Sunday 7: Angst about Patriots' coaching staff should be directed at Bill Belichick, not his assistants

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1 -- There are certainly a lot of questions about the Patriots’ offensive coaching staff as New England embarks on the OTA (organized team activities) segment of the offseason program, a significant uptick in the developmental action on the practice field.

The Boston Sports Journal reported this week that there are Patriots players who are “alarmed” by the coaching they’ve been getting on the offensive side of the ball in the very limited work put in to date this spring and are “worried” about the direction the post-Josh McDaniels offense is going.

WEEI’s own Nick “Fitzy” Stevens confirmed on the “Fitzy & Hart” show that he’s indeed heard the same types of reactions from the practice fields.

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Certainly the questions are understandable with former New England special teams coordinator/Giants head coach Joe Judge and former Patriots defensive coordinator/Lions head coach Matt Patricia taking over significant roles on offensive coaching staff after losing McDaniels, a longtime, proven assistant Bill Belichick put on such a pedestal that he’s compared him to Nick Saban.

There is no doubt that the Patriots’ current plan on offense is curious at best and downright alarming or even offensive at worst.
It flies in the face of football norms and the type of expert specialization that’s not only prevalent in modern coaching, but the world as a whole.

Just because Judge and Patricia proved themselves good coaches over the years for Belichick, working their way up the ranks on special teams and defense, respectively, doesn’t mean they are good offensive coaches.
In fact, there’s clearly plenty of reason to doubt their ability to take on dramatically different roles and do so at an elite, NFL-caliber level for Mac Jones and the rest of the offense.

But any alarm, angst or criticism regarding the Patriots offensive coaching staff from fans, media or even players themselves, shouldn’t be focused on Judge and Patricia.

Nope, if anyone has a problem with the current Patriots coaching staff on offense or the work that group does with Judge working with the Jones and the quarterbacks while Patricia is focused on the offensive line, that criticism should be directed toward only one person – Belichick.

Judge and Patricia are simply taking on roles that Belichick put them. They are trying to do their jobs. There is no doubt they will attack those roles with all their efforts, insight and diverse coaching abilities.
But that doesn’t mean they will succeed.

If they fail in their jobs and the New England offense fails to get the job done, all the blame should be placed at the throne of Belichick. After all, he’s the one who “wears every hat” in New England and decided on such a non-traditional, somewhat illogical offensive coaching staff. Judge and Patricia are just pawns in Belichick’s latest game of chess. It should be his reputation on the line, not theirs.

2 – Speaking of Belichick facing questions, New England’s head coach will be available to the media on Monday at 11 a.m. for the first time since the first night of the Draft. Less than a week after his assistant coaches faced plenty of questions about his staff’s makeup and individual roles for 2022 – most notably Judge and Patricia – Belichick may and probably should be peppered about his plans. Given his history in press conferences, Belichick will deflect most questions and reveal only what he wants revealed. But it will still be interesting to hear his description, if there is one of any kind, of what exactly is in store for Jones and the offensive players as they work under Judge and Patricia.

3 – Monday also marks the opening of the third phase of the Patriots offensive program at Gillette Stadium, an elevation to the more competitive OTA environment, even if that work remains voluntary, non-contact and without pads. Belichick annually emphasizes that it’s the next step in a teaching process and not yet an evaluation period, which doesn’t really arrive until the opening of training camp in late July. But history has shown us that guys who stand out in OTA work, particularly newcomers like undrafted free agents, often lay the foundation for future roster spots and roles with the team. It’s only May and its only OTA action in shorts and helmets, but somewhat meaningful reps will be had this week on the practice fields of Foxborough.

4 – Monday kicks off the first of six days that the media is scheduled to have access to Patriots’ OTA sessions and mini-camp action over the next three weeks. After tomorrow’s practice the media will be back on hand at Gillette for an OTA session on May 31, three straight days of access to New England’s mandatory mini-camp June 7-9 and then a final OTA session on June 13.
These observational times for the media lay the groundwork for the storylines, competitions and evaluations that come during training camp and preseason action.

5 – While Judge and Patricia got much of the attention regarding their offensive roles and the possibility that one of them might be the Patriots play caller in 2022, tight ends coach Nick Caley remains worthy of keeping an eye on in that regard. With five years of experience as the tight ends coach working closely with McDaniels, Caley has the traditional promote-from-within resume that Belichick has rewarded often over the years in Foxborough. And Caley made it quite clear this week during his Zoom call with reporters that he certainly wants to advance up the coaching ranks to offensive coordinator and maybe beyond that someday, regardless of what exactly his role is in New England for 2022.

“Absolutely that’s a goal of mine,” Caley said of becoming a coordinator. “But my primary goal, my primary responsibility is to do whatever Coach Belichick asks me to do to the best of my ability to help this football team. And that’s what I’m going to do, I’m going to work hard to do that.”

6 – Vince Wilfork was elected by a vote of fans to the Patriots Hall of Fame this week, beating out other worthy finalists Logan Mankins and Mike Vrabel. In a conference call with reporters regarding the honor, Wilfork declared that he feels he’s one of the best nose tackles to ever play the game of football.

In a written statement released by the team, Belichick seemingly backed up such an assertion for the man who was a part of the foundation of the Patriots’ championship-caliber defense for more than a decade.

“Vince exemplified all the things that define football greatness,” Belichick said. “Vince's rare physical ability was obvious, but it was his professional approach to the game, his competitiveness, toughness and dedication to the team that set him, and several of his teams, apart. Vince Wilfork is an all-time great player."

7 – The NFL will hold its inaugural Coach and Front Office Accelerator program this week in Atlanta. The program will include more than 60 diverse head coach and GM prospects from all 32 NFL teams. The Patriots representatives at the event will be defensive line coach DeMarcus Covington and pro scouting director Steve Cargile.

According to the NFL’s press release promoting the Accelerator event, “The program will provide senior women and minority prospects with leadership development sessions with football operations experts and facilitators, as well as time spent networking directly with club owners.
The effort is designed to continue building a diverse hiring pipeline for future head coach and general manager positions throughout the League.

“Each club nominated rising prospects to participate in the two-day Accelerator. In addition to leadership development and sessions on the business of football, attendees will engage in candid discussions on how to take the next step in becoming a coach or front office executive.”

So it would seem Covington and Cargile are “rising prospects” to keep an eye on in New England in the coming years.

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