Sunday 7: Mike Gesicki one of many 'clean slate' Patriots’ offensive newcomers


1 – Bill O’Brien spoke a couple weeks ago of his new New England offense being a “clean slate” for the Patriots, something that will be very much appreciated by returning veterans such as quarterback Mac Jones and wide receiver Kendrick Bourne following their experiences in last fall’s Matt Patricia-led dysfunction.

But the scheme, system and plan that O’Brien is putting together this spring in his return to Foxborough isn’t just an opportunity for returning veterans to revitalize their careers. In fact that opportunity may be even greater for veteran newcomers such as former Dolphins tight end Mike Gesicki.

Gesicki is a former second-round pick who played last season in Miami on the franchise tag, but the veteran fell out of favor with the Dolphins in Mike McDaniel’s offense. The former Penn State star – where he was recruited by but never played for O’Brien – saw the fewest targets (52), catches (32), yards (362) and offensive snaps (478) since his rookie year in 2018 despite coming off career highs of 73 catches for 780 yards in 2021.

In the early stages of learning O’Brien’s offense and bonding with his new teammates, Gesicki is laying the foundation for what he clearly hopes is a bounce back year. In that way, he could he perfect fit for an entire offense that’s looking or a similar fresh start this fall.

“Just come here, get to know everybody, build comradery, show that I’m going to work hard and just kind of earn everybody’s trust that way,” Gesicki said. “Obviously I was in my previous employment for five years and now I’m here. It’s a whole new setup, all new facilities, all that kind of stuff. So just kind of getting used to it and trying to earn everybody’s trust. So this way when things get rolling, when the season starts up everyone knows what they are going to get out of me.”

2 – Gesicki is far from the only newcomer to New England’s new-look offense with an at-times impressive track record who has something to prove. That’s certainly the case with former Jaguars and Jets running back James Robinson. Injuries – including a ruptured Achilles late in the 2021 season – seem to have overshadowed the fact that Robinson rushed for 1,070 yards as an undrafted rookie in Jacksonville in 2021, adding 49 receptions and 10 total touchdowns to his debut production. A year later, despite the Urban Meyer-led dysfunction for the team, Robinson still rushed for 767 yards (4.7 avg.) while catching 31 passes and totaling eight touchdowns.

Now more than a full year removed from the Achilles injury, Robinson like Gesicki is looking for a fresh start in New England where he could join budding star Rhamondre Stevenson in the Patriots backfield. What people don’t seem to realize is that in his explosive sophomore season Stevenson put up 1,461 yards from scrimmage, just more than the 1,414 yards from scrimmage Robinson put forth in 2020. The duo certainly has the potential to be a dual-threat aspect to the new-look offense for O’Brien.

3 – The third of New England’s trio of offensive playmaking newcomers with something to prove is former Chiefs and Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. Though the Patriots may still lack a true, no-question No. 1 receiver, Smith-Schuster does have a 100-catch, 1,400-yard season on his resume in Pittsburgh in 2018. He did also catch 78 passes for 933 yards last year in Kansas City. But in each of those seasons Smith-Schuster produced while playing alongside All-Pro talents like Antonio Brown and Travis Kelce. His challenge is to approach replicating those outputs without the proven All-Pro talent alongside him.

4 – It’s not realistic to expect and won’t happen, but the reality is that if O’Brien can get his offensive playmakers to approach their individual career bests, the New England offense has the talent to probably surprise people as it tries to keep pace with the impressive attacks that it must compete with both in the AFC East and in the conference.

Gesicki has a 70-catch season on his resume. Robinson a year in which he notched 1,400 yards from scrimmage. Smith-Schuster topped 1,400 yards receiving once.

Those guys join a depth chart of similarly good-not-great talents with impressive production in their past. DeVante Parker had 1,200 yards in Miami in 2019. Stevenson had 1,400 yards from scrimmage last fall.
Hunter Henry hauled in 60 passes for the Chargers in 2020.

The Patriots offense may not be star-studded, but it’s not without talent or guys who’ve put up big numbers at one time or another in the NFL. It’s up to O’Brien –and Jones – to pull it all together and put it to good use.

5 – Mike Vrabel was deservedly elected to the Patriots Hall of Fame last week via fan voting, beating out worthy fellow finalists Bill Parcells and Logan Mankins. Vrabel was a foundational piece on defense for the first three Super Bowl wins in the New England dynasty. He added key special teams duties as well as his work as a goal-line tight end to his outstanding contributions Bill Belichick’s teams over the years.

Now a successful head coach in his own right with the Titans, as much as Vrabel gave to the Patriots during a conference call with reporters he talked about what he took from his time in New England surrounded by so many impressive football minds.

“I tried to prove that I belong there. I think every day, every week, I wanted to try to be there and be productive and know as many positions as I could and play special teams and embrace playing special teams. Learning from guys like Bill and learning the history of football from Ernie Adams, learning special teams from Brad Seely, watching Dante Scarnecchia coach and the passion and what he put into it,” Vrabel recalled. “Obviously, the defensive coaches that we had Dean Pees, Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Rob Ryan, Pepper Johnson, all these guys that we got to be associated with. It was fun coming to work. Obviously winning makes it fun, but it was something that we're all better off for having spent time there.

6 – The Patriots will play a game in Germany this coming fall and according to a report from the German newspaper Bild via the Providence Journal, New England will face the Saints across the pond. The report indicates that the game between the Patriots and Saints will take place at Deutsche Bank Park in Frankfurt on either November 12 or November 19.

7 – The full NFL schedule, including the details of New England’s trip to Germany, will be released on May 11. Beyond finding out the exact dates and times for the Patriots 17-game slate, it will be interesting to see how many prime time games New England gets slotted into. While the advent of flexible scheduling – which continues to expand – has changed things a bit, the number of prime time games a team is awarded is a sign of what the NFL and its TV partners think of a team, both in terms of its overall competitive ability and the draw of its stars for entertainment value. So to some degree we’ll find out on Thursday night what the NFL and the networks think of Mac Jones, Matthew Judon and Co.

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