The 6 most intriguing storylines to watch for as the Patriots return for OTAs

New England Patriots v Miami Dolphins
New England Patriots v Miami Dolphins / Megan Briggs/GettyImages

Once the Patriots can return for OTAs this week after having two sessions taken away, it will be the first time this offseason that the fans and media can watch the team practice.

With so much on the line for the 2023 season, how the team performs early in the offseason may indicate what's to come; it certainly was during OTAs last year. Of course, there will be similar challenges to overcome, like dealing with a third offensive coordinator in three years who also brings a new playbook to learn.

However, with well-versed and talented coaches on the sidelines, much of the struggles of last summer should be a thing of the past.

Now that we'll finally get our first look at the 2023 Patriots, there are a few storylines that will be more intriguing to watch as the offseason continues.

How will Mac Jones look at practice this year?

Despite his forgettable season in his second year as the Patriots quarterback, Mac Jones finds himself in a similar situation as last spring. Expectations are high, and the chatter about his performance thus far has been nothing but positive, leading many to believe he could be well on his way to a bounce-back season.

The hype around Jones last year was incredibly high, as he spent time with multiple top-name coaches to work on his performance and working with experts in health fields to get his mind and body right. It was anticipated he would build upon his rookie season and bring the Patriots to more success in year two, but due to several circumstances out of his control, he just simply was not put into a situation to make him succeed.

That doesn't leave Jones unscathed, however. Multiple bad decisions led to costly moments throughout last season, plus his in-game dramatics that seemingly caused some tension on the sideline.

But with all that said, now that he will have a proper offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach to work with, plus a well-respected offensive line coach working to keep him upright on the field, there's no reason we won't finally see the Mac Jones that was expected last year.

Will he revert to his rookie form? Can Bill O'Brien bring out the best in him? Will he prove Bill Belichick's doubts wrong? We may see glimpses of that answer in the days coming up.

Will the offense look cohesive with Bill O'Brien calling the plays?

It couldn't be any worse than it was with Matt Patricia, right?

Although some question the decision to re-hire Bill O'Brien, his proven track record in successfully running an offense is not something to overlook as the Patriots work to establish themselves once again. His years of experience with college and NFL offenses add an extra element to his expertise and can only benefit New England, especially Mac Jones.

Throughout the 2022 offseason and preseason, the offense was the topic of discussion.

They were utterly disjointed and lacked energy.

There were no consistent performers, and the entire roster consistently made mistakes.

They were an entire mess.

There were moments of clarity that proved they could be a functioning and high-performing offense, but the issue was that it came in waves. You can't win many games if you can only do things successfully sporadically.

Given the excitement that O'Brien's hiring has reportedly brought to the team, it seems the players will be going into OTAs and training camp with a much better outlook than they did at this time last year. The optimism brought by that change in attitude could unknowingly be an asset for O'Brien in his return, especially as he hopes to turn a struggling offense into a competitive one.

Can the defense maintain the dominance seen throughout last season?

A Patriots team run by a dominant defense is all too familiar during the Bill Belichick era, and it appears they may be back on that track again.

As they continue going through an offensive rebuild, the defense has become the better part of the team, which is why they've stayed in games over the last three seasons. They were the talk of training camp last season, outperforming all expectations throughout the summer, which strongly contrasts how poorly the offense looked.

And it's fair to assume that with all the same players returning (minus Devin McCourty) and several quality rookies added to the roster, they'll build on what they accomplished last season and become an even more intimidating unit.

With so many question marks surrounding the offense despite the obvious upgrades made, maintaining a strong defense would be a huge help to the Patriots ahead of the upcoming season.

How will the offensive line perform with Adrian Klemm's coaching?

The dysfunction of the offensive line was apparent throughout the summer last year and really didn't improve much through the regular season.

It was clear that Matt Patricia was put into a position he was not qualified for or at least not adequately prepared to handle, as the o-line coach on top of calling the plays for the offense. In addition, his inexperience created a hostile environment for Mac Jones, with the quarterback taking six more sacks during the 2022 season than the year before despite playing in three fewer games.

Besides Patricia's departure from the team being positive overall, the hiring of Adrian Klemm this offseason to become the new o-line coach is even better news.

The former Patriot and three-time Super Bowl winner makes his return to Foxboro this season and brings a lengthy resume that has even impressed the legendary Dante Scarnecchia. The experience Klemm brings, and the success he's had since transitioning from playing to coaching will inevitably be one of the most significant improvements the team will see this year.

He's already earned the approval of some well-respected and trusted legends of New England and has a resume to back it up, making it difficult to imagine the offensive line won't be dramatically improved from what we saw last season.

How involved will the rookies be?

Typically, it's rare to see a lot from the rookies over the summer. Their introduction to the NFL is spent learning and working through drills and not given too much on their plate. However, this year feels different, given who they drafted and the needs they can fill on the team.

The excitement around first-round pick Christian Gonzalez has been unreal. He is set to join a high-performing yet inconsistent secondary and could be a day-one starter.

The same could be said for several of the other draft picks.

Keion White was once considered a first-rounder but dropped to the second due to his overall chill demeanor, falling straight into the lap of the Patriots. Although they are pretty set defensively, especially with pass-rushers Matthew Judon and Josh Uche, White is highly touted to be a force on the field and could instantly put the defense over the top with his production.

The special team additions will also likely have a more prominent role throughout OTAs and camp since the Patriots currently lack a punter and may be ready to move on from kicker Nick Folk.

And despite how late they were selected, receivers Kayshon Boutte and Demario Douglas will probably see an increased role than we're used to seeing as the offense continues to develop an identity and improve overall.

Everything about this year feels different, and OTAs will be an indication of that right away. Expect to see a lot of the rookies throughout the summer and probably during the regular season, too.

Will the team's overall attitude be dramatically different than last year at this point?

The team's morale last year was noticeably low as early as OTAs in May. It was clear there was a massive shift since Josh McDaniels had left a few months prior, but the shockingly down attitude from the team was alarming from the start.

The explanation for it all became apparent quickly as behind-the-scenes issues trickled into the media. Unfortunately, the common denominator appeared to be new offensive coordinator Matt Patricia, and his impact continued to create issues through training camp and the regular season.

Other than Belichick's questionable decision to put him in McDaniels' old position, some of Patricia's coaching style also raised eyebrows.

The most problematic decision he made was easily his treatment of Kendrick Bourne. Patricia took issue with the receiver early on, allegedly punishing him for being late to a meeting and continued to hold that grudge throughout the entire regular season.

Frustrations within the offense grew as the weeks went on, with several players expressing their feelings to the media despite the usual "keep things in house" attitude the Patriots are known for.

Fortunately, it appears history may not repeat itself this season as Mac Jones and his teammates have shared their excitement over O'Brien's return to New England. Hopefully, as the summer continues, that attitude can stick around, or else it's going to be a really long season again.