Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. High praise from Warner: Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner paused to consider his answer to the question, "Which cornerback that you faced in your career reminds you most of reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore?"
Part of the reason Warner seemed to be initially stumped is that his high-flying Rams teams (1998-2003) didn't see many press cornerbacks like Gilmore. But also, Gilmore is a rare talent.
"He reminds me of Deion Sanders the way he studies his craft and is a student of the game. That's what Deion was so good at -- the technique, the little things, and the ability to understand the game. Obviously, Deion was ridiculously talented. But he understood the game in such a way, especially playing man coverages, strengths and weaknesses, reading body language and doing all that stuff. That reminds me a lot of Stephon, the way he plays the game," Warner said after deliberation.
"Maybe not the top-end athleticism that Deion had. Maybe not the speed that Deion had. But the same kind of craft he plays with, so he would probably be the guy. Deion was a guy who would get up in your face a lot."
It is high praise, and was reinforced this offseason when Warner and his NFL Network colleague Brian Baldinger spent time with Gilmore as part of the “Film Session” series. Their film breakdown with Gilmore will be available on NFL.com's "Game Pass" on Tuesday, and airs on the league's television network Saturday (8 p.m. ET).
The series, now in its third season, kicked off last week with Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson.
"One of the neat parts of it is getting guys in their element, giving them a chance to talk about their craft, and it allows you to go a lot more in depth than you would in other places," Warner said. "It's also kind of an elongated interview as well, and with Stephon, he's not a guy who speaks a lot. He's very soft-spoken, not going to expand on a lot of stuff when you're in a meeting or a media situation, but you get these guys in a place like this where they are very comfortable, they open up a lot more.
"What I've learned about Stephon is that he has an understanding of not just what he's trying to do, but the understanding of the other guys and what their responsibilities are. That frees him up to be able to play the game the way he plays it. So often you get a cornerback and they might be so focused on their job that they can't piece together how their game can adjust based on what other guys are doing and the responsibilities of other guys.
"That's one of the most impressive things to me, just how much of a student of the game he is. And the way he applies that. I think putting it together with [coach] Bill Belichick has really allowed him to utilize those complete skills, and that understanding of his craft, and take it to another level."
2. Hoyer-Stidham dynamic fits: At one of the recent Patriots private throwing sessions that quarterback Jarrett Stidham helped organize with teammates, there was no center on the field, so Stidham was snapping the ball to Brian Hoyer. And vice versa. The exchanges highlight an important working dynamic between the two: They are fiercely competitive in hopes of being the successor to Tom Brady, but also sacrificing to help each other. Teams can't force a positive working relationship between their top quarterbacks, but with Hoyer's experience and top-shelf professionalism, it was never really in question how it would look this year in New England.
3. Warner sees 'big unknown' for Patriots QBs: The Patriots have known what they have at quarterback with Brady for almost two decades, but now, the picture is less certain. What will Warner be looking for if Stidham seizes the job?
"There's a big unknown there. That's the bottom line. I watched Jarrett in college and saw a quarterback who was kind of up and down, all over the place from a consistency standpoint. You, of course, saw the talent. So what I'm looking for, and really what I'm always looking for at that position, is consistency," he said.
"What that looks like can be different [depending on the situation]. Think back to when Tom was younger, and Tom was consistent, but he wasn't consistently great, so to speak. He wasn't putting up 300 yards and three touchdowns a week. But he was consistently solid in making the right decisions and not putting the team in harm's way, allowing the people around him to play well, and him managing games.
"I don't put an expectation on a young quarterback, but what I want to see is consistency to allow his team to have a chance to be successful. You know they are going to have other pieces in place. From there, the other things will start to transpire and you figure out what he is as a quarterback."
4. Byrd gets early jump: For those who believe a quarterback and pass-catcher can lay an important foundation in the offseason by working together, keep an eye on under-the-radar free-agent signee Damiere Byrd as he transitions to the Patriots' system. Byrd has been a regular at the throwing sessions with quarterbacks Stidham and Hoyer. A former teammate of Gilmore at South Carolina, Byrd is fast. And the Patriots' wide receiving corps finished 2019 as one of the slower groups in the NFL.
5. McCourtys continue social-justice conversation: Patriots defensive backs Devin McCourty and Jason McCourty continue to use their platform as professional athletes for social-justice causes, with their Thursday "Double Coverage" podcast with former FBI agent M. Quentin Williams a most recent example.
Williams, who played football at Boston College with Doug Flutie in the 1980s, is the founder of Dedication to Community, a non-profit organization whose mission is to educate, enlighten and empower communities to achieve their business and societal goals. Among other things Williams highlights is how police can better serve their communities, and how community members can better interact with police.
The McCourtys had expressed their disappointment with Drew Brees' initial comments about player protests regarding policy brutality, and on the podcast, expounded on where they now stand after Brees' apology.
"You don't have an issue with Drew Brees when he makes those statements. You have an issue with that train of thought. That train of thought is what we're trying to move away from," Jason McCourty said. "As soon as someone who has that thought is willing to dive in and learn, and open up dialogue to talk about [it] ... when we're able to do that, there's no animosity or hostility towards anyone. That's not what we're trying to do. There's an issue, and we're trying to fix this issue."
6. Most important part of Kraft's pledge: Patriots owner Robert Kraft's $1 million pledge -- chosen in collaboration with players and split up over 10 months and $100,000 each to those fighting for equity, to end systemic racism and create meaningful change -- was a nice gesture by any measure. But to me, the more powerful part of the pledge is what accompanies it: The organizations chosen will be invited to speak to executive staff and senior management to help better educate them on the issues. That action puts a lot more weight behind the generous donation. As for the collaboration with players, one member of the team shared that Kraft was part of a videoconference last week with players, and there were some powerful words spoken about working together -- ownership, coaches and players -- to help promote change.
Our eyes, ears and hearts are open. pic.twitter.com/lmD16Szesj— New England Patriots (@Patriots) June 5, 2020
7. Coaches stayed remote: While Friday marked the first day coaches were allowed to return their facilities, most (if not all) of the Patriots staffers continued to work remotely. That could change in the coming week, but it wasn't like there was a sudden rush to get back to the office at the earliest possible time.
8. Catching up with Class of 2019: Belichick often says the biggest jump a player makes is from his first year to the second, and Patriots.com is shining the spotlight on the Class of 2019 in a series of articles. Receiver Jakobi Meyers told Paul Perillo one of his goals this year is not just understanding what to do, but why the offense is doing it. And punter Jake Bailey told Erik Scalavino he used the extended time he's had at home in California to complete his undergraduate degree from Stanford.
9. Training camp at home: The NFL announced last week that all training camps will be held at team facilities, which didn't affect the Patriots because they've been doing it that way since 2003. Prior to that point, they had spent 26 years holding training camp at Bryant University. In 2003, they were one of just 14 teams to hold their training camp at their home facility. Last year, 22 teams had stayed at home.
10. Did You Know: The Patriots finished last season as the No. 1-rated defense (based on yards allowed), and now hope to accomplish the feat in back-to-back seasons for the first time since the Seattle Seahawks did it in 2013-14. Others to pull it off in consecutive years are the Pittsburgh Steelers (2011-12 and 2007-08), Minnesota Vikings (1988-89) and Chicago Bears (1984-86).