It's hard to read much into the first day of OTA practices. I know that makes no sense coming from a guy who wrote 1,500 words about yesterday's Patriots workout. But it's true. Especially since, as Bill Belichick reminded us any time he was asked about players who weren't on the attendance sign-in sheet, these practices are voluntary. So the Pats were missing their best player of the last two year (Matthew Judon), their biggest free agent signing (Juju Smith-Schuster) and their top rookie (Christian Gonzalez). As the offseason goes, this is the professor handing out the syllabus, explaining the grading policy and the projects you'll be assigned, and telling you to have Chapter 1 read by Friday. And not a lot else.
But while reading much into it is hard, but not impossible. We still got the most important takeaway.
No matter what the other 10,000 story lines that we'll deal with over the summer are, none of them matters if this team doesn't settle its hash when it comes to their offense, and the men who'll run it. Last year's dysfunction is still fresh in everyone's mind. So it was only natural that Mac Jones was going to be asked about working with an actual professional offensive coordinator who has actually coordinated an offense professionally before. And said exactly what a six-state region that hasn't enjoyed a Duckboat parade in four long years needed to hear:
Q:What's the process been like so far with Bill O'Brien coming in and getting to know each other?
MJ: It's been really good. It's been normal. I think everything he's done so far has been really good. I think the communication is the most important part, and trust. I think it all starts with that when you're with a new coach. He's done a great job in controlling the room. I feel like everyone's on the same page. We've just got to continue to do it; it's a marathon, not a sprint. So, we know that, and he's obviously had great experience in the NFL and at Alabama where I was at, so there's a lot of good stuff that we've talked about, and just looking forward to working with him.
He went on to talk about how he and O'Brien use the same "lingo" from the time each spent at Alabama. About earning his coaches' and teammates' trust, while stopping short of admitting he'd ever lost it. About using the experience of 2022 to have a better 2023. "Sometimes the most confident people come from a year where they might not have been their best, and I feel like that's where I'm at." And how being on his third coordinator in three years is nothing new to him. "I think in college …I learned through some really good coaches: Sark [Steve Sarkisian], [Brian] Daboll, [Mike] Locksley, [Lane] Kiffin, everybody. I actually had a different coordinator pretty much every year there. What I took from that is you learn from each one of them. You take the really good things and you add that to your repertoire."
But it's that first quote that's the money shot. Jones talking about this being "normal" again. After the offense got its dick kicked into the turf every day by their own defense, then visiting teams during joint practices, then all three preseason games, and then basically the entire season, this has got to feel like waking up after a bad experience with psychedelics and finding yourself safe in your own bed.
And it's not hard to imagine the various layers of "normal" he's talking about. Like I said yesterday, the practice was smooth and efficient. No standing around. No wasted motion. It ran like Mussolini's trains. I swear there was one sequence where they ran like 10 snaps in about five minutes. With each play seeming to be called with a specific purpose. Working on some concept they'd already talked about. Trying out a formation or a route combination to see if it's something they want to incorporate going forward. By contrast, at this time last year it felt like you had a guy making it up as he went along. Drawing up plays in the dirt with a stick. And judging by the way the Pats kept breaking the huddle with 0:05 left on the clock on high-leverage plays, that was a problem that never got solved.
Jones was also asked if there's a part of him that wants to just say "Everybody, shut the F up?" And he took the dreaded "Everyone is entitled to their opinion" high road. But I remain more of a Low Road Guy. That to me is always a better, smoother ride and offers better mileage. I sincerely hope that he channels all that negativity. And once he and O'Brien right this ship and get us back to a new and improved version of 2021 Rookie Mac, that he throws the receipts back in everyone's faces. But if he chooses to simply put the hatred and the Bailey Zappe chants in his rearview and look to the future with hope and optimism? I won't be doing the same.
It's ridiculous the way the media and fans turned on a 24-year-old quarterback who led them to 10 wins and a playoff berth as a rookie. And now that we're in the early stages of seeing how a real coach operates, it's more obvious than ever how he was dealt a bad hand last year. And the shit he took for circumstances beyond his control only become more outrageous and unforgivable. All the hand-wringing over his "body language," because he was demonstrably pissed. When what Matty P. deserved was to have Jones go up to him in a full mutiny, relieving him of command like Denzel did to Gene Hackman in Crimson Tide.
But now he gets to work with a guy who understands the system run by the actual Crimson Tide. And one day into the 2023 season, all is right with the world.