There is a segment of the Patriots fan base that hopes/wants/believes Mac Jones will be the quarterback to start the season.
I hear from them a lot on social media. In their minds, Cam Newton was nothing more than a one-year failed experiment, and his time with the Patriots is coming to an end — preferably at the end of training camp. Jones, the first-round pick this year, is the future, so why not make him the present as well?
Unfortunately, these Patriots fans are going to be sorely disappointed.
In listening to Bill Belichick and Jones speak to the media Thursday morning, two things became apparent:
1. Belichick still loves Newton.
2. Jones has a long way to go.
As to Newton, Belichick has never wavered. He has spoken glowingly about Newton from the moment the quarterback arrived last summer. He stood by Newton all last season despite a 7-9 finish and one of the worst passing attacks in the NFL. Belichick re-signed Newton this spring, and labeled him as the unequivocal starter.
Now, with Newton suffering a hand injury at practice last week, Belichick did the previously unthinkable: He addressed the injury matter-of-factly.
“Yeah, he’s doing all right,” Belichick said Thursday. “He won’t participate today, but he’s getting better.”
So it wasn’t a serious injury?
“No,” Belichick said. “Well, he’s not out there, but I think he’ll be all right.”
Not exactly the most enlightening update, but Belichick almost never acknowledges offseason injuries. Reactions from fellow reporters ranged from “rare” to “unprecedented.”
Why the sudden transparency (by Belichick standards)? Apparently because he wants Newton to be his starter, and wants to quash any notion of a quarterback controversy. “Yeah, I know Cam isn’t practicing. He’s still my quarterback.”
Meanwhile, Jones appears to be a long way off from being ready to play. In Thursday’s practice, Jarrett Stidham ran first in drills, and projected the confidence of a third-year player at the line of scrimmage. Brian Hoyer ran second in drills, and probably had the best day of the three quarterbacks. Jones went last, not getting the benefit of extra work in Newton’s absence.
Jones said that his biggest challenge in his first month-plus as a Patriot has been remembering all the details of a play.
“Honestly, it’s going to be a growing process, and I’m learning from the other guys,” he said. “The veteran players, obviously, it’s kind of like second nature for them. And I have to figure out how to do it fast and execute the plays really fast to the level of a new offense.”
If Jones were anywhere close to the top of the depth chart, he would have gotten more work in Newton’s absence. Instead, he is learning the ropes like the other rookies, which he readily acknowledges.
“I have a lot of room to grow,” he said. “I just have to continue to learn how to watch film in an NFL manner. It’s different than college; there’s more to it, it’s pro football. I’ll figure it out and I’ll continue to grow in that aspect. I’ll obviously try as hard as I can. It’s not like I’m leaving early or doing anything like that.”
Some first-round picks walk into the quarterback room and everyone knows they’re the alpha. Think Baker Mayfield in Cleveland, Joe Burrow in Cincinnati, and Deshaun Watson in Houston. Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson will be in that group this year and almost certainly will start in Week 1.
But Jones isn’t in that type of situation. Newton, a former NFL MVP, is still the alpha. Hoyer is the experienced veteran. Stidham is probably on the outside looking in on the quarterback competition, but he’s still a veteran who knows how the Patriots operate.
Jones is just “Mac and Cheese,” as Newton calls him, the kid who has a long way to go.
“There’s a lot going on in my brain,” Jones said. “You’re trying to see everything; sometimes you see too much or whatever, and then you see nothing. I have to figure out in this offense how I can break down the plays, what’s my job, what I have to do on this specific play and slot the plays individually.
“I did that obviously good in college or whatever, but this is the pros and I have to figure out how to do it here. So that’s what I’m going to do.”
Of course, it’s perfectly acceptable for Jones to be behind the other quarterbacks in terms of knowledge of the offense and overall football development. He has been here for only a month.
But don’t hold your breath waiting for him to be the starting quarterback early in the season. Jones is a quarterback who excels with his mind, not his physical attributes. He doesn’t have a rocket of an arm like Patrick Mahomes, or blazing speed like Lamar Jackson, or a combination of both like Josh Allen.
It’s going to take Jones some time to, as he said, “learn how to be a good Patriot.”
Jones has the talent, or the Patriots wouldn’t have drafted him 15th overall. But Newton is still the man, and Jones has a long way to go to catch up even to Hoyer and Stidham.
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.