By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- Practices are officially closed to the media for the 2021 Patriots season. That is, the portions of practice where the football team plays football. For all intents and purposes, the only glimpses of football anyone will see from the Patriots from here on out will come on Sundays.
With that being the case, those who attended OTAs, minicamp and training camp have stacked the numbers, compared the reps, and analyzed the passes thrown by both Cam Newton and Mac Jones. At the very least, it's fair to say that the rookie out of Alabama has made it a closer competition with the 11-year veteran than many might have anticipated.
Yet while Jones has been solid on the field -- in practice and in preseason games -- his work behind the scenes may be doing even more to win over his teammates and coaches.
The amount of work that Jones has been putting in surely stands out. Jones "has been getting to Gillette at 4:30 a.m. throughout camp and spending 16-18 hours per day at the facility," according to The Athletic's Jeff Howe.
Howe noted that Jones applied a similar type of maniacal focus at Alabama to ensure that he'd win the starting job over Bryce Young.
Some more of Jones' behind-the-scenes work was revealed by linebacker Dont'a Hightower, a three-time team captain. As a fellow former Crimson Tide player, Hightower shared with the media that Jones isn't just learning the Patriots' offensive playbook but is also learning the defensive plays to try to better understand the concepts of NFL defenses.
"I actually found out yesterday that he's been looking at some of the defensive plays, so he can kind of conceptually see how we kind of work and stuff. So I give him credit for that, because not a lot of young guys would see that as an opportunity, and he did that on his own," Hightower said Thursday. "I mean, you can take that for what it's worth. The kid works hard. So I'll leave it at that."
Hightower called Jones "a terrific kid" who "works hard" and is "a real smart dude."
"I've been impressed with him [since] OTAs and how hard he works," Hightower added.
Fellow quarterback Brian Hoyer, who's now in his 13th NFL season, explained how Jones' ability to learn -- and learn quickly -- has stood out throughout the spring and summer.
"I've been very impressed with his mental capacity of ... I mean, I've always said this every year I've talked to you guys: there's a lot being thrown at the quarterback position in this offense. And my biggest advice is always take it one day at a time, digest it, retain it, and then go back out," Hoyer said Thursday. "And so, he's done a great job. Obviously, you can see that he works very hard at it. He's always asking a lot of great questions. Sometimes I'm like, I say something, and he looks at me like, 'Yeah, I got it, I got it.' But it's like, 'OK man, you got it.' And sure enough, he does. I go out there and he makes a call and I'm like, 'Man, there's no way I would have made that call as a rookie quarterback.' Just to have the confidence and the knowledge to go out there and execute it. So, he's done a great job."
All of that is, of course, just a part of the job. Becoming an NFL starting quarterback and then excelling as an NFL quarterback requires a lot more. Yet even in the early stage of Jones' career, Hoyer sees the type of focus that could bring about positive results in both endeavors.
"You just see the desire from him to kind of retain all that information," Hoyer said.
While Hoyer and Hightower obviously wouldn't speak poorly of a rookie teammate if that player was not living up to certain standards, it nevertheless stands out that two veterans with more than 20 years of NFL experience -- and 16 years of Patriots experience -- provided that level of detail into the type of worker Jones has been since getting drafted in April.
Ultimately, Jones' career will be defined by what he does on Sundays. That opportunity may arise in the 2021 season, or he may have to wait until 2022. Whenever it does, Jones will be judged on how well or how poorly he plays the most difficult position in team sports. Predicting that outcome at this point in time would be a fool's game.
Yet for now, all Jones can really be judged on is what he's done so far. And in a short amount of time, the soon-to-be-23-year-old has done a whole lot to convince some of his peers and bosses that he possesses some of the traits that will certainly prove useful in his effort to become -- and remain -- an NFL quarterback.
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