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Early season game won't stop Patriots and Texans from practicing together

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Here are some quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and the NFL:

1. Even though the Patriots and Houston Texans will play Sept. 24, in Week 3 of the regular season, that won’t stop them from holding joint practices leading into their preseason game Aug. 19. Those plans are still on, which means it is a similar setup to 2013, when the Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers held joint practices in Week 2 of the preseason before meeting in the third week of the regular season.

That year, Bill Belichick said the regular-season matchup wasn’t a consideration: “I don’t think right now that’s what we’re worried about. We’re trying to improve our team. We’ll worry about five, six weeks from now whenever that gets here."

Although the Patriots and Texans have not officially announced the joint practices, they should be held at The Greenbrier in West Virginia before the teams head to Houston for the preseason game.

Quarterbacks Tom Brady and Deshaun Watson on the same field for multiple practices will be a top storyline -- but far from the only one.

2. Last call to place your vote for this year’s inductee to the Patriots Hall of Fame, with submissions accepted online through Monday. Cornerback Raymond Clayborn (1977-89), defensive lineman Richard Seymour (2001-2008) and linebacker Mike Vrabel (2001-2008) are the finalists, with Seymour in his first year of eligibility and Vrabel his second. Meanwhile, Clayborn is in his fourth consecutive year as a finalist but is probably an underdog when going up against modern-era candidates, which is why his not getting in on this year’s senior ballot in his first year of senior eligibility (25 years since retirement) was a disappointment.

“I have the highest regard for him. I have a hard time thinking there could be someone on the Patriots at that position who was as good as him,” said Pro Football and Patriots Hall of Famer Mike Haynes, who played corner opposite Clayborn from 1977-1982. “People who say other guys were better never got to see him play. The modern-era guys also had the benefit of Coach Belichick making some great calls. A lot of times, we were left hanging on an island without a lot of help. I think he definitely deserves to be in it, and I’m not just saying that as his friend, but as someone who really believes it.”

3. Here's an informative note by Peter Schrager of NFL Network’s “Good Morning Football” program to illustrate the rarity of the “May 9 tender” that the Patriots placed on running back LeGarrette Blount. He relayed that the last time that happened in the NFL was in 2000.

4. Did you know? The Patriots’ 19 undrafted free-agent signings tied for third-most among teams this year, behind only those of the Atlanta Falcons (21) and Houston Texans (20). That's a trickle-down effect of New England's making just four draft picks. There were 438 undrafted free-agent signings announced by teams, which is an average of 13.6 per club.

5. Of the Patriots’ undrafted free-agent signings, one personnel evaluator highlighted Brigham Young linebacker Harvey Langi as one the club easily could have drafted. “A Patriots-type defensive player,” the evaluator said. “He played outside linebacker, inside linebacker and can rush the passer, so he’s a player who can multi-align. The biggest question will be: Can he do that from a mental standpoint?”

6. Here are three follow-ups on the three-year extension through 2020 that center David Andrews and the Patriots agreed to last week:

  • Andrews, 24, is on a good run. First, a Super Bowl victory. Then in early April, he was married. And now the contract extension.

  • The Patriots came close to drafting a potential challenger to Andrews’ starting job in the third round, Indiana’s Dan Feeney, but the Los Angeles Chargers nabbed Feeney before the club was on the clock at No. 72. Would the Patriots have extended Andrews if they'd drafted Feeney? It’s an interesting question to ponder.

  • Given the Patriots’ run of success under Belichick, there are fewer clear-cut personnel decisions that warrant legitimate second-guessing compared to other clubs. But the Andrews extension provides a springboard to revisit one that stands out: The Patriots were 10-0 with Andrews at center to open 2015 before the club gave him a quick hook after some initial struggles in a game versus Buffalo and handed the job back to the previously injured Bryan Stork. The Patriots went 2-4 the rest of the way and lost the AFC title game at Denver, and Andrews ended up beating Stork for the permanent starting job in 2016 training camp.

7. The Patriots announced last week that the FieldTurf playing surface at Gillette Stadium has been upgraded for 2017, which served as a reminder that it has been 11 years since the franchise switched from natural grass to FieldTurf. That was one of the rare stories of this era of Patriots football, as the change came during the season after a rain-soaked, 17-14 home loss to Eric Mangini's New York Jets, in which players had trouble with footing. The Patriots had to beat the clock in changing the playing surface, as their next home game was only 14 days later. Brady deked then-Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher in that game in an unforgettable highlight.

8. The Patriots host the Chiefs in the NFL opener Sept. 7, which sparked some memories for ESPN NFL analyst Herm Edwards, who was the Chiefs' head coach the last time the teams met, in Week 1 in 2008. That game is remembered most for Brady's tearing his ACL on the 15th offensive play.

“I was the coach at the Jets when we knocked out Drew Bledsoe and Tom Brady came in and got his start [in 2001]. I always tell Tom that he owes me a couple rings,” Edwards said. “And I was the coach in the game that knocked him out. It was eerie how it happened.”

Edwards likes the matchup for the Chiefs.

“I think it’s a good opening game for them. It gets their attention right away," he said. "When you play against a perennial Super Bowl team, players see that. Opening day, they really see it.”

9. Patriots rookies are scheduled to return to town this week, and sixth-round offensive tackle Conor McDermott of UCLA will be among them because he graduated in December. If he hadn’t, McDermott would have been prohibited from being present because of NFL rules that don’t allow a player to attend if his school hasn't held commencement ceremonies and he hasn’t graduated. UCLA doesn’t hold graduation ceremonies until mid-June. Stories of prospects affected by the rule surface regularly at this time of year.

10. The Patriots’ two biggest offseason acquisitions, receiver Brandin Cooks and cornerback Stephon Gilmore, held their first in-person media availability with beat reporters last week. From a first-impression standpoint, it was easy to see how the personable, often-smiling, 23-year-old Cooks could quickly become a fan favorite. Meanwhile, the soft-spoken but confident Gilmore, 26, spoke in hushed tones and came across so anti-diva that it was sometimes difficult to hear what he was saying. Both, it seems, have developed a quick rapport with teammates.