FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Edelman the mentor: Wide receiver Julian Edelman reflected on the first two years of his career during this week's mandatory minicamp, and shared how veteran running back Fred Taylor would impart wisdom while they drove from the team hotel to Gillette Stadium in Taylor's Range Rover. Now Edelman, 33, is taking it upon himself to be a Taylor-type presence to others, especially first-round draft choice N'Keal Harry, the 21-year-old wide receiver from Arizona State.
I watched it unfold during Thursday's final practice.
The video does more justice than any words can, but Harry was running an out-breaking route off an inside release -- he would run up the middle of the field, plant his left foot after about 12 yards, and explode out of his break to the sideline.
On his first repetition, Harry had a few stutter-steps before planting his left foot. Edelman approached Harry to go over the finer points of the route, before Harry stepped to the line to do it again, with Edelman watching closely.
The result was better, and Harry received positive reinforcement from quarterback Tom Brady for the improvement.
Credit Edelman, who is now in the Taylor-type latter stages of his career, with the assist.
2. Taylor recalls car rides with Edelman: I reached out to Taylor, who resides in South Florida, to see what he remembered about those car rides with Edelman. One question I had was how a late-career veteran wound up driving with a first- and second-year player.
"I saw a lot of myself in him. Julian was so hard on himself, and when the coaches were hard on him, he would get down. Way down," Taylor relayed. "Going to New England can be tough for rookies, with [Bill Belichick's] coaching style, but I would say, 'You don't know how good you got it. You all have to appreciate this.' Julian thought Coach was being a hardass, and tough on him. But that's because he saw something in Julian. Some people don't recognize that until it's too late, but fortunately for Julian, he figured it out.
"That was also a point where I was getting down because of injuries that were impeding my career. So I had to try to catch Julian and say, 'S--- is going to happen. You're a baller. Keep your head up.' So I welcomed him to ride in my car, to pick my brain about the game, about life outside the stadium, about money stuff, anything. He was like a sponge."
One thing I learned in talking to Taylor: He had just connected with Edelman a few days before on the telephone, and the two reminisced about their time together. Taylor relayed to Edelman how happy he was that Edelman had stuck with it after some rocky moments earlier in his career.
"I told him he's an old man now," the 43-year-old Taylor joked, before turning serious. "I'm really excited for him to see what he's done."
3. Collins right back into the mix: When the Patriots signed linebacker Jamie Collins to a modest one-year contract on May 15, my first thought was that Collins would have to fight for a roster spot, proving that whatever factors led the Patriots to shockingly trade him for minimal compensation (a late third-round pick) in 2016 were behind him. After watching Collins in four practices now, my new thought is the Patriots have significant plans for him as long as everything stays on course. Collins was inserted right into the linebacker mix with top players Dont'a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Ja'Whaun Bentley and Elandon Roberts, but the biggest tip-off was his presence as the top right guard on the punt protection unit.
4a. Patriots resourceful with Thuney at left tackle: One of the notable developments of spring practices has been starting left guard Joe Thuney working with the first unit at left tackle. That is a result of projected starter Isaiah Wynn (Achilles) still not cleared for full team drills, veteran swing tackle Jared Veldheer retiring, and the Patriots having a surplus of capable NFL-caliber players on the interior in backups Brian Schwenke, Ted Karras, James Ferentz and 2019 fourth-round pick Hjalte Froholdt. The ideal scenario for the Patriots is that Wynn (whose recovery is on track) steps in to the left-tackle spot vacated by Trent Brown and the line doesn't miss a beat. But Thuney, who played left tackle at NC State before making a Logan Mankins-type move to left guard in the NFL, currently projects as the top backup, especially with West Virginia offensive tackle Yodny Cajuste (third round, No. 101) not yet cleared to practice (calf). It's a good example of the Patriots' resourcefulness with personnel already on the roster.
4b. Keeping absences in perspective: Running back Sony Michel wasn't on the field for spring practices, but he's been a regular at the team facility, which likely means he's being held back for health/medical reasons. A big deal? Not in my view. Thuney, for example, missed all spring practices last year and ended up playing every snap of the regular season and playoffs as the team's No. 1 ironman. Though Michel's prior injury history adds an important layer of context, and though the best place for a player to improve is on the field, playing it safe in the spring is usually a smarter approach than pushing forward in a situation that could potentially do more harm in the long-term. If Michel isn't there on the first day of training camp, then the discussion shifts to more concern.
5. Belichick goes the distance at ring ceremony: Coaches, players, team executives and support staff were present at Thursday's private Super Bowl ring ceremony, and some who were in attendance said that coach Bill Belichick's remarks marked one of the more meaningful parts of the night. What stood out most? How long Belichick stayed at the mic, where he shared his appreciation for everyone in the room, coming across as genuine and heartfelt. That was particularly the case with how Belichick spoke of his players. For example, at one point he said something along the lines of Hightower being worthy of a "Mr. February" nickname -- similar to Reggie Jackson's "Mr. October" nickname in baseball -- because of all the big plays Hightower has made in Super Bowls. Belichick's remarks came after Brady spoke, with Brady thanking Belichick for the "tough love" that has made him a better player over the years.
6. Could Berrios be the next Humphries?: The Patriots lost out on their pursuit of free-agent slot receiver Adam Humphries (Titans) despite a contract offer in the $9 million to $10 million per-year range, which has opened the door for 2018 sixth-round pick Braxton Berrios to possibly fill that role. Berrios, a shifty slot receiver at Miami who spent his rookie NFL season on injured reserve, caught my eye in four spring practices as one of the most improved players -- reliable catching the ball in tight windows, more decisive, and quicker and more fluid in his movements than he was last year, when he was fighting a muscle-related injury. Humphries likely would have been great for the Patriots, but with Berrios scheduled to earn a base salary of $495,000 in 2019, the club has a situation where a developing player at a fraction of the cost could ultimately fill part of the role they had targeted for Humphries. There is a long way to go, and Berrios has to prove he can stay on the field, but his development is a positive one for the club this spring. Berrios relayed to me that he's taking a "rookie mentality" to the year.
7. Revis vs. Gilmore: Having the chance to watch Darrelle Revis every day in 2014 spring practices/training camp was a treat because of his excellence, and Stephon Gilmore is approaching that level, if not surpassing it. The biggest difference: Gilmore is so soft-spoken, he doesn't generate the same level of media attention/hype as Revis.
8. An overlooked area where the Patriots will miss Gronk: Retired tight end Rob Gronkowski often came up with clutch catches, and devastating blocks in the run game, but a new metric highlights a different part of his game for which the Patriots must account -- pass blocking. Gronkowski tied for first in the NFL among tight ends in pass-block win rate. Gronkowski held his block for at least 2.5 seconds on 98% of dropbacks, per ESPN pass-blocking metrics using NFL Next Gen Stats. Gronkowski and Saints tight end Josh Hill battled for the top spot in that category each of the past two seasons (among tight ends with at least 50 pass blocks).
9. Hollister makes an early impression in Seattle: It sounds like the Seahawks have significant plans for third-year tight end Jacob Hollister, whom they acquired from the Patriots for a seventh-round pick in April. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer told Seattle reporters that Hollister has stood out from a "speed element" standpoint. Schottenheimer then added Hollister is a "really good route runner" by comparing him to receiver Tyler Lockett in terms of instincts. The Patriots obviously felt Hollister had plateaued in their system, based on their decision to trade him for limited compensation -- with injuries a key consideration -- but the fresh start seems to have provided him a spark to reignite his career at a time when New England's own tight end situation remains a question mark.
10. Did You Know: The Patriots' nine division titles this decade is the most by an NFL team in any decade, besting the Minnesota Vikings' eight titles in the 1970s. The Patriots (2000s), 49ers (1980s), Cowboys (1970s), Rams (1970s), Steelers (1970s) and Browns (1950s) all had seven division crowns in a decade.