Curran: What's the end-game for Patriots' offensive process?

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FOXBORO -- The Patriots are "going through a process," Bill Belichick said Thursday night after the preseason opener.

What "the process" actually refers to remains elusive. Is it installing a new offense? Training a new offensive coordinator(s)? Creating a system of rotating playcallers? Grooming Joe Judge to become offensive coordinator while letting an experienced (albeit defensive) playcaller handle the duties for now? Keeping the OC seat warm in 2022 and going after someone more experienced in the offseason?

All of the above? Some of the above? None of the above? What is the Patriots' current vision for what they’d like their offense to look like when it gets proficient? Do they have one? Or will they simply know it when they see it?

Crutch Belichick quotes like, "We’re just doing what’s best for the football team. Always have, always will," don’t provide adequate cover for the inexplicably slapdash approach to building the Patriots 2022 coaching staff, doling out responsibilities and getting ready for the season.  

The man who popularized the mantra, "Do your job!" has guys like Matt Patricia and Joe Judge in new and unfamiliar roles installing a new and unfamiliar offense and sharing overlapping duties. Do your job? What’s the job?

To their credit -- and we haven’t given either Patricia or Judge much of that this year as the offense has staggered from the starting blocks -- both men shrugged at the perceived uncertainty when they met with the media Monday morning.

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"For me, I’ve been here long enough to not worry about the end process and just enjoy the journey as we go through it and enjoy the process as we learn and grow," said Patricia. "I think if we put the cart before the horse and say, ‘This is how it’s gonna be ...’ maybe we’ll miss something along the way that we could have done different, modified, improved on and in the end we’d be better from that aspect."

Fired by the Lions during the 2020 season, Patricia has been Belichick’s full-time handyman since coming back to Foxboro, deployed in a variety of necessary jobs. This year, his title is Senior Football Advisor/Offensive Line coach. But he’s also been the main man in charge of doing coordinator-y stuff like playcalling and being the primary overseer of the offense during practice.

Unless he’s with the offensive line. Then it’s Belichick. Or Judge. Or both. In the first preseason game, Patricia appeared to be coordinator/playcaller for the first two series before yielding to Judge, who ran things with the third-string offense for much of the rest of the game.

Judge’s title is Quarterbacks Coach. But while he played quarterback in high school and went to Mississippi State and served as a backup QB there, he’s never directly coached the spot full-time. Certainly, he’s been intimately involved with the spot as a head coach and wide receivers coach. And Belichick does divvy up duties so that coaches get exposure to other disciplines. But Judge hasn’t playcalled at any level.

So here’s my working theory. Judge is the OC-in-training. Because Patricia has playcalling experience on defense, he understands the machinations of getting the calls in, reacting to situations, adjustments and injuries in real time. So Patricia is handling the lion’s share of the practices and in-game stuff first until Judge is up to speed this month, next month or next season. Eventually, Patricia will go to back to OL and Belichick’s utility-player-wherever-needed and Judge becomes OC.

The fail-safe to everything going sideways is that Belichick can take over the offensive lead if necessary. He’d rather not. He’s already spending an inordinate amount of time with the unit. But if he has to, he will.

So is that what the deal is? I asked Judge that directly.

"I’ll be as transparent as I can be," he began. "This isn’t coach-speak. The assistant coach’s job is real simple. Make the head coach happy. That’s your job. He has a vision for his team. He knows what he wants his team to look like. It’s our job to listen and to go out and execute the way he sees it. That’s the important thing with an assistant coach. You can’t have 20 head coaches. There’s one head coach.

"It’s our job that when he speaks in a meeting we understand what he’s saying and make sure the players go out and execute within that vision. That’s our job. That’s my job. As far as defined roles whatever they may be, I come to work with one simple policy. Whatever he says goes. I’m not the head coach here. That’s one certain thing and my job is to do whatever he says to the best of my ability and get the players getting better.”

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The collaborative process Judge and other coaches referenced in the spring sounds similar to what the Patriots have been doing on defense with Jerod Mayo, Steve Belichick and Bill seemingly sharing the work.

I asked Judge if he felt this spirit of collaboration is something he believes Belichick’s trying to foster. Judge passed on saying what he thought Belichick is attempting. But he did say that the belief Belichick is an authoritarian ruler isn’t true.  

"Sometimes you work for somebody and whatever the outside perception may be, the truth inside is completely different," Judge said. "There’s a reason I came back here. There’s a reason I wanted to be here. There’s a reason I wanted to work for him.

"In terms of the level of football you learn working here. In terms of the level of conversation and education you get by having back and forth with it? I’ve never been around a more flexible football person than Coach. And I say that in a complimentary way. He’s flexible in that whatever’s going to be best for our team right now and going forward, that’s what we’re gonna work on. And that’s our job. That’s really what helped me see the game a different way.

"It’s not about having one system, one way of doing things and then saying, 'This guy’s gotta fit this piece ...' one thing you’ve seen over the years, we change and we adapt. So in terms of working here, there’s always open conversation."

The way the Patriots are attacking 2022 has opened up plenty of conversation.  Do they have a specific destination in mind or just a general goal to be "better." What do they want to look like? Who do they want to be in charge of what?

If Belichick actually knows, he’s done an AWESOME job hiding it. So ... Congrats?

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