Mac Jones needs to show a lot to have a chance at unseating Cam Newton any time soon. But on Monday at Patriots training camp, the rookie took a nice step forward and won the day.
Jones was 16-of-21 throwing in competitive 11-on-11 drills on Monday in Foxborough. He and second-year receiver Isaiah Zuber connected for the most impressive pass play of the day, a deep ball dropped into Zuber’s hands and threaded between defensive backs Dee Virgin and D’Angelo Ross. At one point, Jones completed seven passes in a row.
The Patriots mixed up the personnel and Jones spread the ball around, completing passes to receivers Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, and Jakobi Meyers (2); tight ends Jonnu Smith, David Wells (2), Troy Fumagali, and Matt LaCosse; running backs Sony Michel, Brandon Bolden, and J.J. Taylor; and rookie receiver Tre Nixon (2).
Only one of Jones’ incompletions, a throw over the middle that was a little too far ahead of James White, was distinctively off the mark. Another was caught by Agholor but looked to be out of bounds. Safety Adrian Phillips broke up two attempts, one each intended for the top-2 tight ends, Hunter Henry and Smith. Cornerback J.C. Jackson disrupted a throw intended for Agholor in the back corner of the end zone.
Jones separated himself from Newton in one particular session, going 5-of-6, compared to 3-of-7 for Newton. On one play, he got the ball out for a completion to Agholor with Christian Barmore bearing down on him, after the rookie defensive tackle beat his block. Newton made two off-target throws and had another tipped during the same session.
Monday marked the first practice that Jones got a clear win in the quarterback battle. The question is whether it’s nearly enough to change Bill Belichick’s mind about the starting job. Belichick declared Newton the team’s starter before Saturday’s practice, indicating that even if Jones continues to take steps forward, he’s a long way away from creating a difficult decision for the head coach.
“We’ll take a look at the whole situation,” Belichick said Saturday. “I don’t think you want to evaluate players at any position off of one or two plays, or maybe a day, so from a consistency standpoint that’s always important and obviously production, so hopefully those things will be good and I’m sure it’ll be a hard decision. We’ll see how it goes. Let them play and try to do what we feel like is best for the team based on their performance.”
What has stood out the most about Jones is the overall rhythm of the offense when he’s under center. On many plays, it’s snap, three-step drop, ball comes out. He may not be demonstrably better than Newton in terms of pure passing at this point, but he certainly looks more like a traditional Patriots quarterback. He had the production to match in Monday’s competitive drills.
But the situation remains clear, at least to Belichick. Newton is still leading off competitive 11-on-11 sessions and earning the rare early declaration as the starter. So even after a win like Jones had in Monday’s competition, Jones is likely a long way away from changing plans.
Matt Dolloff is a writer and podcaster for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff and follow him on Instagram @mattydsays. You can also email him at email@example.com.