Daily Patriots News and NFL Notes: 5 Things to Know – 6/30
Some news and notes for this morning:
1) The safety position will be among the areas being watched this season, as there is a changing of the guard going on currently and it may not be long before there’s another right behind it.
With Patrick Chung retiring this offseason, all eyes will be on Kyle Dugger as he looks to improve on what was a pretty impressive 2020 season. Dugger really played well last year and he shows a lot of the same physicality we saw from Chung, making plays at the line of scrimmage as well as doing a solid job in coverage. Adrian Phillips was another player who stood out, with Phillips really settling well into the defense as he finished the season with a team-high 107 tackles, becoming the impact player New England needed at that position in their defense last season.
One player whose name keeps coming up is 6th round pick Joshua Bledsoe, with the former Missouri standout looking to try and establish a place for himself in the defense next month in training camp.
Jeff Howe of the Athletic published a terrific piece on him yesterday, with Bledsoe’s former defensive coordinator, Ryan Walters, saying that Bledsoe was a workhorse in college and he expects that work ethic to be one of the key things that should help him succeed in the NFL.
“He is a workhorse,” Walters said. “He’ll go every rep in practice. We had to hold him out for a couple practices in his senior year for a tight calf, and he was upset about it. You had to pull him off the practice field. Every practice, he’d be drenched, so he was always on the hydration report because he would go so hard.
“For him to be able to take care of his body that way, he spent extra time in the training room and with the strength staff to keep his body recovered and ready to go. You always saw him with a jug of some sort of fluid in the building. Josh is a ripped-up dude. He’s just a workhorse. He doesn’t really get tired. His body will look tired because he sweats a ton, but it’s just because he’s working. He’s got big old thighs, big old biceps, a strong back. He takes care of himself. That’s why he’s been healthy and available.”
For Bledsoe, when he was in college, it was his versatility and his ability to do so many things that impressed his coaches. Walters pointed out that he was impressed by the fact Bledsoe could handle slot receivers and did a great job of keeping players in front of him. It was that attribute that made him believe he could succeed at the next level.
“When I found out how good at covering in the slot that he was, that’s when I was like, OK, he’s got a chance to go play (in the NFL),” Walters said. “He’s faster than everybody thinks he is. He’s a wide-bodied big guy, so usually those guys aren’t super fast. But nobody could really run by him.”
With Devin McCourty’s career close to the end and Chung’s retirement, the Patriots have already had to start dealing with the reality of change at that position. Should Bledsoe evolve into an impact player, it will give them yet another young player to hopefully build on moving forward.
2) I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the retirement announcement that came yesterday from Glenn Ordway, who will be walking away from WEEI after a terrific career.
Ordway made the announcement yesterday and said after 34-years, he’s going to try and “enjoy life” when he finishes his tenure at the end of the summer.
The announcement from @GlennDOrdway on @WEEI: https://t.co/56MAzRW84i pic.twitter.com/Zqt55EUZQN
— OMF (@OMFonWEEI) June 29, 2021
Ordway has been part of the Boston Sports landscape since the 70s, helping the rise of WEEI since its inception. He’s been a fairly steady presence at the station, despite WEEI letting him go in 2013 before bringing him back two years later as they continue trying to battle 98.5 The Sports Hub, who has continued to hold the edge in the ratings.
It’s another end of an era in the Boston Sports Media world and the difficult part is that when it comes to both sports talk show hosts and even writers, this market has had a difficult time fostering new talent and trying to keep feeding that sort of talent into the future. Considering how quickly things are changing with newspapers and the increase in podcasts, it certainly has changed the landscape.
All of that is a story for another day, but another reminder that things definitely won’t be quite the same now that we’re losing another one with Ordway moving on.
3) Ben Linsey of ESPN+ did an article ranking all 32 NFL Teams, looking at the strengths, weaknesses and X-factor for each club.
Linsey ranked the Patriots at #18, and among what he believes are their “weaknesses”, he’s worried about the wide receiving group.
Biggest strength: This offense is built to overpower teams in the run game. Their offensive line ranked third in the league last season in run-blocking grade (83.3), and the return of Trent Brown at right tackle and subsequent sliding of Mike Onwenu to left guard only adds more size to the unit. Behind that offensive line, Cam Newton’s physicality as a runner is unique at the quarterback position, and Damien Harris and Sony Michel both graded well as runners last season. Harris’ 86.9 rushing grade in 2020 ranked third among running backs on a limited sample.
Biggest weakness: The Patriots invested roughly $77.5 million in guaranteed money into their receiving corps this offseason, but they still are missing a true No.1 wide receiver. Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne and Jakobi Meyers are among the top names on the depth chart, and all three are best suited somewhere between No. 2 and No. 3 options in an ideal world. Expect plenty of heavy personnel groupings featuring Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry at tight end.
X factor for 2021: Linebacker Kyle Van Noy had a breakthrough in his career with the Patriots in 2019, earning a career-high 84.2 PFF grade in his first year playing almost exclusively on the edge and getting after the quarterback on passing downs. He saw a much more even split between pass-rushing and coverage snaps last season in Miami, and the result was a 61.9 overall grade and surprise cut this offseason. A return to his 2019 role and form would give a nice boost to this defense, which struggled last season.
He’s not wrong, as we have a lot of those same concerns and after what wasn’t the best minicamp, both Agholor and Bourne will definitely be two players fans will be keeping an eye on next month.
4) CBS Sports’ Chris Trapasso also did a piece looking at the first-round quarterbacks and who he believes has the best chance to succeed.
Of the five quarterbacks, he ranked 49ers QB Trey Lance as the player he believes has the best chance at success, crediting the team’s skill position group and offensive line as being the best of the bunch. The list from there was followed by both Mac Jones and Justin Fields finishing tied with the same amount of points based on how he put this together.
Here’s what he had to say about Jones:
Bill Belichick is always open to incorporating new team-building practices to his organization and boy did he ever head down a new path this offseason, going on a shopping spree in free agency that rivaled a Kardashian-Jenner Saturday spent on Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles.
Most of the additions were lower-to-mid-level acquisitions, but it was clearly a quantity over quality approach, and it was needed. New England’s talent base had significantly dried up over the past few seasons. The wide receivers aren’t going to threaten secondaries — at least out of the gate. However, the tight end tandem of Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith has serious potential.
Even after losing star guard Joe Thuney in March, the Patriots have one of the better blocking squadrons in football, particularly if Trent Brown plays to the level he showed in his first stint in New England before quickly flaming out with the Raiders. Michael Onwenu is tracking toward stardom in a hurry.
Josh McDaniels has a strong track record designing plays and scheming open pass catchers. The challenge for him will be to create two offenses for two completely different quarterbacks — Cam Newton and Jones. New England’s defense was a shell of its former self last season, but with Matthew Judon, Henry Anderson, and the return of Dont’a Hightower along with some draft selections, that side of the ball is primed to return to its usual form.
Behind those two was Trevor Lawrence, who with the Jaguars already faces an uphill battle. The player with the worst chance at success was the Jets Zach Wilson.
Here’s a quick excerpt with his thoughts on that:
The Jets have hustled this offseason to manufacture a decently respectable roster, but Wilson’s overall last-place finish here demonstrates how striking of a hole the Jets dug during the Sam Darnold era. And I’ll admit, I felt it necessary to place first-time offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur at No. 5 in these play-caller rankings. Yet it’s completely conceivable he outperforms his more experienced contemporaries listed. We just don’t know anything about his offensive tendencies yet. Doubtful he’s more vanilla than Adam Gase, though. So that’s good for Wilson.
The news out of New York has been positive on Wilson so far, which is certainly good news for him. But either way, he’s likely got a lot of work ahead of him considering the mess they’ve been in recent years.
5) CBS also did a coaching ranking and gave the top spot to Andy Reid, with Bill Belichick coming in at #2.
They also believe that Reid is poised to win another championship this season, while they believe that until Belichick gets the QB situation settled, Reid holds the edge.
Let’s make one thing clear: Belichick is still the greatest NFL coach of all time; his 31 playoff wins are absurd, and his six titles are matched only by Curly Lambeau and George Halas. Even after a bad 2020, when Tom Brady got the last laugh as the post-Brady Pats slipped to mediocrity, Bill remains one of the NFL’s best schemers. You simply cannot count him out. Ever. His defense, in particular, seems poised for a return to form. He’s also the personnel chief, though, and until he proves he can fill or successfully work around Brady’s old position, he isn’t nearly as formidable an opponent in 2021 as … [Andy Reid].
Reid has certainly done a good job getting his clubs in position to win, but Belichick has obviously held the edge over him in the postseason. Whether or not he can get back there and challenge him remains to be seen, but we’ll see if this season is the start of hopefully changing that.
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