Patriots QB report: Mac Jones outplays Cam Newton in training camp Day 1

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Perry: Mac Jones shows decisiveness, outplays Newton on Day 1 originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The quarterback competition is expected to be hot and heavy for some time on the fields behind Gillette Stadium so we're going to give you all you need to know about the ins and outs of what's going on with Patriots passers at training camp. 

Every snap. Every notable interaction. Every dime. Every miss. Every pick. Day after day. Strap in.

Here's what we saw on Day 1 Wednesday ...

Seeing red

Mac Jones was the first on the field among Patriots quarterbacks. Cam Newton arrived to cheers a little later. Jarrett Stidham, beginning camp on the physically unable to perform list, was not present. That made Brian Hoyer quarterback No. 3 over the course of the practice.

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The entire team -- both offense and defense -- was focused heavily on red-zone situations throughout the session. The first team period of the day was an 11-on-11 set that worked on both the running (despite the players not wearing pads) and passing games. The practice was dominated by those types of periods, with one 7-on-7 red-zone period mixed in. 

As our assessment of the quarterback snaps below might suggest, this style of practice really highlighted the divergent skill sets of Bill Belichick's top two quarterbacks. Though their completion numbers were similar, as you'll see below, the way in which Jones and Newton arrived at those numbers was different.

In the red area, where the bodies are bunched together, where the windows are tight, where accuracy is critical and quick decisions are a must, Jones mostly rose to the challenge -- and he did so occasionally in eye-opening fashion.

For Newton, whose effectiveness inside the 20 has long been based on his running ability, an unpadded (meaning no real running-game reps) red-zone practice led to some moments of indecisiveness and a couple of turnovers.

Patriots Talk podcast: The Cam Newton-Mac Jones battle begins and there’s already a leader | Listen & Subscribe | Watch on YouTube

 

The numbers

We know you want 'em. You know you want 'em. Here's the meaty portion of today's Quarterback Report.

In the 11-on-11 team periods, Cam Newton went 8-for-15 with two interceptions. Mac Jones went 9-for-17. Brian Hoyer went 8-for-15.

In the 7-on-7 period, Newton went 3-for-4. Jones went 1-for-4.

Let the competition begin

Newton's completion % in 11-on-11 drills

53.3

Jones' completion % in 11-on-11 drills

52.9

Variation

Double

Newton was consistently the first quarterback up in team drills, and he worked with players who would be considered starters throughout. Jones was consistently the second quarterback up, and he worked with a mixture of starters and backups. Hoyer was third, working with reserves. 

It's worth noting that Josh McDaniels was attached to Jones throughout the session. 

When Jones went to work with receivers on end-zone throws early in the practice, McDaniels went with him, leaving Newton and Hoyer in the opposite end zone to work with backs and tight ends. Jones also went to chat with McDaniels when his stretch of on-the-field reps were up in a given period.

Oftentimes, after a throw by Newton or Hoyer, the conversation between McDaniels and Jones would seem to ratchet up for a moment. They'd watch the next play, talk some more, and continue in that kind of back-and-forth until it was Jones' turn again to get behind center. 

Snap judgments

Jones dialed in: In continuing a trend that emerged during the spring, he was the most consistently accurate Patriots quarterback on Wednesday.

Whether from the pocket or on the move -- he hit Jakobi Meyers with his first pass of his first professional training camp on a roll-out play -- Jones gave his pass-catchers opportunities to make plays. Of his eight incompletions, three weren't pure misses: One was batted at the line by Davon Godchaux; one was dropped by Matt LaCosse; one was a throwaway.

When it came to Jones' completions, a handful were dimes.

One of the best throws of the day featured Jones looking to a covered Jonnu Smith, then working his eyes all the way back across the field to hit Nelson Agholor in stride in the opposite corner of the end zone. Jones appeared to work through his progressions relatively quickly Wednesday.

Jonnu Smith surprised by Mac Jones' swagger as a rookie quarterback

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Only one of Jones' reps was an aborted play that resulted in a throwaway. While we're accustomed to seeing young quarterbacks hold onto the football in practice early in their careers, Jones seems to be decisive. He gets it out on time, in rhythm, and for the most part within the structure of the play called.

Jones hit Agholor again in 7-on-7s, releasing a soft, arcing pass to the back of the end zone well before Agholor made his break. Even before it was caught, Newton could be heard shouting in celebration, seeing the impending score. 

Perhaps Jones' most accurate pass of the practice came toward the end when he hit Kendrick Bourne racing toward the left sideline and hitting him right before Bourne coasted out of bounds. The window was tight, and Jones put it in a spot where only Bourne could catch it.

It wasn't all good for Jones, of course. He finished the practice missing on four consecutive passes before completing his last two. But one was dropped. One was batted at the line. And one looked like the result of a bad route from JJ Taylor.

Jones immediately went to Taylor after the snap to tell him what he was expecting him to do. Heated at first, Jones quickly seemed to get into supportive-coach mode and high-fived Taylor before heading back to the huddle. Over the years, it's been rare to see a rookie quarterback take that kind of initiative with another player, but Jones didn't hesitate to make that correction in real time.

Early in the practice, Jones botched a jet-sweep handoff that led to his first training camp lap as a pro, and his accuracy abandoned him briefly during 7-on-7s; he had off-the-mark passes broken up by Kyle Van Noy and Michael Jackson. But otherwise it was clear that he was the best passer on the field.

Curran: Newton needs to hit the ground running to stave off Mac Jones

Newtonian inertia: Newton had his moments as a passer, too. He hit four of his first five throws of the practice, and his back-shoulder completion to N'Keal Harry near the end of the session was an objectively good pitch and catch. 

But Newton had moments of hesitancy and inaccuracy that led to a less-than-stellar day, despite his completion numbers above looking relatively similar to his rookie counterpart.

On one Newton snap early in the practice, he held, pumped, tucked and scrambled for a touchdown on a play that was celebrated by fans, but might've led to a messier result had the situation been live. Newton had another attempt a little later that was caught by Bourne but was preceded by a lengthy hold of the football. That was followed by another similar rep that resulted in a Brandon Bolden catch. 

Later, Newton held the football for an extended period before trying to squeeze one into James White near the goal line. The pass deflected off White's arm and was picked by Raekwon McMillan. The pass should've been caught -- indicated to those in attendance by White's penalty lap around the field -- but Newton's pass could've been lower.

Throughout the practice, quarterbacks worked on throwing low to the goal line and high to the back end line. The idea is if you miss low to the front and high to the back, the odds of a backbreaking turnover being the end result are reduced. Had Newton's throw to White been lower, it might've led to an incompletion rather than a turnover. 

Then came pick No. 2. Newton's pass to the front right corner of the end zone, intended for Hunter Henry, was far enough behind its target that safety Adrian Phillips was in perfect position to reel in a deflection for a pick.

Leading up to that moment, here were Newton's attempts: pass breakup by Phillips; pass sailed long with no one in the area; pass sailed long and out of bounds when Isaiah Wynn was pushed back into Newton's front foot. 

It was an ugly stretch. Not how Newton wanted to finish the day. 

The good news for him? He'll have another chance to show what he can do on Thursday.