FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots open 2022 NFL training camp Wednesday at Gillette Stadium. Here’s a closer look at a few storylines:
Biggest question: Who is coordinating the offense and calling plays? Quarterback Mac Jones had a solid rookie season under coordinator Josh McDaniels, who has moved on to become the Las Vegas Raiders' head coach. Bill Belichick hasn’t officially named a replacement. Matt Patricia (offensive line) and Joe Judge (quarterbacks) held cards and relayed plays to Jones during spring practices, and Belichick was often nearby and involved as well. While Patricia and Judge are former head coaches, their primary background in the NFL has been on defense and special teams, respectively. Will the coaching setup work? And how much does the lack of experience coordinating an offense and calling plays matter?
What is the most compelling position battle? Cornerback.
J.C. Jackson struck it rich in free agency with the Los Angeles Chargers, so there’s a big cornerback void to fill. Jalen Mills, who started opposite Jackson last season, returns for his second year in New England. Veterans Malcolm Butler and Terrance Mitchell are among the more experienced candidates to potentially step in, while fourth-round pick Jack Jones (Arizona State) made plays in spring practices that illustrated he is a candidate to consider as well.
Who is the player with the most to prove? Jonnu Smith
The sixth-year tight end signed a four-year, $50 million contract ($31.25 million guaranteed) as a free agent in the 2021 offseason but had an underwhelming first season in New England (28 catches, 294 yards, 1 TD). The Patriots are transitioning away from a traditional fullback after not re-signing Jakob Johnson, which could mean they find more creative ways to use Smith as a complement to top tight end Hunter Henry.
Belichick has traditionally favored a committee-type approach, and that also includes a designated “passing back” on third down. Harris was the 1A last year (202 carries, 929 yards, 15 TDs), but Stevenson came on strong as a 1B by season’s end (133 carries, 606 yards, 5 TDs) and said one of his primary offseason goals was to become a greater factor in the passing game. Some scouts view Stevenson’s upside as greater, but Harris’ year-round commitment has previously sparked praise from Belichick.
Camp prediction: Rookie Jack Jones will be one of the standout performers in training camp, making a charge for a starting spot, as his sticky coverage and ball skills will show up with multiple interceptions. By the end of camp, no player will have more interceptions than Jones.