Former Atlanta Falcons head coach June Jones was sold on Mac Jones long before the New England Patriots drafted him with the No. 10 pick of the draft, and after his preseason debut last week, Jones still believes that the former Alabama standout is going to be the rookie to watch.
In a phone interview with Fox News on Wednesday, June Jones doubled down in his support of the rookie after his performance in the preseason opener against the Washington Football Team. Jones, who spent several years coaching college football at Hawaii and SMU, told Fox News back in March that he believed Mac Jones would be the most successful quarterback in the 2021 draft class in the long run.
“I thought he did really good. He was doing what a New England quarterback — like Brady — has done forever … I think the next couple of games, preseason-wise, will really be of value to him.”
Coach Jones said he believes the rookie quarterback could easily be the Patriots’ starter heading into Week 1 but added that Bill Belichick’s decision will ultimately come down to the team dynamic.
New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton (1) looks on as offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels talks with quarterback Mac Jones during the first half of the team’s preseason NFL football game against the Washington Football Team, Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
“If he doesn’t take over from the beginning he’s going to take over pretty quickly,” he said. “I think the key thing that coach Belichick is dealing with right now is the locker room. Who is the leader? Who is Mac becoming? Will he lose part of the locker room if he doesn’t start Cam [Newton]. Those kinds of decisions are the ones he’ll have to make. And if he does decide to keep the locker room intact, start Cam, I would predict that it’ll be very quick that Mac will be in there.”
Coach Jones said unlike Newton’s struggles with getting acclimated with the Patriots’ playbook in his first season, Mac Jones has the advantage of having played under Nick Saban, which would make his transition an easy one.
“I think he’ll learn it very quickly. A lot of the things he’s doing in New England right now are things he did at Alabama,” he said. “I think he’ll assimilate faster than any rookie would in a long time, and of course it gets down to this: his accuracy, throwing the football. That’s going to make him the guy.”
Coach Jones added that Brian Hoyer’s strong performance (he was on the field for both of New England’s touchdowns) makes him a “solid backup” but the competition will ultimately come down to Jones and Newton.
When asked if he thought Mac Jones was the future of Patriots, the longtime coach simply said “Yes.”
Jones, who also served as head coach for the Falcons between 1994 and 1996 after three years as the team’s offensive coordinator, said the Jacksonville Jaguars will be another quarterback situation to monitor.
Despite being the No. 1 overall pick, Jones said he thinks Trevor Lawrence is still on the learning curve, adding that he was “impressed” with his debut.
“There was some good stuff I saw and there’s some other stuff I can tell he’s going to be learning.”
Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence throws a pass during the first half of an NFL preseason football game against the Cleveland Browns, Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
First-year head coach Urban Meyer has not named a starter but Jones believes that the competition between Gardner Minshew and Lawrence will be close.
“I really like Gardner Minshew. I think he did a solid job in a tough situation last year … I would think that Trevor will be the starter and if he doesn’t get the job done — Urban’s about winning, so if Gardner’s gonna help win faster then he’ll be the guy in there, but I think the pressure of being the No. 1 pick — I think it’s Gardner’s job to lose.”
As for a rookie who’s secured the starting job, Jones said the former BYU standout Zach Wilson has the potential to really pull the New York Jets out of a slump.
“I was impressed with him … He showed that he was an NFL-quality quarterback in the first preseason game. He had poise, he stood in, he made some plays with his legs.”
Jones said Wilson will be able to flourish under new head coach Robert Saleh because his style of coaching will offer the rookie protection on the field until he’s comfortable to make the big plays.
New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson (2) hands the ball off to running back Austin Walter (35) as players warm up for an NFL preseason football game against the New York Giants, Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
“I think the New York Jets are going to protect him, not try to win every game with him so they’re going to have a conservative game plan, I’m sure, because they’re got a defensive head coach and that’s usually what happens with defensive head coaches. I think he’s gonna be — as he matures — I think he’s gonna be a real good one.”
Jones sees Wilson playing his best football by the halfway mark of the season.
“If they can get him through that first part of the season where he doesn’t have to win the game for them then, I think by the time he gets to that 8-10 Week mark, he’ll be able to win the game for them in passing.”
The 2021 season is gearing up to be the year of the rookie quarterbacks.