If you listen to talk radio, read the message boards and scroll through Twitter, you'd guess the New England Patriots quarterback competition has already been decided. Cam Newton will start, Jarrett Stidham will have to wait his turn, and Brian Hoyer won't be a real factor.
It very well could turn out that way, but within the team facility nothing is given and the opportunity to succeed Tom Brady as New England's starting quarterback still has to be earned.
Newton, Stidham and Hoyer all addressed the media for the first time this season on Friday, and throughout their respective press conferences the quarterbacks expressed excitement for the opportunity to compete, as well as confidence that they'll be able to emerge on top. Each also challenged the prevailing narratives that have followed them throughout the offseason, with Newton in particular brushing aside the notion that he has the starting job in the bag.
"You compete every year. Doesn't matter how much a person's paid, doesn't matter how much a person is experienced, doesn't matter how much a person knows or doesn't know. I think we all are competing each and every day," said Newton, the 31-year-old former NFL MVP and longtime Carolina Panthers standout. "I've been competing every single day. It didn't matter what the team was because at the end of the day, you're one game away, as I've learned in this past year. At the end of the day, it's just about, like I said, proving your worth and doing your part."
Newton, who signed with the Patriots in early July after back-to-back injury-plagued seasons in Carolina, repeatedly emphasized how excited he was to be in New England. He called the opportunity to play for the Patriots "surreal," adding that "I wake up pinching myself every day."
But Newton also acknowledged that being unsigned so late into the offseason affected him. He started considering unsettling possibilities about his future prospects, but that his friends and family helped keep him focused and on the right path.
Now, he has the opportunity to use that and all of the other adversity he's faced in recent years as fuel to motivate him going forward.
"I don't think nobody's expectations will every surpass my expectations for myself," Newton said.
Newton wasn't the only Patriots quarterback who had a roller coaster of an offseason. In a span of months, Stidham went from Brady's backup to the favorite to start, then on the eve of camp suddenly found himself set to compete against one of his alma mater Auburn's greatest players.
Yet while things keep changing around him, Stidham steadfastly believes he's ready to start, with or without Newton in the building.
“Absolutely. I think I am definitely ready. I put in a lot of work this offseason to really improve mentality, physically, in a lot of different areas," Stidham said. "At the end of the day I am extremely excited to compete with Cam and Hoy as we go forward in training camp and getting to the season and things like that. I am really looking forward to the competition. I love competing in whatever it is. I am really looking forward to it.”
Stidham said he was visiting family in Texas when he learned Newton was joining the team. While conventional wisdom suggests he should have been nervous or threatened, Stidham insists he was excited, making a point to mention that he and Newton have known each other for years.
"He came down to Auburn I want to say my last spring there and him and I actually went to lunch after practice one day," Stidham said. "Just talked about Auburn football and his experience and stuff. I had a relationship with him in school. But, ultimately all of us together it is a really great room. Hoy, who has a ton of experience at a lot of different places and a lot here. Cam, who is MVP, played in the Super Bowl. A great player in himself. It’s a great room to have a lot of experience. I am excited to learn with these guys and compete against them.”
With no preseason games and limited opportunities to prove themselves on the field, the Patriots quarterbacks will have to make the most of every chance to separate themselves from the pack this summer. But that doesn't mean the competition could be decided within the first few days either, as new Patriots quarterbacks coach Jedd Fisch said they expect to give the quarterbacks every opportunity to compete, just like any other positional group.
"People always feel like the quarterback room is different and that you have to make a decision much faster and eliminate competition quickly. I don't think we see that here. I think we see it as an incredible opportunity," Fisch said. "The more competition we have, the more reps we have, the more time we let all of the guys duel it out to see how it all plays out will make all of them better. I think rising tides lift all ships. I think there's an opportunity for everybody to just keep challenging one another."
Mac Cerullo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Mac on Twitter at @MacCerullo.
If Friday's press conference was any indication, new Patriots quarterback Cam Newton could become the source of a lot of popular hashtags and T-shirt slogans in New England. Throughout his conference he dropped some great lines, including "I wake up mad," but probably his best was his answer to a question about an anonymous NFL coach who criticized his shifting to a vegan diet, saying "he can't be Superman anymore."
To that, Newton replied: "I don't speak to anonymous people, I speak to real people."