Bill Belichick has never been one to fuel hype trains, but his comments about quarterback Mac Jones on Tuesday should have New England Patriots fans very excited.
During his first press conference of training camp at Gillette Stadium, Belichick observed that Jones has made significant strides this offseason as the QB looks to build on a solid rookie campaign in 2021.
"I think Mac has done a great job," Belichick said. "He's worked extremely hard. He's got a tremendous work ethic in all areas. I think there's a dramatic improvement. His physical work and conditioning, working on his mechanics, working on his footwork, working on his understanding of our offense, of opponents' defenses, the situations -- all those things."
Jones spent 2021 training camp competing with Cam Newton for the Patriots' starting quarterback role, eventually beating out the three-time Pro Bowler to earn the job. He put up impressive stats for a rookie -- 3,801 passing yards, a 67.6 percent completion rate, 22 passing touchdowns and 13 interceptions -- and was the only first-year QB to guide his team to a winning record, much less reach the postseason.
Now that the 23-year-old is getting a full offseason as New England's clear franchise quarterback, Belichick has seen Jones elevate his game even more.
"He's made tremendous strides," Belichick said of Jones. "He did a great job last year, but he's starting from a much, much higher point this year than where he started last year. So, his offseason work has been significant, and I think everyone recognizes how well he prepares and how much further along he was than he was a year ago."
Jones won't have it easy in 2022; he lost talented offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to the Las Vegas Raiders and will have to operate without an official OC. (Matt Patricia appears to be the leading candidate to call plays, while Joe Judge is the team's quarterbacks coach.) But Belichick believes Jones' extra experience will help him be more comfortable this season, regardless of who's around him.
"We're just a lot a further ahead in the conversation (compared to last year)," Belichick said. "The plays or concepts that we talk about, Mac's already done them before. It's easy for him to say, 'Well, are we gonna do this on that? Are we gonna do this on something else?' What do you think about splitting them a little bit wider, a little bit tighter?' Suggestions like that.
"I mean, that comes up all the time. Now, it comes up with the background of the experience of doing it. He might have had some of the same questions last year, but without really having the full knowledge that he has this year. So, he's just a lot further along in the conversation."
The Patriots have question marks at several positions -- especially on defense -- entering the 2022 campaign. Jones might be the most important player on the roster, however, and if he can make the "Year 2 leap," that will go a long way toward New England being competitive in the fall.
Patriots veterans reported to Gillette Stadium on Tuesday, with the first official practice of training camp set for Wednesday morning.