Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots:
1. I think one of the hardest things to do in the NFL is draft and develop a capable quarterback, and after watching 2014 second-round pick Jimmy Garoppolo on Friday, it looks like the Patriots are on the right track with him. Tom Brady has set such a high bar in New England that it's easy for observers to take high-level quarterback play for granted in a practice setting, where receiving the play-call, quickly ensuring everyone is aligned properly, making any checks and then delivering the ball on time and accurately is essentially the goal. Garoppolo looked sharp to me in all those areas Friday.
2. Prior to organized team activities, I sensed confidence from the Patriots' coaching staff that if the team has to turn to Garoppolo early in the season should Brady's suspension not be overturned that they would still be competitive. Friday only reinforced that thought. There's obviously a long way to go (the real football starts when pads come on), but when I think of all the backups to Brady in recent memory, I'm not sure there's one who has as much promise as Garoppolo at this point.
3. When part of the media-based debate locally is whether Brady should say something publicly about his upcoming appeal, it makes me wonder if we've run out of meaningful things to banter about. I have trouble grasping why this is significant, especially given my sense is that some preparing to fight on Brady's behalf might argue that Brady has already talked too much on the overall topic, specifically pointing to his marathon Jan. 22 news conference.
4. Seven-year veteran cornerback Bradley Fletcher is going to be one of the more interesting players to follow for the Patriots. If the season started today, he's probably one of the team's starters. What some might not realize is that prior to the 6-foot, 200-pound Fletcher flaming out in Philadelphia last season, the Eagles were considering signing him to a contract extension that would have reflected his value as a solid starter. Can he recapture that form in New England? At a position where there has been great turnover, it's one of the team's biggest questions to answer.
5. The Patriots had a league-high 67 trips inside the red zone during the 2014 regular season, and tied for the NFL lead with the Broncos and Saints for red-zone touchdowns, with 39. New England's 58.2 touchdown percentage in the red zone ranked ninth in the NFL -- not too shabby -- which I looked up after watching twin-tower tight ends Scott Chandler (6-7, 260) and Rob Gronkowski (6-6, 265) working together inside the red zone Friday. I'm curious to see how opposing defenses might attempt to match up against that 1-2 combination, and wonder if the Ravens might ultimately regret not closing the deal on Chandler before the Patriots in free agency.
6. In a two-week stretch over which starting left tackles Will Beatty (Giants, torn pectoral muscle) and Ryan Clady (Broncos, torn ACL) sustained serious injuries, I thought about how that's one position the Patriots are deeper than most. Starters Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer return, as does top backup Marcus Cannon and 2014 fourth-round draft choice Cameron Fleming. Here's a hypothetical: If Denver inquired about Solder (who played at University of Colorado) and was willing to part with a future first-round draft pick, would you make that move given that Solder is in the last year of his contract?
7. Left guard is a position that still seems like a significant question mark to me on the Patriots roster. I came away from Friday's OTA thinking there's probably another domino to fall there, as it seems too risky for the team to not bring back 2014 starter Dan Connolly, who remains unsigned.
8. From the things-that-probably -interest-me-more-than-others file: In 2014, the first public practice of training camp was July 24. This year, it projects to be closer to July 30 because of the later start to the regular season.
9. There were a couple of new faces at practice for the Patriots from a coaching perspective, including one staffer who worked with defenders on hand combat type drills. The unidentified “coach”, who I believe is Navy SEAL Dom Raso, stood out because he wasn't in Patriots gear, had a large colorful tattoo on his lower right leg, wore black sunglasses and a black hat, and the words “The Will to Fight” were written across the back of his shirt and down his shorts (good pics here from Patriots.com -- one and two). "The Will to Fight" is part of Raso's Dynamis Alliance program.
10. Patriots receiver Brandon LaFell has switched agents to Neil Schwartz and Jonathan Feinsod, who also represent cornerback Darrelle Revis. It makes me wonder how much influence Revis, whose business-based approach was well documented in free agency, had in that decision. LaFell has two years remaining on a three-year, $9 million contract he signed with the Patriots last offseason. He had an excellent first season in New England, playing through a shoulder injury to record 74 catches for 953 yards and seven touchdowns.
EXTRA POINT: If interested in some football chatter, I'll be filling in for Christopher Price on Boston-based sports radio station WEEI 93.7 FM on Sunday morning's football show from 9-11 a.m. ET. Should be a fun two hours. Hope you have a chance to tune in.