Newly-returned offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien said earlier this spring that the Patriots were working with a clean slate as he took over a unit that was more a punchline than it was productive in 2022.
But for New England third-year quarterback Mac Jones, it’s hard to simply put last season in the past.
After leading the Patriots to the playoffs while earning a spot in the Pro Bowl as a rookie, Jones’ sophomore season was in many ways a nightmare under the inexperienced, ill-fated leadership of Matt Patricia and Joe Judge. The former first-round pick turned the ball over too often early in the year, missed time to an ankle injury, watched as the supposed Foxborough faithful chanted for rookie mid-round backup Bailey Zappe and then lost his cool on the field more often than either he or his head coach probably would have liked.
Early Wednesday afternoon following an impressive, efficient OTA practice at Gillette Stadium, Jones took an upbeat tone with gathered reporters as he spoke about the new year, a new system and a new coach calling his shots.
“Every year is a great year to just stay positive and try and gain confidence,” Jones said. “It’s not just confidence from last year, the year before, college. It’s my whole life. So just continue to do that and working and continue to do the right things.”
O’Brien brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to his role, something that was clearly lacking a year ago in the New England offensive leadership.
“It’s been really good. It’s been normal,” he said of getting to know the former Houston and Penn State head coach O’Brien, who most recently was the offensive coordinator at Alabama, though he arrived while Jones was leaving the Tide in the spring of 2001. “Everything he’s done so far has been really good. The communication is the most important part, and trust. I think it all starts with that when you are with a new coach. He’s done a great job controlling the room and I feel like everyone’s on the same page. Just have to continue to do it; it’s a marathon not a sprint. So we know that. He’s obviously had great experience in the NFL and at Alabama where I was at. So there is a lot of good stuff that we’ve talked about. Just looking forward to working with him.”
To say that 2022 was a struggle for Jones on and off the field would be an understatement. He didn’t play well. He didn’t always handle the adversity well. And now he has a clean slate under O’Brien’s far more qualified watchful eye. But Jones doesn’t sound like he’s totally moved on from the tough lessons of his second NFL season when he and his offense regressed mightily. Rather, he knows he has plenty to prove to both outsiders and insiders alike.
“It’s like the different buckets, I always talk about the different buckets. There’s mental, physical, emotional. I’ve addressed all that. And everything from last year is a learning experience and the year before the same thing. So just trying to fill up each bucket the right way and just be consistent and grind out,” Jones said.
“All I can do is like I said earlier, I’m going to run my race. Hopefully everybody will run right behind me and we’ll be able to push this thing along. And learn from everything. And do everything I can to earn the respect of everybody in this building again. And from there, go out there and win some games.”
And does part of Jones want to just tell some people, some of his critics to shut the F up?
“Yeah, we’ll see,” Jones said with a laugh.