FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Patriots to get Super Bowl rings on Thursday: This was the invitation that members of the 2018 Super Bowl champions were waiting for, and when it was delivered to each of them in a classy box, the tip-off was the shiny Lombardi Trophy on the cover.
The RSVPs are in, and it should be a packed Kraft house this Thursday when Super Bowl rings are issued, a highly anticipated private event that brings the champions together one final time.
Defensive end Trey Flowers, who signed a five-year, $90 million contract with the Lions as a free agent in March, relayed to me that he wouldn't miss it. His presence Thursday, along with several others now playing elsewhere, serves as a reminder that while members of the 2018 Patriots are now scattered across the NFL, they still have great affection for one another and appreciation for what they accomplished together.
Defensive playcaller Brian Flores, now in his first year as Miami Dolphins head coach, is also among those scheduled to attend.
A division rival crossing back into Patriots territory?
Indeed, which speaks to the power of unity that a Super Bowl ring represents.
2. Three points from third-down back Vereen: Former Patriots running back Shane Vereen (2011-2014) was a guest analyst on ESPN early in the week -- he pointed to the Super Bowl XLIX comeback against the Seattle Seahawks as the top moment of his career -- and here were three notable soundbites:
Ranking James White as the third-best pass-catching running back in the NFL (behind the Panthers' Christian McCaffrey and the Saints' Alvin Kamara): "Fourteen catches, broke my record in the Super Bowl, I'm pretty much going to leave it at that. I will say, in my opinion, James White is the best route runner in the game for a running back. Hands down."
Biggest thing he was taught by Tom Brady and Josh McDaniels: "It's not necessarily catching the ball. It's not necessarily getting open. What it is, it's getting to the right spot. Getting to the spot where the quarterback expects you to be. Getting to the spot where there is no defense -- if it's a zone, sitting in the void; if it's man, breaking away the right way, not running into another route. Those things aren't really talked about ... I don't think a lot of people pay enough attention to it ... but those are even more important than actually catching the ball and making a play."
Patriots offense in 2019 without Rob Gronkowski: "It's an offense that shifts and morphs to the talent of its players. Josh McDaniels is not stuck in his ways of how he's going to play this game, or call each game. Every game, every week is different. They have different matchups. Different schemes per defense, for each week. That makes the offense difficult to learn, but very difficult to stop because you never really know how they're going to attack you each and every week. With that being said, with Gronk out, they will have guys to come in to fill his spot. They won't be Gronk, don't get me wrong. There is not another Gronk. We won't see another Gronk for a very, very long time, if we ever see another one. But they have enough talent on that team and they have enough wherewithal to figure it out and still be successful. They've done it for years."
3. Danny Amendola -- 'No story with No. 12': Former Patriots receiver Danny Amendola, who endeared himself to New England fans from 2013 to 2017 by making clutch plays wearing Troy Brown's old No. 80, is donning a different number in his first year with the Lions -- 12. An ode to his good pal Tom Brady, perhaps? "Not a story. Sorry!" Amendola relayed with a touch of humor, deflecting that his new number had anything to do with Brady. One possible meaning to the 12: Amendola entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with the Cowboys in 2008, which makes this his 12th pro season. Amendola wore 18 with the Cowboys, 11 with the Eagles, 80 with the Patriots and Dolphins, and now 12 with the Lions.
4. Harry would break mold as punt returner: The Patriots have traditionally employed shifty, quick-cutting punt returners (think Amendola, Julian Edelman, Troy Brown, etc.), but they've been taking a look at a possibility in voluntary organized team activities with first-round pick N'Keal Harry, who measured 6-foot-2 and weighing 228 pounds at the NFL combine. In the one OTA practice open to reporters, Harry didn't look out of place as he towered over others fielding punts, such as Edelman (5-10, 198), Phillip Dorsett (5-10, 192), Braxton Berrios (5-9, 190), Ryan Davis (5-9, 185) and Gunner Olszewski (5-10, 180). Harry returned 14 punts over his past two seasons at Arizona State, which included a 92-yard touchdown vs. USC.
5. How Junior Seau relates to Matthew Stafford: Second-year Lions head coach Matt Patricia reflected on his time coaching late Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau with the Patriots (2006-2009), using him as an example when asked how Lions coaches might help an 11-year veteran quarterback like Stafford learn new things to help him elevate his game. In the case of Seau, the Patriots had asked him to play techniques that were new to him in his 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th NFL seasons, but his competitive nature shined despite being out of his comfort zone. Using Seau as a springboard, Patricia said the greats are always open to learning new things.
6. Kraft helps get Garden rocking: One of the hard-to-miss parts of the Boston Bruins’ first two games against the St. Louis Blues in the Stanley Cup Final was how Patriots owner Robert Kraft helped elevate the crowd noise to ear-splitting levels when shown on the video board. In Thursday night’s second game, with the score tied at 2, the video board showed a Patriots contingent in a private box that included offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and football research director Ernie Adams, which excited the crowd. Then, the camera panned to Kraft, who was waving a gold towel, and the decibel level spiked to its highest mark.
7. Izzo stays connected to Florida State: Spending some time with second-year Patriots tight end Ryan Izzo at a recent community event, the bright yellow wristbands he wore stood out. They included the words "Go Noles," "Go Jesus" and "Blessed," and he explained their significance to him by saying, "Having these on both of my hands gives me strength throughout the day." Izzo added that the bands keep him connected to Florida State team chaplain Clint Purvis and his alma mater. The Patriots selected the 6-foot-3, 255-pound Izzo in the seventh round of the 2018 draft, and they're taking a close look at him at the No. 2 or 3 role on the depth chart previously held by veteran Dwayne Allen (Dolphins). Izzo is one of six Patriots draft picks from last year who landed on injured reserve before opening day.
8. Still two rookie contracts to finalize: Patriots third-round picks Chase Winovich (No. 77) and Damien Harris (No. 87) are the only two selections who have yet to sign contracts, which continues an NFL-wide trend in which the pace of third-round signings lags behind other rounds. Those deals will get done in time -- and both players are practicing regardless -- with the delay a result of the third-round contracts allowing more room for negotiation than the slotted deals in other rounds. The Patriots had a similar situation with quarterback Jacoby Brissett in 2016.
9. Another Belichick on the sidelines at Gillette: A neat moment for the Belichick family was on the schedule for Saturday night at Gillette Stadium, with Bill Belichick's daughter, Amanda, serving as an assistant coach for the Command of the Women's Professional Lacrosse League. The Command faced the Fire in the season opener of the WPLL's second year of existence, and Amanda told espnW to put a group of women on the Gillette Stadium field gave her goosebumps. "It's an NFL stadium where there are so few women," she said. "And now to put a women's professional team on this field ... I think is so empowering. That's what I want them to walk away knowing, you can play on the biggest stage -- home of the world champions."
10a. A chance to catch up with Gronk: Sunday morning will mark the ninth straight year that Gronkowski shaves his head as part of the One Mission "Buzz Off For Kids With Cancer" at Gillette Stadium, which is a great cause. Gronkowski's work as an ambassador for the Buzz Off has helped raise more than $7.7 million, according to event organizers, and this will mark one of the first times that local reporters have a chance to catch up with Gronkowski since he announced his retirement in late March. This also highlights why Gronkowski's official Patriots photos over the years -- and those that are part of network broadcasts -- always showed him with a shaved head. The Patriots usually schedule official headshots for the Monday of mandatory minicamp week, which has traditionally been the day after the Buzz Off.
10b. Did You Know, Part I: In the 2019 season, the Patriots will vie to become only the second team to advance to the Super Bowl in four straight years, a feat accomplished only by the Buffalo Bills (1990-1993). The Bills' four losses in those games were the subject of an ESPN "30 for 30" documentary, called "Four Falls of Buffalo".
10c. Did You Know, Part II: With their win against the Rams in Super Bowl LIII, the Patriots recorded their 37th postseason victory, which passed the Steelers (36) for most in NFL history.