Daily Patriots News 5/18: Five Things to Know
Some news and notes on this Wednesday:
1) One bit of good news was the fact former Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork was officially announced as this year’s addition to enter the team’s Hall of Fame later this fall.
Wilfork, who became just the sixth member to be selected during his first year of eligibility, finished ahead of both Logan Mankins and Mike Vrabel for the honor after coming in first in the fan vote.
Out of the three, Wilfork and Mankins were two original members of the team, with both players coming to the club in the first round of the 2004 and 2005 drafts, respectively.
Like Wilfork, Mankins, was a terrific player who brought toughness and attitude up front, becoming a key part of the Patriots’ offensive line during his tenure.
The former Patriots guard made his mark at Fresno State College and caught the eye of scouts, with the Patriots taking him with the final selection in the first round fresh off their Super Bowl win against the Eagles a few months earlier.
He would go on to have a solid career in New England, but the end saw some contentious contract disputes before he was eventually traded to Tampa Bay prior to the 2014 season.
Vrabel originally started his career with the Steelers as a 3rd round pick out of Ohio State in 1997 before joining the Patriots in 2001.
The former linebacker did make his mark in his rookie year, making a key play against New England when he sacked then quarterback Drew Bledsoe in the Divisional Round of the playoffs to seal a 7-6 win for Pittsburgh.
During his time with the Patriots, Vrabel played a key role in New England’s defense, helping the team win three championships. He remained with the Patriots all the way until he was traded with Matt Cassel to Kansas City in 2008.
Ultimately, it was Wilfork who emerged as the first to be enshrined, but seeing him get in shouldn’t be a surprise. He was a fan favorite, frequently interacting with people over social media as he and wife Bianca often shared photos and comments during his career. It was those fan votes that helped him get in, with inductees needing 80% of the vote to receive the honor.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft praised Wilfork during his statement, talking about how much Wilfork meant to the franchise.
“It’s my pleasure to announce Vince Wilfork as our 2022 Patriots Hall of Fame selection,” said Kraft. “For more than a decade, Vince was a dominant defender in the trenches and anchored some of the best defenses in franchise history. His contributions on the field propelled the Patriots to four Super Bowl appearances during his 11-year career.”
“He was a big man with an even bigger personality and a huge heart. He quickly became a fan favorite in New England. I look forward to presenting him his Patriots Hall of Fame jacket.”
2) Wilfork’s story is definitely a good one, and it goes all the way back to the day he was drafted.
The former standout from Miami was just a college player with a young family and was coming off of losing both his parents just two years earlier, with his father passing away from Kidney disease on June 5, 2002, one day before his mother’s birthday. He would lose her later that year after she passed away in December following complications from a stroke she suffered the month before.
They were both incredibly young. His dad was just 48, while his mother was only 46.
”I wasn’t over my dad yet . . . and now my mom,” Wilfork told the Miami Herald just days after his mother passed away. “This one really struck me. I enjoy every moment now, every moment I breathe, every game I play. As long as I don’t break . . . I’ll never break. You can trust me on that now. I might bend, but I’ll regain my focus and bounce back.”
“I will never break.”
Wilfork has two tattoos to remember them. “Rest in Peace, Mom”, reads one, and “Rest in Peace, Dad” reads the other.
He added two others, which came from an adage from his father. On one is “One life.” On the other, “to live.”
While they weren’t with him the day his NFL life started, Wilfork knew they were watching.
“I woke up thinking of them because this is the day I knew it was going to come after a while and they knew it was going to come, especially my dad,” said Wilfork at the time. “He was a big football fanatic. By them not being with me physically that got to me a little bit, but I know in spirit they are here with me and they will always be here with me. So right now they are looking down on me and they are proud of their son.”
Those trials and tribulations didn’t go unnoticed by Belichick, who talked about it after selecting him.
“I thought it was obviously a tough situation,” said Belichick. “Let’s put it this way: He missed very little time given all that he went through. Football is very important to him. He worked through a tough situation to still do all he could for the team. I think that speaks a little bit to his commitment to the team. I think that he did what unfortunately anybody would have to in that situation. That forced him to grow up in a hurry.”
But after being drafted, Wilfork was already immediately focused on what he needed to do. The first thing on his mind was simply taking care of his family. With a move to New England now ahead for Bianca and his two young children, the only thing that mattered was making sure they were taken care of.
“I already have a car,” said Wilfork. “A house is my main concern right now. Getting familiar with the area and that is it.”
His start certainly tells you plenty about the player we watched during his time with the Patriots and the fact he’s being honored now certainly caps off what has definitely been one of the best stories and careers we’ve seen over the last 20-years+.
Belichick called both Wilfork and Richard Seymour two of the best defensive linemen he’s ever coached, which is something that Wilfork didn’t take lightly, especially from someone who he has so much respect for.
“Well, first of all, it’s coming from the GOAT and you’re talking about a guy that has coached some great players in his coaching career — been around some greats,” said Wilfork in a conference call on Tuesday. “So when something like that comes out of his mouth, you have to be able to soak it in and just kind of smile, because he had the opportunity to coach a lot of great football players, and just to be on his radar, it brings a smile to my face, because all I’ve wanted to do was play football — the game I love — and be the best teammate I possibly could be. And whatever comes with that comes with it.”
“But, to get that from Bill Belichick, that’s special. It will always be special, because I know what my coach — what he thought of me, how he felt towards me. And Bill is one of those guys who will tell you the truth. He’s not gonna sugarcoat nothing. So if I sucked, he would tell me I sucked. If you’re great, he’s not gonna tell you you’re great at the moment, but just to hear, once I retired, how he felt about me — that was special to me, I’m gonna always cherish that.”
Congratulations to Wilfork and his family, who will see that enshrinement made official later this fall, although the date hasn’t yet been determined.
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
3) One notable player who has been getting some work in early on in Foxboro has been veteran tight end Jonnu Smith, who is looking to build off his first season with the Patriots.
Smith signed a 4-year, $50-million deal with the club last offseason and finished his first season with just 28 receptions for 294-yards and a touchdown. Those are totals that likely weren’t quite what both sides hoped for, but Smith has already been in town trying to prepare to hopefully take another step forward in 2022.
Tight ends coach Nick Caley spoke to the media on Tuesday and was asked about Smith, who said he’s been pleased with what he’s seen from the veteran so far as the team has had a good group at the facility preparing for the season.
“Look, anytime you can be here in the offseason, I think it’s a big deal,” said Caley. “You know, in terms of the chemistry, the timing, fundamentals, the strength training, taking care of your body, the resources that you have here, and certainly it’s voluntary.”
“He’s an incredible worker,” Caley said of Smith. “He loves football. He has an energy about him that’s contagious. So it’s been great.”
One notable stat on Smith is the fact he wasn’t a player Mac Jones went to very often in critical situations. Of Jones’ 139 third-down targets last season, just five of those went toward Smith, with Smith catching three of them with zero first downs. Teammate Hunter Henry was targeted 30 times by Jones with 16 receptions and 15 first downs, including four touchdowns.
Smith’s 28 receptions was his lowest total since 2018, which saw him catch 20 passes in 13 games. He caught 41 passes for 448 yards and 8 touchdowns in 2020, which was a career year prior to him signing with the Patriots.
Now the hope is to see him get closer to that level this year and Caley went on to say he’s been pleased with Smith and the overall group, at this point in the offseason.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do, but, we’ve gotten a lot of work done,” said Caley. “So it’s been productive and I don’t think you can ever discount that, in general. I’ve been pleased with, not just him, but the entire group, honestly, so far.”
4) Another player who got a bit of praise was linebacker Josh Uche, who appears like he could be a bigger factor this season.
Defensive coach Steve Belichick talked about his importance to the defense, which appears that we could see him more involved in 2022.
“I see him (as) part of the blueprint, and I see him being an important piece to the puzzle for us going forward,” said Belichick via PatriotsWire. “There’s a lot of other factors to it besides just what he’s going to do. We’ve got to see what everybody else does and work the pieces around from there, but I see Josh being a big part of this defense.”
The former standout from Michigan has been used in situational roles to this point, with Uche totaling 4 sacks in his two seasons in New England. He appeared in 12 games in 2021 and finished with 10 tackles along with three sacks last season.
Off the field, he’s also been busy. Uche has been an advocate for mental health and said in a recent interview with FinishLine’s “Community Voices” that he’s been focusing on his foundation and helping people, which included working with children during a football camp.
“It’s primarily geared towards minorities and underprivileged kids,” said Uche of his foundation. “My first year in the league, we did a Target giveaway at my former church that my mom used to go to. Thanksgivings, when we didn’t have food or whatever, she would go to the pantry and they would give back. So I felt like it was only right for me to give back to families … during COVID, giving out masks and things like that.”
“Last year, I did something with The Boys and Girls Clubs of Providence, where we took kids on a shopping spree to Dick’s Sporting Goods, gave them athletic gear and things like that they might need. So things like that and I’ve got a football camp coming up so I’m just trying to get the ball rolling on this stuff.”
Uche also said in the interview that believing in yourself and taking care of the mental aspect of things is critical, which he encourages people to also be sure to put their focus.
“Anything you put your mind to, you can do it,” said Uche. “We work out, we tend to lift, like, every part of our body but we kind of neglect the most important one, which is the brain. So anything you put your mind to, you can achieve it.
We’ll see if Uche’s hard work translates into even more success on the field in the coming months.
5) One key question heading into 2022 is going to be how the team handles things from an offensive coaching standpoint, and it sounds like Matt Patricia could end up being a fairly big part of that.
Reports right now have him involved with the offensive line, which given how things have gone in the past, it’s been one of the most critical parts of the offense.
When they’re clicking, the Patriots have been one of the more dominant rushing attacks in the league and it’s led to success offensively. When they’ve struggled, the results were hard to ignore and it’s seen the offense fail to convert third downs and have difficulty scoring points.
As a result, it’s one of the areas that will definitely be under the microscope this season, especially with Patricia potentially at the helm. His success defensively was solid on paper but the shift in philosophy and the aggressiveness we saw after his departure was certainly noticeable, with his failed tenure in Detroit being an obvious black mark against him.
His return to New England has allowed him to re-establish himself as a coach, with his work in the front office being a key asset as the team tried to move on from the departure of Nick Caserio. Everyone knows Patricia is extremely intelligent and has a strong understanding for the game, which saw him wear a lot of hats after Belichick brought him back in.
The fact he’s had the ability to work in different roles seems to have helped him grow, and he acknowledged the fact that one of the benefits of being here is the fact Belichick allows coaches to work in different facets to increase their overall understanding of all of it.
“Certainly the fundamentals of the offensive line are something near and dear to my heart,” Patricia said via NBC Sports. “(There are) some things that, honestly, I learned a long time ago that they still are consistent: You grow and you learn every year. You talk to coaches. You watch tape. Certainly on the other side of the ball, as a defensive coach, you watch a lot of offensive line play. That’s for sure. You’re breaking down a lot of offensive linemen. You’re evaluating a lot of offensive linemen. You’re trying to figure out protections. You’re trying to figure out how to attack certain things so you get to just flip that which is great.”
“You get to look at the other side of it. You can try to figure out, ‘These are the pressures they’re bringing. This is what it looks like up front. This is how it is in the run game. This really gives them problems.’ You just kind of have that back and forth knowledge, and you just try to coach that and teach that to the guys, and really let them play. Really let that’s all it is — just letting our guys play to the best of their ability.”
With newcomer, Cole Strange, Patricia finds himself with a pretty solid group of players on the offensive line heading into this season. That group has some hefty expectations, with the priority obviously being creating holes for the ground game as well as protecting Jones. The second-year QB had a solid first year and will need the guys in front of him to allow him to hopefully have an even better season, with Patricia likely the person who will receive both praise and criticism depending on how things go.
But the fact he’s been entrusted sets up what should be an interesting storyline to follow in 2022, and hopefully, the results end up seeing some potential success in January.
Posted Under: Patriots News
Tags: Bill Belichick New England Patriots Vince Wilfork