling muscle, Newton steps on the field and teammates can already feel him.
“He has a strong arm. He’s a big guy, everybody knows,” said Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore.
Yet if the Patriots don’t feel Newton right away, they certainly hear him. Before practice opened, all four quarterbacks (including rookie Brian Lewerke) took snaps simultaneously to help warm up. For Newton, they sounded like the most joyous snaps of his career.
Newton’s exclaims reverberated off the team’s neighboring indoor facility and the trees that border the team’s practice fields. And he continued hollering and cheering, after his completions and those of the other quarterbacks.
His energy was unmistakable, even contagious. Energy has been Newton’s calling card so far in New England. Teammates have indicated he’s revitalized the locker room.
What happens behind the scenes at 1 Patriot Place has reportedly become a private show: The Cam Newton Show.
Even the playbook has been molded to fit him. Newton carried out one play Monday the Pats never once ran with Tom Brady. The run-game possibilities with his skill set seem endless.
But energy and intrigue alone cannot carry Newton much further. He must continue to adapt and grow.
He must command and thrive within a new passing offense soon.
And he must perform under pressure, a demand Bill Belichick makes of every Patriot.
By the look of Monday’s practice, Stidham remains clearly ahead of Newton in most aspects of their competition. He rifled several on-target throws and looked comfortable at the controls. Undeniably, his experience was his edge.
How long it can keep Stidham in the lead is anyone’s guess.
Perhaps the best answer is whenever Newton leaves McDaniels behind and starts running; the moment he can finally chase Stidham and the greatness he came to New England to find.
The moment Cam becomes Cam again.