Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the Patriots:
1. Patriots defenders say that linebackers coach Matt Patricia has stepped up into more of a leadership role this year. He was described by one player as a younger version of Bill Belichick.
2. An old wound was opened in Seattle last week when referee Bill Leavy acknowledged that he “kicked two calls” late in Super Bowl XL between the Seahawks and Steelers. Those calls went against the Seahawks, and four years later, quarterback Matt Hasselbeck showed a lot of class in how he reacted to Leavy’s admission.
3. Speeches from Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees Saturday night were moving. I especially liked Emmitt Smith choking up as he talked about fullback Darryl Johnston and the sacrifices Johnston made for him. After an offseason full of contract squabbles, free-agent movement and lockout talk, it’s nice to hear from-the-heart stories of how two teammates can mean so much to each other.
4. Although inside linebacker Brandon Spikes has yet to play a preseason game, and there are sure to be some growing pains, I wouldn’t be surprised if he remains in the starting lineup at inside linebacker even when Gary Guyton returns from injury. Young players are going to be thrust into some key roles this year in New England and that’s what has me most intrigued about reporting on the team.
5. The Houston Texans are considered the leading candidate to sign defensive end Aaron Schobel, and veteran Houston Chronicle John McClain blogs some thoughts on the topic, noting that budgetary issues could be a factor for the Texans. Still no word on the Patriots’ interest, but I’d be shocked if they haven’t inquired.
6. Safety Josh Barrett, who the Patriots claimed on waivers from the Denver Broncos, is a bigger safety (6-2, 225) who could project to a Tank Williams- or Brandon McGowan-type safety/linebacker hybrid role in 2011. McGowan is in the final year of his contract. On the surface, this looks like a move in which the Patriots were thinking ahead to '11.
7. Part of the reason the Broncos put Barrett on waivers with the intention of placing him on season-ending injured reserve – instead of waiting until Aug. 31 when they wouldn’t have risked having another team claim him -- was that they’ve had a run of injuries early in camp that has left them short-handed. While the Patriots were within the rules to claim Barrett, some in the NFL believe there is a protocol that makes such a move off limits, similar to raiding another team’s practice squad.
8. Football is back. The Cincinnati Bengals face the Dallas Cowboys in the Hall of Fame Game tonight in Canton, Ohio, which is a good chance to get an early look at the Patriots’ season-opening opponent (Bengals, Sept. 12, Gillette Stadium).
9. Former Patriot Troy Brown said Friday on sports radio WEEI was that he might never have caught Bill Parcells’ eye as a rookie had there been only two preseason games. When the NFL goes to an 18-game regular season, with just two preseason games, how many Brown-like players will be affected?
10. It’s going to be a great week at Gillette Stadium with the New Orleans Saints coming to town for joint practices (Tuesday/Wednesday) and then the preseason opener, with Sam Cunningham inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame. Welcome back to town Heath Evans, David Thomas and Randall Gay, three of the nicest guys a reporter could talk to in the Patriots locker room.