Some New England Patriots news and notes on this Friday:
– The team released photos of each of their players in uniform on Thursday and one notable thing that stood out was the fact linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley looks slightly trimmed down from where he was in 2021. With the team moving to more speed at linebacker, Bentley’s experience is going to be key given the number of younger players who will potentially see action in 2022, and if he’s able to gain an extra step, even better. He was quietly an impact player last season, leading the defense in tackles by a significant margin after combining for 108, with the next closest player being safety Adrian Phillips, who had 87. Bentley also finished with one sack, 5 quarterback hits, 5 tackles for a loss, 2 passes defended, and 3 forced fumbles.
– The team made some of their recent transactions official on Thursday, announcing that Jakobi Meyers, Lil’ Jordan Humphrey, and rookie Pierre Strong Jr. are officially under contract. Meyers signed his restricted free agent tender earlier this week, while Humphrey’s signing was reported on Wednesday. Strong Jr.’s deal is the most recent one, with Field Yates reporting that he agreed to terms on a 4-year deal worth $4.37 million with $714,428 guaranteed.
– With the former South Dakota State product under contract, that leaves New England with quarterback Bailey Zappe, receiver Tyquan Thornton, and offensive lineman Cole Strange as the three remaining rookies still left to sign. According to Patriots cap expert Miguel Benzan, this week’s deals have the club with just $142,280 remaining in cap space, which means we’ll potentially see a fairly significant move occur with someone between now and the beginning of training camp to clear room to both get them under contract and leave the Patriots with a margin of error to make additional moves as needed.
– Safety Kyle Dugger is quietly coming into his own and teammate Devin McCourty has been impressed by what he’s seen from the third-year safety during their time together. “Obviously, if you watched any of our games, you know he can knock your head off,” McCourty said of his teammate via NESN. “I just love watching him grow. I think sky’s the limit for him.” Dugger finished third on the club right behind Phillips with 84 tackles last season, with the next closest player behind him being former linebacker Kyle Van Noy, who had 66. Dugger also had 5 tackles for a loss, 2 QB hits, 4 interceptions and 5 passes defended in 2021.
– Offensive lineman Trent Brown talked about second-year quarterback Mac Jones in his recent appearance on the Pat McAfee Show, with Brown talking about how impressed he’s been so far with his young QB. “Mac is always the first one in the building, last one out,” said Brown. “For him to be so young and have a lot of weight on his shoulders, you wouldn’t even be able to tell. The way he carries himself, he’s a fun guy.” Brown also said Jones has a good balance with how he carries himself. “He can shoot the (expletive) from time to time, but he can really handle his business day-in and day-out,” said Brown. “I respect the kid as much as anyone else in the locker room.”
– Looking at the stats from last season, one thing that stands out is the fact the Patriots made a massive leap in average offensive time of possession on offense in 2021. They ranked 13th in the league and averaged 30:28, up from 26th the year before, which saw them as part of a group of teams who were obviously successful last season. Rounding out this list was the Ravens (1st: 32:22), Packers (2nd: 32:43), Titans (3rd: 32:40), Colts (4th: 31:44) Bills (5th: 31:34), Cardinals (6th: 31:15), Cowboys (7th: 30:20), Buccaneers (8th: 30:21), Chiefs (9th: 30:56), 49ers (10th: 30:40), Raiders (11th: 30:04) and Bengals (12th: 30:39).
– Obviously, a lot of that total can be attributed to their ground game but Jones was clearly the difference-maker. To provide some perspective, after finishing 26th in that category in 2020, the club finished 7-9 and out of the playoffs. Prior to that, they ranked 6th in that category in 2019, and 3rd in that category in 2018, which resulted in their most recent championship season under former QB Tom Brady. They also ranked 8th in 2017 and 2nd in 2016, which was also a championship season.
– Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson talked to reporters this Thursday and was asked about his contract status, with Jackson still finding himself without a long-term deal. When asked by reporters, he reportedly repeated “We’re having a conversation about it” eight times during his 10-minute press conference. Jackson was asked if he expected to play in Baltimore for the rest of his career and reportedly responded, “I expect so,” but after skipping several voluntary practices, it sounds like there might be questions about whether or not his attitude might change if this isn’t resolved prior to training camp.
– An interesting stat was pointed out by ProFootballFocus’ Timo Riske, who took a look at the pace of play differences that offenses have operated at under different coaches and noted that the two coaches who work at the slowest pace on offense were Green Bay’s Matt LaFleur and Dallas’ Mike McCarthy respectively. Riske said that those two being up there was “probably a[n] [Aaron] Rodgers thing.” Green Bay has never been much of an up-tempo team, but that data was interesting. Behind those two was Zac Taylor, Mike LaFleur and Joe Brady, respectively.
Down in Carolina, despite being rumored to be targeting Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield, head coach Matt Rhule said this week that Sam Darnold is the team’s starter heading into 2022 and he expects him to prepare that way heading into training camp. “If we played today, Sam would be our quarterback,” Rhule said. “Sam’s job is to take the next five weeks to make sure he shows up in Wofford [College in South Carolina – where the team holds training camp] better than he is right now. He said to me yesterday how good he feels footwork-wise in the offense. He’s got to improve when he gets to training camp, and he has to do it with the pads on when people are trying to knock you down.” The Panthers and Browns have reportedly seen their talks stall and, according to reports, the two sides remain “not close”.
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