With the New England Patriots set to return to the practice field Thursday, the collective eyes of Patriots fandom continue to be fixated on the quarterback position.
Whether it be incumbent starter Cam Newton, rookie Mac Jones, third-year player Jarrett Stidham or veteran Brian Hoyer, there is never any shortage of coverage surrounding the men under center for the Pats.
As New England prepares to conclude its final week of OTA practices, a particularly sharp eye has been placed on Newton. The former NFL MVP exited practice last Friday after suffering an apparent hand injury about an hour into the program. Newton had been absent from both team practices earlier this week.
On Thursday morning, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick provided an update on Newton’s status when speaking with reporters via video conference.
“He’s doing all right," Belichick said. "He won’t participate today, but he’s getting better."
When asked whether the injury was serious, Belichick indicated that he did not believe it to be so, while offering some Belichickian optimism about Newton’s status.
“Well, he’s not out there now, but I think he’ll be all right,” Belichick said.
With Newton temporarily on the sidelines, Jones, Stidham and Hoyer will see more opportunities. Belichick acknowledged this fact while offering some insight on both Stidham and Jones when asked specifically about each of them.
As the veteran among the pair, Stidham continues to build on his two years of experience in New England. When asked about Stidham’s chances of achieving his goals this season, Belichick replied: “There’s competition at every position. Any good football player has the same mind-set: improve your performance and do the best that you can do. You can only control your own performance. Jarrett is doing that, as they all are.”
In contrast, Jones is still very much in the learning process. Becoming acclimated to "The Patriot Way" is a challenging endeavor for any new face in Foxboro, especially for a first-year quarterback. While Jones has had some impressive moments in practice, Belichick said he still has a long road ahead.
“He’s coming along,” Belichick said. “There's a lot of teaching, lots of instruction for any player that hasn't been in this system. Mac is working at it like everyone else."
'Mac and Cheese' Jones
Following practice Thursday, Jones spoke with the media via teleconference. The Alabama product was candid in his relationship with his fellow quarterbacks and the challenges of learning the Patriots playbook and system.
“It’s been good,” Jones said of his relationship with Newton. “He calls me ‘Mac and Cheese,’ so I got my nickname. He has done an awesome job being a good mentor, and he brings great energy.”
Jones was equally complimentary of both Hoyer and Stidham, as well as the camaraderie among the four Patriots quarterbacks.
“Brian and Jarrett have done a good job of helping me in the film room,” Jones said. “All three of them, I just watch their reps and learn as much as I can. You don’t have to be in on that play to learn, so I just have to figure out how to do that. I’ve been getting a lot better just by watching tape and learning how to do that, and they’ve helped me in that regard.”
As expected, Jones, Stidham and Hoyer rotated the reps during practice Thursday.
Stidham led off each drill, going 8-for-9 in 11-on-11 drills and 11-for-14 overall. Hoyer completed 8 of his 9 passes in 11-on-11s and 11 of 13 overall. Jones attempted fewer passes, going 4-for-5 in 11-on-11s while being "sacked" once. The rookie finished the day 5-for-8 overall (all stats per Zack Cox of NESN).
By consensus of reporters in attendance at practice, Hoyer appeared to have delivered several of the day’s most impressive completions.
The Patriots are holding their final voluntary OTA practice on Friday before kicking off their mandatory minicamp next week.