By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- "Cam's our quarterback."
Those were the words of Bill Belichick mere moments after he made a potentially franchise-shaping draft pick in Aprils' draft by selecting quarterback Mac Jones out of Alabama. With Jones coming off an undefeated national championship season, and with Belichick using his highest pick ever on a quarterback, the immediate deference to the veteran Newton to be the starting quarterback seemed like an effort to lower expectations and pressure for the rookie as he entered the NFL.
Now a couple of months removed from that night, it doesn't seem like the statement is going to eliminate the story line of a battle for the starting job this summer.
That's at least the feel from two separate stories involving the Patriots' quarterback situation.
First, there is MMQB's Albert Breer. He wrote that Jones getting second-team reps in OTAs and minicamp doesn't necessarily mean that the team feels Jones is the backup. It doesn't necessarily mean anything, according to Breer. But he did note the very real chance that Jones will have to compete for the job once training camp begins in July.
The real test, to me, was always going to be in training camp, and more specifically when the pads go on. If Jones is out there with the first offensive-line group then, even if it's just a percentage of those snaps, then I'd say we know something is afoot. And my sense right now is that Jones has done enough in the spring to merit a real competition with Cam Newton in the summer.
The other story came from ESPN's Mike Reiss. His Sunday column came right out with it in the headline: "Stage is set for Patriots QB competition between Cam Newton, Mac Jones."
Here's what Reiss wrote:
Belichick often says spring practices are about teaching, and the true evaluation comes in training camp, but there's obviously still some evaluation in the spring -- and with Jones, a big part of what Belichick and [Josh] McDaniels appeared to be evaluating was how much of the load he could handle.
Jones, 22, seemed to ace that test.
When he had it going, the passing game most closely resembled what it had been for the better part of the past two decades from a timing, rhythm and accuracy standpoint. And while there were some predictable hiccups along the way -- such as a bad interception on the final day that led to visible frustration in which Jones wound up and almost punched the ground -- it seems safe to say there isn't another rookie quarterback over the past 21 years who is as far along as Jones is in the system this fast.
So, what does it all mean?
Answers will come in training camp when everyone is truly competing for jobs.
As for the rookie QBs over the past 21 years, that window obviously extends back to the early days of Tom Brady. That means that Jones appears to have a better grasp of the offense than the likes of Rohan Davey, Kliff Kingsbury, Matt Cassel, Kevin O'Connell, Zac Robinson, Ryan Mallett, Brian Hoyer, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett, Danny Etling, and Jarrett Stidham. Given Jones' collegiate pedigree, one would hope that would be the case.
"What does Mac have to do? It has to be like, every day, just keep building, keep building, keep building, to the point where Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels say, 'You know what? He's ready.' It's not going to be like a one-day performance. It's going to have to be consistent over two, three, four weeks of camp and the preseason," Reiss said.
Reiss was asked point-blank by Dan Roche if the Patriots have their QB of the future. Reiss didn't hesitate.
"Yes. I feel confident about it," Reiss answered. "And I think he'll only get stronger as he goes, but -- I'm not a scout, but I have no questions about the arm strength. I think he's underrated relative to the athleticism. Like I would never buy into the idea that he's not athletic. You watch him move out there and slide [in the pocket], he can totally move and throw on the run. And I see how the teammates respond to him. He's already earned their respect. I think they've got a quarterback to build around. To me the question is going to be more when it happens than if it happens."
Obviously, this wouldn't mark the first time that some offseason chatter about a young Patriots quarterback has leaned toward the overly positive side. Jarrett Stidham was the guy last year ... until the team went out and signed Cam Newton, with Stidham sliding to third on the depth chart during the summer.
With Jones, the young QB has a long, long way to go. But he seems to have turned enough heads in OTAs and minicamp to make a budding Cam-Mac QB battle a real possibility for training camp.
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