FOXBORO, Mass. — After a season filled with chaos, drama and dysfunction, Bill O’Brien’s arrival has brought a sense of normalcy back to the New England Patriots’ offense.
Starting quarterback Mac Jones, who endured a rough sophomore season under the direction of former play-caller Matt Patricia and position coach Joe Judge, raved Wednesday about O’Brien, describing an atmosphere of trust and cohesiveness that Patricia and Judge never successfully created.
“It’s been really good,” Jones said after the Patriots practiced in front of reporters for the first time this offseason. “It’s been normal. Everything he’s done so far has been really good. I think the communication is the most important part, and trust — I think it all starts with that when you’re with a new coach, and he’s done a great job in controlling the room.
“I feel like everyone’s on the same page. We’ve just got to continue to do it. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. We know that, and he’s obviously had great experience in the NFL and at Alabama, where I was at, so there’s a lot of good stuff that we’ve talked about. I’m just looking forward to working with him.”
Patricia never had called offensive plays before last season. Judge hadn’t coached QBs. Head coach Bill Belichick banked on their defensive/special teams acumen translating to the offensive side of the ball, and that miscalculation sank the Patriots’ 2022 campaign and essentially wasted a year of Jones’ development.
O’Brien, meanwhile, has spent more than a decade coordinating offenses and coaching quarterbacks at the NFL and collegiate levels, including a prior stint with the Patriots that ended in 2012. After leaving New England for a head-coaching job at Penn State, the 53-year-old helped develop Deshaun Watson into a Pro Bowl QB in Houston and Bryce Young into a Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 overall draft pick at Alabama.
Now back in Foxboro, O’Brien has been tasked with revitalizing a Patriots offense that regressed from a borderline top-10 unit under Josh McDaniels in 2021 to one of the NFL’s worst with Patricia and Judge at the controls. He’ll be Jones’ third offensive coordinator in as many years, but the similarities between his and McDaniels’ preferred schemes should make for a relatively smooth transition.
“I can’t get into specifics, but I think for me, it’s terminology and things like that that are definitely things I’ve seen before in the past,” said Jones, who also noted he played under four different OCs during his time at Bama. “OB’s been around and he’s taken a lot of good things from each stop. I feel like, for me, it’s just being a sponge. Whatever quarterback he’s coached, I can learn from, whether that’s Bryce or Deshaun, or at Penn State.
“He has such great experience in this league, and in football and in the football world. It’s like a walking dictionary; just pick his brain and see the game how he sees it, how I see it, and then come together and mesh to create a really good offense.”
Declaring the Patriots’ offense officially saved in late May would be foolish, but their operation did look noticeably smoother Wednesday than it did last spring and summer, with none of the blown assignments, miscommunication and visible displays of frustration that defined the Patricia/Judge era. Also, while a QB competition still could develop in the months before Week 1, Jones looked like the unquestioned starter over second-year backup Bailey Zappe and erratic third-stringer Trace McSorley.
“I’m going to run my race, and hopefully everybody will run right behind me,” said Jones, who completed all 13 of his passes in 11-on-11 drills. “We’ll be able to push this thing along and learn from everything. I’m going to do everything I can to earn the respect of everybody in this building again, and from there, go out there and win some games.”