FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Harry eligible to begin practicing this week: Coach Bill Belichick loves to trade, so if the right opportunity presents itself before this year's Oct. 29 deadline, the Patriots will naturally pounce. But those factors, in many ways, are outside of the team's control. Belichick can't make a team trade a player. He also has to weigh salary-cap space, as the team's failed signing of Antonio Brown has eaten up valuable space.
All of which leads to two key players on injured reserve -- 2019 first-round pick N'Keal Harry and 2018 first-rounder Isaiah Wynn -- and why they might turn out to be the most important "acquisitions" of all.
If they are designated to return off injured reserve, as expected, they should help the team in two significant areas of need: receiver and left tackle.
Teams can designate two players to return off IR. Those players can practice six weeks after landing on IR, and are eligible to play after eight weeks.
So Harry, who injured his leg in the preseason and was placed on IR on Sept. 2, is eligible to begin practicing this week. If the Patriots "start the clock" on him, Harry would be eligible to play for the first time Nov. 3 against the Baltimore Ravens. He flashed some intriguing potential in spring practices and training camp, and though missing time through the first half of the season isn't ideal, he was a first-round pick for a reason.
Wynn was placed on IR with a foot/toe injury on Sept. 17, so he's not eligible to begin practicing until Oct. 26, and couldn't play until after New England's bye week Nov. 17 against the Philadelphia Eagles. He's the team's best left tackle -- and it isn't very close. On Friday, he was seen attending regular meetings with his fellow linemen.
So, while the Patriots would benefit greatly from making a decisive move for a veteran at the trade deadline, getting Harry and Wynn back is notable as well.
2. Trade suggestion -- Bennett for Sanu: Ever since the Patriots couldn't close the deal on free-agent targets Adam Humphries (receiver/Tennessee Titans) and Jared Cook (tight end/New Orleans Saints) in the offseason, the club has been searching for solutions to no avail (e.g., Antonio Brown and Benjamin Watson). So playing the role of esteemed colleague Bill Barnwell, who annually comes up with intriguing trade possibilities, here's one that came to mind for me: veteran defensive end Michael Bennett to the Falcons for receiver Mohamed Sanu.
When the Patriots traded for Bennett in March, they were more of a 4-3 defense, but the exceptional play of linebacker Jamie Collins and nose tackle Danny Shelton -- both signed after Bennett was acquired -- has morphed them back to more of a 3-4. So Bennett isn't as much of a fit, and his declining playing time in recent weeks reflects that. Meanwhile, the Falcons are coming off a 53-32 loss to the Texans, need defensive help, would be dealing from a position of strength at receiver (Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley are still there), and head coach Dan Quinn has a background with Bennett from their time together in Seattle. It could be a win-win for both clubs.
3. Andrews, Develin join Patriots' 'staff': Belichick picked up two unofficial coaches this season, albeit not the way he hoped it would happen, when starting center David Andrews and 2017 AFC Pro Bowl fullback James Develin landed on injured reserve (Andrews is definitely out for the season and Develin isn't expected to return). Both have been regulars in team meetings, on the sideline during games, and serving in a role similar to a quality control coach with cut-ups, etc. ...
"Dave is such a great leader and player, and that was unfortunate what happened to start the year," fill-in center Ted Karras said of Andrews. "He's such an integral part of the organization. He's here every day, working with us. I pick his brain all the time. He's a very intelligent football mind. It's a big morale boost for the team having him around. Both guys are such a core part of our social structure, and locker room, so to have them around is a big help."
4. Patriots' conditioning a secret weapon: Belichick's conditioning-based approach in spring practices, and training camp, was an under-the-radar storyline in the team's two-wins-in-five-days stretch this past week. There's a reason he regularly has players run the hill after practice. It started at Washington, when the offensive plan was to play with a fast tempo (45 offensive snaps in the first half) and tire out the Redskins' defensive front before taking it to them in the second half. Then in Thursday's win against the Giants, the short-handed offense relied on the same players over the final 50 or so snaps because no one else was healthy enough to play. It was notable to me that one of the first things interim Redskins coach Bill Callahan did at his first practice, after the loss to the Patriots, was institute additional conditioning work.
5. Brady's TD sneaks not as easy as they look: Tom Brady's goal-line sneaks for touchdowns might look easy -- he had two of them Thursday night -- but offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels says they definitely aren't. McDaniels said it starts simply with a quarterback's want-to.
"There's an inherent courage and willingness to send your body into a bunch of 300-plus-pound men and push, and not go to the ground and not lose the ball, have an awareness of where you’re at, and also find the sweet spot," he said. "Tommy does such a good job of just burrowing in there. His legs never stop moving, and he has a knack for knowing how far he needs to get."
6. Three questions with new QB Kessler: Cody Kessler, who entered the NFL as a third-round draft choice of the Browns in 2016 out of USC and has since been with the Jaguars and Eagles, is only a couple weeks into his time with the Patriots.
First impressions? "From the facilities, to the things they have in here to help players -- whether it's treatment, the meal room -- it's set up for success. The people in the facility as well, it's a world-class place. I remember my first couple days just being shocked about it."
You've spent time working with assistant QBs coach Mick Lombardi before games; what has that been like? "Mick has been awesome. Obviously Josh [McDaniels] and Tom [Brady] are doing the game plan, and Mick is right there with them, but he's taken more than enough time to help me out. I spend a lot of extra time with him. I kind of bug him as much as I can. We go out there and go through the game plan, and working on footwork stuff, and kind of talking stuff. He's trying to get me up to speed, and he's gone above and beyond with that."
What would you say defines this offense? "Obviously Tom and Josh have been together for so long, which is very unique, especially in this league. Being always on the same page and them making it their own, and being able to have the conversations they have -- whether it's when we're watching film or installing -- always on the same page. It's really cool to see. There's so many things they can do in this offense, both run and pass game, that makes it dangerous."
7. Watson's release eliminates chance for him to rewrite story: One of the reasons veteran tight end Benjamin Watson initially signed with the Patriots in May was that he liked the idea of having a happier ending with the franchise than his first stint (2004-09), as it would have truly represented him coming full circle. When Watson was a rookie, the club held firm on a six-year contract, which was within the rules but something Watson resisted. It led to a holdout on principle, before Watson ultimately relented. Rules were later changed so that teams could no longer sign first-rounders to six-year contracts, and Watson departed as a free agent in 2010. So when the club released him this past Monday, some unpleasant memories resurfaced for him.
8. Brady skips coin toss altogether: In the aftermath of last week's story involving Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield and 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman, I thought about how Brady skips the toss altogether. Brady is an 18-year captain, but he's usually busy getting warmed up during that time, even at Super Bowls.
9. Calhoun appreciates clarity of role: Shilique Calhoun, who spent the first three years of his career with the Raiders after being selected in the third round of the 2016 draft, has been a surprise contributor to the Patriots as a defensive end and core special-teamer. Few analysts had him making the roster at the start of training camp, but he's played 33% of the defensive snaps and fits on every unit in the kicking game. In New England, he's escaped the high expectations that come with being the 75th overall pick in the draft. "I've enjoyed being here because I understand what my job is. It makes it real easy for me to just go out there and play the game, and not thinking about this or that," he said.
10. Did You Know: Since 2001, the Patriots have had 14 different winning streaks of six games or more in a season. That doubles up the next team over that span, the Colts (seven). The Packers and Eagles are tied next, with six.