NFL media love a quarterback controversy, but often the reality is much less salacious than the imagination. In New England, thoughts of rookie Mac Jones supplanting veteran Cam Newton, now in his second season and feeling more comfortable by all accounts, make headlines daily.
Granted, head coach Bill Belichick probably fuels the speculation by giving self-evident nuggets about competition (“Someone would have to play better than [Newton] to be the starter”). But he’s also the game’s elder statesman, has given thousands of dumb interviews, and is known for his monotone uselessness behind the podium. Cam Newton is the starter, end of story.
The better way to consume these little preseason stories is through the eyes of the rookie, who is drinking through a firehose in terms of information and media access, and who is also trying to earn his place in a locker room filled with grown men. Mac Jones will eventually get his opportunity to play in New England—maybe this season, maybe not—so his mental preparation in the meantime will be the most critical aspect of his future success.
To his credit, Jones sounds like a professional, which is the most that you can ask for at this juncture.
“Today, I am trying to just learn the plays I messed up on in practice. That’s really my focus,” Jones said. “Fix those and move onto the next day. I think I’m starting to get a good grasp of it. I am just here to be a good teammate and help the quarterback room. When I am in there I need to execute the plays and I can continue to get better at that and I will, so it’s just a learning experience. I am ready to play any role that I need to play.”
Coach Belichick’s famed mantra, “do your job,” has obviously taken root. Right now, Jones’ job isn’t winning games for the Patriots; it’s learning how to thrive in the NFL and making his starters better each and every day. So often we think success is only afforded to those in positions of influence, not realizing that the success is the byproduct of learning how to become influential. Alabama coach Nick Saban drilled the process into Mac Jones in college, and now Belichick is teaching him how to contribute to a professional team in ways other than starting.
We haven’t seen Belichick need to address quarterback issues in so many years that the process seems strange and foreign, but if anyone understands the need for consistency at the position, it’s Belichick. He wants to win games now, of course, but he also wants to win games for the next five years, and the best way to do that is to groom a consistent starter for the long haul—not hope for a draft pick lottery ticket.