FOXBORO — Mac Jones isn’t only leaning on his offensive line and playmakers for help this summer. The Patriots quarterback is also picking the brains of his defensive teammates, and it’s led to veteran safety Adrian Phillips seeing a “way better quarterback” nearly four weeks into training camp.
It’s been apparent on the practice field. Jones had perhaps his best practice as a Patriots quarterback Thursday in Green Bay during joint practices with the Packers. He followed that up with an impressive performance in Saturday’s preseason game.
The Patriots were expected to conduct a quarterback competition this summer. Jones never let backup Bailey Zappe get close enough to challenge him based on his play on the field.
“I’ve seen him grow and change a lot. I don’t want to give too much detail into it just because I don’t want to give up his little tidbits,” Phillips said. “He took last year on the chin. He’ll be the first one to tell you that that’s not how he wanted to play. For all of us, that’s not how any of us wanted to play. He’ll be the first to tell you that.”
Jones was willing to give up some of his secrets.
He’s always asked Patriots defenders how he can improve based on what they see in practice, but he’s ramped it up this summer. The third-year pro said he isn’t trying to figure out the Patriots’ defensive plays, he’s trying to learn how he can better fool the opposition.
“Just talking with him, asking him questions and going against them like, ‘Hey, what did I do there?’ He’s like, ‘Hey, good job looking me off on that man-to-man coverage’ or whatever. Just try to take it from the practice field to the game field and use those tools that I have. …
“Just trying to figure out like, ‘Hey, did that work that time?’ And sometimes they’re like, ‘No, it really didn’t work,’ whether it was the play or the head fake or whatever. So, it’s all things you have to add to your toolbox. And that’s what practice is about is trying new things, trying throws you maybe wouldn’t throw in the game. Things like that, which I’ve tried to do during fall camp.”
Jones has said in the past that he’s fortunate to go against a complex defense that shows so many different looks every day in practice. The Patriots’ defense ranked as one of the best in the NFL last season and brought back nearly all of their contributors. Safety Devin McCourty retired, but the Pats were able to draft three defensive players in the first three rounds who look like immediate contributors in cornerback Christian Gonzalez, edge defender Keion White and linebacker/safety Marte Mapu.
The QB, who made a Pro Bowl in his rookie season but fell off dramatically last season as he dealt with injuries and inexperienced offensive coaching, makes every day a competition.
“He’s coming out here every single day and trying to light our defense up,” Phillips said. “Like literally light us up. I’m talking bombs, anything that he can do. You just love to see that. He’s always checking plays. He’s always ready to give you something that you have to think about. I just think his confidence is through the roof right now.”
Jones went 6-of-9 for 52 yards in three offensive series Saturday. The Patriots’ banged-up offensive line caused two of the Patriots’ drives to end prematurely due to a sack on third down in the second drive and a strip sack on the third drive.
The Patriots’ offensive line should improve once injured guards Cole Strange and Mike Onwenu are back in the mix. Calvin Anderson would add additional depth at offensive tackle if he can return from the non-football illness list, as well.
Jones expressed confidence in his wide receiver corps, which suddenly looks deep thanks to the training camp contributions of rookies DeMario Douglas and Kayshon Boutte playing behind JuJu Smith-Schuster, DeVante Parker and Kendrick Bourne. Mike Gesicki was back at practice Tuesday to join Hunter Henry in the tight end mix. The Pats added running back Ezekiel Elliott last week to take some pressure off of Rhamondre Stevenson.
But if the Patriots’ offense is going to improve this season, it all goes through Jones. Phillips sees a “way better quarterback.”
“Obviously, we haven’t even played a game yet, so I’m not sure if that’s true or not,” Jones said.
We’ll find out in September.
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