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New England Patriots

New England Patriots

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE - AUGUST 25: Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots walks on the sideline in the first before the preseason game against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium on August 25, 2023 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Carly Mackler/Getty Images)

It’s game week once again! After a long offseason and two months of teaching and evaluation, the New England Patriots are back in game prep mode, getting ready to host the Philadelphia Eagles in their season opener on Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium.

With it being game week again we’re bringing back the Patriots Mailbag. Thank you to everybody who submitted questions this week!


What to expect from the Patriots’ rookies in 2023
Four bold predictions for the 2023 Patriots
— LISTEN: 2023 Patriots Season Preview Show w/Alex Barth and Matt Dolloff

For the most part this week, the questions aren’t about the Patriots’ upcoming matchup with the Eagles. Instead, they focus more on the full-season picture for this team, in a variety of areas.

From the offensive line to expectations for this year’s rookie class to potential mid-season player acquisitions, you guys have a lot on your minds as the 2023 NFL season gets underway. Let’s get into these questions…

O.K., this isn’t really a question but it’s a fair point. The offensive line we saw this summer shouldn’t reflect the line the Patriots will have during the season, given they were missing three or four starters for most of camp. That being said, it’s not a totally unfamiliar group either. Four of last year’s five starters return in Trent BrownCole StrangeDavid Andrews, and Mike Onwenu. There was no starter at right tackle this year, with the 2023 team still projected to feature a revolving door at the position only with different players (more on that here).

Was last year’s Patriots offensive line great? No. But it’s hard to imagine them being any worse than they were last year. Again it’s the same group starting, and the depth issues that were present last year remain. It will be up to the three rookies to change that, which brings us to question two…

  • The two players I’m looking at here are guard Atonio Mafi and tackle Vederian Lowe. Mafi looked like the best of the rookie offensive linemen in camp, and appears the most ready for NFL snaps by a significant margin. If either of the guards get hurt, or Onwenu gets moved out to right tackle (which should be on the table, but the Patriots were very hesitant to make that change last year), he should be the next guy up.

    Lowe I’ve been a fan of since the draft last year. He’s a Patriots-style tackle who has proven he can be a quick learner and knows how to improve his game. Calvin Anderson projects as the starting right tackle for Week 1, but if he doesn’t work out Lowe would be the next guy I’d like to see get a shot.

    Don’t rule out Tyrone Wheatley Jr. playing a bit either, but in a specialized role. A converted college tight end, he’s a logical option to be used as a ‘tackle eligible’ sixth offensive lineman when the Patriots want to add size up front.

    As for Jake Andrews and Sidy Sow – Andrews is the backup center on the roster right now, but the Patriots do like Kody Russey who remains with the team on the practice squad. If they need to go to a backup center for multiple weeks, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Russey get the nod.

    Sow looked very raw this summer as he work on making the transition from guard (where he played almost exclusively in college, and exclusively from his sophomore year on) to tackle. He should be in for a redshirt year.

  • To me, it’s shaping up for the Patriots to use a Week 1 offensive line of…

    LT: Trent Brown
    LG: Cole Strange
    C: David Andrews
    RG: Mike Onwenu
    RT: Calvin Anderson

    That group isn’t bad but Anderson is still a bit of an unknown – especially after spending the summer on the NFI list. I still believe the Patriots’ ‘best five’ offensive line combination involves moving Onwenu out to right tackle, with either Mafi or Riley Reiff (once he’s back from IR) sliding in at right tackle. It’s a position he played both in 2020 and 2021, and played well.

    The question is – would the Patriots do that? Last year they were adamant about keeping Onwenu at right guard as to not mess with his development (to the point where we saw James Ferentz taking tackle reps in a pregame walkthrough prior to a must-win game against the Bills).

    Of course it’s a new year, and the circumstances have changed. There’s a new offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, and Onwenu is in a contract year as well. Given how aggressively the Patriots drafted on the interior of the offensive line this spring, they may know they’ll be moving on from the 2020 sixth-round pick this offseason. That all being the case it’s possible they’re more open to moving Onwenu this season – unless the directive to only play him at guard came from Bill Belichick, and not last year’s offensive coaching staff.

  • I’m going to go with Keion White and Marte Mapu here. Gonzalez projects as the team’s top corner, and should have a usage rate in the high 80s at the lowest. That’s a lot, but I don’t think it’ll outweigh White and Mapu, who will both be in heavy rotational roles. White showed flashes of three-down ability throughout the summer and could be in for an increased role as the season goes on. As for the rest of the class, Demario Douglas is the only player who projects to have at least a rotational role, pending injuries.

  • From this list, Lawrence Guy is the most likely to see a decreased role in 2023. Keion White can handle many of the early-down responsibilities Guy had last year, but also has some passing down upside. Add in the fact he’s 33 and coming off a down year, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see his role decrease a bit as the season goes on.

  • Interesting question. The thing with Trevor Lawrence is we have an idea of what he was capable of post-Urban Myer, which really showed the impact of the coaching. Let’s revisit this one after this season when we have similar data for Mac Jones.

  • A big part of the Patriots’ countering the Eagles’ pass rush should be a quick-release passing game. That means even more targets than usual for the slot receiver. If the Patriots offense is playing well on Sunday, it probably means JuJu Smith-Schuster is having a big game.

  • Last year the Patriots scored seven defensive touchdowns (five interceptions returns and two fumble returns) while Rhamondre Stevenson and Jakobi Meyers led the offensive unit with six each. So to TaxMan’s question, could this disparity happen two years in a row?

    It’s possible, but doesn’t seem likely. It’s hard to see how the Patriots’ defense could score more this year, having led the league in defensive touchdowns last year and now facing a tougher offensive schedule. At the same time the Patriots’ offense should be improved, creating more scoring chances.

  • I’m going to go with the linebackers, pretty much just because of Matthew Judon. He’d be a great Hard Knocks player. Still, the wide receivers and safeties are close seconds. Quarterbacks would be fascinating too, for the X’s and O’s of it (although they don’t show that stuff on Hard Knocks nearly as much anymore).

  • Maybe this is a cop-out answer, but I think the two options are one in the same. Any team is going to be worse when going from having an all-time talent at quarterback to not. But at times over the past four years, the Patriots’ roster-building hasn’t reflected that reality. Some moves feel like they’re being made with the idea that the team still has that presence under center, when they don’t.

    Around the league, the best teams tailor their offenses – both in terms of scheme and personnel – to what their quarterback does best. That’s true for even the elite quarterbacks in the league. The Patriots haven’t been great about doing that with Mac Jones to this point.

  • We know Bill Belichick considers September ‘an extension of the preseason,’ so that seems like a logical window. It also lines up with the fact that each practice squad player has a maximum of three gameday elevations, which is particularly notable when it comes to the quarterback position.

  • Expect all kinds of concepts from the Patriots this year to help mitigate their offensive line issues. That includes eligible tackles, leaving in extra blockers, empty sets, quick passing concepts, play action/RPOs, and more. I wrote about this earlier this week here.

  • The answer to this question honestly goes beyond Mac Jones. Simply, the Patriots need to win enough games where they won’t be in a position to draft his replacement. He should/would play a large part in that, but it’s not all him.

    If the Patriots are a playoff team – assuming that’s not in spite of Jones’ bad play (which is a highly unrealistic scenario) – picking up Jones’ fifth-year option would make a lot of sense. The contract talks would follow if Jones built on that performance in 2024. If things get to that point, I think Daniel Jones’ four-year, $160 million extension he signed with the Giants this offseason is a good starting place for both sides (adjusted for league inflation, of course).

  • Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 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

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