Quick-hit thoughts around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. With the Packers visiting the Patriots in the preseason opener, my hope was that the two teams might hold joint practices at Gillette Stadium in the days leading up to the game. It would have been a highlight to see Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers sharing the same field and to watch two of the NFL's top coaches, Bill Belichick and Mike McCarthy, team up to run a practice. But I'm told that's highly unlikely to happen. The main reason is that the Packers, a publicly-owned franchise, are sensitive to the impact the team has on the local community and how reducing the number of training-camp practices open to the public -- which fans annually plan summer vacations around -- would be received.
2. How dialed in was Patriots coach Bill Belichick to Navy long snapper Joe Cardona in the draft? After the Patriots visited the White House on April 23, Belichick was in Annapolis and had dinner with Cardona. Then by the time the draft had rolled around, Belichick targeted the fifth round as the spot he devoted to Cardona -- widely viewed as the draft's top snapper -- to make sure he wouldn't get away (the pick was made 166th overall). I sensed Belichick, whose ties to the Navy are well documented, took great pride in making that pick on a prospect he views as not just a top-notch player, but also a top-notch person. Furthermore, by using a fifth-round pick, it could strengthen Cardona's case to play (instead of his military commitment) because that's a significant investment when compared to an undrafted rookie deal. I think that means a lot to Belichick.
3. It's interesting how perceptions can change over time. In 2010, when the Patriots drafted Devin McCourty in the first round (27th overall), some viewed it as a reach and focused on Belichick's comment about him being a four-down player as if he had drafted a special teamer. Fast-forward to 2015, and after the Cowboys drafted UConn cornerback Byron Jones at No. 27, they said the hope is that he becomes their version of McCourty.
4. Once Michigan State's Trae Waynes (No. 11, Vikings), Wake Forest's Kevin Johnson (No. 16, Texans), Washington's Marcus Peters (No. 18, Chiefs) and UConn's Byron Jones (No. 27, Cowboys) were off the board, I don't think there was another cornerback in this year's draft that the Patriots (picking at 32) could have selected that would have decisively erased some of the uncertainty the team currently has at the position. LSU's Jalen Collins (No. 42, Falcons) admitted to three failed drug tests and Utah's Eric Rowe (No. 47, Eagles) might turn out to be more of a safety than corner. So while it's fair to ask if the Patriots have enough at corner --a depth chart of Malcolm Butler, Bradley Fletcher, Kyle Arrington, Logan Ryan, Alfonzo Dennard, Robert McClain, Chimdi Chekwa, Dax Swanson, Justin Green and Darryl Roberts isn't overly inspiring -- I didn't see any sure-fire answers in the draft that would have dramatically altered the picture unless the Patriots traded up.
5. When a handful of Patriots players were part of a charity basketball game in Southeastern Massachusetts last week, all of them in attendance took part in the game except for one -- defensive end Chandler Jones. I took that as a sign that he's still in the rehabilitation phase this offseason and isn't ready to cut it loose, so his health status still bears monitoring. On the court, it was no surprise that ultra-athletic linebacker Jamie Collins wowed the crowd with several alley-oop dunks.
6. Is it possible that one of the biggest winners from the Patriots' draft weekend is third-year receiver Aaron Dobson? This marks the second straight year that the Patriots have passed on drafting a receiver, despite both classes being viewed as talented and deep as any in recent memory. The Patriots have the top of their receiver depth chart locked in with Brandon LaFell, Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, and they'd obviously love Dobson (4 games played in 2014) to join that mix, play with urgency, and realize the potential they saw in making him a second-round pick in 2013 (59th overall). This is obviously a big offseason for Dobson after he was sidelined at this time last year after undergoing foot surgery. Along with Dobson, veteran Brandon Gibson could benefit, while Brian Tyms is among those who also can't be overlooked.
7. One change the Texans made this year, and it doesn't seem like it's a stretch to say it might have been influenced by head coach Bill O'Brien's time in New England, was sending more of their coaches on the road in the pre-draft scouting process to work out and meet prospects at all levels of the draft. The Patriots are known for that approach, as the linkage between their scouting and coaching staffs is part of what helps them run so efficiently. Another benefit for the Texans is that when a prospect has that experience with a coach, it might sway his decision to sign with that team as an undrafted free agent. The Texans, it turns out, are expected to sign a rather large class in 2015.
8a. Did You Know, Part I: Patriots top draft choice Malcom Brown is the first Texas defensive tackle drafted in the first round since 2004 (Marcus Tubbs).
8b. Did You Know, Part II: On designed rushes inside the tackles, where Brown most often played, Texas allowed a Power 5-low 1.5 yards after contact per rush last season, according to ESPN's Stats & Information.
8c. Did you Know, Part III: The Patriots' selection of Brown spotlights how far the Big 12 has slipped in terms of producing first-round picks in recent years. After a conference-high nine first-round picks in 2010, and then eight in 2011, the conference has dipped to five in 2012, three in 2013 and just two in each of the 2014 and 2015 drafts.
9. The single-most surprising pick of the NFL draft to me was the Colts' selection of receiver Phillip Dorsett in the first round (No. 29). For a team that was steamrolled by the Patriots on the ground last season, and was already loaded at receiver, it seemed most curious. Dorsett's speed is tantalizing but one NFL receivers coach familiar with him through the scouting process told me that one of Dorsett's challenges is going to be learning how to manage it so he can learn to run multiple routes in the NFL. The Colts did draft front-seven players in Stanford's Henry Anderson (DE, third round) and David Parry (DT, fifth round), but is that enough help for a front that was torn apart against the run at times last year?
10. Linebacker Jerod Mayo's restructured contract with the Patriots looks like a one-year Band-Aid, similar to last year's deal between the Patriots and Vince Wilfork. So while Mayo is technically signed through 2017, it's hard to imagine the team absorbing salary cap hits of $11.4 million (2016) and $10.5 million (2017). Thus, the sides can expect to see each other at the negotiating table next offseason as well.