Some things never change at New England Patriots training camp. Bill Belichick always swings his whistle, players sign autographs for their adoring fans, and we, the Patriots punditocracy, are perpetually flush with questions and observations surrounding the team.
With the mass exodus of institutional knowledge from the team on the coaching staff and the roster in 2022, the Patriots look far different than they did in years past. At training camp this year, there is no Josh McDaniels, Carmen Bricillo, or Mick Lombardi, nor are their Patriots cornerstones like Dont’a Hightower, Jaime Collins, or Kyle Van Noy on the field.
But, while the absence of those players and coaches is the most pronounced, several other notable observations have piqued my interest over the last handful of practices and revealed a lot about the Patriots.
Matt Patricia Is Calling Plays At Patriots Training Camp
Coach’s New Role
After months of speculation, we know who the Patriots chose as their play-caller. Bill Belichick anointed Matt Patricia, former defensive coordinator, and Detroit Lions head coach, as their offensive signal caller.
Though Patricia has experience coaching offense for the Patriots as both an offensive assistant (2004) and assistant offensive line coach (2005), spent the majority of his career coaching defense. This is not to say that Patricia is incapable of calling plays and coaching the offense, but it is a significant step down from their previous play caller Josh McDaniels.
All reports indicate (and my eyes even saw!) Patricia relayed plays to Mac Jones or backup quarterback Bailey Zappe before the offense took the huddle. Joe Judge, on the other hand, worked exclusively with the quarterbacks and filled in for Patricia only briefly during 7-on-7 drills when Patricia dealt with the offensive line.
This is not to say the production of offense or the development of Mac Jones is kaput, but it solidifies a decision many speculated could create problems for the Patriots down the line. Whether or not it will remains to be seen.
Tyquan Thornton Can Play
Second-round draft pick Tyquan Thornton is balling at practice. Critiqued for his slender build and skinny wrists, the former Baylor University speedster continues to make a name for himself on the field. In a position battle with Nelson Agholor, Jakobi Meyers, Kendrick Bourne, and newly added Devante Parker, Thornton has held his own. He looks fast, poised, and impressive in his route running.
His play at camp is a welcome sign for fans who were worried about his role on the depth chart. Many believed there were too many mouths to feed offensively. But with his deep-threat potential differentiating himself from the other receivers, Thornton should have no problem seeing targets. Who knows? Maybe Thornton can become Jones’ next favorite target in 2022.
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) July 28, 2022
The MVP Of Patriots Training Camp
On the defensive side of things, second-year defensive tackle Christian Barmore continues to prove why the Patriots traded up for him. The former University of Alabama product had a productive rookie season, garnering All-Rookie team honors. But since the start of camp, it seems as though Barmore has farther-reaching goals. Whether it has been Barmore stuffing the run, plugging gaps, or putting rookie left guard Cole Strange on his caboose, Barmore has made an impact at training camp.
This is a welcome sign for Patriots fans who, after seeing the pass-rush and run-stopping vanish at the end of 2021, are looking for improvements on defense. Barmore’s potential to generate a pass-rush upfront and occupy multiple linemen makes things easier for the defense in several ways. It frees up pass-rushers like Pro Bowler Matthew Judon and rising-star-hopeful Josh Uche to get clean looks at the quarterback. And an improved pass-rush helps a secondary looking to become more zone-heavy.
It’s simple; pressure up front and off the edge makes things harder on a quarterback. When things are harder on a quarterback, good things happen defensively. If Barmore makes the kind of leap he is showing he can at training camp, good things will happen defensively in Foxboro.
Committed To Running Outside Zone
The outside zone running concept, something the Patriots rarely deploy in their playbook, is now seemingly the fulcrum of their offense. On Wednesday’s practice, New England arrived at training camp in only shells and shoulder pads and held a slower, more detail-oriented session. The session resembled more of a walkthrough than a full-fledged practice to iron out the kinks in the offense.
While it is only early August, the mere fact that the team burnt a day of practice to retool and further grasp the offense is telling that there will be growing pains offensively. This is not uncommon, however, as, last year, growing pains littered Patriots training camp. But, if these problems continue well into the Patriots’ joint practice with the Carolina Panthers, it would not be crazy to start raising the red flags and worry about the new system change.
The Offensive Line Looks Off
The Patriots jumbled and fumigated their offensive line this past off-season. By trading guard Shaq Mason and letting center/guard Ted Karas walk, the Patriots needed to revamp their line. To do said revamp, the Patriots flipped offensive tackles, Trent Brown and Isaiah Wynn. In addition, they drafted left guard Cole Strange and kicked tackle/guard Michael Onwenu inside. On paper, the line does not look half bad. But through the first week of practice, it would be generous to say the offensive line looks passable.
There could be many reasons for this. Perhaps they are just funneling linemen in and out of the rotation to check for depth and get better acquainted with the new outside zone scheme. But what if none of those are the reason?
What if the offensive line, as configured, is just not very good? Maybe that is a generalization, but there is limited evidence to say otherwise. The offensive line caused problems for New England last year and frequently almost killed Mac Jones.
Let’s hope there are better days ahead for the offensive line.
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