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Sunday Patriots Notes: Questions remain about New England’s coaching staff

Notes and thoughts on the Patriots and the rest of the NFL.

Buffalo Bills vs New England Patriots Set Number: X164272 TK1

The NFL season is over for all but four teams. But while all eyes will be on the two championship games in the AFC and NFC, respectively, we will do what we always do: keep our focus on the New England Patriots as well.

With that in mind, let’s clean out this week’s notebook. Welcome to our Sunday Patriots Notes.

Questions remain about New England’s coaching staff: The Patriots made a major move last week, hiring Bill O’Brien as their new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. O’Brien was rumored to rejoin the organization going all the way back to last offseason, but now he is officially back in the role he served back in 2011.

While the 53-year-old returning to the Patriots answered one of the team’s biggest coaching-related questions, there are several others remaining.

Who will coach the offensive line in 2023? The Patriots are seemingly moving last year’s O-line coach, Matt Patricia, away from the role, creating an important vacancy. The question is how they will fill it. Patricia’s assistant Billy Yates is an in-house candidate, but it appears the club is open to bringing in outside help: Oregon assistant Adrian Klemm and Buffalo Bills assistant O-line coach Ryan Wendell will both interview this week. Additionally, New England might turn to somebody like Baltimore Ravens’ Mike Devlin, who coached the Houston Texans’ O-line under O’Brien.

What will happen with Matt Patricia and Nick Caley? Patricia’s future remains up in the air at the moment, but it seems unlikely that he will return in the roles he held in 2022 (offensive line coach and play-caller). With him not joining the rest of the staff at the East-West Shrine Bowl in Las Vegas, there is some valid speculation about his outlook. The same is true for tight ends coach Nick Caley, who also did not make the trip after unsuccessfully interviewing for the offensive coordinator spot that went to O’Brien. After spending the past eight years in New England, his contract will expire later this offseason.

What’s in store for Joe Judge? As opposed to Patricia and Caley, Joe Judge did travel to Las Vegas and appears to still have a role on New England’s staff. What will it look like? That remains to be seen, but he has been replaced by O’Brien as quarterbacks coach. Him returning to an advisory role focusing on special teams would make sense.

Will Ross Douglas take on a bigger role? The Patriots moved Douglas from defense to offense last year, having him coach wide receivers alongside Troy Brown. The Shrine Bowl roster, meanwhile, has him listed as offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach. The 28-year-old appears to be a coach on the rise, and it will be fascinating to see how Bill Belichick and Bill O’Brien will use his expertise this coming season.

What roles will V’Angelo Bentley and Keith Jones fill? Bentley was on the Patriots’ staff last year as part of an NFL coaching fellowship, and he’s being trusted to coach cornerbacks at the Shrine Bowl. A sign of things to come? Likewise, Keith Jones, who spent last summer in New England under the Bill Walsh Minority Coaching Fellowship, appears to have returned; he is working as assistant defensive line coach in Las Vegas this week.

The Patriots quickly eliminated candidates from their offensive coordinator search: The Patriots interviewed five coaches for their offensive coordinator spot last week; besides Bill O’Brien and Nick Caley, they also spoke to the aforementioned Adrian Klemm as well as Keenan McCardell (Minnesota) and Shawn Jefferson (Arizona). According to a report by CBS Sports’ Josina Anderson, some of the candidates “were informed the day after their Patriots OC interviews or soon thereafter that the team was not proceeding forward with them.”

For what it is worth, Klemm did get a second interview. As noted above, he is expected to interview for the open offensive coordinator position this week.

Matt Groh talks about Bill O’Brien’s return: New England director of player personnel Matt Groh met with the media on Saturday to talk about the team’s staff coaching at the East-West Shrine Bowl. While most of the questions centered around this topic, there were two about the hire of Bill O’Brien as well.

“My first year coming in I was able to spend some time with Billy O, so we go back a little bit of ways,” Groh said. “And then with him being in college, and me visiting Alabama, I’ve been able to kind of rekindle a little bit of that. But it’s great to have him back on board.”

Groh would not go into further detail about the addition, though, and instead shared the team’s mindset for the coming days.

“We’re just really trying to go out there and beat the East team right now,” he said. “So, we’ve got long ways to go before that happens. Just trying to give these young men that Eric [Galko] put out there the best chance to succeed, and really hopefully prepare them. This is a great opportunity for them to get to know a little bit of a pro system, a pro coaching staff, a pro way of going about things. Football’s so much for them; there’s always been a balance between school and football. This is kind of an introduction to football all the time.”

Marcus Jones is ‘110 percent’ behind Mac Jones: Earning an All-Pro nod as a punt returner, Marcus Jones was one of the highlights of the Patriots’ disappointing 2022 season — something that unfortunately cannot be said for one of the other Joneses on the roster: quarterback Mac Jones, who seemingly regressed in the first year after long-time offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.

However, with Bill O’Brien now aboard to replace the coaching duo of Matt Patricia and Joe Judge, Jones will be in a more favorable position again. Marcus Jones said the same during a recent appearance on the Jim Rome Show.

“I feel like that will be one of those situations where they’ve been under each other’s tree before, and I just feel like Mac is going to be ready to work. And I feel like Coach O’Brien is going to be ready to work as well. Whenever that comes about, they’ll handle that,” Jones said.

The young return man/defensive back/part-time wide receiver in general expressed his confidence in New England’s QB heading into 2023.

“I’m behind that guy 110 percent,” he said. “I’ve seen his work ethic throughout the whole system and everything. How he takes up on things, watching film, he’s a top-tier guy when it comes to preparation. I’m behind him 24/7.”

Despite issues, the Patriots trusted their offensive tackles in 1-on-1 situations: The offensive tackle position was one of the weak links on the Patriots’ roster in 2022, and will have to be addressed this offseason. However, despite the performance and injury issues the group faced, it still used its OTs like it always has: with them seeing regular time on an island.

Arjun Menon

Heading into 2023, the Patriots have only two offensive tackles under contract: left-side starter Trent Brown and seventh-round pick Andrew Stueber, who spent all of his 2022 rookie season on the non-football injury list. Isaiah Wynn, Conor McDermott, Yodny Cajuste and Marcus Cannon, meanwhile, are all headed for free agency.

The Patriots’ coaches are all-in on winning the East-West Shrine Bowl: As Groh pointed out, one of New England’s goals at the East-West Shrine Bowl this week is earning a victory. And it is something the prospects participating also noticed.

“The competitive nature that they all have, you don’t want to do anything but run through a wall for them,” USC running back Travis Dye told Alex Barth of 98.5 The Sports Hub. “We’re playing the Shrine game, it’s an All-Star game, and they want to win.”

The AFC Championship Game is turning into a ‘Brendan Daly Invitational’: The Kansas City Chiefs will be playing in their fifth straight AFC Championship Game on Sunday, hosting the Cincinnati Bengals at Arrowhead Stadium. But while that streak is impressive, it pales in comparison to that of one of the Chiefs’ assistant coaches.

Linebacker coach Brendan Daly will be working in his ninth straight AFC title game. A former assistant for the Patriots, Daly made back-to-back-to-back-to-back trips to the game during his time in New England. He is now on his fifth such journey in Kansas City.

Daly went 7-2 in his last eight AFC Championship Games, turning four of them into Super Bowl wins.