Patriots: Keeping an eye on three things heading into mandatory mini-camp Tuesday

After two open practices where almost everyone – but not everyone – was in attendance, the Patriots are set to begin three days of mandatory offseason mini-camp on Tuesday.

For the first time, we should get at least a small taste of what the 2022 Patriots are going to look like. The entire defensive unit, the offensive line, quarterback Mac Jones, the receivers and the new staff should all benefit greatly from the three days of fairly legitimate competition, even if it isn’t full speed yet. Of course, there is still plenty of questions regarding that staff, but the guys on the field are ultimately going to make or break the Patriots this year, no matter who’s calling plays.

It’ll still be tough to get a real read on this team until we hit training camp, but there’s three things in particular I’ll be keeping a close eye on starting around 11:45 Tuesday morning.

The first thing is the wide receiver group and Mac’s continuity with them. We all saw the videos of guys working out together in the offseason and during the first two OTA practices Mac looked sharp and the ball seemed to come out a bit quicker. Does it translate against actual coverage? DeVante Parker and new speedster rookie Tyquan Thornton could add serious problems for secondaries with Jakobi Meyers, Kendrick Bourne, Hunter Henry and (hopefully) Jonnu Smith out there as well. On paper, the offense is unproven but there is still a good amount of talent there. It’ll be interesting to see how on-the-same-page they are early.

Speaking of Mac, the second thing is just his demeanor and leadership overall. Is he more vocal? More demonstrative when things don’t go right? I don’t need to see him freaking out and ripping guys obviously, but it’s year two and he’s definitely bulked up a bit, so can he take charge on the field even more than he did a year ago?

By all accounts Jones had respect early and that’s good, but does it last? We’ve heard he’s one of the more intelligent guys to come through the doors of Gillette Stadium, but this season more than ever he may need to be a coach on the field and make a few decisions on the fly, does he have that ability to make everyone better even when his head is spinning? We might get some glimpses early on based on his role in how things go this week.

Last but certainly not the least, is the defense faster? The good thing about football is you can tell which guys are NFL fast and which guys are just “meh” fast pretty quickly. Last season, it was apparent to everyone that the Pats looked old and slow by the time the playoff game against the Bills rolled around.

Matt Judon wasn’t here for the OTA’s, but is back in town and looks ready to go based on some of his Instagram workout videos. Judon started out like a defensive MVP candidate last year, but faded down the stretch. Judon’s return to form will be important, but the need for speed was pretty much all over the field.

Ronnie Perkins and Cameron McGrone are slated to be important pieces and new rookie defensive backs Marcus Jones and Jack Jones could give the unit a bit more speed and swagger that it desperately lacked a year ago. While he may not bring a ton of speed this days, Malcolm Butler’s return to the secondary will always be worth a watch too. Should be great competition between the receiver and defensive back groups who should both be in “prove it” mode.

By football in June standards, this week at Gillette should be fascinating with the franchise still at a bit of a crossroads.