FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Rounding up OC candidates: This week, coach Bill Belichick will begin the process of interviewing candidates to become offensive coordinator, which will include at least two external candidates who are persons of color and/or a woman, as part of the Rooney Rule.
Belichick is moving away from the structure he implemented in 2022 in which he didn't name an official coordinator, instead leaning on Matt Patricia and Joe Judge to oversee the offense despite their backgrounds in defense and special teams, respectively.
It is hard to imagine Belichick hiring an OC with whom he has no prior background or connection. It is also hard to imagine Belichick allowing a coordinator to come in and run their own system without some crossover with what the Patriots have done in the past.
Another factor: Whomever Belichick hires, there’s a critical link to the to-be-determined offensive line coach and the blocking schemes that will be taught, an area where there seemed to be slippage in 2022.
Which NFL coaches fit those categories? Here's a look:
Bill O’Brien: The former Patriots quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator (2009-2011) projects as a leading candidate who uniquely checks every box. If he could get close pal Doug Marrone (Saints OL coach) to join him, it would be a decisive double dip. O’Brien’s former offensive line coach with the Texans, Mike Devlin, could also fit; he’s currently an assistant OL coach in Baltimore.
Adam Gase: The former Dolphins and Jets head coach has never worked for Belichick, but there is plenty of mutual respect, he has run a similar offensive scheme and came up under Nick Saban (a Belichick confidant), when he was head coach at Michigan State and LSU. Gase's last OL coach with the Jets, Frank Pollack, now has that position with the Bengals.
Keenan McCardell: The current Vikings wide receivers coach played for Belichick with the Browns (1992-1995) and has spent the past decade coaching receivers between the NFL and college. A jump to coordinator might be steep, but pairing him with someone with an OL background like Marrone -- whom he coached under in Jacksonville (2017-2020) and has OL/blocking expertise -- could be a nice complement.
Shawn Jefferson: An associate head coach/receivers coach under Gase with the Jets (2019-2020) and Kliff Kingsbury with the Cardinals (2022), he played for the Patriots in 1996 when Belichick was an assistant on the staff. He has been coaching in the NFL since 2007.
Kliff Kingsbury: A 2003 sixth-round draft choice of the Patriots, he spent the past four seasons as Cardinals coach before being fired Monday. His offenses are notably different from what New England has run, but his knowledge as a quarterback has transferred to the coaching ranks. Peter Schrager of Fox Sports reported Saturday that Kingsbury has told teams he isn’t interested in coordinator jobs at the moment.
Doug Nussmeier: Currently serving as the Cowboys' quarterbacks coach, he was Saban’s offensive coordinator at Alabama in 2012 and 2013. He played quarterback (Saints' fourth-rounder in 1994) before entering the coaching ranks, and has two years of coaching tight ends on his resume, so there’s some natural linkage with blocking schemes.
Nick Caley: The Patriots’ tight ends coach since 2017, he was passed over last year in favor of the Patricia/Judge combination. If Belichick didn’t think he was ready then, the question is if things would be different now.
2. Unexpected announcement: The Patriots surprised many by announcing their intention to hire an offensive coordinator. Since when has the organization become so transparent? My take is that it made sense on multiple fronts: It was a way for Belichick to publicly acknowledge his 2022 miscalculation (he had said if it didn’t work out to blame him) and move forward; it was a way for the Patriots to decisively declare to the NFL that there won’t be a repeat of last year’s process, and the Rooney Rule will be followed; it was a way for owner Robert Kraft to communicate directly with fans, with a hopeful message that things will be different in 2023.
3. Mayo’s future: Likewise, the team’s announcement that it was negotiating with linebackers coach Jerod Mayo on an extension that would keep him with the team long term was unprecedented. Belichick has said that he isn’t big on titles, but it will be notable what he has in mind for Mayo. The last time Belichick had an assistant head coach on the masthead was 2013 with Dante Scarnecchia.
4. Pick No. 14: The Patriots have the 14th pick of the first round as a result of their 8-9 finish. If they keep the pick, it will be the fourth-highest selection in Belichick’s 24-year tenure -- behind only DL Richard Seymour (No. 6 in 2001), DL Ty Warren (No. 13 in 2003) and Mayo (No. 10, 2008, trade from 49ers). One view of their current top needs: OT, CB, WR.
5. Judon follow-up: Patriots outside linebacker Matthew Judon finished sixth in the Associated Press All-Pro voting at edge rusher, behind Nick Bosa, Micah Parsons, Myles Garrett, Haason Reddick and Maxx Crosby. That’s a loaded position -- especially with Parsons part of it after being listed as a linebacker last year -- and here’s one respected voter’s viewpoint on Judon: “He would’ve gotten my vote if he finished stronger down the stretch.”
6. Uche’s power: Third-year defensive end Josh Uche played 33.1% of the defensive snaps this season in his niche pass-rushing role, up from 21.3% the season before. His 11.5 sacks were a major increase from three in 2021, and Belichick shared insight on one reason for the spike.
“He’s developed more of a power rush,” Belichick said on the "Patriots All Access" television show. “He has some good power rushes that allow him to take advantage of his quickness, and his ability to come up-and-under and dip inside, and those kind of things. If the tackles are too soft on him, he’ll just power them back into the quarterback. That’s really worked well for him as a change-up this year.”
7. Onwenu’s solid season: Patriots starting right guard Mike Onwenu was on pace to play every snap this season before the fourth quarter of Sunday’s season-finale against the Bills, when center David Andrews was pushed down in the back of his legs. That knocked Onwenu out for six snaps, which was the only time he missed this season, as he checked in with a 99.4% clip. Onwenu, who finished third in AP All-Pro voting behind Dallas’ Zack Martin and Atlanta’s Chris Lindstrom, enters the last year of his contract.
8. Did You Know, Part I: The Patriots finished with 54 sacks, the most in Belichick’s tenure and fifth most in team history.
9. Did You Know, Part II: The Patriots had never allowed more than two touchdowns of 40-plus yards in a game under Belichick prior to the 2022 season finale when they surrendered four of them (101, 96, 49 and 42 yards) to the Bills.
10. Did You Know, Part III: Quarterback Tom Brady, who leads the Buccaneers into action against the visiting Cowboys on Monday night (8:15 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN/ESPN2/ESPN+), has 35 career playoff wins. That’s the same total as the Cowboys franchise. Only the Patriots (37), Steelers (36) and Packers (36) have more all-time playoff wins.