It took quite a bit of prodding but Bill Belichick has finally given Quarterback Mac Jones a vote of confidence.
Speaking to reporters over zoom following the conclusion of round 1 of the NFL Draft Belichick said that he “absolutely” feels the same way about Mac Jones as he did at the start of training camp last season. At that time the Patriots head coach was very complimentary of the progress his second year quarterback was showing.
The endorsement comes amid reports and speculation of a rift between Belichick and his franchise quarterback. One that began with Jones being frustrated about the offensive coaching situation and spiraled when Belichick reportedly got upset about how Jones was handling the adversity.
Belichick would not address those rumors but did reiterate his stance that all players must come in and earn their spots each year, including the quarterback.
“Yeah, I mean, look, Mac’s been our quarterback for two years,” Belichick said. “As I tell the team every year, each player, each coach, we all have to re-establish and prove ourselves every year. That’s what this league is. That’s for all of us. 23 is 23. We’ll see how 23 goes.”
After a promising rookie season Jones production took a hit under offensive coaches Matt Patricia and Joe Judge. The former has been replaced by Bill O’Brien as Offensive Coordinator for the upcoming season.
“The quarterback room has been really good,” O’Brien said earlier Friday. “Mac Jones has worked really, really hard this offseason. Been here every day. We just started working two weeks ago and that’s been good. A lot of good meetings. A lot of good give and take.”
FULL BILL BELICHICK TRANSCRIPT FROM PATRIOTS MEDIA RELATIONS
BB: It was a good couple of days for us here. We were able to get two players today kind of staying where we were, so no trade activity. Keion’s [White] a guy that really came on this year at [Georgia] Tech. You know, he was injured last year, had a pretty productive career at Old Dominion then transferred in and missed part of the season last year but had a really good year this year in ’22, even though there was some head coaching change and all that in midseason. And then Marte [Mapu] was a good visit. Smaller school guy, really productive guy. Did a lot of different things in their defensive scheme, and so really good to have both players. I thought that Matt [Groh] and his staff really did a great job, again of managing all the draft information that they’ve processed over the last year. Matt, Eliot [Wolf], Cam [Williams] and their respective staffs. Good to have Pat [Stewart] back with us as well. So I thought that, you know, we’re really well prepared and got a lot of information that we needed on a lot of players, not just the ones we took, obviously, but on some of the other guys too, so we’ll see how it goes tomorrow, and try to continue to make improvements and help our team in whatever way we can. We’ll see how all that plays out.
Q: Hey, Bill. Obviously, last night, you guys made the trade down from 14 to 17 and I know you’ve talked to us in the past, when you trade down you have to sort of be looking at usually a group of players that you’d be comfortable taking wherever you end up. I’m just curious after taking Keion in the second round, would he have been somebody that you considered as part of that cluster that you might have been interested in when you made that move down in the first round?
BB: Yeah. Sure. It would have depended on what happened there. I think we kind of felt okay about a short move but glad it worked out. Glad we ended up with Christian [Gonzalez]. I think he’s a good player. I’m glad we have him. But good to get Keion and Marte, too. I mean, they are all good players. Guys that have good size for their position. Good speed for the position. Smart guys. I think they should help us.
Q: Any surprise that Keion was there? I know he was invited to the draft. There’s not that many guys that get invited to the first round. Were you expecting him to be gone after the first night?
BB: I think whatever all the pre-draft hype is and speculation is, is as usual, pretty far off. Nobody can predict how it’s going to go. You just have to take it as it comes and try to make the best decision you can when you get near or at the decision-making point.
Q: You mentioned Marte’s diversity of experience and versatility there. What role do you see him filling, at least as a rookie, here in your defense?
BB: Yeah, hard to say. We’ll have to see how it goes. That might change from week to week dependent on our opponent and what we’re playing in the defense and so forth. He’s shown versatility and his skillset. He’s a smart kid. Definitely understands defensive concepts and what they did and how they were doing it. So when we get a chance to work with them, we’ll start to figure that out.
Q: Is he a player at least from the information you have now, you feel like could add weight onto his frame?
BB: Yeah, again we’ll see how all that goes. I don’t know. I mean, he has good frame but optimally you want a player who has good strength, good explosiveness and can move well, so whatever that number is and however that fits a particular player’s body type. You can say the same thing about Keion and Christian, too. Those guys have good frames, too, but I don’t know. We’ll just have to see until we start working with them. I don’t know if I can really answer that question.
Q: Through the three picks all on defense, I’m curious how much was the board just tilted towards defense entering today?
BB: I don’t know. I wouldn’t say it was tilted at all. It just worked out that way.
Q: And how would you describe the trade market?
BB: There’s a lot of activity in these three rounds, period. Throughout the course of it. So whether that will continue or not, I’m not sure. We’ll see how it goes. But we were only involved in one trade, but there was a lot of movement throughout the course of the draft, just kind of keeping up with it. You know? Who was where and people jumping in front or pulling out in front. Just having to kind of readjust your thinking a little bit. So, there was a lot of activity today. I don’t know whether we will see if that continues tomorrow or not.
Q: Kind of similar to what Mike asked, but when you have a couple of defensive picks in a row, does it enter your thought process when making say the second or third pick on one side of the ball versus – would you ever say well, we have to go offense here because we already picked a couple of defensive players?
BB: I think you always try to do what’s best for your team. There’s a lot of different ways to build a team. This is one part of it. Free agency was part of it. Didn’t sign a lot of defensive players in free agency. Signed [Chris] Board, he’s kind of a combination defense-special teams player. Most of the signings were on offense – Juju [Smith-Schuester], Mike [Gesicki], Riley [Reiff], [Calvin] Anderson, so you could say the same thing about free agency. Maybe we should’ve signed more players in free agency. I don’t know. But just kind of worked out that way. Sometimes it’s balanced, sometimes it isn’t. But I mean in the end, we’ll field the best team we can to be competitive this year and where they come from, I don’t know, trades, free agency, draft, undrafted, waiver wire. We’ll just have to see how that all plays out.
Q: On Marte Mapu, aside from the versatility what else stood out to you with him on film? How important was the time that the coaches got to spend with him at the Senior Bowl?
BB: Yeah, all the time we spent with him was good. Visit we had was good. We spent a lot of time with him. It was a Saturday morning in March. He kind of worked it into his schedule. He had a lot of visits, and we’re able to work that in. It’s a smaller school so not a lot of exposure at Sac [Sacramento] State. But spent time with him at the all-star games, spent time with him in personal visits. So yeah, there’s a lot. The exposures are the exposure. Sort of like, different, but kind of like with [Kyle] Dugger, Lenior-Rhyne, Senior Bowl visit, sometimes that’s where those guys – that’s how you have to do it.
Q: Excuse the question, but I’m going to assume that we’re not getting you tomorrow after the draft from what we’ve been told. So I wanted to give you an opportunity, if you want to clarify sort of your feelings about Mac Jones. There have been some well published reports that you were shopping him that, you know, weren’t refuted by anyone from the Patriots. Also, you know, Cam Newton, when he started in 2020, you declared him your quarterback after you drafted Mac Jones, you declared him your quarterback. At the league meetings, you didn’t mention Mac by name. I’m just wondering how do you feel about Mac? Is he your quarterback right now? How do you view him going into year three?
BB: Well I’m not going to respond to the anonymous quotes Greg [Bedard].
Q: Is Mac your quarterback, as of right now?
BB: Yeah, I mean, look, Mac’s been our quarterback for two years. As I tell the team every year, each player, each coach, we all have to re-establish and prove ourselves every year. That’s what this league is. So that’s for all of us.2023 is 2023 and we’ll see how it goes.
Q: You were very complimentary of him going into last season and last training camp. Do you still view him the same way?
Q: Just with Marte coming off the surgery two months ago. Do you expect him to be ready in time for training camp or is that going to be a bit of a longer recovery?
BB: We’ll know a little bit more when he gets in here and starts working. We’ve had other players that – Marcus Jones last year for example, that wasn’t able to do everything, but was ready to participate in training camp. Whether he’s on that schedule, ahead of that schedule, I don’t know. Probably somewhere in that neighborhood. But we’ll spend more time with him when he gets here and when he’s healthy and ready to go then we’ll start to put him into the mainstream of our training and eventually put him on the field. But he has to get healthy first and we know we’re not quite there yet. But hopefully that’ll clear up.
Q: Bill obviously, as you mentioned, no trades today. Was that just the way the board fell for you guys or was there some effort expended on your part to try to make a deal and nothing was able to come to fruition in terms of maybe moving up? It just looks like you guys have so many picks tomorrow. I don’t know if that was the plan coming into the day.
BB: I think each pick’s its own pick. After you pick a player, then you look at what the situation is and evaluate it from there. Sometimes there are opportunities to move, sometimes there aren’t. Sometimes you want to move, sometimes you don’t. It’s just if you’re trying to trade you have to have somebody to trade with, whether it’s up or down. Eliot [Wolf] and Matt [Groh] they pretty much dealt with that. We talked about some things. Ultimately, we did what we felt that was best for the team.
Q: Keion mentioned that he had zero contact with the team during the pre-draft process. Specific to his case, what’s the benefit if that’s true, first of all, of treating a prospect you have interest in like that, taking that approach?
BB: We were at his pro day but he wasn’t able to do much. He kind of pulled up on the, I think it was the second 40. Then he had another pro day which you know, we had film on everything that he did and saw him at the combine and all that. So we’ve had interaction with him. I think when you get so many scouts like the college players do, it’s hard to keep track of them all. But we had plenty of interaction, Coach [Geoff] Collins and his staff down there. We have familiarity with the [Georgia] Tech staff as well. Maybe we know him better than he knows us. But we’ll get to know each other soon.