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Patriots QBs: Mac Jones overcomes adversity; Cam Newton a model teammate

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Max's sleeper Super Bowl contender raises some eyebrows (1:41)

Max Kellerman outlines why the Patriots are a dark horse Super Bowl contender this season. (1:41)

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

1. QBs so far: The Patriots have had nine practices in training camp, and a picture has developed at the quarterback position. Here are my biggest takeaways:

Mac overcoming adversity: After a tough practice Tuesday, Jones responded with two days in which he nearly doubled Cam Newton in repetitions, and the passing offense had its most consistent success. That seemed significant. It wasn't just that Jones seemed to hit his groove while finding a more assertive voice. It's that it came after arguably his lowest point in camp.

Jones said he sensed a shift last week between himself and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.

"I'm trying and starting to get to where we're kind of thinking on the same page," Jones said. "And that's how it has to be every day."

Cam the classy teammate: It could not have been easy to be in Newton's shoes on Wednesday and Thursday, watching Jones get more work and seeing a clearer picture of how the passing offense is designed to operate -- from protection identification to read progressions, timing/rhythm and accuracy.

But by all accounts, Newton continues to be the model teammate, celebrating Jones' on-field successes while building up others such as wide receiver N'Keal Harry, who has been one of the surprise stories of camp. Newton's egoless approach is worthy of a tip of the Meshika hat.

"He puts it all out on the line for the team," Patriots safety Devin McCourty said.

Two different offenses: There have been two full-pads practices, and in those sessions, it sometimes looks like the team is running separate attacks. The threat of Newton as a ball carrier with the read-option is prevalent -- and effective at times -- while Jones often looks like he's running the more traditional Patriots passing offense.

"[Jones] is not operating like a rookie, that's clear to me," former NFL scout and New York Jets director of football administration Pat Kirwan said during his stop at camp as part of Sirius XM NFL Radio's tour. "He has poise, good arm strength. He's more what Josh wants to do, and how he's done it in the past. ... I wouldn't be surprised if by October we see [him] under center."

Belichick gives himself an out: Coach Bill Belichick has made it clear that Newton is the starter, but as is the case with everything, context matters. Belichick also said there could be a "hard decision," and previously acknowledged that every player needs to establish their position, with the possibility that Jones could challenge Newton if he shows he's ready.

So if Jones continues to ascend, and Newton dips, Belichick could point to the totality of his remarks on quarterbacks if he decides Jones gives the team the best chance to win.

2. A surprise team: Kirwan, who co-hosts the "Movin' The Chains" show on Sirius XM NFL Radio with former quarterback Jim Miller, liked what he saw at Patriots camp. "This is a surprise team on the horizon. People that haven't been thinking of them, like me, but after you watch them and study them, there's a reason to be excited this could be a playoff team."

Kirwan's position-by-position assessment:

  • WR -- Solid but not deep

  • TE -- Outstanding

  • OL -- Solid but not deep

  • QB -- Major question on team

  • RB -- Solid and deep

  • DL -- Solid and deep

  • OLB -- Solid and deep

  • ILB -- Good enough to win with

  • CB -- Solid and deep

  • S -- Good

  • ST -- Excellent

3. Winovich on mend: Outside linebacker Chase Winovich, who opened training camp on the physically unable to perform list with an undisclosed ailment, has started running again, which puts him one step closer to being activated. Winovich wasn't on the field in June's mandatory minicamp but had participated in voluntary practices before that. The Patriots project to start Matt Judon and Kyle Van Noy at outside linebacker, with 2020 second-round pick Josh Uche a factor in specific packages and 2021 third-round pick Ronnie Perkins also in the mix for possible reps. Winovich, who led the team with 5.5 sacks last season, would add another layer of solid depth.

4. Game 17s into future: An unexpected bonus for West Coast-based Patriots fans came last week when it was learned that whatever place the Patriots finish in the AFC East this season, they will visit the NFC West team that finishes in that same slot in 2022 for their 17th game. Here is a snapshot of the 17th-game rotation the NFL plans to use over the next four years:

Home 2021: NFC East (Cowboys)

Road 2022: NFC West (Seahawks, Cardinals, Rams, 49ers)

Home 2023: NFC South (Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers, Saints)

Road 2024: NFC North (Bears, Lions, Packers, Vikings)

One hard-to-miss note as a result of the rotation is that if Tom Brady plays a 24th season at age 46, and the Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers finish in the same spot in the 2022 standings, Brady would potentially return to Gillette Stadium a second time [in 2023].

5. Wilkerson a sleeper: Mark down the name Kristian Wilkerson as a player who probably wasn't on many initial Patriots roster projections but who has put himself in good position to stick after spending last season on the practice squad. The 6-foot-1, 201-pound wide receiver initially entered the NFL in 2020 with the Tennessee Titans as an undrafted free agent out of Southeast Missouri State. Receivers coach Mick Lombardi mentioned him last week, unsolicited, and Wilkerson has been doing one-on-one work with special teams captain Matthew Slater at practice.

6. All in the family: Tedy Bruschi ... Scott Pioli ... Patrick Chung ... Willie McGinest. Belichick's longevity and staying power -- he's now in his 21st year as Patriots coach -- has created a dynamic where players/staffers from the earlier part of his tenure are coming back as welcome on-field guests at camp. Bruschi even spent time tutoring Perkins after one practice.

7. Ziegler fills Caseri's seat: Belichick highlighted the collaboration of the team's personnel department during the pre-draft process, and he acknowledged some things were being done differently with former director of player personnel Nick Caserio departing to become the Houston Texans' general manager. Here is a snapshot of those at the top of the masthead with new titles:

  • Dave Ziegler -- director of player personnel (from assistant)

  • Matt Groh -- college scouting director (from national scout)

  • Steve Cargile -- pro scouting director (from assistant)

  • Brian Smith -- personnel coordinator (from college scouting coordinator)

Eliot Wolf retains the same title as 2020 -- scouting consultant. And congratulations are also in order for Camren Williams -- the son of former Patriots defensive lineman Brent Williams -- who has elevated from area scout to national scout.

8. Cozens' workout: The thoroughness of Ziegler and the personnel staff was reflected last week, in part, when the team flew in former Major League Baseball outfielder Dylan Cozens from Arizona for a workout. Cozens had tweeted June 22 that he was making a career switch from baseball to football, and his workout with the Patriots -- he went through drills as a tight end -- was his first with an NFL team. Another reminder the Patriots turn over every rock in scouring the country for talent. Cozens, 27, spent eight years in the Philadelphia Phillies organization, reaching the majors in 2018 and playing in 26 games.

9. Mayo's goals: Former Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo enters his third season as a coach on Belichick's staff, and he has already interviewed for one head-coaching job -- in Philadelphia last offseason. In that sense, he seems to be on the fast track.

Mayo, 35, initially went into a career in finance after his eight-year playing career with the team, but he now is all-in on coaching.

"I definitely have aspirations to be a head coach," he said this week, while adding his focus is 100 percent on the 2021 Patriots. "That is the goal. I know I can do it. I'm just waiting for my chance to really come to fruition."

10. Did You Know: Cornerback J.C. Jackson's 11 takeaways last season (nine interceptions, two fumble recoveries) were the most by a player in Belichick's tenure, topping Asante Samuel's 10 in 2006 and Kyle Arrington's eight in 2011. As for interceptions alone, Ron Hall holds the single-season franchise record with 11 in 1964.