Patriots Minicamp Notes: Mac Jones Takes Center Stage As Reps Increase

Plus: A big day for Jalen Mills

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FOXBORO, Mass. — We may have seen a shift in the New England Patriots’ quarterback competition on Day 2 of mandatory minicamp.

Cam Newton led off every team period Tuesday, as he has in every open spring practice in which he’s participated. But Newton did not finish this latest session as New England’s leader in QB reps.

That honor went to Mac Jones, the first-round draft pick who will look to challenge Newton for his starting job once roster battles begin in earnest in training camp.

Jones completed 17 of 25 passes in competitive team drills, including 9 of 13 in 11-on-11s. Newton went 9-for-17 and 5-for-9 in 11s. Third-year pro Jarrett Stidham threw just eight passes, completing five (3-for-5 in 11s). Veteran backup Brian Hoyer threw zero.

The rep allotment was especially tilted toward Jones early in practice. The Alabama product took six of the first eight snaps in 7-on-7 drills, completing five and having one broken up by a coach holding a tennis racket-sized paddle. Newton took the other two, going 1-for-2.

Newton’s accuracy was spotty over the course of the 2 1/2-hour session, with the clearest example coming during one three-play stretch in the second round of 7-on-7s. The 32-year-old overthrew his intended target on three consecutive passes, the last of which was intercepted by safety Kyle Dugger.

Newton also threw low to Sony Michel on a screen pass and missed wideout Kendrick Bourne on a throw that should have been intercepted by Jalen Mills. Four of his nine completions were to running backs, and two more were to tight end Hunter Henry.

Jones wasn’t flawless, either.

Nelson Agholor had to reach down to pluck one low throw from the rookie off his shoestrings, and Jones threw behind Isaiah Zuber on a slant near the goal line, resulting in an incompletion. Later, Jones closed out the competitive portion of practice by throwing interceptions on two of his final three reps in 11-on-11s.

On the first, he tried to float a pass to tight end Dalton Keene but found a leaping Dont’a Hightower instead. The second was tipped at the line and picked off by Kyle Van Noy. Those plays drew loud roars from the Patriots’ defense.

Despite these hiccups, Jones had the best day of best day of any Patriots passer.

It’s clear Jones still is adjusting to the Patriots’ offense and the NFL game. (At one point in a half-speed offense-versus-defense drill, his unit had to re-huddle due to confusion at the line of scrimmage.) It would be foolish to place him above Newton on New England’s QB hierarchy after just a handful of non-padded practices.

But it is notable that Jones already is seeing more reps than his veteran counterparts this early in the process. Perhaps he has a stronger chance of beating out Newton this summer than we originally anticipated.

More notes from Monday:

— The same five players who missed Monday’s practice were absent from this one:

CB Stephon Gilmore
OLB Chase Winovich
LB Terez Hall
DT Byron Cowart
OLB Rashod Berry

Head coach Bill Belichick said he expects Gilmore to skip all three minicamp practices as the star cornerback holds out for a new contract.

— Tight end Jonnu Smith was present at practice but didn’t do much of anything.

Smith, who suffered an apparent hamstring injury Monday, didn’t take a single rep in individual or team drills. He spent the day closely observing these drills, often standing alongside position coach Nick Caley.

The high-priced free agency addition did not take part in voluntary organized team activities, so it will be important for him to log mental reps until he’s healthy enough to participate.

— Right guard Shaq Mason did not participate in team drills. Ted Karras filled his spot on the top unit.

The reason for Mason’s inactivity was unclear.

— It was a highly productive day for Mills.

The versatile defensive back broke up a Jones pass intended for N?Keal Harry in the red zone in 11-on-11s, nearly picked off Newton twice (one on an errant short pass, one on an overthrown deep ball) and velcroed himself to Zuber on an incomplete deep ball by Jones.

Mills, who came over from the Philadelphia Eagles in free agency, can play any position in the secondary, and he’s repped opposite starting cornerback J.C. Jackson with Gilmore at home. He’s the type of player whose role could change on a game-by-game basis depending on matchups and available personnel.

— Hightower had a long conversation with Belichick and consultant Matt Patricia during a punt period. Patricia, of course, worked closely with Hightower as New England’s defensive coordinator from 2012 to 2017.

Hightower has been a full and active participant in every Patriots practice since making his spring debut last week. The longtime defensive cornerstone looks lean and spry as he returns from his COVID-19 opt-out.

— Josh Uche is going to be a problem for opposing offenses this year. He’s shown up positively as a pass rusher in nearly every spring practice held in front of reporters.

— Rookie safety Joshuah Bledsoe continued to practice with a cast on his surgically repaired right wrist.

— Keene, linebacker Cameron McGrone and receiver Devin Smith left the main field after warmups. Keene later returned.

— Devin Asiasi hauled in a nifty lunging touchdown catch in a 2-on-3 goal-line period. He later caught a touchdown from Jones in 7-on-7s that made safety Adrian Phillips clap his hands in frustration.

If the Patriots choose to roster just one of their 2020 third-round tight ends, Asiasi appears to have a clear edge over Keene at this stage.

— It’s been strange to see a No. 87 back on the field at Patriots practice this week.

Wide receiver Devin Ross, a former Pats practice squadder who’s in minicamp on a tryout basis, was issued Rob Gronkowski’s old jersey number, which evidently is not retired.

Ross is the first Patriot to wear No. 87 since Gronkowski left after the 2018 season.

Offensive lineman R.J. Prince (No. 63) also is on a minicamp tryout.

— The Patriots are scheduled to hold one final minicamp practice Wednesday before taking off for the summer.

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