Good morning, everyone. I’ll be holding things down for Steve Balestrieri on this Sunday, but in the meantime, let’s get to it.
It was a busy week as New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick met with the media on Monday out in Arizona for the annual coaches’ breakfast, which as usual, was relatively entertaining, yet Belichick remained in midseason form when it came to his replies.
It was Belichick’s first real meeting with reporters since the end of the 2022 season, as reporters sparred with Belichick hoping for answers to some of the questions filling the radio waves in recent weeks.
Instead, Belichick was curt with most of his responses. The majority of questions served up to him drew 2-3 short sentences for answers, with the coach shrugging during many and offering little else for most.
However, the most insight he was willing to provide came as he talked about former offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, who was recently recognized and selected as a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Awards of Excellence.
“Well-deserved,” said Belichick. “Yeah, Dante’s a great football coach and obviously a long, long, long history of working with the Patriots, multiple roles. But when I was here in ’96 with Bill [Parcells], it was Dante, Romeo [Crennel], Al [Groh], and I on the defensive staff. Those were three great people to work with and, of course, with Bill. So I got to know him pretty well then, and of course, when I came back, he was coaching the offensive line, so I kept him as the offensive line coach.”
“He made a huge impact on our team and me. Just a wonderful guy to work with on all levels. Hard-working, dedicated, unselfish. Good fundamental coach. Understands offense, defense, kicking game. Very good teacher, detailed, tireless worker. Well-deserved.”
Mac Jones vs Bailey Zappe: Belichick may not have given Jones a ringing endorsement this week when asked whether the two will be competing for the starting role, but despite several reports, Belichick’s answer was taken out of context by a fair amount of news outlets.
While Belichick did say, “We’ll play our best player,” the context left out in many articles revealed that his comments extended to the entire roster from top-to-bottom.
Here’s the full transcript of that portion of the press conference:
On if it’s fair to say Mac Jones and Bailey Zappe will be competing for the starting job over the summer, or if it’s Mac’s job:
“Well, everybody will get a chance to play. We’ll play our best player.”
On if it’s still kind of a competition:
“Everybody will get a chance to play.”
On if that’s specific to the quarterback:
(Shakes head) “Every position. Everybody will get a chance to play. Everybody that’s on our roster, if they earn an opportunity to play based on what they do in practice and all that, then they’ll get an opportunity to play. Certainly, veteran players that have been on the team, if they’re still on the team, they’ll all get an opportunity to play.”
While Jones will obviously need to be better, it sounds like the message being sent to everyone is very clear. 2022 wasn’t good enough, and whoever is willing to put in the work and outperform their peers will be the one who will be out there. As a result, everyone, beyond just the quarterback position, should have been put on notice.
Patriots Not Interested in Lamar Jackson: Despite previous reports, including comments by Robert Kraft hearing that the Ravens quarterback was interested in playing in New England, anyone hoping to see Jackson wearing a Patriots uniform will likely be disappointed. Mike Reiss put those rumors to bed this week after confirming that the club is instead interested in their own current QB group, with Reiss reporting that the Patriots are committed to seeing if Jones can live up to his potential, as well as being happy with the idea of Zappe “pushing him.”
TCU WR Quentin Johnston had “Exciting Meeting” with Coaches: NBC Sports Boston’s Phil Perry caught up with TCU WR Quentin Johnston, who reportedly met with the Patriots recently at the NFL Combine. “Oh yeah. It was very fun and exciting,” Johnston told Perry. “I walked in and obviously everybody was happy to see me. But I mean overall, the meeting went smoothly. We had we had a good conversation. I felt pretty confident going out of that meeting.”
Belichick on Jonathan Jones re-signing with the team: “He’s been a great player for us for a long time in a lot of different roles, including in the kicking game, which is where he started. He epitomizes what we want in a Patriot player. It’s great to have him.”
Broncos Jeudy off the Trade Block?: Denver head coach Sean Payton told reporters last Sunday that Broncos wide receiver Jerry Jeudy, along with fellow teammate Courtland Sutton, are not available and will not be moved. “I see and read just like everyone else… but we’re not trading those two players,” said Payton.
If that’s really true, it removes one possible player from consideration for a Patriots team that critics believe is still in need of an explosive weapon for this receiving corps.
Patriots 4th & 2 Podcast is on YouTube: Our podcast is now appearing on YouTube typically within a few hours of recording, which if you happen to have a YouTube account, please do us a favor and like our episodes, as well as subscribe to our channel. The guys will be back this week looking ahead to the draft, so be sure and hit the notification bell so that you’ll get updated when that’s available.
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.
PATRIOTS EXPLORING WR DRAFT OPTIONS?
After selecting Tyquan Thornton in the second round of last year’s draft, it sounds like New England isn’t shy about potentially dipping into that pool again this year.
The club appears to be actively checking out several prospects, with TCU’s Quentin Johnston (mentioned above) being among names meeting with the team. Multiple reports have them also set to visit with Ole Miss receiver Jonathan Mingo, as well as USC’s Jordan Addison. They also previously looked at Boston College’s Zay Flowers during the Shrine Bowl.
Some quick notes from various scouting reports on each player:
- Quentin Johnston – 6’3″, 208lbs – “Quentin Johnston is an outstanding talent who has the size, length, explosiveness and run-after-catch ability to be a No. 1 wideout in the NFL. His skill set will translate to the NFL, and there’s a chance that he will be a better pro player than he was in college.” – Read More From The 33rd Team
- Jordan Addison – 5’11”, 173lbs – “Addison’s defining trait is certainly his ability to create separation in and out of his breaks, which most evaluators believe is the most important trait for the position, but it’s not the only thing that stands out. Addison has plenty of examples on tape where he does an excellent job extending away from his frame and tapping his toes in bounds along the sideline on grabs. Addison understands all of the angles on the field and knows how to best maximize space.” – Read More From CBS Sports
- Zay Flowers – 5’10”, 180lbs – “Given his speed off the line and his second gear, Flowers is fast through his route and possesses burst out of his breaks to consistently create separation. He is dangerous on double moves thanks to his route running and suddenness, which allow him to get open downfield while challenging defenses vertically. Flowers has superb hands and is a natural hands catcher who is very reliable at securing ball.” – Read more at WalterFootball.com
- Jonathan Mingo – 6’2″, 220lbs – “Jonathan Mingo is a player that does a lot of things well but nothing exceptional. He is an X-outside receiver and an eventual No. 1. Second-round type of player for a team looking to get a good value on day two.” – Read More From the 33rd Team
Watching the tape, it’s hard not to like Mingo, who has a big frame and terrific speed. He’s a guy who is unbelievably athletic and has terrific acceleration, and is incredibly smooth in his movements.
He’s also incredibly strong. Quite a few of his highlights included him making some pretty impressive contested grabs, often overpowering the defender while coming away with the football.
He also played against pretty good competition in the SEC, going against the likes of LSU in 2022 where he finished with 4 catches for 68 yards (17.0 avg) in their meeting this past season. Most Mock Drafts have him in the 3rd or 4th round, although his stock does seem to have been rising as of late.
FIVE KEY QUESTIONS FOR THE PATRIOTS FOR 2023:
As we get deeper into the offseason, while the Patriots have made some personnel moves in free agency that should help them in the coming months, there still remains several key questions heading into this season.
1) Who takes over for Devin McCourty? – McCourty was essentially the quarterback of the secondary, holding the responsibility of calling the defense and making sure everyone was in the right place on a given play as well as where they were supposed to be in a given situation.
As a result, McCourty was the engine that made that group work. Now, with McCourty spending the coming years watching from the sidelines, they’ll need to find someone to step up in his absence.
The obvious choice is Kyle Dugger, who has slowly emerged as a leader and an impact player with the team, as well as potentially Jalen Mills, who was briefly released and brought back by the team. Mills has experience playing safety, and signs seem to point to him potentially being in line for a trial run for the role in the coming months. From there, Adrian Phillips and Jabril Peppers will also likely be in the mix as Belichick explores their options.
Belichick said this week that the challenge is going to be working with the players to make sure both sides of the defense properly communicate as they adjust to McCourty’s departure. He also noted the fact that moving forward, things will definitely go well beyond one player, as he stressed the importance of preparation by everybody so that if someone goes down, the next guy can step in.
“You have to have more than one player ready to do it in case something happens to the person who’s doing it,” explained Belichick. “So we’ll see how it goes.”
2) Will Jack Jones pick up where he left off prior to his suspension? – This is probably one of the biggest questions heading into this season for a defense that struggled with him on the sideline at the end of the year. The rookie really came on strong as the season progressed, but an injury followed by a suspension stopped his development dead in its tracks, creating a difficult situation that hurt both Jones and the team during the most critical part of the season.
Back in January, Albert Breer said during a TV appearance on NBC Sports Boston that Jones’s issues stemmed from being both late to and missing rehab sessions during his recovery, drawing Belichick’s ire and also included the rookie apparently talking back to him during a team meeting.
Belichick apparently called Jones out in a later team meeting, using the rookie’s approach as a “teaching moment” when it came to how players should approach their recovery.
Jones had a history of personal issues coming out of Arizona State that certainly raised some eyebrows and hurt his draft stock, with the former Sun Devel getting a fair amount of support from former head coach Herm Edwards, who stood up for Jones ahead of him entering the NFL.
Belichick clearly looked past those problems, and the Patriots took a chance on him. And for the most part, prior to that span, he had lived up to the expectations.
The question now will be whether or not it’s water under the bridge, or will it linger into 2023? Jones appeared to be in good spirits recently, joking on Tuesday about potentially grabbing the number zero for his jersey having worn it in college after the league approved adding that number into the rotation for players this week.
Meanwhile, Belichick addressed Jones’s situation briefly last Monday, adding a brief, “that’s over” when asked about it.
Let’s hope so.
3) Do the Patriots have enough at CB? – That’s the next big question, as the club has Jonathan Jones back in the fold along with the hopes that Jack Jones can become a factor and from there, things get a little murky.
Rookie Marcus Jones stepped up and played well as his role grew late into the season, and his growth was a big part of New England’s success with a defense that finished last year tied with the Steelers for 10th in the NFL in points per game, with the club also finishing third in the NFL with 19 interceptions.
Jones was responsible for two of those including a pick-six, while Jack Jones also had two interceptions along with a touchdown.
From there, most of the group coming back remains mostly intact but many believe that the Patriots could potentially address that position in the early rounds of the upcoming draft. After ending up landing two pretty good players last season, landing another (or more) would certainly help stock up a cupboard that had become relatively empty. Some believe the lack of a shutdown corner may be a problem, but there’s no denying that their improved pass rush has paid dividends in recent years, with last year being a great example.
As long as they have guys who can continue to be serviceable and create turnovers, they’ll be in relatively decent shape. But there’s no question after seeing them battle injuries and being without both Mills and Jones down the stretch last year, they definitely need to continue adding to that group.
4) Can they Fix the offensive line? – This is clearly one of the biggest issues and the coming weeks will probably provide the first answer. The club spent the early part of free agency trying to start adding experienced depth by signing Calvin Anderson and Reilly Reiff, while also extending an original round tender to Yodny Cajuste.
Former first-round pick Isiahah Wynn has continued exploring his options in free agency, and signs seem to point to him being done in New England.
Wynn appeared pretty bitter last preseason after being moved to right tackle, and he struggled badly last season. That left the club shuffling through a variety of guys before eventually seeing Connor McDermott settle into the role late into the year.
Trent Brown was inconsistent at left tackle, and it remains to be seen whether or not he’ll remain there. Both Reiff and Anderson have played on the left side for the majority of their careers, which could potentially see a move by Brown back to right tackle.
That move would potentially be a good one, as Brown was pretty dominant there during his time on that side in 2021.
The expectation is that, much like last year, it’s possible New England will also look to add additional depth by taking a tackle early in the draft. That would continue a trend that had previously seen them target a couple of players there early, including Wynn (2018, 23rd overall) and Nate Solder (2011, 17th overall).
But getting it right this year is going to be critical. Mac Jones was under pressure far too often last season and making sure the quarterback has adequate protection is clearly going to be important no matter who is under center.
So far, the Patriots appear to be making that a priority given what we’ve seen. But making sure there is stability there by kickoff in September is going to be one of the biggest things to watch heading into 2023.
5) Who will emerge behind Rhamondre Stevenson in 2023? – With Damien Harris shuffling off to Buffalo, the Patriots have a proven player at running back in Stevenson, followed by, well, a lot of question marks.
After going down early in the season, Ty Montgomery remains a big question mark heading into training camp after getting hurt in Week 1 down in Miami last season. His injury sidelined him for the remainder of the 2022 campaign, although reports seem to indicate he’ll be recovered well enough to compete by the time training camp begins. From there, 2022 sixth-round pick Kevin Harris saw some snaps after Damien Harris was injured late in the year, as well as fellow rookie Pierre Strong Jr.
Early season fumble issues by Kevin Harris saw his stock drop but he eventually overcame that and showed some flashes, while Strong Jr. also showcased his breakaway speed during his limited playing time.
The former Jackrabbit out of South Dakota finished with the second-longest receiving play of 2022 for the Patriots, which was a 44-yard catch and run in Week 14 in Arizona. Having been the fastest running back in the 2022 NFL Draft, he’s been one of the most intriguing players and the hope is that new offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien will help get the most out of him this season.
Newcomer James Robinson was signed this offseason, bringing in another young, explosive player to a relatively good nucleus of running backs. Still, Damien Harris was a tough, strong runner who did a good job running through contact and getting into the second level. Both he and Stevenson provided a terrific one-two punch, which is now going to be a key role they’re going to need someone else to step into, especially should Stevenson suffer an injury at any point of the 2023 season.
It’s still early, and there are plenty of moves that we’ll likely see made in the coming months. But this remains a team with some big questions, which hopefully we’ll start getting a few more answers to as things continue to unfold heading into both the Draft and upcoming minicamps.
With the draft just a few weeks away, what do you believe their biggest needs are? Post your thoughts below in the comments.
Otherwise, hope all of you have a great week and we’ll leave you with some Jonathan Mingo highlights:
Posted Under: Patriots News
Tags: Bailey Zappe Bill Belichick Damien Harris Devin McCourty Jack Jones James Robinson Jerry Jeudy Jonathan Jones Jonathan Mingo Jordan Addison Kevin Harris Lamar Jackson Mac Jones Pierre Strong Jr. Quentin Johnston Rhamondre Stevenson Robert Kraft Ty Montgomery Zay Flowers