FOXBOROUGH — Mac Jones heaved deep ball after deep ball to Patriots staffers long after the club wrapped up Monday’s OTA practice on the back fields at Gillette Stadium.
According to teammates, however, the second-year quarterback has been showing off more than his arm strength lately.
“Mac? He’s in the best shape of his life,” said receiver Kendrick Bourne. “I think he’s been here all offseason with [strength and conditioning coach] Moses [Cabrera]. He’s definitely a pro’s pro now.
“When you’re a rookie, you just don’t know until you go through it for a year. He’s definitely a lot more in shape than he ever was. He’s just dominating the conditioning, which is dope to see. He’ll be able to endure more during the game and go through more.”
Jones committed to transforming his body during the offseason, and while shedding some body fat was part of that, he knows he also needs to bulk up for the rigors of the season.
“I’ve learned more this offseason than I probably ever have about nutrition, sleep, wellness, all that stuff,” he said. “So I’m taking what I learned that I feel will help me and applying it, and then obviously listening to [team dietitian] Ted [Harper] and everybody, just following their plan, eating healthy, taking out a lot of the things that are bad for my diet.”
Jones, who threw for 3,801 yards and 22 touchdowns last season, also worked with noted throwing guru (and former Red Sox pitcher) Tom House.
Under the watchful eye of Joe Judge for Monday’s entire session, Jones had a pretty sharp day, completing 9 of 12 passes during seven-on-seven work and 2 of 3 during the up-tempo 11-on-11 session.
Brian Hoyer was 9 for 11 in the sevens and rookie Bailey Zappe was 4 for 8. Hoyer was 3 for 5 in 11s and Zappe was 2 for 2.
All statistics are unofficial, and it’s important to remember that it can resemble pitch-and-catch at times as defenders must keep their hands to themselves during these nonpadded sessions.
Judge was joined by Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia behind the offense during a lot of the team drills. Belichick declined to get into specifics about who will end up calling plays.
“If you’re asking about game plans, we’re months away from that — months,” the coach said.
Other observations from practice:
▪ The players wore silver helmets without the Patriots logo on them.
▪ Running backs coach Ivan Fears, who hinted at retirement last season, was present and accounted for. This would be his 32nd NFL season and 26th in New England.
▪ Several receivers and backs made acrobatic, toe-tapping catches in the corner of the end zone during an early drill, with Bourne making the most impressive as he went butt-over-tea kettle and held on. OK, one caveat: The defenders were assistant coaches holding blocking pads.
▪ Linebacker Raekwon McMillan, who missed last season with an ACL tear, had a nice pass breakup on Hoyer. Because contact is verboten, it’s not always easy for defenders to stand out at these sessions.
▪ Cornerback Myles Bryant, who is now wearing No. 27, punched the ball out from receiver Malcolm Perry’s arms.
▪ Zappe ran the scout team against a defense that featured several projected starters, and made some nice touch throws. Zappe also showed off a strong arm during some post-practice throwing.
▪ Rookie running back Kevin Harris, who is listed at 5 feet 10 inches, 225 pounds, runs with a nice compact motion. He has big, thick, tree-trunk legs.
▪ First-round pick Cole Strange got a large amount of work at left guard. Trent Brown played left tackle with Isaiah Wynn not around.
▪ Ty Montgomery, who projects as a receiver and back, made several nice catches.
▪ Judge simulated some middle blitzes on Jones during one drill. He’s intense!
▪ The entire offense, including Judge and other assistants, ran a lap after Jones pulled out from under center before the snap.
▪ The play of the day came when new receiver DeVante Parker slipped past the coverage and caught a deep touchdown pass from Hoyer.
▪ Malcolm Butler, last seen wearing No. 21 in these parts, is wearing No. 4. Parker is wearing No. 11, last worn by a certain flying squirrel by the name of Julian Edelman.
▪ Punter Jake Bailey apologized to the media corps after one of his kicks “buzzed the tower.” (His words.)
▪ Belichick and most of his staff — and a few players — sported Celtics baseball caps.
▪ The absentee list included: linebackers Matthew Judon, Ronnie Perkins, Harvey Langi, and Jahlani Tavai; safety Adrian Phillips; defensive linemen Lawrence Guy and Byron Cowart; offensive linemen Isaiah Wynn, Chasen Hines, and Andrew Stueber; kickers Nick Folk and Quinn Nordin; and receiver N’Keal Harry. A reminder that players not spotted could be in the building doing other work.
▪ Those who would likely be classified as “limited” had this been a regular-season practice were: running backs James White and Pierre Strong; tight end Hunter Henry; receiver Tyquan Thornton; safeties Jabrill Peppers and Brendan Schooler; and cornerback Marcus Jones.