New England Patriots

  • When Patriots head coach Bill Belichick pulled up a seat surrounded by reporters at the annual AFC coaches breakfast during last month’s NFL owners’ meetings in Phoenix, he tabled any discussion of titles, responsibilities and past performances of his assistant coaches.

    “We’ll talk about staff later on in the spring,” he said when asked, specifically, to describe Joe Judge’s role.

    Belichick’s brevity on some subjects under him included a “not sure” about one longtime aide and a “don’t know” regarding another. As for a third, special teams coordinator Cam Achord, Belichick chose to say a lot more without saying a whole lot.

    “What do you like about Cam?” ESPN reporter Mike Reiss queried.

    “Good coach,” Belichick replied to Reiss, answering critics of the coordinator whose unit ranked last in Football Outsiders’ special teams DVOA in 2022, including several critical breakdowns in late-season losses. “Led the league in special teams in (2020)…I don’t think that’s the problem.”

    That season was Achord’s first overseeing the Pats’ kicking game after apprenticing under Judge, the team’s coordinator from 2015-19. Achord was promoted when the New York Giants hired Judge as their head coach.

    New England wound up with the top-scoring special teams in reporter Rick Gosselin’s yearly standings. Three Patriots earned Pro Bowl or All-Pro honors: rookie punter Jake Bailey, gunner Matthew Slater and returner Gunner Olszewski.

    But the past two years have marked a steep descent in the rankings. After going five straight seasons without allowing a blocked punt, the Pats gave up three in 2021. Gosselin rated them 18th. Their 2022 performance was marred by the NFL’s worst net punting average and three scores surrendered on kickoffs: first in a Thanksgiving-night loss at Minnesota and twice with a playoff berth at stake in the season finale at Buffalo.

    Gosselin put the Patriots’ kicking units at No. 16. Stuck in the middle. Of the league. And on the team, between a strong defense and struggling offense.

    Moving to improve the latter, Belichick brought in Bill O’Brien for a second stint as Pats’ coordinator, displacing Judge from trying to counsel quarterbacks, which he did upon his own return to Foxborough last offseason.

    Belichick still hasn’t talked about Judge’s redefined (internally) yet undefined (publicly) new duties. On Tuesday, however, Achord hinted that his unit is getting some help from his not-so-old mentor.

    Meeting the press for the first time this spring, he got a question from Mark Daniels of

    “Cam, with Joe Judge’s role changing, how much is he involved with you guys on special teams now?” Daniels asked.

    “I’ve learned so much from him,” Achord said, “Obviously, he’s a great coach. Anytime you can add more coaches to help you and influence you (as) you work together, it’s going to make you better. The better, more coaches you have, the better coach you are, right? So, if it’s one of us, it’s two of us, it’s three of us, four of us — because Troy (Brown’s) working with returners, right? — the more good coaches you can have in the kicking game, the better you’re going to be. Because now you have more eyes.

    “You’re able to cover more, whereas you’d see at times at practices last year, I’m coaching 11 guys, Joe (Houston’s) coaching 11 guys, Troy’s coaching returners. So you’re coaching a lot of guys at one time with two eyeballs. So there’s going to be something that you’ve got to go back and watch the film for. That’s why film in the kicking game is so valuable. Well, now with another set of eyes, stuff like that, you’re able to see a little bit more, which is only going to help us moving forward.”

  • A-(O)K


    Offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien is impressed with line coach Adrian Klemm. (Photo by Bob Socci)

    Throughout O’Brien’s first tenure in New England coaching wide receivers and quarterbacks and coordinating the offense, he worked closely with decades-long line coach Dante Scarnecchia, who’s headed into the team’s Hall of Fame this summer.

    O’Brien now works with first-time Patriots assistant Adrian Klemm, who is the team’s fifth offensive line coach since Scarnecchia’s retirement following 2019. Cole Popovich, Carmen Bricillo, Matt Patricia and Billy Yates have worked with the position group the past four seasons.

    “AK’s been good,” O’Brien said Tuesday. “I mean he’s really smart, a really good staff member, good communicator, (he’s) got a lot of good experience at different places in different systems. Really good guy to work with.”

    Klemm takes over a room that welcomed a first-round pick at guard, Cole Strange, in last year’s draft. Taking another lineman at tackle seems a logical possibility for next Thursday’s 14th overall selection.

    This offseason the Pats have added veterans Riley Reiff and Calvin Anderson through free agency and re-signed Connor McDermott. Reiff, a 12-year pro, is in his fifth organization. Anderson, originally a Patriot signee, is with his third. Same story for McDermott.

    Presumably at present, they’ll be competing with second-year Andrew Steuber to line up opposite Trent Brown, who’s started at both the right and left bookends in his two stints with the Pats.

    So they have numbers there. But do they have a so-called number-one?

    Director of player personnel Matt Groh gave his state-of-the-position address.

    “We’re able to add a couple of players, able to retain a couple of players, and have one holdover,” said Groh. “So we’ve got some good veteran guys there, a little bit of versatility, left side, right side. The question(s) gets asked: ‘What’s a left tackle? What’s a right tackle?’ They’ve got to block the same guys. The defense doesn’t tell us where they’re going to line their guys up. 

    “There’s certainly a type you’re looking for on the left and a type you’re looking for on the right. But schematically, they’ve got to block the same guys, whether it’s in protection or the running game. We’ve got some good guys there. Looking forward to working with them. We’ll see what we’ve got with some of these new guys and go from there.”

  • April isn't September


    Player personnel director Matt Groh and his staff have a lot of work and time ahead of them in building the Patriots roster. (Photo by Bob Socci)

    Although the AFC East won’t be decided anytime soon, the Dolphins made a splash this offseason, signing free agent Jalen Ramsey in their efforts to unseat the three-time defending champ in Buffalo. Meanwhile, Jets fans see light after years in the dark thanks to the expectation of an Aaron Rodgers’ summer arrival.

    Here it’s been much quieter. Except, of course, on The Sports Hub. 

    While O’Brien’s return and Klemm’s hiring alone portend a much-improved offense and a good defense returns mostly intact, player acquisitions haven’t included the kind of needle-moving studs many are calling for. Such as a field-stretching receiver.

    “We’re going to keep pushing and looking to try to get better at every position,” Groh said to a reporter’s run-down of several receiving standouts supporting young quarterbacks around the league.

    Groh was then asked to assess the current roster and how its readiness (or not) to compete as is will persuade the Pats to make the pick at No. 14 or make a trade. 

    “That’s also a function of what the (draft) board looks like,” he said. “So you find that balance kind of with, ‘Is there a player you think can come in and make that instant impact for you?’ Certainly, no team is complete right now. We’ve got quite a few spots to fill to get to 90. 

    “I’ll take a couple of more months to keep building the roster. Like what’s always said around here, ‘We’re trying to build a team.’ And that’s certainly not going to be complete until we go through the draft.”

    Bob Socci has called play-by-play for the Patriots Radio Network on 98.5 The Sports Hub since 2013. Follow him on Twitter @BobSocci. 

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