Finally, real football is back.
On Monday morning, the Patriots will hit the practice fields to begin preparations for the 2020 season. And, really, we were never sure we'd make it this far with the pandemic.
The thing I love about the Patriots is that unlike some other NFL teams (I’ve been around) — which might skew things depending on power struggles, draft status and free-agent contracts — what you see is what you get. Whoever stays on the field, plays the best, and is the most consistent will earn themselves a job and/or role for the upcoming season. So every practice — OK, maybe not all the non-padded practices — means something. And, if you’re paying attention to the right things, you can mine a lot of information from what is happening on the field.
These are the things I’ll be looking for starting Monday (spots are limited with the NFL's tight Covid-19 restrictions and I'm not sure how often BSJ will be allowed into the 14 padded practices, but we're hoping for the best and the will roll with the punches — the Patriots are doing their best after being put in a really unfair position by the league) and my early read on how the competitions stack up:
Efficiency at quarterback
A lot of attention will be placed on the order and number of reps, but there's a long way to go in the competition. Really, I wouldn't be surprised if Brian Hoyer took most of the reps early, at least the first week, and then Cam Newton and Jarrett Stidham took over in the second week. And Bill Belichick could wait until the media is gone after the 14 practices in 17 days, to really get down to the dedicated first-team reps. Why Hoyer early? The man has been around and knows exactly what he's doing, which could be good for the other QBs, and for the team.
This competition — and it's real, although a healthy Newton should win out rather easily — will be about efficiency. Who gets the team in and out of the huddle, who deals with defensive wrinkles easier, who moves the chains consistently?
Another huge factor for the Patriots at QB: Can Newton's arm hold up and take part in every practice? It's one thing for a 40-plus Tom Brady to take practices off, it's quite another for a 31-year-old Newton who is new to everything and everyone. He needs to be out there, and he needs to prove that shoulder is sound.
But there is one thing that Stidham is going to have to overcome to really win this job, and that starts our pre-camp reads.
Pre-camp read: One huge advantage