New England Patriots

Jul 29, 2022; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) calls a play during training camp at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots opened practice to the media for the first time in the 2023 season in Foxboro on Wednesday. Although it’s extremely early, practice is non-padded, and several regulars were absent, there were still plenty of details to take away from the session.

Here’s what I’m thinking after one open practice for the 2023 Patriots…

  • Mac’s Job To Lose

    New England Patriots quarterbacks #10 Mac Jones and #4 Bailey Zappe share a laugh at practice. (Bob Breidenbach/The Providence Journal-USA TODAY NETWORK)

    Providence Journal-USA TODAY NETWORK

  • If you were hoping for a quarterback competition in camp for 2023, that doesn’t appear to be the case. Mac Jones got the big majority of the reps with the starters in team drills, some 11-on-11 and others 7-on-7.

    Bailey Zappe was mixed in at times, but it appears the QB hierarchy is clear to start things off for New England. Plenty of time for things to change, but Jones is obviously in the lead to start for a third straight season.

  • Joe Judge Back Where He Belongs

    Aug 11, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick watches the field as senior football advisor Matt Patricia (white cap) and offensive assistant Joe Judge work during the first half of a preseason game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

    Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

    No, not on the street! Not in hell! Wise guy. Joe Judge is back to working with the special teams units in various capacities. Judge appears to essentially be back at his old post of special teams coordinator. Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Bill O’Brien is the clear general of the offense.

  • Receivers On The Move

    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 Winslow Townson/Getty Images)

    Winslow Townson/Getty Images

  • With JuJu Smith-Schuster absent, it was hard to tell how the wide receiver pecking order is shaking out. But, without getting into details, what stood out about the passing game was the motion and movement. We might’ve already seen more of that than we did throughout all of 2022.

    On top of that, the receivers (and, for that matter, the tight ends) lined up and were used in a number of different ways. That’s nothing new, but it’s promising that the offense looks sophisticated again.

  • New-Look Offensive Line

    Jul 29, 2022; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots offensive lineman Cole Strange (50) walks onto the field before training camp at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

    Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

    With Trent Brown out, it was newcomer Calvin Anderson filling in at left tackle with the starting offensive line. Veteran Riley Reiff looks like the guy at right tackle, at least for now. Still quite early.

    As for right guard? Bill Murray was the next man up for Mike Onwenu, who is recovering from off-season ankle surgery. But the tackle spots will be more important to watch in the coming weeks.

  • A Real Two-Tight End Set

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - JANUARY 01: Mike Gesicki #88 of the Miami Dolphins runs against Devin McCourty #32 of the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on January 01, 2023 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)

    Billie Weiss/Getty Images

  • Speaking of too early … it’s way too early to make a judgment on Mike Gesicki, because Jonnu Smith looked great in his first practices too. But the former Dolphin, now a clear top-2 tight end for the Patriots, stood out on Wednesday. He was used in a variety of ways, almost like another wideout, which isn’t terribly surprising.

    Gesicki looks like he will be a versatile piece as a big receiver for the Pats, so there’s potential to be a huge upgrade over the virtual nothing that Smith brought to the table in two seasons. But again, Smith looked explosive and versatile too. But Gesicki has more of a pedigree. So far, so good for him.

  • Kevin Harris SZN?

    LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - AUGUST 26: Running back Kevin Harris #36 of the New England Patriots runs with the ball against the Las Vegas Raiders during the second half of a preseason game at Allegiant Stadium on August 26, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images)

    Chris Unger/Getty Images

    Rhamondre Stevenson was limited in Wednesday’s practice, which meant opportunities for the other running backs to step up. It looks like second-year back Kevin Harris is in the lead to take handoffs behind Stevenson. James Robinson also got his share of reps.

    But as far as the “Damien Harris replacement” goes, it appears the younger Harris is in line for a much bigger role in 2023.

  • Replacing Devin McCourty

    Nov 6, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots safety Jabrill Peppers (3) reacts with safety Devin McCourty (32) during the second half against the Indianapolis Colts at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

    Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

  • Free safety will be one of the biggest holes to fill on the roster, now that Devin McCourty is retired. Like everything else, it’s far too early to tell what the defense will look like or how it will be deployed. But we have to write our articles today, right?

    On Wednesday, the Pats used a variety of looks with their safeties in the deep part of the field. Adrian Phillips, Jabrill Peppers, Kyle Dugger, and Jalen Mills all mixed in for reps. My read: they’re still figuring out how they want to use their safeties in the post-McCourty era.

  • Special Teams Competition

    Feb 4, 2023; Mobile, AL, USA; National kicker Chad Ryland of Maryland (38) tries a field goal attempt from the hold of punter Bryce Baringer of Michigan State (99) against the American squad during the second half of the Senior Bowl at Hancock Whitney Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

    Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

    It looks like it’s going to be quite the competition at the Patriots’ specialist spots. Kicker Nick Folk and long snapper Joe Cardona were absent, but both punters – Corliss Waitman and rookie Bryce Baringer – were both heavily involved in all special teams sessions.

    This feels like an open competition. Rookie kicker Chad Ryland and Baringer are certainly expected to be long-term answers, but they’re not guaranteed spots in 2023. And neither are the veterans.

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    Matt Dolloff is a writer and podcaster for Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff and follow him on Instagram @realmattdolloff. Check out all of Matt’s content here.

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