The 4 defining trends of Patriots training camp – Boston Herald

The truth is in the trends.

Through nine training camp practices, there is precious little that can be said for sure about the 2022 Patriots. Most players and position groups have experienced ups and downs on the field, the natural flow of camp. But what is consistent can be counted on, at least for Thursday’s preseason opener against the Giants.

So far, five trends have held from Day 1 of training camp through the team’s final practice on Friday. That’s the truth, as it stands, about the Patriots.

1. Yes, the offense is new

The Patriots didn’t throw away their old offensive playbook.

But you better believe the 2022 edition has a new cover, foreword, and a few different chapters.

The offensive staff, starting with Bill Belichick, Matt Patricia and Joe Judge, has been empowered to change the system left behind by Josh McDaniels. They’ve installed a new foundation: a zone running game that’s accompanied by a play-and-play attack. They have redefined old concepts and simplified the traditional boarding game.

As veteran Jakobi Meyers told NFL Network on Friday: “We understand we did things a certain way before, but it’s not about that anymore.”

The initial features of this offense are the 11-man (one running back, one tight end) and 12-man (one running back and two tight ends) starting personnel groups. The Patriots used their two-tight end package on just 14 percent of their offensive snaps last year. Based on their practices today, that could more than double this season.

The wide receivers also line up closer to the line of scrimmage, a schematic shift that will allow them to more easily separate against man coverage. The Patriots were the second-most pressured team in the NFL last season, with defenses not afraid to play their wideouts 1-on-1. At least now, Meyers and Co. they can cross their routes off the line to create movement for defenders and head right, left or straight up instead of lining up outside the numbers where their route tree is limited by the touchline.

2. Game running stops

Of all the Patriots’ offensive woes in back-to-back seasons – and there are quite a few – the running game is the most worrisome.

The starting offense was stuffed on more than 40% of its attempts in stuffed practices last week. Last season, the Vikings offense finished with the highest completion percentage at 23.8 percent. The Pats’ problems run deeper than a new draft.

Right guard Mike Onwenu is already rotating with long-term backup James Ferentz and third-year backup Arlington Hambright during team drills, a sign of the staff’s frustration with his play. Onwenu’s fit in a zone-type scheme has also come into question as the 350-pound blocker plays that have historically thrived with faster, lighter linemen. Isaiah Wynn is also dealing with some obvious growing pains as he transitions to right tackle.

3. There is still no No. 1 receiver

Meyers leads all pass catchers with 21 receptions in competitive team drills. If you watched the past two seasons, this shouldn’t be surprising given that Meyers led the team in catches in 2021 and 2020.

But after the arrival of DeVante Parker and rookie second-round pick Tyquan Thornton, there was hope that a No. 1 wideout. So far, it’s Myers, again, by a hair.

Jonnu Smith ranks second with 18 catches on 26 targets on the team. He and Meyers gobbled up targets last week when Jones repeatedly found them for short gains as he tried to generate positive momentum against the starting defense. Former seventh-round pick and favorite Tre Nixon has 17 catches on 23 targets, most of them from rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe.

After them, Parker has caught half of his 20 targets in team drills as he continues to win mostly contested situations. The ex-Dolphin is not a natural splitter. Finally, Kendrick Bourne, the most consistent of the team’s receivers, came through last week with two catches in his last three scrimmages.

4. Rookies are involved

Champion Cole Strange has taken every starting rep at left guard. Third-round cornerback Marcus Jones was back with the starting defense in Friday’s game when Belichick split the roster between starters and backups. Fourth-round cornerback Jack Jones has two pass breakups, the same number as Malcolm Butler.

If Butler can’t get ahead of current starters Jalen Mills and Terrance Mitchell, while Marcus Jones and Jack Jones are at a similar level, there’s a chance he could land at square one. Of all positions, the defensive backs look fast for a youth movement, thanks in large part to their rookies.

Even undrafted rookies make an impact.

Fellow safety/special teams Brenden Schooler drills with veterans Matthew Slater, Justin Bethel and Cody Davis on the sideline as the staff has decided it has already made the team. Former Alabama five-star recruit LaBryan Ray, a pass rusher, is tied for the team lead with three sacks during team drills. Purdue linebacker DaMarcus Mitchell, another potential starting specialist, earned a sack Thursday.

Thanks mainly to Mac Jones, the first and second basemen on this team will carry the Patriots as far as they can go. So far, the rookies are holding up their end of the bargain.

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