Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has always placed a premium on “availability” over “ability.” For the second straight season, his incumbent starting quarterback is unavailable for extended time. But this time, he has a promising rookie who is.
Mac Jones was the first quarterback on the field for the Patriots’ Monday practice in Foxborough, which he has been virtually every day this summer. The practice had a regular season “game week” feel, taking place on the lower practice field and de-emphasizing 1-on-1 competitions in favor of positional group work and situational team drills.
Jones ran hot and cold in this setting, an up-and-down day in a possible extended audition to wrest the Week 1 starting job away from Cam Newton.
Overall, Jones was 17-of-31 in 11-on-11 drills, including two drops, and two throwaways during game simulations. Jones threw no interceptions, tossed a “touchdown” to wide receiver Nelson Agholor during red zone/goal line work, and finished off team drills with another TD to Gunner Olszewski, which drew loud cheers from offensive teammates on the sidelines.
Jones’ first 11-on-11 session began inauspiciously. His first pass went deep for Agholor, but was dropped. He threw a high ball over the head of Jakobi Meyers, a dangerously late throw behind tight end Devin Asiasi over the middle of the field, and a fluttering incompletion in which the pass rush appeared to make contact with Jones’ arm as it went forward. Jones was 4-of-10 overall in the period.
The rookie rebounded after that, going 8-of-10 in what appeared to be a simulated two-minute drill and no-huddle offense. One of his incompletions was a throwaway to stop the clock. Another looked like a miscommunication, as receiver Kendrick Bourne ran a different route than what Jones expected. The rookie completed passes to Jonnu Smith (2), Bourne (2), Nelson Agholor (2), Asiasi, and J.J. Taylor in these periods. His strong responses to adversity have been an ongoing theme in training camp.
Jones was then 1-of-4 in a red zone/goal line session. Cornerback J.C. Jackson broke up a corner fade intended for Agholor, then Jones threw a quick strike to Agholor for a “touchdown” on the next pass attempt. Linebackers Josh Uche and Ja’Whaun Bentley got through for what would’ve been sacks on Jones’ next two dropbacks. His final attempt in this period was an overthrow intended for Bourne.
The rookie finished his day with a 4-of-7 performance in the final two-minute drill, which included a clock-stopping throwaway. On another incompletion, Agholor bobbled a catchable ball and appeared to be out of bounds, as well. Jones started the session with an impressive seam pass down the middle to Smith. He completed three of his final four attempts, including a nifty diving grab by Bourne over the middle that qualified as the “Catch of the Day.” He finished off the drive with two straight completions to Olszewski, the final one being a touchdown.
Obviously, the question for Jones after Monday, and at least through Wednesday, is will it be enough for him to jump Newton on the quarterback depth chart as soon as Week 1? Jones certainly had his moments on Monday, but Belichick won’t necessarily view his performance as undeniably better than what he’s seen from Newton.
But on Monday, on the field, Newton didn’t show him anything at all. Newton’s absence from practice until at least Thursday due to COVID-19 protocols is a failing grade in two of the most important qualities that the Patriots seek in their players, availability and dependability. After all, what use is a player who is unable to play opn Sundays?
Once Newton returns to the practice field, his reps compared to Jones will be telling. They will indicate whether Jones has made real headway in the competition for the starting job.
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.