Long before Mac Jones showed off his Griddy dance moves to the country at the Pro Bowl, Mack Wilson knew the quarterback had swagger.
Wilson already was a standout linebacker at Alabama when Jones arrived on campus as a freshman, buried on a deep depth chart, running the Crimson Tide’s scout team.
Wilson had an inkling, however, that the kid he affectionately nicknamed “Mac 2″ was destined for big things.
“I remember Mac when he was a pup,” Wilson said Tuesday. “Just seeing how much he grew as a person and a player, it amazed me. I was telling everybody back home, friends and family, ‘Mac Jones is going to be special.’
“A lot of guys didn’t believe me. Even some of the guys that were on our team didn’t believe me.
“I just saw something in him that just made me like, ‘Hey, this kid is going to be special.’ ”
Wilson got the better of Jones during some practices, but he always made sure it came with a boost of confidence.
“Even though I intercepted him a couple times in practice, I used to always tell him, ‘Just stay working, man. Stay patient. Your time will come,’ ” said Wilson. “And that’s what he did, and obviously the rest was history.
“He’s just looking forward to Year 2 here, and I just can’t wait to see his game develop and go to the next level.’’
Wilson, 24, who was recently acquired by the Patriots from the Browns in exchange for Chase Winovich, said Jones never showed that he was nervous or in awe when he got to Alabama, where Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa were ahead of him in the quarterback pecking order.
“He just had swagger,” said Wilson. “You know, a lot of guys come in as freshmen all uptight. Mac, he just had swagger. That’s something that caught my eye. He made big plays. He made some great throws. Even when he scrambled, he had a little juice in him.
“It was just different, small things that I’ve seen that made me like, ‘Hey, I like Mac. He’s going to be good.’ I believed in it and obviously it’s coming true.”
Wilson was asleep with his 7-month-old son when they were awakened by a call from Browns general manager Andrew Berry with news that he was being traded to the Patriots.
Following a 2019 rookie season that included 14 starts and 82 tackles, Wilson’s production and snaps slipped the next two years.
Wilson said he “honestly has no idea” why he fell out of favor in Cleveland, adding that it’s “a question you should probably ask the Browns organization. All I know is I did whatever they asked me to do, and I went 100 percent and I was all about the team.”
Since arriving in New England, he has thrown himself into the offseason workout program.
“It’s a blessing to be able to get a fresh start,” he said. “I kind of look at it like a second chance, you know? So I’m approaching it like a pro, coming in with that mind-set to work hard and earn everything that I can and build that trust among the rest of the guys that built this foundation here last season and the coaches.”
Wilson played mostly weak-side linebacker with the Browns, and though he feels he can contribute from multiple spots, there hasn’t been much discussion about where he will be slotted.
He figures to be a key cog in a revamped linebacking corps that will feature two other relatively new faces in Raekwon McMillan and Cam McGrone, both of whom didn’t see game action last season as a result of injuries.
Of last season’s core group, only Matthew Judon and Ja’Whaun Bentley are signed for 2022. Kyle Van Noy was released and Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins are unrestricted free agents who could return at any time.
The Patriots didn’t draft any linebackers last week, and that can be seen as a vote of confidence for the current group.
“Obviously, the front office and Coach [Bill] Belichick seem very confident in the guys we have in the room now,” Wilson said. “Obviously, I feel confident as well. We have some great guys in there. We’ve just got to continue to build this thing, continue to put everything together.”
The Patriots declined the fifth-year option on receiver N’Keal Harry. The club would have been on the hook for $12.4 million in 2023 had they picked it up. Harry has 57 catches for 598 yards and 4 touchdowns in 33 career games … The team released running back Devine Ozigbo, who spent time on the active roster and practice squad in 2021 … The Patriots will hold a rookie minicamp May 13-15 and a mandatory minicamp June 7-9, the NFL announced. Other organized team activity days include: May 23-24 and 26, and June 1-3, 13-14, and 16-17.