Tuesday’s New England Patriots practice was light on intrigue, featuring no pads, no contact and no competitive drills.
So, rather than cover it as I would a typical day of training camp, I took a different approach. I spent the entire practice — all 90-ish minutes of it — watching rookie quarterback Mac Jones.
What’s a practice like for the highly touted first-rounder? Who does he talk to? How does he warm up? What do his “mental reps” look like?
Here’s a minute-by-minute breakdown of what I saw:
3:49 p.m.: Jones walks out of the locker room, down the tunnel, up a short flight of stairs and onto the game field. He’s the fourth player to arrive at practice after punter Jake Bailey, long snapper Brian Khoury, kicker Quinn Nordin and safety Adrian Colbert.
It’s the last time Jones will sport his temporary No. 50 jersey, as rookies will receive official, position-appropriate numbers ahead of Thursday night’s preseason opener against the Washington Football Team.
3:50 p.m.: After a brief chat with Patriots director of player operations and engagement Chris Mattes, Jones begins his warmup throws, first with an equipment staffer and then with reserve wide receiver Devin Ross.
3:54 p.m.: Jones finished throwing and adjusts his footwear, wiping rubber pellets from his sock as he removes and reties his right shoe.
3:55 p.m.: More warmup tosses. This time, Jones throws to wideout Nelson Agholor, who flips to third-string QB Brian Hoyer, who throws to rookie receiver Tre Nixon, who flips back to Jones.
3:57 p.m.: That foursome disperses, and Jones jogs to the sideline for pre-practice stretch, handing out fist-bumps to strength coach Moses Cabrera and tight end Troy Fumagalli.
New England’s three quarterbacks (Jones, Hoyer and Cam Newton) position themselves at the 15-yard line and move from the sideline to the right hash and back, running through a series of calisthenics. Jones and Hoyer stay in their line while Newton bounces around to several offensive position groups.
4:06 p.m.: Warmups end. Jones joins the Patriots’ wide receivers for a contested-catch drill near the north end zone. He throws jump balls to wideouts near the pylon while coaches Mick Lombardi and Troy Brown defend with large crayon-shaped pads attached to their hands.
4:08 p.m.: More contested catch drills. This time, Jones fires passes to receivers running toward him while staffers swat at them with long pads that look like popsicles.
4:10 p.m.: Time for individual QB work. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and offensive assistant Bo Hardegree observe as the Patriots’ three quarterbacks receive an under-center snap, take a quick drop and fire to a team staffer standing in the flat. The distance of these drops and passes increase as the period progresses. Injured QB Jarrett Stidham stands alongside McDaniels, observing.
4:13 p.m.: A horn blows, and Jones and the rest of the QBs link up with New England’s running backs. They run through various types of handoffs — first bootlegs, then counters, then draws — rotating through in quick succession.
As you can probably gather from this timeline, Patriots practices are tightly scheduled and feature very little downtime.
4:17 p.m.: Jones high-fives running back Sony Michel, then stands underneath the goal post, watching from behind as Newton leads the first team in an offense-vs.-defense walkthrough. Hardegree stands to his right, Stidham to his left.
4:20 p.m.: After four Newton reps, Jones gets a tap from McDaniels and jogs into the huddle. His first snap is an inside handoff to Damien Harris, his former Alabama teammate and close friend. After a Michel run and a play-action completion to Kendrick Bourne, Jones subs back out, props his helmet atop his head and posts up alongside McDaniels.
4:24 p.m.: Back in. Jones slaps hands with Newton, takes a snap from Ted Karras and hands to Michel on a counter — the same type of handoff he’d practiced minutes earlier. On his second rep, Jones calls for a pre-snap adjustment, pulling receiver Jakobi Meyers closer to the formation to block edge rusher Rashod Berry. He hands again to Michel, completes a short pass over the middle to Meyers, pitches to Michel and throws a comeback to N’Keal Harry before the period ends.
This entire practice is being held at a half-speed pace, so none of these reps are competitive.
4:28 p.m.: Kickoff period. Jones walks to the sideline, removes his helmet, wipes his face with a towel and takes a knee. McDaniels, Hardegree and Hoyer quickly converge to share coaching points.
4:33 p.m.: Jones pulls his helmet back on, stretches his shoulders and returns to the field for a 7-on-7 passing drill. Newton has first ups, per usual, so Jones whips a few passes to Hoyer, adjusts his equipment and waits his turn.
4:36 p.m.: After Newton hits Gunner Olszewski on a deep corner route, Jones steps in. He throws short to Jonnu Smith over the middle and Kristian Wilkerson in the flat, then hits Matt LaCosse on a curl and Meyers up the seam. None of his passes hit the ground, as is expected in a drill with no live defense. Hardegree is in his ear as he leaves the field.
4:39 p.m.: After returning to the sideline, Jones and Harris share an elaborate, choreographed, multi-part handshake. We’ll need to get the backstory on that one of these days. Then comes another debrief with McDaniels, followed by a lengthy chat with Stidham, who reportedly is expected to be sidelined until at least late October as he recovers from back surgery.
4:44 p.m.: Another personalized handshake, this time with Bourne, who’s brought an energetic presence to the Patriots’ receiver room since he signed in March.
4:46 p.m.: With the punt and punt return teams on the field, Jones and Newton have a quick catch on the sideline, with Bourne joining in.
4:50 p.m.: Harris handshake, round 2. Jones spends the rest of the period talking and joking with McDaniels and the Patriots’ running backs.
4:52 p.m.: Back to 11-on-11s. This time, Jones takes first reps, leading a team mostly comprised of offensive reserves (but first-team wideouts) against New England’s starting defense. Ahead of his second snap, the offense has to re-huddle, a sign of Jones’ ongoing adjustment to the Patriots’ system.
He completes a pass to a split-out J.J. Taylor, hits LaCosse on a play-action rollout and delivers another completion to Bourne. On his final passing attempt, he scans, scans, scans, unable to find an open target, before dumping one off to Rhamondre Stevenson.
After a few additional handoffs, he cedes the QB spot to Hoyer. McDaniels attaches himself to Jones’ hip as the rookie walks off, slinging his arm around Jones’ torso. The two walk, talking and smiling, from the 40-yard line to the 10, where Jones takes a knee.
4:59 p.m.: McDaniels gathers Jones and Newton together for a quick conversation. Newton then walks off, and McDaniels stays with Jones. The rep distribution between Newton and Jones has been interesting to monitor this summer. It remains to be seen what the QBs’ workloads will look like Thursday night.
5:02 p.m.: Jones stands up and watches Hoyer’s final few reps alongside LaCosse and tight end Jonnu Smith, then walks upfield to greet running backs coach Ivan Fears. After a chat with wideouts Ross and Tre Nixon, he’s joined by Hoyer, who takes a knee alongside him, and Hardegree, who arrives shortly thereafter.
5:08 p.m.: The offense returns to the field for another 11-on-11 period, with Newton leading the first-team offense against the scout defense. Jones is the only player not watching from the sideline. He stands 20 yards behind the line of scrimmage with McDaniels and Hardegree. After a few minutes, Hoyer joins them.
5:12 p.m.: The first-teamers on both sides of the ball rotate out, but Newton stays behind center. He gets the full 10-minute period — a notable shift from typical practice procedure.
5:18 p.m.: Hoyer takes a turn. At this point, Jones heads to the sideline and takes a knee. After a few minutes, he gets antsy. He grabs a football and recruits Bourne to catch his passes.
5:21 p.m.: Jones walks up to Newton, and the two chat for a minute or two. It’s one of the few 1-on-1 interactions the two starting QB hopefuls have over the course of the 90-minute practice.
5:23 p.m.: Jones watches the last of Hoyer’s reps with offensive linemen Trent Brown, Isaiah Wynn and Shaq Mason.
5:26 p.m.: After nearly a half-hour on the sideline, Jones takes over the first-team offense for a two-minute drill. Taking over near midfield, he hits Smith twice and Meyers once to move the Patriots into field-goal range, with two spikes sprinkled in.
5:28 p.m.: Jones exits the drill and again is immediately met by McDaniels. He’s mid-conversation with McDaniels and Stidham as undrafted rookie kicker Quinn Nordin drills a 48-yard field goal. A grinning Jones then takes in the closing moments of practice with Hoyer and several members of the Patriots’ O-line.
5:35 p.m.: Jones jogs to midfield with the rest of the team for Belichick’s post-practice breakdown, then joins McDaniels, Hardegree and the QBs for a smaller positional huddle.
5:39 p.m.: Jones walks away from the field, down the tunnel and off toward the locker room.
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