FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Bill Belichick turned back the clock in the Patriots’ final organized team activity on Tuesday, focusing on the history of the game with players and coaches, and creating an environment that felt like the 1930s and '40s.
I reached out to five former players to ask them what history lesson they remember most from Belichick:
Rosevelt Colvin (2003-2008): “It was nothing that extreme, but I distinctly remember one time when he ran down why certain offenses were called certain things, like ‘Detroit’ – which means two tight ends. That went back to what the Lions ran back in the day when he coached there. I’ve always told people that he’s a walking encyclopedia of the history of the NFL. I know I was very fortunate just to be coached by him because he’s experienced a lot of different eras of football -- even going back to his time with his dad and the Naval Academy. ... So he went in detail -- from era to era -- on why offenses were called the way they were, being tied to a coach and his style, and how it carried on and followed a certain person.”
Christian Fauria (2002-2005): “I remember exactly what Rosevelt’s talking about -- it was a whole thing about the evolution of the two-tight formation, which was called 'Detroit.' That was from when he was in Detroit and how they were like the first team to put two tight ends on the line of scrimmage -- 'two-tight' and to this day, the personnel grouping is called 'Detroit.' He talked to us about the reasons why, and what they were trying to do. For me, I love that stuff. And he tells it really well.”
Ryan Wendell (2009-2015): “I think we were playing Green Bay and he was talking to the defense primarily, because Green Bay offensively was doing a lot of these outside runs. He was talking about how ‘not only is this Green Bay’s old student-body right, student-body left stuff that Vince Lombardi used to do,' but even before that, he went back into the '40s and pulled out this old black-and-white film and it was like Detroit playing Green Bay. The reason he had the film, and all this knowledge, was that it was when his dad was playing for Detroit. So he had his old, grainy footage about how this play worked, and was going through it and telling us what they taught, how they were trying to cut the defense and get outside. It was really interesting to watch him. He gets real passionate about that kind of history of the game.”
Kevin Faulk (1999-2011): “That was almost every day you spent with him, just the little finer points of football. He would bring out old film from when his dad was coaching, or something like that. We all know what kind of history guy Coach Belichick is. He’ll bring up a moment in history in a split second and you’ll be like, 'Huh? What the heck are you talking about Coach?' But it’s so relevant, and for him, there were things like that popping up all the time.”
Troy Brown (1996, 2000-2007): “During the season one year, he caught wind of the receivers in the meeting room talking about old-school football, the Wing-T and stuff. So he comes in the next day, and this is during the season, and takes over our [position] meeting and starts showing us some old-school football which had to be from the 40s or 50s. It might have even been before his dad played, and we definitely had watched tape of his dad playing with the Detroit Lions – which is a whole different story. But this was about the old Delaware Wing-T, and how it all got started. What surprised a lot of us was how the quarterback wasn’t the quarterback like you see in today’s game. The fullback was basically the guy taking the snap from center. We were all sitting there with our mouths open, like ‘What the heck is this? This isn’t the Wing-T we’re used to seeing.’ So basically it was Coach Belichick hearing us talk about old-school football and saying, 'You want a history lesson? I'll give you a history lesson like you've never seen before.'"
2. Outside of 2000, Bill Belichick’s first year as coach when the Patriots had Drew Bledsoe, John Friesz, Michael Bishop and Tom Brady as quarterbacks, the team traditionally comes to training camp with just three players at the position. So using that as a springboard, quarterback Christian Hackenberg’s workout for the Patriots on Thursday was primarily about keeping emergency lists updated, with the outside chance that if Hackenberg lit it up they would make room for him. As Raiders coach Jon Gruden said, a big part of the reason the Raiders moved on from Hackenberg was that they simply couldn’t get him the reps to develop him with three other quarterbacks on their roster.
3. With Father’s Day in mind, an idea was sparked at Tuesday’s Myra Kraft Community MVP event to ask Josh Kraft, the president of the Patriots charitable foundation, what he has learned from his father, Robert Kraft.
“Obviously I listen to him, but I’ve learned by watching him, too, and how he handles things. He treats everybody -- no matter who they are or where they are from, what their background is -- with respect and listens to everybody. Thus, it can make everybody feel a connection and being part of something,” he replied. “That’s such a unique trait, to build a sense of community. It doesn’t matter how much money they have, or what their physical and mental capabilities are -- he connects with everyone and makes them feel good. I’ve learned from watching him how that’s so important, and how all of us should live our lives, by treating anyone and everyone with respect. I’ve also learned to not talk about what you’re going to do. Just show them.”
Josh Kraft, who had just overseen an event that awarded $275,000 in grants to 26 different non-profit organizations across New England, asked if his comments could be paired with his brothers because he didn’t want to be singled out.
As it turns out, the brothers agreed that they would have echoed Josh's remarks.
4a. When the Cowboys signed guard Zack Martin to a seven-year, $93.41 million contract extension this past week – making him the league’s highest-paid player at the position -- it added another layer to consider with guard Shaq Mason’s future with the Patriots. Mason enters the final year of his contract in 2018 and could make a case to be in the financial neighborhood of Martin and Jaguars guard Andrew Norwell (five years, $66.5 million). And even if he falls short of it, Mason is still likely looking at a lucrative free-agent deal (e.g. more than $10 million per season) if he makes it through the 2018 season healthy. Would the Patriots really pay that for a guard? I’m skeptical.
4b. In addition to Mason, the Patriots have another notable player on the opposite side of the line of scrimmage -- defensive end Trey Flowers -- entering the final year of his contract in 2018. The team got a head start on its Class of 2018 by striking extensions with fullback James Develin and long-snapper Joe Cardona last week, and did the same with safety Patrick Chung earlier in the offseason. Deals for Mason and Flowers are at a much higher financial level and will likely not be as easy to consummate. Meanwhile, here are some of the other Patriots with contracts expiring after this season: Kicker Stephen Gostkowski, receiver Chris Hogan, cornerback Eric Rowe, offensive tackle Trent Brown, and defensive tackles Malcom Brown and Danny Shelton.
5. Thank you, receiver Brandin Cooks, for the sneak peek at the Patriots' 2017 AFC championship ring. It seems similar to the Patriots' first-ever Super Bowl ring, which is sort of a reminder of how those Super Bowl rings have grown over the years.
6. While tight end Rob Gronkowski has publicly noted his desire for a sweetened contract, he still showed up for mandatory minicamp, which is more than can be said for Falcons receiver Julio Jones, Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell (technically not under contract with the franchise tag not yet signed), Raiders defensive end Khalil Mack, Seahawks safety Earl Thomas, Titans offensive tackle Taylor Lewan, and Cardinals running back David Johnson. That’s good context to consider when thinking about Gronkowski’s offseason approach, which admittedly has been different from the norm, but doesn’t warrant significant sound-the-alarms media-based type of chatter.
7. Neat nugget from longtime NFL defensive end Kevin Carter, who told 104.5 The Zone in Nashville that Bill Belichick offered him a two-year deal in 2009, and to entice him to take it, would have allowed him to return to his home in Tampa, Florida, after each game as long as he was back on Wednesday morning. But Carter instead elected to retire healthy and wanted to see his 9-year-old son play baseball. Belichick had done something similar in the early 2000s with linebacker Roman Phifer, who had a permanent residence in California.
8. Former Patriots running back Sammy Morris, who has been assisting strength and conditioning coach Moses Cabrera in the Patriots’ offseason program in recent years, is on the cusp of moving forward in his on-field coaching career with Dean College (Franklin, Massachusetts). That would be a great victory for Dean, as Morris is the type of top-shelf person and 12-year NFL veteran who student-athletes can benefit greatly from being around.
9. Patriots 2014 sixth-round draft choice Jon Halapio has been one of the best stories of the Giants’ spring practices, earning the confidence of Pat Shurmur’s coaching staff to the point that he is on track to enter training camp as the team’s top center. The Patriots loved Halapio’s toughness when they made him the 179th overall pick in ’14, but he was far from ready, not even staying on board on the team’s practice squad that year as he played for the Boston Brawlers of the Fall Experimental Football League. Halapio got another chance in 2016 when the Patriots re-signed him on the eve of training camp, but again didn’t stick before finally emerging with the Giants last year. It’s a story of perseverance and a reminder that players develop at different rates.
10. The Patriots have yet to announce their official starting date for training camp, but with most NFL players not allowed to report until 15 days before their first preseason game (Aug. 9, vs. Washington), that would make Wednesday July 25 the day all players are required to report, with the first practice the next day. For the first time since 2011, which was the lockout year, it appears as if the Patriots won’t have joint practices with another team in the preseason. And now, with spring practices over, this is officially the quietest time on the NFL calendar when coaches and players get in some final vacation time before returning for good in July.