Mac Jones Isn’t the Starter, But He’s Making a Strong Impression
It's no surprise that Mac Jones won't be the New England Patriots starting quarterback Week 1 against the Miami Dolphins. Cam Newton is a 10-year veteran and head coach Bill Belichick is about as traditional as it gets in today's NFL.
“We’ll take a look at the whole situation,” Belichick said Saturday. “I don’t think you want to evaluate players at any position off of one or two plays, or maybe a day, so from a consistency standpoint that’s always important and, obviously, production, so, hopefully, those things will be good, and I’m sure it’ll be a hard decision. But we’ll see how it goes. Let them play and try to do what we feel like is best for the team based on their performance.”
If that wasn't clear: “I mean, Cam’s our starting quarterback,” Belichick added. “I think I’ve said that.”
Still, the Patriots spent its 15th overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft on Mac Jones for a reason and at some point down the road, he'll be handed the reins. His teammates in New England appear to be quite alright with the idea.
“Just that he’s doing what they’re asking of him,” linebacker Dont'a Hightower said of Jones when asked about his early impressions of his fellow Alabama alumni. “I haven’t been able to sit down and critique everything that he’s doing, and I don’t see me doing that anyway, but he’s a sponge. He’s a smart kid, makes good throws and good decisions, and hopefully, he’s got Cam and Josh and all those guys to lean on."
“Again, he’s one of those guys who’s going to make the team better, and make that room better.”
Cam Newton, who enters his second season as the Patriots starting quarterback at age 32, echoed that last statement, leaning on the betterment of the team as the biggest positive from the budding relationship with his presumptive replacement.
“Ever since I’ve been here, it’s been a quarterback competition," Newton said Friday after practice. "I think that’s the underlining 'Patriot Way.' Every position has a competition and the quarterback position is no different. Brian Hoyer is supposed to make me better. I’m supposed to make Mac Jones better. Mac Jones is supposed to make Brian Hoyer better. For us, it’s just the mentality to have that championship mental toughness.”
Newton has remained positive about Jones's presence on the roster since the former Crimson Tide signal-caller was drafted.
By all views from the outside world, Jones and Newton have a healthy relationship. Both have consistently propped up the other with great complements and seem to be enjoying healthy competition. Often times when rookie quarterbacks are drafted to replace the old veteran there's an unshakeable feeling of extreme awkwardness. It appears the Patriots have avoided such a situation.
After all, you won't hear about a guy dressing up to impersonate a teammate for a skit if he didn't at least kind of like the guy.
“Mac, he came in dressed as Cam," cornerback Jalen Mills said Monday. "He had the big hat on, had a scarf on, came in saying Cam slogans, different things like that. It was real funny to see him getting out of character.”
“Oh, man. That was dope,” linebacker Raekwon McMillan said. “This is my fifth year in the league. That’s probably the best rookie impersonation I’ve ever seen. That’s probably the best one. I give him kudos for that. It was spot-on about everything that Cam does, how he dresses. He came in with a suitcase. You know Cam’s swagged up to the floor, man, so (Jones) came in and he kind of jumped out of his comfort zone, too... Mac’s kind of a chill guy, relax, kicked back, and he came in acting like Cam. It was dope.”
But that's all off the field. On the field, reviews from Boston media are mixed. Those already in his camp seem to favor him while those who weren't keen on the prediction of his joining of the franchise from the start are much more critical.
Still, Jones is a rookie and he's had his ups and downs. He's displayed his two most valuable traits, accuracy and swagger, through the first five days of camp. It's clear why he isn't the starter from multiple angles, but Jones and Patriots fans alike shouldn't be concerned if he has to step in ahead of schedule.
The two most recent days of practice show a steady growth of a guy eliminating his inconsistencies. On day four of training camp, Jones struggled with the rush in 11-on-11 drills, eating a few "sacks" and having a couple of passes batted down at the line of scrimmage. He also had some overthrows.
Still, Jones is growing into a leadership role and isn't shy about discussing bad plays with his receivers when things go south.
“I think it’s just about forming those relationships," Jones said Friday. "You want to be on the same page. A lot of the times when I go up to them, it’s something that I did wrong and I want to figure out what I can do better. They’re not making as many mistakes as I am, just because they’re older and they’re doing the right thing. I’m trying to get there, I’m working. "
(By the way, there are plenty of poor reps from Mac on the internet, some are just harder to see than others because of viewpoints and such.)
"It’s all about the connection. We want to be on the same page," Jones continued. "That takes time and that takes reps and that takes trust. We’re going to get there. That’s just something I’ve learned from watching the other guys, too. Here and just in general, you always got to form a bond with whether it’s your lineman, what happened here, your running back, hey did you see this, that, whatever. It goes for everybody.”
Monday showed an improved Mac Jones for the fifth day of camp. Jones was given much more reps than Newton and shined throughout the day. In 11-on-11's, Jones completed 16 of 21 pass attempts and displayed excellent pocket awareness.
At the end of the day, Jones isn't being thrown into the fire day one, so patience is key in evaluating where Jones is heading early in his NFL career. Training camp is just a few days in and the Patriots won't suit up for a preseason game until Aug. 12 against the Washington Football Team.
Between now and then, Jones will only continue to grow closer with his receivers and gain confidence in the offensive system. For what it's worth, he'll also be granted his No. 10 jersey by then.
In the meantime, those invested in Jones's professional career can rest easy that the young quarterback is fitting in nicely with his teammates and is on the right track to take over in New England when the time is right.
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