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Six Observations on Offense From the Patriots First Minicamp Practice

With the Patriots holding their first mandatory minicamp practice on Monday, here are six observations, including a recap of QB Drake Maye's performance. 

Patriots wide receiver Ja'Lynn Polk (1).
Patriots wide receiver Ja'Lynn Polk (1).

The Patriots held their first mandatory minicamp session on the fields behind Gillette Stadium on Monday as initial impressions of coordinator Alex Van Pelt's offense take shape.

Although the major caveat is that these are non-padded sessions, the four practices open to the media are offensively following a similar script. New England's defense, with a much larger returning player rate and scheme continuity, has had the upper hand throughout the spring. The Pats defense didn't completely put the clamps on the offense in Monday's practice as it did last week, but it was another clunky day for the offense.

There are two reasons why you shouldn't overreact to this yet. First, the Patriots offense is running its base plays against a very good defense. There aren't many bells and whistles, and play sequencing and the run game are non-factors, so it's on an offense that lacks elite playmakers to win individual matchups. If the Pats' O lines up against New England's defense straight-up, the talent on defense will win most of those battles.

Last week, veteran receiver K.J. Osborn, who played in this offense under the Kubiak family in Minnesota, spoke about how everything in this system builds off the run game with play-action. Until those two things come together, we aren't seeing this system at full capacity.

"It's hard to tell without pads because in any offense, but especially this one, you have to marry the run and pass," Osborn said. "If you watched Cleveland, they had a really strong run game. They had some really good tight ends, which I think we have here. That opens up the pass game, opens up the play-action, opens up the RPOs, and whatever else we have."

The Patriots free-agent addition has a point. Hasty reactions to an admittedly inconsistent spring offensively would overlook the impact that the run and play-action sequencing has on this offense. It's a significant part of this coaching tree's success, from Cleveland to Green Bay.

Still, based on very early impressions in the spring, the Patriots starting offense lacks something special that elevates the entire unit. There's just no wow factor to their passing game, and you can feel the lack of presence of a star No. 1 receiver, making everything more challenging.

The Van Pelt scheme may elevate the talent on the roster. However, the most likely source comes at the quarterback position from third overall pick Drake Maye, who is making positive strides. Maye repped as the second quarterback behind current starter Jacoby Brissett for the second consecutive open practice. He also nearly matched Brissett in total reps with 29, compared to Brissett's 30 reps during 7-on-7 and 11-on-11s.

Maye has the occasional missed throw that many expected, but there's more juice to the operation when the rookie is at the controls. Maye's arm talent and athleticism allow him, in flashes, to elevate those around him.

For example, New England's offensive line has struggled with pressure being a consistent theme this spring. On one rep, Maye stepped through the pocket to avoid edge pressure and threw off-platform across his body to an open Ja'Lynn Polk. The play caught the eye of several players on the sideline, with safety Jabrill Peppers applauding Maye's efforts. Those are the moments when Maye showcases why he was the No. 3 overall pick.

As Maye works to master the offense, there are daily reminders that he has a playmaker gene, both in-structure and off-script. We haven't seen the latter yet in spring practices, where they're aiming for him to play on time within the scheme rather than in playground mode.

The Patriots understandably don't seem to be in any rush to start the season with Maye as their QB1, especially with the rest of the pieces offensively remaining a work in progress in a new system. With that said, it's encouraging to see his progress. Even though it's wise to play the long game, keeping Maye on the bench will be tough if this upward trajectory continues.

Here are six observations of the offense in the Patriots first minicamp practice on Monday:

Patriots quarterback Drake Maye (10) and Jacoby Brissett (14).
Patriots quarterback Drake Maye (10) and Jacoby Brissett (14).

1. More Insight on Drake Maye, Jacoby Brissett, and the Pats QB's Practice Performance

Although the third overall pick is the top storyline, Brissett continues to rep as the starting quarterback. However, the gap in terms of volume is also closing, as we mentioned previously.

Brissett took 30 competitive reps during team drills, finishing the session with a pedestrian eight completions on 15 pass attempts in 11-on-11s. Maye was 12-of-17 during full-team drills. Pressure was an issue for both quarterbacks, with as many as four practice sacks. As Maye's reps have increased, Bailey Zappe's (13 reps) workload is decreasing, while sixth-round rookie Joe Milton continues to see "opportunity" work with only six competitive reps in drills.

To be fair, Brissett hasn't been bad. He's facing a great defense without much weaponry or a stable line, and he was the only QB to lead a scoring drive in a two-minute drill at the end of practice, hitting Jalen Reagor in-stride on a slant to set up a 48-yard field goal as time expired. Still, like the rest of the first-team offense, Brissett isn't a difference-maker.

As for Maye, the off-platform throw on a crosser to Polk was the highlight. But he also threaded the needle during a red-zone 7-on-7 period to TE Jaheim Bell, a seam shot that was a staple on Maye's UNC film. There are moments where he'll lose his accuracy, which happened when he sailed a corner route to TE Mitchell Wilcox in the end zone. Still, Maye plays on time with his eyes in the right places while the physical tools are there.

Milton's downfield accuracy is an absolute roller coaster. He made the second-best throw of the day on a deep out to newly signed receiver JaQuae Jackson, where he threw a bullet on a deep out that put into perspective the upgrade in arm talent the Patriots made in their quarterback room when they selected Maye and Milton in April. But then he'll sail throws well over the intended target for incompletions.

Lastly, Zappe struggled, finishing his one-for-four in 11-on-11s with safety Kyle Dugger jumping a throw over the middle for a pick-six. Zappe had some nice throws during 7s, but this was not one of his better days.

Overall, Maye won the day. There's a lot to weigh regarding the Week 1 starter, but Maye appears to be ahead of schedule.

2. Patriots Tinkering with Different Combinations for Top Offensive Line

Another major development came along the offensive line, which continues to be up-and-down during non-padded practices.

During this portion of the offseason, the focus is more on the mental than physical. With contact at a minimum, the offensive line is blocking guys in air quotes. With the Celtics on the mind, it's like sliding your feet to stay in front of Luka Doncic rather than putting your hands into a defenders' chest and finishing a block. Still, the pocket was unstable for Brissett and Maye, with LB/S Marte Mapu running through unblocked to effectively end Maye's two-minute drive as one example.

As the team searches for their "best five" along the O-Line, it was notable to see Mike Onwenu slide inside to right guard with rookie Caedan Wallace at right tackle. The vision for the Pats was for Onwenu to hold down right tackle while Wallace, the 68th overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, transitions to left tackle along with projected starter Chuks Okorafor.

Wallace has taken more opportunities on the right side during OTAs and minicamps than expected. However, this scribe has consistently said that the Patriots best starting five is one we saw at Monday's practice at times: LT Chuks Okorafor, LG Sidy Sow, C David Andrews, RG Mike Onwenu, and RT Caedan Wallace. The other possible combination has seen Onwenu at right tackle with vet Nick Leverett at right guard.

Ultimately, this group needs to perform better in pads. But the coaching staff is at least considering sliding Onwenu back inside to create a spot for Wallace in the starting lineup.

3. Rookie WR Ja'Lynn Polk Makes First Notable Impression of the Spring

My first impression of second-round pick Ja'Lynn Polk has been to be patient in terms of standout plays in practice. Polk is a physical downfield ball-winner in a similar mold to Jakobi Meyers, who also wasn't a big-time practice player during his Patriots career. Guys like Meyers and possibly Polk are real football players, not shorts and T-shirt stars.

Polk flashed more in Monday's session. First, Polk fought off tight coverage in the back of the end zone to make a touchdown catch through contact. Brissett also hit him on a speed out, and Maye's practice highlight was on a completion to his draft classmate. With fellow rookie Javon Baker a limited participant, it was encouraging to see Polk making plays.

4. Tight End Stock Watch: Henry, Bell Stock Up, Hooper Stock Down

The Patriots tight end room will be a huge factor in the offense's success with how Van Pelt likes to utilize tight ends. An early snapshot into the position group continues to show Hunter Henry as the top dog. Henry has been Mr. Reliable between the numbers for the Pats QBs, finding the soft spots twice in zone coverage and winning on a quick slant over the middle.

Along with Henry, seventh-rounder Jaheim Bell is starting to find his footing. Bell caught a perfectly placed rocket up the seam from Maye for six. Bell's speed to run the seam has become more apparent with each rep. Hooper has struggled sometimes to create separation, but he will carve out a role as a blocker in the run game rather than as a receiver.

Although it's early, Bell could be a day-three gem. Versatile, athletic. Intriguing player.

5. The Bubble Wide Receivers Continue to Battle for Roster Spots

The roster bubble forming in the Patriots wide receiver room feels like it goes five deep: JuJu Smith-Schuster, KJ Osborn, Tyquan Thornton, Jalen Reagor, and Kayshon Boutte.

Based on contracts, Osborn and Smith-Schuster will be here because they're paid veterans. However, that might not be the case if all things were based equally on performance. Reagor has emerged as a decent catch-and-run threat as the X receiver on the backside of the formation. The Pats QBs hit him three times on shallow crossers with room to run on Monday, while Boutte made some plays in the red zone.

As for Thornton, he continues to ride the roller coaster every practice. His day started with a bad drop sitting between two zone defenders. Then, he wasn't on the same page as Brissett, running a post when Brissett expected him to break to the corner. Thornton rallied to make two grabs on outs, one short and one on a deeper break, but it's a seesaw play-to-play with Tyquan.

Depending on Kendrick Bourne's recovery timeline from his torn ACL, there could be 2-3 open roster spots at wide receiver (Douglas, Polk, Baker as locks). The favorites are Osborn, Smith-Schuster, and Reagor, but offloading JuJu remains a strong possibility.

Patriots running back Rhamondre Stevenson (38).
Patriots running back Rhamondre Stevenson (38).

6. RB Rhamondre Stevenson 'Pretty Close' on New Contract with Patriots

Lastly, my colleague Mike Dussault wrote a longer piece on Rhamondre Stevenson here. Stevenson told reporters that he's "pretty close" to reaching an agreement on a contract extension with the Patriots. The Pats lead-back is in the final year of his rookie deal.

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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