This summer had the potential to be one of the most intriguing Patriots training camps in recent memory with a legitimate quarterback competition.
Cam Newton vs. Jarrett Stidham.
Each practice, whether in full pads or not, would have been so closely analyzed and critiqued. Who had the most reps with the first unit, what was Newton’s completion percentage in 7-on-7s, how did Stidham do in 11-on-11s, etc.?
And then the preseason games would have been even bigger.
Not only would it be discussed at length who was playing in which games, but who got the starts in them. Did one start one game and play with the first-teamers and the other one do it in the next? What does that mean? Who looked the best? Was it because of the competition faced? There would have been so much to breakdown.
But, now with it looking like there probably won’t be a preseason at all and a much different training camp with not many full-padded practices before rosters need to be made, how will the Patriots have an actual quarterback competition?
After all, they need to ensure Newton is first of all healthy, but secondly able to pick up the new offense and give the team a better chance to win than Stidham, who showed plenty of potential backing up Tom Brady as a rookie.
Fortunately, the way Bill Belichick and Co. structure training camp sessions, it will give plenty of opportunities for the two to compete.
The first few weeks of mostly strength and conditioning work won’t offer much in way of a competition, but it will give some glimpse into how Newton is doing with picking up the offense. What kind of questions is he asking? How attentive is he in meetings? While there won’t be much on-field work, some information can still be gathered.
Once on the field, especially in full pads, is when the real competition will start.
It’s likely the first-team reps will be close to evenly split at the start, but even before 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 work is done, some things can be learned from the two.
How are the two doing with their own quarterback drills? How are they connecting with wide receivers in work against defensive backs? Is there a sense of leadership and encouraging teammates after plays? How are they handling bad throws? Is there any chemistry developing with a particular pass-catcher?
All those things can be learned even before the real competition of a practice begins.
Things will really heat up in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 work and it’s still likely these reps are evenly split to start. One set of reps with the first-team for Newton and second-team for Stidham, but then for the next rep the two will likely flip. Ideally, Newton will get the same number of snaps with Julian Edelman out wide as Stidham and same goes for the two with say Gunner Olszewski.
Belichick loves situational work so one day could be focused heavily on third-down plays, the next goal-line, two-minute work after that, etc. Even with a limited timeframe to work with, it’s likely each quarterback will be faced with almost every situation he would face in a given game.
It’s also worth pointing out these reps will be against the Patriots defense, not another team, but that unit led the NFL in points allowed last season. In a way, it could be harder for these quarterbacks than going against say the Lions in a joint practice.
By going through all this with the way Belichick structures these sessions and gets the most out of his players in them, it shouldn't be an issue of needing more information to decide who should be under center Week 1 against Miami. If Newton is healthy and plays like he's capable of it will be him. But, if Newton isn't as healthy as we think and Stidham has grown a great deal this offseason then it will be him.
Belichick will not care who it is, as long as the player gives the team the best chance to win.
Also, it’s worth noting Josh McDaniels and Belichick will be the one’s closely observing Newton and Stidham on a daily basis. These are two of the best in the league at what they do and know what it takes to be successful in the Patriots system. While some coaches may need preseason games and joint practices to determine who is best for the job, Belichick and McDaniels do not. They will just know.
So, while it won’t be a true quarterback competition in Foxborough this summer due to the change in scheduling, the Patriots will still do what they need to do in order to determine who gets to start.