Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the Patriots:
1. No other way to say it, but just a stunning week surrounding the Patriots as it relates to Aaron Hernandez, which should be a big wake-up call to the organization. Just 10 months ago, the club signed Hernandez to a five-year extension worth more than $40 million, which included a $12.5 million signing bonus. At the time, owner Robert Kraft said, "I just think he's a super player and really a first-class guy." Today, Hernandez is at the center of a homicide investigation that is dominating national sports headlines.
2. As Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News reminds us, Bill Belichick took his annual pre-draft visit to the University of Florida campus in 2010, which was the year the Patriots selected three Gators -- defensive end Jermaine Cunningham (second round, 53rd overall), linebacker Brandon Spikes (second round, 62nd overall) and Hernandez (fourth round,113th overall). Back then, Belichick said of his visit: "It was a good meeting like it always is at Florida. Those kids are very focused on football. Football's important to them. They're in a good program. It's important for them to win. They know what they are doing. They've worked hard both on and off the field." But since entering the NFL, the three Florida players have all run into issues off the field -- Cunningham (2012) and Spikes (2010) with four-game suspensions for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances, and now Hernandez. Looking back, it makes one wonder if Belichick put too much stock in the off-field evaluations of his friend (and then-Florida coach) Urban Meyer and not enough in his own scouts.
3. Dallas Clark and David Thomas. Those are the two free-agent tight ends I'd put on the radar if the Patriots want to add another layer given the uncertainty surrounding Hernandez. The Patriots hosted the 34-year-old Clark on a free-agent visit last offseason before he signed with the Buccaneers, and the 29-year-old Thomas played for the Patriots from 2006-2008. Both are more "move" type tight ends and would fit more in the Hernandez-type role -- Clark at 6-foot-3 and 252 pounds, and Thomas at 6-foot-3 and 248 pounds -- and both have the reputation as being top-notch locker room guys.
4. Bill Belichick's respect for late Giants punter Dave Jennings was evident last season when he mentioned Jennings as part of his thoughts on why punters and kickers don't earn more Pro Football Hall of Fame consideration. "I don't know what more Dave Jennings could have done at his position," Belichick said. Those thoughts are revisited today after Jennings, who played for the Giants from 1974-1984, died on Wednesday at 61 from Parkinson's disease. Belichick was the Giants' special-teams coach from 1979-82 and this is what he said about Jennings to Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News this week: "Dave Jennings was one of the most special people I have had the privilege of knowing. Professionally, he was incredibly prepared. He was ahead of his time in terms of training and perfecting every nuance possible at his craft. I don't think there has ever been a more complete punter. For that and for his great team-first attitude, Dave commanded as much respect throughout the team as any specialist I have been around. Dave was one of the first players I coached at the Giants and we became lifelong friends. With Dave that meant always having someone totally in your corner no matter what the situation. I will remember how selfless Dave was, his kindness, and his sense of humor."
5. The Falcons are high on what running back Steven Jackson might bring to their offense, even though some might say it's risky to rely on a high-mileage veteran at the position who turns 30 in July. Sort of reminds me of the Patriots' trading for Corey Dillon in 2004. Dillon was turning 30 in October of that season, and the Patriots squeezed a terrific season out of him. Maybe the Falcons can do the same with Jackson. At the time of the trade, Dillon had totaled 1,865 regular-season carries while playing for one team (Bengals). Jackson, as the Rams' do-everything back, has totaled 2,395 regular-season carries entering 2013.
6. Telling statistics passed along by Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com on the Jets' defense over the last four seasons, which detail how a once blitz-heavy team got away from its identity: The Jets' blitz percentage (five-plus rushers) over the past four seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information, was 52.4 percent in '09 (first in NFL), 44.7 percent in 2010 (third), 32.8 percent in 2011 (12th) and 34.0 percent in 2012 (11th). The Jets want to get back to what they were, and Rex Ryan said the following in February at the combine: "We're stepping up to the plate, we have a bat in our hand, and we're not going to let any strikes go by without swinging. When we talk about being aggressive, I don't know if we really know what that looks like. To me, I have that vision. Some may say 'you're aggressive on defense.' I don't think we're close to being as aggressive as we're going to be this year." I took that to mean that Ryan knows he's a coach with an uncertain future and a limited offense, and if he's going down, he's going to do so with an ears-pinned-back-and-let-it-rip defensive approach.
7. It sounded like all-around good guy Dan Koppen would have been content if 2012 was his final season, as he had already beaten the odds to play 10 seasons after entering the NFL as a 2003 fifth-round draft choice. But Koppen, the former Patriot (2003-2011) who has won more NFL games than any other active offensive lineman, is back for an 11th season after the Broncos re-signed him Thursday to fill the void for injured starting center J.D. Walton. Like Wes Welker, Koppen remains close with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
8. Like most other clubs, the Patriots don't often have a left-handed quarterback on their roster, as they currently do with Tim Tebow. You're a die-hard Patriots fan if you knew that the last left-handed quarterback to throw a regular-season pass for the team was Jeff Carlson in 1992 ... or you watched the most recent episode of Patriots All-Access.
9. The Canadian Football League opens its season this week -- Montreal vs. Winnipeg on Thursday is the first game of the year -- and former Patriots practice squad player Aaron Lavarais (Idaho) is one of a handful of players with New England ties currently on a CFL roster (Montreal). Former UMass receiver Brandon London (Montreal) has also found a home in the CFL, while Brian Brohm (Hamilton) is one highly touted former NFL quarterback toiling up north. One more Patriots-related note: Jerod Mayo's brother, Deron Mayo, enters his second CFL season with Calgary.
10. The Patriots received some significant contributions from 2012 first-round draft choices Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower as rookies, with both earning starting roles. Yet even with two rookies on the front lines, the Patriots were still in the middle of the NFL pack (16th out of 32 teams) in terms of snaps played by rookies last season. Check out the following breakdown of Patriots rookie snap counts in recent seasons, via Joey Koontz of ESPN Stats & Information:
2012 -- 10.5 percent
2011 -- 6.5 percent
2010 -- 16.5 percent
2009 -- 8.7 percent
2008 -- 7.9 percent
Projecting this year, I'm thinking it will be close to the lower 2008/2011 levels than the higher 2010 range when the club leaned heavily on Devin McCourty and Rob Gronkowski, while also having a rookie punter in Zoltan Mesko.