FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick has declared Cam Newton the team's top quarterback at this time, and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has already noticed a difference in Newton's second year with the club.
"When he got here, that was a unique situation having really no experience and exposure to our system prior to training camp starting. I honestly can't remember another time in my career where we've had a player that has done that. So it was a unique scenario," McDaniels said Thursday in his first public remarks of the offseason.
"He worked his butt off last year to do it, and then he came back certainly this year at a much different position. He has a different grasp of the offense, a different understanding of the terminology. Now we're working on refining the precision, the details."
That has included focusing on fundamentals, which McDaniels said is important for all quarterbacks. He commended Newton, noting that "he's worked really hard at it."
Newton, 32, has been taking part in voluntary organized team activities, and Belichick highlighted his leadership and professionalism last week.
Meanwhile, the Patriots are naturally optimistic about rookie quarterback Mac Jones, their first-round pick (15th overall) from Alabama. Belichick said Jones "dove into the playbook," and McDaniels noted that the goal for all rookies in the spring is to teach them the system so they have a chance to compete with more experienced players come training camp in late July.
As for what the Patriots liked in Jones, McDaniels said: "He won a lot of games in the last year-plus at Alabama. He played in some big games, some pressure situations. He takes care of the football. He's demonstrated an ability to function at a pretty high level in their system and offense, with their terminology. He competed in a league that is widely regarded as one of the top conferences, if not the top conference, in all of college football."
Jones has been wearing temporary No. 50 in Patriots practices, which is a recent Belichick tradition for all rookies to put them in non-traditional numbers in the spring. Jones joins Newton, veteran Brian Hoyer and third-year man Jarrett Stidham on the quarterback depth chart.
"We've got four great guys in the room," McDaniels said. "To be able to give them all opportunities this spring is invaluable, and it is a great opportunity for us to make progress in that room collectively to prepare them to compete in August."