Tracking a key variable in Mac Jones’ ‘Year 2 Leap’
Jul 29, 2022; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) calls a play during training camp at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports
Coming into training camp, one of the biggest questions regarding the Patriots overall was how effective the offense could be this season if Mac Jones doesn’t take a second-year leap. It’s still early, but an inverse question has emerged. Does a significant ‘Year 2 Leap’ from Jones individually guarantee elevated offensive production for the team as a whole?
When Jones has had chances to throw the ball so far this summer, he’s looked good. His footwork is cleaner, his throwing motion is more compact, and he’s putting more zip on the ball. That’s all pretty much the growth expected from any second-year quarterback to this point.
Perhaps even more impressive has been the chemistry he’s shown with the Patriots’ pass catchers. They’ve clearly worked at getting on the same page. Even the players in their first year with the team – trade acquisition DeVante Parker and second-round draft pick Tyquan Thornton – have seemingly clicked with Jones at an advanced level.
“I feel like we’ve got a great chemistry, just like the whole team,” Thornton said last Thursday when asked about working with Jones. “We all come together every day, put the hours in.”
However, issues up front have limited how much Jones and the passing game have been able to show off that growth. Jones has regularly been short for time in the pocket, left throwing on the run or having to throw the ball away.
As practices have gone on and the pressure has been turned up by the defense, that chemistry is starting to show up less and less. The regular presence of the pass rush in the backfield may be speeding up not just Jones’ internal clock, but the internal clock of the entire offense.
On top of that, the offense has struggled to run the ball throughout camp. That’s not impacting Jones right now, but if those issues continue and the offense becomes one-dimensional, it will make it even tougher for the passing game.
These offensive line issues haven’t come out of nowhere. The projected starting line of (from left tackle to right tackle) Trent Brown, Cole Strange, David Andrews, Michael Onwenu, and Isaiah Wynn features changes in four of five spots compared to last year’s most successful configuration. At the guard spots, Strange and Wynn replace Ted Karras (left in free agency) and Shaq Mason (traded to Tampa Bay) Onwenu steps back in after finishing last season as the sixth offensive lineman, while Strange is a rookie. Brown and Wynn were both the team’s primary starting tackles last year, but they’ve switched sides from 2021. Only Andrews is back in the spot he played last season.
With lst year’s line coach Carmen Bricillo following Josh McDaniels to Las Vegas, that realigned group has a new offensive line coach managing things in Matt Patricia. Patricia is both the offensive line coach and seems to be the team’s primary play-caller.
Perhaps compounding things further is the fact this offensive line, along with the rest of the offense, is trying to learn a new zone-heavy offensive system. For the returning players, most of these concepts are an adjustment that involve more movement and playing in space. Strange may have – at least at the start – the most familiarity with it of any of the starters having played in a similar system at UT-Chattanooga last year. No doubt, the process of picking up this system has contributed to the disconnect up front.
Even the coaching staff is unfamiliar with some of these concepts in a direct sense. Patricia, who plays a key role in installing the system, has game-planned against a number of teams running it while the defensive coordinator in New England and head coach in Detroit, but never worked hands-on with this style of offense on his own team.
Don’t forget, Jones is trying to learn the new system too. “I think we’re all just trying to learn and figure it out and just move along here, and at the end of the day it’s the player’s job to execute the plays that the coaches want,” Jones said on Tuesday when asked his thoughts on the new offensive scheme. “They’ve done a good job at explaining each play and our job is to go out there and execute it.”
So far in camp, the key takeaway at the quarterback position is really this – a lack of offensive success this season, if that lack is tied to the issues the offense has had in camp, may not be indicative of the fact that Jones hasn’t grown his game since last season. That’s not to say those issues can’t be cleaned up – there’s still over a month to go until the Patriots’ first meaningful game – but getting that all fixed is paramount to the team’s collective offensive growth in 2022. Otherwise Jones could be better individually in 2022 than he was in 2021, and the team could still see the offense perform worse as a whole.
Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarthor via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.