FOXBORO, Mass. — In all likelihood, we won’t witness the full scope of the Patriots’ post-Josh McDaniels offense until the regular season kicks off Sept. 11.
With changes occurring following McDaniels’ leap to Las Vegas, it’s in New England’s best interest to maintain an element of mystery in the months before meaningful football begins.
But Wednesday’s practice, the first of Patriots training camp, did offer a few hints about that much-discussed new system, both in terms of who will be leading it and how it will look on the field.
Let’s start with the play-caller question.
The No. 1 storyline of this Patriots offseason has been the uncertainty surrounding who will take over those essential duties from McDaniels, who coordinated New England’s offense for the last decade before leaving to become head coach of the Raiders. And while head coach Bill Belichick has yet to provide any public confirmation, early signs point to Matt Patricia.
Patricia, the former Patriots defensive coordinator and Detroit Lions head coach who is entering his first season as New England’s offensive line coach, clearly was the one relaying plays to starting quarterback Mac Jones on Wednesday, using a yellow walkie-talkie to do so before each snap in competitive team periods.
That tracks with pre-camp reports from NBC Sports Boston’s Tom E. Curran and The Athletic’s Jeff Howe. Both indicated Patricia likely would call plays this season despite having no offensive play-calling experience.
Could the Patriots switch up that setup in the month-plus before their season opener at Miami? Sure. But at this stage, Patricia looks like the clear favorite to fill that important role.
That doesn’t mean he’ll be leading New England’s offense on his own, though. The Patriots are operating without an official offensive (or defensive) coordinator this season, and Jones said it’s been a collaborative effort between Patricia, Belichick and first-year quarterbacks coach Joe Judge.
“I think obviously Coach Belichick has done a great job kind of explaining exactly what we want to do as an offense,” Jones said after practice. “And Matty P’s seen so many different defenses, along with Coach Belichick, so they combine their knowledge of how to attack the defense, and that’s something that’s really stood out to me. They’re great guys — and Coach Judge — and they all bring this different energy to the room when they’re presenting.
“They all are trying to get us to work together, and that’s the most important part, that we’re all on the same page regardless of who’s talking, who’s making the decision on the play and whatnot. It’s always an open conversation, which I love.”
Jones himself also will have a greater say in offensive decisions than he did as a rookie, with Belichick saying this week the second-year QB will “certainly … have input” on how that unit operates.
“At the end of the day, the players play and the coaches coach, and you want to listen to the good coaching you can get from three coaches who all have been head coaches,” Jones said. “They’ve seen a ton — a ton — of football, and that’s what I’m just trying to take in. …
“But I feel like they’re listening to the players. ‘Hey, we kind of like this concept.’ ‘All right, let’s try it.’ And then if they want to put in something else, they explain the ‘why,’ and that’s the important part for me: understanding why we’re doing something. And then from there, as a player, my job is to go execute the plays.”
What will those plays look like? Again, Belichick and his staff won’t want to reveal too much in training camp or the preseason. But this new offense — which Belichick has called “streamlined” — seems to be placing a greater emphasis on pace and speed, both before and after the snap.
Speaking after Wednesday’s practice, multiple offensive players said the tweaks to terminology and scheme made following McDaniels’ departure will allow them to “play faster.”
“It’s definitely simplified,” offensive tackle Trent Brown said. “I feel like it’ll make it able for the playmakers to play faster, and it’ll allow us up front to play faster, as well.”
Added wide receiver Kendrick Bourne: “A lot of things have changed. … A lot of adjustments we’ve made to come off the ball faster, and I think it’s working. Just to get a head start off the ball is huge, not taking so long. … I’m just enjoying it. It just feels faster. Just more speed and more urgency, that’s what I would say. It’s a better feeling keeping the defense on their toes and not letting them be ready.”
Jones agreed with those assessments, saying the Patriots are “doing a lot of good things schematically to get up there and snap the ball a lot quicker.”
“We have really good skill players that will line up and make those plays, and obviously a great offensive line. It all goes down to distributing the ball,” he said. “Whether that’s handing off to the running back, throwing a swing to the right, throwing a deep ball — it doesn’t really matter what I’m doing. If we can do it quickly and put stress on the defense, it makes everything harder.”
A shift toward a quicker-paced offense was reflected in some of New England’s offseason personnel moves, as well. After prioritizing two-back, ground-and-pound football in recent years, the Patriots ditched the fullback position this offseason, meaning they’ll now utilize more two-tight end and three/four-receiver sets that put additional playmakers on the field.
Patriots radio color man Scott Zolak also said he’s heard the team is adding Shanahan-style zone-blocking concepts to its running game. New England returns its formidable backfield duo of Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson and added rookies Pierre Strong and Kevin Harris in the draft.
“It’s not dumbing it down,” Zolak said on 98.5 The Sports Hub. “It’s changing what you do with what you have.”
Jones, whom Belichick said has shown “dramatic improvement” since January, was quick to stress that this new system still is taking shape. But he’s encouraged by what it can be.
“We’ve got a long way to go there,” Jones said. “We’ve got to do it for eight months, so we’ve got to continue that. But I think the idea and what we’re trying to get to is there.”
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