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Day 1 Blogservations: Mac, offense look for 'fresh start'

The Patriots kicked off Training Camp with some red zone work as Mac Jones and the offense look for a fresh start under Bill O’Brien.

Patriots wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (7).
Patriots wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (7).

The sun was out, the fans were in the stands and the energy was at a solid level as the Patriots opened their 2023 training camp in steamy Foxborough. Mac Jones and the offense got to work on putting the disappointment of last season behind them, and with new offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien on board the focus seems to be on one word.

"Trust is a big word for us in this training camp," Jones said shortly after finishing up the roughly 90-minute workout. "It's a fresh start for us and it's all about working together."

There were certainly times when that was not apparent a year ago, so it makes sense that Jones and the offense are looking for a fresh start. With O'Brien at the controls the unit continues to install what it hopes will be a more productive attack this season.

Early in practice the work centered on the running game out of various looks in the red zone. The plays ran out of varied personnel groups with Jones under center and in the shot gun, and although there's no way to evaluate such action with the players in shorts and helmets, there looked to be some rhythm and direction to the calls.

One player in particular seems excited about the fresh start and that's Trent Brown. The mammoth left tackle opened the drills in his normal spot and after practice he spoke about some of the differences between this year and last.

"I love [O'Brien's] attitude. He brings excitement and energy to our room every day," Brown said. "I love him. I expect to see a return to Patriots football. He's bringing that attitude back and that's necessary."

Brown reported to camp a few days earlier than required, although he downplayed that by saying he was simply doing what he was asked. But having him in the lineup on Day 1 is a positive sign for an offensive line that lacks depth at tackle and can't afford to be without him for any stretches of time.

As for the results, the defense continues to get the better of things but that is to be expected. Bill Belichick typically opens camp with extensive red zone work, and on Wednesday that featured a lot of plays from inside the 5 and 10. Working in such small quarters without the threat of a running game is an advantage for the defense, particularly one with the experience level that the Patriots currently possess.

The very first pass attempt of the day against the defense was picked off by Kyle Dugger during 7-on-7s. Jones tried to find Mike Gesicki on a slant near the back of the end zone but Dugger cut underneath to make the play. Belichick spoke to Jones shortly after and may have been telling his quarterback to put some air under such passes in the future as it appeared that Gesicki may have had position and could have high-pointed a higher throw over the top of Dugger.

Jones spoke of the benefits of going against such a talented defense after practice.

"It's a great challenge for us," Jones said. "To be able to go against our defense is really good because of how tough they are. The red zone is an area we need to improve on. Bill is great to talk to because he does a great job of explaining what the defense is doing and things that can help the quarterback. It's great that our defense is really good."

Beyond those opening thoughts, here are one man's observations from Day 1 of Patriots training camp.

Patriots wide receiver Kendrick Bourne (84).
Patriots wide receiver Kendrick Bourne (84).
  • If there was one overriding positive development of the day it was the attendance – and in more ways than one. On the field the Patriots were missing just three players – Mike Onwenu (ankle), Cody Davis (knee) and Calvin Anderson. Onwenu and Davis opened camp on the physically unable to perform list while Anderson landed on the non-football illness list. Otherwise, everyone was present and accounted for including DaMarcus Mitchell, who was on NFI earlier in the week, and Justus Tavai, who opened on PUP. That meant JuJu Smith-Schuster and Lawrence Guy, two players that were not seen during the spring camps, were on hand for the first time in front of the media in 2023. Smith-Schuster looks to be in the Kendrick Bourne mold in terms of enthusiasm and energy. Both bounced around the fields through the morning.

Off the field the crowd was strong on a sun-splashed morning in Foxborough. The bleachers were full, as was the hill behind the end zone, and the throng behind the fence was several layers deep. Coming off an 8-9 season and with most predictions not expecting much, it was good to see the enthusiasm permeating the area around the practice fields.

  • In addition to the three missing players, Marte Mapu continues to wear a red, non-contact jersey as he did throughout the spring. The rookie third-round pick tore his pectoral muscle at the Senior Bowl, but still received plenty of reps on defense. Wednesday he spent the practice at safety but he's also seen time as a linebacker during OTAs. Matthew Judon was in uniform but wasn't involved in much of the action. Same could be said of DeVante Parker, although the receiver spoke after practice and didn't appear to be hindered physically during the morning.
  • Belichick indicated on Tuesday that Jack Jones was expected to be on the field and he was despite his June arrest on weapons charges. Jones saw plenty of reps but few if any came with the frontline players. Instead, Christian Gonzalez and Jonathan Jones worked in a group that included Dugger and Jabrill Peppers.
  • For those who keep track of these sorts of things, Anfernee Jennings switched from No. 58 to 33 and Mack Wilson swapped out his 30 for No. 3.
  • Robert Kraft was eager to see his troops during camp and was on the field before the start of practice, He spent time chatting with several players, including Jones and Brown.
  • As the players finished up their warmup periods before the start of practice, strength and conditioning coach Moses Cabrera gathered the offensive and defensive skill guys while the linemen on both sides of the ball continued to jog near the far end zone. After chatting with Cabrera, the players worked on explosion while running while tethered to weights they dragged on the grass. Defensive backs also worked with resistance bands while tethered to the goal post as they simulated their backpedals and turns while ostensibly tracking deep balls.
  • The wide receivers did a drill where they began by picking up padded weights before running with them outstretched for about 5 yards and then raised their hands in the air as they tossed them forward. The actions appeared to simulate how receivers would deal with working against press coverage with strong hands.
  • The two special teams periods saw the punt team on both fields. On the left side Bryce Baringer and Corliss Waitman kicked to Marcus Jones, Demario Douglas and Myles Bryant while the vise players and gunners worked against each other. On the right side the interior protection unit worked under simulated kicking conditions.
  • While Brown opened the first offensive reps at left tackle, veteran practice squadder Bill Murray saw time at right guard with Onwenu on PUP. That group also included David Andrews at center with Cole Strange at left guard and veteran Riley Reiff at right tackle. The next group featured, from left to right, Andrew Stueber, Atonio Mafi, Jake Andrews, Chasen Hines and Conor McDermott.
  • Ty Montgomery showed all the signs of being a regular contributor last summer before injuries derailed his season. This camp opened in similar fashion. Montgomery worked mostly with the receivers during drills but lined up in the backfield often during the red zone 7-on-7s and 11-on-11s. He was the offense's best threat, catching several short touchdown throws from all three quarterbacks – Jones, Bailey Zappe and Trace McSorley. Montgomery's most impressive TD came when he shook Mapu and made a nice, contested catch off a solid throw near the sideline by Zappe.
  • Zappe's best throw of the day unfortunately did not result in a completion. Andrew Firkser worked against Adrian Phillips and broke toward the back corner of the end zone. Zappe's throw feathered beautifully over Phillips and hit the tight end in the hands, but fell incomplete as Phillips did his best to contest the catch.
  • The second set of red zone plays, which came from the 8-yard line, seemed to run a bit smoother than the first. Jones found Rhamondre Stevenson on a quick angle route for a touchdown, then benefitted from a nice route by Hunter Henry for another score. Henry shook Gonzalez in the end zone one play after the rookie did a great job on combo coverage with Myles Bryant to take away Jones' hot read as Peppers executed a blitz.
  • Nick Folk handled the field goals at the end of practice, connecting on all five attempts ranging from 28 to 48 yards from both hashes. Baringer handled the holding duties and defensive lineman Deatrich Wise helped out the media by signaling that each kick was good.
  • After the players lined up on the goal line for some conditioning runs, the players ran plays for another 15 minutes before practice officially ended.
  • In addition to Jones and Brown, Christian Barmore, Parker, Phillips, Dugger and director of player personnel Matt Groh were among those who spoke to the media after practice.
  • The Patriots will be back at on Thursday, once again in helmets and shorts only. Practice is set to run from 9:30 a.m.-11:15 a.m. with gates open to the public at 8 a.m. As always, please check with Patriots.com for the latest changes to the training camp schedule.

DISCLAIMER: The views and thoughts expressed in this article are those of the writer and don't necessarily reflect those of the organization. Read Full Disclaimer

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