Patriots quarterback Cam Newton throws a pass during practice Monday in Foxborough, Mass. Newton is competing with rookie Mac Jones for the starting job, and both are expected to play in Thursday’s preseason opener against Washington. Steven Senne/Associated Press

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Since the start of New England Patriots training camp, there have been plenty of storylines garnering attention, but one has soared above the rest: the quarterback competition.

Cam Newton and Mac Jones have clearly been the headliners at camp. Their every move, every rep and every response has been dissected and analyzed to the hilt.

While Newton is the acknowledged starter for now, there’s plenty of interest in how Jones is progressing, and how the rookie first-round pick will continue to progress going forward.

Can Jones actually beat out Newton? And if he’s not quite to that point, will he be an adequate backup should Newton struggle or get injured?

At this point, Coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels are still gathering data. They’re still trying to assess how good Jones might be.

They have a pretty good idea about Newton, and he’s definitely shown improvement from last season, which was expected.

But given how the reps have pretty much been split, as opposed to one quarterback getting a majority in camp, it’ll be interesting to see how Belichick attacks the three preseason games.

First up is the Washington Football Team on Thursday night. Washington Coach Ron Rivera is already on record saying he’s going to use his starters, with Ryan Fitzpatrick leading the offense, and his top-shelf defense also seeing action.

Belichick hasn’t divulged his game plan but provided a glimpse into his thinking when asked if having one fewer preseason game changes his philosophy on how to best use his players in these games.

“I think every game you just look at it as an opportunity,” Belichick said earlier this week. “Of course you have to see the whole picture, but I think what we have to look at right now is just what’s best for our team, what’s best for each individual and how’s that fit together as a team so that there’s a level of continuity and so forth in what we’re doing.

“So, we’ll just take a look at this and then re-evaluate where we are after this game as we head into Philadelphia and Giants week. Right now, we’re really just focused on how to get the most out of this opportunity to prepare our team, to evaluate our team, and to see where we are after spending a lot of time by ourselves, where we are relative to looking at another opponent.”

So what scenario is best for the team against Washington? What’s best for each individual?

With Newton being the starter, he needs to get in there against Washington’s top defense, especially given it’s one of the best in the league up front.

Whether it’s a couple series or playing a full quarter and perhaps beyond, he needs those reps, especially coming off a disappointing year where he had no preseason.

There isn’t a whole lot of mystery about what the offense is going to look like with Newton at the helm, but it’s still important to see it in action against an opposing team.

Whether it’s ground-and-pound, run-pass option, or pass plays off play-action, it’ll be good to see how Newton takes command, even during a shortened window.

So he’ll definitely play. But so will Jones.

Between the three preseason games and joint practices with the Eagles and Giants, the Patriots need to find out if Jones can at least be a capable No. 2, and prepare him as such.

If he’s at least that good in their minds, there might not be a need to keep more than two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster, which is usually Belichick’s preference.

And if Jones proves to be more than a capable backup, that will create an even better problem.

Through the first dozen practices, both Newton and Jones have had their share of good and bad moments. Jones has picked up some momentum of late, stacking together several impressive practices.

But Newton continues to hang in and deliver enough to maintain his position. Still, both of them need a fair share of game reps to continue to build. And it wouldn’t be totally outlandish to give Jones more time in the first preseason game.

While Belichick will rely a lot on how the quarterbacks fare in the joint practices, game action factors into the equation as well. Newton needs time with the starters, and the Patriots need to get as much info on Jones as possible before completely sorting out the quarterback stable.

As Belichick would say, it is what it is.


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