FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- And we're back. The New England Patriots kicked off training camp on Wednesday, and as the team began laying the groundwork for the 2023 season, Bill Belichick's club put an emphasis on one of its biggest weaknesses from a year ago. The most competitive aspects of Day 1 came during red zone drills when there was a variation of 7-on-7s, 11-on-11s, and more slow-paced execution to ensure everyone was on the same page.
This comes one year after New England ranked dead last in the NFL in red zone efficiency, scoring a touchdown on just 42.22% of their red zone trips in 2022.
"Just trying to get better in the red zone is a big emphasis every year," quarterback Mac Jones said after practice. "At the end of the day, a lot of defenses, you know, they'll let you get down there and then when you get down there they want to shut you down. To be able to go against our defense who is very multiple and does a lot compared to come other teams, but it's good to experience it. It's good to watch the tape. Day 1 is all about watching the tape and seeing what you can adjust, right? ... I feel like the red zone's a great area that we definitely need to improve. I need to improve down there. Things happen quick and it all comes from practice."
Jones completed just 58.9% of his throws in the red area last season and registered eight passing touchdowns (and one rushing) with one interception. That's a rather sharp drop off to Jones' rookie season where he completed 60.5% of his throws to go along with 16 passing touchdowns and one interception to give him a 101.2 passer rating in the red zone.
On Day 1 of camp, Jones and New England's red zone offense did seem like a work in progress. His first dropback of camp during a competitive 7-on-7 drill was picked off by Kyle Dugger on a throw intended for tight end Mike Gesicki but did bounce back with a touchdown to Ty Montgomery a few plays later. During 11-on-11, Jones was 4-for-7 by my count. Arguably his best throw of the day came on a low, over-the-middle throw to tight end Hunter Henry, who was able to extend past rookie corner Christian Gonzalez for the sliding score.
More notes from Day 1 of Patriots camp
- One of the biggest storylines coming into camp was New England's two starting tackle spots and how that would ultimately shake out. The club kept Trent Brown in-house this offseason and added free agents like Riley Reiff and Calvin Anderson. Brown was late arriving to minicamp and didn't part in much action while he was there, but the behemoth was slotted in as the team's left tackle when Mac Jones was under center, signaling that he has the inside track at manning the blindside in 2023. As for the right side, it was Reiff that took the first snaps at tackle while Jones was under center.
- Elsewhere along the line, Bill Murray, who has been with the team since 2020 and converted to the offensive line last season after beginning his career on the defensive side, was New England's right guard with the presumed starts (alongside David Andrews and Cole Strange) with Michael Onwenu starting camp on the PUP list.
- The top wide receivers for the Patriots were largely missing in action during the offseason program, particularly free agent signee JuJu Smith-Schuster, who was reportedly recovering from a knee injury he suffered during Kansas City's Super Bowl run last year. Wednesday was the first time we were able to see Smith-Schuster practice with the Patriots. While he was unable to get work in with Mac Jones this offseason, the wideout was able to haul in a pass from his new quarterback during 11-on-11s that were primarily featured in the red zone. Smith-Schuster appears to be one of New England's top wide receivers along with DeVante Parker with the likes of Kendrick Bourne and Tyquan Thornton following suit.
- Ty Montgomery made waves during training camp last summer, but things were unable to materialize during the regular season after he was placed on IR in mid-September. Now that he's back and healthy, he's picking up where he left off last summer and continued to impress as a wide receiver/running back hybrid. While Montgomery may be able to line up in the backfield and as a wide receiver, New England may view him as more of a wideout. An indication of that was due to Montgomery not wearing the extra layer of padding on his outer helmet, which is required for running backs, tight ends, and linemen on offense.
- As we've previously noted during OTAs and minicamp, 2023 first-round pick Christian Gonzalez continues to look like a plug-and-play cornerback within this secondary. That held true on Day 1 of camp as he continued to work with the regular starters on defense.
- It's worth noting that cornerback Jack Jones was present and participating on Day 1 of camp. which is what Belichick noted would happen during his Tuesday presser. Jones pleaded not guilty this offseason of weapons chargers after the cornerback tried to bring two firearms in his carry-on luggage at Boston Logan International Airport, according to Massachusetts State Police. Belichick said Tuesday that "it's a legal situation that I can't comment on, that's ongoing."
- The Patriots essentially had perfect attendance on Day 1 of camp outside of Onwenu (PUP), Cody Davis (PUP), and Justus Tavai (PUP). Offensive tackle Calvin Anderson, who signed with the team this offseason, is on the NFI list.