FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots have a new offensive line coach. They’ll likely have new starters at four of the five O-line spots. And those players are running a new scheme.
With so many moving parts up front, perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that New England has struggled to both run-block effectively and protect quarterback Mac Jones during training camp.
Jones gave that unit a vote of confidence after Tuesday’s practice. But he admitted the far-too-frequent communication breakdowns — which have given unblocked defenders clear paths to him or Patriots ball-carriers — have been a source of frustration.
“I think we have good offensive linemen, good players up front,” Jones said. “A lot of it’s just figuring out the scheme and making sure that there’s no free guys. That’s the biggest thing for me: As long as there’s no one free, I should be able to make the throws, like any quarterback can. And I know my offensive line can do that. It’s just getting the communication down. It’s different than what we’ve done in the past, so just figuring that out and trying to watch it together and all that.
“It is a little frustrating sometimes, but our offensive line — the actual players and coaches — are trying the best they can. It’s practice, and you can’t really tell until you get into a game. But I have all the trust in the world in those guys. Like I said, the communication needs to improve, and we did a good job of that (Tuesday).”
After the full-blown disaster that was Monday’s practice, Tuesday was a step in the right direction for the Patriots’ offense. The pace of practice was slower, but New England’s linemen did a better job of opening holes in the run game — Rhamondre Stevenson had one nice gain while running behind left tackle Trent Brown — and didn’t allow any obvious would-be sacks in 15 Jones dropbacks.
A personnel change seemed to help in that regard, as Yodny Cajuste fared much better at right tackle than Justin Herron had on Monday. Both were filling in for the injured Isaiah Wynn, who has been held out of competitive drills this week and was absent from Tuesday’s session.
Brown at left tackle, rookie Cole Strange at left guard, David Andrews at center and Mike Onwenu at right guard round out the Patriots’ first-team offensive line. That unit has struggled to adjust to New England’s revamped offensive system, which thus far has placed a much greater emphasis on zone runs (compared to the gap-blocking scheme the Patriots traditionally have preferred) and play-action bootleg/rollout passing.
“You have to understand how many blockers you have and make sure where your issue is, and at the end of the day, you don’t want any free runners,” Jones explained. “So that’s the biggest thing for me, and our guys and our team. The fundamentals are really good. They’re giving me a good pocket, and we just want to clean up those few plays where they’re not. A lot of it’s just me stepping up and getting the ball out quick, too, so it’s a full group effort here.”
The O-line’s issues have raised questions about the man directing it, as offensive line coach Matt Patricia has not coached the position since 2005, when he was an assistant under Dante Scarnecchia. Patricia also has been the Patriots’ primary offensive play-caller in camp, which often takes his focus away from the line. Assistant O-line coach Billy Yates frequently is the one running positional drills and pulling linemen aside for pointers during team periods.
Patricia’s position group and play-calling both will be under the microscope Thursday night as the Patriots open the preseason against the New York Giants at Gillette Stadium.
“I trust those guys, and we’re going to grow together,” Jones said of his linemen. “It’s not going to happen overnight, but we’re going to grow, and that’s the whole point of having those guys up there.”
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