FOXBORO, Mass. (AP) — Following a disastrous 2022 season, Patriots quarterback Mac Jones needed a better offensive system and more playmakers to get the ball to. Bill Belichick answered by bringing back former offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien and adding receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and veteran running back Ezekiel Elliott.
It won’t be a cure-all for a unit that ranked 26th in total offense, but it’s a start.
How well the offensive line holds up is a much bigger question after left tackle Trent Brown and left guard Cole Strange both spent most of training camp slowed by injuries.
The good news is the defensive side of the ball is mostly intact. But there are big production and leadership shoes to fill following the retirement of Devin McCourty.
This was an offseason of change for the Patriots after posting their second sub-.500 season since the departure of Tom Brady. Bill O’Brien is back at offensive coordinator and will look to restore order to a unit that regressed under Matt Patricia last season. Bill Belichick didn’t acquire receiver DeAndre Hopkins in free agency, but did get third-year quarterback Mac Jones some assets help in receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and running back Ezekiel Elliott. The good news is the defensive side of the ball is also mostly intact, despite veteran safety Devin McCourty retiring. The question is whether the improvements will be enough for New England to compete in a division that features both Josh Allen and Aaron Rodgers.
Offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien, Offensive line coach Adrian Klemm, WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, RB Ezekiel Elliiott, OT Calvin Anderson, OT Riley Reiff, TE Mike Gesicki, CB Christian Gonzalez, DE Keion White, LB Marte Mapu, K Chad Ryland.
S Devin McCourty, WR Jakobi Meyers, QB Brian Hoyer, WR Nelson Agholor, OT Isaiah Wynn, RB Damien Harris, P Jake Bailey, CB Joejuan Williams.
The defensive front seven remains mostly unchanged from a year ago. Linebacker Matt Judon (team-high 15 1/2 sacks in 2022) has been a revelation in his first two seasons in New England and figures to get even more support from fourth-year linebacker Josh Uche, who is coming off a career-best 11 1/2 sacks in 2022. Safety Kyle Dugger also is coming off a great camp and should be able to fill the void left by McCourty’s retirement.
Offensive line. Projected starter and second-year left guard Cole Strange spent most of training camp on the sideline after suffering an unknown injury on the team’s first day in full pads. Veteran left tackle Trent Brown also dealt with unspecified injuries throughout camp. The same is true for offseason acquisition and tackle Calvin Anderson, who didn’t play a snap in the preseason and was on the non-football injury list. If this group struggles it will be another long year for Jones.
Rookie receivers and sixth-round picks Demario Douglas and Kayshon Boutte were the stars of the spring, adding speed and athleticism to an offense sorely in need of both. They will have to fight for playing time behind veterans Kendrick Bourne and DeVante Parker. But their playmaking ability is something the coaching staff will surely find a way to take advantage of.
Fantasy Player to Watch
RB Rhamondre Stevenson. Despite the Patriots’ issues on offense last season, he rushed for 1,040 yards and five touchdowns, to go along with 69 catches for 421 yards and a TD. Elliott may be used more in short-yardage situations, but Stevenson will continue to be the workhorse for New England’s offense and it should add up to lots of fantasy points.