The New England Patriots opened the Organized Team Activity phase of their offseason program on Monday with Mac Jones as the returning starter at quarterback for the first time since he was in high school.
Patriots wide receiver Kendrick Bourne was asked what was different about this year’s quarterback when compared with the rookie version last season, when Jones started every game as a first-round draft choice from Alabama.
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“He’s in the best shape of his life,” Bourne said. “I think he’s been here all offseason with (head strength and conditioning coach) Moses (Cabrera), so he looks really good. His stomach is gone, and he looks really good. He’s definitely a pro’s pro now.
“You know, you’re a rookie, you just don’t know until you go through it for a year, so he’s definitely a lot more in shape than he ever was. He’s just dominating in conditioning, and it’s just dope to see. He’ll just be able to endure more in the game and go through more. “
Jones said he had “definitely trimmed down on the body fat a little bit.”
“I think every year you want to do like a self-diagnosis of how you felt for the games, your body fat, all that stuff,” Jones said on Monday, “and for me, just cleaning up my diet. I’ve learned more this offseason than I ever have about nutrition, sleep, wellness, all that stuff, so I’m kind of take what I learned that I feel will help me and apply it. “
But Jones said more had changed from last year to this year than his level of conditioning.
“Just as a rookie, you come in, you’re kind of thrown in and all the plates are hot,” Jones said, “so you kind of just try and find your feet. But now this past offseason and right now, we’ve just built a great relationship with the offensive line, the receivers, hanging out together, 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 one another, and that’s important to me. That’s why football is the best team sport. “
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If Jones has a new look, he also has new coaches this year. Josh McDaniels, the Patriots’ offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, became head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders in January, and he took assistant quarterbacks coach Bo Hardegree with him for his staff.
“People come and go and get opportunities – players, coaches, support staff – so it comes with the business,” Jones said. “And I was fortunate to have a lot of different coordinators throughout my college time kind of running a similar system, but I just learned from that and take the good from people that gave me the good and take that with me and just move on and try and grow with the new set of coaches we have. And we have a great group of players and coaches, and, like I said, it comes with the territory in playing this sport. I’m happy for Josh and his family, and we’re excited to open up the next chapter. “
McDaniels and Hardegree don’t have replacements, at least not by name. The Patriots’ coaching directory doesn’t have an offensive coordinator, but it has two running-backs coaches and coaches for wide receivers and tight ends and an assistant offensive-line coach.
Former Alabama assistant coach and New York Giants head coach Joe Judge is listed as an offensive assistant, and former Patriots defensive coordinator and Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia is shown as the senior football advisor.
“Do we have titles?” New England coach Bill Belichick said on Monday in response to a question about that subject. “Yeah, look, there’s a lot of jobs that we have to do. We’re all working on those things now, but it’s May. They’ll change in June, they’ll change in August, they’ll change in September, so we’ll evolve it to the things timely that we need to do. “
Asked who will call the plays for the Patriots this season, Belichick said: “What plays are we calling? Minicamp plays? We’re going to coach the team, coach the players. We’re going to get them ready to go. We’re going to game-plan when we have to game-plan. We’ll play-call, do all the things we need to do to compete in games. Right now, we’re months away from that. “
Whoever is handling which task for New England’s coaching staff right now, Jones indicated the team is making progress this offseason.
“I think right now it’s all about learning,” Jones said. “First day, you come out and you set a baseline. Fix the things you want to fix. Like I said, they all have great knowledge of our offense, and they’re all on the same page. That’s the important part to me. There’s no falloff or anything like that.
“It’s not my decision to make. We have plenty of time for all that, so right now it’s about the guys and I getting on the same page – running backs, tight ends, receivers – and then working with the offensive line, doing some things with them, just to make sure we’re on the same page. It always goes back to the players, and we’re excited to grow together and learn from anyone’s coaching us. “
The Patriots have nine more days of OTA practices scheduled as well as a three-day mandatory minicamp before starting their summer break.
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Mark Inabinett is a sports reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter AMarkG1.