The 4 Defining Trends of Patriots Training Camp – Boston Herald

The truth is in the trends.

After nine training camp drills, there’s very little to say about the 2022 Patriots for sure. Most players and positional groups have experienced ups and downs on the pitch, the natural camp flow. But what’s consistent is something to count on, at least ahead of Thursday’s preseason opener against the Giants.

So far, five trends have continued from day one of training camp to the team’s last practice session on Friday. This is the truth about the Patriots as it stands now.

1. Yes, the offense is new

The Patriots haven’t ditched their old offensive playbook.

But you better believe the 2022 edition has a new cover, a prologue, and a few other chapters.

The offensive staff, beginning with Bill Belichick, Matt Patricia and Joe Judge, have been empowered to change the system Josh McDaniels left behind. They’ve created a new foundation: a zone-run game paired with a bootleg, play-action-passing attack. They rebranded old concepts and simplified the traditional dropback passing game.

As veteran wideout Jakobi Meyers told NFL Network on Friday, “We understand we did things a certain way before, but that’s not the point anymore.”

The initial hallmarks of this offense are base staffing groupings of 11 staffers (one running back, one tight end) and 12 staffers (one running back and two tight ends). The Patriots used their two-tight end package for just 14% of their offensive snaps last year. Based on their practices today, that could more than double this season.

Wide receivers also line up closer to the offensive line, a schematic shift that should allow them to separate against man-coverage more easily. The Patriots were the second most pressured team in the NFL last season, with the defense not afraid to play their wideouts 1-on-1. At least now, Meyers and co. can criss-cross their routes off the line to create traffic for defenders, going right, left or straight up, rather than lining up outside of the numbers where their route tree is bounded by the sideline is.

2. The run game stalls

Of all the Patriots’ offensive problems in team phases — and they are numerous and significant — running play is the most worrisome.

The starting offensive was stuffed on more than 40% of their attempts in padded drills last week. The Vikings’ offense ended last season with the highest stuff rate at 23.8%. The Pats’ troubles run deeper than a new plan.

Right-back Mike Onwenu is already rotating during team practice with longtime backup James Ferentz and third-year reserve Arlington Hambright, a sign of the staff’s disappointment with his game. Onwenu’s fit into a zoning scheme has also been questioned, playing a 350-pounder blocker that has had success with faster, lighter linemen in the past. Isaiah Wynn is also experiencing some obvious growing pains as he transitions to right tackle.

3. There is no #1 receiver – yet

Meyers leads all pass catchers with 21 receptions in competitive team drills. If you’ve watched the past two seasons, that shouldn’t come as a surprise, as Meyers led the team in catches in 2021 and 2020.

But after the arrival of DeVante Parker and the pick of second-round rookie Tyquan Thornton, there was hope a No. 1 wideout could emerge. So far it is Meyers again by a hair’s breadth.

Tight end Jonnu Smith ranks second with 18 catches on 26 team-high goals. He and Meyers gobbled up goals last week when Jones repeatedly found them for short gains as he tried to create positive momentum against starting defense. Former seven-round pick and minicamp favorite Tre Nixon has 17 catches on 23 targets, most of them from rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe.

After that, Parker caught half of his 20 targets in team practice as he continues to win primarily in contested catch situations. The former dolphin is not a natural separator. Finally, Kendrick Bourne, the team’s most consistent receiver, endured a dry spell last week with two catches in his last three practices.

4. The rookies are involved

First rounder Cole Strange has taken over every restart at left guard. Third-round cornerback Marcus Jones reappeared with the starting defense in Friday’s scrimmage as Belichick split the roster into starters and backups. Fourth-round corner Jack Jones has two pass breakups, the same number as Malcolm Butler.

If Butler can’t pass current starters Jalen Mills and Terrance Mitchell while Marcus Jones and Jack Jones are at similar levels, there’s a chance he’ll end up on the chopping block. From all positions, the defenders seem to be moving fast for a youth movement, thanks largely to their rookies.

Even the undrafted rookies make an impression.

Safety/special teamer Brenden Schooler drills offside with veterans Matthew Slater, Justin Bethel and Cody Davis as if the staff had decided he was already on the team. Former five-star Alabama recruit LaBryan Ray, an edge rusher, is tied for the team lead with three sacks during team practice. Undrafted Purdue linebacker DaMarcus Mitchell, another potential core special teamer, was released Thursday.

Largely thanks to Mac Jones, players in this team’s first and sophomore years will carry the Patriots as far as possible. So far, the rookies are keeping their share of the bargain.

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