FOXBORO -- Two weeks ago, Mac Jones looked a little uneasy when it came to trying his luck down the field. Of his eight completions in the Patriots OTA practice, five were check-downs to running backs.
Last week, the rookie quarterback saw veteran Brian Hoyer stand out among Patriots quarterbacks as Hoyer aggressively pushed the ball down the field with some success.
On Monday, the first day of mandatory Patriots minicamp, Jones proved that he was in fact able to air it out a bit.
Progress. Slowly but surely.
Jones, who thrived down the field at Alabama, finished the day's work having completed 13 of his 20 attempts in competitive team periods. (Two of his incompletions were dropped by their intended targets.) And of those completions during Monday's rainy practice, several looked like they would have gone for explosive gains.
Jones hit Jakobi Meyers on a back-shoulder throw along the sideline in a third-down period with defensive back Jalen Mills in close coverage. Two snaps later Jones stepped up in the pocket, slid to his left to avoid pressure and threw a strike to Kendrick Bourne for a chunk gain.
After throwing down the right sideline to fullback Jakob Johnson for a long completion, Jones made what might've been his best completion of the practice. From the middle of the pocket, Jones feathered an intermediate pass to Kristian Wilkerson over the linebacker level and in front of two safeties for another long gain.
It wasn't a perfect practice for Jones, of course.
He skipped an incompletion to Gunner Olszewski along the sideline on a second-reaction play, where it appeared as though his first read was taken away which led to a hurried attempt. He also had one pass nearly slip out of his hand during a red-zone drill which he re-gripped and threw accurately.
But Jones' willingness to go beyond the check-downs he favored just a few practices ago, and his ability to change a play at the line of scrimmage -- as he did during one period against a scout-team defense (offensive players serving as defensive players working off of play-call cards) -- were signs of growth.
Jones acknowledged last week that he was trying to see everything on the field as it played out in front of him, leading to plays he might like to have back. But, taking the field as the second quarterback behind Cam Newton in drills and team periods, Jones certainly did not seem to be sipping from the fire hose of information that has drowned young Patriots players in the past.
Bill Belichick said earlier on Monday that it was important for his staff not to overload any player with too much at this point in the buildup to the regular season. It's more about building a foundation "on solid footing."
"[We] try not to move too fast and get too many exceptions and move ahead on too many things for anybody or it just becomes confusing," Belichick said.
"I think the best thing you can do is build a solid foundation ... If the foundation is solid, then you can build off it. If it's not, then the player really doesn't have a lot to fall back on and there's nothing to anchor into so we try not to do that."
However they're handling Jones at the moment, it seems to be leading to improvement.