Mac Jones has garnered rave reviews from many of his New England Patriots teammates since his promising rookie season ended six months ago.
Add his head coach to that list.
In his first virtual news conference of Patriots training camp, Bill Belichick delivered a sterling assessment of his second-year quarterback, saying Jones has improved dramatically this offseason.
“I think Mac’s done a great job,” Belichick said Tuesday morning. “He’s worked extremely hard. He’s got a tremendous work ethic in all areas. I think there’s a dramatic improvement. His physical work and conditioning, working on his mechanics, working on his footwork, working on his understanding of our offense, of opponent defenses, of situations. All those things. We’ve talked about all those things in varying degrees — some more emphasis than others — and the emphasis on maybe some other things will come later on. You can’t do it all at once.
“But yeah, he’s worked hard. He’s made tremendous strides. He did a great job last year, but he’s starting from a much, much higher point this year than where he started last year. His offseason work has been significant, and I think everyone recognizes how well he prepares and how much further along he (is) than he was a year ago.”
Jones completed 67.6% of his passes last season, throwing for 3,801 yards and 22 touchdowns with 13 interceptions while leading all first-year signal-callers in nearly every passing category. He also earned a trip to his first Pro Bowl as an AFC alternate.
After his rookie year ended in a blowout loss to Buffalo in the opening round of the NFL playoffs, Jones took steps to improve his diet and physical conditioning, hone his knowledge of the Patriots’ offense — which underwent tweaks this offseason following the departure of longtime coordinator Josh McDaniels — and assume a more active leadership role. He spent the last several months traveling the country to throw with various Patriots pass-catchers, from big names like DeVante Parker to newly added roster long shots like Lil’Jordan Humphrey.
Jones also delivered a string of impressive performances during spring practice, showing off an improved deep ball and a stronger command of the offense.
“You say, ‘Has he taken control of the offense?'” veteran receiver Jakobi Meyers said after mandatory minicamp. “That’s just a capital Yes — exclamation mark, exclamation mark. He’s the real deal.”
Whereas last season Jones needed to beat out incumbent Cam Newton to earn the starting job, he enters Year 2 as New England’s unquestioned QB1. And with that status comes additional responsibilities, as Belichick said the 23-year-old will “certainly … have input” in how the Patriots’ offense is run this season.
“We’re just a lot further ahead in the conversation,” Belichick said. “The plays that we talk about or concepts that we talk about, Mac’s already done them before, and it’s easy for him to say, ‘Well, are we going to do this on that? Are we going to do this on something else? What do you think about splitting them a little bit wider or splitting them a little bit tighter?’ Suggestions like that. That type of thing comes up all the time. Now it comes up with the background and the experience of doing it.
“He might have had some of the same questions last year, but without really having the full knowledge that he has this year. He’s just a lot further along in the conversation, and we have a much better feel for what he can do, what his strengths are and how to play into those.”
Jones will need to adjust to an overhauled offensive coaching staff led by quarterbacks coach Joe Judge and offensive line coach Matt Patricia, and to the fact that opponents now have a year’s worth of NFL film on him. He’ll be operating with a similar supporting cast, as New England added Parker and made some changes to its O-line but returns nearly every skill player from last season’s 10-win team.
The Patriots will hold their first training camp practice Wednesday morning outside Gillette Stadium.
“I’m not saying we’re there yet,” Belichick stressed. “I’m definitely not saying that. We’re nowhere close to being where we want to be or where we need to be. But we’re definitely making progress.”