Patriots training camp rookie update: Thuney stands out


Patriots training camp rookie update: Thuney stands out

The Patriots have one more day of practice before they’re awarded their second day off of training camp. Then they'll have practices on Sunday and Monday before starting joint sessions with the Saints at Gillette Stadium.

Because there were a handful of Patriots rookies worth noting in the Postcard from Camp following Thursday's practice, this seems like as good a time as any to give a brief update on the team's rookies based on their work thus far this summer. 

Cyrus Jones: The second-rounder out of Alabama has seen plenty of action in a variety of roles both on defense and special teams. He has served as both a punt returner and a kick returner, though punts have given him some trouble over the last two days. He's muffed three in that time, and following Thursday's practice, he worked with the JUGS machine to improve his hands. On defense, Jones has seen early reps during team periods, and he broke up a Tom Brady pass intended for fellow rookie Malcolm Mitchell during red-zone 11-on-11 work Wednesday.

Joe Thuney: The North Carolina State product has been perhaps the most consistent rookie thus far in camp. He has been one of the most impressive players on either side of the ball during 1-on-1 drills against defensive linemen, often matching up with second-year defensive tackle Malcom Brown with success. Thuney has consistently played as the first-team left guard, and he took his only loss in 1-on-1s when Geneo Grissom got around him on Wednesday.

Jacoby Brissett: Brissett has received the short end of the stick when it comes to practice reps as the Patriots have divvied up most of their snaps in team periods between Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo. During Thursday's practice, he did not receive a single 11-on-11 repetition, but he has said that he has tried to latch onto Brady to learn as much as he can even if he's not getting to see much in the way of live action. When Brissett has been on the field, he has not stood out as particularly lost. He is still adjusting to the offense, though, a fact that manifests itself when Brissett has trouble finding an open receiver and then is forced to throw the ball away -- something that has happened fairly regularly over the last week.

Vincent Valentine: The 6-foot-4, 320-pound defensive tackle out of Nebraska missed the team's first fully-padded practice over the weekend while attending the funeral of friend and former teammate Sam Foltz. Since then, he has filled in behind interior defensive linemen like Brown, Markus Kuhn, Terrance Knighton and Alan Branch. He whipped out a spin move in one-on-one drills Sunday that caught our eye, and on Thursday he recorded what would have been a sack of Garoppolo had Garoppolo not been wearing a red non-contact jersey.

Malcolm Mitchell: For the second time in seven practices, Mitchell was absent on Thursday. He appeared to get up slowly after making a diving catch on Wednesday, but he jogged back to the sideline and remained on the field for the remainder of practice. His attendance going forward bears watching. As Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston noted, Mitchell missed time during spring workouts as well, and the team may be pacing its rookie receiver early in the season. He dealt with a knee injury in college that may have knocked him down draft boards. When he has been on the field, Mitchell has stood out for his strong hands and his speed off the line. Stop-routes have been particularly useful for Mitchell through camp in one-on-ones and in team drills because defensive backs have to respect his long speed. When their hips flip to turn and run, Mitchell has the ability to stop quickly and come back to the ball to create separation.

Kamu Grugier-Hill: One of the team's most intriguing players because of his position versatility -- is he a linebacker or is he a safety? -- Garoppolo's former teammate at Eastern Illinois may have had his best day of practice on Thursday. In a drill focused on the running game, he defeated a block and then hit fullback James Develin, forcing a fumble. Alertly scooping up possession, Grugier-Hill ran the ball back for a touchdown and spiked it a la Gronk with the big tight end looking on. Grugier-Hill also filled a running lane and gave running back Tyler Gaffney a solid thud while playing a "big nickel" role in 11-on-11 work. Grugier-Hill has also served as a gunner on the punt team and has been active in special teams periods. 

Elandon Roberts: Working as an off-the-ball linebacker, the rookie sixth-rounder stood out over the weekend. During the team's second fully-padded practice, he knifed through the offensive line to thud running back DJ Foster at the line of scrimmage. On the next play, he scooped up a fumbled quarterback-center exchange between David Andrews and Brissett. 

Ted Karras: Perhaps the most surprising rookie performance in camp thus far has been that of the former Illinois offensive lineman. Karras has worked in as the first-team right guard (along with Josh Kline) since Jonathan Cooper suffered an injury to his right foot over the weekend. He has finished his blocks with aggression, and during a 2-on-2 drill between offensive linemen and defensive linemen, he flung defensive end Jabaal Sheard to the turf. He's held his own in one-on-one drills, getting matched up with veteran Terrance Knighton at times, and he's often served as the second-team center, giving himself some versatility on the interior. 

Devin Lucien: The seventh-rounder from Arizona State faces an uphill climb as he helps to make up what Bill Belichick considers perhaps the most competitive receiver group he's coached since he became head coach of the Patriots in 2000. On Wednesday, Lucien dropped a pass during an offense-only drill when Tom Brady tried to hit him deep down the sideline. It looked as though Lucien may have lost the ball in the sun because he seemed to locate the football late. Earlier in camp, Lucien's release off the line of scrimmage earned praise from receivers coach Chad O'Shea as he showed good patience in order to create separation in a one-on-one drill near the goal line. 

Here are some quick-hitting notes on the team's undrafted rookies:

• Defensive back V'Angelo Bentley has seen a significant amount of time as a returner in recent practices, often working alongside Jones. He muffed one opportunity on Thursday.

• Running back DJ Foster did not finish Thursday's practice and could be dealing with a hamstring issue that bothered him earlier in camp. A receiver in his last collegiate season, he's been active in the passing game when on the field.

• Corner Jonathan Jones has occasionally showed up with good coverage skills in 7-on-7 and one-on-one work.

• Corner Cre'Von LeBlanc has also had some success in one-on-one work, and he broke up a pass intended for Lucien on Thursday in the one-on-one period.

• Undrafted tight end Steven Scheu had a productive day in one-on-one drills Thursday, catching all three of his targets, including one with safety Devin McCourty in coverage.

• Undrafted tight end Bryce Williams stood out for his work as a receiver, particularly on Sunday when he was part of a raucous celebration after securing a touchdown, but he missed Thursday's practice. 

Phil Perry can be followed on Twitter: @PhilAPerry

End of an era: Dante Scarnecchia to retire having made immense impact on Patriots dynasty

End of an era: Dante Scarnecchia to retire having made immense impact on Patriots dynasty

MIAMI — It's the end of an era in New England. While there is still no determination on Tom Brady's future whereabouts, we do know that another Patriots staple will not be roaming the sidelines at Gillette Stadium in 2020.

Dante Scarnecchia is retiring. 

The longtime offensive line, who will turn 72 next month, has been with the team in a variety of capacities since 1982. He began as a special teams and tight ends coach, departed briefly for a stint in Indianapolis, and has been back since 1991.

He's coached all three phases, and even taken on head-coaching duties when he was asked late in the 1992 season. But Scarnecchia has developed what might one day be considered a Hall of Fame résumé as the offensive line coach in New England. 

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Since 1999 — first under Pete Carroll, then under Bill Belichick — Scarnecchia has directed the offensive line group in Foxboro. He retired following the 2013 season and stayed away from the game for two years before getting back into it in 2016. He's won five Super Bowl rings coordinating the blocking schemes that protected Tom Brady. 

Throughout his career, he's been lauded by players and fellow coaches alike for his unyielding work ethic and his attention to detail. The hours he's put in — oftentimes on off days or after practices — have helped mold everyone from first-round picks to undrafted free agents into championship players.

It was under Scarnecchia that Stephen Neal went from a wrestler who'd never played offensive line to a Super Bowl-winner. Both Nate Solder and Trent Brown have fallen into record-setting free-agent contracts in recent years after working with Scarnecchia.

"You really see that and how detail-oriented he is, and how much he puts into it each week," center David Andrews told me back in September. "It's really impressive. He makes sure, for us, there's no stone unturned. That's what makes us go out there and play really confident. We feel so prepared. 

"Whatever they throw at us is nothing we're not prepared for. Maybe we haven't seen it. Maybe it's a new wrinkle. But somewhere, somehow we've been prepared for it. Whether it's the techniques we've learned, or the communication, or just the overall schemes and how we want to run our offense."

Andrews added: "He's definitely a demanding coach for sure. But I think there's two sides of him, and I think that's what makes him so special and loved and respected by not only us as players but the whole team. 

"He cares for us. He has our back. He sticks up for us. We're all in it together . . . He includes himself in that. I think that means a lot to you as a player."

Scarnecchia has had a pair of assistants in recent years who've helped him coach his linemen. Coaching assistant Cole Popovich has worked with that group, but more recently those duties fell to Carmen Bricillo, who was in his first year with the Patriots in 2019. The Patriots typically like to promote coaches from within, making Bricillo and Popovich among the leading candidates to fill Scarnecchia's role. 

No matter who it is, it is the end of an era for the Patriots. 

Rob Gronkowski: Patriots QB Tom Brady 'deserves' chance to test free agent market

Rob Gronkowski: Patriots QB Tom Brady 'deserves' chance to test free agent market

The New England Patriots suffered a huge loss on offense after Super Bowl LIII when future Hall of Fame tight end Rob Gronkowski retired, and they might have to deal with a similarly impactful exit this offseason.

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's contract expires in March, at which point he would be able to hit unrestricted free agency for the first time in his 20-year NFL career.

Gronkowski thinks Brady deserves the chance to test the free agent market and see what kind of offers are available.

"I really haven't talked to Tom like that. I did talk to him, though, after the game, just talked, it wasn't even all about football," Gronkowski told reporters Tuesday in Miami, via's Zack Cox. "Some of it was about life and all. I truly believe that he deserves the opportunity to go explore and see what's out there. He's been playing for so long. Just the way that he's been playing, the level he's been playing at, he definitely deserves an opportunity to go out there and test the market. Why wouldn't you? You've never done it before in your career.

"He's going to be a free agent for the first time ever. Good for him. Test out the market, and then do what's best for himself. That's the decision he has to make -- what's best for himself, what's best for his family, what he feels like he's going to love."

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Would it be strange to see Brady in a non-Patriots jersey?

"It's always strange, no matter who the player is," Gronkowski said. "If you see a player play on a team for 10 years and then go to another team, it's always strange at first. Everyone gets used to it after a little bit. It would definitely be strange, I would say, if that happens, for a couple weeks it may be strange. Everyone adapts, like any other time it happens."

Brady has won a record six Super Bowl titles in New England since the team drafted him 199th overall in 2000. He's absolutely earned the right to see what rival teams are willing to offer him, but Grnnkowski is right: It would be strange to see him wearing a jersey in 2020 that doesn't say "Patriots" on it.

Joe Montana reveals advice he'd give Tom Brady on free agency