The Patriots offense had a tough training camp. But does it matter?

The Patriots offense had a tough training camp.  But does it matter?

“We’re just trying to work through it all,” Jones said recently on WEEI. “We don’t need to overcomplicate it. It’s a simple game if you make it a simple game. We’re all trying to get there, which doesn’t happen overnight.”

While it’s clear that the offense struggled for five weeks, what isn’t clear is the answer to the question that emerges: Does it matter?

It’s only training camp. There’s no game-planning, you’re constantly mixing and matching lineups, and you’re testing things. Plus, growing pains are only natural for a team that is installing a new offensive system, while moving on without Josh McDaniels for the first time in a decade.

“Preseason is about developing your team for the season and evaluating the players,” Bill Belichick said. “Where everybody is on that, we’ll see after five or six weeks of the regular season. That’s when we’ll know.”

Belichick’s explanation certainly has merit but is perhaps too rosy. It’s never the goal of the offense to miss throws, commit penalties, or bungle assignments.

The frustration has been apparent throughout the preseason, especially when matching up against the Panthers and Raiders in practices and games. Jones said last week that the offense has “ironed out a lot of things” and said it’s “good that they’re happening now.”

“It’s not like we are in the middle of the season here,” he said. “You want to peak when you want to peak. The coaches are giving really good effort. They are doing everything they can to put us in position. We’ve just got to do a better job of playing out there.”

Training camp struggles can also have context that those of us on the outside don’t know about.

For example, 18-year NFL quarterback Matt Hasselbeck recalled a time he was with the Titans and looked terrible in a preseason matchup against Chicago because the Bears didn’t play their usual zone coverages.

“We looked like trash on offense because we’re running Tampa 2 zone plays against man defense,” said Hasselbeck, now with ESPN. After the game, I said to one of the Bears coaches, ‘What’s up with all the man?’ ‘Oh, our scouting department made us do that to see who could cover.’ ”

Training camp is also the time to figure out what doesn’t work as much as what does.

“I’m thinking, training camp, this is my chance to work on some throws,” Hasselbeck said. “I need to know if I can make that hole shot. If I can trust this guy. Who can beat press. Then I got the beat writer writing that Hasselbeck was 4 for 7 with two interceptions. All of a sudden people are freaking out. The owner of the team is like, ‘What’s going on?’ That’s a real thing in today’s world.”

The difference for the Patriots offense is that it didn’t have sporadic struggles or the occasional bad day; training camp seemed to be a consistent slog.

“I mean, it matters,” said 13-year NFL running back Fred Taylor, who spent his last two seasons with the Patriots. “Obviously you want to see good plays. You don’t want one side of the ball just dominating the other side. The offense has to win their share.

“But I know one thing: With Belichick, you don’t panic.”

Former Colts and Buccaneers coach Tony Dungy agreed that it’s fair to be concerned about the Patriots early in the season, but that Belichick’s teams always improve.

“There absolutely is a correlation to how things go in training camp,” said Dungy, now with NBC. “As a coach, you have a pretty good idea of ​​how you’re going to be coming out of training camp.

“But let me say this about Coach Belichick’s team: They’re not a team that’s going to make mistakes, they’re not a team that’s going to beat themselves. So what you saw in practice, you’re going to see improvement, you’re going to see them get better.”

The 2022 season is a wild card for the Patriots, though, with McDaniels gone. Belichick’s choices to replace him have only added to fans’ anxiety. Matt Patricia, the likely play caller and coordinator (without the titles), has never done either at any level. Same goes for Joe Judge, the quarterbacks coach.

The AFC is loaded, while the Patriots are rife with questions on both sides of the ball. They may not be able to afford a slow start.

“It’s hard to question Coach Belichick for sure,” said NBC’s Chris Simms, who was a coaching assistant with the 2012 Patriots. “At the same time, I don’t know if I’ve felt this way in a long time about the New England Patriots.

“I think if it were anywhere but New England, we’d go, ‘Whoa, I don’t see how this works. I don’t get that.’ We’ll see if they can prove some of us wrong, but this seems to be one of the bigger obstacles to overcome that I can remember in the New England dynasty era.”

Former Steelers coach Bill Cowher said the choices of Patricia and Judge, two longtime Belichick assistants, probably made more sense than going outside the organization for new hires.

“When I lost Chan Gailey and tried to bring somebody in from the outside, it was a big transition,” said Cowher, now with CBS. “Not just for the offense, but for me as the head coach because I was involved with the offense.”

Former Patriots receiver Julian Edelman said Jones, a second-year quarterback, might have the biggest adjustment as he goes from McDaniels to Patricia and Judge.

“It’s going to be very challenging now because Mac Jones is used to communicating with the play-caller that’s been in that system for years and years,” said Edelman, now with “Inside the NFL.” “We all know with Bill Belichick and his teams, he’s not going to have his team in the best particular shape, playing their best football in Week 1. This thing is going to be a learning experience, regardless of who is calling plays.”

Belichick said several times in camp that no matter who is calling the plays, he is the one in charge.

“Ultimately, I have responsibility for everything that happens on the field,” he said last week. “In the end, I’ll take responsibility for that. But we have a lot of great members of the staff. A lot of different ideas come from different areas or a collaboration of ideas. We’ll see how it goes.”

Edelman said he wouldn’t be surprised if Belichick ended up calling plays.

“Let’s not forget in 1995, Bill did call plays for the Cleveland Browns,” Edelman said. “So I can see if things hit the fan right now, the beginning of this year, you might see ‘The Hoodie’ with the headset on talking to Mac.”

Cowher quickly responded to Edelman.

“Hey Julian,” he said. “We beat them three times that year.”


Ben Volin can be reached at [email protected]

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