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Questions and Concerns for Offensive Coordinator Alex Van Pelt



Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt stands on the field during an NFL preseason football game against the Chicago Bears, Saturday, Aug. 27, 2022, in Cleveland. The Bears won 21-20. (AP Photo/David Richard)

The New England Patriots began February by officially announcing their three new coordinators. It was previously assumed that Alex Van Pelt (offense), DeMarcus Covington (defense), and Jeremy Springer (special teams) were being hired to the posts. However, the franchise had not confirmed as much until the Feb. 1 release.

Bill Belichick recently said in a thank you to Patriots fans that, “Nowhere in America are pro fans as passionate as they are in New England.” That passion brings plenty of enthusiasm, especially when things are going well. It also can lead to analysis, scrutiny, and criticism. These coordinators will be exposed to all of it, often within one game.

All of these coordinators come with enthusiastic endorsements. Most importantly, they received the approval of the brain trust in Foxboro. But while those things may have helped them earn employment in their current positions, some questions and concerns exist for all three. Why wait until a September slump to raise these issues when they can brought up now?

This article is the third in a three-part series. Special teams coordinator Jeremy Springer and defensive coordinator DeMarcus Covington have previously been featured. This time, the questions and concerns are for the New England Patriots’ new offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt.

Van Pelt’s history working with young quarterbacks

Alex Van Pelt has worked with quarterbacks for most of his two-decade coaching career. Selecting a quarterback early in the 2024 NFL Draft is a strong possibility for New England. Does Van Pelt’s history indicate trusting him with the future of a young QB is the right decision?

Van Pelt spent five years (2005-2009) as an offensive assistant in Buffalo. J.P. Losman, the Bills first-round pick in 2004, made his first NFL start the season Van Pelt arrived. By 2007 Losman had lost his job to Trent Edwards. In Van Pelt’s lone season as Buffalo’s offensive coordinator (2009) the trio of Edwards, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Brian Brohm combined to throw 15 touchdowns and 19 interceptions.

His next stop was quarterbacks coach in Tampa Bay (2010-2011). Once again, Van Pelt worked with a first-round QB in their second season. Josh Freeman had a terrific 2010 campaign until Val Pelt’s guidance (25 TD, 6 INT), but regressed significantly in 20111 (16 TD, 22 INT). Freeman was gone in 2013.

Alex Van Pelt spent six seasons in Green Bay with Aaron Rodgers (2012-2017). Rodgers won an MVP with Van Pelt as his QB coach in 2014. However, Rodgers had also won one before Van Pelt arrived and two more after he left.

An aging Andy Dalton struggled with Van Pelt in that same role for two years (2018-2019) in Cincinnati.

The Cleveland Browns next hired Van Pelt to be their offensive coordinator (2020-2023). He inherited the former No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft Baker Mayfield as his QB. In 2020, Mayfield enjoyed his best season in the NFL. The following season, Mayfield suffered through his worst. The next year the Browns moved on from Baker Mayfield, who has since rejuvenated his career in Tampa Bay.

It is fair to question if Alex Van Pelt is the correct coach for a young NFL quarterback.

How much say will Van Pelt have in personnel decisions?

It appears Van Pelt had a lot of input on his offensive coaching staff in New England. He was a former co-worker of several of his new assistants, including Ben McAdoo, T.C. McCartney, and Scott Peters. Will Van Pelt also have a say on who plays on his offense?

McAdoo has been lauded for his evaluation abilities, especially as far as quarterbacks are concerned (most notably wanting the Giants to draft Patrick Mahomes). Van Pelt is a huge proponent of excellent quarterback footwork. What would appeal to Val Pelt more, a quarterback with better footwork now (i.e. Jayden Daniels, J.J. McCarthy) or a player with the highest upside if his footwork improved (Drake Maye)?

Or, like with his coaches, does Van Pelt want players he already has some familiarity with? Former quarterbacks he has worked with who will be free agents include Baker Mayfield, Joe Flacco, Jacoby Brissett, P.J. Walker, and Jeff Driskel.

What’s the hold-up on finalizing the coaching staff?

New England remains without a wide receivers coach or a tight ends coach. The rest of the coaching staff on offense appears to be complete at this point, barring the addition of additional assistants or analysts. Presumably, these two hires will be made shortly. It is important to have positional coaches in place heading into free agency and draft evaluation (the NFL Scouting Combine is less than two weeks away). There are many qualified candidates available, but the longer New England drags their feet the less likely they are to land their primary target. During this process, wide receivers coaches like Tyke Tolbert have taken jobs elsewhere. Hopefully, this gets resolved quickly.

Can Van Pelt call plays?

Despite being an offense coordinator the past four seasons in Cleveland, Alex Van Pelt did not call plays. Head coach Kevin Stefanski handled those duties. Van Pelt did fill in for the two games Stefanski missed with COVID, but that is only two emergency situations in four seasons. Van Pelt did call plays for the Buffalo Bills in 2009, but Buffalo finished 28 of 32 NFL teams in scoring that season.

In his first comments since accepting the position, Alex Van Pelt talked about his philosophy of catering an offense to the players. Instead of trying to shoehorn players into his offense, he will work on finding what works best for the team. The goal is to get everyone on the same page, with running the football and making the quarterback comfortable as top priorities.

As New England Patriots fans have witnessed in the best and worst of times, the plays being called are only as good as the players executing them. If a perfect play is written up but a quarterback throws a lousy pass or a running back loses the ball, the results will still be lousy. With Alex Van Pelt’s history as both a player and coach in the NFL for nearly 30 years, there is every reason to have faith that he can call a good game. But nobody will know for sure until the games begin.

Why did Alex Van Pelt get the job in New England?

This question sounds like a knock against Van Pelt, but it sincerely is not. There have been rumors that Nick Caley was their first choice. They interviewed 11 other candidates for the job before hiring Van Pelt. Did the new offensive coordinator get the job because he was the best choice from that group, or simply the only one who wanted to accept it?

Also, in Jerod Mayo’s introductory press conference, he said, “You have to show them (the players) that you care about them before you get into X’s and O’s.” Perhaps this was referencing the previous coaching regime in Foxboro. It certainly made it clear what Mayo hoped for moving forward.

Alex Van Pelt has been described as somebody who will boost the team culture. He is well-liked and buys into the team dynamics in the workplace, from all indications. That certainly will be a breath of fresh air for some in the New England Patriots locker room. But being a “good guy” alone is hopefully not what landed Van Pelt his position. While it’s a fantastic bonus, the X’s and O’s still do matter.