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It felt somehow fitting that the classic hip hop anthem “Bust A Move” by Young MC blared over the loudspeakers as rookie quarterback Mac Jones made his own on the second day of Patriots mandatory minicamp.
From the moment team segments began, it was clear that the goal of Tuesday’s practice was to test Jones as much as possible while the veterans largely sat back.
And the rookie largely seized his opportunity with both hands, putting together his second solid day of practice in front of media.
Here’s more on Jones, the quarterback situation, and who else made headlines for the Patriots during their second minicamp practice.
Cam Newton still led off every individual and team drill, but Jones dominated the reps in “competitive” segments.
Newton got just two snaps to start off the first 7-on-7 period. Jones got four. In the first 11-on-11 segment, Jones got seven snaps to Newton’s three.
Jones looked better in his reps, attacking the intermediate and short levels on a very blitz-heavy day from the defense. Two of his best throws came on intermediate sideline routes to Nelson Agholor and N’Keal Harry going to his left.
He also performed well in red zone drills, throwing a nice “touchdown” throw to Hunter Henry on a high throw along the back line of the end zone — putting into practice a drill the quarterbacks had been working at on Monday.
Newton, meanwhile, didn’t get much going as a passer Tuesday with the limited reps. He made concerted efforts to push the ball down the field in 7-on-7s but without much success, connecting on just 1-of-4 deep throws.
Those attempts included a miss to a wide-open Henry on a corner route and a high throw off the hands of Kendrick Bourne that was picked by Kyle Dugger.
The normally energetic Newton was noticeably subdued after that segment and walked with slumping shoulders to the next drill without his usual pep.
Jones had a rough end to the practice, though, tossing two interceptions on his final three snaps.
The first came when he tried to loft a throw over the middle that Dont’a Hightower leapt and snagged out of the air. It appeared he saw the linebacker and thought he could finesse the throw over him.
Two plays later on Jones’s last snap, he had a ball tipped at the line of scrimmage that linebacker Kyle Van Noy made a great adjustment and one-handed catch on as he dropped into coverage.
Still, if Tuesday were an “evaluation” day — something Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels have been adamant in refuting so far — Jones would have come out on top.
How much does that mean during non-padded practices? It’s hard to say. Generally, the top two quarterbacks have both taken care of the football and made good decisions, Tuesday’s picks notwithstanding.
The true test will be training camp. Right now, Newton is still the starting quarterback, but the Patriots seem like they’ll give Jones a real opportunity to prove he can start Week 1.
In Newton’s post-practice media session, though, he seemed to be back to taking things in stride and putting Tuesday’s practice behind him.
And he delivered some eye-opening quotes when asked how he felt about the Patriots selecting Jones in the first round of the draft.
Was he upset? Did it change anything for him heading into the season?
“Absolutely not,” he answered. “I didn’t feel any type of way because he was the right pick in my opinion. He was the best player available, and that’s what the NFL Draft is for…I support it 110 percent. You still have to do what’s right for the organization, for the long haul.”
Of Jones himself — or “Mac ‘n Cheese” as Newton calls him — the veteran quarterback laughed and said, “He’s pretty cool. He’s quiet. I think he’s trying to figure everybody out.”
He then drew on his own past experience as a rookie first-round quarterback to talk about the pressures Jones is facing early in his career.
“I’ve been a rookie. I’ve been a first-round pick where so much is asked from you, coming from a situation where you have a lot of people who are your peers, your same age group, and now — what’s Mac, 21, 22? — I’m 32. [Brian Hoyer]’s 35, 36. It’s tough. He’s doing a great job being everything as advertised from leadership perspective, holding himself accountable, and that’s all you can ask.”
Newton also said he has a mantra for how he’s approaching the game heading into this year: “Pre-snap comfort will help post-snap results.”
He then went on to explain why that comfort, and those results, eluded him last season with the Patriots as he fought to pick up Josh McDaniels’s offense on the fly.
“In the latter part of the season, it just caught up to me,” he admitted. “I was thinking too much…there just weren’t enough hours in the day. It’s not like we weren’t working. Jedd [Fisch] at the time, the quarterback coach, was putting in hours and hours. You can’t simulate real live bullets, and that’s what it came down to.”
Bill Belichick said Tuesday morning that Newton is “way ahead” of where he was in 2020, something the Patriots hope translates to the field when the real football begins.
As for whether Newton’s feeling any extra heat from the likes of Jones, Hoyer, and Jarrett Stidham, the veteran said he’d “be a fool” not to expect all of them to take the starting job from him.
That said, he said he’s more focused on the competition with himself: “I don’t need too much to get myself going, let alone that happening.”
–Jonnu Smith dressed for practice Tuesday after pulling up lame with a hamstring injury but didn’t participate. Devin Asiasi took over as the second tight end alongside Henry and continued his strong spring, collecting a “touchdown” pass from Jones in red zone drills.
–Right guard Shaq Mason also didn’t play much on Tuesday, though he was on the field with the team throughout the practice. Super-backup guard Ted Karras took over at right guard for early drills and all team segments.
–In addition to both throwing interceptions during team drills, Newton and Jones also had balls batted down at the line of scrimmage during 7-on-7s. How? By coaches standing at the line of scrimmage waving fake wooden “arms” to simulate the outstretched limbs of defensive lineman.
After Newton’s first 7-on-7 throw of the day was knocked down by one of the bats, he changed his arm angle on the next in-breaking route, throwing side-arm to sneak a completion to Jakobi Meyers. Jones, meanwhile, put more elevation on his “touchdown” throw to Henry and worked the flats to avoid the “arms.”
–Jalen Mills started with the No. 1 defense at left cornerback with Stephon Gilmore out of mandatory minicamp and made several impressive plays. He nearly had a diving pick of Newton, broke up a pass at the goal line from Jones, and made two nice plays to break up deep throws to Agholor (from Newton) and Isaiah Zuber (from Jones).
–Rhamondre Stevenson looked smooth as a pass catcher out of the backfield, plucking the ball out of the air well with his hands. But he also had a gaffe during blitz protection walkthroughs that drew the ire of running backs coach Ivan Fears. Still, Stevenson appears on track to make the team both with his receiving ability and versatility on special teams thus far.
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