There was a clear and obvious top story in Patriots’ OTA action this week in Foxborough, and it wasn’t Mac Jones’ streamlined stomach.
Nope, it was the topic of New England’s offensive play-calling duties.
The bulk of Bill Belichick’s pre-practice press conference, his first meeting with the media since draft night, was spent peppering the Patriots grand poohbah regarding the plan (or may lack of a plan?) for replacing longtime offensive leader Josh McDaniels, now the head coach in Las Vegas.
Does Belichick know who’ll be calling plays for second-year quarterback Mac Jones and the Patriots in 2022?
“When we get to it, we’ll get to it,” Belichick said, preferring not to name names from a list that likely includes Joe Judge, Matt Patricia, Nick Caley, or maybe even the head coach himself, a door he very much left ajar.
Does the 70-year-old GOAT sideline savant have a date in mind when he’ll “get to it,” giving the chosen one the requisite time to properly and necessarily prepare for the process that will be seemingly critical on game days?
“No,” Belichick said succinctly.
Sweet, so taken at his word Belichick is treating his decision to select and/or name a Patriots offensive play-caller the way many of us approach cleaning the garage, weeding the garden or getting our oil changed.
Maybe the biggest question of all though isn’t about who or when as it pertains to the Patriots play-calling situation. Rather, it’s probably more about whether the master media manipulator Belichick is calculatedly controlling the story (controversy?) surrounding the decision or whether he’s actually unintentionally creating the story that certainly feels like it has the potential to be a detrimental distraction, not only this offseason but into the 2022 regular season.
Obviously this isn’t the first time Belichick has failed or refused to declare a play-caller on either offense or defense over the years. Heck, just a couple years ago New England was in a similar situation in the post-Brian Flores play-calling area on defense, the media having to observe and assume what Steve Belichick and Jerod Mayo were doing on a play-to-play, practice-to-practice and game-to-game basis before it became clear along the way that the younger Belichick had ascended to the role.
Clearly there might be some perceived benefits to the unknown.
If fans and media alike aren’t sure who’s calling plays, they can’t offer up harsh criticism of the specific chosen person or decision to choose him.
Maybe it even creates some confusion for future opponents as they go through their offseason scouting and preparation process. Maybe?
But there are also pitfalls to the uncertainty.
For as long as the play-caller situation remains a mystery, it will remain a main talking point and question in Patriot Nation. Every offensive coach and player who speaks with the media at OTAs, mini-camp, training camp and into the preseason is going to be hounded with queries about what exactly is going on with the offensive coaching. That will include Belichick’s every media availability and those of Jones. Belichick, Judge, Patricia, Jones and others will be have to suffer the collective slings and arrows this summer, at the very least, for what is a curious path. And it’s only delaying the more specific questions and critiques for down the road when an actual decision is made and becomes obvious.
Outsiders who don’t and couldn’t possibly understand what’s going on inside New England at this point are still going to offer plenty of general criticism, such as former NFL QB and current ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky calling the Patriots coaching situation “the most concerning thing in the NFL.”
Others will wonder aloud whether the entire play-caller situation is simply some sort of offseason distraction – “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!” -- keeping analysts from actually delving into the talent and potential of a Patriots team that may not come close to measuring up to the competition in the AFC.
Does Belichick really not know who is going to call plays for Jones and the Patriots this fall?
If true, that’s less than ideal and might indicate a certain lack of confidence or conviction in the candidate and the overall process.
If he does know but prefers not to share that information, apparently both with the people involved and the public, then there would seemingly be a tactical reason for the man who quotes Sun-Tzu’s Art of War and the belief that battles are won before they are even fought. Is Belichick winning a battle that us pawns aren’t even aware we’re fighting?
Mr. We’re On To Cincinnati has handled the media with aplomb in the past, even if it may not have appeared that way at the time.
Months and years from now might we look back at this curious offseason, this non-traditional route to replacing McDaniels and all the questions about the Patriots play-calling duties and marvel at how Belichick masterfully manipulated the situation once again?
Conversely we may look back at a Patriots offense and the development of Jones and say New England lacked a productive plan to move forward.
There are rightfully plenty of questions about the Patriots offensive play-calling situation these days at Gillette Stadium.
Belichick won’t answer any of them.
Either because he doesn’t want to or because he actually can’t, with the latter being maybe the most alarming possibility of all.