FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Barmore’s offseason: Most Patriots coaches were at college all-star games last week in Las Vegas and Mobile, Alabama, while many players have returned to their offseason homes and warmer climates, giving their bodies a chance to heal from the grind of the 17-game NFL season.
So it’s a quieter time around Gillette Stadium, which made defensive tackle Christian Barmore’s presence in Foxborough to kickstart his 2023 offseason workout regimen stand out more than it would have otherwise.
Getting more from Barmore -- the highly touted 2021 second-round pick from Alabama -- ranks high on the list of things that could help the Patriots improve on their unfulfilling 8-9 season.
Missing a seven-game stretch in the middle of the season due to knee inflammation was a major factor in him not making the projected jump from promising rookie to budding superstar.
Patriots' DT Christian Barmore has been battling knee inflammation for weeks before being placed on injured reserve Friday. Barmore does not need surgery, per source, just rest and rehab, and the team believes he should be able to return after four weeks.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) November 20, 2022
And as the Patriots’ lack of representation at the Pro Bowl (just outside linebacker Matthew Judon) and on the All-Pro team (just punt returner Marcus Jones) shows, the team needs more blue-chip players.
The 6-foot-5, 310-pound Barmore has potential to change that. Pro Football Hall of Famer Richard Seymour, arguably the top Patriots’ homegrown blue-chip defensive lineman, has watched him closely and relayed: “He has all the tools: big, strong, explosive.”
After reviewing some of Barmore's film, Seymour added: "He [also] has good versatility for any scheme. Quick off the snap and difficult to cut off in the run game. Plays with a lot of effort and toughness.
"If he continues down this path, he could be a premier defensive lineman for years to come."
The impact of a defensive tackle with those types of tools has been evident in this year’s AFC playoffs.
Chris Jones of the Kansas City Chiefs was a disruptive chess piece in the conference championship game, arguably the game’s MVP in harassing Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow. The week before, the Bengals’ duo of DJ Reader and BJ Hill consistently collapsed the interior of the Buffalo Bills’ offensive line, which contributed to making quarterback Josh Allen -- who has given the Patriots fits -- look mortal.
How realistic is it to think Barmore could produce in similar fashion in 2023?
As a rookie, he played in every game, totaled 55.6% of the defensive snaps, and finished with 46 tackles, 1.5 sacks and nine quarterback hits.
There were flashes of dominance, which sparked hope at this time last year that he was ready to break out. But a slower start and the knee injury limited him to 29% of the defensive snaps, as he finished with 23 tackles, 2.5 sacks and seven quarterback hits.
Quietly last week, Barmore took initial steps in hopes of writing a different story in 2023.
2. Lawing’s hire: It has been a decade since Bill O’Brien last coached in New England. During those 10 years, he cultivated relationships in the coaching ranks and hired numerous assistants to work under him at Penn State (2012-2013), the Houston Texans (2014-2020) and to a lesser degree Alabama (2021-2022). The Patriots’ hiring of 37-year-old offensive assistant coach Will Lawing last week reflects those ties and is a sign that O’Brien is being given a level of latitude from coach Bill Belichick when it comes to construction of the offensive staff, which still needs an all-important offensive line coach.
3. Belichick at Shrine: Belichick’s early NFL career was spent as an assistant special teams coach, and in that sense, he returned to his roots at last week’s East-West Shrine Bowl practices in Las Vegas. Eric Galko, the director of player personnel and football operations for the game, joked that Belichick spent so much time in practices with West team prospects on the finer points of the kicking game that he looked like an assistant special teams coach. Belichick then watched Thursday’s Shrine Bowl from the coaching booth, where Michigan’s Jake Moody (a future Patriot?) was the Offensive MVP after nailing four field goals in a 12-3 win.
4. Bronco battle: The Patriots visit the Broncos in 2023 (it will be their first trip there since 2017) and Denver’s hiring of Sean Payton as head coach last week changes the complexion of the matchup. Belichick regularly has noted how challenging it is to defend Payton’s offenses, saying most recently: “Sean’s record and reputation all speaks for itself. Nobody attacks defenses better.”
5. Salary cap: The NFL informed teams last week that the salary cap for 2023 will be $224.8 million, and when factoring new contract escalators and likely-to-be-earned incentives, the Patriots project to have about $30 million in space when the league year begins March 15. That might seem plentiful on the surface, but when considering the club plans to spend $15-20 million during the season for injuries, practice-squad elevations, not-likely-to-be-earned incentives and its draft class, the space can dissolve quickly.
6. McCourty’s shoulder: Veteran Patriots safety Devin McCourty underwent offseason shoulder surgery, according to league sources. It is a reminder of the physical toll that players endure, as McCourty played 97% of the defensive snaps last season. Consider this: McCourty has averaged more than 1,000 defensive snaps per regular season over his 13-year career, which doesn’t include nearly 1,700 snaps on special teams. He has also played in 24 career playoff games. Add it up and that’s well over 15,000 snaps played.
7. Strong’s ‘special’ focus: One lesson learned by Patriots 2022 fourth-round pick Pierre Strong Jr. – the running back from South Dakota State -- was the importance of the kicking game in the NFL. “I didn’t play any special teams in college. That was kind of different coming into the league,” he told ESPN from the Panini Rookie Closeout event in Los Angeles. “The outside world doesn’t really look at special teams as an important piece, but it’s very important.” Some of those lessons were learned the hard way, with Strong penalized for running into the punter in a Nov. 24 loss at Minnesota, and then being pulled off the kickoff coverage unit in the season finale at Buffalo after the Bills scored on the opening kickoff.
8. Brady and Hall: Since Tom Brady’s retirement announcement Wednesday, one of the hot-button media-based topics in New England is how the Patriots might honor him, giving fans the chance to do the same. Brady is eligible for the Patriots Hall of Fame in 2027, and waiving the four-year eligibility period and inducting him this year would be my pick. It would be unprecedented.
9. Patriots ties at Rhody: When Adam Vinatieri drilled game-winning field goals to help the Patriots win Super Bowl XXXVI over the Rams, and Super Bowl XXXVIII over the Panthers, punter Ken Walter was the reliable holder. That is part of Walter’s New England football legacy, and now he’s reconnecting with the region in another special way -- his son, Devin, signed a letter of intent to punt at the University of Rhode Island. Devin attended Cox Mill High School in Concord, North Carolina. He joins Case Mankins, son of former Patriots left guard Logan Mankins and a defensive lineman at Bishop Feehan High School in Attleboro, Massachusetts, in committing to Rhode Island.
10. Did You Know: Super Bowl LVII between the Chiefs and Eagles will feature the second largest gap between head coaches in terms of age, behind only Belichick-Sean McVay in Super Bowl LIII, which was 33 years and 283 days. The age gap between Chiefs coach Andy Reid and Eagles coach Nick Sirianni is 23 years and 88 days.