Patriots News 05-29, OTAs Begin, Teaching Not Evaluation
Good morning; here are your weekly Patriots news 05-29, and some NFL notes this week.
We wish everyone a safe and happy Memorial Day tomorrow and let us not forget the thousands of men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice so that we can enjoy the freedoms we have today.
Former Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels has learned from his first foray into being an NFL head coach and after coming back to the Patriots for a decade after flaming out in Denver in 2010. Now, he isn’t going to try to emulate his former head coach but will play things his own way.
“I’m not Bill Belichick and I can’t be. I’m just going to try to be myself and hopefully I can be a good leader for our team,” McDaniels said.
“I’ve been looking forward to an opportunity like this for a couple of years now and I’m so blessed to have the staff that we have and the group that we have working, and the support staff that we have around me,” said McDaniels.
“They make my job easy. I’m just trying to keep us on schedule and on time and those kinds of things, but I couldn’t say enough things about the staff here. Then our coaching staff is doing a great job. They’re here real early, they’re here late at night making sure all the information is prepared. I feel like I’ve learned a lot. I feel like it’s slowed down for me, for sure. Doesn’t mean anything at this point in time of the year, doesn’t have any bearing on what’s going to happen down the road, but definitely feel a comfort level now in terms of understanding what my role is and how to do it better.”
Quick Hitters For the Patriots and the NFL:
Robert Kraft: The Patriots owner surprised one of the last surviving members of the Tuskeegee Airmen on the celebration of his 100th birthday. SGT Victor Butler from Rhode Island was visited by Kraft and Long Snapper Joe Cardona who is a Lieutenant in the Naval Reserve.
Kraft surprised Butler with a Patriots jersey with the number “100” on it. The Tuskeegee Airmen were the first African-American pilots in the US military. They were distinguished by the red tails painted on their fighter aircraft and combined a stellar combat record.
Patriots Scouting Department: The latest changes to the Patriots scouting staff has area scout D.J. Debick leaving the Patriots to take over a position with the Houston Texans. Debick’s new position will be as the team’s assistant director of pro scouting under GM Nick Caserio.
It has been reported that New England has brought in former Tampa Bay Buccaneers scout Tony Kinkela in a “senior role.” The team has also hired ex-Notre Dame defensive lineman, Marquis Dickerson, as a scouting assistant.
Matthew Slater: The Patriots’ Special Team’s ace, team captain, and locker room leader was the subject of an outstanding article by Dan Pompei of The Athletic earlier last week.
Pompei conducted a deep dive on what continues to motivate and drive Slater, who Bill Belichick calls the “greatest special team’s player of all-time,” (more below). Slater has been named to 10 Pro Bowls and 5 All-Pro teams in his career. There has never been a player who has been named to that many Pro Bowls that has not been elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Slater’s work ethic and preparation are legendary are the team facilities in Foxboro. A 100-meter and 200-meter sprinter in high school, watching Slater perfect his craft during training camp running sprint after sprint down the field having a coaching assistant try to impede his progress with a blocking pad is something to watch and behold.
As Pompei wrote in the piece, Slater practices for the entire session, usually on his own with the exception of the dedicated ST’s drills, only about 15 minutes. He’s been a team captain for 11 years, something he prides himself in.
“When I look back at my career, I think it will be one of the greatest honors I’ve ever had is being a captain for all the years I have been,” Slater said. “I hope I’ve served those guys well and loved them well and know I cared about them beyond the game of football.”
Check out Pompei’s piece, it is well worth it. Belichick said of Slater, that in the kicking game, he’ll be up there with Tom Brady on offense and Lawrence Taylor on defense. That is some heady company.
Bailey Zappe: An intriguing choice in the 4th round of last month’s draft was the smaller, but very productive QB out of Western Kentucky with the #137th pick overall. Zappe’s selection drew some criticism (as everything related to BB does these days) but makes very good sense.
“Why did NE draft a QB after taking Mac Jones in Rd 1 last year?” was the familiar refrain, leading some to question (quite foolishly) if this showed that the team wasn’t sold on Jones. As an FYI, the Patriots drafted ten (10) QBs during Tom Brady’s era.
But with the aging Brian Hoyer filling the mentor role, Jarrett Stidham never gave the staff confidence that he could step in and become the starter in the event of an injury. Zappe may not be that guy either, however, setting NCAA records for yards (5967) and touchdowns (62) a year ago, it was a smart move. While not the tallest player (6’1) that the Patriots have drafted at QB, he’s much like Jones in that he’s a great anticipatory passer who processes his reads quickly and delivers an accurate ball.
But don’t believe us. ESPN hosted former Saints GM Randy Mueller who rated Zappe as the 2nd best QB behind Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett.
“I wasn’t surprised. At that point in the draft, you’re trying to identify traits with players that maybe not everybody sees. And I think Bill Belichick and his crew have done as good a job at that as any, across the board at all positions,” Mueller said.
“I see a lot of positives in Bailey Zappe. When you get to the third day of the draft, I think it’s too much to turn your back on, regardless of position. Everybody seems to want to fill needs throughout [the draft], but I’m more about getting the best group of players and not bypassing good players to fill needs. And I think Bailey was one of those guys, although I don’t think everyone sees that.”
“I think he’s a natural, throws with the right trajectory, with touch. A lot of second-and third-level things he does, Mueller added. “I’ve seen pro quarterbacks after four, five years still not be able to do. So I think he’s further along the learning curve than most give him credit for.”
Patriots 4th & 2 Podcast: If you haven’t checked out our PatsFans.com podcast, “Patriots 4th & 2”, in a bit, please check it out. Derek Havens and I posted a video of the team’s personnel and where we feel their strengths and weaknesses lie, albeit in May.
Later in the week, I was a guest on “Locked On Patriots” with my “Patriots paisan” Mike D’Abate and discussed one AFC power ranking that had New England 13th of 16.
Russ Francis/Chuck Fairbanks: The former Patriot tight end and head coach both should be in the Patriots team Hall of Fame…this will be on our Sunday posts until it happens.
What Can Be Taken From One OTA Session? Time to Teach:
The Patriots conducted their first OTAs this week and the media was on hand for the first session. Something to keep in mind is that A. there are no pads, hence no contact, and B. it is only May, and trying to peek too far ahead in May is a fools’ errand.
However, the beat guys report on what they see, and that’s the thing to pay attention to, and seeing the players on the field for the first time in the 2022 offseason is always an exciting thing. OTAs are voluntary and as Bill Belichick has said every year, this time of year is for teaching and installing the system. The evaluation of the players on the roster will come later.
Several players were not spotted including Isaiah Wynn, Lawrence Guy, Matthew Judon, Adrian Phillips, Ronnie Perkins, Byron Cowart, Harvey Langi, Jahlani Tavai, Andrew Steuber, as well as both kickers Nick Folk and Quinn Nordin. Some of those missing players may have been due to injuries, and/or offseason surgery. N’Keal Harry was also not in attendance but his absence isn’t considered injury-related.
Two rookies, Tyquan Thornton and Marcus Jones appeared limited on the field.
A pleasant surprise was that James White was on the field and taking part in drills, which is a positive bit of news moving forward to training camp this summer. He was moving well, and better than expected at this point.
Mac Jones was looking in good shape on Day 1. He was looking in better proportion and a tad more muscular which is a good sign to begin Year 2. This is now Jones’ team and he’ll get the majority of the 1st team reps this summer.
Jones said he worked with throwing guru Tom House this offseason and improved his diet. He’s embraced an increased leadership role this year.
DeVante Parker stood out to most observers there and the most common description of his day was “smooth”. That should come as no surprise as the veteran wide receiver has been a productive player when he’s healthy. Parker excels at making contested catches and is a good route runner with strong hands.
Jack Jones got a lot of play with the top defensive unit and he showed some nice ability to stick with receivers. No surprise here, as I’ve said since the draft, his draft position didn’t have much to do with his on-field play, but off-field issues. If he keeps his head on straight, he could be a sneaky good pick for the team.
Ty Montgomery was working with the receivers, but that is subject to change as Belichick will no doubt keep people guessing.
Raekwon McMillan and newcomer Mack Wilson were garnering a lot of reps with the starting defensive unit at inside linebacker. McMillan seemed primed for a big role last summer before tearing his ACL in training camp. Wilson was getting some one-on-one time with Belichick. Both should provide some speed and athleticism at the off-the-ball linebacker position.
McMillan stated that he is full-go and is completely ready for this season. For the inside linebackers, he’s the elder statesman being drafted in 2017, despite being just 25 years old. So the youth and athleticism movement is underway. McMillan spoke about the youth as well as chemistry in the linebacker room.
“We have a lot of young guys. A lot of good chemistry, though,” he said early last week. “A lot of the old veteran guys that had a lot of Super Bowl runs, playoff runs — you name it. Those guys did a lot for this team and for this organization. But we have a young group coming up, and I like where we’re at.”
The media will be back out there on Tuesday this week (May 31). The mandatory minicamp is slated for June 7-9.
“He will go up there, in the kicking game, with Tom Brady on offense and (Lawrence) Taylor on defense,” Belichick said. “So I feel very, very fortunate to have the opportunity to coach all the players, but I’d say those three in particular.”
During a team meeting during the 2020 season, Belichick stood up before the team and said, “It’s a shame if you younger guys don’t take advantage of having Slate in the room and find time to talk to him. He’s the greatest special teams player of all time.”
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick on Special Team’s captain Matthew Slater.
“So, how was your week?”
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Posted Under: 2022 Patriots Offseason
Tags: Bailey Zappe Bill Belichick Chuck Fairbanks Devante Parker Jack Jones Josh McDaniels Mac Jones Mack Wilson Matthew Slater New England Patriots Raekwon McMillan Robert Kraft Russ Francis Ty Montgomery