FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
Onwenu insurance: In a perfect football world, every player would report to training camp with a clean bill of health and be on the field for the first practice to maximize the limited time leading up to the regular season.
It seldom happens, and for the Patriots, starting right guard Mike Onwenu’s offseason ankle surgery and opening training camp on the physically unable to perform list is one example of how a “next man up” situation can come at teams quickly.
Onwenu is one of the Patriots’ best players, a key cog in helping keep quarterback Mac Jones upright. He played all but six snaps last season and ranked as an “honorable mention” pick in ESPN’s offseason top-10 poll of executives, coaches, scouts and players.
The Patriots will be patient with the 6-foot-3, 350-pound Onwenu, and until he’s cleared for practice after missing all on-field work this spring, they’ll get an early look at what they have for insurance -- a group including the first offensive lineman they selected in this year’s draft, Troy center/guard Jake Andrews.
“He’s a battler, a competitive dude, a blue-collar guy. I think it’s a perfect match,” Troy head coach Jon Sumrall told ESPN.com. “If you say a ‘New England Patriot kind of guy,’ Jake Andrews is not just a 'Yeah,' he’s a 'Hell yeah!'”
The Patriots selected Andrews with the fifth pick of the fourth round, No. 107 overall. The timing of the selection, as well as the team-building strategy behind it, is notable.
The fourth round kicks off the third day of the draft, which means every team resets its board at that point. The overnight break, coupled with teams not expecting players to still be available, explains why there were three straight trades at the start of the Round 4 (Saints, Raiders and Eagles all moved up).
The Patriots also could have traded out but instead saw greater value in securing Andrews, who started at right guard in 2020 and 2021 before moving to center as a senior in 2022. Sumrall understood why.
“He’s made up of the right stuff and has the right kind of wiring, if you will," he said. "Extremely tough. Dependable. A tremendous teammate. Loves the game and the details of what goes into being a great O-lineman. It’s a lot of fun as a football coach to coach a Jake Andrews-type guy.”
The selection also sparked a stretch in which the Patriots used two of their next three picks on offensive linemen: Eastern Michigan tackle/guard Sidy Sow (Round 4, No. 117) and UCLA guard Atonio Mafi (Round 5, No. 144). The strategy was obvious: Build upside depth up front for when inevitable injuries hit.
Andrews, a native of Millbrook, Alabama, was a state championship wrestler in high school -- a similar background to former Patriots starting guard Stephen Neal (2001-10). Sumrall said that shows up in Andrews’ play, particularly with hand-to-hand combat.
He was also coached by former Patriots assistant Cole Popovich last season at Troy.
“Cole was a monumental part of what we did and how we did it," Sumrall said. "The way he taught the style of O-line play; teaching progression and selflessness was a lot of Patriots stuff.
“Our protection system that we ran has a lot of derivatives and underlying themes from the Patriots' system. I think that served our players extremely well, to be taught an NFL play style from a technique and schematic standpoint.”
2. Scar on Klemm: Dante Scarnecchia was the Patriots’ offensive line coach when Adrian Klemm played for the team (2000-2004). Now Klemm returns to the organization as offensive line coach – a critical hire alongside offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien -- and Scarnecchia likes the fit. “Adrian is a really good coach,” he said. “I was really impressed with the way he conducted his practices [in college], the demands he put him on the players. No-nonsense guy. I think he’ll do a great job here.”
3. D-Hop follow-up: My biggest takeaway from receiver DeAndre Hopkins agreeing to join the Titans instead of the Patriots is that the “what ifs” were the deciding factor for both sides. For Hopkins, too much of the Patriots’ offer was tied to incentives. And for the Patriots, the “what if” of how Hopkins would fit into their program -- and what it would look like if those incentives weren’t close to being reached -- contributed to their more cautious approach.
4. Conditioning test: When Patriots veterans report for training camp Tuesday, they’ll be put through a conditioning test, which former New England running back James White detailed during a co-host appearance on Sirius XM NFL Radio last week. White explained that players must complete 20 sprints of 60 yards each, with a short break of a few minutes in the middle.
“The weather can make it more difficult -- if it’s hot," he said on the “Opening Drive” program with co-host Solomon Wilcots. "You have Coach Belichick watching, all the scouts watching, and that’s the jump start to camp. I know the feeling that a lot of these guys are going through. Some guys are probably questioning whether they’ve done enough the last five weeks. Some guys may have done too much.”
The projected forecast Tuesday calls for a high of 88 degrees.
5. Bourne’s bounceback? Seven-year veteran receiver Kendrick Bourne was critical of himself for his 2022 performance (35 catches, 434 yards, 1 TD) after a productive 2021 season with the Patriots (55 catches, 800 yards, 5 TDs). His hard work this offseason has made an impression, with one member of the team relaying he had a “great spring.”
6. RB depth: The Patriots’ workouts with running backs Leonard Fournette and Darrell Henderson Jr. last Wednesday reflect a combination of due diligence and acknowledgement that they haven’t filled the void from James Robinson’s release in June. No signing was imminent then, but the sides could always revisit in the future.
7. Guy’s status: One leftover item of business from the spring to resolve is the status of starting defensive lineman Lawrence Guy, who didn’t report to mandatory minicamp for what was believed to be contract-related reasons. Guy enters his seventh season with the team and was a captain in 2020. A modest contract tweak, similar to what the Titans did for safety Kevin Byard, would be a nice gesture from the club for a team-first type of player.
8. Trent’s motivation: It’s been a challenge for the Patriots to be able to count on veteran offensive tackle Trent Brown, as evidenced by him not showing up for the first day of June’s mandatory minicamp. But if Brown’s recent social media activity is any indication, he might be locked in entering training camp. That would help answer a huge question for the team, with Riley Reiff and Calvin Anderson -- both having their professionalism noted by teammates in the spring -- next on the depth chart.
9. They said it: “He has all the potential in the world. Hopefully he keeps his head on his shoulders and makes smart decisions on and off the football field. He can be a top corner in this league [and] reminds me of a young J.C. Jackson.” -- James White, via Sirius XM NFL Radio, on Patriots second-year cornerback Jack Jones
10. Did you know? Over the past 10 seasons, there have been just two Super Bowl winners to have a leading rusher with more than 1,000 rush yards. The last was LeGarrette Blount for the Patriots in 2016.