Mac Jones was going to be the No. 1 quarterback in New England at some point. First-round picks don't become first-round picks only to never get a chance to start. By and large.
But the way in which Jones became the No. 1 option at Monday's practice was unexpected.
Cam Newton violated NFL COVID-related protocols due to what the team termed a "misunderstanding" in a statement released Monday morning. As a result, Newton -- who'd been the first quarterback up in drills and the first quarterback on the field in each of the first two preseason games for the Patriots -- will be ineligible to attend practice until Thursday.
Enter the rookie.
How much work did Jones receive in his debut as top dog? How did he perform?
Let's get to the details ...
The first number worth noting is the sheer number of plays Jones got with Newton out. Rather than splitting the work with the only other quarterback available for practice, Brian Hoyer, Jones seemed to get all the reps that he and Newton would typically receive.
At one point, Jones took 25 consecutive snaps and attempted 19 passes before giving way to Hoyer. Jones then took eight reps of red-zone work and eight reps of hurry-up work at the end of practice.
|Mac Jones||12 for 21||4 for 5||16 for 26 (61.5%)|
In competitive 11-on-11 work, Jones went 12-for-21 and took four sacks. In 7-on-7 work early in the workout, Jones went 4-for-5 and had a pass broken up by Dont'a Hightower. (There was a stretch of 11-on-11 work in the middle of the practice that was focused on the no-huddle attack for the Patriots and were non-competitive. Jones completed four of his six attempts in that period.)
Teaching moments abound: More reps for Jones meant more opportunity for ... everything. Mistakes. Adversity. Learning. Building confidence. Building chemistry with pass-catchers. Building a rapport with offensive linemen. Everything.
It also meant more opportunity for evaluation from the Patriots coaching staff. Never was that more evident than when Bill Belichick stood right at the center of the line of scrimmage and watched closely while Jones went through his 7-on-7 reps.
Belichick had to relocate when linemen entered the equation, but it didn't mean that he was observing any less intensely. What he saw play out wasn't exactly how the Hollywood script would've read once the young up-and-comer finally had a chance to take the starting job with the veteran out.
It wasn't pretty.
Jones couldn't connect with Nelson Agholor deep on his first attempt. After a completion to Kendrick Bourne, Jones missed on his next four throws -- three of which came while being protected by the first-team offensive line.
An attempt to a diving Jakobi Meyers? Incomplete. An attempt to Jonnu Smith up the seam? The tight end never turned around for it. Incomplete. A shot to Devin Asiasi? Thrown behind. Incomplete. A screen? Blown up. Incomplete.
The good news for Jones was that he'd have plenty of time to iron things out. He'd need it. He completed two passes behind reserve blockers -- to Agholor and Gunner Olszewski -- before taking sacks by Hightower and Chase Winovich.
Jones was sacked twice more in a red-zone period later in the practice, once by Josh Uche and once by Ja'Whaun Bentley. On five dropbacks in that red-zone session, Jones completed just one pass: a slant to Agholor at the goal line for a touchdown.
What happened at the end of the practice, though, was noteworthy. Jones had apparently saved his best for last.
The Patriots clearly did their best to work on clock management throughout the session. Against defensive players. Against air. In 7-on-7. In 11-on-11. Thus the last period of practice was dedicated to a similar focus.
With Belichick calling out down-and-distance situations, Jones led the first-team offense from deep in its own territory. It took eight snaps for him to put them in the end zone.
Jones first completed a low pass for Bourne over the middle for a chunk gain. That was followed by an incompletion, a contested completion to Agholor along the sideline, and a nifty one-handed grab -- the catch of the day and one of the best of camp -- over the middle by Bourne.
After a spike and an incompletion to Agholor in the end zone, Jones hit back-to-back throws to Olszewski. The second was an accurate strike in the back of the end zone that Olszewski leaped for and plucked from the air. In a sign of the competitiveness of that particular period, the score led to some very loud celebrating by the Patriots offense -- maybe because it was the first time they had much to celebrate.
For Jones, the touchdown pass to Olszewski was likely his best toss of the afternoon. The end-of-practice drive was also a reminder of one theme that has revealed itself throughout the course of the summer: When Jones has down moments, he tends to bounce back.
He's had rocky stretches then rebounded before the end of the day. He's stumbled at the end of a practice only to come back and be on-point the next day.
Monday's session wouldn't qualify as one of Jones' best practices of camp. But with all the first-team reps to himself, it might've been the one most crammed with teaching moments. He'll have a chance to load up on some on-the-field lessons again Tuesday and in a joint practice with the Giants on Wednesday while Newton remains out.