Patriots

Ex-Patriots tight end explains why fans should be confident in Jarrett Stidham

Ex-Patriots tight end explains why fans should be confident in Jarrett Stidham

In the infamous words of former Boston Celtics head coach Rick Pitino, Tom Brady is not walking through that door.

Brady took his talents to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in NFL free agency last month, leaving 2019 fourth-round draft pick Jarrett Stidham and veteran Brian Hoyer at quarterback on the Patriots roster.

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Oddsmakers aren't particularly high on the Patriots' chances of competing with Stidham, who's the likely Week 1 starter. Caesars Sportsbook in Las Vegas released their 2020 season win total props Thursday and the Patriots are at 8.5, which is their lowest over/under win total number since 2003. These oddsmakers also have the Buffalo Bills as the favorites to win the AFC East next season. The Pats have won the division 11 consecutive years.

One person who does have confidence in Stidham's abilities is former Patriots tight end Benjamin Watson, who was teammates with the former Auburn quarterback in New England last year. Watson went on FOX Sports 1 morning show "First Things First" on Tuesday and gave Patriots fans plenty of reasons to be confident in Stidham.

“I've seen a lot of guys who come in with a lot of hype who didn't pan out. I've seen guys who came in under the radar and turned into superstars," Watson said. "Stidham has all that there needs to be for somebody who’s going to be successful. He’s a student of the game. You hear that a lot, but what that really means is that when we’re in the meeting rooms, he’s paying attention.

"When they’re in the quarterback room, he’s paying attention. When he’s on the field, he’s taking instruction from the coaches. He’s able to disseminate information to the guys in the huddle. He’s able to encourage them and kind of go through the minor details about route running, about reading coverages, all those things. He’s eager to learn, and he has a certain humility about him, with confidence. He had a chance to learn under arguably the greatest quarterback to play the game. He soaked that in for a year. Patriots fans should be confident that he wouldn’t be in that room if coach (Bill) Belichick didn’t think he could help the team.”

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Watson makes a great point about Stidham learning from the greatest quarterback in NFL history. He's also learning from the best coach in pro football history, which is really valuable for a young player. So many talented quarterbacks are drafted to teams who don't have the coaching excellence and professional environment that is found in New England. Watson's descripton of Stidham's leadership and how he acts in the huddle is no doubt encouraging for fans, too.

There are reasons to believe Stidham will succeed as a starting quarterback, and Watson laid out several of them. Now it's just time for Stidham to go out and prove it.

Patriots players share early Cam Newton impressions: 'A lot of great energy'

Patriots players share early Cam Newton impressions: 'A lot of great energy'

We've heard a lot about Cam Newton and watched plenty of his Instagram workout videos. But what's the New England Patriots quarterback like once he joins his new teammates?

We're starting to find out this week, as Newton and the Patriots have reported to Gillette Stadium to begin their slow ramp-up to training camp.

While the Patriots haven't begun formal practices yet, it sounds like the 31-year-old QB is making a good first impression.

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"Yeah, he's been great. A lot of great energy," offensive guard Joe Thuney said Wednesday in a video conference with reporters. "Just works hard so far. It's been great to meet him and everything, and looking forward to seeing what happens."

Others are excited to have Newton aboard for more selfish reasons.

"It feels good to have more Auburn guys than (Alabama) guys now," Patriots cornerback Jonathan Jones said Wednesday in his virtual media session.

Newton and Jones join quarterback Jarrett Stidham and wide receiver Will Hastings as the four Auburn Tigers on New England's roster, surpassing the Patriots' three Alabama players in Dont'a Hightower, Damien Harris and Anfernee Jennings.

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Jones didn't overlap with Newton at Auburn -- he arrived on campus in 2012, while Newton's lone season was in 2010 -- but has spoken with the Heisman Trophy winner in the past. In fact, Jones admitted Newton's success at Auburn was a big reason why he picked the Tigers as a high school recruit.

"I could see (he was) the face of the program," Jones said. "... Just the foundation that they were laying with that program -- when he was there it was definitely a turning point for Auburn. So as a junior coming out (of high school) and going to those recruiting visits and watching them play and seeing that foundation, it meant a lot to me coming out."

Now that he and Newton are teammates, Jones says he's "excited to have him" in New England and "ready to get to work." Even if the Patriots aren't quite sure what that work will look like.

"We've been so limited in what we can do outside," Thuney said when asked what "new elements" Newton can bring to the Patriots' offense. "It's so early, I'm not entirely sure."

Ready or not: Ja'Whaun Bentley will factor into Patriots plans after Dont'a Hightower opt-out

Ready or not: Ja'Whaun Bentley will factor into Patriots plans after Dont'a Hightower opt-out

Maybe it's not fair. But, as they say at One Patriot Place, it is what it is.

Ja'Whaun Bentley, in his third season, may be the primary fill-in for one of the most important Patriots defenders of the last decade.

Dont'a Hightower was one of the most indispensable Patriots in 2020 prior to opting out. He has long been the link between the front-seven and the secondary for the Patriots defense.

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He relays the plays. He directs traffic pre-snap, adjusting defensive linemen and reminding teammates of their coverage responsibilities with equal aplomb. And then there's his own personal unique skill set as a mauling run-defender, who also serves as the team's most talented pass-rusher. 

In Hightower's absence — he opted out after becoming a father in July — there is no one-for-one replacement available to Bill Belichick. Fair or unfair, Bentley will factor heavily into the equation. At the moment, he looks like the favorite to take over from Hightower the defensive play-calling duties.

"This wouldn't be the first time I'm wearing the green dot," Bentley said in a conference call with reporters Wednesday, "but obviously that's the head communicator. That's the one who relays the calls to everybody. If that's the role I have to take on — which is highly likely — we have to be able to adjust to that. Everybody has a role to play. If that's what mine would be, I would have to do that and do it very well."

Bentley's career began inconspicuously enough, going to New England out of Purdue as a fifth-round draft choice. He wasn't even on the draft boards of some linebacker-needy teams in 2018, according to NFL sources, because his size (he was listed at 260 pounds at one point as a collegian) made him the antithesis of the "new age linebacker" who is smaller and excels in coverage. 

The Patriots didn't mind, of course. They like their linebackers beefy. And Bentley made an impact almost immediately — in the run and pass games. He stood out as one of their best players at the position in training camp that year, and he earned two starts in his first three games as a pro. In Week 3 of his rookie season, after picking off Matthew Stafford for his first-career interceptions, he suffered a season-ending injury. 

In his second year, his opportunities waned after the Patriots brought in Jamie Collins to serve as an off-the-ball linebacking partner to Hightower. 

Now, Bentley knows it'll be up to him to help make up for all the linebacker losses the Patriots will have to account for in 2020. Collins, Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts all departed via free agency prior to Hightower's opt-out.

"Shout out to Jamie and High, all those guys," Bentley said. "Obviously respect the decision that Hightower made, he had no choice but to do that. But nonetheless we gotta come in here, try to work, we gotta work, guys gotta figure out their roles and we gotta keep pushing forward."

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However the Patriots linebacker room shakes out this season, Bentley has apparently done enough through two years to be viewed as one of the voices of the defense despite his inexperience. On the McCourty twins' "Double Coverage" podcast, they looked to Bentley as one of the young leaders of what's long been a veteran-laden defense.

In a linebacker group that'll include rookies Josh Uche and Cassh Maluia, Bentley has quickly become one of that unit's most experienced players.

"To me, Bentley's been a great player for us," Devin McCourty said on the July 26 episode. "Especially coming in as a rookie. He stood out right away, his knowledge. I think one of the best things about Bent is just his versatility. Whether it's against the run — obviously he's a stout, physical player — but even in the pass [game]. He was covering tight ends, covering backs out of the backfield. 

"I think for every guy in the NFL, when you come in, and there are other players who've played for a while, and you get some playing time and things change each year, I know he's excited to work his butt off . . . You look around, he's gonna be one of our young, kinda leadership-type of guys. We'll count on him to really kinda try to [work] with those young guys. He's always done a good job of that since he's been here. I'm excited for him, along with some other good players that we have, just to get an opportunity to get out there and play a little bit more."

For Bentley, as he treads into an unusual season, he knows he can call on Hightower to help guide him along. No better source to draw from if Bentley is in fact going to be the primary answer to Hightower's absence.

"We're always talking," Bentley said. "He's definitely on my list of people to talk to, whether that's on leadership or anything. We have a lot of great vets I've been surrounded with over my past two years in New England so you're always picking those guys' brains, seeing what you can bring to your game. That's been my approach since Day 1."