FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. The original plan was to skim through parts of Michael Lombardi’s soon-to-be-released book “Gridiron Genius,” and pass along a nugget or two with a Patriots and Bill Belichick twist. Then something unexpected happened: I didn’t want to stop reading.
So three days and almost 300 pages later, here were some of the things that most piqued my interest:
Belichick wrote the foreword. He touted the scouting system Lombardi helped create when the two were together in Cleveland (1991-95), noting that the roots of the system are still found across the NFL today. He also credited Lombardi’s knack for finding undervalued talent, citing his pursuit of current Patriots starting center David Andrews -- an undrafted free agent out of Georgia in 2015 -- as one example. Belichick said writing the foreword was a way to thank Lombardi.
The book is centered around Lombardi’s work with Bill Walsh, Al Davis and Belichick -- all three of whom helped transform NFL franchises -- and Lombardi explains his motivation was to show his view of what it takes to build a championship team or business.
Lombardi breaks down, day by day, how the Patriots’ coaching staff approached its preparation for the AFC divisional-round game against the Ravens on Jan. 10, 2015. Belichick had previously given Lombardi an assignment to research the Patriots’ recent playoff performances, and provide his recommendations, which Lombardi details in the book.
One of the challenges for successful coaches is understanding/identifying how each player retains information differently, with Lombardi using cornerback Malcolm Butler as an example; Butler processed the playbook better through 1-on-1 walkthrough time/independent study time, and was more effective seeing/doing than talking about it. So the staff was adaptable to create a plan to make that happen.
Along those lines, after the 2015 season, the Patriots’ offseason review included detailed discussions about how to work with millennials, and the best approaches to motivate them. This was one of several examples in the book of how successful organizations always look for new ways to improve.
Why the Patriots’ cafeteria is a part of the facility not often discussed, but sends a critical message to players similar to what Apple and Google do on their modern campuses. The Patriots also have sleep rooms at Gillette Stadium for players.
Lombardi praises Belichick for how he acknowledges his mistakes to his staff, which promotes a more honest type of communication. As an example, in the draft, Belichick would relay 2009 second-round pick Ron Brace -- the late defensive tackle from Boston College -- as one of his worst-ever picks.
Curious why the Patriots most often defer when they win the coin toss? Lombardi details the thought process, while delving into the importance of game management.
The book begins in a Patriots meeting room in the offseason heading into the 2014 Super Bowl campaign. Lombardi recalls Belichick citing the need for better goal-line defense, which of course, would come in handy at the end of Super Bowl XLIX against the Seahawks.
2. Now that the Patriots have signed first-round pick Isaiah Wynn (No. 23), they can turn their attention to signing their other first-rounder, Sony Michel (No. 31). Michel is one of just 17 draft picks yet to sign. One NFL front-office staffer speculated that the reason for the holdup could have been that the deal for Seattle running back Rashaad Penny (No. 27) created a slow-down for players in that range of the draft, but as some more players have finalized deals in the 20s recently, it should move things along with Michel.
3. One leftover from Tom Brady's interview with Oprah Winfrey from last Sunday, as he explained his leadership style this way: “I try to be very positive. I think once I develop the trust, I feel like I can be tough on them. But I can’t be tough on them before I develop the relationship and trust. … I can be a [shouter], but it’s only with people I care about; I think you have to have different forms of motivation. I’ve been around a lot of guys; some guys don’t like to be yelled at, some guys like to be tormented in a way. You just have to find the right mix. I love that aspect of my position -- they have to listen to me, I’m the quarterback, I’m the one calling the plays, so naturally they’re all looking at you. I think the greatest thing for you is to believe in yourself, because if you don’t believe in yourself, who’s going to believe in you? They can see the look in your eyes too."
4. NFL Network unveils players 1-10 on Monday night in its eighth annual “Top 100” player rankings, and Brady -- the reigning league MVP -- seems like a good bet to go back-to-back years in the No. 1 spot. The other time Brady was No. 1 in the poll voted on by players was 2011. He followed that up with rankings of 2, 3, 3, 4 and 4. Overall, the Patriots only had two players in this year’s top 100 ranking: Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski. Last year, they had six.
5. Did You Know: The youngest player on the Patriots roster is undrafted punter Corey Bojorquez (New Mexico), who is viewed as a legitimate contender to push for incumbent Ryan Allen's job. Bojorquez turns 22 on Sept. 13. He was 3 years old when the Patriots drafted Brady in April of 2000.
6. Free-agent wide receiver Eric Decker agreed with Sirius XM NFL Radio co-host Brady Quinn last week when Quinn relayed that the Patriots could be a good fit for him in 2018. But as Decker noted in the interview, he hasn’t had any contact about that possibility, although the sides did have a conversation last offseason before Decker signed with Tennessee. I don’t see the Patriots’ urgency to make that type of move now, but if Decker is still available after the team has more time to evaluate Kenny Britt, Phillip Dorsett, Jordan Matthews, Cordarrelle Patterson and others early in training camp, perhaps they’d consider the possibility at that time.
7. The Vikings' move to bring their training camp to their home facility after 52 years in Mankato sparked memories of the Patriots’ decision to leave Bryant University in Smithfield, Rhode Island, in 2002 to hold their camp at brand-new Gillette Stadium. It’s hard to believe this year’s camp -- with the first practice open to the public scheduled for Thursday, July 26 -- will mark the 16th year the team has trained at home.
8. While it is officially the quiet time on the NFL calendar, with most coaches and players getting in a final break before the start of training camp (Bill Belichick is currently in France), that hasn’t included rookies across the NFL. Each team, as part of the NFL’s overall directive, holds its own rookie orientation program and for the Patriots that included a visit to Boston Children’s Hospital last week. One note to add on the scouting report for rookie linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley (fifth round, Purdue): A hard hitter who also hits the right notes.
The @Patriots rookies stopped by Boston Children's today to spend time with patients and show off their stellar singing skills! Check out this clip of top draft pick @NVBentley33 's incredible rendition of "Lean On Me." Thanks for visiting! @espn @FOXSports @wbzsports pic.twitter.com/AKgWsDm70k— Boston Children's (@BostonChildrens) June 20, 2018
9. Curious what role Patriots character coach/team development Jack Easterby plays with the team? The video above is one example to highlight, as that’s Easterby -- entering his sixth year with the franchise -- in the far right-hand side of the front row participating along with the team’s rookies. This is a big transition for most of the team's rookies, and Easterby's work is meant to help make it smoother.
10. There are many great stories of how football can help foster father-son bonding, but this is more of a father-daughter tale. Thanks Jen Welter. We’re looking forward to meeting you.