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Patriots Mailbag: Will Mac Jones have competition?

As the offseason continues, fans are looking ahead to training camp and wondering if there will be a quarterback competition to monitor.

Mac-Jones-2022-Mailbag-16x9 copy

I thought Bailey Zappe played better than Mac Jones last year and the team played better with him as the quarterback. Do you think he could outplay Jones and eventually replace him as the starting QB? - Bob Regish

I don't rule out any possibilities, especially considering Bill Belichick specifically said there will competition at all spots on the roster when asked about quarterback. That said, no, I don't believe Zappe outplayed Jones for the most part last year and I don't believe he will supplant Jones as the quarterback in 2023. Strictly looking at the numbers, Zappe performed better. But that doesn't take into consideration the Lions (without their entire secondary) and Browns were the opponents that Zappe started and beat, and they were two of the worst defenses in football. The one time when both Zappe and Jones played against the same team – Chicago – neither was successful. Jones threw an interception before getting pulled and Zappe tossed two more in the second half. Bottom line is regardless of who plays quarterback the Patriots will need a better performance at that position if they are to become a playoff team in 2023. If Zappe plays better than Jones all summer in practice, then he should get a chance to be the starter. I'd be surprised if that happened to start the season, but if Jones struggles it wouldn't surprise me to see Belichick make the switch.

As we all know the Patriots have missed on a lot of receivers drafted high. In regard to Tyquan Thornton, I'd love if he could be a consistent contributor to the team but I feel like that slim frame hinders his potential. Do you think he needs to pack some weight on or think the coaches don't mind his size and only see him useful in stretching the field packages? - Norman Kreiser

I agree that this will be a pivotal year for Thornton and he could greatly impact the potential for the offense. Thornton definitely has the speed to make plays and during training camp last summer he showed strong hands and the ability to make some tough catches both along the sidelines and deep down the field. Then he was injured in the preseason and never really looked comfortable after returning. His frame is a concern to me and the idea of him taking hits across the middle worries me because of that. He doesn't look like he can put on much weight based on his body type, and adding more bulk could hinder his ability to get open and strip him of some of his athleticism. But there's definite potential there for Thornton to make significant strides this year and if Bill O’Brien can find ways to incorporate him into the game plan each week it could provide a playmaking element the Patriots have lacked in recent years. I'd like to see him used on outs to push the coverage back at times, and also on occasional deep shots. It seemed like last year he spent too much time between the hashes and I don't think that's where he can be most effective. Obviously that doesn't mean I never want to see him catch a slant or crossing route, but in order to keep him healthy I'd rather see the bulk of his work done outside the numbers.

Do you think the Pats are set with their safety group? They could probably get Ashtyn Davis from the Jets for a song. The current secondary coaches prefer their own guys and relegated him to mostly special teams at the end of the year. He can really lay the wood a la Rodney Harrison and returned kicks in college (versatile and fast). No, he's not a relative of mine. - Paul Sprenger

I think the loss of Devin McCourty is significant, mostly due to how much he does for the team mentally and off the field. His leadership is obviously a huge component of what he brings to the table, but his ability to make sure everyone on the back end is on the same page is by far his strongest asset. Listening to Bill Belichick talk about McCourty's mental approach to the game following the safety's retirement was eye-opening. McCourty clearly was responsible for a lot of the secondary's success over the years. That said, the Patriots should have plenty of options at the position with Adrian Phillips, Kyle Dugger, Jabrill Peppers and Josh Bledsoe. In addition, Jalen Mills and Jonathan Jones have the ability to play on the back end and I feel Mills specifically is better suited for a role at safety and should be an asset in that regard. That's a lot of depth at the position so I don't feel any additions are needed in the short term. Depending on how free agency goes, that will likely change in the future.

Patriots offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Bill O'Brien.
Patriots offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Bill O'Brien.

Do you think it's possible that the whole Joe Judge/Matt Patricia debacle from last year was simply a matter of Bill Belichick putting them in their respective positions simply to "keep the chair warm" until the Patriots could get who they really wanted (Billy O'Brien)? It's just how it looks and feels too me, and has all along. - Dave Kirkpatrick

Since I don't have the ability to ready Belichick's mind I can't say for certain how he felt, but my personal view is that scenario is not possible. I don't see a coach as successful and prepared as Belichick being willing to basically forfeit a season of Mac Jones' development simply waiting for a coach to come along the following year. I believe firmly that Belichick felt Patricia could do the job and otherwise he wouldn't have put him in that position. I think he thought Patricia could handle it and he could grow with Jones together moving forward. Obviously that didn't work and he was able to get O'Brien to return, which should be great for Jones. But I don't think someone of Belichick's stature would be so reckless as to simply put a placeholder in charge of the offense for an entire season, creating a mess in the process. If that was the plan, it was a terrible one. I think too much of Belichick to believe that was the case.

Do you think the last five games of Mac Jones' rookie year was a beginning of his decline of 2022? I mean we can blame coach Matt Patricia for that but he was already showing who he was the last five games and in the playoff game that he's not our quarterback of the future? - Drew Hanks

I think that's a question that will be answered fully in 2023. You are correct in stating that Jones' performance dropped off significantly down the stretch in 2021, and few people talked about it at the time because he was a rookie and many chalked it up to fatigue. But it's also possible that some of the opponents figured out some of things he was successful with earlier and adjusted accordingly. It's also possible that Josh McDaniels used a lot of clever game plans and play designs to greatly enhance Jones' abilities. It's also possible that the schedule got much tougher down the stretch and that led to the struggles. Whatever the reason, it is true that Jones was not as productive toward the end of his rookie season and that carried over into the start of 2022. However, he also didn't get much help from the design of the coaching staff with inexperienced offensive coaches trying to construct the attack. It failed and Jones struggled for most of the season. Now with Bill O'Brien here there won't be any coaching issues to blame and Jones will be able to show what he can do. We'll see if he makes any strides from what we saw at the start of his rookie season and then make our evaluations. It's too early to say he's not the quarterback of the future.

In mock drafts, Kayshon Boutte was routinely mocked as a second-to-third-round pick. Obviously, that did not play out for him, or some other receivers that slipped in the draft. But now almost all roster previews show him as being on close to the roster floor, or not being on the roster altogether. Why are the expectations so low? Am I the only one concerned he won't make it through the waiver wire if he is cut? - Dakota Menke

I think you are looking at some draft projections for Boutte that came earlier in his career at LSU. Heading into the 2022 season, many felt he would be a second-round pick, and some believed he would be a potential first-rounder. Then he struggled coming off a serious ankle injury and didn't perform as well as he had earlier in his career. New coach Brian Kelly wasn't happy with his performance and called him out on it publicly, and once the pre-draft season came around Boutte dropped down the board a bit. projected him to go in the fourth round, and others even later than that. In addition to the drop-off in production, the main reason for the lowered draft expectations was a drop in speed. His testing numbers were average, and given his struggles with the ankle injury there was a feeling that perhaps the explosiveness he showed earlier in his career was gone. We will find out if he can regain that form, but my guess is that's why he was still available in the sixth round. If he shows some maturity and can rebound physically, I think Boutte has a chance to be a late-round gem. But there's a lot of uncertainty with that, and if he continues to look like he did in his final year at LSU, I think he will have a hard time sticking around. So, I wouldn't worry about getting him through waivers as much as I would about his overall skill set. If he plays like he did as a freshman, Boutte will almost certainly win a roster spot.

Patriots defensive lineman Deatrich Wise Jr. (91).
Patriots defensive lineman Deatrich Wise Jr. (91).

At 285 pounds, do you think Keion White will specialize on the edge or work to move along the line to different linebacking positions/areas on variable down and distance defensive sets? - JM Corr

That's certainly a question that only the coaches could answer with any certainty, but I see White as a defensive end more in the Deatrich Wise mold. At 285 pounds he would be a pretty big linebacker and asking him to drop into coverage and operate in space might be asking too much. I do believe we might see him moving inside on passing downs to provide a smaller, faster option as an interior pass rusher, perhaps as a complement to Christian Barmore in subpackages. White has some skills that are still developing following his move from tight end to defensive end just a few years ago so I'm sure the coaches want to see what he brings to the table before making a final decision on where he might fit best.

With the change to the kickoff rules devaluing special teams to an extent, do you think this might impact the amount of special teams specialists the Patriots will carry? - Len Carmody

I don't think the new touchback rule will have much of an impact on the makeup of the Patriots roster. Belichick values players in the kicking game and I feel he will continue to do so. Most of the players he keeps as special teamers take part in the core four units – kickoff, kick return, punt, punt return – so there's still plenty of ways those guys can contribute. I believe touchbacks will be on the rise this season, but kickoffs have largely been diminished for the past several years and the Patriots still have plenty of specialists on the roster. I feel that will continue.

With the new (albeit ill-advised) kickoff fair catch rule, do you think players who's inside track to the 53-man roster is special teams as return men (Demario Douglas, Isaiah Bolden) will be hindered by the rule change? I don't think Bill Belichick will ever cease valuing kick coverage players (Matthew Slater, Chris Board, Brenden Schooler), but I could definitely see him devaluing return men with this rule change. What are your thoughts? - Patriotman

The new touchback rule is really just a continuation of how the league has tried to legislate the return game out over the past several years. When they moved up the kickoff spot to the 35-yard line several years ago, return attempts went way down and Belichick has discussed that at length over the years. Having players with return experience is fine, but not if that would be the only contributions they would make. In other words, Marcus Jones was outstanding returning both kicks and punts in 2023, but he was also impactful at corner and while playing offense. If Douglas has potential as a slot receiver and can provide a lift as a return man, then the latter would add some value to his roster spot. But Belichick has rarely kept guys around simply as return men if they can't contribute on special teams in other ways (in coverage etc). My guess is Belichick understands how special teams have continued to be deemphasized and will adjust accordingly.

Is Jerry Jeudy still a possibility and, if so, how much is too much to offer? - Ken Stickney

Whether or not Jerry Jeudy is available, as has ever been available, is a great question. I honestly don't think he was, and once Sean Payton got the Broncos job it made no sense to me that he'd want to trade a promising young player on his rookie contract. Denver has since picked up his fifth-year option, so I'd be surprised if they would look to move him at this point. But if they did I'd guess that the Broncos would be looking for at least a second-round pick in return, and perhaps more. I'd be willing to deal a second, but that would probably be my limit. We'll see if anything changes over the next couple of months.

With the release of the temporary numbers for rookies and the other number choices for the time served players it opened up an old wound with me in regards to my complete hatred of this new pick any number you want anarchy. I know it shouldn't bother me but it does though because I always liked that there was something sacred and brilliant about taking on your positional number that legends had graced before you and who set the platform for the new kid to come through and emulate. Can you give me your own take on this subject or is it just that I am getting old and nostalgic? - Marc Saez

As the oldest and most nostalgic member of the staff I can honestly say that I've never given much thought about player numbers. Since they made the change, I actually like seeing the single digit uniforms and I feel it allows the players more opportunities to wear their favorite numbers of their choice. I agree that offensive linemen should be restricted to 50-79 to eliminate confusion for eligible receivers, but otherwise I don't see the harm. Maybe it's because I've watched my kids playing high school football over the last several years and there are a lot of players wearing different numbers at different positions, so it doesn't bother me. Tom Brady agrees with you, though. He complained about it in Tampa when they instituted the new rules.

DISCLAIMER: The views and thoughts expressed in this article are those of the writer and don't necessarily reflect those of the organization. Read Full Disclaimer

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