Patriots minicamp observations: Mac Jones ramps up the reps


Mac Jones’ process of learning the Patriots offense and potentially competing for the quarterback job as a first-round rookie continued at the second day of New England’s mandatory minicamp at Gillette Stadium. And if Jones were a stock, his rating would be a buy these days.

Even though returning veteran Cam Newton continues to take the initial reps in virtually every drill, the Alabama product saw his reps increase on Tuesday and his results were mostly positive with the growing workload.

The rep comparison between the competitors was especially notable in the middle of the two-plus hour workout, a stretch that included 7 vs. 7 and 11 vs. 11 action. In the former Newton took a pair of snaps, before giving way to Jones for his four chances. Then in the team action, Newton had three shots compared to Jones’ eight opportunities.

Overall on the day Jones was generally accurate and efficient in his chances, getting the ball out on a timely basis far more often than not and more often than Newton in the shorts-and-t-shirts action.

That’s not to say there weren’t mistakes or negative plays for Jones.

Two of those came in a three-play span later in team action in which Dont’a Hightower leaped in the air to snag an interception off a floated Jones throw over the middle. Two plays later, Jones’ pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage with Kyle Van Noy adjusting to the misdirected throw to make another athletic interception. While the results were less than ideal for Jones and the offense, they also highlighted the versatile, athletic playmakers that have returned to the New England defensive front this summer.

Newton also had an interception in the practice, overthrowing Kendrick Bourne on a deep crosser, the ball deflecting off the receiver’s hands into the waiting mitts of young safety Kyle Dugger for the pick. Newton also had too many possessions in which he held onto the ball too long and either made an unrealistic late throw or couldn’t find an open option.

Maybe more telling than Jones’ increased reps and performance or Newton’s struggles at times was the veteran former MVP’s reaction. After the sequence in which Jones got the bulk of the reps, Newton walked to the next drill rather slowly and with his head down, far from his usual energetic self. When he was not in drills, giving way to Jones or to a lesser extent Jarrett Stidham, Newton spent time standing by himself observing in isolation.

It’s early, nobody is wearing pads and Bill Belichick emphasizes that OTAs and minicamp are more teaching environments than a time for evaluations. Still, it’s hard not to notice the progress that Jones has seemingly made in recent days and the increased reps that he’s apparently earned.

At the very least the rookie passer is making progress and stacking good days together as he works toward training camp and maybe competing for the Patriots starting quarterback job much sooner than later.

Other than Jones’ increased reps and the athletic interceptions by New England’s versatile veteran linebackers, here are one man’s reactionary observations from the sun-drenched grass hill alongside the Patriots minicamp practice fields:

--Stephon Gilmore was absent from the field for the second straight day. Belichick said in his morning Zoom that he does not expect to see the No. 1 cornerback this week. Gilmore is reportedly seeking a new or restructured contract as he heads into the final year of his current deal set to pay him just $7 million in salary in 2021.

--The rest of the players not seen on the field for the workout were the same as from Monday’s first day of minicamp action, including TE/DE Rashod Berry, DE Chase Winovich, LB Terez Hall, and DL Byron Cowart.

--There were two players not listed on the roster on the field for the workout, a WR wearing No. 87 and an offensive lineman wearing No. 63.
The receiver, a possible tryout option, struggled in both his route running and catching the ball at times.

--A day after seemingly suffering a hamstring injury, tight end Jonnu Smith was on the field in jersey and helmet but didn’t do much through the session. He mostly observed and filled almost a ball-boy role at times during positional drills.

--Always interesting to note the way players arrive on the practice field from the steps coming up from the Gillette locker room. Some do so slowly. Some run when they hit the top step. A decent number stop at the corner of the end one that greats them for a moment of reflection/prayer as they prepare to compete.

--During a pre-practice segment of punt return work the returners did the classic Patriots drills of holding one ball in their hands while catching a punt. All-Pro Gunner Olszewski took the first rep and did so flawlessly, easily corralling the booming punt from the Jugs machine. Others who took reps included J.J. Taylor, Jakobi Meyers and Marvin Hall.

--While the offensive line had its projected look, from left to right, of Isaiah Wynn, Mike Onwenu, David Andrews, Shaq Mason and Trent Brown early in drills, Mason seemed to have a relatively quiet day of work in terms of reps. Versatile veteran backup Ted Karras took notable reps at right guard in Mason’s absence, continuing to work his way through all three interior spots throughout the spring.

--At various points during these spring practices Jones spends one-on-one time with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, which is to be expected.

--Belichick arrived at the field alongside Matt Patricia and spent much of the day with his former defensive coordinator in his first year back in Foxborough after times as the Lions head coach.

--Early in practice, when Newton’s energy was still positive and high, he and Brian Hoyer made a point to slap hands and offer words of encouragement to each wide receiver before joining them for a throwing drill.

--For what it’s worth, coaching assistant Vinnie Sunseri has quite an impressive head of dark hair and looks a little like a young Tedy Bruschi while running around the practice fields.

--Belichick also spent practice time with Ernie Adams, the supposedly retired advisor who’s been on the practice fields throughout the spring.

--Early in practice the team offense did a screen-heavy 11-on-11 drill against a scout team made up of offensive players holding bags.
McDaniels expressed his displeasure with the look team, its players and even the scouting assistant organizing the defense off of cards. To steal a Belichick phrase, the offensive coordinator made it clear the look he was getting was not what he was looking for.

--Jones did lead the offense to the line under some significant confusion at one point in the drill, with Olszewski yelling directions at the quarterback before the unit had to return to the huddle.

--After McDaniels made his displeasure with the scout team vocally evident, he also expressed himself regarding the amount of walking he saw going on during the middle of practice. Even some players made rather vocal declarations about the quality of the work and execution that was taking place.

--Newton’s first throw of his limited 7-on-7 red zone third down work was batted down at the line scrimmage by one of the ball boys using the customary paddles covered with tape.

--Jones’ first rep in the drill also wasn’t exactly great, with Bourne and his receivers lining up in the wrong spot.

--Jones also had one knocked down by the paddles.

--Two wide receivers worked against three defensive backs on combo routes/coverages in the low red zone. The offense seemed to get the better of the matchups for the most part, including a couple wide-open touchdowns in which the defense clearly didn’t communicate/execute properly.

--Jalen Mills dropped a would-be interception on the first Newton throw of an 11-on-11 drill. The play came as a result of a bad throw but also was related to Bourne seemingly stopping on his in-cutting route.

--Owner Robert Kraft was on the field watching the second half of practice. He spent some time talking with current assistant coach and franchise legend Troy Brown.

--Newton went deep to Nelson Agholor on one 7-on-7 snap, but Mills stayed back and made the pass defense.

--It’s early and it’s non-competitive to some degree, but Jones already looks just about as comfortable running the offense and getting the ball out on time as Newton does.

--Showing his impressive versatility, Hightower also had a clear, would-be sack off the edge in 11-on-11 action.

--The Hightower and Van Noy interceptions had some – OK, maybe just me – bringing up a Boogeymen 2.0 talk on defense for the Patriots in 2021.

--Newton marched down the field on seven straight completions in what was truly a non-competitive “two-minute drill” late in practice in which the pass rushers were instructed to basically take two steps and then chase the ball rather than to pressure the quarterback.

--Two be fair, Jones had a couple incompletions in the same drill environment with the ball being advanced simply because the script called for it not due to a successful play.

--Olszewski appeared to be completely gassed at the end of the practice. The developing slot receiver, who had a couple nice gains on deep crossers in team action, dropped to a squat out of seeming exhaustion after catching Jones’ final throw to close out the two-minute march.

-The practice concluded with conditioning runs on the far hill for the entire team.

Featured Image Photo Credit: New England Patriots