FOXBORO, Mass.—Ten thoughts on the Patriots, three years Post-Tom:
1. It’s now clear that when the Patriots drafted Michael McCorkle Jones in the first round last year, they drafted a player with the ethos of Tom Brady, in all ways. (Well, maybe except for the food.) I met with Mac Jones for 10 minutes after practice, and he was respectful and congenial, but my thought as he answered my questions was, He really wants to get this done so he can go back to football. It’s no coincidence Jones, 22 years younger than his predecessor, studied Brady’s mechanics as a young quarterback, and imitated his tireless work ways. “I always watch people that are good at what they do, whatever it is. If you’re a really good, whatever, pilot, let’s find out what the really good pilots do. That’s my thing. I always try to be a sponge and learn from whoever I can.”
In the practice I watched, with Jones, there was no wasted movements. His mechanics were precise, his confidence obvious. No kidding around. He said in a radio interview last year as a 22-year-old rookie that he went to bed every night at 8:30, which some took as nerdy or a humble-brag. It was neither. He just wanted to be at his best when it was time to do the job the next day. Even in a day when the hung-over quarterback is passe, his dedication seemed—and seems—so Brady-like, so made for a Bill Belichick quarterback.
On this day, he made a perfect throw to DeVante Parker through a tiny window in the end zone but didn’t preen. His practice was businesslike. The player who once was a distant third to Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa on the Alabama depth chart walked off the field with a better grip on his team’s long-term starting job than either of the guys who once lorded over him. But he doesn’t get too hung up on the improbability of his story, or anything but today.
“I’ll reference coach [Nick] Saban here,” he told me. “But if I ever listened to the internet, I would’ve stopped playing a long time ago. You’re always gonna get people who say that you’re not good enough to do something. I still have so much to prove. I’m always trying to be better than I was yesterday and be better than myself, really. I just try to compete against myself. I know when it’s a good day. I know when it’s a bad day. It’s more about the routine. What did I do before practice to put myself in position? Can I keep it consistent? Can I do it every day? [I] persevere and work each day. That’s all you can do.”
It’s interesting to see a young player take over as unquestioned leader of the team. The ageless vets, Matthew Slater and Devin McCourty, see it happening and like it. Said McCoutry: “He has all of those things we want our quarterback to have. With a year under his belt, he’s a little bit more confident. He has a little bit more command. I told him: ‘Whoever you were in high school, in college, that guy, bring that guy here. You don’t have to be this guy or have to be that guy. We just need you to be Mac Jones. That’s what we’re seeing.”
2. The 70-year-old Bill Belichick looks and coaches a lot like the early-New England Bill Belichick. A couple of months ago, I saw a photo of George Halas coaching in his seventies (he was 21-18-3 in three seasons after turning 70) and he looked 80. Belichick looks 55. Belichick was hands-on coaching the quarterbacks, from what I saw. He spent play after play working with and drilling backup QB Bailey Zappe, who sure is getting a lot of snaps for a fourth-round maybe guy.
3. Big crowd here. Worshipful crowd.
4. DeVante Parker needs to be what he was in Thursday’s practice—a red-zone threat who competes physically for 50-50 balls. Parker won an end-zone duel with starting corner Jalen Mills, which fired up the fans. Parker, 6-3 and 220, needs to play that big in an offense with meh wideouts.
5. Regarding coaching the quarterbacks and calling the offense, it looks like play-calling could land in the headset of senior football adviser/offensive line coach Matt Patricia. We’ll see how that goes. In 26 years as a football coach, Patricia has never had the title of quarterbacks coach, offensive coordinator, running backs coach, wide receivers coach or tight ends coach. Not to say it’s disqualifying, but it’ll be interesting to watch. I won’t be surprised if Belichick eventually has a significant hand in play-calling.
6. Every team should have a leader and conscience like Devin McCourty, who turns 35 in two weeks. “The game’s a grind, and for us, it has to be,” he said. “We’re a team that really has to work at it. Early in camp you see it. You see the last period of practice, we’re yelling and screaming at the offense. I think that’s what it’s about. We have to continuously go after each other. We can’t have it easy. We can’t kinda be cool in a sense and have one of those cool practices. I’m sure you’ll see when you go to other teams, like they’re just getting some work in today. We’re not that. We have a lot of guys that have made plays in this league but are now trying to become consistent players. That’s the hardest thing. We have to take on that challenge and attack it.”
FOXBORO, Mass.-Devin McCourty, prepping for his 96th season in the league … pic.twitter.com/IqS6chAM62
— Peter King (@peter_king) July 29, 2022
7. No idea who wins one of the most open position battles in football this summer, the corner spot opposite Jalen Mills. The corners all play with black mitts on each hand, to thwart them from grabbing receivers, trying to drill away holding penalties in the secondary. One contender is Malcolm Butler, wearing the oddest number for a corner I’ve seen: 4. He’ll try to make it back into Belichick’s good graces and lineup at age 32.5 after missing last year with an injury. That won’t be easy.
8. Excellent running back depth. Second-year back Rhamondre Stevenson should get the most touches, but it’s still going to be a job-share, mostly with Damien Harris. Stevenson’s a confident runner and, at 230 pounds, will need to be impactful in short-yardage.
9. Does anyone realize how great Nick Folk is? My 2021 all-pro kicker is 55-of-56 inside the 50 in the last two seasons. What an underappreciated player.
10. Josh Uche, drafted to be an impact edge player in the second round in 2020, has had such an invisible first two years (four sacks, only 414 snaps). He’ll have his chance this year, and I sense optimism that he can break out. But there’s pressure on Uche (and Belichick, who has had some poor drafts recently) to finally be a factor.