Five Questions As the Patriots Continue OTAs
Some questions as the New England Patriots hold their second session open to the media on Tuesday:
Will the Jones Selections Play a Factor in the Patriots Secondary?
1) Knowing how thin New England is at defensive back having lost J.C. Jackson to free agency, along with the fact this group didn’t have much depth talent-wise heading into this offseason, there are still some questions that need to be answered.
Aside from the safety spots, there isn’t quite as much certainty with the cornerback group as there had been in previous offseasons, which presents a challenge for the club in 2022. Draft picks Marcus Jones and Jack Jones are the two most notable names who will be under the microscope as the Patriots try and fix that.
Both guys are a little undersized but incredibly athletic, with both potentially offering up help in the return game. However, one or both needs to join Jonathan Jones in providing stability to a secondary that definitely needs all the help it can get.
Jalen Mills, Terrance Mitchell, Shaun Wade and Joejuan Williams are all veterans who will hopefully factor into things, with Myles Bryant also potentially being a role player.
But given the speed in the passing games around the AFC, this quietly remains a big area of concern heading into camp. As a result, having both rookies emerge as contributors would certainly be great to see and these OTAs are a key time for both to learn and start establishing themselves as players.
How will the rookies factor into New England’s backfield?
2) We saw New England draft two running backs in Pierre Strong Jr. and Kevin Harris, which sets up an incredibly crowded backfield heading into training camp.
Strong Jr. has reportedly showed great athleticism early on and Harris has also stood out due to his sheer size. With a backfield led by incumbent Damien Harris and last year’s rookie standout, Rhamondre Stevenson, the Patriots have a pretty talented group.
The team has continued taking a cautious approach with James White, who seemed like he was moving fairly well last week. White’s hip injury is another big question mark, which given the number of players competing for a spot is definitely something to watch.
Meanwhile, J.J. Taylor is an athletic back but his difficulty in blitz pick up might cause him to face an uphill battle heading into camp. Most remember seeing Mac Jones get buried last season on a play where Taylor got overwhelmed. That led to Brandon Bolden securing the role, and it was fairly symbolic of how 2021 went for Taylor.
The team has since added two more players and how both Strong Jr. and Kevin Harris perform could set up an interesting August. Should either be explosive enough to give the coaches confidence to elevate them into a larger role, it could set up some difficult decisions. However, that work obviously starts now.
Thornton is definitely pretty thin by NFL standards. (PHOTO:Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports)
Where Does Thornton Fit In?
3) Looking at the photos, rookie receiver Tyquan Thornton is drastically undersized compared to his peers and he’s got quite a bit of ground to make up in the next month.
The reports so far have been positive on the speedy wideout, albeit his size has been the biggest question. Some have talked about the potential for him to unseat Nelson Agholor before the season even starts due to Agholor’s salary, but barring a massive physical change, that would seem to be pretty surprising.
One photo posted by the team recently showed Wade making a play in front of the rookie, with the size difference between the two players certainly standing out.
Thornton’s progress remains probably one of the big topics to follow in the coming weeks, especially in terms of how he fares against his NFL teammates. That could set the stage for an interesting battle in camp but for now, it seems like he’s still got a lot of work to do.
Who will factor in at linebacker in 2022?
4) The linebacker position is obviously another big one, with the news already being fairly positive.
We’ve heard various reports about Josh Uche’s expanded usage along with Raekwon McMillan and newcomer Mack Wilson seeing a fair amount of reps recently.
Reports have been positive on Cameron McGrone, while Ronnie Perkins was notably absent last week, but both are also names who will hopefully earn a role. McGrone is coming off an ACL injury but is said to be healthy heading into 2022.
After not selecting anyone in the most recent draft, it’s obvious the coaching staff seems pretty confident in who they have so far. It’s possible the team could still make roster moves but they remain a group to watch.
Can Mac Jones Take a Giant Step Forward?
5) Obviously the biggest name to keep an eye on is going to be Mac Jones and his evolution heading into his second season.
Jones has had a busy offseason that has involved a lot of time at the stadium working on both X’s and O’s and also his body, which he made sure was a point of emphasis since the season ended.
The overall reviews have been terrific on Jones, who heads into this season with a full year under his belt and a pretty solid group of receivers. One notable name now also includes DeVante Parker, who the team acquired this offseason. He joins veteran incumbents Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, and Jakobi Meyers.
Factor in tight ends Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry and that’s a fairly formidable group. The biggest question in these next two weeks will be seeing their chemistry and whether or not they can become more explosive than they were a year ago.
So far, Jones has looked sharp and he’s been throwing the football well. His growth with this group as a whole is going to be hugely important after a fairly successful rookie campaign.
As it was, he already had a pretty good year despite the coaches being cautious with what they asked of him. If he can start putting it all together with this roster, it’s possible he could end up being the main reason the Patriots surprise everyone this season.
All of that work starts now, as Jones will spend this time building a solid foundation as he begins working in what sounds like will be a different offense than we’ve seen in the past.
While the discussion will continue centering on who will be calling the plays, Jones’ execution in the next couple of weeks and the chemistry with the people he’s throwing the football to will remain the biggest thing to watch as he looks to take the next step in 2022.
Posted Under: 2022 Patriots Offseason
Tags: Brandon Bolden Cameron McGrone Damien Harris J.J. Taylor Jack Jones Jakobi Meyers Jalen Mills Joejuan Williams Josh Uche Kendrick Bourne Kevin Harris Mac Jones Mack Wilson Marcus Jones Myles Bryant Nelson Agholor New England Patriots Pierre Strong Jr. Ronnie Perkins Shaun Wade Terrance Mitchell