The New England Patriots returned to their winning ways in the 2021 NFL Season. The team finished with a record of 10-7, while earning a wild card berth after a one-year postseason absence. Despite a disappointing ending to their playoff run, the Patriots have plenty of reason for optimism heading into 2022.
Mac Jones, New England Patriots
Joe Judge, Bill Belichick, New England Patriots
Matt Patricia, Bill Belichick, New England Patriots
As the Patriots ramp up toward the upcoming season, they hope to build on their progress from 2021. One of the first steps in that process is the start of organized training activities (OTAs), which are set to begin Monday at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts.
Though many players are expected to garner some attention during the week’s events, here are three of the most-expected prominent storylines on offense.
1. Who’s the Boss?
Perhaps the biggest question surrounding the Patriots fate in 2022 is the identity of the offensive play caller. With the departure of former offensive coordinator [and new Las Vegas Raiders head coach] Josh McDaniels, the play-calling duties are expected to be placed in the hands of either Joe Judge or Matt Patricia.
At present, Judge is expected to work extensively with the quarterbacks while Patricia will be an integral presence with the offensive line. The suggestion of both Judge and Patricia having a hand in formulating New England’s offense in 2022 may raise eyebrows (and perhaps the blood pressure) of Patriots fans. After all, neither Patricia nor Judge is known as a formidable offensive coach. With Patricia being best known for his contributions on defense, and Judge having his best days as a special teams coordinator, the Pats brain-trust looks to be placing its faith in two relatively inexperienced commodities.
While meaningful drills will not be run until mandatory minicamp in June, the roles of both Judge and Patricia will be under close observation in the coming days.
2. Sophomore Slump?
Quarterback Mac Jones evidently realizes that there is much work to be done for the upcoming season. In hopes of avoiding the dreaded ‘one-hit-wonder’ moniker, Jones has adapted a stricter offseason workout regimen, incorporating a healthier diet in the process. As a result, he has looked leaner and has impressed his teammates with his work ethic and leadership skills.
He led all rookies with a 67.6 completion percentage and a 92.5 passer rating, while compiling 3,801 yards and 22 touchdowns. He completed at least 70 percent of his attempts in nine of New England’s games and twice threw for 300-plus yards.
However, Jones clearly had his struggles down the stretch. He was less accurate, made more rookie mistakes and had difficulty when defenses were able to adjust to take away his preferred routes and targets. As Jones regressed down the stretch, so did the Patriots. New England lost four of its final five games following the team’s Week 14 bye, as well as their Wild Card playoff game against the Buffalo Bills.
Though he is motivated to improve on his late-season showing, his task may be a bit tougher when factoring in the loss of McDaniels. Jones and McDaniels developed a strong connection in 2021, with each gaining a solid understanding of the other’s capabilities within the Patriots offense. As indicated during his meeting with the media last week, Judge is expected to work closely with Jones and the quarterbacks [including rookie Bailey Zappe and veteran Brian Hoyer] during New England’s offseason workout program. Jones’ progress from last season, as well as his relationship with Judge, will be among the most monitored storylines heading into training camp.
Cole Strange, New England Patriots
Tyquan Thornton, New England Patriots
Pierre Strong, New England Patriots
3. Head of the Class
New England clearly delivered the surprise of the 2022 NFL Draft by selecting Chattanooga offensive lineman Cole Strange with the 29th selection. With the Patriots feeling the void at left guard after the departure of Ted Karras this offseason, Strange should be a welcomed addition. Though he has experience at guard, he has the versatility to fill in at center, as well as tackle.
Strange is a tenacious run-blocker with the quickness to generate sudden impact on power runs. He has also displayed an ability to seal defenders on zone runs. He has outstanding upper-body strength, as well as the large hands necessary to grasp defenders in pass protection. In addition to his size, he has fluid movement to mirror his opponent, as well as to recover when he struggles with a defender.
While more than a few eyes will be fixed on fellow draftees Tyquan Thornton [at wide receiver] and Pierre Strong [running back], Strange’s draft position will demand that he be the head of the Patriots 2022 draft class.