Five bold predictions for 2022 Patriots training camp

With the final hours before training camp ticking by, this feels like a good time to lay out some bold predictions for what we’ll see this summer. There’s plenty of uncertainty surrounding this year’s club — on the offensive coaching staff and defensive depth chart, in particular — so predictions of any kind are a bit of a fool’s errand.

But that’s never stopped us before. 

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Here are five things I anticipate will happen during the next month in Foxboro…

Mac Jones will be LOUD

I can picture you already. You don’t say? The starting quarterback will be talkative? Way to be bold, Perry! I get it. But just think back to where we were at 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 correct players on the field and he allegedly gave a rousing performance impersonating Cam Newton during the annual rookie skits — but he was still a rookie. And he was cognizant of that. 

This year will be different. He should be named a captain whenever that vote is held and that announcement gets made. And he’ll have a different sort of approach in Year 2. He’ll be more demonstrative with teammates, as he was during OTAs. He may exhibit some of the on-the-field emotion we saw at times last season. He’ll be more vocal at the line of scrimmage. He may have more minute-to-minute say in how things look offensively, especially with Josh McDaniels gone.

 

I was told by one league source this offseason that if Jones wanted to retire tomorrow and become an offensive coordinator, he could. He’s that bright, the source explained. That won’t be his job this season, but he will be entrusted to put his imprint on the offense. And that will become clear after we see and hear him operate during his second pro training camp.

The Patriots will part with a starting receiver

The logic here is pretty simple. They have a deep receiving corps that may have as many as six pro-caliber wideouts: Jakobi Meyers, Kendrick Bourne, DeVante Parker, Nelson Agholor, Tyquan Thornton and the surprise star of spring workouts — Tre Nixon. With an offense that should feature more two tight end sets this season (more on that in a minute), meaning more two-receiver sets, how can they afford to keep that many wideouts? 

Moving on from Agholor would seem to be the most sensible move, if the Patriots can pull it off. But he has a base salary of $9 million in 2022, which could make him hard to trade unless there’s an injury elsewhere around the league that forces a team to get desperate.

The other option? It could be Meyers. Moving on from their most productive receiver is not a decision for which I’d advocate. But it does seem rather Belichickian, doesn’t it? Meyers is in the last year of his deal, and he’s on a modest $4 million salary as a restricted free agent this past offseason. He would have value in a trade. The Patriots could end up using Parker and Bourne as their top two receivers with Agholor, Thornton and Nixon mixing in when they’d want a third.

Again, it’s not what I would do. Meyers has tremendous value as a reliable short-to-intermediate threat. Plus, he’s their best blocker at the position. (Mike Vrabel called Meyers their best blocker period last year.) But there’s a logjam at that position. The Patriots aren’t moving on from Parker, Bourne or Thornton. And Meyers — who may want to test free agency next offseason — would bring back more in a trade than Agholor or Nixon. 

Jonnu Smith will be the star of camp

You want bold? I’ve got your bold right here. But if the Patriots are to shift to the kind of offense they seemed to be favoring in the spring — a Shanahan-style scheme the likes of which are now seen not only from the Niners but also the Rams, Packers, Browns, Vikings and others — that would mean good things for Smith.

 

I was told by an AFC offensive assistant that an emphasis on that type of scheme would “absolutely” benefit Smith as well as Hunter Henry. They’re not behemoths. Neither are traditional “Y” tight ends as in-line blockers. They’re smaller and quicker and would be augmented by an approach that a) favors athleticism at the line of scrimmage in the run game and b) catch-and-run ability for short-to-intermediate weapons in the passing game. That’s Smith.

The Patriots are intent on getting more from their high-priced tight end, and streamlining their offense to focus on concepts that tap into his physical skill set will help make him one of the standouts of the summer at One Patriot Place.

Josh Uche will be everywhere

This is partly based on what we saw from Uche during OTAs. He was both off the ball and on the end of the line of scrimmage as a pass-rusher, making him look as he did during his days at Michigan when he was a versatile quarterback chaser for then defensive coordinator Don Brown. This prediction is also based on what we heard from both Bill and Steve Belichick earlier this offseason when they indicated that Uche would be a key piece to the puzzle for this year’s defense. 

I also wonder if there may be a bit of a scheme change afoot which would impact Uche’s usage. We may see a scheme that has less separation between “outside” linebackers (usually standup pass-rushers at the end of the line of scrimmage) and “inside” linebackers (a few yards behind the line of scrimmage). Though seven-man fronts are rare in today’s NFL, the Patriots have been built more in the mold of a 3-4 defense since 2019. If they move to more 4-3 looks this season, with Matt Judon and Deatrich Wise at defensive end and three linebackers (or linebacker-safety hybrids) off the line, that could allow Uche to play off the ball on early downs. The Patriots would still have the freedom to get him on the line in passing situations, while protecting him from having to be a true edge-setter on early downs.

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A plan that would deploy Uche in a more versatile fashion in 2022 — he played 218 of his 241 defensive snaps on the edge last year, per Pro Football Focus — might help the Patriots get the most out of their 2020 second-round pick.

Jack Jones will win a starting job

The fourth-round pick out of Arizona State had a bumpy ride from five-star high school recruit to Foxboro. He began his career as a ball-hawking corner at USC, then ran into academic issues, landed at a California community college and was arrested for breaking into a Panda Express. He made his way to the Sun Devils and was suspended there by the coaching staff at one point for fighting during a practice. But he has the quick-twitch movement skills the Patriots like at the position, and he flashed good ball skills in the spring. 

While Jalen Mills and Malcolm Butler might be tabbed as the favorites to start on the outside for Belichick, I think Jones has enough in the way of playmaking ability that it’ll be hard to keep him off the field. Folks within the organization are optimistic about his ability to contribute and contribute early. 

 

Bonus prediction? The other rookie corner named Jones, Marcus, will see some snaps on the offensive side. His potential there is real.

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