Patriots

Joe Judge has impressed early in Giants tenure, but plenty of challenges lie ahead

Joe Judge has impressed early in Giants tenure, but plenty of challenges lie ahead

Editor’s note: In the coming weeks our Patriots insiders will be speaking with beat writers from around the NFL to get an outside view on what the future holds for the Patriots. Today’s team: the New York Giants with Bob Glauber of Newsday.

Joe Judge left the New England Patriots this offseason to become the head coach of a marquee NFL franchise in the nation's largest city, so the pressure on him to succeed will be felt right from the start.

The New York Giants haven't reached the playoffs since 2016, and they are hoping Judge will lead them back soon. Judge was the Patriots' special teams coordinator for several years and added wide receivers coach to his duties in 2019. 

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Newsday's Bob Glauber recently talked with our Patriots insider Tom E. Curran for some perspective on Judge and how his tenure in New York has gone so far. Will Judge, who has no prior head coaching experience at the pro level, be successful in one of the league's most high-profile jobs?

"I think that's a question in two or three years we'll know the answer to, truly," Glauber said. "I will say I have been impressed with the way Joe has handled himself. Pre-pandemic, he was out there at the combine -- his introductory news conference was impressive. I kinda wanted to play after that one, and some former players wanted to play, and his current players are going like, 'all right, I'm going to have to work.' He's going to be a tough-minded coach. I did have a chance to cover Eric Mangini, and I know the Bill Belichick coaching tree has been mixed, and Joe is mindful of that. He's addressed that many times. You can't be Bill Belichick, and he's aware of that and I think he'll be OK with that."

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In New England, Judge worked alongside one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time in Tom Brady. Brady had loads of experience, more Super Bowl rings than any player in league history, and two decades of knowledge on opposing defenses and what to look for in certain situations. Judge's new quarterback, Daniel Jones, is in a totally different situation.

Jones is coming off his rookie season, and it was a good one. He completed 61.9 percent of his passes for 3,027 yards, 24 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in 13 games. Working with Jones and helping him reach his full potential will be a major factor in whether Judge succeeds as Giants head coach.

"Daniel Jones is a very coachable player," Glauber said. "If you coach him tough, he'll respond. I think it will be a good match. We just talked to Daniel Jones today, and Daniel is a very low-key guy, kind of like an Eli Manning clone in terms of his disposition and his mentality. So, I think that will help. Jason Garrett will have a firm hand with him, but Garrett has been a players' coach before, he's the offensive coordinator now. His offense has been productive. It hasn't been championship-caliber, but it's been productive. He knows what he's doing, he's been a quarterback, he knows the position. I think it will be a good match, and I think Daniel Jones will take to any type of coaching that you want. (Former Giants head coach) Pat Shurmur led with -- he was patient. I think Judge is a little more maniacal, urgent, and Daniel will play with a sense of urgency but also a sense of calmness, which he does have."

The Giants play in a tough NFC East division, and getting New York back to the top of that group will be a difficult challenge. Judge does have a ton of talent, however, and his many years working under Bill Belichick in New England surely will be a huge help as he prepares for his first season as an NFL head coach.

Next Pats Podcast: Matthew Slater reflects on social unrest within U.S. and NFL

Next Pats Podcast: Matthew Slater reflects on social unrest within U.S. and NFL

As much as we'd love to talk football, it has taken a back seat to the conversations that need to be had about George Floyd's murder and the racial injustices that remain prevalent in the United States.

The "Black Lives Matter" movement has spread across the country with protests advocating for justice and racial equality. It has impacted the world of sports, with countless athletes using their platforms to let their voices be heard. NFL players even sent a strong message to the league with a video stating what they wanted to hear it say regarding the oppression of African Americans.

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On a brand new episode of the Next Pats Podcast, New England Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater joined Phil Perry to discuss the state of the nation.

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Slater covered a variety of important topics in the episode. But one that particularly stood out was his explanation of how if the country operated like an NFL locker room, it would be a more inclusive place.

"It is a very unique place. A locker room setting -- you know, if our country operated and moved like a locker room, man it would be a beautiful thing," Slater said. "I'm not saying it's perfect, I'm not saying we've got it all figured out, but what a unique space where people from all different walks of life, different belief systems and things of that nature to work toward a common goal.

"And there's automatic respect that comes with the fact that you have a jersey and a helmet, and you're one of us. So I'm appreciative of that and I think now is a time for us to maybe forge those bonds even deeper. Guys that maybe hear personal stories and maybe experience this from their teammates have a different appreciation for why that guy is the way he is, why he does the things that he does. And I think ultimately that's going to lead to deeper and more fruitful relationships."

If anyone knows what a healthy, inclusive locker room environment looks like, it's Slater. The 34-year-old has been a captain for the Patriots for nearly a decade and has been an admirable leader throughout his stellar NFL career.

Slater also discussed how head coach Bill Belichick has been involved in the team's discussions about recent events, his experiences living as a black man in America, and much more.

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Patriots Roster Reset: Rookie tight ends offer optimism after 2019 drought

Patriots Roster Reset: Rookie tight ends offer optimism after 2019 drought

What if? What if Rob Gronkowski had announced his retirement just a few days sooner, allowing the Patriots to make a legitimate play for free agent Jared Cook? 

By the time the man who is arguably the greatest tight end in NFL history decided to hang 'em up (briefly), Cook was already making plans to join the Saints. He ended up eighth among tight ends with 705 receiving yards and second with nine touchdowns.

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Meanwhile the Patriots were left to piece together that spot with the likes of Matt LaCosse, Ben Watson and Ryan Izzo.

Reluctant to invest in young players at the position since taking Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in 2010 — since then they'd only drafted Izzo (2018, seventh round), Lee Smith (2011, fifth round) and A.J. Derby (2015, sixth round) — the Patriots had arguably the least-productive tight end group in the NFL last season: 37 catches for 419 yards and two touchdowns.

They've attempted to remedy that situation. In this year's draft, they traded up to land two intriguing talents in the third round.

UCLA's Devin Asiasi is a do-it-all player with the size to move people on the line of scrimmage and the body control to draw comparisons to some of the game's elites at that position. Dalton Keene is an athletic option with experience playing out of the backfield at Virginia Tech who could be the key to unlocking snap-to-snap unpredictability for Josh McDaniels' personnel packages.

Do they enter the equation as the immediate No. 1 and 2 options there? Let's reset the depth chart.

LOCK ‘EM IN

Asiasi. Keene. That's it. Those are the locks. Given the output, it should come as no surprise that there's not a player from last year's roster who comes into this season guaranteed to have a regular-season role. 

ON THE BUBBLE

LaCosse makes sense here. He could potentially end up on the roster as a 2020 version of Alge Crumpler — a veteran who can help guide two promising rookies — because his experience level dwarfs that of others on the depth chart.

However, his experience level isn't exactly overwhelming (33 career games). If he can't stay healthy, as was the case last season, or can't win a job, he'd save the Patriots $1.3 million on the salary cap if released in camp.

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LONG SHOTS

Izzo will have to open eyes in camp or become a special teams staple in order to have a chance to make an impact. Though he showed flashes of being a capable receiver last season, that part of his game was lacking consistency. As a blocker? It was there that he was thought to be a potential contributor when drafted out of Florida State two years ago. But according to Pro Football Focus, his 44.9 run-blocking grade was second-lowest among all players at the position in 2019.

Undrafted rookies Jake Burt from Boston College and Rashod Berry from Ohio State also have to be considered in this category. Burt looks like an in-line option at 6-foot-3, 260 pounds. Berry actually played both on the defensive line and at tight end as a senior. He finished his career with 17 receptions. 

NEWCOMER TO WATCH

In what was considered a tight end class short on game-changing talent, Asiasi might've been the most gifted. Notre Dame's Cole Kmet was the first tight end taken in the draft, going off the board in the second round as the "safest" of this year's tight end crop, according to several evaluators. But when it comes to physical ability? Asiasi can "do it all," one tight ends coach told me.

Some questions about Asiasi's makeup lingered into draft weekend, helping him stay undrafted through almost three full rounds, but the Patriots may have found themselves a steal if Asiasi can make good on his on-the-field promise. Asiasi's trainer Dave Spitz, who has also worked with Browns tight end Austin Hooper and Eagles tight end Zach Ertz, spoke to NBC Sports Boston earlier this offseason.

"He has the catch radius of Austin," Spitz said. "He has the body control and awareness of Zach. And he, I think, has more bend, more wiggle, than both of them. He's a beautiful combination."

X-FACTOR

Asiasi might be the most talented addition the Patriots have made at this position in years, but Keene's versatility makes him an interesting queen-on-the-chess-board piece for Bill Belichick and McDaniels. He has enough size (6-foot-4, 253 pounds) to play in-line as a "Y" tight end. He has the movement skills to serve as more of an "F" option. He's played in the backfield before. He's served as a lead-blocker like a fullback. There are a variety of ways in which he can be deployed.

Why does that matter? Perhaps the Patriots want to use their 12-personnel package with one back and two tight ends. Perhaps, because tight ends are oftentimes glorified receivers these days, a defense will respond to that two-tight end set by matching it with an extra safety instead of a linebacker. If that's the case, Keene could flex in as a fullback and the Patriots could run a 21-personnel look at a lighter defense for an advantage. If the defense keeps linebackers on the field to check Asiasi and/or Keene, the Patriots could use them in the passing game where their athleticism should give them an advantage over a traditional second-level defender. Options.

That's what Keene provides, making him an X-factor in the truest sense if he can handle a wide range of alignments and responsibilities early in his career.