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#PostPulpit Mailbag: Will the Patriots’ offensive struggles continue?

Related: Mac Jones remains confident in the Patriots offense: ‘We’re going to figure it out’

New England Patriots Training Camp Photo by Craig F. Walker/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

With 11 training camp practices in the rear-view mirror and the preseason opener ahead of us, there is much to discuss regarding the New England Patriots. Let’s get right into this week’s #PostPulpit mailbag.

@OkaforBBGM Do you think our offense will struggle as much during the regular season as they are rn in camp?

@nfljunky1013 how bad is the offense going to be? #PostPulpit

The Patriots’ offensive struggles to begin training camp have been well-documented. As they continue to hammer home versions of Kyle Shanahan’s offense to begin camp, it hasn't been pretty. The zone-run scheme has produced nothing on the ground, defenders are living in the backfield, and the amount of “no-chance” plays — which Mac Jones or other quarterbacks simply eat the ball or throw it away — are alarming.

The biggest concern has been the offensive line, which growing pains were to be expected undergoing a scheme change with new terminology. New England’s wide receiver have been winning during one-on-one drills and Mac Jones had no issue picking apart the opposition in 7-on-7s, but it was a chore for the offense to do anything positive in 11-on-11s once the trenches got involved.

However, the unit took an important step forward on Tuesday finally making some progress. They created holes in the run game and protected Jones long enough to make some plays in the passing attack. The offense also mixed in some old elements of New England’s offense of late (something we expected to happen), with gap-style runs and spreading the receivers out.

Bill Belichick’s press conference before Tuesday’s practice was notable to me. Belichick highlighted that it’s important to remember that they’re 22 components to each play, and oftentimes it’s just one or two small things going wrong that can completely ruin a play. That was noticeable on Monday in one instance: with starting right tackle Isaiah Wynn out, Matthew Judon cleanly beat backup Justin Herron off the line of scrimmage and met Mac Jones almost immediately in the backfield, completely killing the play.

Long story short, it’s not the end of the world and the offense remains a work in progress. Cleaning up little things and continuing to build the communication will go a long way to producing better results.

@Trill_Parcells If it’s Parker, Bourne, Agholor, Meyers, Thornton who’s the 6th (non-Slater) WR? Nixon? Humphrey? Wilkerson?

The Patriots will have some difficult decisions to make within their wide receiver room this summer. Kendrick Bourne, DeVante Parker, and Tyquan Thornton are a lock, likely Jakobi Meyers as well. The only real question mark seems to be Nelson Agholor, who’s $14.8 million dollar cap hit is the highest in that receiver room. With the strong start to the summer from Thornton, Agholor could become expandable, especially for a team like New England that could use the salary cap relief.

The Tre Nixon dilemma is also an interesting one. Nixon, who entered his rookie year last season as a vertical burner, has feasted underneath out of the slot throughout training camp. He feels like a true Patriot slot receiver at times, and will be fascinating to watch after the catch with his plus-speed during the preseason.

It feels unlikely the team would ditch the soon-to-be free agent Jakobi Meyers for Nixon (perhaps we’ll revisit that topic next offseason), but it’s becoming more and more unlikely Nixon would not make it to the practice squad. He’s likely the fifth receiver if Agholor gets moved, or just makes the roster if the team keeps six receivers.

@TriviaBruce Is the increased team speed obvious at camp?

Yes, specifically throughout the second-level of the defense. That shouldn't be much of a surprise, as New England made it a goal this offseason and executed that plan by creating playing time for Raekwon McMillan and adding Mack Wilson Sr. The linebacking core is rallying to the football faster than year’s past and can range from sideline-to-sideline easier.

An interesting result of this added speed along the second unit is the usage of Ja’Whaun Bentley. While Bentley still has his main role as an off-ball linebacker, he’s appeared down near the line of scrimmage more this summer. Perhaps the team is trying to keep him out of coverage assignments.

@SugaRicky How are our LBs looking, specifically Cam McGrone and Mack Wilson?

We mentioned Wilson above, but his athleticism has stood out in both pass coverage and as a blitzer from time-to-time. He’s primarily been first up behind McMillan. As for McGrone, it’s been a quiet summer despite the offseason hype. The former Michigan Wolverine has been a fixture on the scout team defense. Perhaps his skillset will shine more in game situations in the preseason, but he could end up on the outside looking in.

@ToddDerbyshire Do you think we make a trade for Offensive line help or linebacker help??

It would be hard for me to envision significant movement at either position. As discussed, the linebacker unit has been impressive. While the offensive line has been a work in progress, the starting unit should be talented enough to get past their early struggles. Perhaps some team is willing to hand over some draft capital for Isaiah Wynn, but New England would need to feel really confident about Justin Herron, Yodny Cajuste, or a potential backup option to make that deal.

@OFFICIAL_TRUCK With Joshuah Bledsoe making a push for a roster spot, who is the surprise DB that gets cut or traded?

Joshuah Bledsoe has been an early standout of camp, showcasing his positional versatility at safety. If Bledsoe continues to trend towards making the 53-man roster, the cut doesn't necessarily need to come from the defensive back room. I’d expect New England to keep as many safeties and cornerbacks on the roster as possible as they will mix and match players and defensive looks on a weekly basis.

@Lordoftime44 Marcus Jones slot 1 Jonathan Jones outside

One of those defensive looks that has come to fruition that past week has been Jonathan Jones manning the boundary with rookie Marcus Jones in the slot. It’s an interesting twist, as Jonathan has primarily been a slot cornerback during his New England tenure. Having both Jones’ on the field would significantly increase the secondary’s speed, creating interesting matchups against teams like Miami with Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle.

That particular alignment may not be the best when facing off against teams with bigger-bodied receivers, something New England will face a lot this season (Chase Claypool, DeVante Adams, Allen Lazard, DeAndre Hopkins, Ja’Marr Chase, etc.). In his reps on the outside, DeVante Parker has gotten the best of Jonathan Jones on two 50-50 balls this past week.

@TuckerRossCon How has Malcom Butler looked? Who will be our #1 corner for the season?

Malcolm Butler has looked just as competitive as his former self. His play has been a bit of a rollercoaster, showing up somedays and getting beat consistently by scout team receivers other days. Before Jonathan Jones got work on the boundary, Butler was never able to supplant Terrance Mitchell opposite of Jalen Mills (who will be the team’s No. 1 corner, to answer your second question). After spending all of last year in retirement, it will be intriguing to see how Butler looks in a game situation.

@tinbangerz Rookie jersey numbers coming out today or tomorrow?

As the team did not announce them Wednesday, they'll have to come at some point Thursday. As for some predictions:

  • Cole Strange from 50 to 69 (college number and just duh)
  • Tyquan Thornton from 51 to 19 (switches to his High School No. 4 if Malcolm Butler is eventually released or changes numbers)
  • Marcus Jones from 52 to 13 (wore 13 and 8 in college)
  • Jack Jones from 53 to 25 (wore 0, which should be legal to wear, and 25 in college)
  • Bailey Zappe literally no idea. I’ll predict a double up with someone in the time being.
  • Pierre Strong from 54 to 34 (Shane Vereen SZN)
  • Kevin Harris from 58 to 35 (Jonas Gray feels)
  • Chasen Hines from 63 to 57 (As a fellow Hines I will buy this jersey immediately)

More random guesses: LaBryan Ray to 79, Nate Wieland to 59, DaMarcus Mitchell to 97.

@OFFICIAL_TRUCK Is Arlington Hambright the best name on the roster?

This may be the easiest question in the history of the #PostPulpit mailbag. Yes. All-around elite name.

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 @iambrianhines and @PatsPulpit as well!