FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Mac’s edge: Patriots owner Robert Kraft said in March that quarterback Mac Jones was “respectful of coming in as a rookie” last season and that he believed Jones “has a little more edge that we’ve seen.”
It’s showing now.
The Patriots have two weeks remaining in their offseason program — with a three-day mandatory minicamp scheduled for Tuesday-Thursday this week — and Jones’ increased leadership has caught his teammates’ attention.
“It’s just at another level now,” receiver Kendrick Bourne told ESPN. “He’s more comfortable, more confident. He knows what’s going on, and the muscle memory is there [from having gone through it] — OTAs, then camp, and the season. He’s just more locked in, more secure in his position.”
As a result, Jones is positioned to become a team captain in just his second NFL season. If that’s the way it unfolds when players vote near the end of training camp, it would put him in rare company, joining Jerod Mayo and Devin McCourty as the only other Patriots to earn a second-year captaincy in Bill Belichick’s 23-year tenure as head coach.
“He connects with all the players really well. I’m proud of that dude, because it’s not easy,” said Bourne, who was among the visitors at Jones’ house for a hibachi party during the first night of the NFL draft. “Going into his second year after having a year like that, it’s going to be a challenge, but he’s a guy that likes challenges, like all of us in that Patriot building.”
Jones’ increased comfort level has manifested itself at practice when demonstrating to his pass-catchers what he’s looking for in their routes. At one point on Tuesday, he split out wide and ran a route as wide receivers watched intently.
Highlighting a top observation from Patriots practice: Mac Jones’ growing comfort level with WRs to express what he is looking for route-wise.
This video from Tuesday, after DeVante Parker takes a rep, shows one example.
Rolling the route, instead of a sharp cut, was emphasis. pic.twitter.com/miHqn728bH
— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) June 1, 2022
“He’s a young guy but he’s developed as a leader. That’s what this team needs,” said receiver DeVante Parker, now in his eighth NFL season and first in New England after being acquired in a trade from Miami. “I’ve only been here a few weeks, but I still see it.”
Added veteran cornerback Malcolm Butler: “He has great energy on and off the field. His confidence, his swagger — I love that about him.”
2. Balancing act: Starting safety Adrian Phillips arrived in town last week to take part in the final couple of weeks of the team’s offseason program. He said he felt it was the right thing to do, even though it wasn’t easy leaving his wife, Camille, and their 8-month-old son, Dylan, back in Texas. Camille, a doctor, has a demanding job.
“I was at home being a dad and house husband,” Phillips said. “I’m sad that I’m away from him for an extended period of time, because this time is so pivotal. But I FaceTime with him every day and make sure he doesn’t forget my face.”
3. Post-McDaniels era: How has the transition been without Josh McDaniels at offensive coordinator? Spending time with Bourne last week at the 47th annual Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Massachusetts Golf Classic, he shared one player’s perspective.
“It’s been dope so far. Joe Judge, our newest member [of the staff], he’s doing a great job,” Bourne said. “Really just new terminology, new words. Football is football, so it’s just about learning the new words, and getting the old words out. And it’s applying my abilities to the new system.”
How much the Patriots’ system actually changes — versus how much the staff is focusing on experimentation — is one of the greatest areas of intrigue surrounding the team.
“I think [Judge is] putting us in position to be successful. I’m excited so far,” said Bourne, adding that his abilities as a rusher (12 carries, 125 yards, 10.4 average in 2021) have been among the personal highlights. “Hopefully we’ll have a great year. We’ll see how it goes.”
4. CB questions: If there’s one position that stands out when asking the question “Do the Patriots have enough?” it’s outside cornerback. Veterans Butler and Terrance Mitchell have been paired there, along with top returnee Jonathan Jones in the slot. Jalen Mills and Joejuan Williams have been the others working on the outside, with Shaun Wade getting his initial work inside. Fourth-round draft pick Jack Jones of Arizona State, who has shown some stickiness in coverage, could also be a factor as he catches up to the more experienced players. “It’s a good group. A lot of competition,” Butler said.
5. Thornton’s arms: If Patriots second-round pick Tyquan Thornton has a successful rookie season as a receiver, how he uses his arms to become a more fluid route runner could be the key. That’s one area he’s focusing on this spring as he works to get “1% better each day.”
“Your arms, that’s your bread and butter, to get in and out of your breaks,” said Thornton, who is wearing a temporary No. 51 in practice, per Belichick’s annual spring tradition of assigning rookies unconventional numbers as a reminder to them of what should be most important.
6. Asiasi’s plan: When the second annual “TE University” takes place June 22-24 in Nashville, Tennessee, third-year Patriots tight end Devin Asiasi plans to be there. The primary goal for the 2020 third-round pick from UCLA — who has appeared in 10 NFL games while totaling two receptions for 39 yards and one touchdown — is to gain more knowledge from others around the league.
7. Keene’s state: This is a make-or-break year for tight end Dalton Keene, the Patriots’ other 2020 third-round pick whose best hope to stick might be as an H-back type, and it doesn’t help that he has been limited the past two weeks after suffering an undisclosed injury at the first OTA practice May 23. The setback, albeit seemingly minor, is a reflection of how the Virginia Tech alum has had a series of unfortunate breaks, which includes missing all of last season on IR.
8. Mandatory camp: This week’s mandatory minicamp figures to be an extension of the work the Patriots have been doing in the voluntary offseason program, and so notable storylines will include some of the players returning to town who haven’t been around — left tackle Isaiah Wynn, outside linebacker Matthew Judon and receiver N’Keal Harry among them. Harry, the 2019 first-round pick, is now a long shot to make the roster at his traditional position barring injuries ahead of him on the depth chart. Harry’s best chance might be to ask about a possible switch to tight end to compete with Asiasi and Keene as TE3 behind Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith.
9. Ernie in spotlight: In all his years as Patriots football research director, Ernie Adams kept a low profile before his retirement following the 2020 season. So it was a rare extended interview from Adams on the “Pats From The Past” podcast on Patriots.com, with co-hosts Matt Smith and Paul Perillo. What links Russ Francis and Rob Gronkowski, or the 1970s Patriots teams to the modern-day Baltimore Ravens? Few can answer those questions with the authority of Adams, who does so in an enjoyable chat full of rich football history.
10. Did you know? Veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who is set to retire after 17 seasons, appeared in 166 games, with 147 starts. The team he started against more than any other? The Patriots (13), followed by the Jets (12), Dolphins (10) and Colts (10).