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 compared to the rookie version last season, when Jones started every game as Alabama’s first-round draft pick.
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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 of the pros now.
“You know, you’re a rookie, you don’t know until you go through him for a year, so he’s definitely a lot fitter than he’s ever been. He’s just dominating in conditioning, and that’s just great to see, he’ll just be able to endure more in the game and endure more.
Jones said he “definitely reduced body fat a bit.”
“I think every year you want to do a self-diagnosis of how you feel about games, your body fat, all that stuff,” Jones said Monday, “and for me, just cleaning up my diet. I learned more than ever this offseason about nutrition, sleep, wellness, all that stuff, so I’m kind of 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 level of conditioning.
“Just like a rookie, you come in, you’re kind of thrown in there and all the plates are hot,” Jones said, “so you’re just trying to find your feet. But now, this past offseason and right now, we just built a great relationship with the offensive line, the receivers, hanging out together, 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. others, 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. Patriots offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Josh McDaniels became head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders in January, and he brought assistant quarterbacks coach Bo Hardegree with him on his staff.
“People come and go and get opportunities – players, coaches, support staff – so that comes with the business,” Jones said. “And I was lucky to have a lot of different coordinators throughout my schooling to run a similar system, but I just learned from that and took the good from the people who gave me the good and to take it with me and move on and try to grow with the new set of coaches that we have. And we have a great group of players and coaches, and, like I said, that’s coming with the territory in the practice of this sport. I am happy for Josh and his family, and we are excited to open the next chapter.
McDaniels and Hardegree have no replacements, at least no names. The Patriots coaching roster does not have an offensive coordinator, but it does have 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 featured as the senior football adviser.
“Do we have titles?” New England coach Bill Belichick said Monday in response to a question about it. “Yeah, look, there’s a lot of work 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’re going to evolve it into the timely things that we need to do.
Asked who will be calling games for the Patriots this season, Belichick said, “What games are we calling? Minicamp plays? … We will coach the team, coach the players. We will prepare them to leave. We will schedule a match when we have to schedule a match. We will play, we will do whatever we have to do to get in games. Right now we are months away from that.
Whoever takes care of what 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. “Day one, you go out and set a baseline. Fix the things you want to fix. Like I said, they all know a lot about our attack, and they’re all on the same page. This is the important part for me. There is no fall or anything like that.
“It’s not my decision to make. We have plenty of time for all of that, so right now it’s about the guys and me being on the same page – running backs, tight ends, receivers – and then working with the offensive line, to do certain things with them, just to make sure we’re on the same page. It always comes down to the players, and we’re excited to grow together and learn from whoever coaches us.
The Patriots still have nine days of OTA practices scheduled as well as a mandatory three-day minicamp before starting their summer vacation.
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Mark Inabinett is a sports reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter at @AMarkG1.