Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the Patriots:
1. Bill Belichick has decided not to name an assistant head coach to fill the void created by Dante Scarnecchia’s retirement this offseason. The most likely candidate was offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, and in forgoing use of the title, the Patriots are now one of 14 teams without an official assistant or associate head coach. It’s a vice-president type of position, which was most recently seen in New Orleans (2012) when Joe Vitt stepped into the top role for the suspended Sean Payton. Here are the NFL teams with an assistant/associate head coach:
Jets (Anthony Lynn)
Ravens (Jerry Rosburg)
Bengals (Paul Alexander)
Steelers (John Mitchell)
Colts (Rob Chudzinski)
Chiefs (David Culley)
Raiders (Tony Sparano)
Cowboys (Monte Kiffin)
Eagles (Jerry Azzinaro)
Bears (Joe DeCamillas)
Lions (Ron Prince)
Packers (Winston Moss)
Falcons (Terry Robiskie)
Saints (Joe Vitt)
Cardinals (Tom Moore)
Rams (Dave McGinnis)
49ers (Brad Seely)
Seahawks (Tom Cable)
2a. The Patriots have one fewer coach on staff this year (17), a result of Scarnecchia’s retirement, George Godsey landing as Houston’s quarterbacks coach and Pepper Johnson departing to become Bills defensive line coach, with only two new additions -- offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo and defensive line coach Brendan Daly (technically listed as a defensive assistant). This brings the staff back to the level it was prior to the 2013 hire of Brian Daboll, who was added as part of the planned transition with Scarnecchia this year.
2b. Neat note by Gil Brandt of NFL.com: The Patriots are the only team in the league without a former NFL player on its coaching staff (special teams coach Scott O’Brien technically signed a contract with the Packers but never played in a regular-season game for them).
3. Media reports last month that the Patriots had reached out to defensive back Devin McCourty regarding a contract extension might have sparked an expectation that a new pact could be in the offing, but nothing is imminent at this time. I still think it’s more a matter of “when” it happens than “if,” but my sense is that the Patriots don’t feel a need to rush things. In the last year of his initial rookie contract, McCourty is scheduled to earn a base salary of $3.9 million and count $5.1 million against the salary cap.
4. I can’t blame Saints tight end Jimmy Graham for having fought his franchise-tag designation (unsuccessfully), because I think he’s really more of a big receiver than a pure tight end. It’s why the Patriots matched cornerback Aqib Talib against him last year. When I think of tight ends from a traditional sense, it’s players like Rob Gronkowski and Pittsburgh’s Heath Miller who come to mind because they can maul opponents as blockers, but also hurt them in the passing game as well. There just aren’t as many of those types in the NFL these days.
5. The Patriots have added 25,000 square feet to the east side of Gillette Stadium this offseason, a project that helped bring the video and scouting departments together on the same floor while also creating new more spacious coaching offices. Coaches moved in to their new offices last week, just in time for the start of training camp, and word is that it’s a big-time upgrade. It’s a reminder that even though Gillette Stadium opened in 2002, what was deemed workable and on the cutting edge at that time can quickly become outdated.
6. The Bills are the first team to open training camp, with a 6 p.m. ET practice Sunday night, and the early-July, season-ending knee injury to do-it-all linebacker Kiko Alonso shines the spotlight a bit brighter on rookie Preston Brown (third round, Louisville) and third-year veteran Nigel Bradham, as they are the top candidates to replace Alonso. When word first circulated on Alonso’s injury, one of the first thoughts I had was about the 2015 first-round draft choice the Bills traded to the Browns to move up five spots this year for receiver Sammy Watkins. I’m sure some folks in the Browns’ offices had the same thought because those are the types of big injuries that could make that first-round pick from Buffalo even better than anticipated.
7. After leading the Bears in tackles last season, veteran linebacker James Anderson signed a modest one-year contract with the Patriots on June 4. Since that time, Alonso (torn ACL), Giants linebacker Jon Beason (foot) and Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (ruptured Achilles) all sustained significant injuries, which makes me wonder if Anderson might have had a few more teams interested in him had he elected to remain on the open market a bit longer. Maybe so, maybe not, but timing is often everything in football.
8. When we previously ranked some of Bill Belichick’s best trades with the Patriots, the deal that sent a 2007 first-round draft choice to the 49ers (28th overall) for a 2008 first-rounder (7th overall) and 2007 fourth-rounder was put at the top of the list because of what it produced. The Patriots moved down three spots from No. 7 to No. 10 and selected linebacker Jerod Mayo, and had traded the fourth-round pick to Oakland for receiver Randy Moss. That’s impressive execution, but that’s not to say the 49ers didn’t do well either. With the ’07 first-rounder, they picked left tackle Joe Staley, who added two years to his contract this past week and is now signed through 2019. If a team gives up a future first-round pick, it obviously feels strongly about the player it is taking, and the 49ers nailed it with Staley as well.
9. The Vikings’ three-game suspension of special teams coordinator Mike Priefer has a trickle-down effect to New England, as the Patriots visit the Vikings in Week 2 of the season. Vikings special teams were productive in 2013, as their average starting field position led the NFL (27.2 yard line), rookie Cordarrelle Patterson topped the league with a 32.4 kick return average, and Marcus Sherels was second in the NFL with a 15.2-yard punt return average. Ryan Ficken is the Vikings' special teams assistant, and he enters his second year in the role. This continues a little bit of a theme from the last month, as Patriots early-season opponents have taken some hits (e.g. Miami without starting center Mike Pouncey for the opener and beyond because of injury).
10. Every team must build a new chemistry each year, and that’s one of the things that I wanted to keep an eye on specific to the Patriots’ secondary. My feeling is that Aqib Talib was a “soul” type of player whom others gravitated to, and with that there was some curiosity as to how Darrelle Revis might fill that void. If the past few weeks are any indication, I don’t think it will be an issue. Revis trained in Arizona to prep for training camp, and he was joined by captain Devin McCourty for about three weeks. Furthermore, Logan Ryan tweeted that he was also working out with Revis, along with safety Tavon Wilson, while Titans cornerback Jason McCourty and Bears safety Adrian Wilson were also present. Much like Talib, players seem to be drawn to Revis.