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Six Takeaways On the Patriots Offense as the Quarterbacks Take Center Stage in OTAs

Here's everything we saw while observing the Patriots offense at Monday's OTA session at Gillette Stadium. 

Patriots quarterback Jacoby Brissett (14) hands off to running back Rhamondre Stevenson (38).
Patriots quarterback Jacoby Brissett (14) hands off to running back Rhamondre Stevenson (38).

The Patriots held their first organized team activity on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium on Monday, and the word seniority immediately comes to mind.

The focus will be on the quarterback competition throughout the spring and summer, but the veterans had the first crack at reps at nearly every position. At quarterback, projected starter Jacoby Brissett led off all drills with other regulars on offense, followed by third-year QB Bailey Zappe, first-rounder Drake Maye, and then sixth-round draft choice Joe Milton.

Despite his status as the No. 3 overall pick, it was Zappe before Maye, which was true throughout the roster. For example, Vederian Lowe took reps before third-round pick Caedan Wallace, while Ja'Lynn Polk and Javon Baker mixed in behind Pop Douglas, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Jalen Reagor. If you're into practice stats, here is how the QB reps were divided up in competitive drills: Brissett (14), Maye (seven), Zappe (five), and Milton (four).

In the interest of full disclosure, Maye paired with Brissett when the group split into ones versus twos during a team period at a brisk walkthrough pace (at one point, Zappe took reps without a helmet, while QBs weren't throwing passes off play-action drop-backs). For now, it appears that Coach Mayo will make the rookies earn it, which is a fine sentiment, but at some point, that'll need to change.

Although we're always in the school that doesn't overreact to spring practice, four quarterbacks is too many quarterbacks, especially with developmental rookies in Maye and Milton. There was too much standing around for Maye, who needs every rep he can get, especially this time of year before OC Alex Van Pelt needs to get Brissett ready for Week 1.

Once the Patriots turn to game prep mode, these valuable reps in the spring won't be there for Maye as the backup. There won't be as many opportunities for Maye during the season. Plus, Zappe's role is a conundrum. Brissett is the bridge/mentor to Maye, who is the future; that makes sense. But what is Zappe's role? He doesn't seem to have one.

We aren't throwing shade at Zappe here to be obtuse. He's a perfectly fine backup who can serve as a functional spot-starter. Zappe might push Brissett as the initial starter if all things were equal. But Brissett's experience in the system and mentorship skills are why he was hand-picked to keep the seat warm until it's Maye's time to take over.

Practice needs to be more efficient to maximize Maye's time. To be fair, Mayo said before practice that the QB reps would be a "day-by-day thing."

"I think that's a day-by-day thing," Mayo said. "You try to keep all those guys around the same rep count, but at the same time, on any given day, this guy could get 30 reps, and another guy could get five. But then as we work through the week, it could flip."

Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer also published a story earlier in the day in which Breer reported that the Patriots plan to "narrow the competition down to three guys" by training camp. Mayo responded to the story where he's quoted alongside Bears head coach Matt Eberflus (Caleb Williams) and Commanders head coach Dan Quinn (Jayden Daniels).

"Once we get to training camp, that's real football, so out here in the spring, we'll rock with four. But, as soon as we get to training camp, you have to start pairing down the roster," Mayo said.

The Patriots seem well aware that they have a quarterback logjam. Again, the goal in leading with this take isn't to be clickbaity. Still, New England should have two primary focuses: 1. Preparing Brissett to start the season, and 2. Developing Maye, a raw prospect who needs the fundamental work. Everything else is a waste of time.

Here are my notes from observing the Patriots offense in Monday's OTA session in Foxboro:

Patriots quarterback Drake Maye (10).
Patriots quarterback Drake Maye (10).

1. Drake Maye's Footwork and Mechanics Takes Center Stage in Practice Drills

Maye's chances to start early in his NFL career hinge on improving his drop-back footwork and throwing motion to be more mechanically sound.

When his mechanical chain is aligned, Maye can deliver downfield dimes. However, the timing in his drop-backs was sometimes inconsistent with North Carolina's routes, and he lacked rhythm with his feet. Maye's throwing motion also needs work, with a longer wind-up and other tweaks that could help him become more consistent with his accuracy.

On Monday, the quarterbacks went through "bag" drills where all four QBs worked with OC Alex Van Pelt and senior offensive assistant Ben McAdoo. At one point, Van Pelt called out which target the quarterbacks should aim for in the net once they got through the footwork portion.

As one would expect for a rookie in his first OTA, there were some good and bad things from Maye. The good was his urgency to get to the top of his drops. He worked quickly through his five and seven-step drops from under center, which is what you want to see. His footwork through the bags could be more efficient on some reps, but this is progress.

In the tweet, the clip on the left shows the hitch that BSJ's Greg Bedard pointed out from rookie minicamp. When he separates his hands to begin his motion, Maye's shoulders shrug with an unnecessary hitch. He also has a long wind-up with an elongated release. It needs work, but it already appears to be improving based on what we saw last weekend.

The other debate we'll have with Maye's mechanics is his shoulder tilt on deeper throws. There isn't necessarily a correct answer, but some prefer the shoulders to be level or even when the quarterback throws. Maye throws with a slight backward tilt, which can put an upward trajectory on the ball. It'll be interesting to see if AVP wants him to be more level.

Overall, you see minor improvements in Maye's mechanics from his work with the Patriots coaching staff. Right now, they're taking things slow, as they should, focusing on process over results. We'll worry about completion rates and explosive plays later.

2. Coach Mayo Gives Injury Updates on WR Kendrick Bourne and LG Cole Strange

Although it's nice to highlight the players who were participating, Mayo gave an update on two players recovering from injuries this offseason.

The Patriots head coach said Kendrick Bourne won't participate in spring practices as he recovers from a torn ACL he suffered last October. That's not surprising, with the hope that Bourne could get back on the field in the first half of the 2024 season. Strange, on the other hand, is a situation that bears watching. The third-year guard's hold on a starting job is not overly strong, and now he's not healthy and might not be for a while.

"That is an interesting one. He is another guy you would normally say day-to-day. He's more of, let's say, week-by-week, or you can go month-by-month if you want," Mayo said on Strange.

Sticking with the veteran theme, New England had veteran guard Nick Leverett at right guard while Sidy Sow repped at left guard without Strange on the interior. After two disappointing seasons for the former first-round pick, Strange is on the hot seat while rehabbing an injury.

3. Offensive Line Takes Shape for New England

The Patriots are initially rolling with the veteran offensive line combination: LT Chuks Okorafor, LG Sidy Sow, C David Andrews, RG Nick Leverett, and RT Mike Onwenu.

Leverett is a typical wide-bodied New England guard with the look of a Patriots right guard, while Sow got the first reps in Strange's usual spot. Last week, fourth-round pick Layden Robinson was working at left guard, so the Patriots are already working contingencies if Strange misses time during the season. Okorafor also seemed uncertain at left tackle in his post-practice comments, speaking about the adjustment period. It's also interesting that it doesn't appear that Onwenu has slimmed down to play tackle.

As mentioned, Vederian Lowe got the next left tackle reps, followed by rookie Caedan Wallace. Atonio Mafi got reps at all three interior spots, including center, while Robinson worked at right guard with the other rookies. Like at quarterback, the vets had priority.

4. RB Antonio Gibson Looks Like a Nice Fit for Van Pelt's Offense

During the spring, a few skill players always catch the eye. Some don't pan out, but Gibson has enough proven NFL production to treat this differently. The free-agent addition was active in the passing game and showed some juice. He looks like a natural pairing alongside Rhamondre Stevenson in the Kareem Hunt role to Stevenson's Nick Chubb.

5. Is a Healthy JuJu Smith-Schuster Competing for a Job This Summer?

Patriots wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster spoke after practice, where he told reporters that he was at "60 percent" this time last year compared to 100% this spring. Smith-Schuster arrived last offseason coming off a knee injury that limited him during Kansas City's playoff run. Then, the knee issue lingered into the 2023 season. Although we'll need to see it to believe it, Smith-Schuster is in a better place physically.

With 11 wide receivers on the roster, there aren't any roster spots for dead weight. Smith-Schuster will need to earn his spot, as will free-agent signing KJ Osborn, who had two drops during team drills. Tyquan Thornton's "best shape of his life" campaign got off to a decent start with a nice post-corner route where he got separation from CB Alex Austin.

6. Maye, Polk, and Javon Baker Stay Late for Some Extra Work

It wouldn't be spring football without a tidbit like this to end the notes: Drake Maye led a post-practice throwing session with Ja'Lynn Polk and Javon Baker. The trio stayed on the field for an extra ~15 minutes and were the last three players off the practice field. Hopefully, that indicates the culture Maye and his rookie wideouts are trying to build here in New England.

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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