Bill Belichick gave his annual version of the first day of school "What I Did on My Summer Vacation" essay, his pre-training camp press conference. And as you'd imagine, he was open and candid, revealing all that is in his heart on any subject that he was asked about, almost to the point where his oversharing got uncomfortable and all of us on the virtual call began interrupting him with shouts of "TMI!" because it got embarrassing.
Which is to say, the total opposite. He arrives at camp with his Say Nothing game in midseason form.
He deftly passed on any talk about Stephon Gilmore's contract. Adroitly avoided discussing N'Keal Harry's trade demands. Then gracefully deflected a question about how many of his players have taken the Fauci Jab. While artfully responding to a few questions with actual answers.
For instance, he confirmed that last year's co-offensive line coach Cole Popovich is out due to the vaccine protocols, and Carmen Bricillo now has the daunting task of filling Dante Scarnecchia's mighty shoes all to himself. The two will no longer join forces to replace the legend like little kids in long trench coat trying to pass as an adult. He confirmed that practices will be without pads for the next few days, as a sort of extension of the spring workouts.
But the real money shot came on a question about the question that is paramount in everyone's mind. The one issue that will overshadow everything else in this camp like a great, big, shadow casting thing. (My analogy game is not in midseason form. I'm just going to have to put the work in and get better every day.) Without specifically mentioning Cam Newton and Mac Jones, he was asked if he would have an open competition at quarterback. His response was telling:
“As I said, every one of us has to go out and establish our level of performance in whatever our role or capacity is. So it’s a new season. You know, we’ve done some things in the spring but this is really the start of football season in terms of the team building part here in training camp. So we all have a lot of work to do. That includes all of us. So until we go out and do anything, then it’s pretty much a clean slate.”
And then asked if that "clean slate" applies to his QBs:
“Including the coaches and all the players.”
Of course, it would be irresponsible and unprofessional to jump to any conclusions after such a vague and non-specific answer. So allow me to just go ahead with that sweet, sweet irresponsible unprofessionalism and do exactly. Let's not waste time mincing words and land a Simone Biles (thoughts and prayers) double somersault/ full twist and stick the two-footed landing squarely into the middle of the Jump to Conclusions Mat. (See? My analogy muscles are getting back into camp shape. But I'll be sore tomorrow.) Belichick knew this question would be coming, early and often. And he carefully crafted this answer to let us know that this camp is all about Cam vs. Mac. May the best quarterback win.
And don't kid yourself that this is just him being his usual obtuse self because he doesn't want to get into specifics at any one position, ask yourself what his answer would be if he got a question about whether David Andrews is in a competition at center, if Dont'a Hightower was going to be his starting inside linebacker or if Devin McCourty's job was an "open competition." His eyeroll would've set off car alarms in Gillette's visitors lot.
On draft night, he gave a different answer to the same question. But one that foreshadowed this one. "Cam’s our quarterback," he said after drafting Jones. "Whatever time Jarrett [Stidham] or Mac are ready to challenge and compete, we’ll see how that goes."
Well, we've seen. All through OTAs and minicamps and only they know how many workouts and film sessions they've conducted with their QB room. How hard you played last year while battling Covid and replacing the Irreplaceable Man and making no money doesn't matter now. The clean slate means you don't get extra consideration for being the league MVP a few years ago. It's all about who's going to give New England to win the first game against Miami. And the process of watching it unfold is going to be as fascinating as any personnel battle this franchise has ever had.
The Cam vs. Mac battle is about to go into full swing and, speaking for all of New England, we cannot wait.
Begun, The Palindrome War has.