Three keys to Mac Jones' Year 2 leap for the Patriots, including…running more.


The storyline will be beaten to death by the time the Patriots begin the regular season on September 11, but the fact is unavoidable: Year 2 in the NFL will be a big one for Mac Jones.

Naturally, he'll be under pressure to prove his stellar rookie season was no fluke and to prove he can get New England past the first round of the playoffs.

But he also has to perform despite a puzzling offensive coaching situation that might challenge him to take even more ownership of the offense than you'd expect from a second-year quarterback, perhaps even to the point of helping his quarterbacks coach learn on the job.

Good luck with all that.

Especially when compared to the quarterbacks selected before him in last year's draft, the strides Jones will take in 2022 might be hard to quantify in some respects. After all, being a pocket-passer quarterback without elite athletic ability to lessen your margin for error means the mental part of quarterbacking takes on even more importance.

But there are still tangible physical things Jones can do to take his game up a notch in 2022. Here are a few of them.

Improve his footwork in the pocket.

The good news: Jones displayed the polish scouts raved about early in his rookie season and generally maintained a solid baseline as a passer throughout the season. He has a quick, repeatable throwing motion that leads to accurate throws in short and intermediate ranges and typically doesn't need to step into throws to get them on target as long as they're within 10 yards.

Beyond that distance and outside the numbers are where Jones still needs to work at.

Monday's OTA practice showed he still has a tendency to lock out his front leg when he delivers the ball instead of keeping his knees bent. It notably affected a few throws toward the sideline that lost velocity and fell short. But he also showed he can do it right, ripping a few contested shots outside the numbers as well.

Jones might never have an elite arm, but utilizing his lower half and core will help him generate more power than his arm alone.

Also, he had moments last year when failed to step up or maneuver in the pocket, making things muddier and somewhat self-inflicting pressure on himself.

He doesn't need elite agility or speed to buy time in the pocket. He just has to know when to make the little moves that will give him the space he needs to make throws.

That said, there's an argument to be made that Jones should…

Use his legs more.

Though his athleticism pales in comparison to the likes of Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, or Trey Lance -- all quarterbacks taken before him in the 2021 NFL Draft -- Jones isn't exactly molasses.

"He is more athletic than you all give him credit for," said one AFC defensive coach, as reported by NFL Network's Mike Giardi. "He can make some plays with his legs. He's not this statue."

Believe it or not, this is true. Jones showed on a few occasions last year he has enough juice in his legs to at least get away from defensive linemen and pick up a few extra yards if he has a running lane (while sparing himself hard hits).

In fact, he arguably left yards on the field in 2021 by not challenging defenses enough with his legs, whether by tucking and running or simply sucking defenders in before throwing downfield. At times, he'd pass up potential first downs on the ground to attempt low-percentage throws down the field -- a by-product of his point-guard mentality.

During Monday's limited look, Jones looks slightly more mobile than he did as a rookie. That would serve him well if the Patriots start utilizing the kinds of bootlegs and rollouts they teased in their first OTA practice.

If he doesn't like what he sees, letting defenses know they have to defend him as a runner from time to time will add another element for them to think about.

Stretch the field with his arm -- within reason.

Jones knows teams didn't respect his arm strength last year and dared him to throw deep and outside the numbers down the stretch.

Sometimes, he was able to sneak the ball into tight windows. Other times, throws that should've been deep completions never made it to their targets, with the Micah Hyde interception during the Wildcard Round serving as an unfortunate example.

He could be spotted after Monday's practice doing some longer tosses before his media availability, trying to queue up accurate throws toward the front pylon of the end zone from 40 yards out or so. Those throws still had a bit too much air under them, but it's all a work in progress.

Jones also confirmed he's been working with throwing coach Tom House, who has famously worked with Tom Brady and scores of other athletes. House said back in January that one of his throwing programs could help Jones improve the speed and distance of his throws, even to the point of being able to consistently chuck the ball 60 yards.

A couple of Jones' throws on Monday looked like they had a few more miles per hour on them than last season. But he still has work to do.

No one's asking Jones to be Josh Allen, of course. However, the young Patriots passer has to be able to hurt defenses down the field when the shots are there. He had his moments showing touch and anticipation on deep passes when he knew pre-snap that he could exploit one-on-one matchups. Can he take the next step and punish defenses consistently after letting plays develop?