Mac Jones clapped his hands in frustration.
His last pass of minicamp was picked off by Adrian Colbert, and the Patriots’ rookie quarterback was upset.
Though the pick surely wasn’t the desired result, the first-round pick’s fiery response surely caught the coaching staff’s attention after three days of often-fiery instruction to cap the spring. The coaches likely were pleased that Jones wasn’t pleased.
Jones had a lot thrown at him as he threw passes throughout the spring, and through his ups and downs, he acquitted himself well and carried himself like a player ready to compete to be QB 1.
The 22-year-old clearly absorbed a good chunk of the Patriots playbook during his crash course, and he is in solid position to continue that education when training camp opens the final week of July.
Jones benefitted from excellent coaching and played in a ton of big games at Alabama, where he was lauded for his intelligence, decisiveness, and accuracy. Those traits were evident during the six spring Patriots practices media were allowed to attend. Jones consistently improved.
Jones said after an OTA practice that settling on a routine was a big focus of preparing to be a professional.
“It’s ‘all right, I got the play, what am I supposed to do on this play?’” he said. “Get everyone lined up, make the Mike point, and then roll from there.
“Honestly, it’s going to be a growing process. I’m learning from the other guys. They can do it really fast. My goal is to hopefully be able to do it faster every day, and I’ve tried to do that.
“The veteran players, it’s kind of like second nature for them. I have to figure out how to do it fast and execute the plays really fast to a level in a new offense.”
Unofficially, Jones completed 41 of 65 passes during minicamp, though he was victimized by at least a half-dozen drops. He threw three interceptions, including one each by Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy, two guys well-versed in giving young signal-callers fits.
If Jones continues to develop quickly, it could spark the first real quarterback competition in Patriots camp in more than two decades.
Incumbent Cam Newton had a solid camp, bouncing back from a right hand injury. He completed 38 of 58 passes without an interception and just one drop.
More important, Newton’s footwork, setup, and throwing motion looked as effortless as they have since he first signed with the Patriots. His accuracy suffered on some deep shots, but the fact that he was taking those shots was encouraging.
Moreover, with no pads and no contact, it was impossible to get the full breadth of what Newton brings to the table. He is a powerful runner, and though he’ll still be dressed in red next month (hands off!), training camp offers a more realistic glimpse of real football (i.e. contact and blocking schemes will come to life).
The training camp quarterback competition will be the biggest blockbuster of the summer. Trent Brown enjoyed the sneak preview during minicamp.
“Cam is a high-energy guy,” said the big offensive tackle. “He brings the juice every day. I can definitely get used to that. I enjoy that.
“Mac, he’s a young guy, but you can’t really just refer to him as a young guy. You can tell he’s been at a place where he got some coaching. I think he’s going to be special here in the future.”
Here are other story lines that bear watching when training camp opens:
▪ Catching on: Receiver Jakobi Meyers appears poised to take on an even bigger role. Meyers had a nice rapport with Newton and Jones, and could turn into a force from the slot. Additionally, newcomer Kendrick Bourne clearly digested the playbook upon his signing. He ran crisp routes and made some acrobatic catches in team and individual drills. His energy level matches Newton’s.
▪ Tight spot: Hunter Henry looked sharp, but Jonnu Smith’s hamstring tweak on Day 1 prevented a preview of the return to “12″ personnel packages (i.e. two tight ends).
▪ Smashmouth monitoring: This is a deep running back group, and it will be interesting to see how the touches are divvied up. Damien Harris and Sony Michel will battle for early-down work, with James White serving as the passing back workhorse. Rookie Rhamondre Stevenson has fullback size (6 feet, 246 pounds), tailback quickness, and loves to block. Hard to ignore a guy with that nifty skill set.
▪ Rush hour: The front seven were exceptionally active and consistently flashed a menacing pass rush off the edge and up the gut. The offensive line is at an obvious disadvantage as they can’t fully engage as blockers, but it was still eye-opening to see how quickly defenders consistently shrank the pocket from all angles.
▪ The kicker: Quinn Nordin has a huge leg, and New England’s lone rookie free agent could provide some long-distance competition in the field goal race with Nick Folk.