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Patriots could have a special weapon on their sideline in Joe Judge

His expertise in special teams was a big reason Joe Judge was hired as Giants head coach in 2020, before he returned to New England this year.Adam Hunger/Associated Press

Joe Judge is poised to be the Patriots’ offensive trouble-shooter this season, working with all the skill-position groupings, though it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him lending a hand in other areas, most notably special teams.

The consistent success of Judge’s kicking-game units during his initial stint in New England was a big reason he was hired as Giants head coach in 2020. In his final season as Patriots special teams coordinator, the club ranked first in average starting field position (32.7) and opponent starting position (25.1). Those Patriots also returned two blocked punts for touchdowns and allowed zero 20-plus-yard punt returns.


Judge will be an invaluable resource for Cam Achord, the man who coached alongside him and succeeded him in Foxborough, because of Judge’s attention to detail and ability to identify areas of weakness.

Under Cam Achord last season, New England's special teams was inconsistent.Doug Murray/Associated Press

Judge keeps current on special teams trends and is passionate about that phase of the game. In February, the NFL’s Competition Committee said it would seek input from coaches about ways to cut down on the number of injuries suffered during punt returns.

Judge, who said “there’s nothing more important than the health and safety of the players,” has participated in meetings where coaches worked to identify common denominators associated with injuries on returns, and body position downfield stood out.

“The majority of ACL injuries, specifically, came when the ligaments were stretched outside the body,” Judge said. “So if you can imagine somebody with just a wide base really outside each other, almost that kind of baby deer stance, if you would.

“We’ve been working technique here for years. We call it scallop, and scallop’s really just a vertical shuffle where you’re playing full speed to game speed. Game speed we declare as that necessary speed to play within space and be able to adjust to the short space, track movement, and make a hit.


“We always use the example of the bull and the matador, right? The bull’s going 100 miles an hour, matador stands still, he steps out of the way, bull goes flying right by. So, you’ve got to be more controlled to hit something and not just go ahead full speed running on by.

“So, we use [the scallop] on really all three phases, but especially on defense and in the kicking game for our defenders and our guys covering kicks to adjust and go make a hit.”

Another area of emphasis, according to Judge, is teaching players to play under control, with proper techniques, and within the rules.

“You look at a lot of majority of injuries, really, in any phase, and it happens when somebody’s overextended,” he said. “When you see a guy down the field running full speed and they get overextended, that’s really when they can’t plant and redirect.

“And a lot of that comes from the blocks in the backs, and really, specifically, that low hip contact that kind of pushes the runner’s hips forward and they can’t play with their feet in order to decelerate and then change directions.

Joe Judge is back in New England after two seasons as head coach of the Giants.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

“So, really, playing within the techniques, the safety comes from how we’re teaching the fundamental techniques, and also how we’re teaching the technique of the play and the assignment, not to get a penalty, No. 1 is to play safer out there.”


Judge said coaches, specifically those who teach special teams, constantly have to make adjustments because rules change often, including those that have taken away trap, blind-side, and certain chop blocks. He’s on board with any tweak that has the goal of protecting players from injuries.

“I can tell you just from a coaching standpoint, I don’t care what [phase] you’re coaching, my attitude’s always been, ‘Just tell me the rules and we’ll coach within them, OK?,’ ’’ he said. “We’re going to do things to make our players play safe and play aggressive, but you just tell me the rules and we’ll coach within them.”

Just ask him

Ty Montgomery really wanted to play for a Bill Belichick-coached team, so when the Patriots reached out this offseason, he wasn’t about to turn them down.

The eight-year veteran, who signed a two-year, $3.6 million deal with $300,000 guaranteed in March, provides depth at running back and receiver as well as in the return game. He wasn’t about to tip his hand as to where he’ll fit it in best in the offense.

“I consider myself Employee No. 14 of the New England Patriots, and I’ll do whatever is asked of me,” he said Thursday.

Montgomery, who has 1,180 rushing yards and 1,104 receiving yards in his career, said he talked to a bunch of former Patriots about playing here, including Chris Hogan, with whom he was teammates in New Orleans last season, and always received favorable reviews.

He could carve out a special teams niche for a unit that lost key veterans Brandon Bolden and Brandon King to free agency.


Preseason agenda

The exhibition schedule was finalized Thursday.

The Patriots, who normally close the preseason against the Giants, will instead open against them, with a home game Aug. 11 at 7 p.m.

Next up will be another home game against Carolina Aug. 19 at 7 p.m., which will culminate a week of joint practices with the Panthers.

The slate will close Aug. 26 with an 8:15 p.m. game in Las Vegas. The Patriots likely will hold a few joint practices with Josh McDaniels’s Raiders.

Jim McBride can be reached at james.mcbride@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globejimmcbride.