FOXBOROUGH — It was just one word from Mac Jones, at the end of a long answer, at the end of a long press conference following Wednesday’s Patriots practice. But it was a fascinating word choice:
“I’m going to run my race, and hopefully everybody will run right behind me,” Jones said, “and we’ll be able to push this thing along, and learn from everything, and do everything I can to earn the respect of everybody in this building again.”
Earn the respect of everybody in this building again. As in, he had everyone’s respect but lost it along the way.
It could have been just an offhand remark, a word Jones used without realizing its impact. But he brought up the topic himself another time.
“It’s all about earning the respect of everybody every day,” Jones said, “so I’m starting fresh just like everybody else is.”
A fresh start definitely will suit Jones and the Patriots in 2023. The 2022 season, Jones’s second as the starting quarterback, was one that everyone in Foxborough would like to forget. The Patriots faltered at 8-9, and Jones’s numbers dipped across the board as he dealt with a new coordinator and a pesky sprained ankle.
But his play on the field isn’t what potentially caused him to lose the respect of some inside Gillette Stadium. It was his behavior.
We all saw the pouting and the screaming at coaches when plays weren’t coming in on time, or when Jones didn’t agree with the calls from then-coordinator Matt Patricia. Jones came from powerhouse programs in high school (The Bolles School in Jacksonville) and college (Alabama), and he didn’t have much practice in dealing with losses and struggles.
According to NBC Sports’s Chris Simms, Jones also enraged Bill Belichick last year when he was caught going behind the coaches’ backs, texting his former Alabama coaches for advice on how to improve the Patriots offense. Perhaps that is one reason Belichick wouldn’t even say Jones’s name during his press conferences at March’s owners’ meetings and April’s NFL Draft.
Based on Jones’s actions this offseason and his comments after Wednesday’s practice, he clearly seems to understand that his career may be on the line in 2023 if he doesn’t fix his demeanor.
“There’s lot of things I can do better,” he said. “I know that as a person, as a player, there’s things I can grow upon.”
By all accounts, Jones is still the Patriots’ unquestioned starting quarterback ahead of Bailey Zappe. Even though Belichick won’t say definitively that, Jones still went first in all the reps in Wednesday’s practice, and he spoke to the media along with the other captains.
Belichick finally said Jones’s name Wednesday, and praised his work ethic. So perhaps Jones is slowly earning back Belichick’s trust.
“I think Mac works hard every day,” Belichick said. “He puts in a lot of time both in the weight room, in the classroom, works hard on the field. His work ethic is really good, and hasn’t changed.”
Jones’s work ethic is the first way he can earn back trust and respect. He has barely left Foxborough this offseason, working out on his own in February and March before the offseason program began, and now participating in the voluntary workouts. He wasn’t promoting anything on Super Bowl’s Radio Row, and hasn’t been in any new commercials. Notably, Zappe also has been a regular presence in Foxborough, alongside Jones.
“I think I tried to follow a college-like offseason program — just stay on it really early, a lot less vacations,” Jones said. “Everything from last year is a learning experience.
“Sometimes the most confident people come from a year where they might not have been their best, and I feel like that’s where I’m at. And we all feel like that, so we’re all hungry.”
His answers Wednesday seemed to follow the same theme — the importance of building trust and earning respect:
▪ On starting a relationship with new offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien: “I think the communication is the most important part, and trust. I think it all starts with that when you’re with a new coach.”
The trust clearly wasn’t there last year between Jones and Patricia, a career defensive coach who was calling offensive plays for the first time.
▪ On the similarities between the offenses in New England and Alabama, where O’Brien and Jones last came from: “We’re kind of building our own thing here. Really, it’s about molding together as a team. That’s the most important part — how do you come together and trust each other regardless of what the plays are?”
That’s an important one for Jones, because last year he didn’t seem to trust a lot of the play calls, based on his tirades at the coaching staff.
▪ On starting over with his third offensive coordinator in three years: “It’s a new relationship still, and we’re just working on that trust. That’s what I care about. I’m very much a trustworthy person, and that’s what we’re trying to build.”
There is that “T” word again — twice, in fact.
The Patriots certainly hope that Jones can learn from his struggles last year and develop into the franchise quarterback they envisioned when they drafted him in the first round in 2021.
But before that can happen, Jones has to build back the trust and earn the respect of everyone inside Gillette Stadium “again,” as he said.
Ben Volin can be reached at email@example.com.