Feels like a critical week of work for Bill Belichick’s Patriots

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Business is seemingly (hopefully) about to pick up in Foxborough!

Bill Belichick essentially chose to punt on the Patriots preseason opener last Thursday night by holding out nearly all of his presumed starters and top-line players. The GOAT coach then decided that after a couple weeks of lackluster work on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium his team deserved the entirety of this past weekend off with the regular season opener in Miami less than a month away.

It was a curious approach, at best.

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Two-plus weeks of modern, limited training camp practice are in the books. One of three preseason games has come and gone.

And the questions surrounding New England’s “new” offense, Mac Jones’ frustrations trying to learn and execute said offense and Matt Patricia/Joe Judge’s bizarre “process” of calling plays in that offense under the watchful eye of Belichick are all as unanswered as ever.

The time to answer those questions, to take a seemingly large step toward maybe actually being ready for regular season game play is now. And the opportunity to do so is knocking in the form of joint practice and then preseason game work against Matt Rhule’s Carolina Panthers.

For years, Belichick has placed a premium on joint practice action, seemingly above and beyond that of actual unscripted, whistle-to-whistle reps of preseason game work. That could be the simple explanation for why New England’s far-from-established, rep-needy offense remained on the sidelines against the Giants.

It’s also been bandied about that maybe Jones’ new offense wasn’t quite ready for the bright lights of primetime August action, which might seem like a laughable thought if New England’s work on the practice field this summer hadn’t been so laughable at times.

Either way, that’s wasted water under the bridge. Those are opportunities lost, or at least frustratingly underutilized. The Patriots are where they are right now and that’s seemingly at a critical crossroads even if it is just the middle of August.

New England returns to the practice field on Monday prior to two days of the joint sessions with Carolina that should be both productive and revealing.

Moving past Patriots-vs.-Patriots reps on the practice field, now we can start to assess just where New England might be on both sides of the ball.

Have some of the offense’s struggles early this summer come as a result of a defense that might just be better than anyone is yet willing to give it credit for? Seeing that unit and its players against Christian McCaffrey, Baker Mayfield, D.J. Moore and others just might shed some critical light.

Is the streamlined offense, with all its new wrinkles in both the run game and passing attack, developing toward what might be a productive unit capable of taking advantage of its relative breadth of talent? Seeing it rep against Brian Burns, Jeremy Chinn and others rather than Christian Barmore and Co. could be revealing.

Late July and early August was probably a time of too many questions and too many critiques emanating from Patriots training camp. Too much focus may have been put on too many too-early reps of practice.

Now, though, the page is turning. Belichick’s favored joint practice sessions have arrived. The Panthers have arrived. The second preseason game is upon us later this week.

As Belichick has said in the past, the treadmill of training camp and summer preparation moves pretty fast.

Between the two days of joint practice work with Carolina and the likely debut of New England’s starters on both sides of the ball Friday night against the Panthers, it feels like we’re about to find out if Belichick’s Patriots are getting up to speed or playing a dangerous game of catch-up.