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Gene Frenette: Why Mac Jones is an ideal quarterback for Bill Belichick's Patriots
AP

Gene Frenette: Why Mac Jones is an ideal quarterback for Bill Belichick's Patriots

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Mac Jones of the Alabama Crimson Tide celebrates following the CFP National Championship Presented by AT&T at Hard Rock Stadium on January 11, 2021 in Miami Gardens, Florida.

Mac Jones (10) of the Alabama Crimson Tide celebrates following the CFP National Championship Presented by AT&T at Hard Rock Stadium on January 11, 2021 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Sam Greenwood/Getty Images/TNS)

It didn’t take Mac Jones long to get fully indoctrinated and buy into the Patriot Way. He’s a natural for it, honestly.

About 16 hours after the New England Patriots patiently waited for the Alabama quarterback and The Bolles School product to fall to them with the No. 15 overall pick in the NFL draft, Jones demonstrated in his introductory press conference why he’s the ideal candidate to potentially turn a Bill Belichick-orchestrated franchise back into a Super Bowl contender.

Jones, at 22, is as old-school and no-nonsense as the 69-year-old Belichick. That's what you might expect from a quarterback who spent the last eight years getting mentored by coaches cut from the same cloth – Alabama’s Nick Saban and the late Corky Rogers, the legendary coach at Bolles.

Combined, that trio has won 23 state/national championships or Super Bowls by running a program that is buttoned up and demands team-first players.

So when Jones met with the Patriots media Friday for the first time, he spent much of his 15 minutes in front of the cameras saying very Belichick-ian things. He acknowledged his respect for the Patriots organization and the Tom Brady legacy, but said nothing to set social media ablaze.

“I just love watching him, how he maneuvers through the pocket and stuff,” Jones said of Brady. “But for me, it’s just being myself and being my own player and, obviously, he did great things for New England and I’m just looking forward to going there and working.”

A Patriot to the core

He followed the Belichick media playbook to a T. All of Jones’ responses steered clear of any whiff of a quarterback controversy. He gave no sound bite that could be interpreted as implying when he might take over for veteran QB Cam Newton and paid equal homage to backup Jarrett Stidham.

“Yeah, we got two Auburn guys and one Alabama guy,” said Jones, drawing laughs for making that connection. “But Cam’s awesome and I’ve only heard great things when talking to people that I know from the Patriots about how great of a guy he is and how much everyone loves him. He just has fun with it, and I do too, so hopefully we can kind of have fun together and I’ll help him out.

“I mean, it’s his show and I’m just there to support him and then kind of just help out the team in whatever way I can.”

When asked if he was competing for a starting role once he got to training camp, Jones was too smart to take the bait.

“I’ve never played in the NFL, but I have seen good football and I know that I can help them with anything they need, whether it’s taking notes or taking stress off their mind,” said Jones. “So I’m just going to be that great teammate that I know I can be.”

You see, no mention of being a “great quarterback,” even though he just threw for a school-record 4,500 yards, completed 77.4 percent of his passes and led ‘Bama to a national title. That was so Patriot of Jones, but that’s what he learned from his time at ‘Bama and Bolles.

Just dismiss any outside noise because it’s probably useless. Focus totally on working hard every day in practice. Show some maturity and patience about waiting for your turn to shine on game day.

“Mac is the ultimate teammate,” said his father, Gordon Jones, a former professional tennis player and a member of the Flagler College Athletic Hall of Fame. “He’s respectful of what people on the team have already done. He’s not going to go there and say, ‘I’m the guy, why aren’t I playing?’ “

Jones earned a ton of respect in college for sitting behind future NFL quarterbacks Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa, never flirting with the idea of transferring, and then posted off-the-chart numbers in leading the Crimson Tide to a perfect season.

That same patience manifested itself on draft day. Jones was projected by many draftniks to go to the San Francisco 49ers at No. 3, right after Trevor Lawrence went to the Jaguars and Zach Wilson to the New York Jets. It didn’t happen as San Francisco opted for North Dakota State QB Trey Lance.

Staying calm in spotlight

As the draft progressed, Jones was left on the stage in Cleveland waiting by himself, but stayed pretty cool and collected under tough circumstances. When the Chicago Bears traded up from No. 20 to the 11th spot, it was obviously for a quarterback, but their target was Ohio State’s Justin Fields, not Jones.

“There were other teams that could have picked him, but we said, ‘Nah, let’s just wait for the Patriots,” said Gordon Jones. “We just thought it was a better environment for Mac because of the relationship with Coach Belichick and Saban.”

Dad is spot on with that assessment. Even though falling from a possible No. 3 selection to No. 15 cost Jones $18.5 million in guaranteed money on his first NFL contract, there was no wringing of hands about it from Mac or people in his inner circle.

“Yeah, I mean, at the end of the day, you kind of want to jet get the right fit and I feel like, secretly, I really wanted to go to the Patriots all along, so I’m actually really happy that it happened,” Mac said. “But it doesn’t really matter. You get picked. You got to take the opportunity and take advantage of it and learn the new system, learn the new coaches, learn the new culture, and Coach Belichick’s done a great job establishing that throughout his time in New England.

“I just got to learn how to be a great teammate and do my job and stick to what they’re telling me to do.”

There it is again, Patriot Way 101. It’s a smart, intelligent thing to say by the quarterback everybody knows, at some point, is going to be the Patriots’ starter. After all, in 26 years of Belichick drafting, none of his previous 13 quarterbacks taken were anywhere close to a first-round selection (the highest was Jimmy Garoppolo, a late second-rounder at No. 62).

Jones understands there’s nothing to gain by making assumptions about his Patriots’ future or getting too cocky too soon. That undermined former Cleveland Browns’ first-round quarterback draft pick Johnny Manziel and certainly didn’t help his eventual successor, No. 1 pick Baker Mayfield, in the early going.

Living with Brady shadow

Former Bolles offensive line coach Wayne Belger, who was Rogers’ first quarterback at Lee High School and his most trusted advisor on offensive game-planning for 40 seasons, attended Jones’ celebration draft party Saturday night at the Westgate Plaza in Tuscaloosa.

That shindig was part of a whirlwind schedule for Jones, who has gone from Tuscaloosa, to Cleveland, to Foxborough, back to Tuscaloosa and again to Foxborough on Monday to begin his NFL journey. Before his draft party, Jones even got a throwing session in with his longtime quarterback mentor, Joe Dickinson, a former Vilano Beach resident now living in Oklahoma.

“If he doesn’t make it [in the NFL], it won’t be because Mac doesn’t do the right thing,” Belger said of Jones. “What I’m proudest of him for is he didn’t run from the quarterback competition [at Alabama], he ran to the competition.”

Now Jones is going to an NFL dynasty, a franchise just one year removed from the Brady shadow and all the pressure that brings. The good news is Jones deftly handled the ‘Bama spotlight, and now gets the opportunity to learn from one of pro football’s best teachers, Patriots’ offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.

New England will be different, though, from ‘Bama in one respect: it’s just a question of when, not if, Jones will be the starter. He might take the job soon enough for him to go head-to-head with Lawrence and the Jaguars at Gillette Stadium this season, or maybe he doesn't start until 2022.

Either way, the Jacksonville kid with two college degrees, the guy with a football IQ that might make him as NFL-ready as any first-round quarterback, the accurate passer with a knack for getting through his progressions quickly, looks like he’s straight out of Patriot central casting.

“One-hundred percent, I think it’s a great fit for Mac, a perfect fit,” said Dickinson. “He’ll be a great Patriot.”

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