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Letters from Patriots Camp 2022: Volume 4

Today was the last day I'm going to be able to make it to Gillette for a week and a half or so. And with the team being back in full pads, it seemed like my duty to leave the comfort of Stately Thornton Manor and the soothing relief of my above ground white trash pool and brave the elements. Courage? Sacrifice? Selflessness? You used those words, not me. I'm just a man with a job to do. The public needs me, and I answer the call. All I ask is that my bravery serves as an inspiration to others. 

--Today was the annual Hosing Down of the Rookies, a tradition in these parts as sacred as 4th of July fireworks on the Esplanade, an 11 a.m. Red Sox game on Marathon Monday, or giving wrong directions to tourists. Though today it topped 90 the whole practice, and with no clouds the field was like the surface of Mercury. So hitting these guys with a garden hose was doing them a favor. I know the world has changed, and even the traditional Rookie Head Shave has probably gone the way of other hazing methods like sexually humiliating frat pledges or tossing virgins into volcanoes. But it seems to me if you really wanted to give the new guys an initiation with a hose, you'd wait until December. Give them the treatment Hopper got in that Soviet prison on Stranger Things 4. But those days are long gone, I'm sorry to say. You have to treat rookies like human beings now. The Pussification of America continues. 

--Still, big kudos to whoever picked out the music. "Car Wash," from the 1976 Richard Pryor/George Carlin film of the same name, was an inspired choice. And trust me, we haven't heard the last of Rose Royce. They've got another hit in them, I can feel it coming.

--Overall in these first eight practices of camp, the defense has, if not dominated, definitely had an edge over the offense. And the closer you get to actual game conditions, the bigger their advantage. So they've been better in 11-on-11s than in 7-on-7s. And better in pads than without. In particular, they've had an advantage in the trenches. The O-line has struggled against the Front-7 for the most part. Decidedly so in pass protection. How you feel about that is entirely up to you world view.  I mean, if the offense was dominant, we'd all be worried about a new, revamped defense. One of those units has to be the half full part of the glass. Unless you're a Boston sports journo or talk show host. In which case you say the glass was emptied the day the team offered Tom Brady an insulting contract offer and should've done the decent thing by smashing it on  the bar and cut their wrists with the shards. I prefer to see how each looks against the Giants next week before making judgments. But that's just me.

--Simply put, the quarterbacks have had to scramble, pull the ball down, and roll the pocket more than you'd like to see in the normal course of doing business. But ceteris paribus (i.e. "all else being equal"; the benefits of a community college education) we were all more concerned about the Front-7 going into this year than we were the pass protection. After all, Trent Brown returned and switched to left tackle, Isaiah Wynn moved to right where he belongs, they drafted Cole Strange high, Michael Onwenu has been one of their best value picks ever, and David Andrews anchors it all. Meanwhile the linebacking corps has been completely turned over and there's still a major question at the DE/OLB spot opposite Matthew Judon. If what we're seeing is all that change paying off and they can match up with the Bills for a change, any early August panic over Mac Jones time to throw will be the punchline to a joke none of us will remember. 

--And on that note, today was a bit of a bounce-back day for Jones and the passing attack. In the 11s, he was 7-for-10. Despite a sack by DaMarcus Mitchell (I think; at least he seemed to celebrate like he was taking credit for it), another that seemed like a coverage sack where Christian Barmore and Andrews both ended up on the ground, one play where he was flushed from the pocket and had to run out of bounds, and a couple of throwaways. 

--More encouragingly, it was another day where Jonnu Smith earned a "Great job!" sticker on his paper. Both in single coverage drills and full squad plays. The highlight being a deep ball up the right sideline on a combo route where the inside receiver cut in and drew UDFA safety Brenden Schooler with him. He also mixed in a shallow out route, a hot route where Jones found him uncovered outside the numbers, and a crosser or two. If nothing else, he's hanging onto everything that hits his hands without the maddening double-clutching that plagued him last year. That is, before they simply stopped looking in his direction. Possibly no one will benefit more from the switch to this new scheme. 

--Speaking of which, it really is starting to look more and more like Sean McVay's playbook. McOffense 2.0, if you will. Tighter splits. Tight ends going into presnap motion to flip the strong side/weak side and change the Mike linebacker. An emphasis on zone blocking. All of which might explain the offense's struggles. (The inside runs have not been there.) If you're old enough to remember when Drew Bledsoe had three different offensive coordinators in a four year stretch (1997-2000), you might have some repressed memories of how it can take half of camp to get everyone on the same page. I sure do. But I'm not discounting the popular notion that Matt Patricia and Joe Judge are in over their heads. So ... stay tuned?

--Bailey Zappe has made progress since last week when I compared him to the unattractive girl who makes the hot chick (Mac) look even better. The best throw I've seen him make came off him extending a play, breaking containment, and on a full sprint, hitting Devin Asiasi up the seam. He still misses targets (Kristian Wilkerson sitting underneath a deep zone, Shaun Wade's PBU on a ball intended for Wilkerson), but all we can ask for at this point is improvement. And since he'll be traded for a second round pick in three years, this is good news. 

--It's sad to see the way Troy Brown has let himself go. The way he looks, he'd only be good for about 6 or 8 receptions and 90-100 yards if he strapped on the pads in Week 1. Whatever he's doing to get in shape in his 50s, I want in.

--Getting back to the defense, we're getting a look at who they'll be counting on at the Will and Sam linebacker spots on either side of presumptive MLB Ju'Whaun Bentley. Josh Uche got a ton of reps today with Matthew Judon out, while Anfernee Jennings, Ronnie Perkins and Cameron McGrone rotated through the other spots. All three are recent picks who've been redshirting. And like I said before, if they don't come through and earn their draft status, nothing else this team did to improve last year or this will matter. 

--LB Jahlani Tavai had the distinct displeasure of being the first apparent camp injury, looking like some bad juju happened in his lower leg. The coaches formed a circle around him while everyone else took a knee. Eventually he made it over to the blue tent. But it's a possible bad blow to an area of the team where they'll need all hands on deck. So cross all crossable parts until we hear something.

--In the secondary, the rookies Marcus Jones and Jack Jones demonstrate they're at least competitive in coverage on every rep. Malcolm Butler was back today after missing some time, and had a nice pass break up on Nelson Agholor on a deep ball from Mac Jones. And as in years past, Joejuan Williams has demonstrated that when he's covering someone, that receiver is open. I'll be shocked if he makes the 53. 

--The best player in camp since full contact started has been Barmore. I'm surprised a member of Dolphins ownership wasn't in the huddle trying to sign him.