The Patriots playing certain coaching responsibilities close to the vest is nothing new for Bill Belichick’s coaching staff.
After all, it took Belichick nearly two seasons to acknowledge that his son, Steve, was calling the defensive plays when he first publicly credited Steve in November of 2020. It was assumed that Steve started calling the defense following Brian Flores’s departure in 2019, but Belichick and his staff dodged questions about the play callers’ identity for a year and a half.
Despite Steve’s role as the play-caller and a former Pro Bowler-turned-coach on staff, Steve nor hot head coaching candidate Jerod Mayo has earned the defensive coordinator title. Technically, neither did Flores, who was calling the defense as the linebackers coach until he was named the head coach of the Miami Dolphins.
New England hasn’t had an official defensive coordinator since Matt Patricia in 2017, and now Patricia, along with returning assistant Joe Judge, is set to lead the Patriots’ offense.
Given the fact that Belichick won’t name Steve or Mayo the defensive coordinator, it’s not a surprise that the Pats offense will go coordinator-less in the first year without Josh McDaniels.
However, the perception that we gleaned nothing from Judge and Patricia’s media availability this week is false, as the Pats top offensive assistants told us enough to crack the code.
Judge confirmed he’s working with quarterbacks and Patricia with the offensive line, where he started his career as a coach in New England, while both Pats coaches will have a hand in the big-picture direction of the offense.
As the de facto quarterbacks coach, Judge serving as the play-caller would make sense.
Although he played coy when asked the question, Judge outlined a training process he’s using to simulate game-like situations and conditions to practice calling plays.
“Sit in your office, put on a tape, and call it. Work through situations. You want to do it with other coaches, and sometimes they simulate what may have happened in a game,” Judge said. “It makes you think, how am I adjusting my personnel now? What would I call? It’s not drawing a bunch of plays and saying ‘hey, I like that one.’”
With Patricia spending most of his time with the offensive line, it wouldn’t make much sense for Judge to attach himself to Mac Jones’s hip and then have Patricia call plays.
Most weeks, Patriots players spend most of their meeting time with their position coaches to go over last week’s film, scout the next opponent and rehearse the game plan.
The most important relationship for the offensive play-caller is with the quarterback. Since calling plays that the quarterback is comfortable with running is paramount to its success. If Patricia is in another room coaching protections and blocking schemes with the offensive line, he’s not breaking down progressions and opponents with Mac Jones. There’s more room for error.
Many offensive play-callers around the league are either their own quarterback’s coaches or spend the most time with the quarterback. For example, McDaniels was his own QB coach for 11 of his 13 seasons as the Pats’ offensive coordinator.
Although Judge is the most practical option to call plays, it sounds like the Patriots will divvy up the other offensive coordinator responsibilities as they do on the defensive side of the ball, with Judge and Patricia serving as the offense’s version of Steve Belichick and Jerod Mayo.
Our theory is that Judge will work with quarterbacks, call plays, and coordinate the passing game, while Patricia will serve as the offensive line coach and run game coordinator.
The Pats are also ending another era on their offensive staff with long-time running backs coach Ivan Fears quietly retiring this offseason. Fears was responsible for coordinating short-yardage installs each week, which will likely now fall on Patricia and new running backs coach Vinnie Sunseri.
Skepticism surrounding New England’s re-worked offensive staff is more than fair, especially given Judge and Patricia’s lack of success away from the nest and the state of the Pats’ offense.
The Patriots have a second-year quarterback entering a critical year of his development, an offensive system that needs an update, and offensive weapons Nelson Agholor, Jonnu Smith, and rookie Tyquan Thornton need to produce returns on investment.
Do the Patriots have the right coaches, and do those coaches have the chops to make all of that happen as New England moves forward without Josh McDaniels? That’s a tough sell presently.
However, the notion that Belichick doesn’t have defined roles for his staff heading into the mandatory portion of the offseason is nonsense, even if he doesn’t want to tell us.
Without further ado, let’s empty the Patriots mailbag as we head into organized team activities:
Any thoughts on *why* BB/the Pats are cagey about the roles coaches are taking? Is it to take public pressure off coaches in new roles? To try and confuse opponents?
— Brian McCarthy (@vgman20) May 18, 2022
It’s a fair question with more theories than concrete answers. The most likely reasons are that Belichick wants his staff to earn the titles, he feels it gives him some sort of competitive advantage, or he wants to prevent teams from poaching his coaches by making it unclear what their responsibilities are on the staff (it might be working with Jerod Mayo). There’s also the money angle, which is that the team likely needs to pay a coach more if he’s officially the OC or DC than if he’s just a position coach. Public pressure might also be a factor, but I don’t think Belichick cares enough about outside noise to put this much effort into deflecting praise or blame. If I had to pick one, I’d say it’s either about earning their stripes or money.
Is BB coaching choices this year a holding pattetn for BillyO to pick his own next year? Most likely imo
— Tony C (@tonyc3896) May 18, 2022
That’s a theory that some have floated, yes. But there’s nothing definitive on that front either way. O’Brien signed a two-year deal with Alabama as its offensive coordinator, so his contract expires following the 2022 season. In theory, Belichick wouldn’t be poaching him from Nick Saban because he would be a coaching free agent at that point. If the current setup goes belly up, I expect the Patriots to revisit things with O’Brien next offseason.
Has the Patriots D improved or gotten worse, Evan?
— Mike D (@MikeD30607280) May 18, 2022
My biggest concerns about this team right now are offensive innovation and the talent on defense. With the “redshirt” linebackers and two mid-round corners as the biggest additions, it’s hard to argue that they got better on that side of the ball after losing J.C. Jackson. They have bodies at corner with nine rostered players, but I’m not sure they can hang with Stefon Diggs or Tyreek Hill without significant help. They’re banking on McGrone, Uche, and Perkins to elevate the front seven, ignoring that area of the team in the draft, and are inexperienced in several spots. I hate to be doom and gloom, especially with Belichick’s ability to mask roster deficiencies. But barring a late acquisition for a shutdown corner, this group feels like they’ll be punching above their weight in several areas.
How hype are you for cam mcgrone? I know the coaches are, but do you believe in him? I personally believe he can be a huge contributor
— #1 Pats Mascot fan (@Acasualpatsfan) May 18, 2022
I’m as excited as everyone else about Cameron McGrone’s potential. He’s an explosive mover, can play in space and close on ball carriers in a hurry, and hits harder than his size suggests. But it was surprising to hear the Pats coaches fueling the hype train as much as they did. Typically, they’d give us a non-answer about how he’s working hard, and we’ll see if it translates. Instead, they put some pretty significant expectations on McGrone by saying he was making plays in practice already last season. I didn’t expect them to put that pressure on the kid. Let’s hope they’re right. I’d caution fans to be realistic with their expectations still.
There has been speculation that Mac Jones would work with throwing coach Tom House this off-season….has that been confirmed and what are some of the advantages the QB will gain from this?
— Jeff Scanlon (@jscancoach) May 18, 2022
Although it was never officially confirmed that Jones is working with Tom Brady’s long-time throwing guru, House has hinted at it several times on social media. It’s safe to assume they’re working together. The goal of these workouts is mainly to add more velocity and improve accuracy through better throwing mechanics. House thinks he can improve a quarterback’s velocity by three-to-five miles per hour by tweaking his mechanics. What mechanics? Footwork, but maybe most importantly, rotating your hips and shoulders with more efficiency and force. We have seen Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Joe Burrow, and countless others work with QB doctors like House and develop more zip on their fastball.
Any insight into D'Eriq King? He was an intriguing prospect one day and gone the next.
— Matt Cederholm (@TheBigHurtHQ) May 18, 2022
My understanding is that the King release was purely about football performance. King is healthy after undergoing shoulder surgery last season, so it wasn’t injury-related. The team worked him out at wide receiver and obviously decided that he was too raw. The Pats are relatively deep at wide receiver now after adding Tyquan Thornton and DeVante Parker. Plus, they might feel converted QB Malcolm Perry is further along than King.
I haven't heard anything about Hightower, safe to assume no approach was made by the team (or maybe i missed the news) same with #1…?
— max archila (@MaxArchila) May 18, 2022
The Pats are passing the torch at linebacker to younger, faster players. Although you never shut the door on anything, inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo mentioned Hightower’s name numerous times when discussing player departures this offseason. There’s an outside chance that Hightower could return in a limited role, but the more likely outcome is that the team and Hightower announce his retirement from pro football before the start of the season.
Question (tweet deleted): you broke up corners on your podcast by outside and slot corners. What about separating them by types of matchups? X, Z, speed slot, etc.
The Patriots break up practice reps into outside and inside corners/receivers, so that’s how I do it in my head. But I like the idea here, so let’s play the game:
Jalen Mills/Terrance Mitchell – X/Z receivers
Malcolm Butler/Jack Jones – Z/X receivers
Jon Jones/Marcus Jones – speed slots (majority of reps inside)
It’s hard to narrow each player down to one specific matchup. Receivers are all different, and one X receiver might run a completely different route tree than another X receiver based on skill set or offensive system. But that’s roughly how I’d split up their primary responsibilities.
With Cole Strange's size and athleticism could we see him possibly start at guard and move to either tackle spot next season?
— Min Soo Yong (@minsooyong) May 18, 2022
Although my opinion could change depending on his rookie season, I’m not buying into the idea that Strange has a long-term future at tackle. For starters, his skillset screams guard: explosive initial movements out of his stance, good power and displacement in the run game, athleticism to climb and combo up to the second level, and good size for an interior player. Currently, Strange’s pass sets are way too raw to play him at tackle. He needs to improve his core strength/anchor, hand technique, and processing to avoid oversets. Moving him to tackle would exacerbate most of those issues in pass protection, and you’d lose his movement on the interior in the running game. I’d rather let him thrive at his natural position than play with fire by moving him outside.
I know it's not spoken, but between cap relief and a deeper draft in 2023, any truth to the rumblings that 2022 may just be year 2 of a 3 year plan to get back to contender status? Certainly doesn't seem like 2022 was a "swing for the fences" offseason?
— Ⓙⓔⓕⓕ Ⓐⓑⓡⓐⓜⓞ 🍊 🇺🇦 (@JeffAbramo) May 18, 2022
I honestly don’t think the Patriots view things as “bridge” seasons or multi-year rebuilds. Roster building is an ongoing process, and whether or not they’re all in on an offseason is mostly about opportunity cost. They saw a golden opportunity to significantly upgrade their roster in the 2021 offseason as one of a few teams with significant cap space in a league-wide cap crunch. They were tighter against the cap this offseason, so fewer moves were available on the chessboard. The Pats view each opportunity to upgrade their roster as they come, and I don’t think there’s ever a stance of, “we aren’t going to make our team better here because we are in a rebuilding year.” The splashes just didn’t come to fruition.