Good morning; here are your weekly Patriots news 07-17 and some NFL notes this week. It is just a couple of more days until the rookies report for training camp.
It is always an exciting time when camp rolls around as everyone starts with a clean slate and all 32 teams start the summer with optimism.
N’Keal Harry Traded To the Bears, A Year Too Late?
Patriots fans mostly reacted with glee when the news broke that the team moved Harry to the Chicago Bears for a 2024 7th-round draft pick. That is a big drop for a player that was taken with the final (32nd overall) pick in the 1st round of the 2019 NFL Draft.
There was plenty of blame for why Harry failed in New England, and should be shared equally. Harry most definitely didn’t live up to expectations or his draft status. But the coaches (Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels) deserve their share of it.
The most common lament was that “Harry isn’t getting any separation,” which was true. However, a look at his college tape would have told you the same thing. Harry was a big (6’4) wide receiver who made 19 contested catches in his final college season. But rather than use him in that role, the coaching staff decided to use him differently.
Was it all on Belichick for going against his scouts’ advice, and who wanted someone else? Or was it McDaniels who tried using Harry in a different manner? Probably a bit of both. Belichick was spending more time with the defense after losing Brian Flores to the Dolphins, and it was up to McDaniels to get him ready.
During the first week of training camp, Harry worked with Troy Brown during side sessions as well as with Tom Brady and McDaniels, as I wrote at the time. But like many WRs in their first year with the team, he was slow to pick up the intricate Patriots route tree.
He caught two passes for 36 yards against the Lions but suffered an injury that forced him to miss the season’s first eight games. By the time he returned, he was way behind the rest of the WR group. And as we’re all well aware, if a WR doesn’t fit into Brady’s small circle of trust, he isn’t getting the ball. And Harry was frozen out. He made just 12 catches for 105 yards and 2 TDs. And yes, we all remember the TD against the Chiefs that wasn’t.
2020 Year Was a Difficult One:
The 2020 season was the Year of COVID and major change. Brady was gone to Tampa, and Cam Newton was in. and he struggled mightily trying to run the Patriots’ offense. Harry’s targets were still in the very short area close to the line of scrimmage; although he caught 33 passes, he went to a QB that had trouble getting him the ball after being frozen out the year before.
Prior to the 2021 season, Harry could see that he no longer fit into the Patriots’ plans and that they weren’t going to make him a viable part of the offense. So, his agent requested a trade. That should have been the time to move on for both parties.
Instead, the team kept him around, although he became sort of a WR in name only. They used him mainly as an extra blocker, something he did well at. We don’t know if he was complaining behind the scenes, but he embraced his role at least outwardly. He was targeted just 22 times last year and caught just 12 passes for 184 yards (15.3 YPR).
Harry has to share his side of the blame, but the coaches, who normally put players in the best position to succeed, didn’t do so in his case. It was in the best interests of everyone to move on and especially for Harry to get a fresh start elsewhere, on a team that really needs WR help.
Will he be able to regain his confidence and become a good WR? Time will tell. But at least with the Bears this year, he should get plenty of opportunities to succeed. That wasn’t happening in Foxboro this year, or last.
But after the trade, the Patriots’ WR depth remains solid:
Ty Montgomery (also plays RB)
Quick Hitters For the Patriots and the NFL:
Jason McCourty: The 13-year NFL vet and twin brother of Patriots captain Devin has announced his retirement. Originally a 6th-round draft pick of the Titans, McCourty carved out a very successful career. He spent eight years with Tennessee, then spent the 2017 season with the winless Cleveland Browns. But in 2018, he came to New England and won a Super Bowl with the Patriots.
After beating the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game in Kansas City, the two twins had a memorable moment embracing each other, in the first season that they were able to play together in the NFL.
Fans will remember his breakup of a Jared Goff pass in the end zone to Brandin Cooks, saving a touchdown and the Rams taking the lead. McCourty flew over from the right side and knocked the ball away from Cooks at the last second to save the lead.
“These past 13 seasons have been one hell of a journey,” Jason McCourty said on his Instagram page. “And as I reflect and look back on my career, I have far surpassed any and every expectation I set for myself back in 2009 — and that’s what I’m most proud of when I look back at my career.”
Mac Jones: The Patriots’ starting QB has said that he made strides in his diet during this offseason. However, Jones was dishing out ice cream on Friday at the Hood Creamery in Charlestown, Mass. And no…it wasn’t avocado ice cream that Tom Brady liked (and it wasn’t bad, as the Patriots dished it out one year on Brady’s birthday).
But Jones’ flavor was called “The Mac Attack” and was a mix of vanilla ice cream and blue cookie dough chunks.
Scott Pioli: Speaking of Mac Jones…The former Patriots front office executive was on the NFL Network and was asked what Jones needs to do to make that big Year 2 jump.
“I think Mac Jones and the Patriots’ coaching staff would be the first to tell you that there is a lot of next steps that he has,” Pioli said. “I mean, he had a very, very strong rookie year, but that doesn’t mean anything in New England when you’re a quarterback.”
“To me, I think one of the next steps that he needs to take is who is his go-to guy going to be?” Pioli said. “He went out and saw players. He spent time with them. What he needs to do is cultivate those relationships, deepen them so to speak, and find out who is his most dependable teammates are going to be.
“Who is the guy that he can count on?” Pioli added. “Let’s remember, chemistry in football is absolutely critical. Tom Brady always had a go-to guy, and those guys were generally versatile, smart, and dependable. Mac needs to find out who those guys are, or who that singular guy is in order to make things go to the next level for him at the quarterback position.”
My early bet on who that will be? Kendrick Bourne.
Patriots 4th & 2 Podcast: If you haven’t checked out our PatsFans.com podcast, “Patriots 4th & 2”, in a bit, please check it out. Russ and Derek broke down the defense on Friday, be sure to check it out.
Russ Francis/Chuck Fairbanks: The former Patriot tight end and head coach both should be in the Patriots team Hall of Fame, and the fact that especially Francis isn’t is an absolute travesty. Francis and the Raiders’ Dave Casper changed the game with how teams used the tight end position…this will be on our Sunday posts until it happens.
BIg Summer For the Interior Defensive Line:
There was surprise among fans and media when the Patriots didn’t select a linebacker in the draft, but arguably an even bigger surprise was the fact that the Patriots didn’t select a defensive lineman until the 6th round of the draft this spring.
Davon Godchaux was signed to be the big two-gapping nose tackle. And it was a position that he seemed to struggle in during the 2021 season. Godchaux carries a $10.25 million cap hit this year, and the team needs him to improve.
With a lighter linebacking crew, their defensive philosophy may change a bit at times (we know the defense will always be mulitiple). This could signal them being a little bit more aggressive and allow their interior linemen to penetrate.
Another player that needs to step up is Lawrence Guy, who was not his usual solid, consistent self in 2021. He’s at that age where many of the big defensive linemen begin to wear down. He’ll bear watching, as will veterans Henry Anderson, Byron Cowart, and Carl Davis. Deatrich Wise is a solid interior pass rusher but has improved against the run. Daniel Ekuale is suspended for the first two games of the season. Bill Murray, who has been on the practice squad for the past two years is in a make-or-break summer.
One player who should have a big year is Christian Barmore. I was a guest on the SI Locked-On Patriots podcast with Mike D’Abate, and both of us agree that Barmore is going to be the defense’s “X-Factor” this season. With a year in the system, he should be able to dominate in 2022.
I’m intrigued to see what Sam Roberts (D-2, Defensive Player of the Year) and UDFA LaBryan Ray from Alabama can bring to the table. Roberts dominated against lesser competition, and Ryan came highly recruited to Nick Saban’s program. But he has never been able to stay healthy.
There are a lot of veterans in place, but a dose of youth wouldn’t hurt if they show they can play. But after ranking 25th in yards per carry in 2021, there is a lot of room for improvement this year.
“It depends on the person’s level of experience. Player’s that are experienced you can evaluate them. Players that aren’t experienced you look at their development and see how that is tracking. We have quite a few guys back there, they’re in different stages of those categories. We will evaluate them on a case-by-case basis. We got a couple punters, so we got a lot of balls there, we’re punting them so might as well have some guys catch them.”
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick what he looks for in the punt returner position
“So, how was your week?”
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Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: Bill Belichick Christian Barmore Daniel Ekuale Devin McCourty Lawrence Guy Mac Jones New England Patriots NFL Patriots patriots defensive line