NFL: New England Patriots OTA

Patriots quarterback Mac Jones participates in drills during organized team activities on Thursday.

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Opportunity knocks for Mac Jones.

With Cam Newton sidelined with a hand injury, the Patriots’ rookie first-round pick is getting more exposure to the offense just by having one fewer quarterback on the field. And with the presumptive starter currently missing OTA practice time, Jones has an opportunity to take advantage of Newton’s absence.

But that’s not Jones’ mindset right now. He isn’t focused on any quarterback competition. He’s not taking the practice field with the idea of beating out Newton.

Not right now, anyway. Instead, Jones is focused on buckets. Two in particular.

As the former Alabama quarterback explained, while he’s been learning the playbook, and what it’s going to take for him to make the jump into the pros, he puts the positive things he does in the good bucket while the second bucket is reserved for all the things that need work.

After watching him through three practices, the bad bucket is winning. Naturally, Jones is hoping to change that in time.

“For me, it’s about me getting better and it’s not being selfish or anything, but I’ve got a lot of room to grow,” he told reporters on a Zoom call Thursday. “I have to make strides every day and kind of have two buckets where things I know, keep in one bucket, and things I keep messing up or things I’m not getting, I have to put them in another bucket and figure out what’s wrong.

“I’ve just got to take that approach and just learn from all the quarterbacks,” he went on. “It’s not just me. Learn from the older guys on the team and watch them practice and learn how to practice the best way I can so when we get to the games, it’ll be easier.”

Already, he’s learned from Newton, and from Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer, who have all been around the block, and have varying degrees of experience in the Patriots’ system.

And while Newton has affectionately nicknamed him “Mac ‘n’ Cheese,” I’d say the Bucket Man is onto something with his approach.

As Bill Belichick said earlier in the day, the OTAs and minicamp are mostly about teaching players and having them learn. It’s about getting them ready for training camp.

As a rookie, Jones has to be like a sponge, process everything, and see how to best correct any issues he’s having before even thinking about eventually leading the Patriots.

While he hates making mistakes, and not adapting as fast as he’d like, he’s confident it will come in time.

“It’s not going to be perfect every day. It’s hard when you’re competitive and you want it to be really good every day,” he said. “It’s not going to be like that at first. Eventually you get it and things start rolling your way.”

During the OTA session Thursday, Jones was typically the third quarterback behind Stidham and Hoyer.

The difference between the three was obvious, with Jones resorting to more checkdowns as things speed up. It’s been that way the past two sessions. For Jones, though, it’s all part of the process of understanding the offense, and how to best attack a defense.

At this point, he’s just trying to get comfortable with the playbook, and adjust to the speed of the game.

“You know, I’m learning and I’m learning from the other guys. They can do it really fast,” he said of deciding where to go with the football. “My goal is to hopefully be able to do it even faster every day and I’ve tried to do that. The veteran players, it’s kind of like second nature for them. I have to figure out how to do it fast and execute the plays really fast to a level in a new offense.”

So right now, any talk of a so-called “competition” sounds a little crazy to him. Jones is smart. He’s not going to step on any toes, or talk out of turn. At this point, he would have nothing to back it up.

“Yeah, we’re all in this together so it’s not like, you know, there’s competition but people want to have a misconstrued word there like it’s bad competition or unhealthy,” he said. “We’re all close. We’re all going to get better together. That’s what we’re going to do.”

Watching the interaction, the quarterbacks do seem to get along. When Newton’s around, he’s the ringleader, there’s no doubt about that.

Jones tends to separate from the group when he does something he’s not happy with, just to process what happened, and let the steam out.

He threw an errant ball to Rhamondre Stevenson on one play, and moments later checked in with Stevenson to basically say it was on him, and not the other way around, slapping the rookie back on the hand.

“I’m my own biggest perfectionist. Sometimes I’ll show some emotion but the key is just to find out how to help out my teammates and not let them (down),” he said. “If it’s one thing, it’s one thing and then move on. I’ve gotten better at that. I’m super competitive and I’ll continue to do that. But I’m going to show emotion. I think it’s also a positive. A lot of guys on the team, they enjoy winning and having good plays. I want to be the same way. If it’s not right, I want to learn how to fix it and help those guys, too.”

In other words, keep it simple for now. Try to maintain the things in the good bucket, and fix whatever is in the bad bucket. The philosophy has worked well for him on the football field, as well as life.

“I think it’s just problem solving. That’s all life is about,” he said. “Yeah, you can be mad for a couple minutes. And I’m going to be mad about it, but I have to move on and figure out what works, what I did wrong actually from a schematic standpoint. That’s how every good problem-solver works.”

Watching Jones work, it’s a good strategy, especially now.

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