FOXBORO, Mass. — JuJu Smith-Schuster caught two passes from Mac Jones on Thursday morning on the steamy practice fields out behind Gillette Stadium, one of them for a touchdown. He was targeted a team-high five times.
Later on, Smith-Schuster threw a couple of verbal bouquets in the direction of his new quarterback.
“The guy is just super intelligent and his work ethic is … it’s the best,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of guys work, come in the office early, put in the work, leave late, and he’s one of those guys.
“The communication between me and him and a lot of the receivers is — he speaks up,” Smith-Schuster continued. “He sees what he sees and he talks about it. And that’s what’s great about us. There’s no gray area in this offense. You speak about it, you talk about it, you fix it, and we move on.”
For seasoned Patriots followers, this is standard stuff. Smith-Schuster was simply ladling out the standard-issue compliments that players and sportswriters have often bestowed on Jones: He’s really smart and he works hard.
Yet there’s some weight to Smith-Schuster’s words, and on two levels.
One, he’s new here. Smith-Schuster joins the Patriots after five seasons with the Steelers and one memorable 2022 season with the Chiefs that culminated with a 38-35 victory over the Eagles in Super Bowl LVII. Unless he spent his spare time last season meandering through Patriots media clippings, it’s safe to say his thoughts are his own.
Secondly, these remarks serve as a reminder that one needn’t get too concerned when Patriots coach Bill Belichick plays daily dodgeball when quizzed about his quarterback. Considering that Smith-Schuster is merely the latest Patriot to talk up Jones, we can dismiss what Belichick is not saying as just Bill being Bill. As Belichick himself is fond of saying, it is what it is.
But before we get to Belichick, consider that Jones, asked on Wednesday about his relationship with his coach, said, “I think we’re good.” Jones, beginning his third season with the Patriots, also made note of “a fresh start.”
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Belichick’s next media availability following Jones’ remarks was early Thursday morning. Here’s how it went:
Media type: “For you, I guess from a leadership standpoint, somebody playing that (quarterback) position, how much trust do you have in Mac that you’ll get the leadership you expect from him?”
Belichick: “I trust all of the guys on our team. If I didn’t, they wouldn’t be here.”
Media type: “Mac was asked about his relationship with you, and he said it was good, and he said the big thing was that (you) had a conversation and it was about a fresh start, a clean slate. Did you guys have that conversation, and was that something that happened early in the offseason?”
Belichick: “Yeah, I’ll keep all my conversations between the players private. For respect to the players.”
Media type: “Speaking to that relationship, though, reverse that to yourself, was Mac correct when he said that, ‘I think we’re good’?”
Belichick: “Yeah, again, I’m good with all of the players that are on the team. Absolutely.”
The true and complete story about the relationship between Bill Belichick and Mac Jones will make for a dandy tell-all in the years to come. (And don’t get me started on the tell-all about why Malcolm Butler rusted on the bench during Super Bowl LII.) What we do know is that Belichick is 71 years old and firmly set in his ways. It was no easy task to get him to say nice things about Tom Brady during the glory days; expecting him to gush over Mac Jones, then, is an impossible dream on a par with the ’67 Red Sox.
I will add, though, and this is just for amusement, that Belichick did manage to say some nice things about a player Thursday morning: Retired Bruins legend Patrice Bergeron.
“It sounds like he was kind of their Devin McCourty, just did everything right,” said the coach, in response to a question. “A great leader and player, so congratulations on a tremendous career.”
Not surprising. Belichick is famously supportive of the Bruins, Celtics and Red Sox. It’s possible he’s attended more of the other teams’ games than any coach/manager in Boston sports history.
The Bill Belichick-Mac Jones Whatever It Is … is whatever you want to make it. But know this: It has the potential to work. Jones is happy because Bill O’Brien has been brought in as offensive coordinator, replacing the lounge act that was Matt Patricia and Joe Judge. He’s probably not happy that the Patriots didn’t come up with the dough to sign DeAndre Hopkins, but, well, what are you going to do?
And Belichick? He’s happy — OK, let’s call it content — because he can doctor the defense, his true love, and leave the offense to O’Brien.
Yes, it was Belichick’s fault last season that Jones, a second-year NFL quarterback, was placed in the hands of two coaches with limited experience on the offensive side of the ball. Yes, Jones can be faulted for too often exhibiting on-field behavior that suggested he wasn’t happy with the way the plays were being drawn up. (Though, again, Brady was known to do that sort of thing.)
But the way things are now? I can’t help but feel Belichick is OK with the arrangement. Not that he’ll ever say that to Mac Jones.
And even if he did tell him?
He’ll just keep those conversations private. For respect to the players.
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(Photo: Steven Senne / AP)