Bill Belichick is traditionally stingy with compliments as a venerable, old-school coach who usually reserves praise for the New England Patriots‘ opponents. Belichick even used to give legendary quarterback Tom Brady a hard time when he fell short of the gold standard he had established. That’s why it was so significant how glowing Belichick was Tuesday in his assessment of second-year quarterback Mac Jones and how promising he’s been since his arrival in New England.
‘Tremendous strides’ for Patriots QB Mac Jones
One league source familiar with Jones and his relationship with Belichick wasn’t surprised to see how the coach talked about the former Alabama standout and first-round draft pick. Jones has paid the price with an upgraded workout regimen and stricter diet and is noticeably leaner than he was as a rookie.
“Mac has worked his butt off to become the best quarterback he can be, first off, and that work ethic goes a long way with Bill,” the source said. “Mac concentrates on his weaknesses and is extremely dedicated to his craft. He’s gotten into much better shape and he studies extremely hard. He puts the time into it, watches a ton of film, and he cares.
“That’s huge with Bill. How much do you care? How important is football to you? When you truly check that box and are coachable like Mac, Bill is going to have your back, and he’s going to give you the pats on the back.”
In the wake of Jones leading all rookie quarterbacks last season with 3,801 passing yards, 22 touchdowns, and a 92.5 passer rating, Belichick sounds convinced that initial success is a preview of more to come.
Bill Belichick gives Mac Jones strong praise
As a rookie, Jones displayed poise in the pocket, accuracy, poise, and an ability to read defenses.
“I think Mac’s done a great job,” Belichick said during a press conference. “He’s worked extremely hard. He’s got a tremendous work ethic in all areas. I think there’s a dramatic improvement. His physical work and conditioning, working on his mechanics, working on his footwork, working on his understanding of our offense, of opponents defense, of situations all those things. We talk about all those things in various degrees some more emphasis than others and the emphasis on maybe some other things that will come later on.
“We can’t do it all at once, but he’s worked hard. He’s made tremendous strides. He did a great job last year, but he’s starting it from a much much higher point this year than where he started last year. His offseason work has been significant. I think everyone recognizes how well he prepares and how much further along he is than he was a year ago.”
Jones outperformed other 2021 rookie QBs
In his final season at Alabama, Jones passed for 4,500 yards, 41 touchdowns, and four interceptions, beating Ohio State in the national championship as he passed for 464 yards and five touchdowns. He won the Davey O’Brien, Johnny Unitas Golden Arm, and Manning awards and finished third in the balloting for the Heisman Trophy.
Since he was drafted by New England, Jones has outperformed the quarterbacks drafted ahead of him: Trevor Lawrence (Jacksonville Jaguars), Zach Wilson (New York Jets), Trey Lance (San Francisco 49ers), and Justin Fields (Chicago Bears).
Selected 15th overall, Jones emerged as more than a game manager. He confidently delivered spirals and was able to get rid of the football in a hurry to avoid sacks and make up for his lack of high-end mobility.
Matthew Slater impressed by the young QB
Belichick isn’t the only fan of Jones in the Patriots’ organization. Veteran special-teams ace Matthew Slater, 36, was talking up Jones as the Patriots reported to training camp.
“I’m extremely biased, but I think the young man is fantastic,” Slater said. “I think he’s demonstrated great leadership from the day he walked in this building, and I think he’ll continue to do so. We’re all excited about what he’s going to be and what he’s going to provide, not just as a player but as a leader for this organization. He continues to grow in that role. Ultimately, this is going to be his team.
“In a lot of ways, we’re going to take on the personality of our quarterback, but he’s just got to be himself. He doesn’t need to try to be anybody from the past, the present, or the future. He’s just got to be the best version of Mac Jones, and we’ll certainly respond to it and rally around him. long he was than a year ago.”
After beating out Cam Newton for the starting job, Jones started every game in 2021. He led the Patriots to a 10-7 record and a Wild Card playoff spot. After losing to the Buffalo Bills, 47-17, Jones has spent this offseason working on the finer points of the game.
“We’re just a lot further ahead in the conversation,” Belichick said. “The plays that we talk about, or concepts we talk about, Mac has already done it before. It’s easy for him to say, ‘Are we going to do this on that? Are we going to do this on something else? What do you think about splitting them a little bit wider? Splitting them a little bit tighter.’
“Suggestions like that. And we have a much better feel for what he can do, what his strengths are, and how to try to play into those. He’s self-aware, too. He knows what he does well. We want to try to feature those.”
Jones put in extra work with veteran quarterback coach Tom House — who has also worked with Brady — and organized offseason workouts with his teammates. During the spring, Jones emphasized that he has focused on self-improvement and health more than any time in his life.
“I learned more this offseason than I probably ever have about nutrition, sleep, wellness, all that stuff,” Jones said. “I’m taking what I learned that I feel will help me and apply it. Just following their plan and eating healthy, taking out a lot of the things that are bad for my diet, but at the same time, maintain my weight and be able to take hits. There’s a fine balance.
“For me, I’ve definitely trimmed down on body fat a little bit, and I’ll get a chance to bulk back up before the season starts to be able to absorb the hits. My body feels good. I feel a lot better. Just trying to work and be the best quarterback I can be right now.”
Adjusting to coaching changes in New England
The Patriots’ coaching staff is much different than a year ago when Josh McDaniels was the offensive coordinator. Now, Belichick is taking on a larger role with the direction of the offense along with offensive assistant Joe Judge, a former New York Giants head coach, and senior football advisor Matt Patricia, the former Detroit Lions head coach.
There won’t be a formal offensive coordinator, Belichick reiterated Tuesday.
“We’re not really big on titles and all that, so I think it’s important that we all work together and create a good final product, so that’s what we’re going to try to do. That’s what we’ve always done.”
Jones has worked closely with private coach David Morris of QB Country in Mobile, Ala. The even-keel approach Jones has applied to everything so far in his NFL career is something Morris identified a long time ago.
“Emotions can flow. Mac does a very good job of managing them,” Morris said in a telephone interview. “It’s the frame of focus. As you’re trying to execute and have successful plays, it’s all about that play and not thinking about the next drive. As long as you can stay within the play and not hover over it and be pretty locked in, you have a better chance of having success. Then, it’s over and it’s on to the next one. Every play is its own entity, so be in the moment.
“Mac is a guy who’s ultra-competitive. Mac is a guy who has persevered through a lot. Most people don’t realize his road to getting there. He’s been very patient. When your moment comes, he took advantage of it.”