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The New England Patriots offense should be good in 2022.
After all, they have a wealth of talented tight ends and running backs, they added DeVante Parker who’s been the Miami Dolphins No. 1 receiver in the past, Nelson Agholor gets a chance to settle in during his second year with the team, and then there’s quarterback Mac Jones.
Jones, coming off a good rookie season, has the respect of his peers. That’s why he was ranked No. 85 among the NFL’s Top 100 players in a balloting of players around the league.
NFL players ranked Jones higher than receiver Odell Beckham Jr., Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore, Buccaneers linebacker Shaquil Barrett, Bills edge rusher Von Miller and others.
So with all this talent and potential why has this offense seemed so discombobulated the first two weeks of training camp?
The Patriots on Monday started their final week of training camp so improvement is expected — and needed, because one team period last week illustrated how things generally have gone:
Running play stuffed.
Incomplete pass to Agholor.
Running play stuffed.
Afterward the Patriots defense, which allowed the second-fewest points in the league last year, mercilessly trash-talked the offensive players.
So what gives?
Well, the Patriots are in the early stages of a massive offensive transformation. There are new players, new coaches, and most curious of all, new plays. And the turnover in players and coaches could not be avoided but the changes beyond that could.
Excellent ESPN reporter Mike Reiss, who has been on the Patriots beat for years, noted recently the primary motivation for the change in plays, “according to those familiar with Belichick’s thinking,” was to make it easier on players.
The volume of the old system had grown over 20 seasons to fit Tom Brady. Josh McDaniels was wise in his decade as the offensive coordinator, after returning from his stint as Denver’s head coach, to make Brady comfortable and maximize what he did best.
But, um, Brady’s gone. Been gone since the end of the 2019 season. And now McDaniels, the new head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders, is also gone.
It probably hasn’t help that McDaniels took offensive line coach Carmen Bricillo, wide receivers coach Mick Lombardi and assistant quarterbacks coach Bo Hardegree with him.
So the offense is being remade on multiple levels. It has some familiar players and some new players. It has some familiar plays and some new plays. It has some familiar coaches and it has some new coaches.
That is a lot of change to the degree Jones and other players have called it a “new offense.”
And here’s where things might have gotten sideways: Belichick, a big fan of football history, might have missed that making a system easier for his players doesn’t always deliver good results.
Because making things easier for the offensive players often makes it easier on defenses, too. And changing for the sake of new players threatens to confuse players already accustomed to the old system.
In the late 1990s, for example, the Miami Dolphins pared their offense so that young players and new free agents didn’t have to learn the voluminous offense the club had run for 15 years with Dan Marino.
It was solid thinking by then coach Jimmy Johnson but it failed miserably because it made many of the players that were familiar with the old offense, most notably Marino, uncomfortable.
It’s hard to say whether the Patriots, while trying to make things better for players on the roster this year, are adjusting the system so much as to mess with Jones.
This has to be a question because keeping Jones under the old system could have logically raised expectations he could advance in that familiar system this year.
But instead he’s learning an adjusted system.
“At the end of the day we’re going to figure it out and make things work,” Jones said.
This is not to suggest the Patriots are doomed.
Prospective offensive play-caller Matt Patricia said Monday he senses no frustration from Jones. “Mac is great,” he said.
Rookie second-round pick Tyquon Thornton, the fastest wide receiver at the combine with a 4.28 40-yard dash time, has routinely roasted coverages during camp. Rookie guard Cole Strange, the club’s first-round pick, has been developing had a solid outing in his first preseason game.
“For the two drives I was in, fairly well,” Strange said assessing his preseason debut.
And Parker has consistently been getting his traditional two millimeters of separation from defenders on many of his routes.
Finally, we should all realize this ‘new’ offense is starting only its third week of training camp. It isn’t humming and might not be for a while but that’s kind of understandable. It might not even be fully ready for the Sept. 11 regular-season opener at Miami.
But time is an ally for a unit with talent and coaches known for developing that talent.
“I think everybody is fitting in their role, how they’re using us is just dope,” receiver Kendrick Bourne said. “It’s kind of like last year, once you get called, make the plays…”
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