Monday Patriots Notebook 5/21: Kickoffs Now in the Spotlight; Patriots Set For Phase 3 Of Workouts

Ian Logue
May 21, 2018 at 8:04 am ET

It’s been a busy week after spending some time working on some things here behind the scenes.  There will be some new things on the way here at PatsFans.com in the coming weeks, but for now, we’ll resume this daily notebook.  So let’s get to it.

NFL Kickoffs In the Spotlight – One of the biggest things to watch this season is going to be just how different NFL kickoffs will be this year given the rule changes agreed upon by the competition committee, which will likely play a role in whether or not the play continues in the coming years.

As Ben Volin of the Boston Globe pointed out on Sunday, there have been four key changes that will affect the play this season, with the goal to hopefully reduce the number of injuries and concussions stemming from what many coaches believe remains one of the most dangerous plays in the game.

Here are four big modifications they’re hoping will curtail injuries for 2018.

  1. This season there will be no running starts for the kicking team.
  2. Receiving teams must have eight of its 11 players within 25-yards of the line of scrimmage.
  3. No blocking by players within 15-yards of the line of scrimmage.
  4. Receiving teams are prevented from making wedge blocks.

According to Volin, some of the league’s top special teams coaches were part of the process for these changes, including the Patriots’ Joe Judge, who was part of nine special teams coordinators who helped come up with the proposal that helped save the play and keep it in the game for at least the foreseeable future.

The modifications are interesting, especially given that they could potentially favor the return team thanks to the additional spacing and the disadvantage of the coverage team by not having a running start.  That could lead to big plays in the return game, which would certainly be a benefit for a league looking for big moments and bigger ratings.

More importantly, it keeps special teams as part of the NFL which would certainly lose out without it.  For many undrafted players and late-round picks, losing kickoffs and special teams would take away an opportunity for unknowns to eventually emerge and become marquee players.  Without it, it would leave players like Julian Edelman and Matthew Slater among many who could have never gotten the opportunity to prove themselves, which would have been a loss for both the team and the fans who cheer for them.

Ultimately it will come down to a reduction of injuries before the league takes another look after this season and decides whether or not it will remain part of the game.  As a result, it will be something that fans may want to watch a little closer this season to see just how the first phase of changes will affect a play that’s opened the door for so many.


Gronkowski and Brady are big question marks for this week’s voluntary workouts.

Phase 3 of Voluntary Workouts On Tap – While Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski have each spent the early part of the offseason workouts away from the team to this point and as Mike Reiss of ESPN pointed out on Sunday, the Patriots are heading into a key part of the workouts that will have many wondering if either player will report this week.

Brady has made it clear this offseason that he’s prioritizing time with his family and taking advantage of the additional period before he returns to work, which is a change from past years but hasn’t really been something that required any type of concern among fans and media.

As for Gronkowski, the same holds true for the veteran tight end, who has made headlines this offseason as retirement rumors swirled thanks to his comments following New England’s loss to Philadelphia back in February.  He’s been busy this offseason focusing on his own interests, while also being spotted working out at the TB12 Center and preparing his body to endure the rigors of yet another NFL season.

While Gronkowski’s presence isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker, Brady’s may be when you take into consideration the importance of team-building as the Patriots start the process of both teaching and evaluating some of the younger offensive players.

According to Brady’s Instagram account, he and his family were in Brazil as of Friday, and Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported Monday morning that it’s unlikely Brady will be on hand this week, so it looks like the extra reps may go to newcomer Danny Etling should the veteran stay away this week.

Nelson Talks About Loss of Johnson – The loss of Patriots great Andy Johnson was saddening for fans of the New England running back, but it was obviously a little more difficult for those who knew him as a player in the locker room.

One of those players was Steve Nelson, who played with Johnson during their time together after coming out of the same draft class.  The two were close, with Nelson telling our own Steve Balestrieri following the news of Johnson’s death that the two also roomed together on the road and that his loss was tough to take.

“It was really sad to hear that Andy passed on so young (65) today,” Nelson said. “We’d heard that his cancer ( Esophageal) had progressed so bad that he had trouble eating solid food for the past year and had dropped an incredible amount of weight.”

“Andy and I were drafted the same year (1974) and we were roommates on the road for the first three years in the league together. After he played for the Patriots for about eight years he finished up his football career for the Boston Breakers in the USFL in 1983.”

“He was a great football player and teammate and an even better guy.”

Johnson was a former fifth-round pick who played with New England from 1974 thru 1982, with his best season coming in 1976 where he rushed for 699 yards and six touchdowns.  He’s survived by his wife and three children.

King Re-Signed, Lacy Released – The Patriots continued modifying their roster heading into their organized team activities, with the team announcing they brought back a recently released player, while also parting ways with one of their undrafted free agents.

The team announced on Friday they re-signed offensive lineman Jason King, bringing him back mere weeks after he had been released back on May 10th. The former standout from Purdue had signed a future contract with the team back in February and spent much of last season on the team’s practice squad.

Meanwhile, the team announced the release of receiver Chris Lacy, who had been signed as a rookie free agent back on May 11, 2018.  Lacy was a four-year standout at Oklahoma State but he likely faced an uphill battle given New England’s crowded receiving corps heading into training camp.  This at least gives him plenty of time to hopefully catch on elsewhere heading into the start of July’s NFL training camps.

Odds and Ends: Mike Reiss reported on Sunday that newcomer Adrian Clayborn suffered an injury to his quadriceps during offseason workouts, which may cause him to miss organized team activities this week.  According to Reiss, barring any setbacks, he should be ready for camp…Danny Shelton was disappointed that the Patriots didn’t pick up his fifth-year option, which would have paid him $7.5 million next season.  Shelton told Zack Cox of NESN that he’s disappointed, but he’s looking forward to proving his worth this season.  “Obviously, it sucked at first,” said Shelton. “But at the same time, you’ve got to think of it as an opportunity. And for me, I’m just grateful for the opportunity to be here for the year and to be able to just try my best to dominate and put myself out there and see what happens after that.”… Matt Light recently talked about the challenges the Patriots face at left tackle and while he believes offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia will be up for the challenge of grooming a replacement, Light believes it won’t be easy.  “Dante had guys ready to go in and fill the void,” he told NESN.com. “But it’s a big void. It’s definitely something that we’re all going to be keeping an eye on. It’ll be interesting to see how they do it and how teams try to take advantage of maybe a younger player or a guy that doesn’t have as many snaps.”



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