New England Patriots

FOXBOROUGH, MA - JULY 28, 2021: Mac Jones #50 watches teammate Cam Newton #1 of the New England Patriots during training camp at Gillette Stadium on July 28, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images)

You can almost smell the straw man being built off in the distance. Better burn it, like they do at that festival. In the words of Bill Belichick, continuing to build it would be a “waste of time and energy.”

Perhaps I’m the one fashioning a straw man right now. But it’s easy to read Belichick’s lengthy remarks on starter & backup reps at training camp and wonder if some will take it as a sign that Mac Jones is closer to the Patriots’ starting quarterback job than it looks on the surface. He’s not. The “competition” for the Week 1 gig was never as serious as anyone wanted it to be.

“We’ve told all the players from back in May when we started, which is the absolute truth, is not to spend a lot of time worrying about who else is out there with you. Worry about what you’re doing and try to get it right,” Belichick said. “I think that’s the most important thing for each and every one of us is if we would focus on what our job is, how to do it well, how to do it better, how to improve on it. Again, that’s all of us; coaches, players, everybody. That’s really what we’re trying to do.

“Spend a lot of time worrying about who else is doing something else and who else is out there and not out there or whatever is honestly a total waste of time and energy. It’s not productive, so we don’t need to worry about it.”

So if Belichick is not worried about which quarterback is playing with what position groups, then he’d have no problem naming Jones the starter for Week 1 despite giving him the majority of his reps with the backups, right? Not the case.

Belichick is talking about the mentality he wants players to have. He doesn’t want the fact that Cam Newton is playing mostly with the “ones,” and that Jones is working with the “twos,” to creep into either of their heads. He wants every player preparing as if they’re going to start, as if they’re going to play on Sunday. Nothing more than that.

Even when Newton takes the field in Week 1 as the Patriots’ starting quarterback – which he will, please stop getting your hopes up – there’s always the chance he gets injured, and Jones has to enter the game earlier than expected. The important thing is that Jones practiced and prepared as if he knew that moment was coming as soon as it did. If he spent all summer telling himself, “I’m just the backup,” then he really wouldn’t be ready to start.

Jul 28, 2021; Foxborough, MA, United States; New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (50) watches New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton (1) during training camp at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

Jul 28, 2021; Foxborough, MA, United States; New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (50) watches New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton (1) during training camp at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

The most telling details from practice, by far, are the actual reps with the starters. Newton continues to lead off every team drill with the starters, and started while playing only two series in the Patriots’ 2021 preseason opener. Belichick isn’t about to play Jones with the backups and then suddenly thrust him right into the starting role in Week 1. That’s not the point he was making. He’s making sure that Jones, in his own mind, is ready to step in whenever necessary.

That time just isn’t coming right away, assuming Newton stays healthy. The “competition” was never real, and it won’t be over the next 2-3 weeks, either. Belichick is going to ride Newton and develop Jones as long as he can, and he’s not exactly reinventing the wheel by doing that, either. That’s how it works almost everywhere. And besides, if they’re winning games early, even if it’s on defense and special teams, what’s the point of throwing a rookie into the fire, anyway?

This argument may honestly be just as much of a waste of time. But the instinct was to put these Belichick comments in the proper context. Because by no means did he open any new doors on Tuesday. Newton is, was, and will be the starter out of the gate.

But Jones still has to be ready.

MORE: Belichick has yet to name Week 1 starting QB

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 mdolloff@985thesportshub.com.