FOXBORO — For New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones, both passion and principle have always been — and will continue to be — a part of his preparation for each season on the gridiron.
As such, the 23-year-old appears to be taking that next step towards becoming New England’s franchise quarterback.
By consensus of his coaches, teammates, fans and media, he is ready to do just that.
While it may be early to make any meaningful evaluations, especially in the relatively small sample of New England’s OTA and minicamp practices, Jones seems intent on avoiding the dreaded ‘one-hit-wonder’ moniker, Jones has adapted a stricter offseason workout regimen, incorporating a healthier diet in the process. As a result, he has looked leaner and has impressed his teammates with his work ethic and leadership skills.
Still, Jones realizes that the responsibility for becoming an effective leader lies within himself — a belief he shared with reporters on Thursday via video conference.
“As you get more comfortable within the system, you try different things,” Jones said. “You see what works, what doesn’t. But I do that regardless, every year. Try to push myself, try to make myself better, whether that’s my feet, my eyes, throwing, whatever — being a better teammate — there’s things you can evaluate. But at the end of the day it goes back to me as a person and as a player, and trying to be the best that I can be.”
Just one year ago, the Alabama product was beginning the process of parlaying strong performances in both training camp and preseason into earning the starting job to begin his rookie season. Jones performed well at the team’s helm in 2021. He led all rookies with a 67.6 completion percentage and a 92.5 passer rating, while compiling 3,801 yards and 22 touchdowns. He completed at least 70 percent of his attempts in nine of New England’s games and twice threw for 300-plus yards through the air.
Still, Jones had his share of struggles as the season drew to a close. He was less accurate, made more rookie mistakes and had difficulty when defenses were able to adjust to take away his preferred routes and targets. As Jones struggled down the stretch, so did the Patriots. New England lost four of its final five games following the team’s Week Fourteen bye, as well as their lone playoff matchup with the Buffalo Bills.
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Despite numerous reasons for the Pats late season collapse, Jones knows as well as anyone that the lion’s share of the blame is always laid at the doorstep of the highest profile position in the game..whether it be deserved or not.
Accordingly, New England’s second year signal caller has taken the proper steps to improve both physically and mentally. He not only sought out measures to increase his velocity, but also methods to build upon his accuracy in various spots on the field. Those preparations involved his confirmation of working with noted quarterback optimization expert Tom House, with whom Jones had been rumored to have collaborated this offseason.
Throughout New England’s offseason workout program, Jones wasted little time in demonstrating his progress. During last week’s mandatory minicamp practice sessions, he demonstrated accuracy, command and added strength on nearly all of his throws. Jones completed 23 straight passes at one point on Tuesday, with his best throw coming on a 40-yard gem to wide receiver Tre Nixon.
Jones once again connected with Nixon on the ‘play of the day’ on Wednesday — a near 60-yard completion, on which cornerback Jonathan Jones provided blanket coverage. The Pats’ starter also completed a few impressive deep passes to veteran receiver Nelson Agholor, rookie wideout Tyquan Thornton and tight end Jonnu Smith. Overall, he has looked more confident in his ability to test, and even beat single coverage in the deep areas of the field.
From a coaching standpoint, Jones may face an additional hurdle when factoring in the loss of former offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. Earlier this offseason, McDaniels left New England to accept the head coaching job with the Las Vegas Raiders. Jones and McDaniels developed a strong connection in 2021, with each gaining a solid understanding of the other’s capabilities within the Patriots offense. Thus far in 2022, Patriots offensive assistant coach Joe Judge has worked closely with Jones and the quarterbacks [including rookie Bailey Zappe and veteran Brian Hoyer] during New England’s offseason workout program. Jones also extended his time on the field during several of the team’s offseason practices, often remaining on the field for nearly 45 minutes after the conclusion of team practices.
Though his coaches and teammates will have a hand in shaping his career progression, Jones greatest desire for excellence still comes from within. While he already embodies a great deal of self motivation, Jones also possesses the intangibles necessary to lead the Patriots into 2022 and beyond.
“I’m always competing against myself,” Jones told reporters on Thursday with a smile. “Regardless of the situations that I’ve been in, I try to be better than I was yesterday.”
With the start of training camp visible on New England’s horizon, Jones’ chance to be better will be provided to him under a bright spotlight.
Fortunately for Patriots fans, the team’s young quarterback seems well prepared to meet the challenge.