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Five Key Storylines for the New England Patriots in 2024 OTAs

We're now just days out from one of the most important offseason programs in Patriots franchise history: a new head coach, new coordinators, a new franchise quarterback in waiting, and a redo of instituting a West Coast offensive scheme after failing to do so in 2022.

This is a New England team that objectively has a phenomenal defense, but some question marks on the other side of the ball, in both positive and negative ways; think the two new wideouts, Ja'Lynn Polk and Javon Baker, and the uncertainty at left tackle with Trent Brown now in Cincinnati. But there's a lot more to talk about with this team, and here are just five things I'd be looking out for or think are important going into OTAs.

No. 1) Old Faces in New Places

I struggle to think of a more unique coaching staff structure in the NFL, maybe even across any North American sports league, than what the Patriots have going into this year. Beyond Jerod Mayo, there's a bevy of former players on this stuff, which isn't exactly new, but specifically the number of team alumni who are either returning or moving on up in new roles. That list includes Dont'a Hightower, Matt Slater in a role that appears to be similar to that of either Ernie Adams or Berj Najarian, Troy Brown, now in a returner coach and "skill development" capacity, and first-ballot Hair Hall of Fame haver Tiquan Underwood (yes, the flattop is still there and it's immaculate).

As far as concerns of simply thrusting players into coaching or advisory roles for the sake of it, Hightower is the only of the three true coaches who is coming into this year without any proper coaching experience, but he's the guy I'd be least worried about. When he first got the nod, Jeff Howe from the Athletic was very quick to rattle off some key anecdotes, including his leadership from the moment he got to Foxborough, which netted him Teddy Bruschi's No. 54 and Willie McGinnest's old locker stall as a rookie, and his immediate knowledge of the Patriots defensive scheme. I imagine he'll be just fine.

Even with all that said, having the (objectively) cool story of team alumni returning home to join Mayo's staff is one thing, but they have jobs to do now. It'll be interesting to see how comfortable Hightower and Underwood acclimate themselves right away in full team activities, as well as how involved Matt Slater gets. The story, for some time now, went that he was going to join the ministry once his playing days ended, so I imagine this is a worthwhile job opportunity for him.

No. 2) Improving Drake Maye's Mechanics

During his first media availability of Rookie Minicamp, Jerod Mayo made it clear in no uncertain terms that Drake Maye has a ways to go in his development. Having scouted him back in December, the biggest flaws in Maye's game are either mental or mechanical, mostly the latter. His footwork was inconsistent enough to hamper him on more than a handful of throws, and tightening up his throwing motion would do him some good for the long haul. Any progress Maye can make in those two areas before camp would be massive.

No. 3) How Much Better Will This New Offensive Install Be than the Failed 2022 Attempt?

2022 feels like several lifetimes ago for the Patriots, but when Matt Patricia was named de facto OC, the plan was to institute a McVay/Shannahan-style scheme predicated on a ton of zone-based runs as opposed to the gap-based stuff the Patriots had traditionally run, in addition to playing action-heavy passing. Of course, this new install didn't work out, and they did all that work for nothing, ditching the bulk of that offense before the season even began.

Two years later, the Patriots have someone well-versed enough to install that kind of scheme: Alex Van Pelt. I won't sit here and say getting everything in order offensively will be 100 percent perfect, but in comparison, it might as well be. As for what to expect from AVP according to an Evan Lazar breakdown: Play Action (lots of it, expect some bootlegs), more zone than gap runs, although they flipped to the latter on a primary basis, and attacking downfield in the passing game. Joe Flacco went deep on vertical concepts at a 13.8% rate, good for fourth highest in the NFL.

No. 4) Left Tackle Questions Persist

The only true question mark on this roster for the time being would be at arguably the worst possible spot, even more than quarterback, if you want to go that far. Right now, the Patriots' three best options at left tackle are Calvin Anderson, who we now know fought a case of Malaria last year via a piece with Chris Price over at the Boston Globe, missing just about all of camp; Chuks Okorafor, who's been almost exclusively a career right tackle, and rookie Caedan Wallace out of Penn State.

What's interesting is that just yesterday, Bert Breer dropped a nugget at Sports Illustrated: The Patriots will likely open camp with Okorafor as the starting left tackle, with Wallace having the chance to supersede him on the depth chart. As for Anderson, he alludes to the idea that the Patriots view him as more of a swing guy as he's set for year six.

My preference would ultimately be to see Wallace win out, given where he was drafted mainly. Still, you're talking about a career pro left tackle and someone forced to the right side at Penn State because his teammate (Jets' Olu Fashanu) was an All-World left tackle prospect. I also think if Wallace can show that he's more agile than what his testing scores would indicate, it shouldn't even be a discussion at that point.

No. 5) Any More Contract Extensions?

Now that the draft and the main wave of free agency have concluded, the Patriots have done a near-perfect job of keeping their core pieces intact on both sides of the ball. I say near-perfect because some very notable defenders are still going into the last year of their respective deals: Jabrill Peppers, Matt Judon, Joshua Uche, Jahlani Tavai, Davon Godchaux, and Jonathan Jones.

It's likely an unrealistic expectation to expect all these guys to get re-upped, especially around this time of year, but you'd like to keep all these guys in a perfect world, and the Patriots have money to burn. It's hard to say who I'd prioritize first outright, but I've held the opinion for some time now that Peppers shouldn't play a snap for another team ever again, Tavai has been cash ever since Thanksgiving of 2022, and Judon, despite missing nearly all of last season and set to turn 33 soon, has been proven goods from the moment he got here. Barring a starting role on a Super Bowl contender opening up next spring, I'd be surprised if he, or Jon Jones for that matter, doesn't sign one more deal to stick in New England.

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