Why Hunter Henry is buying into a bounce-back season for Mac Jones


“All the stuff in the past, it doesn’t matter.”

New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones celebrates his touchdown reception with Hunter Henry against the Tampa Bay Bucs during fourth quarter NFL action at Gillette Stadium.
Mac Jones and Hunter Henry found plenty of success in the red zone during the 2021 season. Matthew J Lee / Globe Staff

The 2023 Patriots’ hopes for a trip back to the playoffs might fall on the shoulders of Mac Jones and his ability to execute in Bill O’Brien’s revamped offense.

Despite Jones’ lackluster production in Matt Patricia’s offense last season (14 touchdowns, 11 interceptions over 14 games), the 25-year-old QB impressed under Josh McDaniels’ tutelage as a rookie, earning a Pro Bowl nod in 2021.

O’Brien’s familiarity with both McDaniels’ system in New England and the Alabama offense in which Jones thrived should benefit New England’s quarterback, especially given O’Brien’s propensity for drawing up RPOs (run-pass options), screens and other short-passing plays that cater to Jones’ skillset.

But beyond New England’s revamped gameplan, tight end Hunter Henry believes that Jones’ own mindset is the top reason why he’s due for a bounce-back year in 2023.

“Mac’s always been consistent in who he is,” Henry said Wednesday at Gillette Stadium. “But this year, I feel like he’s just been super, super consistent at all times. In the building, outside the building, on the field, off the field. He’s a great leader, and he’s fun to go out there and compete with.

“We’ve had a lot of good competition this last month with our defense, and it’s been fun, so I’m excited to go out there and begin that journey with him through the season this year. But he’s doing a fantastic job, and he’s fun to go out there to work with.”

Another year removed from shoulder surgery back in 2022, a healthy Henry could be a key conduit in Jones’ resurgence under center this fall.

Henry was Jones’ most dependable red-zone target in 2021, reeling in nine touchdowns for a Patriots offense that ranked 11th in touchdown percentage (61.9%) after getting within the 20-yard line.

But Henry was lost in the shuffle with last year’s dysfunctional offense, hauling in just two touchdowns over 17 games while only averaging 29.9 receiving yards per game, the lowest of his seven-year career.

Jones has spread the wealth on offense so far during the preseason, but Henry has been a familiar target during red-zone drills throughout the summer.

Ahead of a pivotal season, Henry believes that Jones is in the right mindset when it comes to turning the page on 2022 and putting his best foot forward.

“He’s always had my respect,” Henry said of Jones. “I think every year, though, as a player and as players, we all are trying to earn our teammates’ respect, our coaches’ respect. That’s part of the process. That’s you as a competitor. That’s you as a player. When I step out there on the field, especially at the beginning of camp, I’m trying to earn my teammates’ respect.

“All the stuff in the past, it doesn’t matter. Obviously, it helps me process things and do things, but I’ve got to earn it again every single day. So you kind of have to take that approach, and I think he’s done a great job of doing that. I’ve always had respect for him, and he’s doing a great job.”