When you visit the New England Patriots’ website, you can find a depth chart that breaks down the team’s current roster into first-, second-, third- and fourth-string columns. Cam Newton, for example, is the first-team quarterback, followed by Mac Jones, Brian Hoyer and Jarrett Stidham in the other categories.
That depth chart is unofficial, and was not compiled by the Patriots’ coaches but rather their media relations department. Still, the process of breaking down the team into tiers is rooted in reality: there are starters and backups at almost every position — looking your way, Jake Bailey — and practice and game day alike illustrate the differences between those two.
Take last Thursday’s preseason opener against the Washington Football Team, with some players clearly appearing to be higher up on that depth chart than others. Offensive tackles Isaiah Wynn and Trent Brown played the early portions of the game, whereas Justin Herron, Korey Cunningham and Yodny Cajuste were inserted into the lineup later during the contest. They project as backups behind Wynn and Brown, and their usage reflects this.
Thinking in categories like these, however, is not what the Patriots tell their players. As head coach Bill Belichick pointed out during a media conference call on Tuesday morning, he and his staff have a different message for the team: it does not matter who is on the field you.
“We’ve told all the players from back in May when we started, which is the absolute truth, not to spend a lot of time worrying about who else is out there with you. Worry about what you’re doing and try to get it right,” Belichick said.
“I think that’s the most important thing for each and every one of us is if we would focus on what our job is, how to do it well, how to do it better, how to improve on it. That’s all of us — coaches, players, everybody. That’s really what we’re trying to do. Spend a lot of time worrying about who else is doing something else and who else is out there and not out there or whatever is honestly a total waste of time and energy. It’s not productive, so we don’t need to worry about it.”
Belichick was asked specifically about the quarterback position. Cam Newton worked extensively with the starter-level players in practice and the preseason opener so far, with first-round rookie Mac Jones primarily leading the second team.
The transition between one group of players and the other was at the heart of that question, with potential challenges arising from one quarterback maybe having more experience with some players than others. Belichick and the rest of New England’s coaches, however, are apparently not worried about any of that.
“I think it’s a lot more important for the offensive linemen to play with the offensive linemen than it is for the quarterback to play with the offensive line. The same thing on defense. It’s important for the linebackers to play with the linebackers than it is for the linebackers to play with the secondary or whatever,” he said.
“You can keep going. The punt team; those guys need to be ready to work with each other, but at the same time, if somebody else is in there for whatever reason, then again, the most important thing is for them to do their job properly and work with whoever it is next to him. That’s something they can’t control. If we start worrying about all the things we can’t control, I would say it’s going to be a long year.”
At the end of the day, the Patriots will name starters and backups. The process of getting there, however, is not necessarily focused on those distinction — at least as far as Belichick’s messaging to his players is concerned.