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Patriots Mailbag: What is OC Alex Van Pelt's Plan as the 'Lead Guy' in Drake Maye's Development?

Breaking down Van Pelt's approach to quarterback footwork with Maye confirmed he'll change his shotgun stance under the Patriots offensive coordinator. 


The most important relationship in Foxborough right now is between rookie quarterback Drake Maye and offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt.

Before rookie minicamp practice on Saturday, head coach Jerod Mayo tabbed the veteran OC as the "lead guy" in the third overall pick's development. During practice last weekend, Van Pelt took a hands-on approach with Maye and sixth-round draft choice Joe Milton. However, AVP was joined by QB's coach T.C. McCartney, senior offensive assistant Ben McAdoo, and assistant coach Evan Rothstein.

Ultimately, Van Pelt is the lead voice in Maye's ear. But it will be a group effort, as the Pats coaches had Maye working from under center and shotgun at less than full speed to begin building good habits. Although footwork is often based on preference for proven veterans, Van Pelt has a specific way of doing things. According to Maye, the Pats OC is reconfiguring Maye's stance in the shotgun and under center, emphasizing his left foot being up. In college, Maye had his right foot forward.

A major criticism in the draft process was Maye's inconsistent footwork, which caused him to lose accuracy. Van Pelt has a clear game plan to fix those issues based on years of experience, but why such an emphasis on Maye's left foot being up in a staggered shotgun stance? For the record, this isn't a universal way to do things. Mahomes is a right-foot forward guy, Brady and Rodgers were mostly left, and Manning was an even or square stance shotgun QB — all the greats vary their stances, so there isn't a definitive correct answer.

Still, Van Pelt feels strongly about his quarterbacks putting their left foot in front of their right in shotgun. In Cleveland, he explained why he had Baker Mayfield change to a left-foot forward stance in the gun.

"We're going to switch [Mayfield] to left foot up and see how he likes that because, to me, that allows a quarterback to play with more rhythm. It's quarterback junkie talk, but it's something I believe in," Van Pelt said back in 2020. "There's more rhythm. It's not as robotic. It's more fluid."

Although there aren't any universal stances, here's an explanation using examples from Mayfield with the Browns in the 2020 season as to why this is a good thing for Maye, who needs improved timing in his drops to sync his feet with his throws. In theory, Van Pelt's schooling should clean up Maye's issues.

The most common shotgun drop is a one-step drop in the quick game. There are a few advantages to having your left foot up in those instances. First, there's more rhythm to it that aligns with the quick game from under center (three steps). It also helps align the throwing hallway to the left side of the field, which can be difficult for right-handed QBs, and the timing makes it harder for defenders to jump quick routes. Above, Mayfield slides his left foot back, puts his right foot in the ground, and throws. If his right foot was up, he'd just slide it back and throw a quicker but more robotic movement.

On longer shotgun drops, an advantage to having your left foot forward is the extra step allows the quarterback to keep his back foot underneath his throwing platform. Oftentimes, quarterbacks will overstride, creating an elongated base, which puts all the stress on the arm to generate velocity and causes overthrows. In this example, Mayfield slides his left foot back, then his right foot, hitch steps without crossing over, and throws.

Without needing elongated strides to get separation from the offensive line, Mayfield has excellent balance and timing as he throws with his back (right) foot underneath him. As a result, Baker makes a strong and accurate throw for a first-down completion.

The Patriots coaching staff knows that Maye has "a lot to work on" before he gets on the field. As Coach Mayo said, the staff is confident Maye will put in the work. Fans should feel good that Van Pelt has a proven track record to turn Maye's footwork into a rhythmic dance that should make his accuracy more consistent. New England's young QB1 is in good hands with Van Pelt. Now, it's time to go to work.

Without further ado, let's empty the Patriots Unfiltered mailbag with OTAs on the horizon:

Q: Barring an injury to Jacoby Brissett, does Drake Maye see the field this year - John Y

I'm going on the record now that Maye will start his rookie year and won't be redshirted. My gut tells me he won't start Week 1, but he'll start the majority of the games in 2024. I'm expecting a similar setup to what the Dolphins did with Tua in 2020, where his first start came after Miami's bye in Week 8. At some point, the best player has to play, and that will be Maye.

Q: Who is the most likely undrafted free agent to make the 53-man roster? - Mark S

Patriots un-drafted free agents RB Deshaun Fenwick and TE Jacob Warren.
Patriots un-drafted free agents RB Deshaun Fenwick and TE Jacob Warren.

I haven't written much about the UDFAs, so here are some quick thoughts. Based on the numbers, RB Deshaun Fenwick and TE Jacob Warren have the clearest path to a roster spot. Fenwick is a bigger back who can handle an early-down role and is a good fit as a one-cut runner in a zone scheme. He could compete for a spot as RB3/4. Warren has the size to be a true in-line blocking tight end, which also gives him a role, seeing that Hunter Henry, Austin Hooper, and Jaheim Bell aren't impacted in-line blockers.

However, my dark horse to make the roster as a UDFA is C/G Charles Turner. We saw Turner working at right guard during minicamp practice, but many believe he'll stick at center. Turner got buried in a deep center class in the draft. He has the length and quickness to excel in a zone scheme while making 26 starts in college. Turner might be a year away as he improves his anchor/play strength, but don't be surprised if he pushes 2023 fourth-rounder Jake Andrews for a spot as the backup center.

Q: With Stevenson being an FA after next season (and Gibson being the only RB under contract for 2025), are you surprised they didn't draft an RB? - @UnofficialJKFC

I'm a little surprised the Patriots didn't draft a running back due to the future outlook at the position, yes. But they understandably feel good about their top two guys, Rhamondre Stevenson and Antonio Gibson, so a depth need got kicked to 2025. Still, I don't think the Patriots are done adding at running back. There aren't any proven NFL talents behind the top two, with Kevin Harris as the likely RB3 right now. They might wait until the same time period they signed Zeke last summer, but if a veteran running back becomes available, I'd expect the Patriots to be interested. With the offensive staff wanting to build everything off the running game, the Pats could use more proven depth at running back.

Q: Does the new coaching staff see Mike Onwenu as a starting right tackle, or is he only there out of necessity until they get someone to play that position? - Jim K

Patriots OL Mike Onwenu
Patriots OL Mike Onwenu

I've been kicking this around my brain since the Patriots drafted Caedan Wallace in the third round: is Onwenu's best fit at right tackle, or are they playing him there because he's their best short-term option? For a rebuilding team, everything should be about building toward Drake Maye's contending window. Onwenu playing right tackle is best for 2024, but does the position suit him and the team's outlook beyond next season?

From the team's perspective, a full offseason dedicated to right tackle should help Onwenu improve his fundamentals. He'll now take pass sets full-time at right tackle, hopefully improving the depth he gets out of his stance and balance in his slides to handle more dynamic rushers. Onwenu was already an average starting right tackle, so he could take that next step toward being above-average-to-great at the position with more reps. In that case, it's worth a shot because finding a stud right tackle is more valuable to the offensive line than a great right guard.

However, my view is that Onwenu is still best suited to play guard, especially in an outside zone system where range and lateral movement are key at tackle. In the long run, the best thing for the team might be for Onwenu and Wallace to play their natural spots on the right side, with Onwenu at RG and the rookie at right tackle. Then, you draft a pure left tackle early in 2025.

The Patriots are giving Onwenu a chance to prove that he can play right tackle at a consistently high level. Again, he has enough good tape there to give it a shot. But it wouldn't be surprising if they reset the position switches for him and Wallace down the road.

Q: What are we hearing about Christian Gonzalez's health for this season and the long term? Is he going to be someone who is constantly injured? - @Patho18

Like any player coming off a major injury, Gonzalez's ramp-up period in the spring will be slower than his healthy teammates. It's good to see him out there during the spring, and we posted a few videos of him doing positional drills on our social media, which is a great sign. Gonzalez deferred to the coaches and medical staff on his status for OTAs and minicamp, but I'm not overly concerned about his long-term outlook. He needs to bulk up and become stronger with more meat on the bones, but that should come as his body develops in an NFL program.

Q: Other than their age coming into the league, I don't see much difference between Joe Milton and Anthony Richardson as prospects. Why did Milton fall to the sixth round compared to Richardson in the first round? - Alejandro M

My comparison for Milton since the Senior Bowl has been day three Anthony Richardson. With massive frames and ridiculous arm strength, their general skill sets are similar – both guys have freakish physical traits. However, Richardson is a more dynamic mover. He's faster in a straight line with 4.43-second timed speed and showed more skill in the pocket. Although his footwork was also inconsistent, Richardson didn't have the propensity to freeze in the pocket, with stare-downs of his first reads and his feet stuck in the mud like Milton's. Richardson was a more dynamic collegiate playmaker, so he was considered a better prospect.

Although he's older, Milton has upside because he only made 21 starts in college. The Pats draft pick hasn't played much football over his six collegiate seasons, so there's still room to grow. Richardson's instincts and floor as a passer ultimately made him a much better prospect. On the surface, they're similar, but Richardson is designer brand Joe Milton, or the inverse would be that Milton is a store brand version of Richardson.

Q: Don't the Patriots need to spend most of their cap space this year? Aren't teams required to spend a certain amount? - John S

The short answer is yes; teams must spend at least 90% of the available salary cap over a three-year period. However, the three-year cycle began in 2024, meaning the Patriots still have 2025 and 2026 to meet the league requirements. Currently, the Pats have a league-high $50.4 million in cap space, per @PatsCap. Based on Over the Cap's numbers, that's roughly $7 million more than the next closest team – it's a lot of cap space for this time of year.

New England's unused cap space will roll over into the 2025 season, and with Drake Maye on a rookie contract, it sets the Patriots up for significant spending over the next two offseasons. My read on the situation is that, besides bidding for Calvin Ridley's services, the Patriots didn't see any external free agents worthy of a massive contract. Therefore, the wise thing to do was to maintain their cap flexibility for when those moves present themselves. That said, the Pats hand will be somewhat forced by league rules to be big spenders in the near future.

Q: Are the Patriots really considering this new logo in recent social media posts as a replacement or a secondary logo? - Mark T

Look, I love that Patriots Nation cares so much about the team's branding. Fans care about this team's jerseys, logos, pants, helmets – it's cool, I get it. However, some of you are overreacting to the alternate logo used on some social media posts. If the Patriots were changing their primary logo, they wouldn't do it by sneaking it into a few social media posts. There'd be a whole marketing campaign and unveiling for that sort of thing. If you don't like the circular alternate logo, don't worry about it too much. I doubt it'll ever be a primary logo.

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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