2021 Patriots training camp: Bill Belichick notes 'hard decision' at QB

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Curran: Belichick notes choosing starting QB will be 'hard decision' originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The biggest takeaway for Saturday’s practice had zero to do with what was going on during practice and everything to do with what Bill Belichick said prior to practice.

Pressed a bit during his video conference on how and when he’ll make his decision on a starting quarterback, Belichick reiterated that Cam Newton is the starter.

“Cam’s our starting quarterback, I think I said that, so …” Belichick stated.

Curran: So far, time not on Newton's side at Pats camp

But he also seemed to acknowledge what’s been blatantly obvious through the first four days of practice (and during minicamp as well): Mac Jones is way, way, way ahead of the rookie curve and his performance is giving the coaching staff something to chew on.

“I don’t think we want to evaluate players at any position off of one or two plays or maybe a day,” Belichick cautioned when asked what he will look for when making a decision on a starting QB. “From a consistency standpoint, that’s always important. Obviously production. Hopefully those things will be good and I’m sure it’ll be a hard decision. But we’ll see how it goes. We’ll just let them play and try to do what we feel like is best for the team based on their performance.”

Fortunately for Jones, his production and consistency in the practices has extended far beyond “one or two plays or maybe a day.” He’s been accurate, decisive and consistent in that there just isn’t a huge disparity between his best plays and his worst.

So why is Belichick making it a point to remind folks that Cam is “our starting quarterback”?

Because it’s the process. In re-signing Newton just prior to the start of free agency, Belichick clearly had to somehow convince Newton that the quarterback’s self-assessment of still being one of the league’s better quarterbacks was valid.

Belichick isn’t into promises when it comes to changeable situations. But letting Newton know he was loved, respected and would get a very fair shot (if not a huge contract) was a must. The Patriots didn’t know they’d end up with Jones. They didn’t know just how good he’d look. Nor do they know how long Jones’ competency will last, especially once the pads come on and joint practices begin.

Now that he’s shown he’s beyond competent, he gets the public nod from Belichick that he’s making it a hard decision while Belichick also lets both Newton and Jones know the pecking order is intact. But that consistency and production are the coin of the realm.

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There’s no need to name a starter on July 31. And there’s no need to pull the rug out from under Newton after three practices. All through the summer, I said that for Jones to win the starting job he’d have to win by knockout. So far, he’s landed enough punches to at least catch the judge’s eye.

HOUSEKEEPING

  • Let’s give a little housekeeping before we get into what happened at practice. Offensive lineman Ted Karras, who had a lower leg injury on Friday, was not at practice. He left practice under his own power after being rolled up on.

  • Bill Belichick noted that second-year linebacker Anfernee Jennings missed the start of camp for personal reasons. Jennings was back on the field Saturday.

  • Linebacker Brandon King came off the PUP list.

  • The Patriots do a good-natured little initiation exercise every year at camp where they wet down the field far away from fans and media and have the rookies do a little slip-and-slide activity. That went on Saturday.

  • The biggest crowd of the week was in attendance with the Chamber of Commerce weather dialed up.

PRACTICE SNAPSHOTS

  • It felt a little like a low-energy day for at least the first-half of practice. I thought Cam Newton delivered some excellent deep balls during some non-competitive reps including one that was perfectly placed for Nelson Agholor to bring in with a nice dive.

  • Agholor had a very solid first four days of practice and with the amount of work he’s put in probably could use the day off on Sunday. He’s run a ton of routes.

  • Hunter Henry had an end-zone drop on a ball lasered in by Newton early in practice.

  • Newton was better early in practice than Jones; Jones was better at the tail end, especially late. The competition remains very tight which is why the decision – as Belichick alluded to – will definitely be hard.

  • Safety Adrian Phillips had a pair of pass breakups. He’s continued his very solid first week of work.