Mac Jones, Patriots express confidence in ‘new offense’ despite growing pains – NFL Nation

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Tom Brady joining Fox's NFL bro...
Tom Brady joining Fox's NFL broadcast is a good thing

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Quick thoughts and notes about the New England Patriots and the NFL:

1. Challenging changes: One of the reasons Bill Belichick has traditionally promoted from within his coaching staff is to value continuity and not have players learn a new system with each change.

Offensively, that resulted in Charlie Weis (2000-04) passing the torch to Josh McDaniels (2005-08), who then passed it to Bill O’Brien (2009-11) before McDaniels took it back (2012-21).

This fostered healthy player development, and it was what many assumed (this reporter included) was at the heart of Belichick’s decision to turn to Matt Patricia and Joe Judge as lead offensive coaches in 2022. They would step into a familiar culture and try to lead the same system, with small changes.

But the biggest surprise since the Patriots reported to training camp on July 26 is that the system isn’t as close to the same as many thought. Quarterback Mac Jones and receiver Kendrick Bourne are among those who have referred to the “new offense,” with Jones adding, “I think we’re going to have to figure it out. It’s going to take time and patience.”

The result has been some shaky practices, one last Monday that prompted center David Andrews to address the entire unit in an extended chat on the field. The next day after a better practice, veteran quarterback Brian Hoyer said nobody wants to “come out here and be embarrassed,” before adding, “When you do some new things, there’s going to be some growing pains.”

Witnessing the challenging transition sparked obvious questions: Why tear down an offense Jones thrived in as a rookie? And what exactly are the changes that players are struggling to adapt to?

The primary motivation for the change, according to those familiar with Belichick’s thinking, was to make it easier for the players. The volume of the old system had grown so much over 20-plus years — with Tom Brady a big part of it, and then specific Cam Newton-based wrinkles in 2020 that added another layer to navigate — that time seemed to be in a position to streamline it and return more to the original roots.

Changing the wording is arguably the most important part of this change. Many things no longer have the same meaning, so offensive players learn a new language and the rules/responsibilities that come with it.

As for the players’ struggles on the field, the line hasn’t always opened holes in the run game (zone running has been a notable problem) or protected Jones, who said, “It’s just getting the communication down. It’s different than what we’ve done in the past.”

Jones, who acknowledged there are things he can do better to help the transition, expressed confidence the Patriots will find the answers. And Hoyer said “there is [still] elements of what we’ve always done here.”

“It’s a time where you find out what works, what doesn’t and try to grow through that process,” Hoyer said.



Mike Clay assesses the value Mac Jones could bring to a team in a two-quarterback league.

2. Mac’s closet: For the first time in three seasons, reporters had access to the Patriots’ locker room after a game. One thing that stood out – Jones now has Brady’s old locker.

3. Zappe’s TD Throw: Rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe (19-of-32 for 205 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) earned the respect of teammates and coaches for his play in the second half of the preseason opener, specifically on his touchdown pass to receiver Lil’Jordan Humprhey. The Giants called every pressure call — a relatively unusual thing to do in a preseason game — and Zappe blitzed the TD even though he hadn’t practiced it. “I thought he was calm all night,” Belichick said.

4. Recycled asset: The top of the Patriots’ 2019 draft looks set to be a wipeout (second pick Joejuan Williams struggled Thursday night and is a long shot to stick), but linebacker Mack Wilson can soften the blow. The speedy Wilson, acquired from the Browns in a trade for 2019 third-round pick Chase Winovich, was all over the field in the preseason opener (5 tackles, 1 QB hit). Wilson’s approach off the field reflects the way he plays. “Don’t get complacent,” he said.

5. What’s in a name: Patriots first round pick Cole Strange’s first name is Devin, but he has always been referred to as Cole, which is his middle name. The Tennessee native had never been to New England before the Patriots drafted him and said he enjoyed settling in, even though most of his time has been dedicated to football. Asked how he’s grown as a player since training camp started, he said, “I think in every possible way.”

6. Cadju’s Camp: Belichick has previously noted how quality offensive tackle depth is critical, and 2019 third-round pick Yodny Cadjus (West Virginia) charges to bolster the team in that area. He has played in just seven NFL games but bumped up to the first unit at some point last week. “This is the best camp he’s had,” Belichick said. “He’s been very competitive.”

7. Week’s reading list: Third-year linebacker Josh Uche is attacking more than his playbook in hopes of reaching the potential that led to the Patriots selecting him in the second round in 2020. He’s also reading “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho. “It’s a philosophy book; there are different quotes throughout the book that I can kind of apply to my life. It gives you a new perspective,” he said. Uche’s speed and pass rush were among the defensive highlights in the preseason opener.

8. Jones eyes LBs: Rookie cornerback Jack Jones, the fourth-round pick out of Arizona State, on why he wants to add weight to his 5-foot-11, 175-pound frame: “There are grown men running around the field.” Jones has yet to push for a starting role, with Jalen Mills, Jonathan Jones, Terrance Mitchell and Malcolm Butler playing ahead of him. But he’s been around the football a lot, as evidenced by his pass breakup in the preseason opener.

9. Stueber’s status: Belichick indicated he doesn’t expect rookie offensive tackle Andrew Stueber to return to the field anytime soon, saying the team cleared its PUP/NFI lists last week as a sign of the Patriots’ overall health. I’m told Stueber, who remains on the non-football injury list, suffered an undisclosed injury while working out after the draft, which could delay his return to the field until next season.

10. Did you know? Running back James White, who announced his retirement Thursday, is second in Patriots history for catches by a running back (381). Only Kevin Faulk (431) has more.

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