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Juju Smith-Schuster Gave Us Our First Insight Into the Patriots' Biggest Acquistion of 2023

When Juju Smith-Schuster first met with the Patriots media, he demonstrated a polished, experienced veteran's knack for saying all the right things. (Though Eagles' fans would beg to differ.) He talked about being at the Garden for the Celtics-76ers game and how impressed he was with Boston fans and how he's never played in front of anyone like them. (And speaking on behalf of my people, I can assure him we respond positively to being shamelessly patronized like this.) Mentioned what a hard worker Mac Jones is an how much he's looking forward to working with him.  And basically said all the things you learn from the Athletespeak section of the Babble app. How to say "Excited to work to improve  with teammates to get better to be excited to work," conversationally like a native. 

But to me, the big takeaway is what he said about the most important addition to the team this offseason. And it's not Smith-Schuster. Though he is a major piece:

It's what he said about Bill O'Brien. More importantly, what he said about learning Bill O'Brien's system:

"If you saw what we study. We should get, like, a college degree for doing that, man. ...

"I would say it is a very varied offense. I can say I'm definitely studying more. I'm getting the offense down. The terminology is different than what I've learned in the past. But that just goes to say, these coaches are really, really smart when it comes to football and just knowing the game, knowing defense, terminologies. 

"Every day I'm growing here. I think that's what I love about being here. Every day I'm going to keep growing. I feel like I'm back in college or school again. After this, I'm going to go home, put a couple hours in, study, put on some Call of Duty, get back to studying, go to my flashcards -- I'm making flashcards. I got a lot of flashcards. It's awesome."

And when asked about blocking:

"I love blocking. I love doing the dirty work as far as going across the middle and catching the ball in traffic. Whatever Coach [Bill Belichick] has me do, I'm willing to do. No questions asked. As far as being a part of this offense, I think Bill [O'Brien ]has something great planned for all of us. Whatever that is I'm happy with."

And before we go on, with regards to Juju referring to the offense as "varied," O'Brien talked last week about Smith-Schuster's "versatility" in a wide receiver room filled with versatile athletes. According to Pro Football Focus, last year with Kansas City he split his time between the slot vs. out wide 42.1%-to-57.9%, after being used increasingly as just a slot guy as his career went on in Pittsburgh (80+% in the slot each of his last two seasons). As far as blocking, he wasn't asked to do much of it in Kansas City. But in five seasons in Pittsburgh, he had PFF blocking grades of 70 or higher in three of them. 

To be clear, despite my years as a defensive assistant for the JV team of a suburban youth football program, I'm no expert on the subject. But it sounds to me like a "varied" offense would be the ideal fit for a "versatile" receiver.

But it's the rest of his comments that are the most telling. In fact, they begin to turn the key on the mystery box that is the most mission critical task of 2023: Tearing down Matt Patricia's Stone Age offense and bringing this one back into the 21st century. 

Like I said last summer, I could kind of see the logic of what OC Matty P was trying to do. So many athletic, highly regarded skill position players had come to Foxboro over the years and flamed out because they could never grasp the system. From veterans like Joey Galloway and Doug Gabriel to young draftees like N'Keal Harry and Devin Asiasi. We kept hearing the plan was to simplify it. To "streamline" it. And it wasn't the craziest idea to decide that maybe your wideouts and tight ends didn't have to solve Fermat's Last Theorem just to get open on a given play. 

But the concept failed. Utterly. Whether you thought it was a noble experiment or a terrible idea from its conception, we can all agree it was a catastrophe. One that took the most effective weapon of the system Charlie Weis installed in 2000 - its complexity - and dumbed it down to the point it wasn't fooling anybody. Not even one of the worst teams in football:

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Well now it's GTFO of here with that remedial horseshit. They're replacing the Wheel of Fortune-level intellect and bringing the Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions brains back to this operation. The way nature intended. 

Smith-Schuster has previously played under Randy Fichtner, who studied under Bruce Arians, with his reliance on post-snap reads and a quarterback going through predetermined progressions (while trying to not to get killed the way Ben Roethlisberger nearly did on a weekly basis). And last season, Andy Reid, who's still evolving the West Coast he grew up on, with its emphasis on spacing, timing, quick slants and back side reads. Now he's filling flashcards with notes on the language of Bill O'Brien, who can talk for nine minutes while barely scratching the surface of one simple concept:

(By the way, these O'Brien lectures are going to be my chief form of nerd entertainment this summer as the season approaches. The video equivalent of Hermoine Granger grabbing a book the size of a coffee table for "a bit of light reading.") 

All of this is exactly what the moment called for. Mac Jones is a quarterback whose greatest strength is processing information. Who wants to break the huddle knowing what the plan is and what the logic behind it is, come under center knowing what his options are, see what look the defense is giving him, and deciding which are the best ones for that situation. None of which was part of the mix last year. But now the adults are back in charge. Our new WR1 Juju Smith-Schuster has a stack of flashcards to prove it.