FOXBOROUGH — When it comes to anointing an offensive play-caller, Bill Belichick is channeling Sam Hinkie, the former Philadelphia 76ers general manager. Like Hinkie, Belichick is telling us to trust The Process and ignore the early results.
Patron saint of pro sports processes, Hinkie lost his job. The Hoodie isn’t going anywhere, and maybe his nebulous Process for replacing departed offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels ends up with Matt Patricia or Joe Judge as the Joel Embiid of offensive architects, a talent who validates the entire questionable approach. But this Process feels more likely to end with a hole in the middle than a man in the middle.
Whatever Belichick’s Process is and however long it plays out with his failed head coaches turned OC wannabes, it’s undeniable that quarterback Mac Jones and the offense are currently collateral damage. The Process is impeding the Patriots’ progress offensively.
The time devoted to open auditions for offensive coordinator is detracting from tuning up the offense, which has struggled in training camp to adapt to scheme and communication changes. That’s far from ideal.
Not only do we not know who the primary play-caller will be — Patricia and Judge split duties in the first preseason game last Thursday — we have no clue exactly what the Process of choosing one entails.
Belichick has been opaque even by his substantial standards.
The process the players are going through is one where they’re fighting for opportunity, pitted against each other for evaluation. Is that the same Process for Patricia and Judge?
“No, that doesn’t have anything to do with it,” said Belichick Monday.
Then how would you characterize the Process?
“We don’t have time for that,” said a sanguine Belichick. “I appreciate the question. I really do. I know how interested you are in that subject, and I would love to be able to shed a little more light on it.”
The ambiguous Process appears geared to finding the optimal division of labor, considering Patricia is also coaching the offensive line and Judge is coaching quarterbacks. That would mean it’s more of a collaborative Process.
That’s how Patricia termed it.
“I’ve been here long enough to not worry about the end process and just enjoy the journey as we go through it, enjoy the process as we learn and grow,” said Patricia.
“I think if we try to maybe put the cart before the horse here and say, ‘This is how it’s going to be,’ maybe we’ll miss something along the way that we could’ve done a little bit different, modified, improved on, and in the end, we would be better.
“So, definitely here I’ve learned to just enjoy the process and go through it and understand we always adapt every day, which is great because I think that’s what the game is.”
Well, at least someone is enjoying the Process.
Whatever the result of this Process, the goal is to end up with a trusted sensei who can water the seed of the signal-caller.
The Patriots’ success is directly tied to Jones’s maturation and evolution as a franchise quarterback. He enjoyed a close relationship with McDaniels, who protected him and nurtured him in a 10-win season when the Patriots never beat an opponent that scored 25 points.
Now, Jones is starting over with a new confidant. Change has been the theme of camp.
The team has ditched the dense, PhD-level playbook of its dynasty days, opting for a streamlined, simplified offense. Terminology, communication, and pass protection have changed.
The Patriots are emphasizing different offensive concepts, especially ones in the running game that share elements with the Kyle Shanahan/Sean McVay schools of offense.
If the offense were a recovering patient, we would say that the transplant can’t be declared successful, and the patient remains in critical — and criticized — condition.
The Patriots simplified the offense so players can play faster, leading to more production. Sound theory. However, thus far it looks like they’ll just get off the field faster.
This Process doesn’t seem right for maximizing Mac. Instead of being able to build upon his rookie season, Jones is enduring an offensive rebuild run by neophytes.
His frustration with the Process and the offensive progress — or lack thereof — has been noticeable and palpable. Whenever someone starts throwing around buy-in, that usually means their level of buy-in is wavering.
“We have to see it on tape and see how it looks, and the buy-in has to be the buy-in. You have to trust it,” said Jones last week.
“But at the end of the day, we’re going to figure it out and make this thing work. We have good coaches that are laying the path for us, and we just have to see it how they see it, come together, and dominate together.”
Patricia declared that everyone is in the same boat with the recalibrated offense.
“I think everybody is really trying to get their rhythm and understand what we’re trying to do in moving in a different direction,” he said. “I would say change is a little bit uncomfortable, and it’s being uncomfortable in uncomfortable situations. That’s what makes things be able to progress and grow.”
This is a huge week for the Patriots to show some progress with joint practices against the Carolina Panthers on Tuesday and Wednesday and then a preseason game against them at Gillette Stadium Friday.
It’s hard to believe the plan wasn’t for the offense to be beyond the figuring-it-out phase now.
Taking into account Belichick’s oeuvre, even if his Process for naming a play-caller is clunky, he’ll likely arrive at a workable solution.
However, the Patriots’ predicament is akin to doing math. Smart folks can land at the right answer but not follow the proper process.
You can get away with that initially, but the more complicated and advanced the problems become, the more essential it becomes to follow the steps, to follow the proper . . . process.
This Process, whatever it is, doesn’t appear beneficial for the Patriots. It’s detracting from preparing the offense and moving it forward from last year’s version, which makes it pointless.
That’s something the Patriots offense can’t end up being.