FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Same ol’ Bill: Bill Belichick at 70 years old. Same as it ever was.
There were several takeaways from the media’s first look at Patriots spring practice last week, but perhaps nothing rates more significant than this:
As Belichick attempts to do what no head coach in the history of the NFL has done — win a Super Bowl after his 70th birthday — his tank looks full. Belichick at a Patriots 2022 practice looked no different than a 2012 practice, or one in 2002.
In fact, he might have been more involved with some of the fundamental teaching that is at the core of spring practices.
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“I’ve always said, when people ask me what’s Bill like, that he’s the model of consistency,” said Patriots safety and captain Devin McCourty, who has been with the team since 2010. “Showing up to your job every day, having the same attitude, the same messaging, and being able to do that over and over again is hard.
“He continues to come in here, Day 1 of OTAs, for however many years it is, and it’s the same intensity.”
This marks Belichick’s 48th season in the NFL and 28th as a head coach (including his stint in Cleveland from 1991 to ’95). His passion for the fundamentals, details and every facet of football still percolates, as evidenced by one moment in practice when he pulled practice-squad receiver Malcolm Perry aside, flashed his hands in front of him, and discussed how Perry should attack the ball.
Perry probably won’t be on the 53-man roster when the season begins, but there’s a chance he’s called on at some point to help the Patriots win a game.
It was peak Belichick.
“It’s fundamentals, doing the right things, the small things over and over again. He never slips up on that,” McCourty said. “This being my 13th year, I’ve seen that over and over again. It’s hard to replicate, but I think getting an opportunity to play for him as a player has made me a better player.”
Belichick has some notable challenges to conquer, and his heavy involvement with the offense in Monday’s practice amplifies it. Quarterback Mac Jones is a promising second-year player, but without coordinator Josh McDaniels, there is a significant transition on the coaching staff with Joe Judge working with quarterbacks and Matt Patricia the offensive line.
No coordinator or playcaller has been named, but it was obvious at practice that Belichick, Judge and Patricia are sharing the role until further notice.
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Is there a concern that Belichick could be spread too thin? Perhaps, but those around him don’t see it.
“I’d say the thing about Coach, even though he’s older, I don’t even think he sleeps,” inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo said. “He wears multiple hats. You never know where you’re going to find him.”
2. Develin’s visit: The Patriots might be de-emphasizing the traditional fullback position in their offense (per former New England fullback Jakob Johnson), but that doesn’t mean they aren’t welcoming those who play the position to Gillette Stadium. Early last week, former Patriots fullback James Develin (2012-19) was a guest of the club, and he addressed players in a full-squad meeting.
Develin is a three-time Super Bowl champion. His football journey — playing defensive end at Brown University, joining the Oklahoma City Yard Dawgz of the Arena Football, then the Florida Tuskers of the United Football League, before gutting it out on NFL practice squads for multiple years as a fullback — is a story of perseverance that any current player could benefit from hearing.
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3. Mac’s blind side: With starting left tackle Isaiah Wynn not at voluntary offseason practices last week, veteran Trent Brown flipped to that side, with swing tackle Justin Herron elevated as the top right tackle. Brown was excellent at left tackle in 2018, before playing right tackle upon his return to the team in 2021. Could Wynn’s absence be the opening to return Brown to left tackle permanently, especially when considering the valuable chemistry he’s developing with left guard/first-round pick Cole Strange? At the least, it’s a question Belichick and O-line coaches Patricia and Billy Yates are probably asking.
4. Wynn in retrospect: Wynn is a good example of the challenges for teams in having to decide on the fifth-year option for first-round picks after just three seasons. When the Patriots decided to pick up Wynn’s option in May 2021, it guaranteed Wynn a salary of $10.4 million for the 2022 season. The Patriots’ decision-making seemed reasonable at the time, considering the premium position Wynn plays. But given the linemen the team now has in place, one wonders if there is some internal regret, as Wynn’s $10.4 million cap charge could create some much-needed space.
5. Mac’s accountability: Jones’ leadership continues to evolve, and one example from Monday’s practice highlighted the point. When one player makes an error, Belichick often sends the entire unit on a lap as a punishment; practices might be voluntary, but running a lap isn’t. So when Jones appeared to have a mental breakdown at the line of scrimmage, which seemed to affect the offense lining up correctly, he called out loudly to everyone that it was on him before taking off for a full-unit lap.
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6. Trade intel: The Patriots’ draft-day trade in which they shipped a 2022 third-round pick (No. 94) to the Carolina Panthers for a 2022 fourth-rounder (137) and 2023 third-rounder was a result of Belichick’s aggressiveness. As shown by the Panthers’ in-house video team, Belichick called the Panthers to gauge their interest in the pick and asked for their 2023 second-rounder in the process. Can’t hurt to ask for the moon, knowing the counteroffer is probably where things ultimately land.
7. Classy Belichick: When Belichick met with reporters last week, he opened by publicly sending condolences to the family of Patriots Hall of Famer Gino Cappelletti. He had also done so privately a few days prior by attending Cappelletti’s wake, a classy gesture.
8. Fisch in town: Former Patriots quarterbacks coach Jedd Fisch, who spent the 2020 season with the team, was back in town last week and a guest at practice. He enters his second season as University of Arizona head coach. This is the time of year when the Patriots host various college coaches, and there can be valuable information exchange/learning opportunities for both sides.
9. Russey on radar: The Patriots have had at least one undrafted free agent make the opening-day 53-man roster in each of the past 18 seasons — the third-longest streak in the NFL behind the Chargers (25) and Colts (23) — and University of Houston center Kody Russey is a leading candidate to continue the streak. Consider that the Patriots hosted Russey on one of their valuable 30 pre-draft visits at Gillette Stadium, and also guaranteed him $180,000 (most among undrafted players signed by the team). With starting center David Andrews not yet fully cleared as he recovers from shoulder surgery, the 6-foot-1, 301-pound Russey has a nice opportunity this spring to make a favorable impression.
10. Did you know? The Patriots are scheduled to play four straight prime-time games — Nov. 24 at Minnesota, Dec. 1 vs. Buffalo, Dec. 12 at Arizona and Dec. 18 at Las Vegas — for the first time in team history. The last team to play in four straight prime-time games was the 2017 Pittsburgh Steelers.