New England Patriots: Mac Jones could be starting sooner than expected

Mac Jones #50 of the New England Patriots (Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images)
Mac Jones #50 of the New England Patriots (Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images) /
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The New England Patriots training camp has nearly concluded but has provided a great snapshot of what this team will look like this upcoming season.

Of course, it’s just training camp, but we should be getting an even better look at this team when they kick off their preseason set against the Washington Football Team on Thursday.

Coming off one of the most impressive off-seasons in recent memory, the Patriots are fielding an almost unrecognizable team from last year’s disappointing 7-9 squad. After cleaning up in free agency and putting together an impressive draft, this team is going to look a lot different from last seasons.

Of course, one of the hot topics surrounding the Patriots currently is their quarterback situation. They re-signed Cam Newton this offseason despite his struggles last season, and followed that up by nabbing former Alabama Crimson Tide shot caller Mac Jones with the 15th overall pick in the draft.

Considering the importance of the quarterback position in the sport, it’s no surprise that amount of attention this subject has gotten. After all, last season’s quarterback change didn’t necessarily go great for New England.

Coach Bill Belichick has done his best to squash the speculation surrounding the matter by publicly declaring Newton the Week 1 starter. But that won’t stop fans from wondering whether or not Jones will hit the field this season, or even potentially be elevated to the top quarterback down the line.

Mac Jones could be the New England Patriots starting QB sooner than expected

It may be jumping the gun a bit, especially considering we haven’t even seen Jones in a game setting yet, but the initial reports on Jones during training camp have been very good so far. He rebounded from his worst day of camp on Tuesday to put together two of his better outings on Wednesday and Thursday, even doubling Newton’s reps in the process.

Newton’s part in this process cannot be overlooked, however. Newton was brought back on a cheap one-year deal to essentially be the bridge to Jones. Public opinion on Newton has been quite divided after his initial season in New England, with some suggesting he should see out the season to give Jones time to develop, while others suggest Jones should be starting from the get- go.

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By all accounts, Newton has had a pretty solid training camp. He’s remained an upbeat locker room presence, even as he was losing reps to Jones during camp. But it appears as though the New England Patriots quarterback situation may have changed during training camp.

At this point, it would be a very big surprise if Newton isn’t taking the New England Patriots first snap of the season. Newton has seen how NFL caliber defenses work; Jones hasn’t.

But Newton’s leash may be shorter than initially anticipated. It was widely expected Belichick may let Newton play out the season before turning things over to Jones next season, but that may not be the case anymore. After Jones impressive camp, it increases the likelihood that he could replace Newton at some point in the season if Newton struggles.

When that would happen though is very much up for debate. It would be very surprising to see Belichick and co. give up on Newton in the first few weeks of the season, even if he struggles. If I were a betting man, it’s likely Newton will make it through at least the first half of the season, but if he struggles to win games, you never know what could happen.

Of course, there’s also a very good chance Newton comes out and performs at a higher level than he did last season. He was basically learning the offense on the fly last season and had much of his momentum disrupted by a COVID diagnosis. Remember, Newton looked mightily impressive through the first three games of the season, and nearly pulled off an improbable comeback against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 2.

Not to mention, the Patriots have improved nearly every part of their roster this offseason. Newton’s top two targets last season were Jakobi Meyers and Damiere Byrd. Now the offense has a bunch of new weapons in Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, Nelson Agholor, and Kendrick Bourne. That should help Newton perform better as well.

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If Newton comes out and performs well, this conversation is basically deemed irrelevant. But the gap between Newton and Jones isn’t as large as it once seemed; Jones increased rep count on Wednesday and Thursday only proved that.

The New England Patriots held an in-stadium practice Friday night that basically consisted of a very light walkthrough of full 11-on-11 action. Newton led the first team offense, while Jones led the second team offense. Newton is still the presumed starter heading into the season, but don’t be surprised if Jones finds the field at some point this season. Based on what we have seen at training camp, it may be sooner than you expect.