The New England Patriots Monday opened the Organized Team Activity phase of their offseason program with Mac Jones as a returning starter at quarterback for the first time since he was in high school.
Patriots wide receiver Kendrick Bourne was asked how this year’s quarterback was different from last season’s rookie version, when Jones started every game as a first-round draft pick from Alabama.
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“He’s in the best shape of his life,” Bourne said. “I think he’s been here with (head strength and conditioning coach) Moses (Cabrera) all off season so he’s looking really good. His stomach is gone and he looks really good. He’s definitely a pro now.
“You know, you’re a rookie, you just don’t know until you’ve been through it for a year, so he’s definitely in way better shape than ever. He just dominates in conditioning and it’s just awesome to see. He’ll just be able to endure more and go through more in the game.”
Jones said he “definitely reduced body fat a little bit.”
“I think every year you want to self-diagnose how you felt for the games, your body fat and all that stuff,” Jones said Monday, “and for me, just cleaning up my diet. I’ve learned more than ever this offseason about nutrition, sleep, wellness and all of those things, so I’m taking what I’ve learned that I think will help me and applying it.
But Jones said more has changed from last year to this year than his condition.
“As a beginner you come in, you kind of get thrown in and all the plates are hot,” Jones said, “so you’re just trying to find your way around. But now, this past offseason and right now, we’ve just built a great relationship with the offensive line, the receivers, hanging out and just doing things together off the field because at the end of the day we’re all friends. We work together, we want to play for each other and that’s important to me. That is why football is the best team sport.”
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If Jones has a new look, he also has new trainers this year. Patriots offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Josh McDaniels became the head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders in January, bringing assistant quarterbacks coach Bo Hardegree to his staff.
“People come and go and get opportunities – players, coaches, managers – so that’s part of the business,” Jones said. “And I’ve been fortunate to have had a lot of different coordinators running a similar system throughout my college years, but I’ve just learned from that and taken the good from people who gave me the good and took that with me and just kept going and Try to grow with the new trainers we have. And we have a great group of players and coaches and like I said, that’s part of the territory of this sport. I’m happy for Josh and his family and we look forward to starting the next chapter.”
McDaniels and Hardegree don’t have a replacement, at least not by name. The Patriots coaching roster does not have an offensive coordinator, but does have two running backs coaches and coaches for wide receivers and tight ends, and an assistant offensive line coach.
Joe Judge, former Alabama assistant coach and head coach for the New York Giants, is listed as an offensive assistant, and Matt Patricia, former defensive coordinator for the Patriots and head coach for the Detroit Lions, is shown as a senior football advisor.
“Do we have titles?” New England coach Bill Belichick responded to a question on the subject Monday. “Yeah, look, there’s a lot of jobs we need to do. We’re all working on these things right now, but it’s May. They’re going to change in June, they’re going to change in August, they’re going to change in September, so we’re going to develop them in time for the things we need to do.”
When asked who will name the games for the Patriots this season, Belichick said, “What games are we calling? playing mini camp? … We will coach the team, coach the players. We’ll get them ready to go. We will make a game plan when we need to make a game plan. We will play play-call, do whatever we have to do to join games. We are still months away from that at the moment.”
Whoever is taking on what role for New England’s coaching staff, Jones hinted that the team is making progress this offseason.
“I think right now it’s all about learning,” Jones said. “The first day you come out and set a baseline. Fix the things you want to fix. Like I said, they all know our offense well and all agree. That’s the important part for me. There is no waste or anything like that.
“That is not my decision. We’ve got plenty of time for all of that, so now it’s just a matter of the guys and I getting together — running backs, tight ends, receivers — and then working with the offensive line, doing a few things with them just to make sure we are on the same page. It always comes back to the players and we look forward to growing together and learning from everyone who coaches us.”
The Patriots have nine more days of OTA drills scheduled, as well as a three-day mandatory mini-camp before the start of their summer break.
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Mark Inabinett is a sports reporter for the Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter at @AMarkG1.