FOXBOROUGH — Mac Jones is entering his second training camp in a very different location from his first.
A year ago, Jones snapped second-team squads as a rookie, battling veteran Cam Newton for the starting job. A year later and with an appearance in the playoffs, Jones is the star of the show as the Patriots begin training camp.
Jones was one of the first players to step onto the field on Wednesday, and when he did, the relatively quiet Patriots crowd gave the second-year quarterback a loud round of applause.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick helped set the tone for Jones’ sophomore season on Tuesday, saying his quarterback “made tremendous strides” this offseason.
“He did a great job last year, but he’s starting this year from a much, much higher point than last year,” said Belichick. “His off-season work has been significant and I think everyone recognizes how well he’s preparing and how much further he’s been than a year ago.”
Jones shared the changes he made.
“I think I’m just evaluating what I wanted to get better at, whether it’s footwork, where the ball is on certain shots, or just trying to learn how to hit each shot in a different way,” Jones said. “And then of course it has to be applied during the season.
“The offseason is great, but you want to apply what you’ve learned and apply it, and being able to use it in games is why. That’s why you work hard.”
Wednesday was a soft opening to show the changes Jones had made and Belichick’s comments seemed valid. The quarterback looked impressive at team practice, completing 13 of 16 passes (5 on 6 in 7 on 7, 8 on 10 in 11 on 11, by my count).
While Jones had a solid day throwing the ball, he also appeared to be in control of the team. Since team practice was in the red zone, he threw three touchdown passes to DeVante Parker and a few more to others, celebrating a good deal after each one.
“It feels good. It’s another year of playing football,” Jones said of his second year in the league. “There are guys on our team who have been playing for 15 years, there are guys who are rookies so I’m not a rookie anymore I just have to go out there and do what I used to do at fall camp and just compete and compete, make the guys better around me.
“It’s year 2 but at the same time it’s still football and that’s the important part to recognize. We’re all in the same boat. How old you are doesn’t really matter. You are here together and that is the whole point.”
Although Jones has downplayed that he’s more comfortable with a year under his belt, his teammates said they feel it.
“I think he’s more comfortable,” left tackle Trent Brown said of Jones. “He understands that this is his team. He rules the dressing room like that.”
Brown also agreed with Belichick’s assessment of Jones’ off-season improvement, joking that “maybe he’s getting a little soft at his age.”
As Jones celebrated every touchdown pass on Wednesday, Brown couldn’t help but savor it.
“He definitely brings a lot of swagger to the table, and we love it,” Brown said. “It definitely runs through the whole team.”
One of the possible beneficiaries of Jones’ consolation is Kendrick Bourne. The wide receiver, who also joined the Patriots in 2021, played with Jones for a career year, catching 55 passes for 800 yards and five touchdowns.
Bourne noted that the “ice is already broken” between him and Jones and shared that the quarterback emerged as the leader.
“Mac looks very, very good and feels very good,” said Bourne when asked about Jones’ improved leadership skills. “He’s always had that leadership quality. Every year every player grows. So he just takes that role.”
On the defensive side, linebacker Matthew Judon admitted he’s not sure how to classify Jones as a quarterback. But he has faith in him.
“[He’s] throw well, throw the ball very well,” Judon said when asked about Belichick’s comment on Jones. “But that’s because of those coaches, man. I think Mac will be a great player for us for a very long time. I have no idea how he’s doing. As long as he’s making passes, he’s honest with me.”
Patriots fans who attended Wednesday’s practice were delighted with Jones. There were several rounds of applause after his touchdown passes during team practice, and when his group moved to a certain area, the next section cheered their arrival.
Admiration for Jones continued as he answered questions from the media, with fans chanting his name in hopes of an autograph 30 minutes after practice ended. One fan even yelled, “We love you Mac!”
“Thanks,” Jones replied with a laugh, perhaps realizing his new status in New England.
Sign up for Patriots updates🏈
Get breaking news and analysis delivered to your inbox throughout the football season.