FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – You might expect a guy like Cam Newton, who's played in a Super Bowl and was once named the NFL's Most Valuable Player, to be irked by his team's drafting of another quarterback in the first round, as the Patriots did with Mac Jones this past April.
Newton, though, isn't your typical QB, in many respects. Did head coach Bill Belichick's decision to select Jones motivate the veteran passer? Certainly, as he admitted to reporters after Tuesday's minicamp session in Foxborough.
At the same time, Newton lit up when the subject of "Mac & Cheese" – the nickname he's ascribed to his rookie teammate – came up.
"Mac & Cheese, he's pretty cool, man," Newton laughed. "He's quiet. I think he's trying to figure everybody out. And I've been there before. I've been a rookie and a first-round pick and so much is asked of you."
The 32-year-old Newton also answered philosophically about the addition of Jones and the competition that he and the other quarterbacks – Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer – bring to the field each day.
"As a competitor, I'd be a fool if I didn't think Brian Hoyer wants to be a starter. I'd be a fool not to think Mac & Cheese wants to be a starter… or Jarrett Stidham. And you'd be a fool not to think that I want to be a starter. But those things happen with the comfort of understanding the system.
"We all know nothing's going to be given to anybody. And it's that competition each and every day with yourself that's going to bring out the best in everybody else. So, the better I am, the better Mac will be. The better Mac is, the better he's going to make me be."
Interestingly, Newton pointed to Hoyer, the elder statesman of the Patriots quarterback quartet, as the player who sets the tone in the meeting rooms, but continued to gush about Jones when that line of questioning continued.
"He was the right pick, in my opinion," Newton emphasized. "He was the best player available, and that's what the NFL Draft is for. As far as having any chip on the shoulder, you're stating the obvious. I don't need too much to get myself going, let alone that happening. It's no disrespect to Mac, no disrespect to Bill and his decision. I support it 110-percent, because you still have to do what's right for the organization for the long haul.
"He's doing a great job with being everything as advertised. From a leadership perspective, he's holding himself accountable, and that's all you can ask from a young player."
During an 11-on-11 period late in Tuesday's practice, Dont'a Hightower dropped into pass coverage, read Jones' eyes, and made a perfectly-timed jump to intercept and pass over the middle. The play brought jubilation to the linebacker's defensive teammates along the sideline, who celebrated the INT vociferously.
It marked a triumphant return to the field for the playmaking Hightower, who chose to opt out of the 2020 season due to COVID concerns. He's been present for the first two days of mandatory minicamp this week and spoke to the media afterward, taking the opportunity to put to rest any outsiders' concerns that he's not committed to playing in 2021.
"I wouldn't be out here doing this for free," he laughed. When another reporter tried to press the issue, Hightower made clear that his in-person presence for these sessions should be proof positive that he's fully invested in being a part of this year's Patriots.
"Obviously, I've been working at home… love my wife and I love my son, but I'm pretty sure she was ready for me to get back out here, too," Hightower quipped.
"I'm glad to be back. Glad to be around all the guys and back in the facility. I feel good. It's always good to get back with the guys. I've been enjoying the couple of days I've had on the field, getting to know my new teammates and greeting the old ones. It's been fun."