FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Over the last four days, Bill Belichick, every Patriots coordinator and position coach, and around half of the team's 90-man roster has conducted media interviews, which means there has been a lot to digest. One of the things that stood out to me above all else was offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels' response when asked about possibly becoming a head coach in the future, especially if the strength of his candidacy grows should Jimmy Garoppolo perform well in the first four games of the season.
"This is an incredible place to work, I love being here and I'm happy to do this job as much as I can, as long as they'll have me. I do want to be a head coach again at some point in my life," he said. "I've learned a lot over the last so many years and hopefully gained a lot of wisdom and if and when that time comes, I'd look forward to the challenge of doing it again."
This was as decisive as McDaniels has been on the topic since coming back to New England in January of 2012. Initially, he seemed to be in a mode of wanting to slow things down to assess where things went wrong during his time as Broncos head coach (2009-2010), and also to return to some stability in a familiar environment after his one year as Rams offensive coordinator under Steve Spagnuolo (2011).
The 40-year-old McDaniels is annually mentioned as a top head-coaching candidate each offseason, and had opportunities in recent years that he didn't move on (e.g. Cleveland when Mike Lombardi was GM). I wonder, based on his remarks last week, if he might be more aggressive in the near future.
2. The Patriots have been fortunate to have McDaniels and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia in the same positions for each of the last five years. That type of continuity is rare, as ESPN's Field Yates recently pointed out by noting that this past offseason alone there were a combined 24 new head coaches, offensive coordinators and defensive coordinators in the NFL. Needless to say, no other team in the NFL has had the same head coach, offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator over the last five years.
3. On Friday, Belichick was asked about the importance of continuity on the coaching staff the last several seasons, and he responded by saying they do "a great job" before listing all of the team's coordinators since 2000 with one exception -- Eric Mangini (2005). It might have been an honest oversight, or perhaps a reminder that Belichick has erased Mangini from his conscience.
4. Did You Know: According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Garoppolo is set to become just the fifth quarterback in the last 30 years to make his first regular-season start in a season-opening night game (Sept. 11, vs. Cardinals). Aaron Rodgers was the last (2008, win vs. Minnesota), with Philip Rivers (2006), David Carr (2002) and Brian Griese (1999) before him.
5. Through three days of training camp and all spring practices, Patriots third-round pick Joe Thuney (NC State) has lined up as the first-unit left guard. I had wondered if four-year veteran Josh Kline -- who hadn't practiced in the spring as he recovered from a shoulder injury -- might take reps away from Thuney upon his return this month but it hasn't happened. Thuney is off to a strong start (he was excellent in initial full-pads 1-on-1 work Saturday) and if he can sustain momentum through the rigors of training camp and the preseason, he has the look of an opening-night starter.
6. Longtime NFL offensive line coach Howard Mudd has openly talked about his feelings regarding a crisis of offensive line play in the NFL, and others have noted how colleges seem to be struggling to groom capable blockers. But don't count Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia in that group.
"There were 42 linemen drafted last year, that's the most I've ever heard of," he said. "So obviously what the colleges are putting out there, everyone is very much interested in. I know we are too.
"I think there are a lot of really good coaches at all levels, from Pop Warner all the way up to professional football. They work hard and have a passion for what they do and they're teaching the game really well. I like the guys we got, I like their skill set, and hopefully we can get something done with them.
"As far as the state of offensive line in the league, there are a lot of good offensive lines. It all starts up front and hopefully we can get [our] group to a very high point."
7. Scarnecchia's remarks about hoping to limit rotation along the Patriots offensive line upon his return from a two-year retirement were significant when considering these numbers from last season: The Patriots used 39 different O-line combinations, which was 11 more than the next team on the list (Titans, 28). As noted by ESPN's Stats & Information, the 39 combinations were more than the Cowboys, Falcons, Browns, Jaguars, Buccaneers, Vikings and 49ers used combined.
8. The Patriots' first two opponents of the 2016 regular season are linked by the question of who will be their second starting cornerback. The Cardinals obviously have Patrick Peterson on one side, but who starts opposite him? Justin Bethel and rookie Brandon Williams (third round, Texas A&M) are two top options, and with Bethel out for the start of training camp with a foot injury, it's been Williams. Meanwhile, in Miami, veteran Byron Maxwell is slotted as the starter at right cornerback and second-round pick Xavien Howard (Baylor) was a strong candidate to pair with him but he underwent arthroscopic knee surgery and opened camp on the PUP list (will he be ready for Week 2?). That leaves Tony Lippett, a 2015 fifth-round pick out of Michigan State, as the top option. Something to keep on the radar as the Patriots search for weaknesses in hopes of making life easier on Garoppolo early on.
9. The Patriots have supported special teamer Nate Ebner's Olympic rugby quest, most recently with captain Matthew Slater wearing Ebner's No. 43 at Thursday's first practice of training camp in a tribute. Meanwhile, Ebner has apparently been issued No. 12 in rugby, which seems like anything but a coincidence as he supports Tom Brady on the world sporting stage.
10a. The Patriots reported that 21,781 fans attended their Saturday morning training camp practice, and when there are days like that -- when the overflowing crowd spills onto the ramps overlooking the practice fields -- I'm reminded that the first Patriots regular-season game I attended was in 1992 when the team lost to the Colts 6-0 before a crowd of 19,429. Now they get more fans at a practice. What a transformation.
10b. Did You Know: In Garoppolo's final two seasons at Eastern Illinois, only four of 26 games were played before a crowd larger than 21,787.