FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Some quick-hit thoughts regarding the New England Patriots and the NFL:
1. If initial projections by some legal experts are correct, this could be the week that the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rules on Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s request for an en banc hearing. Brady’s legal team filed its official appeal May 23, and at the time ESPN legal analyst Andrew Brandt, among others, estimated that a ruling could come as early as three weeks or possibly take as long as six weeks. Monday marks five full weeks since Brady’s appeal, which means we’re officially in the red zone for a court decision.
2. What is it like working under Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia? Here is how 2013 first-round draft pick Jonathan Cooper, now in his first year with the Patriots, described it during last week’s Sirius XM NFL Radio interview: “He’s just the type of guy who is going to get on you, like every coach, but when you’re doing it correctly he’s going to make sure you know that. And he’s going to give you the repetitions it takes on building the fundamentals and laying the foundation, so once you do get with the live bullets flying you’re ready to go and it’s second nature. That’s one of the biggest things I’d say about him, every day it’s doing the same repetitions, and it’s, ‘Oh, this again?’ You quickly learn that it starts to translate into the practice film, then it will translate into the game film, and that’s when you’re successful.”
3a. One of the notable transformations on the Patriots’ roster is at defensive tackle, where the club released its two players -- Chris Jones and Dominique Easley -- who best fit the description of a penetrating 3-technique. In their place, the club has favored bigger, stouter tackles who aren’t built to win with an explosive first step or penetrating move as they are with power or to hold the point of attack (e.g. Terrance Knighton, Vincent Valentine). When I asked defensive line coach Brendan Daly earlier in the offseason about the “disappearance of the 3-technique,” he politely contested my choice of words by pointing out how the defense is getting some of that from its defensive ends when they move inside in passing situations, and also from linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins when they pressure up the middle. It was a brief chat with Daly, but one I appreciated because it prompted me to look at things differently.
3b. In discussing the concept of defensive ends moving inside to rush on passing downs, one of the most topical players of late to highlight is San Diego Chargers rookie Joey Bosa, the third overall pick out of Ohio State. The Chargers envision him playing on the edge but also moving inside in some passing situations. It was something the Patriots' Jabaal Sheard did in 2015, which coach Bill Belichick previously mentioned was new to him, and he seemed to handle it well.
4. Jones is essentially competing with veteran Earl Mitchell for a backup spot behind Ndamukong Suh in Miami. The system being implemented by Dolphins first-year defensive coordinator Vance Joseph has similarities to the Bengals’ 4-3 (think about Geno Atkins as a penetrating 3-technique), which makes sense when considering Joseph spent the past two years as Cincinnati’s defensive backs coach and he also brought linebackers coach Matt Burke with him to South Florida. Meanwhile, Easley is behind All-Pro tackle Aaron Donald in the Rams’ 4-3, with coordinator Gregg Williams recently touting the overall line as arguably the fastest in the NFL. So both former Patriots have landed in schemes where the traditional 3-technique -- usually undersized but often explosive -- is a bigger part of the scheme.
5. The Pro Football Writers of America announced its five annual awards last week, and Patriots left tackle Nate Solder was edged out by Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry for the George Halas honor, which goes to the NFL player, coach or staff member who overcomes the most adversity to succeed. Berry is a deserving choice -- as is Solder, who has used his NFL platform to raise awareness for testicular cancer (Solder had been diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2014). In addition, Solder’s son Hudson, who was born in July 2015, was diagnosed with kidney cancer last fall and Solder and his wife, Lexi, have shared his story to raise public awareness. Solder will return in 2016 from a biceps injury that cost him most of the past season, and he should be a strong consideration for the award again at this time next year.
6. Former Maine Black Bear Mike DeVito, who retired from the NFL this offseason after six years with the Jets (2007-2012) and three with the Chiefs (2013-2015), is exploring some opportunities in the media and will provide color commentary for televised UMaine games in 2016. We caught up on the radio last week, as DeVito was co-hosting a sports radio program on 92.9 The Ticket in Bangor, Maine, and his first question about the Patriots was with the offensive line. DeVito said as the Chiefs prepared to face the Patriots in the playoffs last season, they felt the O-line was one area that could be exploited. The big changes this year for New England: The return of Scarnecchia as coach, Solder's return to health, the possibility that Cooper (right guard) realizes his potential as the No. 7 overall player selected in 2013, third-round draft pick Joe Thuney as a possible starter at left guard, and a potential open competition at center headlined by incumbent Bryan Stork and second-year man David Andrews.
7. Patriots top draft choice Cyrus Jones, in an interview with Tide 99.1 in Alabama last week, highlighted some of the similarities he has noticed in coming from Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide program to Belichick’s program. The primary link: “Coach Belichick is definitely a coach that demands discipline from his players. He runs a tight ship.” Jones is quickly learning what Alabama alum Hightower learned after the Patriots selected him in the 2012 first round. Hightower said of Belichick and Saban, “I literally think they’re exactly the same ... two peas in a pod.”
8. Patriots No. 3 tight end Michael Williams, who tore his left ACL on June 8 in mandatory minicamp and was placed on season-ending injured reserve, is waiting for swelling to subside before undergoing surgery. The expectation is that the surgery will take place the week of July 4. He’ll rehab during the season in hopes of being ready to go next offseason, when he is a restricted free agent.
9. After the Cavaliers captured the first professional sports championship for the city of Cleveland since the Browns won the 1964 NFL championship, Browns cornerback Joe Haden told TheMMQB.com that it was motivation for the Browns, who are in the midst of another rebuilding project. Did You Know: The Browns have missed the playoffs each of the past 13 seasons, which is tied with the Raiders for the second-longest active streak in the NFL. The Bills, who last made the playoffs in 1999, have the longest active playoff drought.
10. Something to look forward to later this year: With this marking the 15-year anniversary of the Patriots’ first Super Bowl championship team -- the 2001 squad that shocked the St. Louis Rams (aka The Greatest Show on Turf) -- the club gathered a few of the reporters from that era to reflect, reminisce and travel back in time to that special season. Along with Tom Curran, Ron Borges and Bryan Morry, and led by host Bob Socci, we taped several segments that will run throughout the season on the team’s website (starting the week of July 25). So many meaningful stories to tell from that magical run.