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Quick-hit thoughts around Patriots, NFL

Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the New England Patriots:

1. While most other teams in the NFL will be trimming their rosters to 53 players at the end of the preseason, the Patriots will only have to cut to 54. That’s one way to look at running back LeGarrette Blount’s one-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. Blount won’t count against the initial 53-man roster limit because of the suspension, which gives a Patriots player who otherwise would have been cut a chance to stick for at least one more week and perhaps longer (depending on injuries). So in a sense, it’s almost as if the team benefits. Blount is a valuable player, but if Bill Belichick had the choice to sit him for Week 1 to gain a roster exemption for a 54th player, I think he’d do it almost every time.

2. Blount became the Patriots’ lead back late last season when Jonas Gray helped open the door for him by showing up late to the facility following his stellar 201-yard rushing performance against the Colts, thus earning himself a spot on the bench the next week against the Lions. As Bill Belichick essentially noted in his interview with David Letterman in February, Gray couldn’t get back in there after that (Blount had re-signed a few days earlier) and the snaps played the rest of the regular season reflect that:

Gray: 0, 2, 3, 17, 16, 0, 0, 5, 0

Blount: 17, 19, 30, 15, 0, 22, 11, 42, 23

So if you’re Gray, the one-game suspension for Blount to open the 2015 season could be viewed as a chance to charge back through that door and take back the job he had seized ever so briefly.

3. One other thought on Blount’s season-opening suspension is that it brings back some bad memories from a Patriots perspective. The last time the team had a running back suspended for the first game of the season came in 2008 with Kevin Faulk (one game, substance abuse). Faulk’s replacement, Sammy Morris, stayed in to block blitzing Kansas City Chiefs safety Bernard Pollard on the 15th offensive play of the opener and we all know what happened next, Tom Brady tearing his ACL. That obviously has nothing to do with 2015, but it crossed my mind when news of Blount’s suspension broke early this past week.

4. If Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy was considering the possibility of conducting joint practices with the Patriots before their Week 1 preseason game, this would be my sales pitch to him to go forward with it: McCarthy has expressed his desire to improve the Packers' special-teams units this year (he said he’s going to get more involved with that aspect of the game), and the Patriots annually field one of the best special-teams units in the NFL. Furthermore, I think a lot can be learned from the way Bill Belichick builds special teams into his daily practice schedule, which players have said over the years highlights the importance he places into that sometimes overlooked third phase of the game. Several players have noted how the Patriots place a greater emphasis on special teams than their previous teams.

5. If Bill Belichick manages Brady’s preseason playing time the same way he did in 2014, Patriots fans won’t see Brady take an offensive snap at Gillette Stadium in the 2015 preseason. The Patriots host preseason games in Week 1 and 4, and Brady didn’t play in last year’s preseason opener and only took a snap as an emergency holder in the preseason finale. That scenario might be viewed by some as a bit of a disappointment.

6. Reports of teams declaring their intentions to pick up fifth-year contract options of 2012 draft picks are starting to surface across the NFL, and it would be a major surprise if the Patriots don’t pick up options for defensive end Chandler Jones (21st overall) and linebacker Dont’a Hightower (25th overall). From this viewpoint, the more pertinent question is if the Patriots will take more of a proactive approach on negotiations for a long-term deal with Jones and Hightower than they did with safety Devin McCourty as he entered the final year of his contract. Between Jones, Hightower and linebacker Jamie Collins, those are three big contracts that would expire after the 2016 season. Attempting to lock in at least one of them in advance seems like smart business if some momentum could build in negotiations.

7. The Patriots privately work out hundreds of prospects in the months leading up to the draft, but like other teams, they are restricted to 30 visits with out-of-town prospects. From a reporting standpoint, I like to keep track of the visits as much as possible. Florida State guard Tre Jackson and Southern Cal tight end Randall Telfer are expected to be among this year’s visitors, while Robert Klemko of TheMMQB.com reported that Louisville receiver DeVante Parker is also on the team’s list. Parker is projected to be selected in the first round and is rated as ESPN’s No. 9 overall prospect. It seems unlikely he’d be there at No. 32, when the Patriots are first scheduled to pick, but this highlights the thoroughness of the team’s overall scouting process.

8. Every contract a team signs has a trickle-down effect throughout the locker room, and that was one takeaway from news that standout Jets defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson is skipping the voluntary offseason program after being a participant in recent years. The Jets have spent big this offseason, but Wilkerson, a 2011 first-round pick who has been the consummate team-first guy, is entering the final year of his contract and is still waiting for his mega-deal. So this is a subtle statement of sorts by him to the new Jets management team.

9. Growing up in Massachusetts, one of the pleasures of this job is highlighting folks from the Bay State who hit the top of their profession. With this in mind, congratulations are in order for Kevin Codey of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, who was named as one of the NFL’s nine new officials for the 2015 season. Codey, a graduate of Western New England, will serve as a line judge and Howard Herman of the Berkshire Chronicle detailed his story. Massachusetts has a handful of natives officiating in the NFL, including umpire Paul King and head linesman Jim Mello.

10. With Steelers safety Troy Polamalu announcing his retirement last week, it had me reflecting on some of Brady’s thoughts on Polamalu over the years. Brady arguably had as much success against Polamalu as anyone, but it was clear he also had great respect for him. Most recently, in 2013, Brady explained how Polamalu had rare instincts while playing in a system in which there didn’t seem to be clearly defined roles for safeties. “You have to account for him on every play,” Brady said. “You can’t just go, ‘He’s going to be here.’ He may have the [deep part] of the field [but then] he’s making a playing in the backfield. … He’s just got those instincts where he’s going to take the chance when he knows and it’s calculated, a lot like Ed Reed [and] some of the best safeties I’ve ever played against.”