Patriots

Bill Belichick's latest find: Terrence Brooks finds a home with Patriots in sixth season

Bill Belichick's latest find: Terrence Brooks finds a home with Patriots in sixth season

FOXBORO -- Terrence Brooks was still the new guy. But there he was, in Patriots training camp, standing side by side with Bill Belichick. They were practically in the middle of the Patriots defensive backfield as play went on in front of them one afternoon. Student. Teacher.

Brooks saw plenty of time in the defensive huddle this summer, playing with starters fairly regularly, particularly with starting safety Patrick Chung limited due to injury. It was apparent even then that Belichick had more planned for the special teams ace who'd spent time with the Ravens, Eagles and Jets during the first five years of his career.

Recalling those camp moments this week, when Belichick carved time out of his 90-man practices to make sure Brooks was getting caught up to speed in a complicated role, the 27-year-old smiled.

"To me, I was honored by it," Brooks said. "He stood by his word about giving me an opportunity. I don't know. It was kind of a shocking thing at the moment, too. Especially just being so new to it all. But having him take some time out and coach me up, whether it's little things or big things, it was an honor for me, and it put me in a good place and good spirits as far as what I'm doing here and what he believes in. It was a good situation."

Brooks, who signed a two-year contract with the Patriots in March, has made good on the opportunity Belichick provided. After playing less than 10 percent of the defensive snaps during his time with the Jets in 2017 and 2018, and after seeing just three defensive plays in Philadelphia in 2016, Brooks has played 34 percent of Patriots defensive snaps this season. He saw 35 plays last weekend against his old team in Philly and was a key piece to the plan for slowing down Pro Bowl tight end Zach Ertz.

"It's awesome, man," Brooks said after the game. "I wish I could really explain it to you. It's an awesome feeling, just getting a chance . . . I'm not thinking about my former team, I'm just thinking about the opportunity the coaches have given me, with my background, with what I've done in the league. It was just an awesome feeling to go out there with those guys and just make plays. It was a great feeling."

Those types of feelings were few and far between for Brooks at his last stop. Situated in the same position group as a pair of highly-drafted rookie safeties (first-rounder Jamal Adams and second-rounder Marcus Maye) with the Jets in 2017, Brooks was largely left out of defensive game plans. The same happened in 2018, and the Jets finished 28th in scoring defense.

"I really don't like to think about the Jets anymore, I just felt like I was held back a lot there," Brooks said this week. "And it got to a point where it was just really frustrating trying to prove what I could do there. It was really a bad time for me over there. I just did not enjoy the second year of that just because I felt like I was good enough to go play and do some things. It just didn't work out well for me. 

"But all that stuff is in the past now, I'm happy with the opportunity I'm getting now, and where the coaches are putting me. I'm just trying to work to not make those times never come back again."

So far so good. Belichick told Brooks he'd have a chance to contribute defensively, particularly in a deep and versatile secondary where personnel groups are tailored to opponent skill sets and game plans.

"I think that’s one of the things that I talked about with him when we visited him and signed him," Belichick said earlier this season, "that we use a lot of defensive packages and our players play. All the players play, and that’s something that he hasn’t really had a lot of chance to do in his career. So, he’s really embraced it. 

"He’s taken on a number of different roles and he’s worked very hard to understand those. We have different multiples in our defense. Between the multiples of the defense and different positions, the wheel can start spinning there a little bit, especially for somebody that hasn’t been in the system for multiple years like Devin [McCourty] and Pat and Duron [Harmon] have. But, he’s done very well with it and has given us a lot of solid play there as a part of different packages and rotations -- but also for Pat. He does a nice job for us and continues to contribute in the kicking game, so he’s been a very valuable addition for us this year."

That Brooks has been able to help fill in for Chung -- who's been banged up throughout the course of the season -- speaks volumes. Chung's role is among the most valuable on the Patriots defense because it maximizes his versatility. He can play as a true strong safety, a linebacker or a slot corner, altering from one to the next on a snap-to-snap basis. The 32-year-old has signed four different extensions with the Patriots since re-joining the team in 2014, and he remains under contract through 2021.

But to have Brooks around makes Chung's absences a little less arduous for the rest of the defense to withstand when they occur. Through practice moments next to Belichick, through meetings with Chung and McCourty and Harmon, Brooks has turned himself into a viable option for the secondary despite not having a regular defensive role since he was a third-round rookie in 2014.

"For the most part, ever since then, yeah, I wasn't given a chance really at all," Brooks said. "I was kind of overlooked a lot. It was a refreshing feeling, being in an organization like this and having a head coach like Bill, who wanted to give me an opportunity and saw something in me and wanted me to come play here. It was relieving in some sense."

Brooks' season-high for snaps came against his old team at MetLife Stadium, playing 39 plays and making a pick of quarterback Sam Darnold in Week 7. Then came his performance in Philadelphia, where he was tasked with chasing one of the best tight ends in football on a regular basis. 

Even when Chung returns, Brooks could maintain a real role, helping defensive backs stay fresh in what is the NFL's oldest starting defense

"He's been a very important part to our defense because he just brings a versatility that allows the defense to do a lot of good things," Harmon said. "And then we put a lot on him. We ask him to ask all the Chung roles and then his roles. That can be overwhelming for a lot of people. But all he's continued to do is just put his head down and just grind. 

"He sits by me and Dev. He's asking us questions. He's asking Chung questions. And he's not just trying to learn just his role, he's trying to learn the entire defense so that he can get more comfortable and know how to play everybody's position instead of one. He's just done a tremendous job, what he did Sunday we all knew he was capable of that because he's been consistent with his work ethic, his study habits and just his overall grind. We were obviously very excited for him, but we know what he's capable of. He just continues to need opportunities to play."

"He’s always excited for whatever role you give him," safeties coach Steve Belichick said earlier this year. "We’ve put a lot on his plate defensively and special teams. We keep giving him more to do and he keeps coming through for us. So yeah, been pleased with everything that Terrence has done. Can’t say enough good things about him – hard worker, tough kid, loves football, loves to compete. He’s fit in really well with the veteran group that we have."

Over his two decades with team, there is no shortage of diamond-in-the-rough types who've been brought to the Patriots by Bill Belichick -- players who've been in the league but hadn't quite reached their potential for whatever reason. 

Mike Vrabel, Danny Woodhead, Dion Lewis, Kyle Van Noy and Trent Brown all fit in that category. They needed an opportunity. They took advantage when an opportunity presented itself.

Brooks seems like he's the next in line. But he's not thinking in those terms. He's simply trying to make the most of what the last year has laid out for him. Things weren't going well in Jersey. He became a free agent. He signed with the Patriots in March. Five months later, he was standing on a training camp practice taking one-on-one coaching from Belichick, being prepped to have a role in what would soon be recognized as the league's best defense.

"Just to have him there, coaching me up, getting me up to speed, it was an awesome feeling," Brooks said. "You never feel like you made it, but you feel like, 'Hey, I'm going in the right direction. This is a great coach that's taking the time out to coach me . . .'

"I don't think he would've brought me in or taken a chance on me if he didn't see something. But at that point I was just trying to do everything right to make sure I stayed there, and I guess make him proud for the opportunity he's given me."

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Tom Brady leaves motivational comment on N'Keal Harry's Instagram

Tom Brady leaves motivational comment on N'Keal Harry's Instagram

Tom Brady's future with the New England Patriots is currently up in the air. But at least he's still taking some time to give his Patriots teammates some love on social media.

N'Keal Harry dropped a post on Instagram Friday night that had a picture of him in workout gear at a football practice facility. And the caption with the photo simply read "Cookin' Up".

Here's a look at the post, per Harry's official Instagram account. 

View this post on Instagram

Cookin’ Up👨🏾‍🍳🔥

A post shared by N'Keal Harry (@nkealharry) on

That post should be encouraging enough for Patriots fans, as Harry had some nice moments as a rookie and if he continues to put in work, the first-round pick should improve heading into his second season.

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But Brady weighing in on Harry's post with a motivational comment? That could be even better news for Patriots fans.

Brady's comment read: "Going to be a great year for you" and he tagged Harry's handle in it. Here's a screenshot of the comment, per NESN's Zack Cox. 

That's certainly a nice gesture and it seems Brady is continuing to support his (perhaps soon-to-be-former) teammates despite his uncertain future.

However, skeptics of Brady's potential return will point out that the QB said only "it's going to be a great year for you" when talking about Harry's upcoming season. He could've said us had he known that he was returning to the team, but it's also highly unlikely that he was thinking about that minor difference when posting the comment.

Either way, Brady's future with the Patriots is murky and it remains to be seen what will happen come the official start of free agency March 18. For the time being, at least he's staying in touch with his teammates on social media.

Xavier McKinney on NFL Combine meeting with Patriots: 'It was a little tough, a little awkward'

Xavier McKinney on NFL Combine meeting with Patriots: 'It was a little tough, a little awkward'

The New England Patriots have been the subject of many NFL Combine meeting stories over the years. And 2020 has been no different.

Notably, the team told one tight end prospect that he had a "loser's mentality" at one point in their interview. They also asked one of the quarterback prospects how he would feel to replace Tom Brady. And an LSU tight end said that he was "kinda scared" in his meeting with the team.

Some haven't minded the meetings. And one Clemson Tiger actually "felt comfortable" talking to the Patriots.

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Still, the same can't be said of former Alabama safety Xavier McKinney. 

McKinney had a formal meeting with the Patriots at the combine and he called his interview with New England "tough" and "awkward".

"That was one of the harder meetings that I had. It was a little tough, a little awkward," McKinney said, per Nora Princiotti of The Boston Globe. "But Vinnie Sunseri was in there so it just made me a little more comfortable just knowing that I’ve been in the room with him plenty of other times. It was a good meeting though."

Sunseri joined the Patriots coaching staff this offseason but the former Alabama safety had previously served as a graduate assistant with Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban before. So, he had a connection with McKinney, which eased his nerves a bit.

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But McKinney said he just felt "uncertain" about the meeting coming out of it.

"Just towards the end, I wasn’t sure if they enjoyed the meeting or if I did well," McKinney said. "You kind of walk out of these meetings kind of uncertain sometimes. But I think that’s just how it goes. You just try to do the best you can."

McKinney has a good point and players often are unsure about what teams think of them. That's by design. Some teams really don't like to tip their hand in the lead-up to the draft, and the Patriots are certainly among those that keep their intentions close to the vest. 

So, it's well within the realm of possibility that the team liked McKinney. They just may not want him to realize that right away.

McKinney had 95 tackles, three sacks, and three interceptions in his final season at Alabama. He's expected to be one of the first safeties off the board and our own Phil Perry mocked him to the Patriots in his first NFL mock draft of the offseason in January.