Saints coach, and ex-EIU QB, Payton has special interest in Garoppolo


Saints coach, and ex-EIU QB, Payton has special interest in Garoppolo

FOXBORO - Long before there was Tony Romo and Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois produced a stud quarterback who didn’t get so much as a cup of coffee in the NFL. A fella by the name of Sean Payton. 

The current Saints coach still holds school marks in both passing yards and total offense for a single game, but many of his other records were eclipsed by Garoppolo, now trying to pilot a Patriots offense that will be without Tom Brady for the first four games of the regular season.

“You’re able to follow some guys from your old school and I’d like to think that maybe some of my contributions bought him a football or a helmet back in college,” joked Payton, in town with New Orleans for joint practices against the Pats in advance of Thursday’s preseason opener at Gillette Stadium.

Payton has now seen Garoppolo up close for two consecutive summers in this setting, but he has a much deeper base of knowledge when it comes to the man everyone in New England is watching and waiting on. Payton and his scouts did a great deal of research on Garoppolo the year he entered the draft. 

“I can only reference just the draft process and watching him a little bit in joint practices a year ago or now,” said Payton. “Look, I think he came through it. He’s bright. He had had a lot of success in college -  you know his teams there were successful - and you know he was able to really have good production. He’s got good arm strength and a quick release. Sometimes it’s tough because so many of these college offenses are spread out and throwing it on every down, but I thought overall we had a high grade on him, and obviously New England [did], and I’m sure a number of teams did.”

Payton touched on a variety of other subjects, including why the Saints and Patriots continue to meet in this environment. Certainly, trust is a major factor.

“Both teams did a good job of competing and keeping each other up,” he noted. “I’ve said this to our locals [media], this is our fourth time working out, having joint practices with New England, and the prior ones have gone well.”

That includes Tuesday’s workout, the first of two between the teams. Payton, like his counterpart Bill Belichick, sees these days as a real chance to test and evaluate the players.

“When you’re able to see a different look, get a bit of a different puzzle, the front is different, technique is different. You have a chance to sharpen your skill set,” he said. “The timing is always important. We’ve kinda gone through close to two weeks maybe back at our training camp, so I think for every position group, you’re kinda seeing different people and your seeing technique played differently and I think that’s helpful.”

While Payton seemed pleased with his team’s work, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels gathered most of his top offensive players late in practice and was reportedly displeased with the overall performance. Eight drops unquestionably were a part of the problem, as was the continued up-and-down performance from Garoppolo. 

Guerrero right by Brady's side in Monaco

Guerrero right by Brady's side in Monaco

There has been plenty of discussion surrounding the New England Patriots this offseason.

Is there tension between Brady and Belichick? Are the Patriots finally starting to crack?

There is no confirmed proof of either, but Brady missing OTAs has only fueled speculation

Some may have figured he just wanted to spend more time with family. But we've found out he's had a full list of things to do outside football.

Many wouldn't have guessed this list included throwing footballs yacht-to-yacht with a competitor in the Monaco Grand Prix.

The man who caught the football was Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull Racing. He would go on to win the Monaco Grand Prix.

Everything that Brady touches turns to gold.

Brady serves as a brand ambassador for TAG Heuer. Red Bull Racing started using TAG Heuer branded Renault engines a few years back.

This part of the trip is certainly important for the Tom Brady brand.

And one of the most important people that was by his side the entire way. 

TB12 guru Alex Guerrero was on the trip also.

With that being the case, I'm sure Brady hasn't missed a day of training on his overseas trip.


Hightower’s presence at OTAs leads to a look at linebacker depth

Hightower’s presence at OTAs leads to a look at linebacker depth

FOXBORO - Dont'a Hightower was among the missing during Tuesday's OTA that was open to reporters. He was prominently featured on the team's website as a participant in Thursday's OTA, though.

It's a positive development for one of the Patriots best and most versatile defenders. Hightower tore his pectoral in October and missed the remainder of the 2017 season, leading to some shuffling of personnel both at the second level and on the edge. 

Hightower snagged one of the team's photos of his participation in Thursday's workout and slapped it on his Instagram page. 

Hightower's presence on the turf behind Gillette Stadium, even if he was limited in the practice, allows our minds to wander a bit and look ahead to what the Patriots depth chart might look like at linebacker with him in the fold. 

The Patriots are consistently altering their fronts and Hightower's adaptability allows his role to change with whatever scheme Bill Belichick deploys. 

Hightower can play on the line or off. He can be used as a "Sam" linebacker at the second level in a 4-3 or at the end of the line of scrimmage in 3-4 looks. He played on the left end early last season - a spot we identified yesterday as a potential landing spot for Derek Rivers. And if the Patriots needed Hightower to play as a "Mike" linebacker, he has the ability to do that as well. 

Sub packages, base packages . . . Hightower can line up in a variety of front-seven spots for the Patriots regardless of the situation, which is why when healthy he's been able to serve as an every-down player. (He played 92.4 percent of Patriots defensive snaps in 2014 and 83.1 percent of the snaps in 2016.)

How might the rest of the Patriots linebacker corps slot in if Hightower is a full go for training camp? Let's take a look . . . 


Kyle Van Noy is probably the closest approximation to Hightower that the Patriots have on their roster. When Hightower went out last season, it was Van Noy who moved around the front seven and handled a variety of responsibilities. He's probably best suited as a "Will" linebacker, someone who can use his athleticism to make plays in different areas depending on the situation, but Van Noy's ability to handle multiple responsibilities in New England's defense is part of the reason why the team likes him as much as they do. He was handed a two-year extension early last season. 


Elandon Roberts often handled the "Mike" responsibilities in the Patriots defense last season. The third-year player out of Houston might have the inside track on this role in 2018, but he could be pushed by rookie fifth-round selection Ja'Whaun Bentley out of Purdue. Both players seem like they're at their best against the run game, unafraid to fill their lanes as prideful "thumpers." What may separate this duo is which player can more consistently cover the correct gaps on first and second down, and which player more effectively communicates the defense to their teammates around them. Whether either player can contribute on special teams could also alter how the workload is distributed here. 


Van Noy would likely be the first choice here for the Patriots, but there are a few others who could be angling for time here. Marquis Flowers re-signed with the Patriots this offseason after an impressive end-of-the-season run where he showed up as a pass-rusher with enough athleticism to be trusted to run with backs in the passing game. Flowers was also a key contributor on special teams last season. Rookie sixth-round pick Christian Sam could also compete for "Will" reps. A defensive back in high school, Sam bulked up at Arizona State but remains a good athlete and could be a fit behind Van Noy. Special teamers Nicholas Grigsby and Brandon King work out with the linebackers and could be options here if they were ever called upon defensively.