FOXBORO, Mass. — In a summer filled with increasingly concerning offensive performances at New England Patriots training camp, Monday’s was the worst yet.
After a weekend off and in their first fully padded, full-speed practice since last Wednesday, the Patriots’ Mac Jones-led, coordinator-less offense again looked overmatched and out of sorts, struggling in all areas for two-plus hours.
The afternoon began inauspiciously for Jones and Co. — with left tackle Trent Brown jumping offsides on the opening play of 11-on-11s — and never improved. Here’s how the opening round of full-team drills went for New England’s top offensive unit:
— False start
— Handoff for short gain
— Incomplete pass to Nelson Agholor
— Run stuff
— Short pass complete to Tyquan Thornton
— Pass breakup by Marcus Jones
— Complete short to Nelson Agholor
— Run stuff
— Complete short to Jakobi Meyers
The completions to Thornton and Agholor were hospital balls that would have gotten the wide receivers decked in a real-game setting. Linebacker Mack Wilson did knock Agholor to the turf after his catch, and Ja’Whaun Bentley blew up Damien Harris in the hole on an early carry.
The Patriots kept Jones on the field for the first 20 reps of full-team 11-on-11s, a departure from his usual practice routine. A quarter of those resulted in either a sack (four) or a play-killing scramble (one), and two of New England’s three carries during that stretch were stuffed at or behind the line.
After sitting for a spell while backups Brian Hoyer and Bailey Zappe took their turns, Jones checked back in and immediately fired an interception to cornerback Jalen Mills, with Kendrick Bourne showing questionable effort at the top of his route. Three plays later, he tried to hit Thornton on a slant but had that pass nearly picked off by Jonathan Jones.
There also were miscommunications with tight end Hunter Henry and wide receiver DeVante Parker on downfield incompletions, the second of which prompted Jones to walk away from the offense and stand alone, seemingly stewing over his unit’s persistent struggles.
Jones completed 10 passes on 18 attempts across three standard 11-on-11 periods — not counting one stretch against the scout-team defense and a late two-minute drill that did not appear to be fully competitive — and none traveled more than a few yards beyond the line of scrimmage. He also spiked the ball into the turf twice when routes in that two-minute drill failed to materialize.
The Patriots did have some success moving the ball during 7-on-7s, capping that period with a highlight-reel touchdown pass to Parker over Jonathan Jones. But each 11-on-11 period was dominated by New England’s defense, continuing what’s become the prevailing trend of training camp.
The new offense implemented in the wake of Josh McDaniels’ departure — a system said to be “streamlined” and simpler for players to learn — simply has not worked. The Patriots shouldn’t be expected to be in midseason form on Aug. 8, but they’re now three weeks into camp and just three days away from their preseason opener. For them to look this disjointed at this stage, while not yet cause for full-blown panic, is undeniably concerning.
A lack of receiver separation and some apparent uncertainty from Jones have contributed to these problems. But the most significant issues thus far have centered around the offensive line, which has been unsuccessful at clearing holes in the running game and unable to consistently protect the second-year quarterback.
If you include the Brown-Isaiah Wynn tackle swap, the Patriots are rolling out new starters at four O-line spots, and Matt Patricia is coaching the position for the first time since 2005, in addition to taking the lead of offensive play-calling duties. (It is worth noting Wynn did not take part in team drills Monday, with Justin Herron filling his spot at right tackle, but he hasn’t enjoyed an especially strong camp.)
After practice, starting center and co-captain David Andrews delivered an impassioned address to his offensive teammates that lasted several minutes, his frustration clearly visible.
Maybe this new unit just needs more time to jell and adjust to the Patriots’ new offensive system, which so far has placed an increased emphasis on zone-blocking run plays and QB bootlegs and rollouts. That’s the message legendary former O-line coach Dante Scarnecchia preached Monday in an interview with the Boston Herald’s Karen Guregian. Scarnecchia believes it’s too early to draw any definitive conclusions about New England’s offense and his old position group.
“I would say this, in fairness to everyone, I just think this is the wrong time to evaluate it,” Scarnecchia told Guregian. “The pads have come on, but they’re not playing real football yet. Whenever they play the Giants, we’ll have a better idea where this thing is. Even at that point, it’s not totally fair to say they can’t (do it).”
The Patriots host the New York Giants this Thursday night in Week 1 of the NFL preseason. Their regular-season opener still is more than a month away. As Meyers noted last week, “change and perfection are kind of a hard mix” — a call for patience and unselfishness as the Patriots’ returning offensive players adjust to this new normal.
Perfection isn’t necessary in August. But if these struggles persist against New York and in next week’s joint practices with the Carolina Panthers, it might be time to make changes.
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