By Staff

BOSTON (CBS) — For the first time since 1993, the New England Patriots will have a rookie quarterback leading the way on offense. Mac Jones beat out Cam Newton in the team’s QB competition this summer, and will be the man under center come Sept. 12 against the Miami Dolphins.

The 22-year-old has done nothing but impress the New England brass since he was drafted 15th overall in April. He’s shown an incredible command of the playbook in both practice and during preseason action, instilling confidence in both the coaching staff and the guys he shares the field with.

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He thrived during the spirited competition with Newton, with a major turning point coming just last week. That’s when Jones received all of the first-team reps while Newton was away from the team because of a protocol misunderstanding. Jones lit it up in New England’s first of two joint practice sessions against the Giants, and finished his preseason strong a few nights later when the Patriots closed out their exhibition schedule against New York.

The Patriots are not taking a slow and easy approach with Jones. The future is now at the quarterback position, and the team is confident that Jones can handle whatever gets thrown at him.

And it will be a lot. But Jones’ ability to digest what he’s given and improve on his mistakes played a major role in the team’s decision to hand him the keys to the offense. Diving deep into New England’s decision on Wednesday morning, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said that it was a great competition between the veteran and the rookie, but made it clear that Jones has done nothing but impress the Patriots since stepping on the field for the first time.

“He really works hard. He puts a lot of time into it. He’s been well prepared each day to come in and do the things that we ask our guys to do,” McDaniels said of Jones on a Zoom call with reporters. “He’s learned how to operate what we’ve asked him to operate so far fairly well, and he’s improved. And he continues to make progress.

“He’s generally taken care of the football and he’s given the other 10 guys on the field an opportunity to do their job effectively and produce positive plays,” McDaniels added. “He still has a lot to learn and a long way to go in terms of where hopefully we end up going, but I really feel confident about his approach, his ability to learn, his ability to process information and really his ability to make a mistake and learn from those, too. Because that’s a never ending process for every player. … I think he’s really shown a strong aptitude at a young age to try to put those mistakes behind him and then move on and try to continue to improve as a quarterback.”

Jones is like a sponge and soaks up anything that anyone has to offer. He’s learned a lot from his veteran teammates in a short period of time, and his work ethic has earned him the respect of everyone in the locker room.

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“He’s just come in and he works hard at his craft. We have a lot of guys that do that. He’s had a lot of great examples in front of him, both in the quarterback room, in our offensive room and in our squad room,” said McDaniels. “He’s got a lot of veteran players that he can look to as great examples for how to approach being a NFL football player. I think he’s been very perceptive with some of those things and he’s come in and he’s worked extremely hard. Like I said, he is very well prepared each day. He deserves the credit for that. He continues to put the game and the team first. He studies hard at the game. He tries to make the corrections that we coach him on and he goes out there and he tries to do it the right way. Never makes excuses and just continues to try and improve and make progress. That’s the best way for any of us to approach our jobs and he’s done that so far.”

Jones showed off an incredible pocket presence during the preseason, rarely getting rattled with what opposing defenses were throwing at him. He was never afraid to change a play based on what he saw, and he never gave the ball to the other team. McDaniels said that having the other 10 guys on offense trust that Jones will make the right decision is a key to having the unit running like a well-oiled machine throughout the season.

“I think a key component of the trust is when you do make a mistake, you know will you show your teammates that you’ll try your absolute best to learn from it and then not make it again if you’re put in that same situation the next time,” said McDaniels. “Trust is a process and there’s no easy way to earn trust or respect in this league. I think it comes from preparation and performance and I think he’s done a good job of trying to just take each day one step at a time and and try to do his job to the best of his ability and help the other 10 guys that are out there in the huddle do theirs the best that they can, too.”

The Patriots are now Jones’ team, with Bill Belichick sending him right out to take on the rest of the NFL. The training wheels are off, though the Patriots staff will be ready to give him a little push at every step of the way. They’re prepared for bumps in the road and rookie hiccups with Jones, but based on what they’ve seen over the last four months, they’re confident that Jones will grow even more as a quarterback every step of the way.

“I think the best thing that we can do as an offensive staff and as a coaching staff, is to try to put the players, put every player that’s out there on the field in the position to impact our team in a positive way that they’re ready to do,” said McDaniels. “And so I would expect we feel like there’s a certain amount of things that he’s comfortable with, and then we continue to try to build and grow as we go.

“Generally speaking, when you start the season, nobody’s starting with a full bucket,” he added. “I’d never have thought that we needed to do that, regardless of what the team was or who we had planned or how experienced they were. You know you want to start at the things that fundamentally you do well, to give your players an opportunity to go out there and play fast and be aggressive. And that would apply to the quarterback position, left guard, tight end, whatever the position is. You just want to give them an opportunity to go out there and do things that they know well and feel comfortable doing.

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“But you ultimately know that over the course of a long season, going up against really good players and good coaches, you know as the year progresses, you’re going to have to build. You’re going to have to change. You’re going to have to grow. You’re going to have to do different things and add things to your bucket that maybe you aren’t doing at the beginning of the season in September. Our focus will be just trying to make sure that our group as a whole is comfortable doing the things that we’re asking them to do,” he said. “The goal is to allow the 11 guys that are out there to feel confident, trust each other and know what to do and go out there and be aggressive and play fast and that’s what the goal will be for our group as we started against Miami.” Staff