All eyes will be on Mac Jones when the New England Patriots begin their 2022 NFL season in Miami against the Dolphins on Sept. 11.
Jones was the top rookie quarterback in the league last year. He completed 67.6 percent of his passes for 3,801 yards with 22 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Jones helped lead the Patriots to a 10-7 record and a wild card playoff berth in the AFC.
It was a fantastic rookie campaign, and expectations for him in 2022 will be much higher. The AFC East improved quite a bit during the offseason, with the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins and New York Jets all making substantial roster additions through the draft, free agency and/or the trade market.
Jones will need to be even better in Year 2 if the Patriots are going to remain a playoff team. Patriots safety Devin McCourty is confident in Jones' ability to take another step forward.
"Everyone sees Mac and is like, 'Oh, he's quiet.' No, that dude is a competitor. He loves to compete," McCourty told NBC Sports Boston's "The Camera Guys". "You don't just go to Alabama and play for national championships, compete to be a starter on the team and not have something about you that you love to compete. In practice last year, he was a rookie, yeah we were talking trash. We talk trash as much as we can. And he would talk right back with us.
"We don't need to see a hoo-rah guy, but I think every guy on that field would say, 'Yeah, this guy loves to compete. He loves football.' I'm excited for him. I think he does everything he can to be prepared. He takes that same burden a lot of players take of wanting to be accountable to your teammates. I think that's a side of football that people don't always talk about and understand. Each time we take the field, it's not about letting fans down or family down, it's about these guys that line up next to us."
Year 2 can be difficult for a lot of players. The whole league has a full season of film to study your weaknesses. Expectations also are much higher. McCourty went through those struggles in his second season, but he's confident Jones has what it takes to overcome the challenges and enjoy a successful sophomore campaign.
"The hard thing for him is he's in Year 2. I remember being in Year 2. It was a rough Year 2 for me. You're trying to figure out a lot of things. He has a lot of pressure on him. A lot of people are going to watch every move he makes. Everyone wants a piece of him now. But I think he's a guy that's built for it, being at 'Bama and all the success they've had. So I'm excited for it, to be another older guy -- when he wants to ask a question I can answer it and give the guidance that I've learned from my experiences and pass that along to him."
Jones has been hard at work on and off the football field trying to improve this offseason. He's set up workouts with teammates, including throwing sessions with his wide receivers and running backs. Jones also has made "significant strides" with his diet.
No player in New England will face more pressure than Jones this season. That's par for the course as the starting quarterback. But judging by his demeanor, talent, preparation and competitiveness -- among other factors -- there are plenty of reasons to believe he'll rise to the challenge and perform at a higher level in Year 2.