<
>

New England Patriots rookie Mac Jones earning teammates' respect

play
Saturday put onus on Pats' offense to produce this season (0:46)

Jeff Saturday puts pressure on the Patriots' offense after a disappointing 2020 season. (0:46)

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts/notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:

1. Mac's work ethic: Rookies are supposed to be seen more than heard with the Patriots, but that can be hard to do when it's a first-round quarterback such as Mac Jones.

Through the first four days of training camp, Jones is striking that delicate balance and earning the respect of his teammates.

"It's not easy to play quarterback in the NFL, it's not easy to play it here. He works his butt off and he cares a lot. I get text messages from him at 6 a.m.," Patriots veteran quarterback Brian Hoyer said.

Jones, who has exclusively taken No. 2 reps behind Cam Newton through the first stretch of practices, has shown promise when it comes to processing information and releasing the ball on time.

He also has experienced predictable growing pains, and it has been commonplace to see him going over unsuccessful plays with teammates on the field after they unfold -- such as what he did Friday after a missed long connection to wide receiver Nelson Agholor, or on an incomplete pass in the flat to running back J.J. Taylor on Thursday that could have been an easier pitch-and-catch.

Jones is notably hard on himself at times, and Newton said he is still learning how best to approach him in those situations. In the Patriots' second practice, Newton saddled up next to him for a chat after a rough patch.

"I told Mac this, he doesn't know me yet and I don't know him yet, as far as comfort," Newton said. "A couple months with Mac, he's a person that over time you'll get to know. He may be a guy you have to [fire up], or he may be a guy you leave alone and let him come back to himself. Everybody is just trying to learn each other and be the best teammates we can."

Along those lines, teammates have taken notice of Jones' accountability on the field, and how much he's investing in them in the locker room.

"He's a great guy off the field, so it makes it easy to play with him on the field," wide receiver Jakobi Meyers said. "Guys who want to get better, it makes it really easy to play football with them."

2. Gilmore's status: Cornerback Stephon Gilmore's desire to have his contract addressed by the team remains in the same spot it was at the start of training camp -- no resolution. Gilmore, who is coming back from surgery on his partially torn quad, has been working on the lower practice field with rehabbing players, and at one point last week he walked up with others to watch the final stretch of the regular practice. The dynamic is such that Gilmore can slow-play his potential return to practice, if he so desires, until the business side is resolved. In his absence, big-money free-agent signing Jalen Mills has been taking cornerback reps opposite J.C. Jackson.

3. Harris as RB1: Coach Bill Belichick said last week that running back Damien Harris has "been here since the day after the season was over," a level of dedication that made a positive impression on him. The coach doesn't often talk about expectations with roles, but with Harris, he allowed: "He has an opportunity to compete for a lead spot and has embraced that. ... I've been impressed by the commitment he has shown." Harris' primary competition is 2018 first-round pick Sony Michel, who wasn't present during voluntary spring workouts, with fourth-round pick Rhamondre Stevenson joining the mix after being removed from the active/non-football injury list on Friday. James White, Taylor, Brandon Bolden and Tyler Gaffney round out the depth chart.

4. Stidham's standing: Belichick broke from his usual stance of not addressing injuries and timelines when he shared that quarterback Jarrett Stidham "will miss a little time," which led to the team's waiver claim of Jake Dolegala. After undergoing surgery on his back Wednesday, Stidham will now land on the reserve/physically unable to perform list to start the season and he would be eligible to return by late October. The scenario could be a win-win for Stidham and the team: He gets himself right physically, doesn't count against the initial roster, and could provide depth later in the season depending on how things unfold with Newton and Jones.

5. Judon's sprint: When Patriots players retreat to the conditioning hill at the end of practice, outside linebacker Matt Judon has been running with the wide receivers, his blue No. 9 jersey standing out among all the white jerseys. Judon's immersion into the Patriots' culture is in its early stages -- he wasn't around for the majority of the spring -- but he talked about already developing a connection with fellow linebackers Dont'a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Ja'Whaun Bentley, Raekwon McMillan, Josh Uche and others. Summing up his transition from the Baltimore Ravens, he said: "Now, I'm not in enemy territory."

6. Red zone blues: The Patriots had 26 touchdowns in 48 trips inside the opponents' 20-yard line last season, a 54.2% success rate that ranked them 24th in the NFL. Not ideal, and one might say perhaps that is a driving factor as to why the first four days of 2021 training camp were spent almost exclusively in the red zone. But as Belichick pointed out, the Patriots always have a heavy emphasis on that area early in training camp -- a reminder of its importance to any team's success.

7. McCourty's future: Longtime Patriots captain Devin McCourty turns 34 on Aug. 13, enters his 12th season with the team, and is in the final year of his contract. So could this be his final NFL season? McCourty said last week he hasn't had time to think along those lines, but acknowledged he has entered the past couple of years with the mentality that any season could be his last. "I will say I feel great going into the season. I had a good offseason training," McCourty relayed, before joking that training camp would be a relief with kids aged 4, 3 and one month at home. In that case, McCourty might want to play until he's 40.

8. Mac's courtesy: It was a small gesture, but one that was hard to miss. Newton had just started his post-practice news conference Friday, which drew a large crowd of reporters, when Jones arrived for his. At that point, Jones could have stepped up to one of the open microphones and started his news conference, but he elected to wait for Newton's 15-minute session to finish, presumably out of respect to Newton and (possibly) the media.

9. Tuesday's checkmark: The Patriots have had their first four practices of training camp, although Belichick essentially said camp begins Tuesday in his view. That's when the team can first wear full pads and the tempo ramps up. So any pure evaluations are on hold, which explains his answer when asked how Jones is doing retaining information in the playbook. "We'll see," Belichick said. "We haven't really got to that yet in training camp. That'll be coming. So I don't know. We'll find out."

10. Did You Know: The Patriots of 2003 and 2004 were the last teams to repeat as Super Bowl champions, and the current stretch of 16 consecutive seasons without a repeat champion is the longest in history.