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Patriots Mailbag: Minicamp foreshadows a competitive Training Camp

With offseason team activities in the rearview mirror, Patriots fans are wondering what we learned this spring and how the team might come together in Training Camp.


Question on Jonnu Smith and the likelihood of his 2022 performance improving. Given two choices, which is more impactful to his poor year in 2021.

1. Inexperience in a new system and missing up-front OTA's etc. (this should be correctable).

2. Signed a big contract and bank account is fat, therefore lost the passion of football (more difficult to fix) -Kevin Westerlind

After seeing Jonnu at all four on-field sessions this spring, I have to say I'm optimistic about his outlook this season so put me firmly under the first one. He spoke this offseason about not getting off to the best start last year and it would appear to me that he is trying to avoid making the same mistake. He got the majority of the work in minicamp with Hunter Henry appearing to be limited and made some nice plays. Admittedly, I was similarly high leading into last season despite limited looks at Smith, who was limited by an injury during training camp. He has a versatile skillset and it will be interesting to see how the team tries to unlock him a bit more this season, though he didn't appear to be doing anything too new or crazy from what we saw in OTAs. They certainly made the effort to get him the ball in space last year with screen passes or underneath crossers and Smith had his moments in 2021, but I do think he's capable of being a bigger part of the offense. With so much depth at receiver, tight end and running back, we'll see how it all comes together and who the main chain-moving cogs are. Smith will be in the mix for sure. -Mike Dussault

If you have a offensive line from the top of the depth chart, David Andrews is the starting center, the guards are Mike Onwenu (350 lbs) and Cole Strange (305lbs), and Trent Brown (380 lbs) and Isaiah Wynn (310 lbs) man the tackle spots. Weight-wise, the line would be unbalanced with Onwenu and Brown on the one side and Strange and Wynn on the other because one pairing is significantly heavier than the other. Could Brown and Wynn be playing the opposite sides to last season simply because of size? -David Beckett

I think that's a good theory, from what we saw in minicamp it was certainly a more balanced line by flopping Brown and Wynn, but for me, it's less about the size of the players and more about the availability. Either way, if Brown and Wynn are healthy, I think the team is in pretty good shape no matter what side they're playing. As chess pieces it makes sense to balance things out, to be able to get Strange and Wynn in space while also utilizing the size and power of Brown and Onwenu. But if/when one of them goes down things will rapidly start to change and then the balancing out of the starting line isn't as important as guys like Justin Herron and Yodny Cajuste enter the mix. -Mike Dussault

DL Christian Barmore
DL Christian Barmore

Last year we struggled with run defense. When are the Patriots going to find next Vincent Wilfolk to plug the middle of the line. I was hoping they would address the spot in draft. -Christopher Clark

Yeah, I was too to be honest. What seems clear from minicamp is that the same defensive trench players are likely to lead the way in 2022 and while there's a lot to be excited about with Christian Barmore, my question is how much of an overall impact will he have? Will he be a three-down defensive lineman? Or will he continue to primarily be a designated pass rusher? Ideally, I was hoping the team would complement him with a big stout interior space eater to develop behind Lawrence Guy and Davon Godchaux, but unless rookie sixth-rounder Sam Roberts makes a huge leap, it looks like the defense will lean on those vets again, along with Deatrich Wise and possibly Carl Davis. Daniel Ekuale is a bit of a dark horse after making an impact from the practice squad last year, but word just came down that he'll be suspended the first two games of the season. That could open up an opportunity for someone like Roberts. Keep this in mind for the 2023 offseason, between defensive tackle and defensive end/edge, they might be the biggest positions of need next year. -Mike Dussault

Who do you see starting on the other side with Matthew Judon on the edge as is presently? -@Fuadnehemen

Could be Josh Uche but it's hard to tell depending on what packages the defense was working out of during what we saw at minicamp. More likely is that Uche is the guy in sub-packages coming off the other edge, but on early downs, when stopping the run and setting the edge are paramount, I'm still not sure. There will be some crossover with Deatrich Wise, who is playing a more traditional 4-3 defensive end kind of role that will include some edge setting. I'm keeping an eye on Anfernee Jennings, he has the size and length that Uche and Ronnie Perkins might lack, at least when it comes to projecting a big, edge setting outside linebacker. That's where Jennings did his best work at Alabama, while he was a little miscast in his rookie season, moving more to inside linebacker. Overall, I'd expect a lot specialization at the second level this season. Something like Judon-Bentley-McMillan-Jennings on early downs, Judon-Wilson/McMillan-Uche/Perkins on passing downs. -Mike Dussault

As we all have learned from years of being educated by our New England Patriots under the watchful eye of the legendary Bill Belichick, the need for a strong tight end group that are capable of blocking, receiving and giving the oppositions defensive coordinator a matchup headache are essential for sustained success in the NFL. After you have seen the tight end group up close at this year's minicamp that just finished how do you like the look of them as a group, do you feel they should try to add someone else into the mix or are you happy that this group have the depth, ability and talent to be a coordinator's headache that all teams fear to face? -Marc Saez

I feel really good about the group, especially considering that we didn't see Hunter Henry do much and we already know the impact he had last season and to echo my first answer, I have high hopes for Jonnu Smith in his second season, that he can be a more consistent contributor. Devin Asiasi is the unknown quantity, but he looks like a fairly athletic player. He'll need to make some splash plays in camp to really stand out and might need an injury to Henry or Jones to truly get a chance at a significant role but it's easy to forget that he was a third-round pick just two seasons ago. Dalton Keene has yet to really see any significant snaps on offense so it's hard to really say much about him. Injuries have really hampered him, but he remains a unique presence in the group with more H-back kind of potential. Like the rest of the weaponry on this Patriots team, it might not have that elite A-list headliner but they have some really solid NFL players. If they all stay healthy and make strides this year they have as much overall potential as any tight end group in the league. -Mike Dussault

TE Devin Asiasi
TE Devin Asiasi

I know it's only been a mini slice of what's to come/potential there, but what have you witnessed how do you feel about the Patriots cornerback position at the moment, and do you think there is anyone out there at CB you could see them adding in free agency? -ClazzyClare

Malcolm Butler and Terrance Mitchell were put right into the mix during OTAs, along with Jalen Mills, as that seems like the top trio of outside cornerbacks. I don't really see them making any more moves at this point before camp, they'll let the competition play out with what they have. It's an okay mix of youth and vets, but definitely heavy on the small, quicker inside players than the outside ones, but if Butler and Mitchell can play up to their own standards that they've set during their careers, I think the secondary will be in decent hands. I do think Jack Jones is going to make a lot of plays on the ball during camp and that will get him into the mix to maybe push for significant outside snaps. But overall it's a great question and one of the most interesting parts of the Patriots roster, along with linebacker. It might be a trial by fire with those groups early in the season. -Mike Dussault

Does Josh Bledsoe have any Duron Harmon potential? -@QualitySmoke

Harmon seemed more of in the free safety mold, one who'd come on during clear passing downs and handle the back end, and I don't really see Bledsoe that way, he's more in the strong safety mold with the ability to play close to the line of scrimmage while covering running backs and tight ends. Yes, it seems like the Patriots have quite a few of those kind of players, including Dugger, Phillips and Peppers, so figuring out how Bledsoe can find a role is a little tough. But if you're looking for a Harmon type, I'd look toward Jonathan Jones and Myles Bryant. Both seem to have the smarts and range to handle the back end and could see those duties expand. -Mike Dussault

WR Tre Nixon
WR Tre Nixon

How does Tre Nixon look? How likely is he to get a roster spot? -@JamesJohnRees

Even though Nixon looked great last week and made the most of his opportunities by catching everything thrown his way, including a one-handed deep ball, I think he'll still be in a dogfight for a 53-man roster spot given the depth of the receiving corps. At best he's probably the fifth receiver on the roster, and that's not including that Tyquan Thornton is a rookie second-rounder who is not getting cut. Add in that Nixon doesn't seem like a major special teams contributor and it makes his road even tougher. A practice squad spot should be in the cards, but you never know what could happen if Nixon keeps lighting it up in camp. I'd tie his role most directly to Jakobi Meyers. -Mike Dussault

Who's calling the plays on offense? -MOB

Closing things out with a big question from old friend MOB, aka Megan O'Brien, aka Meg Morant. Yes, the playcaller is a big story this offseason and rightly so, but I also think this is a story that has taken on a bigger life than it should. Before OTA's I felt pretty sure Joe Judge would call the plays but Matt Patricia seemed to be very involved during the spring. Given his experience calling defensive plays, I'd lean toward Patricia as the guy. But the more important thing to me is Mac Jones and the offensive execution. Mac has stepped into a leadership role and seems to know exactly what he wants. He has a good array of weaponry. I expect the offense to be better this year, especially in difficult situations. Yes, the playcaller has a role in that but from the talent and development I see on the offensive side of the ball, I'm optimistic. The defense however, is what I'm more concerned about. Other than the safety position, which I think will be their strength in a number of ways, I have significant questions about every other defensive personnel group. -Mike Dussault

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