New Patriots offensive coordinator Alex Van Belt a bond builder, but rarely a play caller

New Patriots offensive coordinator Alex Van Belt a bond builder, but rarely a play caller

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After retirement, he worked two years as a color analyst for the Bills’ Radio Network before becoming an offensive assistant for a variety of teams, working mainly with quarterbacks in Buffalo, Tampa Bay, Green Bay (Aaron Rodgers), Cincinnati (Andy Dalton), and Cleveland (Baker Mayfield and Deshaun Watson).

Named the offensive coordinator for the Browns in 2020, he spent four seasons with Cleveland, and this year distinguished himself as the team — without Watson for 12 games and Nick Chubb for 15 — used five different starting quarterbacks and still averaged 23.3 points per game (10th in the league) and reached the playoffs.

“We won 11 games with a lot of injuries, and Alex was a very big part of our success,” said someone Van Pelt worked with in Cleveland. “The staff and players really liked him. He’s got a positive, optimistic personality, and is an excellent teacher.”

However, according to multiple reports, Van Pelt and the Browns decided to part ways when a “reassignment” was discussed at the start of the offseason. That opened the door for the Patriots, looking for a replacement for Bill O’Brien.

One of Van Pelt’s biggest strengths is his ability to forge a personal connection with his quarterbacks. Rodgers made a public stink at the end of the 2017 season when Van Pelt wasn’t retained by the Packers, saying there’s a “close connection between quarterback and quarterback coach.” Mayfield, who worked with Van Pelt for three seasons in Cleveland, praised his personable nature and the open communication he fostered.

“He is not that far removed from his playing days. Just a real relatable guy. Very understanding,” Mayfield said of Van Pelt in 2021. “The open communication is pretty essential to what has been our success so far. AVP is just like that. He wants to talk through it and hear our thoughts as well.”

“He’s well-respected and well-liked among both players and coaches,” said Van Pelt’s former colleague.

Given his history, Van Pelt will theoretically fill two major needs on Mayo’s coaching staff. One, while there are some questions about the status of the rest of the staff, at this point, Van Pelt is the Patriots’ oldest assistant coach. He was the oldest of the 12 candidates interviewed, and his 28 years in the league (including his time as a player) make him the most experienced assistant on a staff that is skewing young. Ultimately, his presence figures to be vital for a first-time, defensive-minded head coach.

And two, he has extensive experience working with all sorts of quarterbacks in a variety of systems. Whether they stick with Mac Jones and/or Bailey Zappe, pursue some options in free agency, or take their chances with the No. 3 pick in the draft, the Patriots are at a quarterbacking crossroads, and the important role Van Pelt will play in the process over the next few months cannot be overemphasized.

“He’s a very good QB coach,” the former colleague said. “He played the position, but can really teach it also.”

The biggest question around Van Pelt at this stage of his career? Likely his experience (or lack of it) calling plays. In Cleveland, despite having the offensive coordinator designation, play calling was mostly left to Stefanski. Van Pelt did call plays for a 2020 playoff game when Stefanski was sidelined because of COVID-19; the Browns crushed the Steelers, 48-37.

Presuming he’ll be the one calling the plays in New England, what should Patriots’ fans expect? Van Pelt does have his roots in more of a traditional West Coast style, particularly as a quarterbacks coach in Cincinnati and Green Bay. But his work with Stefanski shows an offense that looks to combine multiple aspects. Specifically, last year in Cleveland, the Browns presented more man blocking instead of zone. One team source with the Browns also wondered if Van Pelt could lean on some of his K Gun experiences with the Bills.

Regardless of his favored scheme or his background, Van Pelt faces a sizable task. The 2023 Patriots averaged 13.9 points per game, 31st in the league and one of the lowest totals in franchise history. For a coordinator who specializes in forming personal connections with his quarterbacks, jump starting the New England offense and guiding a rookie through his first season in the league will provide a serious challenge.

His old coworker believes he’s up to the job.

“It’s a great hire for the Patriots,” they said “A veteran coach with exceptional people skills.”


Christopher Price can be reached at christopher.price@globe.com. Follow him @cpriceglobe.



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