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#PostPulpit Mailbag: Is the Patriots’ offense headed towards a scheme shift?

Related: Patriots OTA reports: Bill Belichick leads collaborative effort coaching the offense

Wild Card Round - Tennessee Titans v New England Patriots Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

The New England Patriots were back on the practice fields at Gillette Stadium for their first OTA practices this week, which means we are back at it answering your questions. Despite real football being over three months away, there is a lot to discuss, so let’s get right into this week’s #PostPulpit mailbag.

@bosports_617 What the f*** is this coaching staff? That’s the only question

@mywatchcare So, who is your best bet to be OC or just offensive play caller?

As last year’s offseason was focused on the battle at quarterback, this year’s offseason storyline has quickly centered around the coaching staff. To no one’s surprise, the entire coaching staff was noncommittal about specific roles when speaking to the media throughout the past few weeks, but these are what it appears the offensive roles will be:

  • Quarterbacks: Joe Judge
  • Running Backs: Vinnie Sunseri
  • Wide Receivers: Troy Brown, Ross Douglas
  • Tight Ends: Nick Caley
  • Offensive Line: Matt Patricia, Billy Yates

Head coach Bill Belichick also confirmed the team will be without an official offensive or defensive coordinator for the time being, which isn't all that new. The Patriots have not had an official defensive coordinator since 2017 when Patricia initially left for Detroit, and they've taken their time naming an offensive coordinators when replacing a long-time option such as Josh McDaniels in the past.

Where things get really interesting is the play-calling duties. While Belichick was reportedly seen calling plays at times during their first OTA practice, it appears Joe Judge would have the inside track working with quarterbacks. While that may sound scary after his work with Daniel Jones in New York, he may be able to bring some new and successful concepts to New England.

We discussed those earlier this offseason:

On the positive side, Judge’s New York offense — which adopted Jason Garrett’s Air Coryell system — may have some pieces that can significantly help the Patriots on the offensive side of the ball. While the Patriots ranked dead last in run-pass option (RPOs) plays last season, the Giants ranked 12th. The Giants shifted their offense to something Daniel Jones had success with at college, something the Patriots need to do with Mac Jones — who was extremely successful in a RPO-offense at Alabama.

Despite the addition of more RPO’s, Judge’s Giants offense also ranked seventh in the league in percent of 12 personnel offense (two tight ends). New York found plenty of ways to get Evan Engram and Kyle Rudolph on the field together, something the Patriots also need to do a better job of with Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry next season.

As Belichick said, it’s only May and they aren't calling any plays anytime soon. He likely has a strong understanding of how things will shake out, but there is truly no need to rush.

@nest_talk How much will the Patriots rely on the run game this season? Is this Rhamondre’s breakout year or will we see a Broncoes-type division between him and Damien Harris?

In an ideal world, the Patriots’ passing attack is their strength this upcoming season. But, with their collection of talent at running back and along their offensive line, their run game should certainly be impactful again next season with Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson likely forming a formidable 1-2 punch.

While mentioning the coaching staff and potential new concepts in the passing game, a potential shift in the run game as well should not be glossed over — which Monday’s OTA practice seemed to suggest. The Patriots’ run game was reportedly showing glimpses of Kyle Shanahan’s offensive scheme, which consists of more outside zone runs and play-action concepts.

The new look would be a complete shift on the ground, as the Patriots offense usually pounds the rock around gap blocking schemes with counters and powers. PFF tallied Damien Harris as the back with the most gap-styled runs in the league last year.

But, perhaps this was a shift we should have seen coming. New England’s first-round pick Cole Strange is known for being an elite athlete along the offensive line. The new approach suits linemen who are able to get out and block in space, like Strange. Plus, when Matt Patricia, who is now working with the offensive line, departed to become the Detroit Lions’ head coach, he hired Darrell Bevell as his offensive coordinator. Bevell had a history with these zone schemes with Russell Wilson in Seattle.

Again, it is only May, but it appears the Patriots offense could look quite different schematically next season.

@TuckerRossCon What position do you think Julius Peppers will play for us?

Julius Peppers retired three years ago and will not be playing any football for the Patriots, or any team, this year. As for offseason signing Jabrill Peppers, it’s hard to project positions along the Patriots secondary as they truly could be headed towards a positionless approach.

Peppers is the perfect fit for that approach, however, as he can play in the box, in the slot, and as a deep safety. Based on their current personnel, I would assume most of his time comes as a box safety. Some time at linebacker in passing situations also could be on the table.

@mapmakerns2 What’s going on with Anfernee Jennings and why is he the “Invisible LB “ in Patriot media circles ? Curious in Canada

While players like Cameron McGrone and Raekwon McMillan are (rightfully) getting most of the attention at linebacker this offseason, Anfernee Jennings has become the invisible linebacker. In my opinion, Jennings has become the forgotten figure as he doesn't have the athletic traits like McGrone, and McMillan was extremely impressive in training camp last year before his injury.

Jennings hasn't been able to stay healthy enough to build up such hype. He’ll have lots to prove and compete for once training camp opens.

@BladeUnholy Do you guys see Patriots bring back home trey flowers and or akiem hicks?

Speaking of the younger defenders, I have been banging the table for a Trey Flowers reunion for quite some time now. With Kyle Van Noy’s release, the Patriots are left with just Josh Uche, Ronnie Perkins, and perhaps Anfernee Jennings along the edge. Adding a proven and talented veteran like Trey Flowers would be a significant addition among that group.

@TomeTrosanina What’s the most realistic/practical way the Patriots create more cap space

The Patriots will need cap space at some point, as they currently have just over $510,000 available to them, per our good friend Miguel Benzan (@PatsCap). The easiest move to create cap space likely revolves around Matthew Judon. Converting Judon’s salary into a signing bonus would create $6.64 million in cap space. New England could also extend Jake Bailey or Hunter Henry, opening up $2.4 million or $5 million, respectively.

@Fkbullalrt What’s your season stat projections for Tyquan Thornton?

Unless the Patriots find a taker for Nelson Agholor, my rookie year expectations for Thornton are tempered. With guys like Jakobi Meyers, Kendrick Bourne and DeVante Parker also above him on the depth chart, it’s hard for me to see Thornton getting significant targets, let alone playing time barring injury. I’d prefer him to get as much time as possible, but 2022-23 feels like his timeline to take over the “Z” spot.

Official prediction: 23 catches, 308 yards, one touchdown.

@RJF05914332 Why won’t bill rock a mustache?

Because he looks too good with one. Would be unfair if he grew the cookie duster back out.

@Yette1 Question: What does Bob Kraft do if this 2022 team is not a playoff team, especially if it’s not close

Spends a lot of money again next year. According to Over The Cap, New England is currently set to have the third most cap space next offseason with just under $70 million. They can remodel their roster yet again next year if they have too.

@dannyjonallen Wanna get me some tickets to come over to the states to watch the pats?

Danny, I would love too, but have you seen these ticket prices?

@JLall31 Why does Buffalo choke every year?

It’s in their DNA.

@Murreth_ On a scale from Kanye West to Paris Hilton how dumb are all the Mac Haters going to look after the 2022 season?

I like this scale so much that I don't even know who to put in the middle of those two. But I do know they will look dumb, very dumb.

@SamGuideDogTra1 Will the C’s win the Title? And if so, which Boston team gets to the peak again next after them, the Pats, Sox or Bruins?

Yes. Yes they will. *knocks on wood*

As for who is next, I’ll go with the Red Sox. The Patriots will be in a gauntlet of the AFC for the next few years and don't even get me started with the Bruins (unless Patrice Bergeron returns and they convince David Krejci to come back). The Red Sox, however, have seemed to open or be on the brink of opening an extended championship window, especially if they lock down Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts long term.

Save us, Celtics.

@foxborofenway How loud will the Garden be on Friday?

Extremely loud. I don't even believe it’s a homer pick to comment how much louder playoff games at TD or Fenway are compared to others. Incredible atmosphere.

@luke_miller12 How are you

The Patriots were back this week and the Celtics are a win away from the Finals. We are doing good Luke, hope you are too.

That’s all for this week’s #PostPulpit mailbag. If you have questions you’d liked to be answered next week, submit them on Twitter using #PostPulpit! Make sure to be following @iambrianhinesand @PatsPulpit as well!