Some news and notes on this Monday:
1) Heading into training camp, the Patriots take with them a pretty crowded backfield with a group that will definitely have some question marks as they into 2022.
Starter Damien Harris is in a contract year and will likely again handle the lion’s share of the carries this season. Rhamondre Stevenson will also be a big part of things, with the only question being how much of the snaps he splits with Harris as he potentially gets set to take over that role if Harris moves on after this year.
From there, things start to get a little murky.
The team brought back James White, who still reportedly has yet to be medically cleared coming back from his devastating hip injury in 2021, with J.J. Taylor and rookie Pierre Strong Jr. likely potential candidates to also try and fill that role.
Taylor had a rough go of things last season, with his inability to pick up the blitz ultimately seeming to be his Achilles heel. Fans likely remember one play from last season where he missed a block and rookie QB Mac Jones was completely leveled, which then saw Brandon Bolden step into the role for the remainder of the year.
Bolden has since moved on to Las Vegas and the team will likely need someone else to fill in. But who that might be is currently a bit of a question mark.
Strong Jr. appears to be a possibility, with the speedy former Jackrabbit as someone who seems to be a solid candidate. Everyone is aware that he was one of the fastest backs at the combine and his playmaking ability once he gets into the second level is definitely one of the things that stands out on film.
However, in that role, keeping Jones upright is obviously a priority. Despite Taylor’s upside running the football, Bill Belichick looks at the entire body of work and it wasn’t enough to get him back into the line-up. Guys need to focus on everything they’re asked to do because not being good enough at everything can be game-changing.
That’s going to be an area to keep an eye on. Whoever is elevated into that role, especially if White isn’t ready, will again see the team weigh the risk/reward factor and they’re not afraid to go with a lesser talented player. We saw that last season when they went with Bolden, who while not the most explosive player, did everything well enough to stay there all the way until the end of the year.
The Boston Herald’s Karen Guregian caught up with Strong’s former position coach, Andre Crenshaw, who did say that pass-protecting was something Strong Jr. focused on in college.
“I know people say he needs to work on that, but I thought he made an extremely huge jump in pass protection from previous years, to now his senior year,” said Crenshaw. “He knew it was important for teams to see him pass-protect and put great things on film.
“If you look at film from his senior year, there were times he was putting his face on people, and he’s pass protecting his butt off because he knows the value of it.”
It’s going to be important, and he only needs to look at Taylor’s situation to realize that it could be the difference between him capturing a big role in his rookie year, or being just an observer in 2022.
2) The idea of Tom Brady eventually heading to the broadcast booth is interesting, but while thinking about it a little further, it’s probably going to be a little tougher than he thinks.
To be successful in an analyst role during an NFL telecast, it’s all about helping an NFL fan understand certain situations. It’s all about helping people understand the “how” and “why” during games, with people relying on analysts to point out the good and the bad, essentially expanding on the nuances of the game that might have otherwise gone unnoticed.
Often, whatever bad that occurs often stems from a poor decision. That requires calling out a player or a coach for a potentially costly mistake, and it’s probably safe to say, for Brady, that might be a little tough for him.
After all, Brady is one of the most personable and genuine players in the game. He’s someone who got along well with everyone, with players often speaking fondly of him after having played with him.
Not that it’s much of a surprise. It’s fairly well-documented that during his time in New England, Brady was someone who got along with his teammates and went out of his way to talk to players in the locker room from the top to the bottom of the roster.
That started from his early days. After Brady came in as a sixth-round pick, his practice habits stood out as did his personality, with the former Michigan standout developing relationships with his fellow practice squad players and even starters.
When he became a starter himself in his second season, those relationships didn’t change. Guys actually talked about that with reporters, with reports coming out about the fact the well-liked Brady instantly had the support of guys in the locker room who rallied around him.
With former quarterback Drew Bledsoe, there were some players who never really spoke to him, largely due to the fact they felt Bledsoe didn’t quite have the same approachable demeanor. With Brady, he didn’t care who they were, he went out of his way to keep up with each and every one of them.
That went a long way when it came to how quickly the locker room tightened that season and how it ultimately turned into a championship run. They were all in it together, with Brady there to lead the way.
Needless to say, he’s a good guy but he’s someone who doesn’t enjoy people not liking him. That may be something that could make this future endeavor a little difficult.
Criticizing a coach or a player on the national stage isn’t going to be easy, especially since much of what Brady says will likely end up in the headlines during the early part of when he eventually takes on the role. We live in an age where context isn’t always included and one thing he says will potentially be a headline, which could make the job a little tougher than he thought.
One of the biggest advantages he’s likely going to have is the same trait Tony Romo brought with him, and that’s the ability to recognize tendencies and share them. Brady’s seen the most difficult schemes thrown at him during his more than two decades in the game and from a higher vantage point will probably see them a little easier.
Romo impressed many by seeing something and calling it before it happened. Brady will likely do the same, potentially even more often.
But as an analyst, he’s got to be able to speak his mind and be honest about what he sees. Whether or not that will work for him will also decide how long he does this.
Brady has hinted in the past that he hasn’t always been able to tell people what he’s really thinking. Whether or not that changes down the road may decide whether or not he’s able to fulfill the 10-year commitment given to him by Fox, or whether or not the nice guy that he is might hold him back from ultimately being successful.
3) Josh McDaniels had always said that any move out of New England would have to be the perfect situation, but things are starting to look a little shaky out in Las Vegas.
There are reports following the dismissal of former team president Dan Ventrelle that his firing apparently came after he aired some grievances following complaints he received from employees about Raiders owner, Mark Davis.
It sounds like Davis wasn’t pleased with the revelations, or Ventrelle’s feelings about them.
Ventrelle told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that the issues raised to him about Davis caused him “grave concern” and that Davis was “dismissive” and “did not demonstrate the warranted level of concern” when the two discussed the matter.
Davis reportedly fired him not long after.
The issues reportedly stem from Davis creating a hostile work environment, and Ventrelle mentioned that he brought the issues to Davis’ attention to “protect the organization and its female employees.”
Details about what happened haven’t come out just yet, but one would have to believe we’ll likely hear about them at some point.
As a result, it’s probably safe to say Davis is now potentially in the crosshairs of an NFL investigation, which will likely make things a little tough on McDaniels and GM Dave Ziegler.
Fortunately, those two came in with a fresh start, so they shouldn’t have too much to worry about. But the fact it’s something they might potentially have to deal with at all is definitely not what they signed up for.
4) While rookie minicamp is underway here in New England, it will be another 10 days or so before the media is able to have access. However, that isn’t the case elsewhere around the league, with the Panthers seemingly happy with rookie quarterback, Matt Corral, and what they’ve seen so far.
Corral has impressed coaches and his teammates, with The Athletic’s Joseph Person pointing out that Corral’s release “is as good as advertised” and that the ball comes “out of his hand quickly and with velocity.”
The concern with Corral is his size, with the rookie appearing to have a lean frame that he’ll likely have to bulk up from, although the same could have been said about Mac Jones in his early days. Jones was listed at 6’3″, 214lbs on Alabama’s site coming into the league, just 8 pounds more than Corral’s 6’2″, 205lb frame.
Corral liked to tuck the football and run during his time at Ole Miss, which is something that head coach Matt Rhule admitted he’s going to need to rein in at this level.
“When we went back, we loved the way that he played. His release. His moxie,” said Rhule. “He’s gotten injured a little bit because he runs guys over. Or he tries to run guys over. But I think at the end of the day, it’s still a game of who has the ability to throw the ball. And we just love the way that he throws the football. His release. His vision. His timing. And we thought it would translate over to this level.”
The news on Corral is somewhat interesting due to the fact that the futures of both Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield remain question marks. Mayfield remains a rumored possibility to land in Carolina, but nothing has materialized to this point, while reports seem to indicate Darnold is the favorite to potentially regain the role.
However, the early reports on Corral seem promising enough that the Panthers could see a similar battle to the one we saw here last season between Jones and Cam Newton, with the rookie ultimately securing the role.
They seem like they’ll be just fine if that’s how things play out. Panthers GM Scott Fitterer said recently in an appearance with ProFootballTalk’s Mike Florio that while it’s seemingly Darnold’s job to lose, no decisions have been made just yet.
“Sam is the number one guy right now,” Fitterer said. “He has every opportunity to take it and run with it. We hope he does well. We’ve seen improvement already under [offensive coordinator] Ben McAdoo. He’s working hard, he’s throwing the ball well. He’s just got to take it and run with it.”
“He’s got to own the position. The one thing we’re looking to do is stabilize the position. It’s been up and down, up and down. We’re bringing in Matt Corral. P.J. Walker‘s already here. We’ll see how it goes. He’s in the lead right now, but until someone really owns that position, gives us an opportunity to win, it will always be up for grabs.”
5) Down in Pittsburgh, they’re dealing with getting their own rookie QB acclimated in Kenny Pickett, who has the luxury of playing in the same stadium that he did in college with Pitt.
He reportedly looked comfortable in his first outing, with the rookie having the benefit of also playing with Steelers offensive coordinator, Matt Canada.
Canada played a part in the offense he ran in college and the rookie said that a lot of the same formations held true for him with the Steelers, which made things a little easier.
“I have a pretty good background with the offense with Coach Canada recruiting me here to Pitt,” Pickett said via The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly. “I have some kind of recall (with the formations). Coach Watson kept some of the same formations. I thought the walk-throughs today went pretty well.”
Pickett isn’t the shoe-in to start, with head coach Mike Tomlin favoring an open battle heading into training camp. For the rookie, it’s going to be about maturity and the understanding of the system, which he reportedly did show at times that he recognized when guys were lined up wrong, even though he dealt with not necessarily knowing everyone’s names.
For now, he said the priority is to keep working hard on getting an understanding of his job and the things he needs to do as he continues learning the offense.
“I have no shot if I don’t know what I am doing,” said Pickett. “I am dedicating myself to the playbook and learning every detail I possibly can to operate out here and have a smooth practice. It is all mental, really. Know what I have to do and know the responsibilities of everybody else and learn new defenses here in the NFL.
“There is a lot to go into it, and I am excited to dedicate myself to it and be the best that I can be and learn the most I can. I am doing as much as I can to feel good out here so I can play fast.”
Posted Under: 2022 Patriots Offseason