Patriots

Brian Flores' hard work hasn't gone unnoticed, just ask his players

flores_patriots.jpg

Brian Flores' hard work hasn't gone unnoticed, just ask his players

FOXBORO -- Brian Flores’ signature moment was captured in the waning seconds of Super Bowl 49. As Bill Belichick eyeballed Seattle’s sideline, waiting for a declaration of personnel, several assistants impatiently looked on, hoping they’d have enough time to react and get their players where they needed to be. When the time came, it was Flores who yelled, “Malcolm, go!” at undrafted rookie cornerback Malcolm Butler. You know what happened next.

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"It was definitely the greatest thrill in my football career," recalled Flores. “We had spent so much time preparing for a variety of situations and that was one of them, especially in the red area. We were ready for it. Malcolm made a hell of a play but the entire group was ready for it.”

Currently a linebacker coach, the 36-year old is considered the odds-on-favorite to ascend to the role of defensive coordinator should Matt Patricia leave to run his own program, which seems very likely at this point. But Flores is also getting a seat at the big boy’s table. He interviewed for for Arizona’s head coaching vacancy Saturday. That comes as no surprise to the men he’s coached.

“I’m excited for where he’s at right now,” said safety Duron Harmon. “He’s worked to put himself in this position.”

“Obviously, the football knowledge is 100 percent there,” Jordan Richard said. “But he has so many other qualities that you have to respect.”

For starters, Flores has a wide variety of experiences since joining the Patriots back in 2002. He began as a scouting assistant then became a pro scout before appealing directly to Belichick to join the coaching ranks. 

“I wanted to be closer to the action,” he recalled in an interview during last season.

That again required entering at the ground floor. Flores was a lowly coaching assistant, the guy who had to do things like grab the bags and move them from one drill to the next. From there, Flores was special teams assistant, then did some work with the offense, then - finally - a promotion to become the safeties coach from 2013 through 2015. Now he’s coaching a rag-tag bunch of linebackers that have outperformed their overall talent-level.

“Coach Flores is always pushing, always trying to get us to where we need to be. He’s helped me quite a bit,” said Marquis Flowers, acquired at the tail end of August but now a regular contributor on defense.

Flores can relate to his players because he was a pretty good one himself. He was heavily recruited coming out of Poly Prep in Brooklyn, New York, and could have gone to any number of football factories. He chose Boston College, in part because he has a brother with autism and wanted to remain closer to home. He began his career as a safety but eventually moved to linebacker. Not only did he excel on the field but in the classroom as well. Flores was named to the 2003 All-Big East Academic Team, earning his degree in English. He then tacked on a master’s degree in administration for good measure. 

“He’s a smart guy,” said Devin McCourty. “But it goes beyond that.”

It’s the ability to translate an outrageous amount of information and present it to his players in a way that works for them.

“I don’t know if it was because he played at BC, was a good player, was out there playing,” said McCourty. “I think that helps him because he knows when you play what you wanted to hear. We hear so much, there’s so much the coaches can tell you, and Bill says it all the time, about how many different things they give to us. But when you can break it down to two things or three things, that helps players to be able to play fast. And that’s always the goal.”

“There’s a lot that we’re doing and in order to be a good coach it’s how do you present it in a way that allows your players to play fast,” said Richards, “Having him as my safeties coach and now seeing him as linebacker coach this past two years, he definitely exemplifies that.”

To be a professional coach for a decade means you must know the X’s and O’s at a very high level. There are hundreds if not thousands of coaches who have that part down cold. But Flores has taken a page out of Patricia’s book. He has learned as much as he can about his players and developed a greater level of understanding and trust that allows him to stand out.

“Each guy he’s dealt with knows him personally,” said McCourty. “I know his wife, I know his kids, his parents, his brother. I’ve been able to have an awesome relationship with him and that ability to be able to relate to players - he’s kinda still fairly young - that gets the best out of us.”

“He kinda comes to you and basically says we’re on even terms,” added Harmon. “We’re all trying to get there, we’re all trying to improve each day. It’s been awesome for me to see.”

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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 . . . 

MR. MIX AND MATCH


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. 

LIKE "MIKE" 


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. 

WHEN THERE'S A "WILL"


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.

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NFL owners words not consistent with their actions with new anthem policy

NFL owners words not consistent with their actions with new anthem policy

Chris Gasper and Michael Holley talk about the inconsistent messaging from NFL owners to their teams' players after they unanimously voted to change the league's policy regarding the national anthem. Watch the video above.