That’s not exactly a role you’d have ever expected the brash Newton to fill, but fill it he has.
It has been an unlikely mentorship, Cam Newton and Mac Jones. Even as Newton is fighting for a starting job and his professional future, he has been a class act with Jones, going out of his way to praise the rookie, help him in the film room, be supportive of his drafting, and generally do all of the things expected of veteran leaders. Newton even suggested he’d be willing to step back from the starting job and be a full-time mentor the the rookie, if that’s what the team required and Jones’ development needed.
We shall see if Newton is actually ready to live up to that talk, because, as Bill Belichik recently said of Mac’s play, “he’s facing a tough decision [at the end of camp.”]. And, in some fairness, the roster and Newton’s play may also dictate moving forward with Mac Jones.
The game was on the line. Fourth down. If you make the play, you win. If you don’t, you lose. And you run. Simple.
That was the scenario presented by Bill Belichick at the end of Monday’s training camp practice, his team’s fifth in six days. The top Patriots defense was on the field. The top offense, led by quarterback Cam Newton, was stationed at the four-yard line.
Newton tried to hit Nelson Agholor on a slant for the game-winner. There might’ve been some contact at the line from defensive back Jalen Mills. There might’ve been a communication breakdown between the quarterback and receiver. But it looked like Newton simply missed Agholor, leading him too far out in front as Agholor came out of his break.
Incomplete. Game over. The offense was sent off for a lap around both practice fields behind Gillette Stadium.
And, despite a shaky beginning to Camp, Newton is still the publicly-stated starter.
“We’ll take a look at the whole situation,” Belichick said. “I don’t think you want to evaluate players at any position off of one or two plays, or maybe a day, so from a consistency standpoint that’s always important and, obviously, production, so, hopefully, those things will be good, and I’m sure it’ll be a hard decision. But we’ll see how it goes. Let them play and try to do what we feel like is best for the team based on their performance.”
“I mean, Cam’s our starting quarterback,” Belichick said. “I think I’ve said that.”
But, I think that while that scenario in Pats’ camp last Friday tells you that Newton is still the starter, it is a starting job with an asterisk.
While Cam is still starting with the Ones, as camp has progressed, Jones’ has become more comfortable with the offense, is getting more reps, and has begun to play better (though, as we saw at Alabama, Jones has been prone to red-hot starts before losing momentum later in practice).
It may have been Jones’ best day in camp so far. The Patriots got away from a lot of red zone work and started to expand the field a bit more. It was a lot of underneath work and check downs but Jones did throw a 45-yard dart in tight coverage to Isaiah Zuber for a touchdown.
Jones, at one point, got 16 straight reps and completed 12 of his 14 passes through that span. It was encouraging to see Jones finish practice strong as throughout the first few days, he would start out hot and sort of fizzle out towards the end. With the pads coming on tomorrow, the Patriots’ quarterback competition is just getting started.
Today begins the Patriots’ first practice in pads, with limited contact. This will be Jones’ first live-fire exercise as an NFL pro. But, there’s no reason to think he won’t progress rapidly as he grows more comfortable.
Fortunately for Jones, his production and consistency in the practices has extended far beyond “one or two plays or maybe a day.” He’s been accurate, decisive and consistent in that there just isn’t a huge disparity between his best plays and his worst.
Have Jones’ flashes in practice been enough to nudge out Newton as the starter? Probably not at this point. The Pats’ staff is going to need to see preseason snaps, game management, how he responds against NFL pressure and against NFL secondaries, and so many other things from Mac.
But so far Jones has been everything he was billed to be: a player whose ceiling and floor are not very far apart: A cerebral, accurate player who makes a smart play and has enough arm to make throws. With one of the NFL’s better defenses behind him, a stout running game, and an old-school coach content to win slobberknockers, that consistency may just be enough at the end of the day to win a starting job as a rookie.
Will Mac Jones win the Patriots starting job in 2021?
This poll is closed
Yes. Game one starter.
Yes. At some point, Newton’s body or performance will force Belichick to reluctantly make a move.
Yes. At some point, Mac’s performance will be too good to leave on the bench, even if Newton is having a serviceable season.
No. Belichick is still going to play the odds and ride with a veteran unless he absolutely has no choice.
No. Jones probably still isn’t ready, and will likely require a full season of learning to be a viable NFL starting option.