Why Patriots players believe in starting QB Mac Jones, a rookie: 'He plays like a vet'

Mark Daniels
The Providence Journal

FOXBORO – There were moments that Mac Jones clearly stuck out. For quarterbacks, these happened with deep ball passes or throws into tight coverage. These plays happened routinely for the rookie over the course of training camp and the preseason.

With the Patriots' first-round pick and new starting quarterback, however, it went beyond just a highlight throw here and there. For Patriots on offense and defense, it was the way Jones read the field and made adjustments to find the open target. This summer, Jones shined when the Patriots coaching staff put him in a no-huddle or 2-minute drill situation -- the rookie had to react quickly on every play.

It was in those moments where Patriots players knew he had the potential to be something special. Now that the 22-year-old is officially the team’s starting quarterback, teammates have started to open up about the rookie.

New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones winds up to pass the ball during an NFL football practice, Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021, in Foxborough, Mass. The Patriots released quarterback Cam Newton on Tuesday, Aug. 31, clearing the way for rookie Mac Jones to open the season as New England's quarterback, according to a person with knowledge of the move. The person spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the decision has not been announced. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

J.C. Jackson: 'He’s going to be that guy'

“Mac Jones, he’s going to be that guy,” said Patriots No. 1 cornerback J.C. Jackson. “I mean, he’s a rookie, but he plays like a vet. The way he reads defense. The way he steps up in the pocket, delivers the ball. He’s improved since the first time I’ve seen him.”

This summer, it was notable how many times the Patriots coaching staff put Jones through a no-huddle situation. Every practice, you would see it. It usually came at the end of the session, with one of the last periods having Jones on the field in a 2-minute drill type of scenario. Here, the rookie would have to analyze the defense, change the play based off the defense and make the right throw depending on the coverage.

As soon as the ball was caught, Jones would sprint to the line of scrimmage and do it again. The genius behind drilling this situation for a rookie quarterback is that he has barely enough time to think, so the coaching staff gets a great idea of how well Jones knows the playbook. We also saw this in the preseason. In Jones’ first two preseason games, the Pats opened up the third quarter with the rookie operating a no-huddle offense.

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Jones played well in those moments and this week, players on offense and defense said his ability made him stand out.

Kendrick Bourne: 'He just seems so relaxed making adjustments'

“I would say the 2-minute (drill) for me with Mac,” said Patriots receiver Kendrick Bourne. “He just seems so relaxed making adjustments. We’re moving fast, but it’s slowed down (for him). He’s just seeing it well. That’s key. He’s making the right reads going through the progressions well to get to the open person because sometimes they might double over here, Jonnu (Smith), and this is open over here, so he has to see that and know to come to the 1-on-1 (matchup).

“Just the adjustments he’s been making. Josh (McDaniels) sets us to change plays, but for him to see what’s going on to make the play change is key, and he’s seeing it well. He’s putting us in the best position to make plays.”

Jalen Mills: Jones reads the Pats' defense well

Cornerback Jalen Mills said it was noticeable how well Jones reads the Patriots' defense in practice.

“I think the biggest thing is when you see the offense may have a play call, and you may have a motion or see a guy flinch where it might be a blitz. You see him go to the line of scrimmage and make a different kind of check,” Mills said. “That’s what you want to see from not only a young guy, but a quarterback in general. They have a predicated call and he sees the defense attacking them a certain type of way, and he checks the offense to a play that helps him get into a better position.”

Rookie quarterback Mac Jones will be the Patriots' starter.

Cam Newton's release

Jones "officially" became the Patriots starting quarterback on Tuesday, when the team released veteran Cam Newton. The Pats have had two practices since then, and Bourne said he’s noticed a difference in Jones. The rookie quarterback is clearly feeling the pressure, but the way he’s conducted himself has also stood out.

“Yeah, for anybody, you get named the starter, that's a different kind of urgency,” Bourne said. “You can’t mess up. The only way is down. For any starter, I think you feel that pressure, but he was built for it since (Alabama). I think he’s more ready than anybody really knows.”

Bourne was especially close with Newton and admitted he’ll miss the energy that the veteran brought on the practice field and in the locker room. However, the receiver also admitted that Jones winning the job “was just the best thing for the team.”

It’s clear teammates are behind the rookie quarterback and that Jones continues to impress.

“Just what I’ve seen throughout camp and these last few days – he’s locked in. He’s poised. He seems ready for the moment,” Bourne said. “I’m excited to be a part of it.”