FOXBORO -- Bill Belichick couldn't be at the Senior Bowl this year because it took place just two days before the Super Bowl. But from what he gathered -- whether it was from other Patriots staffers in attendance, video of that week, or both -- Georgia Tech guard Shaq Mason showed a remarkable ability to learn on the fly, retain information, and apply it to his work on the field.
Coming from a triple-option attack in the ACC where the Yellow Jackets featured an offense based on running the football, Mason was not asked to pass-protect often during his college career. As he received more coaching during the Senior Bowl on the skills required to be an effective pass blocker, the Patriots liked what they saw.
Now that Mason is a member of Belichick's team after being selected in the fourth round this weekend, he'll be expected to continue to be a sponge when it comes to learning how to pass-protect.
"The thing I’ll say about Shaq is just watching him at the Senior Bowl, I mean it was only one week, but he made a huge improvement just in those, whatever it was four or five practices, whatever it was down there," Belichick said during a press conference on Saturday night following the draft. "His stance is different. You could see each day progressively how he was taking to the coaching down there and his footwork and his hand placement and his body position.
"I know it was basic. It wasn’t like it was a big scheme thing at the Senior Bowl, but just doing things on a daily basis better than the day before, looking more comfortable doing them. And it was different than what they did at Georgia Tech."
The Patriots took two right guards in the fourth round, selecting Florida State's Tre' Jackson twenty selections before Mason at No. 111 overall. Though they played the same position in college, they have very different backgrounds. Jackson came from a pro system where he was very comfortable blocking for pocket-passer Jameis Winston.
Jackson was named the Most Outstanding Player at the Senior Bowl for his well-rounded blocking ability, but Mason impressed with his progress and his dominant run-blocking style. Belichick said he may be one of the most experienced run-blockers -- in terms of snaps -- to come out of the 2015 draft class.
And while Mason's pass-blocking could use some work, the Patriots have dealt with bigger adjustment periods on the interior of their offensive lines in the past and been just fine.
"I mean look, Steve Neal, talk about adjustment," Belichick said of the former Patriots guard, who wrestled in college and did not play football. "The guy went from not even knowing where the field was to starting at guard in a year and a half. It’s not that kind of adjustment.
"And [Mason] is a football player and from a run-blocking standpoint, I’d say he’s probably ahead of every other player in the draft. Unless there was another one from Georgia Southern or Georgia Tech or whatever, but this guy run-blocked in one game more than some teams did all season.
"I’d say he’s ahead in the run-blocking, behind in the pass-blocking. There may be other players that are in a two-point stance pass-block 50 times a game that in all honestly don’t run block very well. He’s kind of the flip of that which is a little bit unusual but it is what it is."