Phil Perry

The Mac Report: There's a clear-cut Patriots starter at QB

After one Patriots training camp practice, it's abundantly clear how the team plans to proceed at the quarterback position.

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FOXBORO -- The Patriots made things very obvious to anyone paying attention during their first practice of training camp: Mac Jones is their starting quarterback.

That's not insignificant -- ditto for the praise he received from team leaders earlier this week -- because the organization-wide support for Jones hasn't always been there in such a clear-cut manner. 

Last year's offensive debacle, injuries Jones suffered along the way, and frayed emotions that were on display from the quarterback for the world to see apparently strained the relationship between Jones and his coaching staff.

But given how the reps were divvied up between Jones and second-year passer Bailey Zappe on Wednesday, if there remain any hard feelings, they haven't resulted in an all-out quarterback competition.

In The Mac Report, every day we'll give you an update on what exactly is going on with Jones as he goes into his all-important third pro season. There will be details on his performance. We'll highlight his highlights and point out his miscues. We'll monitor how he's interacting with coaches and how he's responding to both good plays and bad in between series. We'll feature any relevant commentary coming from him, his teammates or his head coach.

Without overreacting to all that we see and hear, providing you with the critical details of the quarterback's practice is a worthwhile use of our time. In many ways, this Patriots season will go as Jones' season goes. It's the nature of his position. And depending on the results, after Year 3, Jones could end up as the entrenched face of the franchise for years to come... or not. 

Let's get to what we saw on Day 1.

Rep it out

Mac Jones was the first quarterback on the field for every period, and he took the field with the top group of offensive linemen and pass-catchers. Running back Rhamondre Stevenson was consistently by his side. Tight ends Hunter Henry and Mike Gesicki were consistently in his huddle. Receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster, DeVante Parker, Tyquan Thornton and Kendrick Bourne rotated in. And that group played almost exclusively with Jones.

There was no splitting of reps for David Andrews and Co. between Jones and Zappe. Sub back Ty Montgomery and rookie wideout Pop Douglas were the two skill players who seemed to mix in with the top two quarterbacks. Otherwise? There was a clear divide between the "ones" and everyone else.

Number crunching

Jones went 1-for-3 in the 7-on-7 period of practice and 4-for-7 in 11-on-11 work. He didn't blow anyone away with his performance, but there's context here. The Patriots worked exclusively on their low red-zone offense, where windows are tightest. And because the practice was held in shorts and t-shirts, with the defense not threatened by potential handoffs, the deck was stacked in the favor of Jerod Mayo and Steve Belichick's unit. 

It makes sense that the Patriots would want to go to work down by the goal line early. They were the league's worst red-zone offense in 2022, and they just added big bodies in Smith-Schuster and Gesicki to help them succeed in the area of the field where contested throws are an inevitability. Jones' first two throws of 7-on-7 play actually went to Gesicki, but the first was picked by Kyle Dugger on a target that might've been left a shade behind its intended target. The next pass to the former Dolphins tight end was broken up by Jahlani Tavai. Jones found Ty Montgomery on his third pass for a touchdown in the front corner of the end zone.

Things got better for Jones and his weapons when more bodies got into the fray for 11-on-11 competition. His first and only target for Tyquan Thornton was batted away by Myles Bryant, and the very next snap was blown up by a botched blocking assignment. Jones completed his next three passes -- one short of the goal line to Smith-Schuster over the middle, one on a touchdown to Henry in the back of the end zone, one on a second read to Stevenson working on linebacker Chris Board -- for touchdowns. 

After taking a sack when Jabrill Peppers shot into the backfield unblocked as a blitzer -- "free runners," which were a problem in camp last year, returned on Day 1 -- Jones found Henry for a second score and the most impressive completion of the day. Henry beat rookie corner Christian Gonzalez, made a leaping grab on a well-placed toss by the goal post, then immediately turned to the crowd behind the end zone with an emotional reaction that was met with a roar. Henry was targeted three times on the morning, with the third going incomplete when Adrian Phillips made a physical play to separate Henry from the football.

Other items of note

  • While Bill Belichick was barely seen working with the offense during OTAs and minicamp, he hovered behind Jones' right shoulder during early offensive work, occasionally chatting up offensive players. He's not completely uninvolved, and he's not completely keeping his distance from his quarterback.
  • Bill O'Brien took charge with his booming voice as the play-caller. He constantly made adjustments in between plays, sharing the kind of information on techniques that seemed to roll off the tongue from the longtime coordinator.
  • Between series, Jones did interact with assistant quarterbacks coach Evan Rothstein, who served in a similar role last season.
  • Jones also spent time chatting up Henry quite a bit between series. The connection there -- between the white lines and outside them -- was obvious.
  • Jones didn't emote following his pick or the overall rocky 7-on-7 period. He did at times, apparently taking mental reps, stand well behind his backups, locked in on the play in front of him.
  • After a late Trace McSorley touchdown pass to Montgomery, Jones was jubilant, raising his arms overhead in celebration.

Quote of note

On his relationship with Belichick, Jones noted it was important to have a "fresh start." That seemed to begin in earnest on Wednesday. Time to turn the page.

Patriots QB Mac Jones is asked about his relationship at the start of camp with Bill Belichick

"I think we're good. I think the biggest thing that we've all talked about is just having a fresh start. I think there's a lot of learning experiences from last year that we've talked about and this year, it's all about just working together, right? You’ve got to come up with a plan, obviously talk about it, and then execute it. So, I'm excited for that part of it.

"For me, I'm just trying to be really consistent, try not to ride the wave, just stay my course and hopefully, everybody on our offense feels that, too. I think Coach O'Brien does a great job laying out what we do well so far, and we're going to learn every day what we do well and then from there, you just keep moving forward and execute the plan. So, I'm definitely excited for that."

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