To the Surprise of No One, Belichick and His Staff are Coaching the Shrine Bowl Like Maniacs

Understandably, the rest of the world has fixed its attention on other things besides a college football all star game. Tom Brady's retirement. Bracing for the onslaught of Kelce brothers stories. Episode 3 of The Last of Us. Red Sox Truck Day. Puxatawny Phil. The early stages of World War III. 

So the problems of a hundred or so senior prospects in Las Vegas don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. But if you're a Patriots fan coming off a Bizarro World season that featured the worst, most confounding coaching the franchise has seen since Pete Carroll, the East-West Shrine Bowl is our hill. And these are our beans. 

As such, any report we get out of a preparation for a bowl game that only the geekiest members of America's professional draft pundit class pay attention to is more than welcome; it's a necessity. Not about the prospects, but about the Pats coaches. Stories about who looks good throwing to whom and which guy blocked which better than anyone else can wait. This is Spring Training for the staff Bill Belichick will take with him to OTAs and beyond. And after the 2022 we just had, everything else is secondary. The roster building is going to matter immensely as the offseason unfolds. Of course. But it's going to mean nothing if the guys coming up with the game plans, running the practices and calling the signals don't have their hash settled. 

So it's fortunate that The Athletic has given us a look inside the peep show (kids, ask your dads what those were). And what we've learned from it is:

--Roles on the coaching staff are not as yet defined, other than what we already know: That Bill O'Brien is not only replacing Matt Patricia as offensive coordinator, but also Joe Judge as quarterbacks coach. Jerod Mayo might very well end up being named assistant head coach. While tight ends coach Nick Caley just interviewed for the OC job in Houston.

--Patricia is not in Vegas. The speculation has mainly been that Patricia will move to a front office role. 

--Judge, who is there, could end up at Caley's old job if he leaves. But also he might end up going back to his old job of special teams coordinator. Which, given how good that unit was when he was there as opposed to the last two seasons, would please me to no end.

But it's the way the coaches who are down there now are approaching this task that is the real money shot in all this. What is normally a blow-off class for other staffs is a mission for them:

The way the Patriots treated this trip to Las Vegas underscored how seriously they took this assignment. ...

Even though the Shrine Bowl is just a showcase, a non-competitive game for draft-eligible prospects, Belichick had his staff grinding over film from practice all day. Then, at night, staffers were expected to resume their normal offseason preparations as a coach, including studying this spring’s class of free agents and preparing for the draft. There was next to no free time during this trip.

Meanwhile, Falcons coach Arthur Smith ... encouraged his coaches to enjoy the experience together. Falcons assistants went to dinner together and hung out in what they hoped was a bonding experience. Smith even went to see a show with his wife.

That was in stark contrast to the no-time-for-anything-fun approach from Belichick. ...

The Patriots had a different style of coaching on the field, too. Even though Belichick, O’Brien, Mayo and Judge were supposed to have only supervisory roles during prep for the Shrine Bowl, they were hands-on throughout.

At one point, Illinois quarterback Tommy DeVito didn’t realize who was yelling at him during a drill until he discovered it was O’Brien.

“He was, like, dressed in disguise,” DeVito said. “He had a hat on, big jacket. I couldn’t really see his face, and this dude is just screaming. At first, I was like, ‘Who is this guy?’ Then he got up close and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s Bill O’Brien,’ and it kind of made sense. They are very intense, aggressive coaches.”


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Puxatawny Phil can climb right back into his hole and die for all I care. This is exactly the news I needed to hear today. The new Patriots way of getting business done is exactly the same as the old way. The way that put six Lombardis at the top of a pyramid of skulls. The only difference is there's a competent, experienced, professional in charge of the offense once again.

Hey Shrine Bowl: If you didn't want "intense, aggressive coaches," you came to the wrong fucking franchise. Belichick's crew have one speed, and it's standing on the gas. Arthur Smith can treat this like a destination bachelorette party. Or worse, some corporate retreat where you split into little groups and do team building exercises that teach you how to work together to meet your sales quotas or whatever. Belichick and O'Brien are going full Gunnery Sgt. Hartman at Parris Island. They want the men of the 3092 salty. Ready to eat their own guts and ask for seconds. 

Meaningless exhibition game? Showcase for scouts? My ass. This is a training ground. For the prospects, sure. But more so, for the Patriots staff. They're taking the opportunity to put the world on notice there will be no repeat of 2022. With opposing defenses calling out their plays, receivers running into each other, confusion on blocking assignments, guys running deep verticals against blitzes with nobody breaking off their routes and getting their heads around so Mac Jones can hit them on a quick slant. The kidding around is over. The adults are back in charge. 

And if I was advising Tommy DeVito - whose parents gave him an A+ name, by the way:

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… or anyone else on his team, I'd suggest they make the most of the instruction they're getting this week. No college prospect will ever get coached harder, or better, ever again. Because for the foreseeable future, the Patriots will be otherwise occupied this time of year.