Leading up to the NFL Draft, Alabama quarterback Mac Jones was repeatedly praised for his intelligence and ability to process information. Now a member of the New England Patriots after getting drafted 15th overall in the first round, it appears he is already doing just that.
One of four quarterbacks participating in the team’s voluntary offseason workouts, Jones has had some rookie moments but also looked accurate and decisive at times during the two open organized team activities. His already advanced understanding of the Patriots’ offensive system and terminology — neither is entirely different from Alabama’s — helps with that, as Bill Belichick himself recently pointed out.
“I think Mac has a pretty good understanding of the things that we do,” Belichick said during a recent media conference call.
“He has to go out there and do them and get comfortable with them, so it’s a process and we’ve had a number of other players at that quarterback position come in and go through that. Sometimes it starts a little slower and then picks up, sometimes it starts a little higher and slows down.”
The only quarterback ever drafted in the first round by a Belichick-led team, Jones joined the Patriots coming off one of the best quarterback seasons in college football history.
In his first and only full season as the Crimson Tide’s starter he completed 311 of 402 pass attempts for a success rate of 77.4 percent. He also had gained 4,500 yards through the air, while throwing 41 touchdowns compared to only 3 interceptions. Jones did have arguably the best supporting cast in the country, but he did what he was supposed to do.
“He’s won a lot of games in the last year-plus at Alabama,” said Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels last week. “He’s played in some big games, some pressure situations. He takes care of the football. He has demonstrated an ability to function at a pretty high level in their system and their offense with their terminology. He competed in a league that’s widely regarded as one of the top conferences, if not the top conference, in all of college football.”
As a result of his success at Alabama, he played himself into the first round conversation and eventually heard his name called when New England was on the clock — an outcome he had hoped for as he told NFL commissioner Roger Goodell while on stage during the event in Cleveland.
The expectation now is obvious: Jones was brought in to serve as New England’s quarterback of the future. While it remains to be seen whether or not he will surpass incumbent starter Cam Newton, or beat out veteran backups Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer, he brings a solid foundation to the table as McDaniels pointed out.
“To play the position of quarterback, there’s certainly not just one thing you need to do well,” McDaniels said. “He certainly stood out in certain obvious ways [at Alabama], relative to throwing the football, command, protecting the football and not hurting his football team. There’s a lot to look at and digest as you study him.
New England’s long-time offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach has been working closely with all four passers under contract with the team. While Jones is the future based on his draft status and upside, the goal is not just to teach him the system as best as possible but also to find a viable starting option for the upcoming season — whether it be Jones himself, the seemingly resurgent Stidham or, most realistically, Newton.
“The best thing about coaching these guys, and we got four great guys in the room, is you coach all of them hard and you coach them all fairly, and you coach them all to what they need. One of them might need a kick in the butt once in a while, one of them might need a pat on the back, but what all of them need is good, honest communication and constructive criticism,” McDaniels pointed out.
“We need to teach every day. I’m not taking anything for granted, making sure that we cover everything A to Z and giving them an opportunity to make a mistake, fix it, come back and try it again. To be able to give them all those opportunities this spring is invaluable, and it’s a great opportunity for us to make progress in that room collectively, to prepare them to compete in August.”
As for Jones, he has gotten some of those valuable opportunities already.
During the first of two OTA practices open to reporters he was the second man up behind Cam Newton, and working alongside the former league MVP for most of the season. Last Friday, after Newton left the session with a hand injury, Jones was the next man up before Stidham took over late.
While evaluation is not the primary goal during spring practices, Jones appears to have left a positive impression on his teammates and coaches. Now, it is all about continuing to build and getting himself into a good spot for training camp and preseason — and maybe the regular season as well.
“We’ll just have to see how it goes, but he’s working hard. He puts in a lot of time and, certainly, giving his very best effort to do everything we’ve asked him to do and do it the way that we’ve asked him to do it, which is a great place to start,” Belichick said about the rookie. “He’s earned a lot of respect for that but he’s got a long way to go and we’ll see how it goes.”