The first nine weeks of the 2022 NFL season are in the books, and the New England Patriots’ rookie class will finally get to catch its breath a bit. The team is headed into a bye week, with players off Wednesday through Sunday.
The bye does not just give them and their veteran teammates a chance to refuel the tank for the stretch run of the season, but also to reflect upon the journey thus far. For the Patriots’ rookies, it has been an eventful one.
The results have not always been entirely positive — first-round pick Cole Strange, for example, is in a bit of a slump after a hot start — but all in all the early returns have been promising. What say you, Bill Belichick?
“I think our rookie class has been attentive,” New England’s head coach told reporters earlier this week. “They’ve tried to really learn, be coachable and take the information and instruction that they’ve gotten from their coaches and also from their teammates. They have a long way to go.”
At the moment, the Patriots have 12 rookie players on their active roster as well as four on the practice squad and three on injury lists. In total, the group has combined to play 1,963 snaps this year — one of the highest such numbers in the NFL.
The leader in snaps is, unsurprisingly, Cole Strange who has been a Day 1 starter at left guard. Despite his recent hiccups and getting benched in each of the last two games, Strange has shown plenty of promise. The same is true for a lot of his fellow rookie players — from Marcus Jones developing into a premier return man, to Jack Jones proving himself a playmaker at cornerback, to Bailey Zappe being thrust into the starting quarterback spot.
According to their head coach, all of them have shown improvement since first arriving in the spring. However, in classic Belichick fashion he wasted no time looking forward rather than back.
“We’re kind of around the halfway point of the regular season. When you take a look and compile the preseason, training camp and all that on to it, we’re well past that,” he said. “These guys have played a lot of football. They have improved, but, of course, the biggest games are yet to come.
“There’ll be more challenges, and more difficult challenges going forward than what they’ve had already. How good they are or aren’t, or how well they respond or don’t respond, for all rookies in the league — not just our rookies of course, but everybody’s — will be a big question mark. It’ll be a big question to be answered for each of them individually and their teams of how they perform in the second half of the year.”
The Patriots are counting on them continuing their ascent, with several players establishing themselves as key members within their respective units.
“If they hit the proverbial rookie wall, or level off, or do they build on the experience and the things that they’ve learned already this year to grow and become better and contribute more in the latter part of the year. I think we’ve seen plenty examples of both,” Belichick said. “So, we’ll see how all that plays out.”