The 4 defining trends in Patriots training camp – Boston Herald

The truth is in the trends.

Through nine training camps, there is very little that can be said for sure about the 2022 Patriots. Most players and position groups have experienced ups and downs on the field, the natural flow of camp. But what is consistent can be counted on, at least starting Thursday’s preseason opener against the Giants.

So far, five trends have persisted from Day 1 of training camp to the team’s final practice on Friday. This is the truth as it is now for the Patriots.

1. Yes, the offense is new

The Patriots didn’t throw away their old offensive scheme.

But you better believe the 2022 edition has a new cover, a prologue, and a few different chapters.

The offensive staff, starting with Bill Belichick, Matt Patricia and Joe Judge, is empowered to change the system Josh McDaniels left behind. They’ve installed a new foundation: a zone run game complemented by a bootleg, play-action passing attack. They’ve rebranded old concepts and simplified the traditional back-and-forth passing game.

As veteran Jacoby Myers told NFL Network on Friday, “We understand we’ve done things a certain way before, but it’s not about that anymore.”

The initial hallmarks of this offense were base 11-man (one running back, one tight end) and 12-man (one running back and two tight ends) personnel groups. The Patriots used their two-tight end package on just 14 percent of their offensive snaps last year. Based on their practices today, that could more than double this season.

Wide receivers also align closer to the offensive line, a schematic shift that should allow them to more easily separate against man coverage. The Patriots were the second-most pressured team in the NFL last season, with defenses not afraid to play their wideouts 1-on-1. At least now Myers and Co. can cross their routes off the line to create traffic for defenders and head right, left or straight up instead of lining up outside the numbers where their route tree is limited by the sideline.

2. The running game stops

Of all the Patriots’ offensive woes down the stretch — and they are several and significant — the running game is the most concerning.

The starting offense completed more than 40 percent of its attempts in practice with padding last week. Last season, the Vikings offense finished with a career-high 23.8 percent. The Pats’ problems run deeper than a new scheme.

Right guard Mike Onwenu is already rotating with longtime backup James Ferentz and third-year backup Arlington Hambright during the team’s practices, a sign of the staff’s frustration with his play. Onwenu’s fit in a zone-style scheme has also been questioned as a 350-pound play-blocker who has historically thrived with quicker, lighter linemen. Isaiah Wynn is also experiencing some obvious growing pains as he transitions to right tackle.

3. No receiver #1 yet

Myers leads all pass catchers with 21 receptions in competitive team practices. If you’ve watched the past two seasons, that shouldn’t be surprising given that Myers led the team in catches in 2021 and 2020.

But with the arrival of DeVante Parker and the second-round selection of rookie Tyquan Thornton, there was hope that a No. 1 wideout could emerge. For now, Meyers is back on the ball.

Tight end Jonu Smith ranks second with 18 catches on 26 team targets. He and Myers gobbled up targets last week when Jones repeatedly found them short for gains as he tried to generate some positive momentum against the starting defense. Former seventh-round pick and minicamp favorite Tre Nixon has 17 catches on 23 targets, most of them from rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe.

After them, Parker has caught half of his 20 targets in team drills as he continues to win mostly in contested catch situations. The former Dolphin is not a natural separator. Finally, Kendrick Bourne, the team’s steadiest of receivers, hit a dry spell last week with two catches in his last three competitive practices.

4. Recruits participate

First-rounder Cole Strange took every starting rep at left guard. Third-round cornerback Marcus Jones introduced himself with the starting defense in Friday’s scrimmage as Belichick split the roster between starters and reserves. Fourth-round corner Jack Jones has two pass breakups, the same number as Malcolm Butler.

If Butler can’t outpace current starters Jalen Mills and Terrance Mitchell while Marcus Jones and Jack Jones perform at a similar level, there’s a chance he could land on the bullpen. From all positions, the defensive backs appear to be primed for a youth movement, thanks in large part to their rookies.

Even undrafted rookies are making an impact.

Safety/special teamer Brendan Schooler practiced with veterans Matthew Slater, Justin Bethel and Cody Davis on the sideline as if the staff had decided he was already on the team. Former Alabama five-star recruit LaBryan Ray, a pass rusher, is tied for the team lead with three sacks during team drills. Purdue linebacker DaMarcus Mitchell, another potential primary special player, earned a sack Thursday.

Thanks mostly to Mac Jones, the first and second year players on this team will carry the Patriots as much as they can. For now, the rookies are holding up their end of the bargain.

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