FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. RG III’s take: One of the NFL’s more compelling 2022 storylines will be how quarterback Mac Jones is affected by the Patriots’ new-look coaching staff.
Bill Belichick hasn’t named a coordinator or playcaller to fill Josh McDaniels’ void. Matt Patricia and Joe Judge, whose backgrounds have primarily been on defense and special teams during their NFL careers, assumed leadership roles on offense in spring practices. Belichick was also usually nearby.
Some analysts have expressed concern it could stunt Jones’ growth in his second season, when players often make their biggest leap. But don’t put former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Robert Griffin III in that category.
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“The coaching setup will have a massive impact on Mac Jones in a good way,” said Griffin, an ESPN analyst. “Mac has already spoken about how it has been a collaborative process with the coaches and players talking in meetings, installing the offense. And I believe that will lead to more ownership from him about what is being called and how he sees the game.”
Few dispute McDaniels’ excellence. Belichick compared him to Alabama coach Nick Saban last season, which is as high of a compliment as he could give. McDaniels, by all accounts, played a significant role in Jones’ development as a rookie.
At the same time, once the football is kicked off, the game is mostly in the players’ hands.
In that sense, Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow — in a stellar second season in 2021 — helped elevate coach Zac Taylor and offensive coordinator Brian Callahan.
Likewise, Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert — with a new coach (Brandon Staley) and offensive coordinator (Joe Lombardi) in his second season — had Los Angeles on the cusp of the playoffs in 2021.
For his part, Griffin sees championship potential from Jones, picking him over Trevor Lawrence (Jaguars), Zach Wilson (Jets), Justin Fields (Bears) and Davis Mills (Texans) as the Class of 2021 quarterback, who played significant snaps as a rookie, most likely to win a ring first. Griffin put Trey Lance (49ers) into the wild-card category because he mostly sat on the bench as a rookie.
Mac Jones is MOST LIKELY to win a ring FIRST of the rookie QBs who played serious time last year. Bill Belichick and the @Patriots are defensive masterminds, out coach other teams and Mac Attack will stretch the field more after last year has his confidence on ROLL TIDE LEVELS.
— Robert Griffin III (@RGIII) July 5, 2022
Griffin also highlighted another aspect of the Patriots’ coaching change that could help Jones.
“If you don’t know who the coordinator is, the scheme, or tendencies, it makes it harder to game plan against early in the year,” he said. “That will allow this unconventional staff to get its footing early in the year. Advantage Patriots.”
2. JMac’s take: Former Patriots defensive back Jason McCourty views it differently than Griffin.
“You’ll never hear anybody [on the team] say anything in the media … but it’s definitely going to be a big thing. It has to be,” McCourty said during his recent guest-hosting appearance on NFL Network’s “Good Morning Football” show. “If you’re Mac Jones … who’s the guy you go to and say, ‘I want to run these plays this week’?”
3. Wise’s gift: Sixth-year Patriots defensive lineman Deatrich Wise Jr. already knows what he’s getting for his 28th birthday this month: A grueling conditioning test. Wise’s birthday is July 26, which is the day veterans report for training camp.
“I’m used to it by now. I feel like every year since college, it’s been somewhere close to my birthday,” he said.
The Arkansas alum has been a regular throughout the month at Gillette Stadium, where he said he puts in six-hour work days to prepare.
4. Slater’s presence: Matthew Slater, the Patriots’ longest-tenured player (entering his 15th season), has been among the few joining Wise at the stadium. Slater turns 37 on Sept. 9, and his commitment to his craft remains as strong as ever.
5. BB and the red bandanna: In accepting the Spirit of Tewaaraton award last month for his contributions to lacrosse, Belichick spoke of how humbled and overwhelmed he was, in part because the late Welles Crowther was a prior winner. Belichick pulled a red bandanna from his back pocket and held it up as he spoke.
“It hit me hard. It hit me really hard. I was stunned, really,” Alison Crowther, Welles’ mother, said from her home in Nyack, N.Y. “He’s a coach of such success and prominence, and such focus on his team. So I was completely blown away. I sat there in tears. I couldn’t believe my ears that he would even know Welles’ story.”
Bill Belichick honors Welles Crowther during his @Tewaaraton Spirit Award acceptance speech 🙌 pic.twitter.com/Dizi9xM4LK
— TLN 🥍 (@LacrosseNetwork) June 3, 2022
Crowther, aka “The Man in the Red Bandanna”, saved as many as 18 lives during the Sept. 11 attacks in New York City, where he worked as an equities trader and volunteer firefighter. Crowther graduated from Boston College, where he played lacrosse, in 1999.
In helping save others, Crowther lost his life.
Alison shares her son’s story when speaking with schools and corporations across the country, saying: “They embrace it and are inspired by it. That is the treasure I hold on to. Rather than the loss of Welles, just how alive he is in the spirit of so many people.”
So when Belichick mentioned him during his own acceptance speech, Alison was shocked. She had no prior connection to Belichick.
“I just see him as a really tough guy. Never smiles. And to see him speak the way he did about Welles, he had such heart in what he said. It was beautiful,” she said.
6. Rookie break: The Patriots’ offseason program ended in mid-June, but it wasn’t until early July that first-round offensive lineman Cole Strange and the team’s rookie class finished the NFL Rookie Transition Program. It helps orient rookies to local resources, club culture, history, leadership and expectations, with the NFL ensuring that all teams cover 15 mandatory topics. The rookie class now gets a short break before reporting for training camp July 19 (a week before most veterans), although some might choose to stick around.
7. Finish stronger: When McCourty assessed a top area for the Patriots to contend for the AFC East title against the heavily favored Bills, he said he’ll be watching how the team finishes the season. He noted Belichick’s annual saying that the season starts after Thanksgiving, and contrasted it to the team’s combined 8-9 record after the holiday over the past three seasons.
The Patriots’ schedule this season after Thanksgiving adds to the challenge of turning around that trend: vs. Bills, at Cardinals, at Raiders, vs. Bengals, vs. Dolphins, at Bills.
8. Renegade send-off: The three-time national champion Boston Renegades received a Patriots-based lift — in more ways than one — leading into Sunday’s Women’s Football Alliance title game against the Minnesota Vixen in Canton, Ohio (2 p.m. ET, ESPN2). Not only did owner Robert Kraft provide the Patriots’ plane for the trip, but quarterback Brian Hoyer addressed the Renegades before their departure.
9. Seymour’s presenter: When former Patriots and Raiders defensive lineman Richard Seymour is enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame the weekend of Aug. 4-7, his presenter will be Titus Duren, who was the principal at Lower Richland High School (S.C.) when Seymour was a student there.
“He was a proud supporter throughout my entire career, and he’s also a pillar in the community in South Carolina. It’s a great way to tie my roots and what’s really important to me throughout my journey,” Seymour said. “He’s much more than a principal at the school. All the kids that went there, he knows their families. He was someone who really cared what everyone was doing. It wasn’t just a job for him.”
10. Did You Know: Of the four quarterbacks selected in the top 10 of the 2018 NFL draft — Baker Mayfield (No. 1), Sam Darnold (No. 3), Josh Allen (No. 7) and Josh Rosen (No. 10) — only Allen is still with his original team.