Five bold predictions for the 2022 Patriots training camp

With the final hours before training camp winds down, it seems like the time to make some bold predictions for what we’ll see this summer. There is a lot of mystery surrounding the club this year – with regards to their offensive coaching staff and defensive depth scheme in particular – so predictions of any kind are a somewhat deceptive task.

But that hasn’t stopped us before.

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Here are five things I expect to happen over the next month in Foxboro…

Mac Jones will be loud

I can already imagine you. do not say that? The starting quarterback will be talkative? Way to be bold, Berry! I get it. But just think about what we were up to this time last year. Mac Jones was fighting for a job with a former MVP. He was inundated with new information, a new coaching staff and new teammates. He was confident – we saw him as fit players on the field and allegedly put on a dramatic Cam Newton impersonation during the annual rookie skits – but he was still a rookie. And he was aware of that.

This year it will be different. He must be named Captain whenever such a vote is taken and this declaration is made. He will have a different style in the second year. He’ll be more visible with his teammates, as he was during OTAs. It might show some of the field feelings we’ve seen in times last season. It will be more frank at the line of scrimmage. He may have a more nuanced opinion of how aggressively things should turn out, especially with the departure of Josh McDaniels.

This off-season league source told me that if Jones wanted to retire tomorrow and become an offensive coordinator, he could. The source explained that it is so bright. It won’t be his job this season, but he will be tasked with putting his stamp on the offense. That will become clear after we see and hear him in action during his second pro training camp.

Patriots missiles will separate with the starting receiver

The logic here is very simple. They have a deep receiving corps that may have as many as six professional models: Jacoby Myers, Kendrick Bourne, Devante Parker, Nelson Agulor, Tyquan Thornton and the surprising star in spring training – Trey Nixon. With an offense that should feature two tight final sets this season (more on that in a minute), which means more reception sets, how can they afford so many?

Moving on from Agholor appears to be the most logical move, if the Patriots can pull it off. But he earned a base salary of $9 million in 2022, which could make trading difficult unless an injury elsewhere around the league is forcing the team to despair.

The other option? It could be Myers. Moving from a more productive receiver is not a decision I advocate. But it looks rather plychia, doesn’t it? Myers is in the final year of his deal, and he’s making a modest $4 million salary as a restricted free agent this past season. It will have value in the trade. The Patriots could end up using Parker and Bourne as top receivers with Agulor, Thornton and Nixon mixed in when they want to get a third.

Again, this is not what I would do. Myers has tremendous value as a credible short- to medium-term threat. Plus it’s the best blocker for them in this position. (Mike Frabel Meyers described their best blocker a period last year.) But there is a quandary in this situation. The Patriots do not transfer from Parker, Bourne, or Thornton. And Myers—who might want to test out the free agency at a later time—will bring more into the trade than Agholor or Nixon.

Juno Smith will be the star of the camp

Want bold? I have your guts here. But if the Patriots were to switch to the kind of attack they seemed to prefer in the spring – a Shanahan-style scheme that is now seen not only by the likes of Niners but also Rams, Packers, Browns, Vikings and other Vikings – it could mean good things for Smith.

An AFC attacking assistant told me that focusing on this type of tactic would “absolutely” benefit Smith as well as Hunter Henry. They are not giants. There are no traditional narrow “Y” ends like line blockers. It is smaller, faster and can be enhanced by an approach that a) favors sport at the line of scrimmage in a running game and b) the ability to catch runs for short to medium arms in a passing game. This is Smith.

Determined to get more out of their expensive tight end, simplifying their attack to focus on concepts that take advantage of his physical skill set will help make him one of the summer highlights at One Patriot Place.

Josh Uchi will be everywhere

This is based in part on what we saw from Uche during OTAs. He was off the ball and at the end of the scrimmage streak as a reckless player, making it look like he did during his Michigan days when he was stalked by the versatile quarterback for then-defense coordinator Don Brown. That prediction also builds on what we heard from both Bill and Steve Belichick earlier this season when they indicated that Uche would be a key piece of the puzzle for defense this year.

I’m also wondering if there might be a small schema change that might affect the use of Uche. We might see a scheme with less separation between the ‘outside’ linebackers (usually a rush to stand at the end of the scrimmage line) and the ‘inside’ linebackers (a few yards behind the scrimmage line). Although seven-man fronts are rare in the NFL today, the Patriots have built even more in a 3-4 defense since 2019. If they move to more 4-3 looks this season, with Matt Godon and Dietrich Wise in Defensive end and three linebackers (or safety lineback hybrids) are out of line, which can allow Uche to play the ball early. The Patriots will still be free to make him on the line in passing situations, while protecting him from having to be a real catalyst in early touchdowns.

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A plan that will roll out Uche in a more diverse way in 2022 — he played 218 of 241 defensive shots on the edge last year, according to Pro Football Focus — could help the Patriots make the most of their 2020 second-round selection.

Jack Jones will win an elementary job

The fourth round of the Arizona state selection saw a bumpy ride from the five-star high school recruiter to Foxboro. He started his career as a hawk at the University of Southern California, then encountered academic problems, landed at a California community college and was arrested for breaking into the Panda Express. He made his way to the Sun Devils and was suspended there by the coaching staff at one point for fighting during training. But he has the quick-moving skills the Patriots love in the position, and he’s shown good ball skills in the spring.

While Jalen Mills and Malcolm Butler may be tagged as candidates to start playing from the outside for Belichick, I think Jones has enough playmaking ability that it’s hard to put him off the field. People within the organization are optimistic about his ability to contribute and contribute early.

Anticipating the reward? You’ll see another rising angle named Jones, Marcus, some shots on the offensive side. His potential there is real.

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