Perry: Patriots give Mac Jones a real chance at minicamp


FOXBORO -- It's important to get all the requisite qualifiers out of the way early so let's go ahead and do that, shall we?

It's only June. 

Players are wearing shorts and T-shirts. 

It's minicamp, which is more about teaching than it is competition. 

Training camp is more than a month away.

OK. That said ... If the plan for the Patriots is to "redshirt" Mac Jones this year, they have a funny way of showing it.

In his team's second practice of its mandatory minicamp this week, Bill Belichick watched as his first-round rookie got two or three times the number of snaps in certain team periods (offense versus defense) compared to last year's starter Cam Newton. Based on Tuesday's work, seeing more contested reps than any of his fellow passers, Jones appeared to be given a full workload perhaps so that the team can better gauge his preparedness when he's in the throes of training camp later this summer.

Patriots Talk Podcast: Mac Jones on the rise? How does that sit with Cam Newton? | Listen & Subscribe | Watch on YouTube

Call it fast-tracking. Call it trial by fire. Don't call it a watch-and-learn approach. The Patriots wanted to see what Jones could do Tuesday with the attention of the coaching staff, his teammates and the media in attendance ratcheted up.

Though Newton remained the first quarterback up in drills, Jones finished 16-for-23 in contested 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 periods as the second quarterback up in the pecking order. Newton, meanwhile, went 6-for-13.

In the first contested 7-on-7 period of the practice, Newton got two reps and Jones got six. In the first contested 11-on-11 period of the practice, Newton got three reps and Jones got seven. 

Newton had four snaps in contested team periods that would have resulted in sacks by the defense and he was intercepted by safety Kyle Dugger. Jones would have been sacked once and he was picked off twice; one interception was made by a leaping Dont'a Hightower and one was snagged by Kyle Van Noy after a pass was deflected at the line of scrimmage. 

On Monday, Jones went 13-for-20. Newton went 12-for-20. Jarrett Stidham went 8-for-15 Monday then saw his team-period work reduced significantly Tuesday, going 4-for-7. Brian Hoyer did not see any contested team reps on Tuesday after going 3-for-6 in those periods on Monday.

Among Jones' best throws of the day were a red-zone period touchdown pass high to the back end line to Hunter Henry and a well-placed deep ball down the right sideline to Isaiah Zuber that fell incomplete thanks in part to tight coverage from corner Jalen Mills.

Jones appeared to mostly get the football out on time, but he had two passes batted at the line (one by a paddle held by a staffer and one that led to Van Noy's pick), he threw one behind Zuber incomplete, and he missed an open Nelson Agholor deep down the field in a 7-on-7 period. 

It was far from a perfectly clean performance, and there were moments when Jones' group of skill position players had difficulty aligning quickly. At one point, in a half-speed period, Jones' group had to re-huddle before breaking again and getting to the line.

Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was often seen working closely with Jones and appeared to be emphatically coaching up the rookie at every opportunity -- even after a slow-paced walkthrough at the start of practice prior to the team's stretching period.

In a practice where the defense was focused on creating confusion up front to generate pressure, it made sense to get Jones a sizable share of the work. Though he'll never be among the league's most mobile quarterbacks, he seemed adept at eluding pressure and finding throwing windows. On back-to-back snaps in the first contested 11-on-11 period of the day, Jones stepped up to avoid Matt Judon and hit N'Keal Harry, then got one to running back Tyler Gaffney quickly with Josh Uche chugging into the backfield. 

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At one point, Jones held onto the ball for an extended period of time before finally firing a throwaway into the turf. He also made what looked like a rookie mistake late in the practice. On one 11-on-11 snap, he threw quickly with Henry Anderson coming off the edge unblocked. Well done, seemingly. But on the next snap, Anderson was unblocked again and Jones seemed to miss him. The play would've resulted in a sack.

Normal growing pains for a rookie quarterback. Run of the mill stuff. To be expected. 

That the Patriots were willing to let Jones see the field as often as he did to experience those growing pains? Noteworthy.

Newton's Day

You can read more about how Tuesday went for Newton here. But he had a tough start to the contested team periods. 

His first 7-on-7 pass was batted by a paddle. His second and final throw of the period was completed late in the down.

His first 11-on-11 pass was nearly picked by Mills. His next snap resulted in an Uche "sack." His third and final snap of the period resulted in a Phillips "sack."

During the next contested 7-on-7 period, Newton threw deep and incomplete to Agholor. He then overthrew Hunter Henry deep. He then threw high to Kendrick Bourne and was intercepted by Dugger. 

Down day for Jonnu Smith

Jonnu Smith was present but did not participate in Tuesday's practice after suffering a lower-body injury on Monday. Shaq Mason appeared to be limited during the session, leading to plenty of work for versatile interior offensive lineman Ted Karras at right guard.

Chase Winovich remained out, as did Byron Cowart, Rashod Berry and Terez Hall. Stephon Gilmore's absence continued into Tuesday, and Belichick said before the day's work that he didn't anticipate Gilmore would be attending minicamp this week.  

Eyes on N'Keal Harry

N'Keal Harry submitted a second solid day of practice, making some plays in contested team periods when given an opportunity. But he may have pulled up at the end of the session so it's worth monitoring his participation level Wednesday. 

Harry was the intended target on one of Jones' incompletions when he appeared to drift his route up the field as the football approached, and it was batted away by Mills. Coming downhill toward the football was something Patriots pass-catchers had worked on earlier in the practice.

Jalen Mills rolling

Mills nearly picked off Newton's first pass in 11-on-11s when Bourne broke off his route and Newton expected Bourne to continue toward the middle of the field.

Mills also nearly picked off Newton in 7-on-7s later in the practice, and he helped force an incompletion by having tight coverage on his assignment when Jones targeted Zuber deep down the field.

Defensive standouts

Hightower's pick -- a leaping grab on a Jones pass floated over the short middle area of the field -- was the most impressive play of the day. He also had "sacks" on both Newton and Stidham.

Anderson, Uche and Adrian Phillips had "sacks" as well. Christian Barmore was in the backfield quickly helping lead to a batted Jones pass that was picked by Van Noy. With preseason games back in the mix this year, it will be interesting to how Patriots quarterbacks react when the threat of being hit is in play.

Little help?

Seeing his reps reduced, Stidham still made one of the better throws of the practice. On a deep pass down the left sideline, he was on the money to Agholor but the pass was dropped. Agholor dropped an accurate deep attempt from Stidham on Monday as well.

One of Stidham's three incompletions Tuesday was the result of Bourne falling down mid-route in the end zone. Stidham was also "sacked" by Hightower at one point as the Patriots offensive line had trouble consistently handling pressure looks over the course of the day.

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