Monday, June 27, 2022

Patriots coach ‘couldn’t make it work’ with award-winning free agent in 2021

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The New England Patriots’ offense wasn’t as explosive in 2021 as they might have wished. Mac Jones and Co. ranked 15th in yards per game and 14th in passing yards per contest in the NFL. There are several reasons the Patriots’ offense lacked punch — particularly up in the air — but a commonly cited shortcoming is the lack of impact from Jonnu Smith’s prized free-agent signing.

After signing a four-year, $50 million contract with the Patriots in 2021, he had just 28 receptions (sixth on the team) for 294 yards and one TD. He was averaging just 18 yards per game and only had 15 first downs all season. In 16 games, Smith had just 45 goals.

The combination of Smith’s injuries and the coaching staff’s inability to find ways to get him on offense resulted in a disappointing season for the veteran tight end. USA Today’s Henry McKenna singled out Josh McDaniels, now the former Patriots offensive coordinator, as the key contributor who “just couldn’t make it work” with Smith.

“McDaniels is one of the brightest offensive heads in the NFL and he couldn’t make it work,” McKenna wrote. “Offensive is now the responsibility of Joe Judge and Matt Patricia who are still gaining ground in terms of offensive schemes. It may be a situation where Smith needs to rise up despite his 2022 surroundings and not because of his 2021 surroundings.

The Patriots will no longer play with a traditional fullback, so the roster adjustment should favor Smith in 2022. Still, the less-than-definitive leadership structure on offense could present another obstacle for Smith.

The sweet spot for Smith and the Patriots’ offense is likely closer to 55 receptions for 500+ yards and at least 5 TDs. If Smith can become part of New England’s attack at this level, the combination of him and colleague Hunter Henry, who led the team in receiving TDs in 2021 with 9, could give Jones some serious weapons in the passing game.

The Patriots have cut costs in some ways this offseason, perhaps the most important move being the trade for two-time Super Bowl champion Shaq Mason. New England passed the respected veteran to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he is reunited with Tom Brady, and the Patriots earned a sixth-round pick in exchange for the major league offensive guard.

ESPN’s Bill Barnwell believes the Patriots would have been better off keeping the key wheel on the team’s offensive line. He said he wishes the team had found a way to retain Mason and he identified potential depth issues related to Trent Brown and Isaiah Wynn’s questionable durability.

Brown and Wynn are the Patriots’ predicted starting tackles, but the duo have missed 39 games combined over the past three seasons. Mike Onwenu played a useful role on the Patriots offense in 2021, filling in for Brown at times. Onwenu is expected to replace Mason with rookie offensive lineman Cole Strange, who is expected to fill in for the late Ted Karras.

If there is an injury, Mason’s loss could have a negative impact.

If you’re looking for the next Patriots coordinator to add to the conversation for promotion or a better position at another NFL organization, keep an eye on Ross Douglas.

The Boston Herald’s Andrew Callahan wrote about how the 27-year-old warned of full confidence in Bill Belichick.

“You can tell he’s a rising star in the business,” said Richmond coach Russ Huesman, Douglas’ last boss before New England.

Douglas is currently in a coaching bursary role on the defensive side of the ball. He played college football in Michigan, where he was primarily a running back, before turning to coaching.

He’s young and needs to work his way up the ladder, but if Douglas has done enough to earn Belichick’s respect, it could speak volumes about his coaching ceiling.

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Follow the Heavy on Patriots Facebook page for the latest Patriots-related breaking news, rumours, content and more!

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