New England Patriots

New England Patriots

New England Patriots

Sep 18, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; New England Patriots center David Andrews (60) pass blocks at the line of scrimmage for quarterback Mac Jones (10) against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the second quarter at Acrisure Stadium. Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

This week, the Patriots took the field as a team for the first time in the 2023 season as they began OTA practices. The first session of OTAs was on Monday, with the media set to get their first look at things on Thursday. The practices will go for the next few weeks, culminating with Minicamp in mid-June.

We already previewed the top storylines to watch during spring practices, but the conversation will likely go beyond those. What are fans looking for out of the team this season? I posed that question on Twitter. Here’s what people want to know, and my best shot at answering/projecting those questions.

  • The progress of the Patriots’ young players will be a major, major thing to watch this spring and into training camp. After not making major moves at pivotal positions this offseason (wide receiver, offensive tackle, safety), it seems like the team is counting on internal growth as much as anything in those spots.

    From the rookie class, the most interesting player to watch will be Marte Mapu, assuming he’s on the field after undergoing shoulder surgery this offseason (he’s expected to be ready for training camp. Will the team use him as a linebacker or safety? If he is staying at linebacker, will he assimilate into the way the position has historically been played in New England, or will the Patriots change their defensive philosophy to maximize his skillset?

    As for the sophomores, the player with the most hype heading into the spring has to be Tyquan Thornton. As mentioned above, internal growth seems to be the key to unlocking the potential of the wide receiver position (and offense as a whole) and Thornton has more room to grow than any player in that room. He reportedly worked on adding mass to his frame over the offseason, so two key questions are how he uses that extra play-strength, and if he still has his elite speed after adding some weight.

  • This is a great question, that has taken on a new level of complication with the NFL adding practice squad elevations as a factor. In the past, the Patriots would almost always keep a minimum of nine offensive linemen. Yet now that they can elevate players from the practice squad, that number has dipped to seven or eight in recent years.

    On my post-draft roster projection, I had them keeping nine players at the position, with Conor McDermott and James Ferentz candidates to be re-signed once players are placed on IR. That’s assuming all three rookies make the team. Jake Andrews and Sidy Sow should be roster locks as fourth round selections, but Atonio Mafi could be more on the bubble as a fifth-round pick.

  • All good questions we’ll start to get answers to later this week. Personally, I can’t wait to see Christian Gonzalez in person. The Patriots’ wide receiver room is very diverse stylistically, so it will be interesting to see him go up against all the different wideouts and see how his game translates against different kinds of players.

    As for Mac Jones, Mike Giardi reported last week that Jones is “energized by the change” at offensive coordinator.

  • I haven’t heard anything definitive one way or the other, but I would be very surprised if the Patriots and Texans held joint practices before they meet in the preseason opener. It’s rare for teams to do joint practices for Week 1 of the preseason as they’re often still trying to get things set procedurally internally, and even rarer for teams to hold joint practices for all three weeks of the preseason. Right now, the team is already set to hold joint practices with the Packers in Week 2, and are reportedly planning to do the same with the Titans for Week 3. Both of those weeks, the team will be on the road.

  • First off, great picture. Looks like an amazing place to spend a summer.

    Running back and tight end are two other positions I could see the Patriots using a taxi squad-like approach. At running back, Rhamondre Stevenson is the only true roster lock, but it generally takes four or five running backs to get a team through an NFL season. The remaining RB roster spots will go to some combination of James RobinsonTy MontgomeryPierre Strong Jr., and Kevin Harris. All four will likely contribute to some extent this season, but what each of their roles are remain to be seen. It’s possible any of the four could end up on the practice squad and be elevated when needed during the season.

    At tight end, Hunter Henry and Mike Gesicki will be on the roster. Will the team keep a third tight end? Rotate a third up from the practice squad? Scotty WashingtonMatt Sokol, and UDFA Johnny Lumpkin will all be competing for whatever that role ends up being.

  • The team needs a real impact from at least one of these three receivers this year for the offense to fully click – Kendrick BourneTyquan Thornton, or Kayshon Boutte – all three of who project to compete for snaps in the ‘Z’ role. That’s on top of Juju Smith-Schuster producing as expected in the slot, and DeVante Parker doing so in the ‘X’ role. I think it’s most realistically Bourne, who thrived in the Patriots’ offense as a ‘Z’ receiver in 2021. If more than one gets going, and maybe we’re getting greedy now given the team’s recent history at the position, the Patriots should have no problems moving the ball.

  • Last year, the Patriots were strongly opposed to the idea of playing Michael Onwenu at tackle. After moving him around over his first two seasons, they wanted him to be able to work on his development at the position they saw him playing long-term, which ended up being guard.

    On one hand, there’s no reason to think that philosophy would change this year. If they’re going to move a guard to tackle, it seems like the guy they’re looking to is rookie Sidy Sow. That all being said, it’s also possible the insistence on keeping Onwenu at guard came from last year’s offensive coaching staff. With a new offensive coordinator and new offensive line coach, that viewpoint could change. It’s also worth taking Onwenu’s contract status into account. Entering a contract year, he’d be set up for a significantly bigger deal as a tackle than as a guard.

    This is one of the questions we won’t get an answer to during the spring. According to ESPN’s Mike Reiss, Onwenu isn’t expected to be on the field during OTAs after undergoing offseason ankle surgery.

  • This one might be tied to Mac Jones bouncing back, but Kendrick Bourne is my answer here. After a bit of a feeling out process the first two weeks of the 2021 season – his first in New England – Bourne had a 10-game stretch where he caught 39 passes for 596 yards and five touchdowns – a stretch that came to an end when he dealt with COVID. That’s a full season pace of 66 catches, 1,013 yards, and eight touchdowns. Last year, Bourne was unable to build on that first year when he was essentially benched for most of the season. Assuming he gets back in the lineup, there’s no reason to think he can’t pick up where he left off.

  • Special teams is at times (wrongly) viewed as the ‘other’ phase of the game, ‘behind’ offense and defense. As we all saw last year though, it can absolutely swing games. Still, some of the annoyance seems to be with the narrative that resources were being put towards improving special teams and not offense. Maybe people are blown away by what seem to be large dollar amounts on the contracts, but in context the resources spent on special teams were very manageable. Chris Board’s contract, for instance, accounts for 0.9 percent of the team’s salary cap. Matthew Slater’s is 0.6 percent. Many were bothered by the Patriots making Joe Cardona the highest-paid long snapper in the league, but his cap hit accounts for 0.7 percent of the cap, with his cap hit coming in just $59,000 over the next closest long-snapper, Jacob Bobenmoyer of the Raiders.

  • First, Matt Dolloff mentioned Ronnie Perkins in his OTA preview earlier this week. Perkins has dealt with multiple injuries over his first two years in the NFL, including one that cost him the full 2022 season. He definitely has a uphill battle towards a roster spot, but he shouldn’t be ruled out entirely. We’ve seen top-100 edge players take multiple years to develop in the Patriots’ system in recent history, such as Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings (who many believed the team had given up on at this time last year, before he went on to play 32 percent of the team’s defensive snaps.

    When it comes to Keion White, he and Perkins project to play slightly different roles. At 247 pounds and with more developed footwork, Perkins is more of a standup edge player while White, at 286 pounds, is more of a true defensive end.


    At this year’s Owners’ Meetings, Robert Kraft told reporters, “we’re about winning and doing whatever we can to win. That’s what our focus is. It’s very important to me that we make the playoffs.” Given everything that the organization has done and gone through since 2019, that certainly seems like a fair barometer.

  • 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 [email protected].

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