A couple of well-known branches from the Bill Belichick tree have bent inward in the last year and a half, returning to their roots in New England.
Joe Judge and Matt Patricia are back with the Patriots after head-coaching stints that didn't pan out for either of them, and they each carry interestingly vague titles. Patricia is beginning his second year as a senior football advisor for Belichick, while Judge returns to New England as an offensive assistant.
Perhaps even more curious is their departures from previous backgrounds.
Judge made the leap from special teams coordinator under Belichick to head coach of the New York Giants in 2020, and has returned as an offensive assistant who may be in the running to replace new Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels as Patriots play-caller. So too could be Patricia, a coach -- rather, an advisor -- with a title that seems to be a perfect fit for assignment to special projects.
Judge told reporters Monday that he's currently working with quarterback Mac Jones as well as other people on the offense. But for now, Judge hasn't been informed whether he's going to be the man in charge of the offense.
"Nothing (has) been declared, decided or voiced to me," Judge said when asked if he's calling plays.
The curious decision to leave such responsibilities unassigned isn't a cause for concern in May, and it will likely be sorted out before the regular season, but it does leave media members covering the team in a strange position. While new players get their first reps with the Patriots, reporters have been essentially forced to attempt to uncover the secrets of New England's 2022 staff by asking Judge and Patricia what their duties have entailed to this point in 2022.
Does it feel like an inter-department job swap exercise? Certainly, but because the Patriots haven't publicly stated Judge's and Patricia's responsibilities (Patricia said Monday he's currently working with the offensive line), we're left to project the staff as if it's a June depth chart.
Judge as quarterbacks coach and Patricia as offensive line coach seem to be logical fits at this point. Play-calling duties remain a mystery, and if it's Judge or Patricia, it might not be determined until some point this summer. It wouldn't be the first time the Patriots attempted to sort out their play-calling duties with an in-house option, but it will mark the first time someone not named McDaniels was in charge of the offense since 2011, and it could come down to a training camp battle of wits.
Patricia has a history of working with the offensive line in New England, serving as assistant offensive line coach in 2005 before switching to the defensive side in 2006, but it would be his first season spent on the offensive side of the ball since 2005. Judge, meanwhile, hasn't been an offensive assistant in the NFL to this point.
Perhaps there's logic to this perceived uncertainty that revolves mainly around the benefits of competition. Belichick is known to do things his way, regardless of external worry. We'll learn in the weeks ahead just how he decides between two of his most experienced lieutenants.