FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — In an unconventional season, what if coach Bill Belichick goes the unconventional route with the New England Patriots‘ starting quarterback job?
Maybe he doesn’t choose QB1 by the Sept. 13 season opener against the Miami Dolphins.
Perhaps it’s QB1a and QB1b.
That was a lingering thought after watching the first two days of full-pads practices this week, when the repetitions were split evenly among Cam Newton, Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer, and it’s clear Newton is running third in terms of comfort level with the system (which is no surprise since he signed July 8).
When the thought of platooning was relayed to former Patriots linebacker Rosevelt Colvin, who had called Newton’s signing long before it happened, he laughed.
“No! Don’t start a controversy,” Colvin joked.
No controversy, just an exploration of an outside-the-box thought about one of the most compelling questions in recent NFL history: How do the Patriots most effectively move on from Tom Brady?
Here’s why it might make sense.
Challenge the opposition: When Belichick considers matching X’s and O’s in the opener against his former defensive coordinator, Brian Flores, it might be appealing to add to Flores’ burden by making him prepare for two quarterbacks with different styles of play.
With Newton, for example, the possibility of more zone-read concepts are in play. There was one play in Monday’s practice when Newton took off up the middle — 6-foot-5, 245 pounds plowing through — which is the type of threat that wasn’t a big part of the Patriots’ quarterback repertoire with Brady.
Extension of preseason: ESPN analyst Tedy Bruschi has often said Belichick uses September as an extension of the preseason, in part because he’s still trying to figure out what he has on the roster. With no preseason games this year, that approach potentially holds true even more now. Why would quarterback be any different?
Last season, Belichick had Stidham attempt more passes in the preseason than any rookie quarterback in his tenure as coach. He needed to see what he had before deciding whether Stidham was ready to assume the No. 2 spot behind Brady.
Preserving Cam’s health: So far, so good on Newton’s return from foot and shoulder injuries. He passed his physical to sign his contract with the Patriots, passed the conditioning test to be on the field for the first practices, and hasn’t looked limited at all in practice.
But even Newton seemed to acknowledge in his lone media availability with local reporters that good health in mid-August isn’t the same as good health when the hits start adding up during the season. So preserving Newton early on, and giving him a staggered entry back to action, could be worthy of consideration.
More information on Stidham: This isn’t just about Newton. The Patriots also have a longer-range question to answer. With Newton signed only for the 2020 season, they would naturally like to know if Stidham, a 2019 fourth-round pick, might be their quarterback of the future.
Stidham, whose arm strength and command of the system have been notable over the past two days of practice, has attempted four career passes in the regular season. If Newton is the clear-cut starter on opening day, and Stidham once again remains mostly on the sideline in 2020, a case could be made the Patriots are not much closer to knowing the answer next offseason.
Hurry-up offense: One point Belichick made this week, speaking on ESPN Radio’s “Keyshawn, JWill and Zubin” program, was that Newton is still trying to catch up to the specifics of the Patriots’ system. That’s no shocker, considering Newton has been with the team for seven weeks.
So will Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels be able to turn to the effective no-huddle, up-tempo offense if Newton is under center?
That could be asking a lot, and one play Monday highlighted that challenge: Newton was barking out calls to his teammates in a no-huddle drill, and he had a slight moment of indecisiveness where he looked behind him, to see if what he was doing was correct. He ultimately had his pass batted away by undrafted linebacker De’Jon “Scoota” Harris.
By all accounts, Newton is working hard to close the gap. But the time crunch is real.