For the first time during this summer's Patriots training camp, one quarterback established himself as decisively the better quarterback for two consecutive days.
It was the quarterback in whom the Patriots invested a first-round pick this spring.
Neither Mac Jones nor Cam Newton has displayed much in the way of consistency over the course of eight training camp practices. But after a strong showing on Wednesday, it was Jones who looked like the best quarterback on the field during a rainy Thursday practice conducted in full pads.
That the pads were on for Jones' latest strong outing was meaningful. Bill Belichick called padded practices "real football" earlier in the day during a back-and-forth with reporters. Josh McDaniels explained on Wednesday that fully-padded reps do more for an offense's timing than non-padded sessions.
Additionally, Jones' performance in pads was noteworthy in that he had one of his worst practices in camp when the pads came on for the first time on Tuesday. Now, with back-to-back good practices under his belt, Jones can attempt to start "stacking days," as is often heard around the Patriots facility this time of year.
There's a long way to go before the quarterback competition will be decided. The first Patriots preseason game is still a week away. But the fact that Jones put together the performance he did, in the rain, with pads on, is another of many small indications this summer that Jones is making steady progress.
Let's dive into some of the details...
The Patriots conducted competitive periods of both 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 work Thursday.
If you were to tally up all reps, Cam Newton went 9-for-17 in those periods. Jones, meanwhile, went 19-for-25.
In the 7-on-7 work, both Newton and Jones went 4-for-6.
|Cam Newton||5 for 11||4 for 6||9 for 17 (52.9%)|
|Mac Jones||15 for 19||4 for 6||19 for 25 (76.0%)|
In the 11-on-11 reps, Newton went 5-for-11 with two passes dropped (James White, Kendrick Bourne). Jones? He went 15-for-19 with two drops.
Newton saw 25 snaps in 11-on-11 periods Thursday. Jones saw 36. (On Wednesday, Newton saw four reps of competitive 11-on-11 work. Jones saw 16.)
Jones handles the elements: It didn't start out so hot for Jones. He fumbled in a ball-security drill and was forced to do pushups as a punishment. He later fumbled a snap from reserve center Marcus Martin in a half-line running-game drill and had to do a lap.
But from that point on, Jones had a good enough grip on the football to come through with an efficient day as a passer despite steady rain in Foxboro.
One of his best throws of the day came early in the 1-on-1 period when he hit N'Keal Harry with a bucket throw into a tight window from about 40 yards away. The pass bounced off of Harry's hands and fell incomplete. Moments later, he hit Kristian Wilkerson with another accurate pass deep after Wilkerson beat J.C. Jackson off the line.
Continuing a trend started on Wednesday, Jones generally had the offense moving with good pace Thursday. Though he and Newton alternated snaps after two or three reps at a time -- a quicker back-and-forth than what we're used to seeing at these practices -- he maintained some rhythm for his reps, completing all five of his throws in the first 11-on-11 period.
His best? Another over-the-shoulder dime -- this one to White, who had Myles Bryant beat down the field.
One of the more interesting moments of the practice came after his fifth completion in that period -- a screen pass to Hunter Henry -- when Bill Belichick approached Jones for a conversation.
The head coach was emphatic in what he was trying to drill into Jones, keeping Jones close by despite Jones looking like he wanted to get to the start of the next practice period at one point. That led to the pair standing together and watching the practice for a minute as Belichick continued to chat.
“We were just talking about some fundamental stuff with the throw," Jones said after. "How you have to lead the receiver, whatever throw it is, and give them a chance to run with the ball. So it’s something I have to work on, on any route, you want to give them a catchable ball, regardless of the play.
"Just going back and working on your fundamentals, so getting those extra reps, whatever type of play it is, just get the extra reps and try and get the ball one foot in front of the numbers so he can go and run and turn. That was pretty much it.”
Jones did exactly that the next time he targeted Henry in the next 11-on-11 period. On a deep over route, Jones hit Henry in stride with Devin McCourty and Adrian Phillips close in coverage.
He did the same for Harry moments later and briefly put his hands up in the air as he thought Harry had a long catch-and-run touchdown ahead of him. It was unclear if Harry got into the end zone, but it was an explosive gain thanks in part to Jones' pass that helped Harry max out his yardage after the catch.
Jones wasn't perfect in the team periods. He had a pass that seemed to come out a tick too late that was broken up by Jackson when intended for Wilkerson. He threw wide to White in 7-on-7s. He had a pass batted at the line.
But he showed off a few different facets of his game, aside from throwing accurately to help his teammates earn their YAC. He hit Henry along the sideline against what appeared to be a zone look for a chunk play. He alerted his teammates to an impending rush by an incoming second-level defender; the rush was picked up, and he hit Henry down the field. During a hurry-up period at the end of practice, he hit all five of his final throws to drive the field.
It was an all-around good day for Jones. And considering the conditions, that it was "real football" in pads, it might've been his best.
Newton clunky in second padded practice: When the Patriots were in pads on Tuesday, Newton lit it up. He seemingly couldn't miss a throw. And the fact that he's a clear threat to run the football might've helped open up some lanes for him to put the ball in the air for big gains.
That didn't happen in padded practice No. 2.
He had a few head-scratching throws in the 1-on-1 period early in the workout. One was batted away by Myles Bryant. One was nearly picked by Jackson when Nelson Agholor couldn't shake free of coverage.
Newton's first throw in the 11-on-11 period was late, low and off the mark to Harry. (He was pressured by Ronnie Perkins on the play.) He later had a lengthy 7-on-7 rep -- the type onlookers hadn't seen from Newton in several practices -- that resulted in a pass breakup by Jackson on a target to Kendrick Bourne.
Three throws later, still in the 7-on-7 period, Newton threw flat-footed and late to Harry after appearing to lock onto a well-covered Agholor for a beat too long.
Newton had another late attempt to Agholor, broken up by Jackson, in the 11-on-11 period toward the end of practice. That was followed soon thereafter by a throw behind Henry that Ja'Whaun Bentley batted away.
The quarterback-specific run game is one clear element that Newton brings to the table that Jones does not. That was on display again Thursday -- particularly in an 11-on-11 period when Newton took five snaps, all of which were run plays from him or his running back teammates. When Jones stepped up after that sequence, he passed on four of six attempts.
Newton may not have an opportunity to fully bounce back and regain his Tuesday form until Sunday. The Patriots will have an in-stadium practice on Friday night. Those in-stadium practices have typically not featured all that much in the way of competitive reps between the offense and the defense. They'll be off on Saturday before getting back onto the practice fields Sunday.