Former New England Patriots assistant 'really impressed' with Cam Newton, Mac Jones

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

1. Scar impressed with QBs: It has been 18 months since Dante Scarnecchia retired as Patriots offensive line coach, and he has happily transitioned from one of the longest tenured and most valuable team employees to a fan. So like most everyone else in the New England region, he tuned in to the team's first two preseason games.

"I watched the quarterbacks to see what they look like after all the things that have been said. I was really, really impressed by both the quarterbacks," he said.

"It looks like Cam [Newton] has better command of the offense, and the ball seems to be coming out a little bit faster. And I think what they're doing with Mac Jones is everything. They're lining up in stuff that has gone beyond Basics 101 and into other things -- the empty backfield sets, the protection adjustments, all the stuff that goes with it. And he seems to be doing very well with it all."

I had initially reached out to Scarnecchia last week to talk to him about offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, hoping to tap his insight into the importance of McDaniels' role with the club ("I wouldn't have come back a second time if he wasn't here").

We didn't connect until a few days later, when the conversation rounded out to other topics.

"To me, the cupboard definitely looks half-full," he said of the Patriots. "They can run the ball. Got better weapons outside on offense. I think the front is really good."

And, naturally, things circled back to the quarterbacks, and specifically Jones.

"I went down and visited with the Alabama staff for a day, they asked me to come down and talk football. I know [former Alabama offensive coordinator] Steve Sarkisian, and I know the [former] offensive line coach there, Kyle Flood. They're really good coaches, all those guys.

"And when I watched their tape and saw the things they did, and the sophistication of it, you could see [Jones] is pretty special. ... He's smart. Gets the ball out fast. Knows where to go with it probably before the ball is snapped, which I think is half the battle. Pre-snap read, what are you seeing? Post-snap, what it really is, and then get the ball out when it is supposed to be out. He does all that.

"Now, having said all that, it's amazing the amount of plays the amount of really good players aren't playing in preseason right now. There's a whole new page they have to flip there that's going to say, 'This is the real deal.' Then you have to see how it all looks."

2. Cam’s health: One reason Newton has been optimistic about his chances for a productive season is his health, as he's pointed out that he had an offseason without any surgeries, giving him more time to focus on football. So it shouldn’t be overlooked that the catalyst for his three-practice absence last week -- as a result of a COVID-19 protocol "misunderstanding" -- was a team-approved trip for a medical appointment outside the region. It’s every player’s right to seek out a second opinion. That Newton was doing so was more than a passing note because it reflects some level of concern that he has.

3. Mac's response: Like all rookies, Jones has made his fair share of mistakes on the field. But what I keep hearing has impressed teammates and coaches most is how he responds to them -- seldom making them again, and not allowing himself to ride the roller coaster of emotions that come with them. "He's very even-keeled," veteran quarterback Brian Hoyer said. "I've noticed that -- especially for a young guy."

4. Eyes on Gilmore: The Patriots' acquisition of rookie cornerback Shaun Wade from the Baltimore Ravens last week could be an ominous sign as it relates to Stephon Gilmore's availability for the season opener Sept. 12. Gilmore remains on the physically unable to perform list (quad). The Patriots' depth in the secondary -- when also factoring in safeties -- was something in need of attention given how often they play with five, six and sometimes seven defensive backs on the field. Wonder if they might regret not bringing back veteran Jason McCourty in the offseason.

5. Michel and Maroney: The Patriots' trade of running back Sony Michel to the Los Angeles Rams for a 2022 sixth-round draft pick and 2023 fourth-rounder reminded me of another trade from coach Bill Belichick's past -- the 2010 swap in which running back Laurence Maroney (and a sixth-round pick) was shipped to the Denver Broncos for a fourth-round pick. Michel and Maroney were first-round selections (some might say regrettably so) entering the last year of their contracts and didn't factor into the team's future plans. So to receive a fourth-rounder in each swap is a significant chip, because that draft pick is usually going to make the roster.

6. Draft pick reset: After trading Michel and acquiring Wade, here's a look at the Patriots' updated draft picks over the next two years:

  • 2022: First, second, third, fourth, sixth, sixth, seventh

  • 2023: First, second, third, fourth, fourth, sixth, seventh

The 2022 fifth-rounder went to the Raiders in the March deal for offensive tackle Trent Brown, and one other consideration is that the team shouldn't expect any 2022 compensatory picks based on its aggressive approach in free agency.

7. Uche's fit: Second-year Patriots linebacker Josh Uche has had some practices in training camp where he's been one of the most disruptive defenders on the field, most recently Thursday with the New York Giants. The key, it seems, is the coaching staff's determination that his best fit is on the line of scrimmage. In his rookie season, Uche worked mostly off the line of scrimmage, which meant more coverage and communication responsibilities (there were some notable struggles in a Week 16 loss to the Buffalo Bills). This year, it's all about playing forward, and rushing the passer. Fellow linebacker Dont'a Hightower gave him a high compliment in calling him "A little [Matt] Judon."

8. Cajuste's comeback: Something clicked for 2019 third-round pick Yodny Cajuste -- who hasn't played a game for the Patriots after tearing his quad before the draft and then suffering a freak broken bone in his leg during training camp in 2020 -- and now he's in position to claim the all-important swing offensive tackle job with a strong performance in Sunday's preseason finale against the Giants (6 p.m. ET). "He's kind of a vet, an older guy, but he hasn't played a lot. None of it is his fault," center David Andrews said. "To see him work through this, it's inspiring to see and says a lot about his mental toughness."

9. Mac's honor: Jones was named Academic All-American of the Year by the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA), an honor recognizing the top scholar-athlete in the nation, regardless of sport or gender. He's the fourth Alabama athlete to earn the honor (no college has had more). "Being an Academic All-American is something I've always dreamed of and it has been a goal of mine for as long as I can remember," he said.

10. Did You Know: The Patriots and Giants have closed out the preseason every year since 2005, and this will be the Patriots' first preseason game on a Sunday since traveling to facing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, Aug. 17, 2008.