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Is Nick Caley An Emerging X-Factor Of The 2022 Patriots Offense?

With the departure of Josh McDaniels and the somewhat chaotic picture as far as who is calling plays for the Patriots this year, the longest-tenured member of the coaching staff in New England is presented with an opportunity to play an extremely integral role in the offense this year.

Who Is Nick Caley?

Currently, Caley serves as the Tight Ends and Fullbacks coach in New England. The retirement of Ivan Fears this offseason made Caley the most tenured coach on the staff, and he has progressed through his seven-year tenure with the Patriots’ organization. After ten years of assistant coaching at the collegiate level at Eastern Illinois, Arkansas, and Florida Atlantic, among others, he started as an offensive assistant in 2015, progressed to a tight end coach role in 2017, and gained ownership of the fullback position in 2020.

Caley has won two Super Bowls as a Patriot in 2016 and 2018. His most notable accomplishments were leading FB James Develin to the Pro Bowl in his first year and coaching TE Rob Gronkowski to a 2017 season in which he led the league in receiving yards and was an all-Pro first team member.

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However, his post-Brady era exploits have left something to be desired. FB Jakob Johnson’s (now a Raider) lack of production led to the position essentially being eliminated in New England, and 2020 draft pick TEs Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene have combined for five catches in their time as a Patriot. The Patriots’ aggressive free agency in 2021, however, gave an opportunity to produce one of the best TE duos in the NFL with Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith.

Last year certainly showed a massive improvement in overall TE production. Henry’s 50 receptions, 603 yards, and nine TDs showed an excellent first-year stat line and gave a lot to build on. Smith, however, had a less stellar season, with 28 receptions, 294 yards, and just one TD. While promising, both TEs have room for improvement, especially with Jonnu. His place in the offense hasn’t been truly etched.

It will be up to Nick Caley to bring out the best in a pair with the potential to be the best tight-end duo the Patriots have had since 2012.

What Does Next Season Look Like For Nick Caley & TEs?

Throughout Belichick’s tenure in New England, the most trusted members of his staff have been those with significant experience in his coaching tree. As the longest-tenured member of the Patriots’ staff, Caley should be expected to take on a more substantial role this year and not only oversee the tight ends but integrate them into the overall picture of the offense, potentially even assisting with playcalling.

His philosophy for developing this group seems focused on repetition and familiarity, and training camp provides the perfect vehicle for that development. Both primary TEs are entering only their second year as a Patriot and receiving passes from a quarterback in his second year in the league (who split reps in his first training camp). According to Caley, “Chemistry is built over a period of time,” and this year, with a training camp and preseason that isn’t hindered by COVID and with both TEs having a year in the system, this offseason provides a prime opportunity for development.

One of Caley’s biggest projects this season will be Jonnu Smith. During last season, it didn’t seem like the Patriots had quite figured out what his role was going to be in the offense. He ran deeper routes, caught screens and shorter slants, and even ran the ball on some end-around plays. While in 2021, this all played out as confusion and ultimately led to a less productive season, his versatility should be used more constructively this year.

Caley seems to see it precisely that way, saying in an interview that

“Jonnu has a very diverse skillset, he’s explosive, he’s fast, he’s quick, he can make yards with the ball in his hand”.

With a year under his belt and an entire offseason to practice with the team, Caley could have a force to work with this year with Jonnu, and how Caley integrates him into the offense could have a significant impact on how the team fares this year.

Can Keene & Asiasi Prove It?

Getting more out of 2020 draft picks Dalton Keene, and Devin Asiasi will be another important task that could round out this personnel group. While Keene only has had three career receptions, he is an adept blocker with size. While the departure of Jakob Johnson hinted at the end of the fullback position in New England, Keene’s abilities and build could allow for some additional offensive packages with him as a fullback. The triple threat of running, blocking, or catching would make him a formidable threat if adequately integrated.

With Asiasi, while he only had two receptions in his career, one of them was a touchdown. There are favorable physical threats to take advantage of that can turn him into a reliable third option as a tight end. It will be up to Caley to use that combination of athleticism and size to turn Asiasi into a tight end who can reliably block and catch at the NFL level.

The bottom line

With his tenure as a Patriot staffer and the importance of the tight end position in this year’s offense, Nick Caley should play a significant role in the overall complexion of the team. His experience in New England has yielded mixed results from his players. However, he has a vision for the offense and each member of the tight end group that, if executed correctly, could take the Patriots’ 2022 offense multiple levels higher. Nobody would agree more than Caley himself that this process starts in the offseason and has likely already started with this year’s OTA practices.

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