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Mac Jones ‘excellent’ in practice, gaining on Cam Newton after solid preseason debut

Matt Fitzgerald

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New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones had a solid, but not spectacular, preseason debut in Thursday’s 22-13 win over the Washington Football Team, and it’s creating buzz that he might be on course to unseat Cam Newton as the starter.

Jones was 13-of-19 passing for 87 yards, yet could’ve been better had Patriots wide receiver Kristian Wilkerson been able to haul in a downfield throw in the end zone. Meanwhile, Newton was decent in limited action, completing four of seven throws for 49 yards.

While many of the Alabama first-round pick’s preseason throws were of the dink-and-dunk variety, exhibition games are always a little tricky to gauge. What was apparent was that Jones looked poised, and it appeared the game wasn’t too big for him.

According to Pro Football Network insider Adam H. Beasley, this aligned with the positive signs the Patriots have seen from Jones in training camp practices leading into Thursday’s preseason opener.

“From what we hear, Jones, who did his work against Washington’s backups and was not made available to reporters after the game, has been excellent in practice,” Beasley reported. “If he continues performing at this level in preseason games, the Patriots might have to move their timeline up for his regular-season debut.”

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Mac Jones shouldn’t be rushed into New England Patriots’ QB1 role

Mac Jones shouldn't be rushed into New England Patriots' QB1 role
Aug 12, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) passes the ball during the first half against Washington Football Team at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

Coaches aren’t hardcore game-planning during the preseason. Schemes on both offense and defense are basic and vanilla. Jones isn’t seeing the exotic defenses he would when the games actually count. He’s playing with backups, and against backups.

For all these reasons, it’s important to take Jones’ performance with a grain of salt. He would’ve absolutely been in over his skis if he had to face Washington’s elite first-team defense, which isn’t a knock on him — that’s just reality right now.

Newton signed super late last offseason, came down with COVID-19 during the 2020 campaign and didn’t have near the pass-catching talent flanking him this year. Plus, the former NFL MVP brings plenty of experience and a dynamic rushing ability Jones simply doesn’t have in his arsenal.

That said, Jones fits much more of the traditional pocket-passer mold New England got spoiled by with Tom Brady for two decades.

Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels doesn’t have to deviate much from his reliable system with Jones in the lineup. However, if Newton can execute better in Year 2 and bring that usual running element, he stands to give the Patriots a better chance to win.

It’s not like Jones was the No. 1 overall pick. He was selected 15th. There shouldn’t be as much urgency to plug him in. Newton is only on a one-year deal and is playing for his career. At least to open the season, Newton’s job security shouldn’t be in jeopardy.

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