New England Patriots

New England Patriots

New England Patriots

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - DECEMBER 18: Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots watches his players warm up before a game against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium on December 18, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Raiders defeated the Patriots 30-24. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Yesterday, we began our look at New England Patriots training camp by going over the five biggest position battles to watch on the roster. If you missed that post, you can find it here.

Still, there’s much more than just position battles when it comes to training camp – which opens for the Patriots on Wednesday. The team will hold its first three practices on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, with a fourth practice either Saturday or Sunday.


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While battles often dominate the storylines during training camp, they’re just part of the picture. Over the next month-ish, we’ll get a really good idea of what Bill Belichick and those in charge want the 2023 Patriots team to look like.

Given that, ahead of the first practice tomorrow, lets take a look at the biggest question facing each positional group on the Patriots’ roster. This isn’t about position battles, but more bigger-picture concepts that will shape what the team looks like during the 2023 season.


READ MORE:

Revisiting the Patriots’ offseason plan
— How the Patriots missed out on DeAndre Hopkins
A look at the Gillette Stadium upgrades coming this fall


Some of these questions can be answered early in camp, while others might take the full month-plus to get a handle on. It’s also important to remember how practices are weighted, from non-padded practices, to padded practices, to joint practices.

Keeping that in mind, let’s get started with the quarterback position…

  • Can Mac Jones get comfortable in the pocket?

    GLENDALE, ARIZONA - DECEMBER 12: Mac Jones #10 of the New England Patriots looks to throw a pass against the Arizona Cardinals during the first quarter of the game at State Farm Stadium on December 12, 2022 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

    GLENDALE, ARIZONA – DECEMBER 12: Mac Jones #10 of the New England Patriots looks to throw a pass against the Arizona Cardinals during the first quarter of the game at State Farm Stadium on December 12, 2022 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

    Based on everything we saw this spring, it doesn’t appear the question of “who will be the Patriots’ starting quarterback” is a real one – at least for now.  The team seems prepared to begin camp fully behind Mac Jones as the starter.

    Instead, the question here is about Jones fixing what was one of the first and later one of the biggest flaws in his game last year – his internal clock. Early in camp, Jones dealt with significant pressure in the pocket, got sped up, and never recovered. While the tackle situation (which we’ll get to) isn’t much better this year than it was last year, Jones can’t let the pressure that will come with it throw off his timing and rhythm in such a crucial season.

  • What will Rhamondre Stevenson’s main role be?

    Patriots running back #38 Rhamondre Stevenson runs for a big gain after getting a block from #71 Mike Onwenu in the 4th. (Bob Breidenbach/USA TODAY NETWORK)

    Patriots running back #38 Rhamondre Stevenson runs for a big gain after getting a block from #71 Mike Onwenu in the 4th. (Bob Breidenbach/USA TODAY NETWORK)

    In our position battle breakdown on Monday, we highlighted the competition for the second running back spot behind Rhamondre Stevenson as one to watch. The more pressing question though, is what will that RB2 be asked to do?

    Last season, Stevenson was a do-everything back for the Patriots. He amassed 279 touches over the course of the season, and that workload limited him towards the end of the year – something  he alluded to at times. The Patriots need to take some of the less-impactful snaps off his plate in order to have him be fresher at the end of the year, but where will those snaps come from? Will he feature more in an early-down role, opening up chances on passing downs, or the other way around?

  • How healthy are the wide receivers?

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - JANUARY 01: Tyquan Thornton #11 of the New England Patriots catches a pass for a touchdown against Noah Igbinoghene #9 of the Miami Dolphins during the first quarter at Gillette Stadium on January 01, 2023 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – JANUARY 01: Tyquan Thornton #11 of the New England Patriots catches a pass for a touchdown against Noah Igbinoghene #9 of the Miami Dolphins during the first quarter at Gillette Stadium on January 01, 2023 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)

    This spring, it became clear very quickly just how easy it would be for the Patriots’ depth at wide receiver to evaporate. None of the top four veteran wideouts – DeVante ParkerJuJu Smith-SchusterKendrick Bourne, and Tyquan Thornton – had perfect attendance. Smith-Schuster is reportedly dealing with a knee injury that dates back to last season, and Thornton was shut down early due to what was described as a ‘soft tissue injury.’ Parker also has a notable injury history, having missed 10 games over the last two years and having played just one full season in his eight year NFL career.

    By not signing DeAndre Hopkins, the Patriots – among other things – kept their margin for loss at the wide receiver position razor thin. Guys are going to get hurt over the course of an NFL season, that’s a reality in the sport. But being down multiple projected contributors at receiver before they play a meaningful game would be a massive roadblock for the Patriots to overcome right now.

  • What will Mike Gesicki’s role be?

    Jun 12, 2023; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots tight end Mike Gesicki (88) does a drill at the Patriots minicamp at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

    Jun 12, 2023; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots tight end Mike Gesicki (88) does a drill at the Patriots minicamp at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

    Mike Gesicki was one of the Patriots’ biggest acquisitions of the offseason. Given Bill O’Brien’s history of working with two tight end sets, he figures to feature prominently in the offense. The question is – how

    Gesicki is not a traditional tight end. Instead, he’s more of a hybrid big slot receiver. In fact, Belichick has refereed to Gesicki as a receiver on multiple occasions in the past. Gesicki’s usage during his best seasons in Miami – when he lined up 56.8 percent of the time in the slot and 21.4 percent of the time on the boundary (per PFF) – only further hammers home that reality. Will he be used more as a true tight end complementing Henry, or help buoy the wide receiver group?

  • The tackle position

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - SEPTEMBER 25: Trent Brown #77 of the New England Patriots lines up against the Baltimore Ravens at Gillette Stadium on September 25, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – SEPTEMBER 25: Trent Brown #77 of the New England Patriots lines up against the Baltimore Ravens at Gillette Stadium on September 25, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    Yup, the whole tackle position. That’s it, that’s the question.

    Having just done the ‘biggest position battles’ list a day ago, a big challenge was not overlapping those and these positional questions. But for the Patriots’ tackles in 2023, it’s one in the same. Between Trent BrownRiley ReiffCalvin Anderson, and Conor McDermott, the Patriots are going to need to find 17 games of starting caliber tackle play on both sides of the line.

    Perhaps the biggest question here is can anybody else play themselves into the tackle picture. One player worth watching will be last year’s starting right guard, Michael Onwenu. Even as tackle injuries mounted last season, the Patriots remained committed to keeping Onwenu at guard for the benefit of his long-term development. Was that because of Matt Patricia – who is no longer with the team? Or a Bill Belichick idea? If it’s the former, it would make a lot of sense for the Patriots to move Onwenu back to the outside, given their depth behind him at guard relative to their current depth at tackle. However, we may not get a resolution on this one right away with Onwenu opening camp on the PUP list.

  • Is a Year 3 jump in store for Christian Barmore?

    Jan 1, 2023; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots defensive tackle Christian Barmore (90) reacts after a sack against the Miami Dolphins during the second half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

    Jan 1, 2023; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots defensive tackle Christian Barmore (90) reacts after a sack against the Miami Dolphins during the second half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

    Last year, a big talking point for the Patriots’ defense leading up to training camp was whether Christian Barmore was ready for a breakout sophomore campaign after a promising rookie year. Early in the season he did make an impact, although it often wasn’t reflected in the box score. A knee injury sidelined him in mid-October and he ended up missing seven games. Even when he returned, he still played like the knee injury was bothering him.

    Now fully healthy, here we go again. Can Barmore help the pass rush unit reach its full potential? This summer – especially in joint practices and the preseason – will be an early gauge of where he’s at.

  • How does Marte Mapu look in fully-padded practices

    Sacramento State linebacker Marte Mapu (Sacramento State Athletics)

    Sacramento State linebacker Marte Mapu (Sacramento State Athletics)

    If there was a star of the Patriots’ spring practices, it was linebacker Marte Mapu. The rookie third-round pick was all over the field, playing a very modern linebacker role in the middle of the Patriots’ defense. Based on what he did at OTAs and Minicamp, there’s plenty to be excited about with the Sacramento State product.

    Yet the biggest box he still needs to check is contact. At 6-foot-3, 216 pounds he looked to be undersized for the position in the NFL – especially when it comes to the Patriots’ historical trends. However, the latest Patriots roster update has him up to 230 pounds.

    It will be interesting to see what kind of impact he makes when the pads come on, and if he can maintain his level of explosiveness and agility with the added mass. If he’s still competing at a high level and making plays then, the hype train should and will hit Ludicrous Speed.

  • How is Christian Gonzalez handling the jump to the NFL?

    The Oregon Ducks take on the Stanford Cardinal at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Oregon on October 1, 2022 (Eric Evans Photography)

    The Oregon Ducks take on the Stanford Cardinal at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Oregon on October 1, 2022 (Eric Evans Photography)

    For the sake of this piece, we’ll put the Jack Jones questions aside. The fallout from his arrest will be handled in court, and I’m certainly no legal expert. That process will take place completely away from football, and given past examples the Patriots and the league likely won’t react until that process is complete.

    Instead we’ll focus on the Patriots’ top draft pick in Christian Gonzalez. Based off the pre-draft process, Gonzalez appears to have all the tools to be a major difference maker at the NFL level. But can he fill that role in Week 1, or will there be an adjustment period. The Patriots’ defense historically hinges on the top boundary cornerback, so the quicker Gonzalez gets assimilated the better. It will be especially telling to watch him during joint practices and see how he matches up with other team’s top wideouts (such as Christian Watson of the Packers and newly-signed Titans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins) in live reps.

  • Who gets the high-impact snaps at deep safety

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - JANUARY 01: Kyle Dugger #23 of the New England Patriots runs back an interception for a touchdown against the Miami Dolphins during the third quarter at Gillette Stadium on January 01, 2023 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Winslow Townson/Getty Images)

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – JANUARY 01: Kyle Dugger #23 of the New England Patriots runs back an interception for a touchdown against the Miami Dolphins during the third quarter at Gillette Stadium on January 01, 2023 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Winslow Townson/Getty Images)

    Replacing Devin McCourty is the toughest task the Patriots’ defense has personnel-wise this season. Based on what we saw this spring, it looks like the deep safety role will be filled by committee. A number of different players rotated through single-high and two-high looks including Kyle DuggerAdrian PhillipsJabrill Peppers, and even some non-traditional safeties like Jalen MillsJonathan JonesMyles Bryant, and Marte Mapu.

    Overall, that’s the right approach. It will allow the Patriots to approach different offenses with nuance, and help disguise their coverages. That all being said, there’s still the matter of who the team trusts most back there when the stakes are highest such as on third & longs and/or late in games. It will be notable who the Patriots have in the role when those situations come up in practices and preseason games.

  • How is the team handling kickoffs?

     

    We handled the kicker and punter position battles in yesterday’s post, so let’s go more big-picture with the special teams question. The NFL introduced some major overhauls to the kickoff rules for the 2023 season, including allowing players to fair-catch the ball anywhere inside the 25 for a touchback. Strategically, how will the Patriots adjust to the new rules? Add that to the list of things to watch for.

  • Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at [email protected].

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