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- Sep 14, 2008
@Zuma posted this in one of the training camp threads, but it's a great summary of training camp and the progression of the offense. Even if you've been paying attention to the camp news, it's great to see it in one place.
I like Lazar and this is a really, really good read. I'm going to try (and fail) to not quote the entire thing and only post the highlights:
New offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien has come as advertised, adding a little more each day to a scheme that's really encouraging. Based on the first week-plus of the summer, O'Brien is aiming to return New England's offense to an efficient short and intermediate passing game that'll hopefully produce explosive plays with yards after the catch and supplement that with marrying the run game to under-center play-action — it's an updated version of the 2011 Patriots offense.
Even under McDaniels, the Pats weren't utilizing motion at the snap (example: jet motion) or run-pass options (RPOs) as much as other modern offenses around the NFL, and O'Brien is adding more of that into the scheme. Along with other BOB staples such as empty formations, receiver stacks and bunch alignments, and option routes, New England's offensive install has been extremely impressive, with plenty of motion/window dressing and pre-snap control for quarterbacks. It's been apparent in recent days how the system puts stress on the defense.
As exciting as the scheme is for this football nerd to dissect, player execution during full-team drills has come in the form of baby steps as the players learn a new system. Admittedly, it's difficult to avoid riding the roller coaster during training camp, where the actual results can seesaw day-to-day, especially when installing a new offense.
In the first week of camp, the Patriots red zone offense was suffocated by a projected top-ten defense. There were some ugly periods, but we've seen steady progress as the Pats began moving the action outside the red zone and eventually back inside the 20
With the group turning the page from play installation to perfecting execution, the results are starting to come, even in the red zone, where they've shown significant progress. At this point, you're beginning to recognize O'Brien's staple concepts, and the group is challenging a really good defense on the practice field. It's a healthy back-and-forth, which wasn't the case last summer when the offense struggled to find its way, let alone play chess against a Belichick defense.
The offense, and the quarterback agrees, has enough skill talent to move the ball when they're being put in a position to succeed by an experienced offensive coordinator. From this perspective, the Pats undoing won't be the quarterback or his pass-catchers but rather an offensive line searching for continuity and reliability.
Mac either needs to hold/account for the boundary defender jumping the route or find an uptick in velocity to drive the ball into the closing window. This issue has accounted for most of Jones's turnover-worthy throws in practice.
Let's make one thing clear: there isn't a quarterback competition in terms of the Week 1 starter in Foxboro. Mac is the starting quarterback, taking all the competitive first-team reps, and he's been far more consistent than backup Bailey Zappe.
However, Jones is clearly better than Zappe in the short and intermediate areas, while the second-year QB has taken too many sacks by holding the ball. Ultimately, it's Mac's job unless he loses it in the regular season.
Ty Montgomery has missed seven-straight sessions with an apparent leg injury he suffered in practice. Montgomery is valuable as an RB/WR hybrid who can create intriguing personnel mismatches, but his durability is a real issue. It's too bad. He flashes when he's out there.
JuJu Smith-Schuster and DeVante Parker are as advertised. Neither wows you with speed. But they're sturdy receivers with great hands, body control, and the experience shows. Smith-Schuster feels like a guy who will be even more productive in games when he gets into YAC mode, while Parker continues to win his fair share of jump balls. These are your top two WRs. Assuming they're healthy, they'll play a lot.
It's fair to start worrying about second-year WR Tyquan Thornton's development. He started to flash in team drills on second-team reps but was going against Shaun Wade and rookie Isaiah Bolden. Other than that, he's either been unavailable or struggling to stand out.
Boutte doesn't have much separation quickness on horizontal cuts, though, and he is blocked by Bourne, JuJu, and Parker at the X/Z spots. I could see him making this team, but Boutte would be more of a stash for 2024 and injury depth, whereas Douglas has a clearer path to playing time because his skillset is different than the others.
Tre Nixon remains a roster long-shot due to the locks at the position.
Hunter Henry looks terrific entering his third season with the team and has been the most reliable pass-catcher for Mac in team drills. Henry creates separation with his craftiness and ability to use his frame to shield the catch point, while his chemistry with Jones is outstanding. The ball leaves Jones's hands earlier throwing to Henry than any other receiver by a mile. The anticipation with these two is off the charts.
Gesicki could lose snaps as an early-down receiver because TE Matt Sokol is climbing the depth chart. Listed at 258 pounds, Sokol is the roster's best in-line blocking tight end.
Anthony Firkser has also sometimes mixed in as a second blocking tight end. Firsker has more versatility than Sokol to make blocks on the move from wing positions and play a more flex role. He's also working with the core group on the side field during special teams periods. It's a good battle between Firsker and Sokol for the third tight end spot.
David Andrews has been the only fully healthy starter throughout the summer, and it doesn't look like he's relinquishing the starting center job to the young guys yet. Andrews has been rock-solid in the middle of the line, even playing next to a revolving door at guard.
The battle for the starting right tackle job between veterans Riley Reiff and Conor McDermott could make or break the season for this offense.
I'd give the edge to McDermott over Reiff, but I'm not overly enthused by either option at the moment.
Mafi is a cinder block who uses his stout frame and impressive bend to get underneath defenders in the running game. He also has some pop in his hands to throw stiff punches in pass protection. Mafi isn't a great lateral mover, and I wouldn't recommend highlighting him in space, but he plays the Pats brand of right guard. It wouldn't shock me to see Onwenu at right tackle with Mafi sticking at right guard. That might be their best five.
If Sow can master the fundamentals at tackle, the foot speed appears to be there, but it's a longer-term project. I'm not expecting Sow to be an option as a starting tackle this season.
Kody Russey has gotten more looks at guard lately as the Pats try to put their best healthy five in front of Mac Jones. Russey is undersized for the interior but moves well and has a sturdier base than expected at 295 pounds. The next/new James Ferentz?
I would love to see Calvin Anderson out there before camp is over, but Belichick didn't sound too optimistic about that.
Rookie Keion White's ability to convert speed-to-power using his first step and length is apparent. The rookie can dent the pocket, and his outside-inside move on Conor McDermott during one-on-ones was filthy.
Marte Mapu is a linebacker.
Rookie CB Christian Gonzalez looks terrific in press-man. He has lost a few times to DeVante Parker at the catch point, but he has mostly suffocated Parker and JuJu. He still needs to work on his anticipation and recognition in off-coverage and zone, especially when the offense purposely floods his zone, making him midpoint routes and break on the ball. I'd also like him to trust his long speed more to sit on underneath throws in off-man. None of these Pats receivers are running by him on the outside.
My concern level at free safety, where the Pats are replacing Devin McCourty, is growing. The communication has been fine, and the versatility to spin the dial is intriguing. But there isn't a true center fielder in the group.