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Six Takeaways From the Patriots Third Open OTA Practice 

The defense won the day with the Patriots mainly working in the red zone. However, there was one notable change at quarterback. 

From left to right: Patriots offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt (left) and quarterback Drake Maye (10).
From left to right: Patriots offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt (left) and quarterback Drake Maye (10).

The Patriots were on the practice field for one last look inside their organized team activities on Tuesday before next week's three-day mandatory that will wrap up the spring offseason program.

Before the two-hour session began on the fields behind Gillette Stadium, offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt spoke about rookie quarterback Drake Maye's progress. Van Pelt offered a promising report on Maye. Then, reporters saw the third overall pick take reps behind starter Jacoby Brissett for the first time this spring, leapfrogging Bailey Zappe.

Maye's ascension, at least for one practice, was the biggest takeaway from Tuesday's session. However, Van Pelt said in his press conference that Brissett remains the team's starter. The Pats OC reiterated that there's no timetable to officially name a Week 1 starter at quarterback.

"Jacoby, again, is our starter, and he's playing excellent football for us in the spring, and Drake is coming on. So until that changes, we are going to stick with what we got," Van Pelt told reporters.

When asked about Maye's development specifically, Van Pelt added, "He's been impressive. We always talk about earning your reps around here, so he continues to grow…It's a process. It's a marathon. We're going to take our time and do it the right way."

During the pre-draft process, many pundits criticized Maye's footwork. Maye is a big, athletic quarterback. But his feet lacked rhythm, which often threw off the timing of his throws and led to poor accuracy. With Van Pelt as the lead voice in Maye's development, the Patriots coaching staff quickly began tweaking the rookie's footwork, changing his stance in the shotgun to have his left foot forward and introducing new under-center footwork.

"That's a big change for a guy to come in and completely change the footwork. We did it right away, and he's embraced it," Van Pelt said. "In our system, it's all based on timing and rhythm in the pass game. The left foot forward always gives this offense the best chance to play on time and in rhythm."

Although there could be other mechanical tweaks that Maye could make to shorten his throwing motion, the coaching staff is currently focused on building a solid foundation from the ground up. According to McCartney, it's all about syncing Maye's feet and eyes right now. At this point, the Patriots haven't done anything to change Maye's throwing motion.

Speaking after practice, Maye opened up about his process for continuing to make his footwork more consistent, which ties together with his passing accuracy.

"It's all about timing. Timing up the drops with the concepts. Going back to the film, hey, did I use the right drop? Am I a little early or a little late? Going back and watching routes versus air. I think routes against air is an awesome opportunity to say, hey, am I timed up right? Am I using the right footwork," Maye told Patriots.com.

Maye was then asked about one area where he felt he had made the most progress and one area he hoped to improve. The Pats rookie quarterback thinks he's starting to grasp the offense well.

"All the terminology. All the motions, all the different formations. I feel like I'm getting a pretty good gist of it. Still a work in progress getting new installs every day. But I feel like I'm a smart kid, so I'm trying to pick that up pretty fast," Maye said of where he's improving. On the other side of the coin, Maye explained that he's still getting used to calling plays in the huddle, which is new for quarterbacks going from the college play-calling system to headsets in their helmets.

We'll discuss practice results here in a second, which were inconsistent for the Patriots offense, especially in 11-on-11 drills. However, the bottom line is that these mental and mechanical aspects of the game will determine when Maye takes over as the starter. Is he mechanically tied together? Is he playing on time? Can he run the huddle and make all the necessary checks at the line? The talent is there. The rest is in the details, and the details are coming along for the third overall pick.

Here are six takeaways from the Patriots third open OTA practice in Foxborough on Tuesday:

1. Drake Maye Sees Increased Reps, But Overall Offensive Performance is Clunky

As we mentioned, the notable change from Tuesday's practice was that Maye appeared to move up the depth chart ahead of Zappe, taking reps right after Brissett's turn in the rotation.

Although that's a positive development, Maye downplayed it slightly by saying the order has changed some throughout the spring to get the quarterbacks work with all the receivers, tight ends, and running backs on the roster. Still, the number of competitive reps during team drills also increased for Maye: Brissett (25), Maye (14), Zappe (10), and Milton (four).

New England continued to practice with Brissett as the clear-cut starter, but both quarterbacks struggled during team drills, with Brissett finishing 3-of-10 with multiple sacks in 11-on-11s. Maye wasn't much better, ending practice 3-of-6 in full team drills with two interceptions.

Starting with the positives for the quarterbacks, there's a clear difference in success rate in 7-on-7s where there isn't a pass rush. In 7s, Maye made several impressive throws. Most notably, a perfectly placed touchdown pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster in the corner of the end zone and a late-in-the-down, slightly off-platform throw to Pop Douglas in the back of the end zone.

However, things took a turn for the worse against a pass rush. Maye's first interception in 11-on-11s came when he sailed a throw for JuJu Smith-Schuster. It appeared that the Pats rookie QB was trying to hit the second-level route in a three-level flood concept, where the vertical cleared out the sideline and Smith-Schuster's route filled in underneath. Maye put too much air on the pass for an open JuJu, and Kaleb Ford-Dement intercepted it.

On his second interception, Maye said it was a miscommunication between him and running back Antonio Gibson. Maye appeared to read man coverage, signaling that Gibson should continue his route across the field. But the Pats RB sat versus zone. Since Gibson stopped his route, Maye threw the ball to a diving Kyle Dugger rather than Gibson on the shallow drag route.

The Patriots emphasized the low red zone on a heavy installation day. The Pats installed their base red zone concepts in the classroom earlier in the day. Then, they took it to routes against air before repping it against New England's defense in team drills. Overall, the results were poor for nearly all the Patriots quarterbacks.

Brissett held the ball and did not fare much better in his reps. In fact, Bailey Zappe came back with two late touchdowns to rescue what would've been a lousy end to the final red zone 11-on-11 period. Despite his best efforts, Zappe and the offense ended practice by doing push-ups, signaling the defense won the day. It was not particularly close.

2. Patriots O-Line Struggles Down Top Tackles, Concern Grows for Offensive Line Group

There are a few caveats to the Patriots struggles along the offensive line in Tuesday's practice. First, top tackles Mike Onwenu (right) and Chuks Okorafor (left) did not participate in team drills, with rookie Caedan Wallace (right) and Calvin Anderson (left) replacing them.

Second, wide receiver K.J. Osborn offered great insight into Van Pelt's offensive system. Osborn played in a similar offense with Gary and Klint Kubiak in Minnesota during his first two seasons in the NFL. Osborn said that the offense doesn't start to click until fully padded practices begin in training camp because there's such an emphasis on marrying the run and pass. New England expects to be very play-action heavy, using an effective running game to open passing lanes for explosive play-action passes.

Until the run game becomes a threat where Van Pelt can sequence run and pass together, the Patriots offense is playing with one hand tied behind their back. Still, the offensive line issues have been palpable in practice. On Tuesday, we counted at least six drop-backs where pressure was an issue. Mainly, interior pressure, created by Christian Barmore and friends.

Although it's a positive note on Barmore, who wrecked multiple pass plays and was an absolute force, these O-Line issues aren't surprising, given the personnel on paper. We'll give this group some time to gel, and it's always harder to block with your feet and hands without any contact.

With that said, it wouldn't be shocking to anyone following this team closely if the line is their undoing this season offensively, and early returns suggest it will be an issue.

3. WR JuJu Smith-Schuster Flashes for the First Time This Spring, What's His Role?

Early in practice, there was an extended special teams period during which we got a good look at the Patriots strategy for the new kickoff rules. During that period, it caught the eye that Smith-Schuster was the lone receiver working with WRs coach Tyler Hughes on the other field. The other 11 receivers on the roster had roles on special teams that they were working on with coordinator Jeremy Springer.

At that moment, you realize that Smith-Schuster is the team's highest-paid wide receiver, who doesn't have four-down versatility and is coming off a disappointing season. In a crowded wide receiver room, where does JuJu fit? To his credit, this was the most noticeable Smith-Schuster has been this spring, connecting with Brissett (under route) and Maye (corner route) for touchdowns during red zone work.

Although there are cap implications, Smith-Schuster must make the Patriots roster outright without a role on special teams. He'll need to continue stacking good days to avoid being a cap casualty.

4. DeMario Douglas Goes on a Heater, Best Pats Receiver in Open Practices

The Patriots are incorporating two rookie receivers who have everyone excited, but that doesn't mean they should forget about Pop Douglas. Douglas had a standout rookie season (49 catches, 561 yards), with more receiving yards than any Pats rookie in decades.

On Tuesday, Douglas caught three of his four targets, going on a mid-practice heater where his jitterbug quickness was too much for New England's defense in the slot. Second-rounder Ja'Lynn Polk has been quiet during team drills (zero catches on Tuesday), while free-agent addition K.J. Osborn was more noticeable in this session than others (two catches).

Still, neither Osborn nor Polk have done anything to separate themselves, whereas Douglas has consistently been the Patriots best separator in the spring.

5. Tight Ends More in Focus While Working in the Low Red Zone

New England's tight ends caught the eye more in this red zone-heavy practice. You can't evaluate blocking in the run game without pads, which is a huge part of the equation for tight ends in this offense. However, Hunter Henry hauled in two touchdown grabs during red zone work, while rookie Jaheim Bell and La'Michael Pettway also got on the board. Henry looked like his usual self and was a reliable target for the Patriots QBs. Bell made his first notable practice play by elevating over Josh Bledsoe for a high-point TD, while Pettway was amped after beating Bledsoe to the inside on a skinny post. Hopefully, we'll see more from this group soon.

6. Running Back Competition is Worth Monitoring Behind Rhamondre Stevenson

A sneaky important position battle for the Patriots offense this spring and summer is at running back. New England has Rhamondre Stevenson returning in a lead-back role, while free-agent addition Antonio Gibson joined the team as a change-of-pace/receiving back. However, the competition for RB3 and RB4 is wide-open. Plus, there's not much proven depth there in the early-down role behind Stevenson. JaMychal Hasty was active in Tuesday's session with three catches, including an impressive back-shoulder catch with Ja'Whaun Bentley in coverage. Hasty could earn a role in an offense that wants to run the ball plenty.

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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