One full week of training camp is now in the books. The New England Patriots continue their installment of a new offense while positional battles are starting to heat up. Let’s waste no time and get right into a training camp edition of the #PostPulpit mailbag.
@captjimburke How do the receivers look ?
Through a week of practice the receivers have been impressive. DeVante Parker has been as advertised - a big body receiver who has consistently shown up in the red zone. Nelson Agholor has looked much better this season as he confirmed he feels more comfortable in the offense entering year two. Tyquan Thornton has also impressed (more on him next) while Jakobi Meyers and Kendrick Bourne are doing their usual thing.
The deep group has made me think back to the 2009 Patriots. The ‘09 team featured Randy Moss and Wes Welker, but that was about it. While they had Moss over the top and Welker underneath, the offense poised no other real threats. This year is quite the opposite, as the team is extremely deep at receiver, and tight end, in receiving threats to make life easier for Mac Jones.
As Jones said Tuesday, spreading the ball out while be the key to this offense.
@TheSkwal Can we put Tyquan in Canton yet?
While Canton may be a stretch, the rookie receiver has been extremely impressive so far. Thornton’s speed obviously stands out, but the rookie has looked strong in other areas while seeming to catch anything thrown his direction. Thornton has had some strong tests too as the Patriots have lined up Jalen Mills across from him on a number of occasions. One rep that stood out from the padded practices is when the physical Joejuan Williams took him on in a 1-on-1. While Williams disrupted Thornton off the line of scrimmage, the rookie was able to build back up into his route and make an impressive diving catch down the sideline. It’s been a strong first week for the former Baylor Bear.
@Zooform_PRL What’s the rotation at LB (starters and backups at ILB & OLB) looking like so far?
@zttack317 How have the linebackers looked(McGrone, Raekwan, Uche, etc)?
Raekwon McMillan has consistently been the first off-ball linebacker up next to Ja’Whaun Bentley in team drills. The trio of Bentley, Judon, and McMillan could indicate the team plans to use Bentley near the line of scrimmage more in 2022.
As for the younger guys, Anfernee Jennings has stood out both off the edge and up the middle. He is winning 1-on-1s against the offensive line and showing up in competitive team drills - disrupting three straight plays on Saturday. Uche has impressed late as a pass-rusher, perhaps leading to a situational role while Mack Wilson has been one of the best players on the field Tuesday and Wednesday. McGrone continues to spend the majority of his snaps with the scout team.
@BostonEvan11 What’s the new offense like?
@JCCodeHound Why has the offense looked so terrible?
The new offense can best be described as a work in progress - which should come as no surprise. It’d certainly be nice to see some success from the unit but it’s important to not draw conclusions after just a handful of practices and two in full pads. Switching schemes always requires more reps, practice, communication, etc., so it’s no surprise things aren't firing on all cylinders off the bat - perhaps part of their correctional practice on Wednesday.
As for what the offense actually looks like, the Shanahan-style scheme continues to peak through. While New England has always featured zone-runs to match their typical gap-scheme in their rushing attack, the zone-runs have been the focus through camp. Off those, they continue to get their quarterbacks on the move with play-action and bootleg passes.
While the principals come from Shanahan, New England might be using more of Sean McVay’s spinoff. Besides the outside zone-runs and play-action boot passes off those, the Patriots have used a fair share of tight wide receiver splits and jet motion - things McVay has succeeded with in Los Angeles.
@patshighlights How will the defense adjust to not having the elite CB no.1 of past years (Gilmore and JC most recently) both schematically and matchup wise?
Besides not having a “true” No. 1 cornerback, the Patriots’ cornerback group has impressed early on. Jalen Mills looks even better than he did last year while Terrance Mitchell has been a strong fit across from him. Besides them, the unit is deep with Malcolm Butler, Joejuan Williams, and Jack Jones fighting for spots on the outside, while Jonathan Jones, Shaun Wade, Myles Bryant, and Marcus Jones see consistent time in the slot. They may not have a J.C. Jackson or Stephon Gilmore, but they are deep and balanced - much like the wide receiver room.
As for how the group affects their scheme, the Patriots could transition to more zone work - something they did in their seven game win streak last year. Also, if they're willing to sacrifice a body in the run game, they could feature more two-deep safety looks.
@_JakeTHamilton Has Ty Montgomery already solidfied his role as the fill-in for James White if he isn’t ready to go come Week 1? (If his pass-blocking holds up, I think he has it in the bag!)
Ty Montgomery has been all over the field for the Patriots filling both the James White and Brandon Bolden roles it appears. He has lined up at running back, wide receiver, and as a returner, getting consistent touches in every role. He’s a strong bet to make the team and contribute early on, especially if White remains on the PUP list.
@RJF05914332 Where has Keene been lining up? Just TE or h-back too? And any Hightower rumors?
We only got to see Keene for one day in full pads as he has been absent both Tuesday and Wednesday. In his one day he appeared to just be lining up as a traditional tight end.
As for Hightower, the first mention of him came Wednesday. Anfernee Jennings mentioned he heard from the veteran before camp, while noting Hightower is still working out. When asked if he has a chance to come back, Jennings simply said “I don't know.”
@ForbesSummer Is Marcus Jones getting opportunities in the return game? Would be nice to have a dynamic return game again.
Jones has been consistently been in the grouping fielding punts and kicks throughout camp. He’s in the mix to be the day one starter as the punt returner. Others who have practiced with the kick and punt returners include Tre Nixon, Jabrill Peppers, Ty Montgomery, Kyle Dugger, Rhamondre Stevenson, and Myles Bryant.
@brodus_perandy Across each of the last 4 draft classes, who’s poised to have the best season from each one (AKA “young corps” question)?
2019 - Damien Harris. Jake Bailey gets a honorable mention.
2020 - This group features more potential playmakers (Dugger, Uche, Onwenu), but Dugger gets my vote. Uche is no guarantee for a full-time role while Onwenu has been up-and-down to start this camp. Keep a look out for some solid contributions from Anfernee Jennings in this group.
2021 - While Mac Jones is the easy answer, I’ll go Christian Barmore. Once the pads came on, he was the best player on the field both days.
2022 - Cole Strange will be a day one starter, but New England’s rookies could make more noise in the second half of the year. Because of that, I’ll go Marcus Jones as he has a chance to make immediate contributions in the return game.
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!