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Will Mac Jones play against the Browns? Bill Belichick explains the Patriots’ process behind the decision.

Related: Patriots vs. Browns Thursday injury report: Josh Uche added to New England’s dozen limited

New England Patriots Practice Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

After missing back-to-back games due to a high ankle sprain, New England Patriots starting quarterback Mac Jones is getting closer to a return. The 24-year-old has increased his practice workload over the last two weeks, and seemingly looked better moving around this week compared to the previous.

Whether that means Jones will make his return as early as this week’s game against the Cleveland Browns remains to be seen, though. According to head coach Bill Belichick, he is “making a good improvement” but at the end of the day his rehabilitation status will determine his outlook.

Belichick mentioned as such during his press conference on Friday, when explaining the team’s process of handling rehabbing players in practice and heading toward game day.

“If a player has an injury, he goes out and does whatever he’s capable or instructed to do. Then we see how he responds and what happens,” Belichick said. “Nobody knows the answer to that question. If the next day he feels better then he does more. If the next day he doesn’t feel better or has soreness or whatever, then we back off and then try it again once he feels like we’re at the next read. So, it’s a process of steps.

“When you go one step, then you go to the next step. If you can’t make it through that step, then you step back and step through it again. So, nobody knows how they’re going to feel tomorrow after what they do today. I don’t know how anybody’s going to feel that are in that category. We’ll see where it is. If it’s better on Saturday than it was Friday, then maybe it’s a game day workout. If it’s worse, then we probably would downgrade the player. If it feels great today and tomorrow feels great, then we’re good to go. But that’s why Saturday is an important day in this whole process.”

Jones is not the only player falling in that category, with the Patriots having a total of 12 players on their Thursday injury report — all of them were limited participants just like the young quarterback. The group included running back Damien Harris, wide receiver Jakobi Meyers, center David Andrews, and cornerbacks Jonathan Jones and Jalen Mills, among others.

While not all of them are in the same boat as Jones both in terms of importance to the team and injury itself, the general principles applied by the Patriots to decide whether or not they will be active for the upcoming game in Cleveland (or any other, for that matter) remains unchanged.

Per Belichick, this also means that he does not have to make any judgement calls on whether to activate or deactivate a player until the team’s medical staff gave the green light.

“Until the player is medically cleared to play then there’s no coaching decision involved,” he said. “Once the player has been medically cleared to play then I would say in consolation with the player and the medical staff, what is the player being asked to do?”

Belichick, who was not asked about Mac Jones or the quarterback position directly, used the kicker spot as an example.

“A kicker has a sore leg and the decision is, ‘Well, he can kick field goals up to a certain range but wouldn’t be able to kickoff.’ As a coach that’s your decision. You could say, ‘Alright, we’ll take this player at let’s call it 80 percent and here’s what his field goal range would be 80 percent. And he’s not going to kickoff and play under those circumstances assuming that the player also felt comfortable doing that.’

That would be an example of a player playing at less than a 100 percent but functional to a point. Understand that you’re going to have to get somebody else to kickoff and you’re not going to be trying maximum length field goals. That would be an example, so just put that into some other position and take some other player and have the same conversation if it gets to that point. That would be the hypothetical situation.”

Belichick went on to explain that the decision, when a point is reached where he needs to make one, differs from position to position.

As far as Jones is concerned, the factors involved obviously are not the same as they are at kicker or any other spot. But, of course, first it all hinges on whether or not the Patriots’ medical personnel clears the 24-year-old for game action.

“It could happen anytime. There’s no deadline on that,” Belichick said. “The injury report is the injury report. There’s a deadline on that and there’s a classification on that. That’s what we follow. Internally, we can do whatever we want — not do whatever we want but based on the information that’s available we can make any determination that’s appropriate.

“Part of that is how a player feels, what he’s able to do, what he’s not able to do, what the recovery from what his previous output was or wasn’t.”