When the New England Patriots selected Mac Jones with the 15th overall selection in last year’s draft, there was no questions about the expectations the team had in him. He was to be the future franchise quarterback.
His rookie campaign already was a promising step in that direction; after winning the starting gig over incumbent Cam Newton in training camp, he led the Patriots to a 10-7 record and spot in the playoffs. Along the way, however, Jones was still learning on the fly and getting used to all things NFL.
Fast forward a few months and you see a player who is clearly establishing himself as the leader of the offense and team as a whole. Whereas there was an open competition last year, Jones is now undisputed as the Patriots’ QB1.
Nonetheless, his approach remains the same.
“I’m always competing against myself. Regardless of the situations that I’ve been in, I try to be better than I was yesterday,” Jones told reporters on Thursday.
“As you get more comfortable within the system, you try different things; see what works, what doesn’t. But I do that regardless, every year. Try to push myself, try to make myself better, whether that’s my feet, my eyes, throwing, whatever — being a better teammate — there’s things you can evaluate. But at the end of the day it goes back to me as a person and as a player, and trying to be the best that I can be.”
Based on the circumstances, evaluating Jones’ growth in minicamp is near-impossible; the setup is simply too far away from regular football to draw definitive conclusions. That said, listening to his teammates and even head coach talk about him this week, one was able to get a sense for how he is viewed inside the building and that the Patriots are his team.
“We’ll do everything we can really, to make it as good for him as we can. He’s our quarterback,” said head coach Bill Belichick.
Wide receiver Jakobi Meyers — Jones’ favorite target during his 2021 rookie campaign — spoke about Jones’ growth after the conclusion of minicamp. He mentioned one area in particular: the 23-year-old taking on a more active role building the foundation of this year’s offense.
“Has he taken control of the offense? That’s a capital yes, exclamation mark, exclamation mark,” Meyers said. “He’s the real deal. We’re all trying to catch up what’s in his mind, his vision.”
Minicamp was concrete evidence of that. Jones spent time with his receivers, explaining how he wanted routes to be run or what he was seeing in certain situations. Spring practices are a time for teaching and getting on the same page, and Jones was actively involved in this process together with his supporting cast.
The results spoke for themselves. Jones threw several impressive passes between Tuesday and Wednesday, especially when targeting the deep parts of the field. As charted by NESN’s Zack Cox, he was 7-for-8 on passes that traveled more than 20 yards in the air.
Among his best plays were tight-window throws to second-year wideout Tre Nixon and veteran Nelson Agholor. The Jones-Nixon connection in particular looked promising, connecting seven times on seven targets during the two-day camp.
Jones’ performance was encouraging regardless of the circumstances. However, him taking charge of the New England offense extends beyond the numbers and highlight-reel plays.
“He’s an incredibly hard worker, that’s what I appreciate about him the most,” said running back and former Alabama teammate Damien Harris about the young QB. “Coming out here, seeing the way he leads, works his butt off to be his best in order to help all of us as his teammates be our best.”
The praise was echoed by Agholor following Wednesday’s practice.
“He’s a year better. Working hard every day. Does a great job communicating. He’s just working to be the best version of himself,” the second-year Patriot said about Jones. “I’m grateful to have him as my quarterback.”
That sentiment likely is shared by a lot of people at One Patriot Place.