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Jerod Mayo on Patriots' quarterback competition and other notes from Monday's OTA

Here's why Drake Maye's college coach says he can lead the Patriots to a Super Bowl
Here's why Drake Maye's college coach says he can lead the Patriots to a Super Bowl 11:35

FOXBORO -- The Patriots held their first voluntary OTA practice on Monday, as they continue to ramp up their offseason program ahead of training camp. As will be the case all spring and summer, all eyes were on New England's group of quarterbacks.

The Patriots currently have Jacoby Brissett, Bailey Zappe, and rookies Drake Maye and Joe Milton on their QB depth chart heading into the season. First-year head coach Jerod Mayo told Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer that the goal is to get that group down to three before training camp arrives at the end of July, and he reiterated that Monday morning behind Gillette Stadium.

"Once we get to training camp, that's real football," said Mayo. "So out here in the spring, we'll rock with four [quarterbacks]. But, as soon as we get to training camp, you have to start paring down the roster."

Mayo was quick to point out that New England's offense isn't made for any of the quarterbacks and their skillsets. It's Alex Van Pelt's offense, and one that they feel all quarterbacks can run when their number is called on the field.

"All these guys will get opportunities. It's really not about how many reps here and there, it's about the quality of the reps that you get. That's what I preach," said Mayo.

As is usually the case in these settings, the defense was well ahead of the offense. And rightfully so for New England, since the offense is getting a near complete makeover. Here are the other stories that popped during New England's first OTA session of 2024.

How did Drake Maye do on his first day of OTAs?

Players don't wear pads and there isn't any hitting at these OTAs, so it's more team-building and players taking what they learned over the first two phases of the offseason program and bringing that to the field.

But any time Drake Maye throws a football, the Patriots will have our attention. On Monday, he was the third QB in the pecking order behind Brissett and Zappe. But that wasn't exclusive to quarterbacks, with all rookies taking a backseat to veterans throughout the session.

Mayo said that Maye's progress will be looked at in phases throughout his rookie season. So far so good for the 21-year-old.

"He is learning a new playbook. He is learning a new language, he is learning his teammates, he's learning the fundamentals that we preach here," Mayo said of Maye. "So, it's a lot for him, but at the same time, I know he can handle it and I just look forward to seeing him progress."

Maye was one of the last players off the field

It would seem as though the rookie didn't want Monday's practice to end. Maye was one of the last players off the field, along with rookie receivers Ja'Lynn Polk and Javon Baker.

That trio could very well be the future of the Patriots offense, so it's great to see them already putting in extra work. And it doesn't sound like Maye has to be pushed to put in those extra hours.

"You can already tell he's going to put in that extra work," said Mayo. "I walk by the quarterback meeting room, he's just in there by himself watching film. Those are the things that you want to see."

Mayo shares his thoughts on Bailey Zappe

Most of the attention is on Maye, while Brissett is probably going to begin the year as New England's starting quarterback. Joe Milton and his giant arm are getting some attention too, which is leaving Zappe as an afterthought in the minds of many.

But as a two-year vet with eight starts to his name, there's still a chance Zappe could make the roster if the Pats feel that Milton could ultimately end up on the practice squad. Mayo called Zappe a "true professional" on Monday.

"You know, we drafted two quarterbacks. Obviously, he is going to be competing with those guys, but at the same time, he is an open book. He is a resource. He has started games in this league, and that's more than the other two quarterbacks can say," said Mayo.

Mayo says the wide receiver competition is "wide open"

Quarterback isn't the only offensive position that will have heated roster battles throughout the summer. New England's crowded wide receiver room should lead to some of the best competitions on the team.

While there are still questions about the talent in the room, the Patriots have no shortage of bodies at wide receiver. In addition to drafting Polk and Baker, New England signed veteran free agent K.J. Osborn. DeMario Douglas is looking to build off his strong rookie season, while JuJu Smith-Schuster and Tyquan Thornton are trying to prove they belong on the team. Kayshown Boutte is also in the mix, as is the recovering Kendrick Bourne, who is still on the mend after tearing his ACL last season.

"It's a wide-open competition," Mayo said of New England's receivers. "We have some young bulls, we have some older players. We have guys who are really unproven. So, this is an opportunity for them to really get a leg up going forward, especially when you don't have a guy like Bourne out here during the spring. Guys will have opportunities." 

We'll see which one of those receivers goes up and snags that opportunity over the next several weeks leading into training camp. 

JuJu says he's feeling healthy again

Smith-Schuster's first season in New England was an extremely forgettable one, as the veteran receiver had just 29 catches and one touchdown last year. On Monday, he said that he was only about 60 percent last spring as he returned from a knee injury, and never got to 100 percent during the season. 

Heading into 2024, Smith-Schuster is feeling a lot better. 

"I feel great, honestly," the 27-year-old told reporters. "I feel great. I've never felt better."  

Patriots injury notes

Mayo actually gave out some injury updates on Monday. As he noted previously, Bourne is not out there as he recovers from that torn ACL, and is considered week to week. The Pats aren't expecting him to participate in the spring practices, and hope to get him back for training camp, per Mayo.

"That's more information than you normally would get, right?" Mayo joked. What a difference in Foxboro.

The news isn't as positive for offensive lineman Cole Strange, who is on the mend from a season-ending knee injury. He's viewed as "month to month" so it doesn't sound like Strange will be back anytime soon.

Matthew Judon wasn't at practice Monday, but Mayo said the veteran pass-rusher has been "in and out" throughout the offseason, which is no different from his previous seasons in New England.

Matthew Slater back at it

Slater retired as a player after last season, but he wasted no time joining Mayo's coaching staff. He's obviously around to help players with any special teams questions they may have, and Mayo said that the three-time Super Bowl champ and 10-time Pro Bowler will continue to be the "spiritual leader" of the team.

"The thing about Slate is he can wear so many different hats," said Mayo. "He can help as far as technique and coaching is concerned on special teams. He has always been a spiritual leader in our locker room as well, and then once again, just a confidant not only to me, but also to the players. He knows, 100 percent, that I will never put him in a position where he is kind of losing the trust of the players. I want the players to be able to talk to him, knowing it won't get back to me, and he understands that as well."

Mayo reacts to New England's late-season bye week

Once the season kicks off, it will be a while until the Patriots get to enjoy their bye week, which won't come until Week 14. The Pats will make one of their two trips out West before their bye, as well as a trip across the pond to play the Jaguars in London. 

That's a lot of travel and a lot of football before the team gets a break. Mayo's response?

"It is what it is," he said. 

So maybe things aren't completely different in Foxboro these days. 

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