There’s a popular aphorism that a judge must have two ears. This season in Foxborough, Joe Judge will also have two roles.
For the past four seasons, Judge has been New England’s special teams coordinator, a title he assumed after understudying for three years as the team’s assistant special teams coach. He’ll continue to do so in 2019, but with the added responsibility of wide receivers coach.
“Well, it’s a challenge,” Judge admitted to reporters at Gillette Stadium Friday. “Have to be very organized and diligent to make sure I’m on top of all the material. I fully embrace my role as special teams coordinator. That’s a full-time job in itself. Adding this role, obviously, increases the challenge, but I’m definitely embracing it.
“I’m excited to coach any player on our team That’s part of the aspect of coaching special teams I’ve always enjoyed, is I work with every player on our team. It’s a different challenge now, working more specifically now in a smaller room, on top of the special teams, with the receivers. But it’s a great group of guys. I’m very excited to work with these guys, learn as much about the offense and help any way I can.”
Judge’s isn’t the only coaching staff position that’s become clear. With the exodus of so many assistants this offseason, a number of other roles needed to be filled. We now know who and what those will be, according to the men themselves, all of whom spoke on the record Friday before the start of rookie minicamp.
Bret Bielema, who was on staff last year in a generic capacity (but with an emphasis on the defensive line) will take over for Brendan Daly (now with the Kansas City Chiefs) as defensive line coach. Former Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo and coaching assistant DeMarcus Covington will share the linebacker coaching duties previously held by Brian Flores (Miami Dolphins). Mayo will concentrate on inside linebackers, Covington on outside ‘backers.
Another former coaching assistant, Mike Pellegrino, declared that he’ll be coaching New England’s defensive backs, but with Steve Belichick reprising his role as safeties coach, it’s safe to assume Pellegrino will focus more on the cornerback position long overseen by Josh Boyer (Dolphins).
All other assistant coaching jobs on the Patriots staff will be filled by returning members. What remains unclear, however, is who will call defensive signals. Flores did so last season.
Judge’s unique, dual responsibility, though, is perhaps most intriguing. In his first season as an offensive coach at any level, he’ll be taking over for Chad O’Shea (Dolphins) at a time when there’s also considerable uncertainty at wide receiver. Julian Edelman returns as the elder statesman of the group, and the most recent Super Bowl MVP, with Phillip Dorsett as the next in line in terms of veteran seniority in this system (special teams co-captain Matthew Slater is technically listed as a receiver, but does not regularly see action at that spot).
A number of newcomers and young, unproven players, including 2019 first-round draft choice N’Keal Harry, make up the rest of the receiver depth chart here in Foxborough.
“We’re excited to have him here to become part of our team,” Judge said of Harry. “He’s working hard right now to learn and get on page. The best thing he’s done so far is show a very good work ethic and attitude to come in and embrace what we’re telling him.
“It’s been a very short window at this point that we’ve been able to work with him, but I’m very excited to have him here, as well as every other receiver we have… I think Josh [McDaniels, the offensive coordinator] will identify the strengths of our offense and build it around what we can do well. We’re going to try to us everyone the best we can.”
A day remains comprised of only 24 hours, however. So, Judge must now adjust how he allocates his time and attention. He will have help, of course, from assistant special teams coach Cameron Achord, who joined the Patriots last season in that same capacity.
“Having Cam here is a tremendous help,” added Judge. “Having a year under our belt together, you really get the opportunity to develop a really good working relationship with somebody. Over the course of 18-20-hour days the entire season, you learn how the other person thinks. We’ve had the opportunity to iron out a lot of kinks.
“He’s got a tremendous work ethic. He’s very organized. He has great insight and ideas, and that’s helped make this transition possible. On top of that, we’ve got a great group of veteran [special teams] players. We don’t expect them to be coaches on the field, but they are leaders on the field. And we’ve allowed our players to have feedback and input on game-planning when it’s a guy that we trust.”
Judge wouldn’t reveal whether he asked for the increased workload or it was thrust upon him by head coach Bill Belichick, but made clear that he’s receptive to the promotion.
“Any chance I’ve always had to learn outside my direct admin, I’ve always taken it. I’ve worked in the past with the offense on some off-field projects and spent plenty of time with Josh talking about the offensive philosophy, scheme, the makeup of a coordinator, and how the pieces fit. And that’s helped a lot in the transition here, but there’s still plenty to learn.”