Training camp is underway for the New England Patriots and it's certainly different from what we've grown accustomed to in years past. And that's not even talking about the departure of Tom Brady. The pandemic has altered what we've normally come to expect in most everything nowadays and football is no exception. Had things gone forward under a traditional schedule, New England would already have one preseason game under its belt, as it was formerly scheduled to face the Detroit Lions last Thursday. Despite all that, the show goes on and preparations continue for the regular season, which is now less than a month away.
Here, we'll be combing through all the news, nuggets, and comments made from the past week in Foxborough and catch you up on everything that you may have missed. It certainly was a busy one, as the Patriots brought in former Pro Bowl running back Lamar Miller and we heard from a number of key veterans along with Bill Belichick. Ready? Let's dive in.
Getting to know Cam Newton
Foxborough is getting its first look at quarterback Cam Newton in more ways than one. After inking his one-year deal with the club back in early July, we're finally got a glimpse of Newton actually in his full Patriots uniform last week after the team released official photos. The former league MVP was donning No. 1, the same number he sported with the Carolina Panthers, and is the first player in the Belichick era in New England to wear it. Speaking of Belichick, the head coach is also getting his first look at Newton on the field. On Friday, Belichick spoke glowingly of Newton's work ethic, saying he is "a hard-working kid."
"We've done a lot of meetings and a lot of walk-throughs, a lot of information has been transferred to all the players, and he's worked very hard, I'd say, as all our players have," Belichick said of Newton. "We have a hard-working group. Those guys are ready to go and we've put in some long days and they've been very attentive throughout the process. I'd say that certainly for all the quarterbacks at that position, those guys have been locked in, been focused, have worked extremely hard, all four of them, and when they all get in the huddle, everybody has a lot of confidence in what they're able to do and the information they have to give to the team – play-calling, adjustments, audibles or protection adjustments, things like that.
CBS Sports NFL insider Jason La Canfora reported on Friday that "everything I hear out of New England is exceedingly positive" as it relates to Newton meshing with the Patriots.
Belichick mum on Bengals videotaping incident
One thing that was sort of lost in the shuffle in the immediate aftermath of the Patriots signing Cam Newton was the punishment that was handed down by the league office after the videotaping the Bengals sideline incident last year. An NFL investigation confirmed that football ops were not involved in this latest ordeal, but New England was still docked a third-round pick and fined $1.1 million.
Friday was the first time Belichick was asked about the punishment and, as one may expect, the head coach said it's all in the past.
"I think that obviously the league had a long investigation on that, but really we're just looking ahead and we have a lot of things in front of us here, especially getting ready for the season and all that," he said. "We've moved on and we'll deal with what we have to deal with in front of us here and just let everything go in the rear-view mirror and move ahead."
The irony that this falls under the "We're on to Cincinnati" philosophy is not lost on us.
Edelman putting Brady in the rearview
Monday was one of the first opportunities for Julian Edelman to be asked about Tom Brady's departure. The two were arguably one of the best quarterback-receiver duos in the entire league for a time and their relationship off the field was even stronger. That latter point will remain, but Edelman made it a point to say "I love him to death, but the train keeps moving as it will when I am not playing here or something. It just always keeps going."
Part of the "moving on" process for Edelman will be creating some quick chemistry with his new quarterback in Cam Newton.
"He's a specimen, for sure," Edelman said of Newton. "When you first meet him — just his stature. The dude is large, put together well and he's got a great energy. He has a great energy about himself. I was really impressed with his work ethic and his mindset. Just like I have been impressed with (Jarrett) Stidham's and (Brian) Hoyer's. I have been throwing with those guys as well."
What can Brown do for you?
Former Patriots great Troy Brown is taking the next step in his coaching career in 2020, as he'll assist Ivan Fears as a running backs coach along with helping in the kick return game. While being primarily known as a receiver, Brown made his name with the Patriots during the early days of the dynasty for being a versatile weapon. On top of pass-catching duties, Brown was a tremendous returner and also saw time in the secondary as well as an emergency quarterback. With that in mind, seeing him adopt a wide-ranging set of skills as a coach isn't surprising. Brown seems to be making a strong impact on current Patriots players too.
"Troy's been great to work with," Patriots running back Rex Burkhead said this week. "Just his understanding of the game. Of course, he played many years here, so he's familiar with the system, how things are run here. I think the biggest thing is technique-wise, route-running, certain things maybe I've never seen before or looked at that way just because I've played running back. He sees it from a wide receiver lens, and so it translates over to some of our routes and how we run them. He's been great with that, teaching me, James (White) and all of the other backs certain ways to get to positions out there and really how to use our techniques."
In case you were wondering, Brown logged 29 carries over his 192 regular-season games and has 178 rushing yards to his name.
Steve Belichick impressing in new role
Steve Belichick is another coach making a position change in 2020. The son of the legendary head coach is now leading the outside linebackers after spending the first four seasons of his coaching career with the safeties. So far, Belichick, who was praised for calling some of the defensive plays last season, is impressing veterans like John Simon.
"Steve is a very intelligent guy. He knew the whole defense last year even though he was with the back end there," said Simon. "Steve's been awesome -- very intelligent man. Knows a lot about the game. Really giving us the ins and outs of what he knows and trying to build our game off him as well."
Belichick's ascent will be a fascinating side story for Patriots fans to follow this season. The club is heading into 2020 without a defensive coordinator and if he is able one day take that role, he'll be one step away from being a head coach in the NFL just like his father.
Rough sailing for Pats rookies
When Belichick was asked about the progress of rookie safety Kyle Dugger on Friday, the head coach took that as an opportunity to highlight a harsh reality for all first-year players in the league. Because of the lack of a traditional offseason workout program, limited training camp, and no preseason, there isn't a lot of reps available for those young players to get up to speed.
"They're in deep water and turbulent water and it's going to get rougher," he said.
Specifically, with New England, I immediately think of the linebacker unit when it comes to this subject. The Patriots saw a mass exodus at the position this offseason with Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, and Elandon Roberts all leaving in free agency. Matters were only made more strenuous when Dont'a Hightower elected to opt-out of the season. Now, third-round rookie linebackers Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings could be thrust into much bigger roles than anticipated out of the gate. Getting them to a point where they can produce immediately will be a challenging but pivotal task for the Patriots over the next few weeks and months.
McCourty twins not thinking opt-out
Opt-outs have hit the Patriots harder than most. Two players who would have been on the same level as Dont'a Hightower, Patrick Chung, and Marcus Cannon in terms of the magnitude of their departure had they opted out are Devin and Jason McCourty, who celebrated their 33rd birthday on Thursday. Jason spoke at length on Friday why he and his twin brother decided to play in 2020.
"Me and Dev have both spoken a lot about our stance on everything that goes on -- I don't think either one of us ever thought about actually opting out," McCourty told reporters. "The opt-out itself just wasn't worth it. I think for us, the love of the game and the ability to go out there -- we didn't really have a lot of issues that other people have, whether it was newborn kids, whether it was things that put them in high risk or close family members that put them in high risk. So for us, it was strictly from a family standpoint, we felt like it was worth it to give it a try and see what we were up against. And being able come into the building, seeing the things that would be done, I think we thought it was necessary to go through that process.
"And I think us, like anybody in our society right now, if it was something that was at an extremely high risk to you or your family, of course you wouldn't continue to do it if you could stop it. But I think for all of us right now playing that are in our building -- I can't speak for everybody, but I think we're comfortable with the protocols and the measures that have been taken. I think all of us are in this thing together and it takes all of us being responsible."
McCourty also took time at the top of his press availability to praise the Gillette Stadium staff for how well they have situated the facility to make players safe and maintain social distancing. Bill Belichick also noted earlier this summer that owner Robert Kraft upgraded the facility to "the highest level."
Hello, Lamar. See ya, Sony?
The Patriots added some more depth to the backfield this week by signing veteran Lamar Miller to a one-year deal. According to Field Yates of ESPN, Miller, who will wear No. 35 in Foxborough, has a base salary of $1.05 million ($200,000 guaranteed) and has $1.5 million in achievable incentives. Now that we know the figures, it's confirmed that this is a lottery ticket-type signing for New England. If Miller, who missed all of last season due to a torn ACL, can return close to his Pro Bowl form 2018, it's a slam dunk. If he can't, there's very little financial risk.
What did strike me about this signing, however, was the timing. As I highlighted earlier this week, this signing could speak volumes about where Sony Michel stands with the club. The 2018 first-round pick, who has yet to really break out as he enters Year 3 of his career, is still on the PUP list after undergoing offseason foot surgery earlier this offseason. The fact that he hasn't been able to return to the field and the Patriots decided to bring in Miller doesn't spell a promising start for Michel in 2020.
'28-3' meets a new generation
Congratulations to Dont'a Hightower and his fiancée, Morgan Hart, after giving birth to their son, Grayson, on July 16. As highlighted by Stan Grossfeld of The Boston Globe, the Patriots linebacker used New England's infamous come-from-behind win against the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI as a motivation tool for Hart as she went through a 17-hour labor, chanting "28-3, 28-3. ... Never give up."
"It was surreal," Hart told The Globe. "It was a long night and a long day, and he kept reminding me, '28-3, 28-3,' meaning you can be behind and come back. Never, never give up. Dont'a is a motivator and always has been. '28-3' is about what you can do as a team, and in this case, it was the two of us as a team. He kind of renewed my spirit that he was in this with me, and if I wavered at all, he was here to pick me back up. He got me through it, for sure."
Hightower was critical in the comeback victory, the second of his three Super Bowl titles with New England, stripping Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan in the second half to help make the win possible. Now it's good to see that championship experience is going to good use. He's also quickly introducing his son to one of dad's greatest on-field accomplishments.
The Patriots have been working in shells for the past few practices and will go through an OTA-style session on Sunday as well. Monday, however, will be the first full-padded practice of training camp. Because of the lack of preseason, these practices take on greater importance for not only the Patriots, but every other club around the league as there is a greater emphasis to get in as many live reps as possible before the regular season begins. This should also heat things up in the quarterback battle between Newton, Stidham, and Hoyer.