The Patriots offense's first open organized team activity was everything a Pats fan would want to see and hear this time of year.
With Bill O'Brien coordinating team drills from the sideline on Wednesday, New England's offense led by quarterback Mac Jones had a sharpness to its overall operation that one would expect. Although it's way too early to evaluate physical performance in the spring, things were happening with an encouraging rhythm, pace, and purpose.
Certain schematic elements also stood out from a heavy screen-game period, utilizing motion and shifts, varied receiver alignments, and highlighting unique personnel. You can tell that O'Brien continued adding to his bag at each stop along his football journey, giving the Patriots offense carryover from the Josh McDaniels era with some new wrinkles.
The bones for the offense passed the eye test in the early going, with an emphasis on early, which has the starting quarterback in a good state of mind. Speaking for the first time this offseason, Mac Jones is preparing for a bounce-back year after an uneven second season.
"Sometimes the most confident people come from a year where they might not have been at their best, and I feel like that's where I'm at. We all feel like that, so we are all hungry. That's all I took from last year was a learning experience. It's the NFL. It's the hardest league there is, and everyone is really good, so you have to bring your best."
"All I'm going to do is run my race, and hopefully, everyone will run right behind me," Jones told reporters after Wednesday's practice.
The Patriots quarterback noted that new offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien's recent stint at Jones's alma mater on Nick Saban's staff at the University of Alabama brings familiarity. Although the early returns are positive, Jones is entering his third season with his third offensive coordinator since the Patriots made him the 15th overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft. Jones compared another change at coordinator to his experiences in college.
"He obviously has great experience in the NFL and at Alabama where I was, so there's a lot of good stuff that we have talked about. When we talk about lingo, it's like things we both say, and it makes sense. But at the end of the day, football is football, and we are kind of building our own thing here," Jones explained. "In college, I didn't really play early on. I just got a chance to learn. I learned from a lot of really great coaches. Sark [Steve Sarkisian], [Brian] Daboll, [Mike] Locksley, [Lane] Kiffin. I actually had a different coordinator every year there. What I took from that is you learn from each one of them. You take the really good things and add them to your repertoire. I think with [Bill O'Brien], we are going to work towards that. There is a lot of familiarity, but it's a new relationship, and we are working on that trust."
An evident indecisiveness for the Patriots quarterback began in the spring and summer at this time last year and continued into the 2022 season. Jones didn't have that same pause in his decision-making that we saw a year ago, and that's what OTAs are all about, laying a foundation for the mental aspects of the game so it becomes second nature when real football rolls around.
Another early-spring flash that goes hand-in-hand with a bounce-back campaign for Jones is a second-year leap for wide receiver Tyquan Thornton.
Thornton was at the epicenter of several schematic tricks of the trade that O'Brien is installing. The wideout opened practice by gliding past the entire secondary in a seven-on-seven drill for a long touchdown on a deep post, which had me saying, "he's open," almost immediately off the line.
Then, the 2022 second-rounder turned around cornerback Rodney Randle on an out route, caught a slant in-stride that looked like it would've been a big play, and projects a factor while in motion at the snap.
These non-padded practices come with a grain of salt: speedy receivers often shine in the spring. Obviously, a guy who runs a 4.28-second 40-yard dash will be a problem to cover in a non-contact practice. There's minimal physicality throughout the route, this isn't bump-and-run press out here, and nobody is lurking over the middle.
Still, Thornton's route-running precision and pacing to create separation were better than his rookie training camp, and O'Brien is already incorporating plays to get Thornton into foot races.
Along with Thornton, newcomer Mike Gesicki had the crossers working at tight end alongside Hunter Henry, receiving back Ty Montgomery picked up where he left off last summer, Kendrick Bourne was in the mix with free-agent addition JuJu Smith-Schuster not in attendance, a spry Kevin Harris caught some passes, and rookie Demario Douglas took advantage of his opportunities.
As for the offensive line, we are not discussing performance without pads, and incumbent starters Trent Brown and right guard Mike Onwenu weren't present for the session. But a group that you'd expect to factor into an initial 53-man roster projection is returners David Andrews, Cole Strange, James Ferentz, Conor McDermott, and Bill Murray, along with newcomers at tackle in Riley Reiff and Calvin Anderson.
The Patriots have a long way to go before live football begins at training camp later this summer, with the start of the regular season months away, making Wednesday's practice a microscopic view of a much bigger picture that will hopefully come together by September.
Although getting jazzed up about overreactions from a two-hour practice in May is fun, it's not necessarily indicative of anything that will factor into wins and losses this fall, a lesson I've learned over the years.
To keep things in perspective, in my first offseason covering the team in 2019, veteran receiver Maurice Harris looked primed for a significant role based on OTAs. Instead, Harris didn't even make the roster a few months later.
Still, seeing the Patriots offense operating like a well-oiled machine on Wednesday is the takeaway you'd want to have from a spring practice with a new coordinator at the helm.
Check out photos from Patriots OTAs on Tuesday, May 23 and Wednesday, May 31, 2023.
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