Sunday 7: Patriots’ lost OTAs simply a bad look at a bad time


1 – By no means will the Patriots’ loss of a pair of OTA practices this spring as punishment for violating rules regarding the time players can at the facility derail any potential successes New England can expect in 2023.

No one is saying that. No one should say that.

But the slap on the wrist for what is simply an easily avoidable infraction is indeed a really bad look for a team that is coming off a year in which an “experiment” with its coaching staff and leadership went horribly wrong.

New England had built some actual good will and momentum with its leadership this spring thanks to hiring Bill O’Brien as offensive coordinator and Adrian Klemm as offensive line coach, the duo taking over roles that had been on former career-long defensive coach Matt Patricia’s unfairly overloaded plate last season.

Bill Belichick’s coaching staff and organization had seemingly brought competent leadership stability back to the mix this offseason after a truly dysfunctional season in that area that was kicked off last offseason with the future Hall of Fame coach’s decision not to replace departing offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels in any logical fashion.

Yet that was all undermined, apparently, by Joe Judge’s reported need for 20 more minutes of work with special teams players than was allowed in the 4-hour window of voluntary offseason workouts.

So as New England tries to install its new offense under O’Brien, rebuild Mac Jones’ career trajectory and bounce back from a second losing season in the last three years, it will do so with a couple less practices in May and June to get the job done. While these OTAs are non-padded and non-competitive they are the foundation to some degree upon which the rest is built. For years in New England Belichick and Tom Brady spoke openly about the importance of every rep in the spring as a step toward in-season success and production

Thanks to a very avoidable minor infraction, the current Patriots lost some of those potentially valuable reps. And a New England team that’s trying stabilize its competitive footing and rebuild its organizational reputation has another minor black mark on its recently questionable track record.

2 – While Judge is clearly at the center of New England losing a pair of OTAs, his role within the organization remains somewhat unclear. The NFLPA reportedly referred to Judge as the Patriots’ special teams coach in documents regarding the OTA mess. There have been reports regarding the possibility that Judge could be an assistant head coach this season for Belichick, which would be an unexpected and curious promotion, and a role that New England hasn’t had in a titular sense since Dante Scarnecchia’s first retirement. It’s also worth noting that the official website still has Judge listed as an offensive assistant and quarterbacks coach, with his photo directly beside that of O’Brien, who’s listed as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

Judge’s seemingly central role in the minor mess that cost the Patriots a pair of OTA practices has been well reported, but what exactly he’ll be doing for the team this season remains rather undefined. And that doesn’t seem like a good place to be for a guy who in the last year-plus had an horrific end to his tenure as Giants head coach, was a key figure in the dysfunction on the 2022 New England offense and has already been a net-negative in his apparent return to working with the Patriots’ special teams.

3 – Beyond the question of Judge’s role, a quick click on the coach’s tab on creates another question in regards to Klemm. The former Oregon offensive line coach has met with the media already this spring as New England’s new line coach. But he’s nowhere to be found on the page of coaches. While it’s probably just an honest oversight or a possible delay with his biography, it’s yet another example of the strangeness that comes each offseason with the way that Belichick’s staff is constructed and in which individual roles/titles are revealed to the public.

4 – There has to be some irony that the Patriots got in trouble for spending extra time on special teams work this spring at the same time the NFL continues to work to diminish the value in the kicking game under the guise of player safety. All fair catches on kickoffs in 2023 will be placed at the 25-yard line, same as with touchbacks. The rule change comes despite pushback from special teams coaches and players across the league. Still, the reality as that rules changes have been decreasing the value of special teams for years. Yet this offseason the Patriots invested pretty heavily in that area (not just in terms of illegal extra meetings!) by drafting both a kicker and a punter, signing a veteran core special teamer in Chris Board to add to the likes of Matthew Slater and Brenden Schooler and seemingly shifting Judge back to the area where he has some actual expertise. Sure the Patriots have been pretty putrid in the kicking game the last couple years and needed to clean things up in that area. But are they investing too much time, money and manpower in a growingly obsolete aspect of the game?

5 – The speculation that veteran receiver DeAndre Hopkins might end up with the Patriots ramped up this week when he was released by the Cardinals. There have been plenty of reports of New England’s interest in Hopkins, who remained productive last season at the age of 30. Now that he’s free to sign with any team, though, it’s hard to see a way that Foxborough is his most appealing destination. The Super Bowl-contending Chiefs and Bills reportedly showed the most interest in trading for Hopkins this winter. If Hopkins wants to chase a ring or play with an elite QB, Kansas City and Buffalo have to be top options. If he wants to chase as much money as possible, as has been reported, it’s hard to imagine the Patriots outbidding the rest of the league for the aging receiver.

Sure, Hopkins would immediately move to the top of the New England receiver depth chart even as he turns 31. He would give Jones a go-to option, having averaged more than seven catches per game after returning from suspension last fall. And clearly there is some sort of a connection or affinity between Hopkins and Belichick. But is that really enough for him to make New England what could be his final career stop?

6 – It could be argued that linebacker is the most questionable position on the Patriots roster right now and the spot lost some veteran depth this week when Raekwon McMillan was placed on season-ending IR with a reported partially-torn Achilles tendon. A former free agent signing from the Dolphins, McMillan missed his first year in New England in 2021 with a torn ACL. But he returned to the field last season to play 23 percent of the Patriots’ defensive snaps. Certainly returning team captain and tackle leader Ja’Whaun Bentley will be counted on for the top linebacker role once again, but beyond that there are plenty of questions as to how guys like Jahlani Tavai, Mack Wilson, Board, rookie Marte Mapu and others might be put to use at the second level.

7 – After losing out on the two OTA workouts, including May 25 which was supposed to be the first spring session open to the media, New England has eight remaining practices scheduled according to the team’s PR department.
May 31 will with the next OTA session and now the first open to the media. The media will then have a second session of OTA access on June 6. The team will also have closed OTAs on June 2, 5, 8, 9 leading up to mandatory minicamp from June 12-14 that will also be open to the media.

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