FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Rhamondre and RBs: When former Patriots running back James White (2014-21) assesses the team’s personnel at his old position, he draws a link to the past.
“It almost reminds me of before I got to the Patriots when they had Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen [in the early 2010s], and Danny Woodhead, Kevin Faulk and others were gone,” he said. “Back then it was like, ‘This is your backfield now.’ I feel like that’s the transition there now.”
White believes Rhamondre Stevenson is primed for another heavy workload in his third NFL season.
“It’s not so often as a Patriots running back that you’re out there that many snaps,” White said after Stevenson logged 66% playing time last season and totaled 1,040 yards and five touchdowns on 210 carries. “[Coach] Bill [Belichick] loves that guy, so he just has to capitalize on the opportunity.”
While the 6-foot, 225-pound Stevenson is the clear-cut No. 1 option, there is a level of uncertainty with unproven personnel behind him.
That has sparked speculation in some circles that Belichick might consider adding to the ranks, with Dalvin Cook the highest-profile free agent option available. White said he would be surprised if that happens, leaving an opening for the possibility only in the event of an injury to Stevenson.
Thus, White views training camp as a critical time for nine-year veteran Ty Montgomery (limited to one game last season by a shoulder injury), third-year runner J.J. Taylor (5-6, 185) and second-year players Pierre Strong Jr. (5-11, 205) and Kevin Harris (5-10, 225) to prove they are worthy complementary options to Stevenson, who wore down a bit at the end of last season.
“I see a bunch of talented young guys and then a savvy veteran in Ty [6-0, 216], if he can stay healthy, to kind of lead those guys along,” White said. “Being around him a little bit last year, in OTAs and training camp, [Ty is] a guy who feels like he is still trying to prove himself and feels he has a lot left in the tank … he just hasn’t quite had a true opportunity.
“With Bill O’Brien coming back [as offensive coordinator], they’ll probably get back to having a ‘sub back,' and I feel like he’ll be the guy to take that on if they don’t have Rhamondre take on the full load.”
White will be watching closely in training camp to see how Strong -- the South Dakota State alum who played just 51 snaps as a rookie after being drafted in the fourth round -- responds to a full year in the team’s system. While the team’s offseason program officially ended June 16, Strong stuck around last week to continue his workouts at Gillette Stadium.
“Obviously, he has the speed. It’s probably just the mental part of it. Coming in as a rookie, there is a lot to learn and, kind of like myself [in 2014], he almost had a redshirt year,” White said.
“He’s going to have a lot thrown at him in training camp. They’re going to test him. Leave him in some of these preseason games to see what type of load he can accept, if he can pick up the blitz, run between the tackles. If he’s able to show what they expect, he’ll be right there.”
White added that Taylor also has a long-awaited chance to carve out a more stable role, and cautioned anyone against overlooking Harris, last year’s sixth-round pick out of South Carolina.
“Kevin is a physical runner,” he said. “When you look at him, you might not think much of him. But he’s a good player, he gets downhill and is a lot faster than you think.”
2. White’s view: White, who was a visitor at Patriots practice during mandatory minicamp, was asked for a big-picture takeaway. His answer: “It looked competitive. The offense looked more fluid this year at this point. It seemed like guys were energetic on the offensive side. The ball wasn’t hitting the ground too many times. The operation looked like it was in place -- guys were getting up to the line of scrimmage and going -- and that’s what you’re used to seeing from a Patriots-type offense.”
3. OT concerns?: One point quarterback Mac Jones and others made throughout the spring is that it’s hard to get a true evaluation without pads. So an early key in training camp, once the pads come on after the initial ramp-up period, will be how the offensive line holds up.
For all the talk about the possibility of adding receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who would obviously help -- a case could be made that offensive tackle is the Patriots’ biggest question. With Trent Brown seemingly trending in the wrong direction after missing the first day of mandatory minicamp following an extended absence throughout voluntary OTAs, Calvin Anderson, Riley Reiff and Conor McDermott were the top three OTs in spring practices.
4. Jack Jones’ status: The Patriots’ first practice of training camp is scheduled for July 26, and one popular question on social media is whether cornerback Jack Jones is expected to be there after he was arraigned last Tuesday on gun charges. Jones isn't due back in court until Aug. 18, so at this point with the team sticking by him, why wouldn’t he be there for the start of training camp?
5. BB & 33rd Team: Belichick went one-on-one with the 33rd Team website in a feature called “Get to Know Bill Belichick.” Themes included his respect for Paul Brown; coaches he enjoyed competing against; how football has evolved over his tenure; special teams and how kicking has been an instrumental part of the history of the game; and his philosophy of hiring young coaches, developing them and promoting from within. Belichick said in the interview that if he wasn’t coaching, he would have pursued a business career.
6. They said it: “I’m telling you right now, Mac Jones is going to be Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback in the very near future, whether it’s this year or in the next couple years. He’s that good.” -- ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit on "The Pat McAfee Show."
7. RB market: White sympathizes with franchise-tagged running backs Josh Jacobs (Raiders), Saquon Barkley (Giants) and Tony Pollard (Cowboys) in their hopes to land lucrative longer-term deals. “It’s definitely tough to see as a running back, the market seems to be declining,” he said. “I still feel we’re still vital pieces of the offense. You block, run, catch the ball -- helping in all aspects and touching the ball 20 times a game, sometimes more.”
8. Gino for Hall: Why isn’t late Patriots great Gino Cappelletti in the Pro Football Hall of Fame? It’s a good question, with John Turney of the Talk of Fame website making the case that it’s long overdue. No argument here.
9. Russ’ take: Former Patriots tight end Russ Francis (1975-1980, 1987-88), once referred to as the “all-world tight end” by Howard Cosell on “Monday Night Football,” told the “Pats from the Past” podcast what he believes separates the best tight ends in history: those with “complete” skills -- blocking, the speed to get downfield and the hands to catch the football. He said that is why he marveled at former Patriot Rob Gronkowski.
10. Did you know? Since 2010, there have been 27 individual 1,000-yard seasons by tight ends, according to ESPN Stats & Information. From 1970 to 2009, there were 24.