Despite coming off a 10-win season and playoff berth, the New England Patriots opened up their training camp with a lot more questions than answers.
Will Mac Jones make the famous second-year jump? How would they replace Pro Bowl cornerback J.C. Jackson? How will the new group of linebackers look? And, most prominently, who will call the plays on the offensive side of the ball?
On offense, a lot of the talk this spring and summer was about how the Patriots would replace longtime offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. With Mac Jones entering his ever-so-important second year in the league and trying to build off a strong rookie season, surrounding him with the right pieces both on and off the field was imperative.
The Patriots certainly bolstered the receiving group, which had already improved in 2021; they went out and selected Tyquan Thornton (who will unfortunately start the season on injured reserve after suffering a fractured clavicle in the preseason) in the second round of the draft to add a whole new speed element to the offense. They also acquired DeVante Parker via trade from the Miami Dolphins to solidify the X-receiver position — a spot they desperately and unsuccessfully tried to properly fill for years.
The top question entering training camp, however, was the uncertainty about who would call the plays in lieu of an official coordinator. Throughout the summer, offensive line coach Matt Patricia and quarterbacks coach Joe Judge were actively involved in the process with both sending in plays. Still it looks more and more likely that the Patriots will take a similar approach to leading the offense as they do on defense when it comes to not having coordinators run the show.
As for that defense, the Patriots will look to continue to build the success they recently had up front while being led by promising players such as edge linebacker Matthew Judon and interior linemen Christian Barmore and Davon Godchaux. The defensive line has proven to be a real strength and the anchor of the team during training camp, with both the Patriots’ own No. 1 offense and their joint practice partners — the Carolina Panthers and Las Vegas Raiders — having some issues going against the unit.
The secondary, meanwhile, is led by a veteran-heavy safety room of Devin McCourty, Adrian Phillips, Kyle Dugger and offseason signing Jabrill Peppers. Those four will need to take on a lot of the assignments in the back end of the defense while the Patriots continue to figure out what pieces they will use to replace the aforementioned J.C. Jackson.
In training camp, Jalen Mills has put a stamp on the team’s No. 1 cornerback spot with Jonathan Jones, primarily playing as a slot corner in his career, bumping outside to line up across from him. Third-round rookie Marcus Jones has looked like the Patriots’ best pick of the 2022 draft at times and might just become the Day 1 starter in the slot when all is said and done. Rotational corners like fellow rookie Jack Jones, Shaun Wade, Terrence Mitchell (who landed on the Patriots’ practice squad) and potentially Myles Bryant will round out the crew of cornerbacks.
With the regular season on the horizon, the Patriots offense continues to be the bigger question mark. It did start to turn the corner a bit and to find some success as the days of training camp started to rack up, but it remains to be seen whether it can translate its sporadic practice success into consistent game day performance.
The defense, on the other hand, has dominated pretty much since the start of camp while being led by a ferocious front seven and a new, improved, and younger linebacking cops.
With just a few days away until the opening game in Miami, there are a lot of things we do not yet know about the 2022 Patriots. However, it would not be a surprise if they are in the playoff mix again in the AFC and — behind an improved quarterback — potentially gaining some ground on the mighty Buffalo Bills in their division.