22 Burning Questions answered as the Patriots open training camp next week

The Patriots open training camp on Wednesday but before they do, hear 22 (11 on O, 11 on D reference) burning questions.

1. What affect will the O’Brien hire have on the offense: O’Brien will make a big difference. The offense will be organized, well coached and the play calling will be much better. Expect a 10 point plus uptick in scoring and a more creative scheme that utilizes all its pieces.

2. Will Mac return to form? Yes he will. O’Brien will get more out of Mac and Jones will look more like he did his rookie year. The scheme is more quarterback friendly and OB will help Mac mature as well. Despite all that, I still think Mac falls in the 10-15 range in pre-season quarterback rankings. He has a lot to prove this season.

3. Who will emerge as the new leader of the defense: Devin McCourty’s retirement leaves a huge void defensively both on and off the field. Perhaps the area where McCourty will be missed the most is in the locker room. His leadership was invaluable. On the surface, it is easy to assume that someone like Matthew Judon will step up and become more of a vocal leader but that is not his style. The next leader needs come from one of the younger stars of the defense. J’Whaun Bentley and Kyle Dugger come to mind.

4. Who will emerge as the second running back? Rhamondre Stevenson is one of the best running backs in the league but he can’t take every carry. The Patriots moved on Damien Harris and had originally signed James Robinson but released him last month. The Patriots do have second year backs Pierre Strong and Kevin Harris in the fold along with veterans Ty Montgomery and J.J Taylor so they have depth but unless one of them emerges and produces, they will be in the market for another running back. The team recently worked out Leonard Fournette and Darrell Henderson.

8. How much 12 personnel will we see? A ton. Go back to 2010 when O’Brien was last the offensive coordinator of the Patriots. They utilized rookie tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez roughly 50% of the time. Expect more of the same this season with Hunter Henry and Mike Gesicki. They will be on the field a lot.

9. Will see more of Kendrick Bourne? Bourne went from a centerpiece of the offense two years ago to non-existent last season. One of the many players who saw a diminished role under Matt Patricia. I think Bourne will get more snaps this season and we will see an increase in production but I do think he will fall short in terms of what he did in 2021.

10. Can Josh Uche replicate last season? Uche finished with 11.5 sacks last season. Could he put similar numbers this season? Absolutely, especially considering he is in a contract year.  While I can see Uche finishing with double digit sacks, I am not sure he tops last season’s total.

11. Can Cole Strange be more consistent in 2023? Strange had his good moments last season as a rookie but he also struggled at times. He consistently committed penalties at key times and was physically overmatched against bigger defensive tackles who can anchor. I would bet on a bounce back season from Strange. He should be better. It starts with a good camp.

12. What is Jack Jones future? It is up in the air right now. The Patriots to their credit have not overreacted and made any decisions regarding Jones future with the team. Right now they are leaving it up to the NFL. Jones will report to camp and participate but how long he is with the team remains to be seen.

13. Does Christian Gonzalez start as a rookie? The Patriots first round pick not only fills a need at corner but he gives the Patriots some much needed size and athleticism at the position. Gonzalez is a smooth, fluid athlete with elite level ball skills. He will make an impact it is just a matter of when. Ideally he has a strong camp and starts at boundary corner right away.

14. How much of Keion White and Marte Mapu will we actually see? I think both White and Mapu will play a big role in the Patriots defense as rookies. Both are versatile, can play multiple positions and are high I.Q football players. White can play the nine or five technique defensive end and give the Patriots pass rush some juice. Mapu can play nickel linebacker or safety and make an impact in all three levels of the defense. Both rookies should contribute this season.

15. Can Christian Barmore finally put it all together? Barmore can be a difference maker. We have seen it at times during the course of his first two seasons with the Patriots. We haven’t seen enough of it unfortunately. The Patriots need more out of him this season. If Barmore plays to the level he is capable of and stays healthy, the Patriots defensive line will give opposing offensive lines fits.

16. Will Jalen Mills move to free safety? When the Patriots re-signed Mills after cutting him, we all assumed it was because he was going to move to free safety full time. Mills played corner and free safety in mini-camp and I suspect we will see more of the same in camp and during the regular season. Mills versatility was a big reason why the team signed him in free agency two years ago. Now we will truly see just how versatile he is.

17. What can we expect from Tyquan Thornton? More than we saw last season. Thornton missed time at the beginning of last season and when he came back, we saw some flashes of what he could be particularly in the Cleveland game. The Patriots expect more of that version of Thornton this season. With Nelson Agholor gone, there will be more snaps for Thornton. He needs to make the most of them, especially as a vertical threat. The Patriots need to make more big plays and Thornton will play a big part in that.

18. Are Trent Brown’s best days behind him? Hard to say. He struggled last season and was the most penalized offensive tackle in the NFL. The offensive line as a whole struggled and Brown’s poor play was part of the reason. He needs to be much better this season. Brown has worked hard this off-season and the team hopes he comes into camp in better shape and with a clearer focus mentally.

19. Does Chad Ryland beat out Nick Folk? I think he does. Folk has been terrific for the Patriots but he’s 38 and struggled at the end of last season. Ryland has a strong leg and is accurate. He could just handle kickoffs but why use two roster spots on kickers? The Patriots have a young kicker who they drafted and like. He can handle both. I think Ryland wins the competition.

20. What unexpected veteran gets cut? Bill Belichick could surprise us and cut someone we least expect. Either way, I do think a familiar name or two could end up getting the ax. There are a lot of young players on the roster and Belichick and his staff want to get on them on the field. Late August could end up real interesting around here.

21. Is Bill Belichick on the hot seat? Absolutely. Owner Robert Kraft expects to win and to make the playoffs. So if you are looking at it from that perspective then yes, Belichick is on the hot seat. 8-9 isn’t going to cut it anymore. The Patriots need to be better. Belichick and everyone in the organization know that. The question is, are the Patriots good enough to make the playoffs and are they good enough to contend? To be determined.

22. Do the Patriots make the playoffs? I think they do. This team is talented enough to win 10 or 11 games and win a playoff game. That may seem bullish but they’ll be better coached offensively and I think the defense will be on par with what they were last season.

There are plenty more questions that need to be answered heading into this season. Some of the questions will start getting answered next week.