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'Dramatic improvement': Bill Belichick is raving about Patriots quarterback Mac Jones

Mark Daniels
The Providence Journal

The improvements were eye opening and easy to see.

This spring, Patriots quarterback Mac Jones looked physically bigger. His arm strength looked better. He had the poise of a veteran and commanded his offense with confidence. Deep throw after deep throw, his teammates screamed, cheered and celebrated. Highlight throws became the norm in Patriots OTAs and minicamp.

Coming off a fantastic rookie season, Jones’ rapid improvements this spring has the Patriots organization excited for the future. On Tuesday, a day before the team’s first day of training camp, Bill Belichick echoed those sentiments. The Patriots coach didn’t hold back, admitting that there’s been a “dramatic improvement” for Jones this offseason.

“I think Mac’s done a great job. He’s worked extremely hard. He’s got a tremendous work ethic. In all areas, I think there’s a dramatic improvement,” Belichick said. “His physical work and conditioning, working on his mechanics, working on his footwork, working on his understanding of our offense, of opponent defenses, of situations – all those things…

“Yeah, he’s worked hard. He’s made tremendous strides. 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. So, 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.”

7. Patriots (8): Could be snowing in single-digit weather Saturday night in Buffalo. Might be another three-throw game for rookie QB Mac Jones. Worked out the first time.

Playing in the shadow of Tom Brady didn’t seem to faze the young quarterback last season. His rookie campaign ended with Jones on the Pro Bowl team as an alternate. His stats (3,801 yards, 22 touchdowns and a 67.6 completion percentage) made him one of the best rookie quarterbacks of all time. That performance led to loft expectations.

So far, he’s lived up to the billing.

“I’m extremely biased, I think the young man is fantastic,” said Patriots captain Matthew Slater. “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.

“Ultimately, this is going to be his team.”

Here's why Jones looks improved for the Patriots

In OTAs and minicamp, Jones did look dramatically improved. In minicamp, his best throw was a 60-yard deep ball to Tre Nixon. On the same day, the quarterback threw a perfect 40-yard pass to Nelson Agholor. That came a day after he hit Nixon with a perfect 50-yard throw. There was also a 35-yard pass to Nixon in double coverage and a 25-yard strike to Jonnu Smith.

For comparison sake, last year, Jones completed 69% (57/87) in his first OTAs and minicamp. This year, he completed 87% (59/68) of his throws. In minicamp, Jones was electric, hitting 91% of his passes (41/45) in competitive team drills with no interceptions. Last year, as a rookie, he completed 63% (41/65) of his passes.

This spring, Jones admitted he aimed to improve his nutrition, arm strength and football. Physically, he looked bigger and his arm did look stronger on those highlight deep passes. Belichick says that the Patriots also have a better idea of Jones’ skill set. That’s allowed the team to tailor its offense around their quarterback’s strength. On top of those, having one NFL season under his belt has allowed Jones to process plays faster on the field.

New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones takes part in drills at the NFL football team's practice facility in Foxborough, Mass., Monday, May 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

“The plays we already talk about or the concepts we talk about, Mac’s already done before. It’s easy for him to say, ‘Are we going to do this on that? Are we going to do this on something else? What do you think about splitting them a little but wider, splitting them a little bit tighter?’” Belichick said. “Suggestions like that. That comes up all the time. now it comes up with the background of experience of doing it. He may have had some of the same questions last year but without really having the full knowledge that he has this year.

“He’s just a lot further along in the conversation and we have a much better feel for what he can do – what his strengths are and how we can play into those. He’s self-aware too. He knows what he does well. We try to teach those, but there are also things we can work on to improve. We all can make improvements in areas and so we’ve identified some of those. He’s worked very hard at them. Hopefully those will be better and I’m sure they will because he’s put the time and work in.”

Who's calling the Patriots plays for Jones?

Jones’ development is the biggest storyline for the Patriots this summer. Part of that equation will be who is calling the quarterback’s plays on the game field.

When Josh McDaniels left to become the head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders, Jones lost his quarterback coach and offensive coordinator. On top of that, Patriots assistant quarterbacks coach, Bo Hardegree, receivers coach, Mick Lombardi and offensive line coach, Carmen Bricillo, followed McDaniels to Vegas. Longtime running backs coach Ivan Fears also retired.

Belichick went an unconventional route by appointing former special teams coach and New York Giants head coach Joe Judge as the Patriots new quarterbacks coach. Former defensive coordinator and Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia is the new offensive line coach. Both coaches look like they’ll play a role in Jones' development as they both called offensive plays in OTAs and minicamp.

“I think I've said many times, I think Matt and Joe are two outstanding coaches in every sense of the word, whatever those duties entail,” Belichick said. “They're very good. They're exceptional at the entire gamut. So, glad we have both of them. They do a good job.”

New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) talks with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels during a timeout against the Texans in the second half, Sunday, Oct. 10, 2021, in Houston.

As of right now, we still don’t know who will be the offensive play caller once the season starts. Belichick declined to give any coach the ‘offensive coordinator’ title. He did say that Jones will “have input” in the offense, but wouldn’t say who replaces McDaniels on the sidelines.

“Yeah, look - I'm the head coach. Ultimately, I'm responsible for everything,” said Belichick when asked who will be calling plays. “So, just leave it at that. That's what it is.”

Whoever it is will have plenty of pressure to get this situation right. After all, Jones looks dramatically improved from a year ago. With a promising young quarterback, the sky’s the limit in Foxboro.