Jonnu Smith should be more prepared for his second New England Patriots season than he was for his first.
In addition to now having a full year of experience in New England’s offense, the underwhelming big-money tight end reportedly is taking a different approach this offseason.
Smith plans to attend and fully participate in voluntary organized team activities in the coming months after choosing to skip those last year, ESPN’s Mike Reiss reported Monday. Smith sat out 2021 OTAs as he awaited the birth of his daughter.
Smith arrived at Gillette Stadium for mandatory minicamp last June, but an injury limited his participation. The 26-year-old also missed time during training camp. He got off to a promising start in the regular season (nine catches on 10 targets over the first two games), then cratered, finishing the season with just 29 catches for 294 yards and one touchdown while grading out as one of the NFL’s worst run-blocking tight ends.
The terms of Smith’s four-year, $50 million contract all but guarantee he’ll be on the Patriots’ roster again this season, so Bill Belichick’s club will need to hope for improvement from the former Tennessee Titans standout. More time on the field and at the facility during the offseason can only help.
Belichick sidestepped a direct question about Smith during his news conference Monday at the NFL Annual Meeting, saying: “It’s a new year for all of us.”
The Patriots were able to get much more production out of their other 2021 tight end signee, Hunter Henry, who saw his per-game reception and yardage numbers decline but caught nine touchdown passes, tied for first in the NFL at his position.
Recent comments by ex-Patriot Jakob Johnson suggest the Patriots are ditching the traditional fullback this season, which should result in an uptick in two-tight end sets. New England ranked near the bottom of the league in 12 personnel usage (one back, two tight ends) in 2021 despite paying both Smith and Henry $12.5 million annually.
Smith also has lined up in the backfield on occasion and could take on some fullback/H-back duties in Johnson’s absence.