Curran: Why Jones' ‘struggle' is cause for optimism and not concern


Hey, whoa, what happened to all the cartwheels we in the media were turning over Mac Jones the first time we saw him at OTAs???

Last week, he was not quite as sharp. Thursday -- even without Cam Newton out there -- he was third in line when taking reps? And the best quarterback during practice was ... Brian Hoyer, who was dialing up bombs repeatedly while Jones was scanning, scanning, scanning ... and throwing underneath.

This is Mac Jones right now …

And you know what? That’s exactly where the Patriots want him to be. Swimming furiously to keep up. Admitting that -- damn -- this is hard.

“You’re just trying to seeing everything,” Jones said after Thursday’s workout. "Sometimes you see too much ... And then you see nothing. So I have to figure out, in this offense, how I can do that -- how I can break down the plays, what’s my job, what do I have to do on this specific play, and then slot the plays individually. I did that obviously good in college, or whatever, but this is the pros and I have to figure out how to do it here. So that’s what I’m going to do."

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If Jones weren’t struggling right now -- first week of June at his first OTAs -- you know what that would indicate? Coddling. A gentle approach. A “take it easy, don’t put too much on his plate” mindset indicative of a guy who was going to be brought along slowly.

That Jones IS struggling and that he’s seeing some fairly intricate looks from the defense in practice more likely means he’s getting fast-tracked. Thrown in the deep end, kicked out of the nest, apron strings cut, training wheels off, whatever you want to call it. They have put him in an advanced-level course for a reason.

And they did it because he’s ready for it. Jones, despite one year as the Alabama starter, might be the most advanced of any rookie quarterback that’s arrived in New England. My longtime beat buddy Mike Reiss wrote this after our first session watching Jones.

Did Jones get dumber? Was Reiss wrong? No. And also no.

I found it absolutely fitting that Jones was running behind Hoyer when taking 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 reps on Thursday. If you want to teach someone, what do you do? You demonstrate. Hoyer is here in case of emergency and also to help the development of the younger quarterbacks on the field and off. So have the guy who’s been in the league for 13 years take a few reps and rip it downfield to give an example of, “See, this is how this can look if you see it a certain way…”

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Then have Jones -- who’s been in the league for 44 days -- try it. Teach him where his eyes should go first. Teach him what “NFL open” looks like compared to “SEC open.” Give him a sense of how fast men who have been doing this for a living full-time for a decade move because, no matter how much people love to wonder how Alabama would do in the NFL, anyone with an ounce of sense understands the yawning gap between a team that may have 10 future NFL Players and a team that has 53 current NFL players.

And then let Jones sit down in front of a laptop with Josh McDaniels or Hoyer next to him and let Jones explain what he sees and what he can do differently when it’s not the first week of June.

He’s know what he’s got to do.  

“It’s ‘alright I got the play, what am I supposed to do on this play?’ Get everyone lined up, make the ‘mike-point’ and then roll from there. Honestly, it’s going to be a growing process. You know, I’m learning and I’m learning from the other guys. They can do it really fast. My goal is to hopefully be able to do it even faster every day and I’ve tried to do that. The veteran players, it’s kind of like second nature for them. I have to figure out how to do it fast and execute the plays really fast to a level in a new offense.”

There’s a reason that mental toughness and resiliency have been the coin of the realm in Foxboro for the entirety of Bill Belichick’s tenure. He and his coaching staff make it hard for their best and most promising players. The smarter you are, the more you find on your plate. Jerod Mayo, brain of the defense as a rookie? Solo captain at the start of his second season in the league? That’s a lot. He handled it.

Mac Jones isn’t going to bring physical tools to beat you like Justin Herbert, Trevor Lawrence, Lamar Jackson, or Patrick Mahomes (to name a few). His arm is fine. His size will be OK. It’s his brain that has to be elite to put him in position to generate success at the position. Diagnosis. Anticipation. Execution. You don’t want him ripping 35-yard outs, running on third-and-5 and throwing off-platform with regularity. You want him channeling John Stockton not Magic Johnson (Want me to update that reference? You want Chris Paul, not Kyrie.)

Jones spoke Thursday about having two figurative buckets. In one, he keeps the good things he’s done or “mastered” (as much as a rookie can master something). In the other, the things that need improvement. That bucket of “things I keep messing up or things I’m not getting, I have to … figure out what’s wrong. I’ve just got to take that approach and just learn from all the quarterbacks.”

At some point Jones is going to do this:

Will that be training camp? Preseason? Midseason? And will his increased acumen automatically equate to him becoming the starter?

Or should we logically assume another part of the process is scaling the depth chart. Beating out each quarterback in front of him one-by-one so when he's inserted there’s no risk of Bill Belichick and McDaniels looking at each other and saying, “Oh, shit he wasn’t ready and we put him in a position to fail …”. I think we should.

But the process has most definitely begun. And the fact Jones is taking on water is a good sign. It’s supposed to be hard.

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