For quarterbacks, strong throws start with sound mechanics.
There's a kinetic chain running from your feet all the way to your arms, and they all work simultaneously when you’re throwing the ball. So, if your feet aren't under you or you're out of sync, then you lose your balance, your power and a lot of times your accuracy.
We've seen a few examples over the past two weeks of Mac Jones' feet being unsettled. This is something that happens with every quarterback in the NFL; when you start to feel pressure, your process is rushed, and then everything becomes rushed. Your mechanics are rushed, your feet aren’t set the proper way, and you’re trying to throw to a spot before the receiver comes out of his route. That can lead to some misfires and inaccuracy.
That's something that Mac can work through, though. He has a good feel in the pocket, so he can work on holding onto the ball a little longer, making subtle moves in the pocket and making sure his feet are underneath him when he throws.
Mac can also use this offseason as a time to really improve the physical aspects of his game.
The biggest growth in my career came after my rookie season going into my second year. I was able to slow everything down on the mental side by breaking down film and processing why we made certain calls, versus in-season where it’s one opponent then the next and you really don’t have time to evaluate yourself.
You also have more time to put in work in the weight room. Now you have a whole offseason where you’re not just trying to run the fastest 40 time or put up good numbers at the NFL Combine. Instead, you can focus primarily on the areas you want to get better at. In that offseason before my second year, we wanted to concentrate more on explosive lifts, explosive jumps and just becoming more explosive outside of the pocket. So the Patriots' strength and conditioning coach, Mike Woicik, set up a workout plan based on that, and that definitely paid dividends for me as I went into OTAs, because that’s what we wanted to focus on, and we achieved that.
There are also a lot more studies now on the biomechanics of the body and improving shoulder strength. I worked with throwing coach Tom House -- who I later introduced Tom Brady to -- and he really introduced me to how your biomechanics work: your hip action, the release of your arm and the quickness of your arm.
We did drills with weighted balls and other exercises to speed up our throwing motion and improve fast-twitch muscles. A lot of quarterbacks that I’ve been around more recently, whether it’s Dak Prescott or Matthew Stafford, all have very similar approaches in terms of doing workouts to build arm strength, consistency and durability in the shoulder.
I'm sure that will be something Mac focuses on this offseason. Every quarterback, especially early in their career, is looking for anything that can make them better and give them an edge. He'll meet with his position coach -- in this case Josh McDaniels -- after the season, and if Mac says, "I’d really like to try to work on getting more velocity on throws outside the numbers" or something like that, then they’ll put together a plan in order to do just that.
I love Mac's approach to the game. I think he’s had a tremendous rookie season considering all the different factors that came into play and the way he's handled adversity.
Now it's about building on that process. There’s no substitute for on-field play, and he’s gained so much, not only through his successes but also through his failures. So going into this offseason, he now has this unbelievable wealth of knowledge that he can build upon.
The coaching staff will evaluate what he does inside the pocket and have specific drills that he works on for that. If he struggles with his accuracy in a certain direction, for example, they’ll put together a plan to try to become more fundamentally sound when he's throwing those particular routes.
That's all part of the maturation process for a young quarterback, and I expect Mac to continue to grow as a player -- both mentally and physically -- this offseason.
Editor's Note: Matt Cassel played 14 years in the NFL as a quarterback, including four with the Patriots from 2005 to 2008. He serves as an analyst for NBC Sports Boston, appearing on Pre/Postgame Live, as a guest on Tom Curran's Patriots Talk Podcast every Thursday, and as a columnist each week during the season.