Few players on the New England Patriots are under as much pressure in 2023 as quarterback Mac Jones.
The 2021 first-round draft pick had a promising rookie season, but struggled in his second season — in large part due to the team’s coaching setup in Year 1 after long-time offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. The Patriots addressed the issue earlier this offseason, hiring Bill O’Brien to replace the embattled duo of Matt Patricia and Joe Judge.
While it remains to be seen whether or not the change will actually contribute to Jones getting back on track, there is optimism within the organization that that is precisely what will happen. On Monday, that optimism was expressed by none other than the club’s owner.
Speaking to reporters during the league meeting in Phoenix, Robert Kraft spoke highly about Jones and expressed confidence in his future.
“I’m a big fan of Mac,” Kraft said. “He came to us as a rookie. He quarterbacked his rookie season and did a very fine job, I thought. We made the playoffs. I think we experimented with some things last year that frankly didn’t work when it came to him, in my opinion. We made changes that I think put him in a good position to excel.”
The aforementioned hire of Bill O’Brien is the biggest of the changes mentioned by Kraft — and one that should directly impact Jones. The veteran coach, after all, will serve in a dual role as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
That position is not an unfamiliar one for him: O’Brien already served as the Patriots’ OC back in 2011, before leaving for head coaching opportunities at Penn State and with the Houston Texans. In 2021, following his dismissal from the Texans gig, he emerged at the University of Alabama.
Even though he arrived after Jones had left school to enter the NFL Draft, O’Brien and the future Patriots staring quarterback did spend some time together during that offseason. Two years later, they are now joining forces.
On Monday, Kraft outlined the process of hiring O’Brien.
“I think we had a discussion and it was in Bill [Belichick]’s hands, what he wanted to do,” he said. “We talked about it and came up with a number of different people. Actually, Bill was at the top of my list, so I was really happy. He’s someone who has been here. One of the things I learned when I came in early as a new owner, and it’s like the way I run my other businesses, people come in and they make changes when something isn’t going right. But if you’re going to make a change, you want to improve things.”
The expectation for O’Brien is clear heading into 2023. He was brought in to improve the Patriots offense after a rather disappointing season, and to help its third-year quarterback return to the form he showed during his rookie campaign.
But while Kraft was pretty straight-forward in his support of Mac Jones, his team’s head coach was not — at least not during his own presser on Monday: Bill Belichick did not make any definitive statements about the young QB’s position on the depth chart; he instead spoke about every player on the roster having opportunities.
As for Kraft, he continues to support Belichick despite the Patriots’ 8-9 record last season.
“Look, in the end, Bill is in charge of my football team,” he said. “He makes the decisions of who should start and who should play, and he’s done a pretty darn good job of it for the last — when you think about it — 24 years. I had peach fuzz when that started.
“But I don’t know. To me, I see him as a very hard-working young man. He’s in the stadium almost every day in the offseason. I think bringing in Bill O’Brien will work to his advantage. I’m very positive and hopeful about this upcoming year, and I personally am a big fan of Mac.”