The New England Patriots took the fields behind Gillette Stadium on Monday for their first of 10 organized team activities. The session was a comparatively low-intensity affair simply because of the NFL’s offseason practice rules, but it gave the media members present an opportunity to get a first glimpse at the 2022 team both on and off the field.
Off the field, because one of the biggest storylines heading into OTAs was the coaching staff on the offensive side of the ball. Coordinator Josh McDaniels leaving for Las Vegas earlier this offseason, after all, created a sizable void that has not yet officially been filled.
According to head coach Bill Belichick, nothing has been decided just yet when it comes to leading the offense and calling plays.
“When we get to it, we’ll get to it,” he said during a Monday morning press conference.
The practice starting 30 minutes later was confirmation of that. Belichick spent considerable time working with the offense, per NBC Sports’ Phil Perry:
Bill Belichick keeping a close eye on the Patriots offense throughout the practice. (Here he is observing a drill early in the session.)— Phil Perry (@PhilAPerry) May 23, 2022
Belichick appeared to be relaying plays to Mac Jones and sending Jones into the huddle during 11-on-11 periods. pic.twitter.com/2t4ia1FRXp
Belichick was working with the offense extensively throughout the two-hour session, but he was not alone: both Joe Judge and Matt Patricia also helped out with the group, with Judge and Patricia both working on sending in calls and personnel groupings. Judge focused primarily on the quarterbacks and skill groups, Patricia on the offensive line.
Neither them nor Belichick wore a headset, though. By all intents and purposes, the session was a collaborative affair on that side of the ball. On defense, meanwhile, inside linebackers coach Steve Belichick was spotted by MassLive’s Chris Mason running the session with a walkie talkie.
From a players perspective, starting quarterback Mac Jones obviously led off drills. The second-year passer went 18-for-23 with one drop by wideout Kristian Wilkerson, as charted by Mark Daniels of the Providence Journal.
For comparison, Brian Hoyer went 15-for-19 with rookie Bailey Zappe going 5-for-7. Of course, none of the quarterbacks were working against physical coverage with contact not allowed during OTAs.
As for the Patriots’ QB1, he was able to get some work in with most of the team’s pass catchers — including offseason trade acquisition DeVante Parker:
The men in front of Jones and the other QBs were missing some key pieces. Isaiah Wynn was a no-show — prompting Trent Brown to move to the left side of the line — with David Andrews limited. Cole Strange, meanwhile, appears to be a plug-and-play option at left guard: the first-round rookie saw considerable snaps opposite right guard Michael Onwenu.
Speaking of rookies: fourth-round cornerback Jack Jones also saw plenty of action in what was an active rotation at the cornerback position, per CLNS Media’s Evan Lazar.
The first men up in that rotation? Veteran free agency acquisitions Malcolm Butler and Terrance Mitchell. While not a sign of things to come, New England’s coaches did give them starter-level reps versus a Mac Jones-led offense.
Speaking of cornerbacks, slot defender Jonathan Jones was full-go coming off his season-ending shoulder injury.
The same was also true for linebacker Raekwon McMillan, who missed all of 2021 after tearing his ACL during last summer’s training camp. In fact, McMillan saw some starter-level reps at the off-the-ball position alongside veteran Ja’Whaun Bentley, according to Andrew Callahan of the Boston Herald.
Also heavily involved with the linebackers was third-year man Josh Uche. Per Phil Perry, the Patriots used him both on the inside and on the edge. Almost exclusively an edge rusher his first two years in the league, Uche is apparently getting some looks at the “move” position previously played by the likes of Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins.
Meanwhile, second-year man Cameron McGrone was limited; he spent most of 2021 rehabbing a torn ACL suffered during his final season at the University of Michigan. McGrone was one of several players who were present but spent parts of the session working out on a separate field or — in James White’s case — watching from the sidelines (via NESN’s Zack Cox):
C David Andrews, TE Hunter Henry, LB Anfernee Jennings, CB Marcus Jones, LB Cameron McGrone, S Jabrill Peppers, DT Sam Roberts, DB Brenden Schooler, RB Pierre Strong Jr., WR Tyquan Thornton, RB James White
Meanwhile, a total of 13 of 85 players currently under contract were not spotted during the voluntary workout:
DT Byron Cowart, K Nick Folk, DT Lawrence Guy, WR N’Keal Harry, OL Chasen Hines, LB Matthew Judon, LB Harvey Langi, K Quinn Nordin, LB Ronnie Perkins, S Adrian Phillips, OL Andrew Stueber, LB Jahlani Tavai, OT Isaiah Wynn
Ending this quick recap like it began, another look at the session from an off-the-field perspective: per Mark Daniels, veteran assistant coach Ivan Fears watched the session from the bleachers. His retirement from the running backs coaching position has not yet been announced, and his presence creates some speculation whether or not he truly will leave the team or simply transition into a different role.