After being docked two days of team activities for violating off-season rules, the New England Patriots were back in action this week with OTAs. As the team returned to practice, they looked excited to be back. However, the question still loomed about why the Patriots were docked those two days of OTAs.
“The whole situation is in the past, it’s resolved, and we’ve moved on. It was three meetings… I’m responsible for it, so that’s it,” Coach Bill Belichick explained, as he took total responsibility for the special teams workshop led by Patriots Assistant Coach Joe Judge.
Belichick was pressed by the media in his first press conference since the ruling came down, and he was ultimately defensive of his long-time assistant:
“Joe is great. Smart guy. Has a lot of experience. He’ll do whatever we need him to do, and he can do a lot. So, he will.”
Belichick thinks OTAs are to go out and get reps as well as to evaluate and track progress, but have no recourse regarding the upcoming season. His thinking is that, if these practices meant anything, then the players would be in pads.
Five takeaways from Patriots OTA:
🏈 Billy O and Mac
🏈 Malik the dual threat
🏈 Jalen Mills one of five with INT
🏈 Tyquan Thornton’s heavy involvement
🏈 Matthew Slater critical of NFL pic.twitter.com/ankfsBKHNa
— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) May 31, 2023
New England Patriots OTAs: Storylines to Follow
Mac Jones Connects With First-Team Receivers
It looks as if the starting quarterback job is Mac Jones’ to lose as he looks to regain the trust of his coaches and teammates after a tough sophomore season. He struggled with turnover problems and a nagging injury in the middle of the year. However, he has taken most of the reps this week, and has looked good doing so. The young signal-caller has been accurate and efficient from all accounts. On Wednesday, Jones was 13-13, while Bailey Zappe finished 8-9 while taking first-team reps.
Mac Jones on Bill O’Brien: Command of the room … everyone on same page. pic.twitter.com/KrnAiJO1Vv
— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) May 31, 2023
Jones spread the ball around effectively, completing passes to nine different Patriots. At the receiver position, Tyquan Thornton led the way. He is showing why the Patriots selected him in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Thornton logged over five hundred snaps after missing most of the previous season with a collarbone injury.
As the offseason progresses, it will be interesting to see how the receiver depth will be used. Juju Smith-Shuster was absent this week from OTAs. Between Kendrick Bourne, DeVante Parker, Thornton, and Smith-Shuster, it will be fascinating to see who emerges at the top of the depth chart. Only two will be on the field at a time as the Patriots will likely be running a lot of two-tight ends sets this year.
💪Here’s a rep from @BournePoly11. 💪
He and DeVante Parker were the WRs that spent the most time on the field with Mac Jones in 11-on-11s pic.twitter.com/QVJhYkvgDN
— Henry McKenna (@henrycmckenna) May 31, 2023
Jones Excited About The Tight End Room At Patriots OTAs
Touching upon the tight ends, Jones spoke highly of newly-acquired tight end Mike Gesicki:
“It might be different guys at times, but Mike definitely has playmaking ability. He’s a smart football player, and I’m just excited to work with him.”
With Bill O’Brien, the Patriots look to return to what they accomplished with 12-personnel in O’Brien’s first time as offensive coordinator when he had Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Although Gesicki and Hunter Henry are different players, their size will hopefully set them apart. Gesicki is a 6’6″ tight end who has solid athleticism for someone that size. Already with Henry around, having another solid receiving tight end can hopefully help Mac Jones and the Patriots this year.
“He would make some plays one-on-one, and down the field, and all that stuff. You can definitely see that translate to here. I think Hunter and him, and everybody else in the tight end room. Scotty, Matt Sokol, everybody, they’re doing a good job.”
What Role Will Malik Cunningham Have?
After getting a substantial contract for an undrafted free agent, Malik Cunningham’s role is still yet to be figured out with the Patriots. The former Louisville quarterback wore a white jersey at practice, instead of the red non-contact jerseys that quarterbacks usually wear.
Cunningham was out catching passes with the receivers during individual team drills. Then, he played quarterback after practice scout team workouts. Cunningham’s role will be sorted out moving forward. It is clear he will be someone who will have multiple functions, which bodes well for his chances of making the team.
#Patriots QB Malik Cunningham (#64) is working with the receivers today at practice.
Here’s his first rep: pic.twitter.com/pJl2Yz6PBF
— Mike Kadlick (@mikekadlick) May 31, 2023
Main Photo: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports