Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the New England Patriots:
1. Tom Brady says he wants to play for a long time, and as he celebrates his 37th birthday today, he’s realized that one of his greater challenges in doing so is how he connects to teammates who are significantly younger than him. "When I came into the league 15 years ago, some [of these players] were 6 or 7 years old, in first grade. You have to find ways to relate to younger players," Brady said last week on Sirius XM NFL Radio. Brady has taken steps in recent years to build those bridges, with one example coming when he invited some of the team’s younger receivers to California to work out with him. When I think back to some of the all-time greats who played into their late 30s like Dan Marino and John Elway, this was one of their greatest challenges as well.
2. Patriots rookie Jimmy Garoppolo has hit a noticeable rough patch in recent practices, but I don’t think the Patriots have any buyer’s remorse with their late second-round pick. In fact, if anything, Garoppolo’s struggles have confirmed the team’s thinking that it’s better to address the quarterback position one year early rather than one year too late. Most rookie quarterbacks will struggle, and if we look back to 2000 in Tom Brady’s first season, the future Pro Football Hall of Famer was far from a finished product at that time.
3. Rookie running back James White has been one of the bigger surprises in Patriots training camp, drawing praise from head coach Bill Belichick and Brady, among others. The message has come through clearly -- it’s not just what White is doing on the field, it’s also his steady approach off it as he has adjusted well to an extremely demanding and disciplined program. Why has White had such a smooth transition? Consider that his father Tyrone was a longtime police officer in Miami and his mother Lisa worked as a probation officer, and it gives a feel for the type of solid foundation White had in his formative years.
4. Eagles cornerback Cary Williams’ comments about not wanting to hold joint practices with the Patriots confirmed what I thought last year -- Williams deliberately took himself out of practice by jumping then-rookie receiver Aaron Dobson in one of the more classless moves I’ve witnessed in NFL training camp. When the Eagles come to town next week for another set of joint practices, here’s hoping Eagles coach Chip Kelly leaves Williams back in Philadelphia.
5. Two contract extensions last week could have a trickle-down effect in New England, as the Cardinals extended cornerback Patrick Peterson and the Cowboys locked up left tackle Tyron Smith. Naturally, Peterson’s deal helps further shape the potential market for Darrelle Revis. Some have asked if it means that Revis is definitely headed elsewhere after this season; I don’t necessarily see it that way. Meanwhile, Smith’s pact provides a road map for what it might take for the Patriots to keep left tackle Nate Solder around when his contract expires after the 2015 season. As expected, it won’t be cheap.
6. With the Patriots traveling to Richmond, Virginia, for joint practices with Washington on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, it’s a chance to catch up with former New England safety Brandon Meriweather. The 2007 first-round pick who didn’t pan out the way the Patriots envisioned enters his third season in Washington after re-signing this offseason on a one-year deal. The Redskins have young safeties Phillip Thomas and Bacarri Rambo to groom with the future in mind, but right now it looks like Meriweather, who started 13 games last season, would be paired with veteran Ryan Clark as the top tandem. As usual with Meriweather, any time his play comes up, illegal hits to the head are part of the discussion.
7. Does veteran offensive lineman Dan Connolly’s $3 million base salary in 2014 become easier for the Patriots to absorb if he emerges as the starting center? That was a thought that came to mind after watching Connolly spend a day at the position in practice last week. It’s easy to forget, but Connolly was re-signed by the team in 2012 with the intention that he would be playing center, but when veteran right guard Brian Waters didn’t report, it led to a shuffle up front that moved Connolly to that spot for the past two seasons. "I came into it with center in mind," Connolly said of 2012. I’ve wondered if Connolly’s $3 million salary might be too rich for the Patriots, especially with second-year guard Josh Kline coming on strong. But the picture changes if Connolly is ultimately viewed as the best fit at center, a tough-to-fill position that he played at a high level in 2011.
8. I’m always interested in how different head coaches approach media relations, particularly when it comes to criticizing and/or motivating players. Belichick doesn’t do it. As we learned Saturday, Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians does. Those were some direct words fired in the direction of 2013 first-round pick Jonathan Cooper, who was a player I think the Patriots had rated close to the top of their board last year.
9. Former Patriots safety Rodney Harrison threw a couple of motivational firecrackers at the Patriots following Ty Law's induction into the team’s Hall of Fame on Friday, saying it was time to win another Super Bowl and that it was on safety Devin McCourty to rise up and bring the secondary to new heights. Have to love Harrison’s fire, as it seemed like he almost wanted back in himself. It was great to see Harrison back in Foxborough, where he very well could return in 2015 as the team’s next inductee.
10. While I think the Patriots’ season-opener on the road against the Dolphins is a tougher game than it looks because of the heat, especially with a 1 p.m. kickoff, one player said something I hadn’t considered. The early trip can actually be a better situation when compared to trying to acclimate to the South Florida heat in December when the temperatures start to dip in New England. At least now the Patriots are working out in the heat and will be throughout the preseason.
EXTRA POINT: For Patriots followers who won the lottery to attend joint practices this week in Richmond, an informal tweet-up has been scheduled for Monday at the Strawberry Street Café, from about 5-6:30 p.m. ET. If you’re up for saying a quick hello and talking some Patriots football, I’ll be there. A league source indicated that it’s also half-price burger night.