Some news and notes on this Thursday:
1) NBC Sports Boston’s Phil Perry caught up with University of Houston assistant head coach and defensive coordinator Doug Belk, who provided some pretty good insight on 3rd Round pick Marcus Jones during Perry’s most recent Next Pats Podcast.
Perry spoke with Belk at length about the former Houston defensive back, who Belk believes was a perfect fit with the Patriots and someone who Bill Belichick should be able to get the most out of given his Jones’ versatility.
“I thought it was a perfect fit,” said Belk of his former player. “Nobody knows how to use players with versatility better than coach Belichick and obviously his proven track record over decades of being a coach in the NFL and the production that he’s been able to use.”
“Not only is he versatile, but he’s probably the most intelligent player that I’ve ever been around. And so that combination, along with the Patriots and what like to do with players like him, it was a perfect match. I’m really happy, I’m excited, I can’t wait to see him play.”
Belk also talked about Jones’ athleticism on the defensive side of the football, as well as his football prowess. As someone who worked closely with him during their tenure together, Belk praised Jones’ coverage skills along with the fact that he’s someone who was really the first person he felt really had no flaws in his game, aside from his physical restrictions of lacking the height (he’s just 5’8″) that most prototypical defensive backs tend to have.
“He has elite playmaking ability and I think he’s the most ‘sticky’ type man coverage guy that I’ve ever been around and his intelligence allows him to be elite in zone coverage as well,” said Belk. “He’s the first player that I’ve probably ever coached who has zero flaws in his game except being short. He has great long speed, he has the best ball skills, he’s physical, he’s intelligent, doesn’t make very many mistakes, the only flaw is that he’s short.”
Belk also believes that Jones is good enough to be a weapon on offense, with the biggest challenge being that he’s also too valuable on the defensive side of things to take him out of the lineup. But given what he’s seen from him when he spent some time on the offensive side of things, he believes he’s got what it takes to also be a solid receiver.
“In packages, I think [he could be used as a receiver],” Belk said. “I don’t know that he’s not as good on offense as he is on defense. Because if you watch him when he catches the ball on defense or when he touches the ball on a punt return or a kick return, you almost have to hold your breath.”
“He’s that good with the ball in his hands. He’s even harder to tackle than most offensive players we play on a weekly basis, based on his change of direction and balance and body control. There’s typically not one guy ever tackling him.”
Here’s the full episode for anyone who hasn’t seen/heard it:
2) There was a lot of discussion about the University of Miami’s D’Eriq King, who is an athletic quarterback and versatile player who coming into New England seemed like he’d be able to potentially compete for a role somewhere.
It appears that won’t be the case.
King was cut earlier this week, shortly after appearing on the field for the first time as the club began its minicamp. The Patriots published multiple photos of King catching passes, which likely meant they wanted to see what, if anything, he might have been able to potentially provide as a receiver.
Obviously, the experiment was clearly short-lived and they weren’t impressed enough by what they saw to consider extending his opportunity.
King told ProFootballNetwork.com’s Aaron Wilson after signing as an undrafted free agent that he had spoken with Matt Groh, who told him they’d take a look at him at multiple positions.
“He told me I’ll do a little bit of everything — receiver, quarterback, running back — whatever I can do to stick,” said King. “Absolutely, definitely motivated to prove my worth.”
Unfortunately, they didn’t see enough to warrant a longer stint, which means he still apparently has a lot of work to do. King reportedly received multiple offers from other clubs but chose New England, feeling he’d potentially be able to earn a role. That didn’t end up being the case and he’s since passed through waivers and remains unsigned.
For now, the Patriots continue moving forward, although we won’t be provided with much in terms of details on the other rookies until they open up media availability later next week.
3) One of the key questions heading into the season is going to be what role each member of Belichick’s coaching staff will have, which at this point remains somewhat of a mystery.
The belief is that Matt Patricia will handle duties with the offensive line, while Joe Judge is said to have the duties of working with the skill positions. To what extent, we don’t really know, because so far, very little has been talked about in terms of who really holds what responsibilities.
Why it’s all being treated like trade secrets has been a frustration within the media, with the Patriots – as usual – operating differently from that standpoint than the other 31 teams.
The likely reason is primarily to make it harder to point blame should things start off rocky, as Belichick has previously not named coordinators early on for the sake of seemingly protecting his guys. He’s shouldered the responsibility and put the spotlight back on himself previously during the early part of any coaching transition.
We’ve seen in the past where there were decisions made without knowing who was really calling those shots, which the lack of an official title made it difficult to know for sure where to point the finger. Belichick knows that coaches need time to settle into a role and he’s previously appeared to try to let them grow into their responsibilities before acquiring any type of title.
Probably one of the more memorable ones was when Brian Flores was elevated to handling the defensive duties, which saw Belichick initially not officially name him as defensive coordinator while Flores settled into the role. As New England’s defense began to have success, despite not having the title, Flores ended up still receiving much of the credit.
With New England’s defense playing such a critical role during their title run that season, it worked out just fine and even led to him ending up with a head coaching opportunity in Miami.
In the past, it was a little easier for Belichick to protect his guys given the depth of the coaching staff. This season, given the number of losses they’ve suffered with the departure of Josh McDaniels, who took quite a few people with him to Las Vegas, it’s obviously a little more difficult.
But as far as who exactly holds what responsibility, that will likely remain under wraps until they – hopefully – have some success. Teams are mandated to make their assistant coaches available to the media at least twice per offseason and the Patriots did something quite unorthodox by making them available on back-to-back days earlier this week before even holding a practice open to the media.
As a result, a lot of what was asked didn’t have any context behind it since the only people who have seen coaches working with the players appear to just be the team photographer. It also left them without much to talk about on the second day since many of the same questions were already asked the day before.
Needless to say, there will be plenty of questions heading into camp until we start to get a visual sense of exactly what their roles may entail. But the approach shouldn’t be a surprise given how Belichick has previously operated. Whether or not the results are positive will certainly be something all of us will be watching for when the club starts playing meaningful games this fall.
4) Out in Chicago, it sounds like Justin Fields might be in a position to take a step forward in 2022.
According to Adam Jahns of The Athletic, despite some early struggles at the beginning of minicamp, the second-year quarterback impressed new teammate Lucas Patrick, who noticed an improvement in Fields during practice this week.
“I mean, there were a few throws he made today where that ball — it’s like it keeps getting faster in the air,” he said. “He’s soaking everything up. Whether it’s coaches, me, or stuff he’s telling me, it’s really good. Couldn’t have a better start to a working relationship.”
Quarterbacks coach Andrew Janocko echoed that sentiment, saying that Fields’ work this offseason seems to be paying off and he’s seeing the benefits both on and off the field.
“He is ahead of pace,” Janocko said. “I think he has really gone to work mentally in the classroom, away from the classroom, what he is doing with his iPad at night, how he studies, how he is ready and prepared the next day, how he comes and approaches every day.”
The Bears definitely need him to emerge as a quality starter. They’re in a division that includes Green Bay and Minnesota, both of which have been their biggest competition. Chicago has been competitive at times but hasn’t quite been able to overtake the two, with Aaron Rodgers and Kirk Cousins obviously being the two notable quarterbacks within the NFC North.
Coming from a program like Ohio State, Fields is no stranger when it comes to playing on a big stage against good competition. But the NFL is definitely at a level that requires players to always be at their best, which is where Fields is trying to get himself to.
And that’s what they need. The Bears have historically been a team with a good defense, but they just haven’t had a quality starter. They’ve gone through guys like Rex Grossman, Jay Cutler, Mitchell Trubisky and Nick Foles, just to name a few, and none have ever gone on to become consistent players.
That’s exactly what’s been missing. They need someone who can be their foundation and a player they can build around.
If Fields can provide them that, it would certainly change things in the Windy City and help the Bears get back to becoming contenders. It sounds like he’s making progress, which is likely giving Bears fans a reason for optimism heading into 2022.
5) While Baker Mayfield’s future remains in limbo, Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow has no doubt his fellow in-state quarterback will be just fine.
Burrow said in a recent appearance on the Full Send Podcast that he has no doubt Mayfield will get another opportunity somewhere, primarily because he believes he’s a guy who knows how to win.
“That’s a tough situation,” said Burrow of Mayfield. “He was hurt all last year. Every time we play him, he balls.”
“First time we played him, Thursday night during Week 2 of my rookie year, we lost like 34-30. The next time we played them, I throw for 400 yards. He goes like 25-for-28 with five touchdowns. He went on a two-minute drive, touchdown, they won the game.”
Where Mayfield ends up remains a big question mark. Carolina seems to be a possibility but they appear to also be just fine to head into the season again with Sam Darnold and newly drafted Matt Corral. However, that may just be talk depending on how things ultimately unfold. Jimmy Garoppolo is another name that has come up, although both Cleveland and San Francisco have been adamant in their demands for compensation and so far, no team, including Carolina, has been willing to bend.
As a result, the Panthers will continue playing the waiting game, leaving Mayfield stuck in Cleveland for the time being.
Whether or not he’ll still be there in September remains to be seen but either way, Burrow isn’t worried about him.
“Baker will land on his feet,” said Burrow. “He’s a really good player.”
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