FOXBORO, Mass. — The theme of Bill O’Brien’s first Patriots news conference in over a decade could be summed up in two words:
New England’s new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach made it abundantly clear Tuesday that he’s not concerned with what transpired during the team’s ugly 2022 campaign. That applies to third-year QB Mac Jones and every other member of the Patriots’ offense.
“I think the big thing for us right now is everybody’s starting with a clean slate,” O’Brien said when asked what Jones’ ceiling is this season. “I think that every year’s different. I think this year is no different than any other year relative to each year in the NFL is different. So what you did in the past — whether it’s a player or a coach or anybody in the organization — really has no bearing on what happens moving forward.
“We just started (Monday), and we’re looking forward to having a good Phase 1 (of the offseason program) and then a good Phase 2 and then a good Phase 3. That’s what it’s all about.”
O’Brien, who previously worked as a Patriots assistant from 2007-11, returned to his native Massachusetts this offseason to retake the reins of New England’s offense. He replaced Matt Patricia and Joe Judge, whose lack of offensive coaching experience yielded disastrous results last season.
The Patriots are hoping the arrivals of O’Brien and new O-line coach Adrian Klemm can help spur an offensive turnaround after that unit ranked near the bottom of the NFL in most categories in 2022. O’Brien and his position coaches have spent the last 2 1/2 months dissecting film in the bowels of Gillette Stadium and just began working with players when the Patriots’ offseason program kicked off Monday.
“This is something that I’m really excited about,” said O’Brien, who spent the last two seasons as Alabama’s offensive coordinator. “Working with this staff, working with these players. Every year’s new. Every year’s new. That’s the way the NFL’s set up. … Every year’s a new year, and that’s what this is. We’re all starting with a clean slate, fresh start, and it’s really not anything about what’s gone on in the past. It’s more about moving forward. That’s our theme. That’s one of our themes of our offense is to move forward. That’s what we’re doing.”
That “clean slate” approach could also benefit a player like wide receiver Kendrick Bourne, who was excellent in Josh McDaniels’ 2021 Patriots offense but fell out of favor with Patricia and company last season.
O’Brien offered a similar response when asked about Jones’ on-field displays of emotion, which intensified late in the season when the young signal-caller grew increasingly frustrated with Patricia and Judge.
“I think it goes back to — and I’m telling you when I say this — (on Monday) we started, and it really is a clean slate,” O’Brien said. “However you played or however you coached or whatever you did in the past, in the end, it’s all about what we’re going to do starting (now).
“For 2 1/2 months when I got hired, we were in this office next door meeting as an offensive staff, getting to know each other and things like that. Now, we get a chance to meet with the players. It’s all brand new. Every year’s new. Football is a game of emotion at times. That’s just what football is. But at the end of the day, this is a new year, this is a new start, and we’re excited about it.”
Jones recently said he’s excited to play for O’Brien, with whom he briefly overlapped at Alabama. O’Brien landed in Tuscaloosa while Jones was preparing for the 2021 NFL Draft, but the coach downplayed any relationship they were able to build during that stretch.
“When I first got hired, he was there getting ready for the draft,” O’Brien said. “I basically met him, he talked to me about the generalities of the offense and that was about it. I think this time period here, starting (Monday), this is the time where you really get to know all the players. So, relative to when I was (at Alabama) two years ago, he was there getting ready for the draft, I met him, and that was about it.”
The two now will get a chance to work closely together as the Patriots prepare for the 2023 season. O’Brien’s plan for New England’s offense will be a major storyline once on-field practices begin next month, as will the potential competition between Jones and backup Bailey Zappe, who played well in his four appearances last season.
Given O’Brien’s successful track record of calling plays and developing quarterbacks, it’s safe to assume New England will look more cohesive and less frazzled offensively than it did when Patricia and Judge were running the show. But O’Brien wouldn’t share specifics about any schematic changes he plans to implement.
“I think it would be crazy for me to stand up here and tell you what we’re doing offensively,” O’Brien said.