At this time last year, Mac Jones was in the midst of a quarterback competition with Cam Newton. Now, he’s the unquestioned leader of the New England Patriots’ offense.
Longtime special teams captain Matthew Slater on Tuesday became the latest Patriots veteran to laud Jones for his leadership traits, which the second-year QB prioritized improving this offseason.
“I’m extremely biased, but I think the young man is fantastic,” Slater said in a video conference after New England players arrived back at Gillette Stadium for training camp. “I think he’s demonstrated great leadership from the day he walked in this building, and I think he’ll continue to do so. We’re all excited about what he’s going to be and what he’s going to provide, not just as a player but as a leader for this organization. He continues to grow in that role.”
Freed from the pressures of a position battle, Jones was able to focus on self-improvement ahead of his second NFL season, reshaping his body with a stricter diet and workout regimen and traveling the country to improve his connection with various Patriots pass-catchers.
The 36-year-old Slater, New England’s longest-tenured player, said the Patriots will follow Jones’ lead as the young passer’s career progresses. Based on praise he’s received from teammates, it seems likely Jones will be voted a team captain this season, joining established Super Bowl winners like Slater, Devin McCourty and David Andrews on the Patriots’ leadership council.
“Ultimately, this is going to be his team,” Slater said. “In a lot of ways, we’re going to take on the personality of our quarterback, but he’s just got to be himself. He doesn’t need to try to be anybody from the past, the present or the future. He’s just got to be the best version of Mac Jones, and we’ll certainly respond to it and rally around him. That goes for not only him, but a lot of our other players who are in positions to lead on this team.”
This wasn’t the first time Slater had trumpeted Jones’ talents. After the Patriots’ lopsided playoff loss to the Buffalo Bills in January, Slater declared “the future is bright for this organization with that young man,” calling Jones “the type of man that you hope to build around.”
Head coach Bill Belichick also spoke highly of Jones on Tuesday, saying he has shown “dramatic improvement” in recent months and will “certainly … have input” on how the Patriots’ offense operates this season.
“He’s made tremendous strides,” Belichick said. “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 and the rest of the Patriots will hit the field Wednesday morning for their first training camp practice.