FOXBORO, Mass. — Damien Harris knew Mac Jones long before the latter became the Patriots’ starting quarterback. And he’s not at all surprised by Jones’ rapid rise in New England.
Harris, a teammate and close friend of Jones’ while both were at Alabama, said the second-year QB’s rare work ethic and leadership trades allowed him to quickly win the respect and admiration of those in the Patriots’ locker room.
“Mac and I have a special relationship,” the running back said after Friday’s training camp practice. “It goes back years and years and years. Mac is just an infectious guy that everybody gravitates to. He’s a great leader, he’s a great football player, he’s an incredibly hard worker and he’s an even better friend.
“Whenever you take all of those attributes and you put them into one person, it’s easy to see why so many people gravitate towards him, why so many people want to be around him and want to follow him.”
Now a no-doubt starter after an impressive rookie season, Jones spent his first full NFL offseason crisscrossing the country to train with Patriots pass-catchers, from projected starters to bottom-of-the-roster long shots. He also reshaped his diet and conditioning regimen and worked to gain a greater command of New England’s offense, which players say has been simplified following the departure of longtime coordinator Josh McDaniels.
On the eve of the Patriots’ first training camp practice, head coach Bill Belichick shared overwhelming praise for Jones, saying he showed “dramatic improvement” and made “tremendous strides” this offseason.
“I mean, he’s the hardest worker,” Harris said Friday. “He works incredibly hard. He always comes out here to do his best, not only to be his best but to make everybody around him better. When you put all those things together, man, he’s a special guy. I know that I feel so fortunate to share this field with him for the second time in my football career.
“This is just a guy who comes in every day trying to be his best and trying to make everybody better, so it’s very easy to gravitate towards a guy like that.”
Time will tell whether Jones’ offseason dedication will yield positive on-field results. The Patriots made only minor changes to his supporting cast (most notably trading for veteran receiver DeVante Parker and using a first-round draft pick on guard Cole Strange) but overhauled their coaching staff, with Matt Patricia, Joe Judge and Belichick jointly replacing McDaniels.
NESN.com’s coverage of New England Patriots preseason is presented by Cross Insurance, protecting your team since 1954.