minicamp

Postcard from Patriots minicamp: Jamie Collins makes his presence felt

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USA TODAY Sports Photo

Postcard from Patriots minicamp: Jamie Collins makes his presence felt

FOXBORO — Day 3 of Patriots minicamp began with players acknowledging that they aren’t the talk of the town in Boston at the moment. Julian Edelman wore a Bruins jersey (No. 13 borrowed from teammate Phillip Dorsett), and Dorsett, Dont’a Hightower and others wore spoked-B hats on their way out to the fields behind Gillette Stadium. 

The Bruins and Blues will play Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals tonight at TD Garden. There would have likely been several Patriots players at the game tonight, but Robert Kraft is hosting last year’s championship team to his home (including players no longer on the club) to hand out Super Bowl rings. Priorities. 

Here’s what we saw from the final day of Patriots minicamp practice... 

NOTABLE ABSENCES

Sony Michel remained a no-show on the practice fields behind Gillette for the third straight day. Damien Harris got plenty of work in Michel’s absence. 

Patrick Chung, Deatrich Wise, Yodny Cajuste and Demaryius Thomas remained out. They did not participate in practices this week. 

FAKE FOOTBALL, REAL NOTES

Early in the practice, N’Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers got some 2-on-2 time with Tom Brady and Brian Hoyer. Josh McDaniels watched closely and played the role of defensive back, asking the receivers to react to his positioning and adjust their routes accordingly. Harry ran one a yard or two off of where Brady was targeting and the pass skipped away without Harry even being able to attempt to dive for it. When Harry ran the correct distance on his next route, McDaniels and Brady provided him some positive reinforcement. 

When the Patriots did 11-on-11 work with sound piped in, Brady launched his first pass deep for Julian Edelman. Jonathan Jones was right there in coverage and broke up the play. 

Maurice Harris finished off a strong week of work with a long reception from Brady that was the result of some trickery at the line of scrimmage soon after the snap. 

Duke Dawson got his hands on the football deep down the right sideline, breaking up an attempt from Brady to Phillip Dorsett. Dawson has been in the right place at the right time when targeted in competitive drills over the last two days of minicamp practice. 

Jamie Collins once again made his presence felt early on in competitive drills. Rushing off the edge, he read Brady and jumped to break up a pass at the line of scrimmage. In a passing-down role, Collins’ athleticism could be a weapon. 

Stephon Gilmore had one of the more impressive pass breakups of the afternoon in the red zone when Brady tried to hit Edelman. Gilmore left his man with the ball in the air to undercut the throw and bat it out of the back of the end zone. There’s no doubt who the most impressive defensive back has been during “passing camp” this week. Gilmore looks like he’s picked up from where he left off last year. 

Jakobi Meyers and Julian Edelman had drops in drills early in the practice. Matt LaCosse also had a Brady pass go through his hands in an 11-on-11 period later in the workout. 

In a continuation of what happened at times Wednesday, rookie quarterback Jarrett Stidham was the second passer up in team drills. He completed short throws to Rex Burkhead and Ryan Izzo but had consecutive inaccurate passes to fellow rookies N’Keal Harry and Damien Harris fall incomplete. His best pass of the afternoon came in the red zone when he hit Jakobi Meyers on a perfectly placed pass that led Meyers to open space in the back corner of the end zone. 

Brian Hoyer was the third quarterback on the field during team drills. His best throws came in the red zone as well. He hit Phillip Dorsett on a 50-50 ball with Joejuan Williams in coverage. He later his Braxton Berrios in the back of the end zone with coverage closing in.  

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Patriots look back to great players of the past to go forward in 2019

Patriots look back to great players of the past to go forward in 2019

FOXBORO – During a wide receiver drill this week, Julian Edelman came to the head of the line to take his rep. Across from the MVP of the most recent Super Bowl stood Deion Branch, MVP of Super Bowl 39. With big red pads on his hands, Branch stood ready to whack at Edelman as he made his release.

Fifteen yards away, rookie first-round pick N’Keal Harry was at the front of his line and Troy Brown, Patriots Hall of Famer and the motor for the Patriots offense in 2001, was ready to give Harry the same treatment Branch was giving Edelman.

Past. Present. Future. All in one glance. And that’s without even turning your head to spot Tom Brady or Bill Belichick, Ben Watson, Donta Hightower or Jerod Mayo.

It’s mind-boggling when you start to process the amount of NFL history that the men on those practice fields are responsible for.

And it’s unprecedented when you consider players who were drafted in 1993 and 2002 respectively as Brown and Branch were can come back to the team they played for and find the head coach and quarterback they made history with still in place.

It’s like a living museum.

“It’s hard for us to really fully appreciate it while we’re in it,” Patriots special teams ace Matthew Slater said. “Our focus is normally just to live in the moment, always try to get better, never be complacent. But I think whenever that time is for me to move on and other guys to move on it will be time to realize that this is… this doesn’t happen. It really doesn’t happen. We’re really fortunate and blessed to be a part of this.”

Slater is right. The focus in Foxboro has always been on improvement and – generally – one doesn’t get better by looking back at the things already accomplished.

But at this time of year and for this team that’s got such a mass of first- and second-year players, there’s value. Interacting and working with former players who helped build this dynasty makes the tradition tangible.

I asked Bill Belichick on Wednesday about players like Brown, Branch and Kevin Faulk, who also was in town for OTAs to work with young players. What do they add?

“Those guys have been through the whole full experience – beginning, middle, end – for multiple years, multiple seasons,” said Belichick. “They all have something that they can add. Each of them are different, have a different story and different message but they’re all good.”

After Wednesday’s practice, the entire team gathered around to listen to University of Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz address the team. What added value is there in a college coach speaking to NFL players?

Probably not a lot about scheme or choosing the right agent. But Ferentz worked with Belichick in Cleveland from 1993 to 1995. One of his sons, Brian, was a former Patriots assistant who is now the offensive coordinator at Iowa. Another son, James, is a Patriots offensive lineman. Ferentz is the longest-tenured head coach in college football.

If you want someone to send a message about what it takes to succeed not just in football but in the kind of demanding program Belichick runs, Ferentz makes perfect sense. And not just succeed but sustain.

In that group of players listening was Michael Bennett, who was part of the talented Seahawks team that won a Super Bowl in the 2013 season, lost to the Patriots in 2014 and splintered into dozens of overwrought pieces.

Watson was also in the huddle around Ferentz.

Watson was twice a member of the New Orleans Saints, a team that’s been to one Super Bowl since Sean Payton took over in 2006.

Those two franchises – and you can throw in the Ravens, Colts, Broncos and Steelers – have been the best of the rest over the past two decades, yet their peaks have been fewer, their valleys more frequent and extreme.

The Patriots have never run aground. Even though they’ve been the hunted. Even though they’ve been at times singled out by the league for different treatment. Even through scandals tragic, absurd or of their own making.  

How? How does a 20-something kid figure out how to maintain the singular focus on his work and not the poopstorm swirling? They figure it out by listening.

“(The retired players) started this thing,” said Slater. “They built if from the ground up. Troy Brown, Deion Branch, Kevin Faulk – they talk about the way that they grinded and the way they came to work every day.

“They talk about the family atmosphere that they had in that locker room and those are things we still try to pride ourselves on and incorporate into this 2019 team,” added Slater. “It’s really the people that make this thing go. You look at the common thread through time and it’s high-character people that have sustained this thing.

“You’re gonna have to deal with a lot,” Slater concluded. “It’s not easy to play here. But if you can battle through, it’s worth it.”

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Matt LaCosse on big Patriots opportunity: 'I haven't earned anything yet'

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AP Photo

Matt LaCosse on big Patriots opportunity: 'I haven't earned anything yet'

FOXBORO -- The Patriots hadn't even started their warmups when their offense gathered on one of the fields behind Gillette Stadium to run through a two-minute drill. It's something they'll often do as part of their pre-practice routine. It gets their legs going as well as their brains. 

Josh McDaniels called for his 11-personnel grouping — one tight end, one running back — with Tom Brady as the first unit up. The one tight end in the group? Matt LaCosse. 

"I'd be lying to you if I said it wasn't pretty cool," LaCosse said when asked what it was like to catch passes from Brady this week. 

"Obviously one of the greatest, if not the greatest, to ever play this game. But . . . we're all moving toward the same goal and that's pretty cool. That's pretty cool — especially when we get on the same page and gain each other's trust a little better."

That process has been underway through two days of minicamp as LaCosse has stood out among the group of tight ends vying for roles as the team adjusts to life without Rob Gronkowski. LaCosse has seemingly caught every pass sent in his direction, and he's received extensive reps with Brady. Ben Watson is the other tight end who has seen his share of targets from Brady over the course of two days, but Watson's four-game suspension to start the season means there's an open competition for tight end reps come Week 1.

Stephen Anderson and Ryan Izzo also have a shot to chip in at the position, as does undrafted rookie Andrew Beck — though Beck appears to me more of a fullback than a true tight end option at the moment. The Patriots released Austin Seferian-Jenkins earlier this week. 

LaCosse knows he's staring a quality opportunity in the face.

"Obviously it's a good opportunity," he said. "But nothing's been earned yet. We still have a really long way to go. Everybody's competing for the same spot. I haven't earned anything yet. It's one of those things you keep the pedal to the metal. You get what you earn here."

The Patriots targeted LaCosse early in free agency, coming to an agreement on Mar. 14 with a player who caught 24 passes last year in 15 games for the Broncos — both career-highs. The 6-foot-6, 255-pounder entered the league as an undrafted rookie out of Illinois in 2015. He spent time the majority of his first three seasons in the league with the Giants and was signed off of New York's practice squad by Denver in December of 2017. 

"He’s a young player that has some talent," Bill Belichick said Wednesday. "He’s played in the league and we feel like he has some upside. We’ll see how it goes in our system."

There's a long way to go, as Belichick often likes to say, but so far so good for the self-described "multiple guy," willing to play on the line, split out wide, in the backfield, and on special teams. 

"Just all over the field," LaCosse said, "wherever you need me, that's where I'm going to go."

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