Patriots

Mason coming into his own to power Patriots' O-line

Mason coming into his own to power Patriots' O-line

FOXBORO - On a 44-yard jaunt by Dion Lewis Sunday, guard Shaq Mason chipped down on the defensive tackle before easily advancing to the second level to take out the linebacker, freeing the diminutive Lewis to break into the secondary. 

MORE PATRIOTS:

Later, on Rex Burkhead’s 30-yard run, Mason exploded out of his stance, pulling right past Cam Fleming, Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen to flatten Tre’Davious White, freeing Burkhead to waltz down the sideline with nary a body to worry about.

On the Patriots’ touchdown scoring drive in the third quarter, Josh McDaniels called the same play twice within a 5-play span. Why? Because of Mason. Against an even front, he pulled with such quickness that he was on top of an unsuspecting linebacker to pave the way for an easy six yards. Once the Pats entered the red zone, they went back to the play. Facing an odd-man front, Mason pulled but recognized leakage from the backside linebacker. Instead of turning up and blocking the first off-colored jersey he saw in the hole, Mason peeled back and walled off that penetration. Lewis scooted through the opening and nearly scored, picking up 15 of the 16 yards to the goal line.

“I love when they give me the opportunity to get out in front of the play,” said Mason.

That opportunity has come frequently for Mason, who’s entered the conversation as one of the best guards in the league. He joins a long and impressive line at that position in Patriots history, from the greatest of all-time, John Hannah, to borderline Hall of Famer Logan Mankins and Mankins' teammate from that era, Steven Neal. 

“I don't think we've had many guards as athletic as Shaq,” said Bill Belichick. “He's pretty athletic. He's got a real good lower body. He's got a lot of leg strength and can move people and he can run very well, as you mentioned, on screens and pulling plays and so forth. He's really an athletic player that's strong, and explosive, and can make blocks in-line, and can also get out into space and run and make blocks in space. That's a pretty tough combination.”

Projecting Mason as a professional was complicated. He plied his trade at Georgia Tech, where passing plays are called only out of desperation. The Ramblin’ Wreck run on first down, second down, third down and fourth if they had to. In addition, their playbook is minuscule. Seventy plays recalled Mason, maybe less. He had to learn how to handle the sheer volume of the Josh McDaniels offense, but more difficult, this newfangled skill known as “pass blocking.” 

“We didn’t do that often,” said Mason, a man of few words.

But Mason worked at it, compensating for his shorter arms by relying heavily on quick feet. He was merely average at fending off pass rusher as a rookie but made that second-year leap last season, earning some Pro Bowl consideration. Now in year three, Mason should be a lock. He’s allowed one sack by my count. That hasn’t gone unnoticed. 

“in some cases, his athleticism shows itself the most when he has to redirect and handle himself in pass protection in an individual one-on-one match-up,” said McDaniels. “We don't often think of that as the time that's going to show up the most, but sometimes when the line slides the other direction and you're one-on-one there, and a good rusher has a lot of space to get to the quarterback and disrupt the passing game, you have to be able to move your feet and redirect. The rushers, obviously, have more than one move and they counter and then Shaq would counter.”

Mason acknowledges there were some steps to take when he left Georgia Tech but with that quiet confidence, he wanted to make sure everyone knows it wasn’t something he felt he couldn’t handle.

“It wasn’t as big a jump as some may think but it definitely was an adjustment coming from the college I came from to here,” he said. “But I was certain I could do it.”

The rest of the league is now certain too.
 

Devin McCourty responds to Colin Kaepernick rumor: 'I hope that's true for him'

Devin McCourty responds to Colin Kaepernick rumor: 'I hope that's true for him'

FOXBORO -- Devin McCourty isn't looking to make headlines, but also he's not reluctant to talk about Colin Kaepernick when Kaepernick's name comes up.

Kaepernick's name was broached because TMZ caught up with Mark Geragos, Kaepernick's lawyer, and posted the video Thursday. In it, Geragos hinted that there were two NFL clubs that could be interested in signing his client. 

The two franchises at which hinted? The Raiders and the Patriots. New England came up because Geragos was asked about a "Colin Kaepernick anthem" that rapper Meek Mill is planning on. 

"I've heard that," Geragos said. "You know who Meek Mill was visited by when he was in custody?" 

Off camera, someone answered Patriots owner Robert Kraft. "Bingo," said Geragos. 

It's a flimsy connection if that's all it is, and McCourty hadn't seen the TMZ video. But as far as Kaepernick's potential return to the league, McCourty is a supporter of the idea. 

"I would just say I think he's a really good player," McCourty said. "I think he's had a tremendous amount of success in this league. And I've said it numerous times, there's no doubt in my mind that he's one of the top -- whether you want to say 32 or 64 -- quarterbacks that should be in this league. 

"I've said that from the jump. I believe that. I hope that's true for him. Whether it's those two [teams] or someone else, I hope that's true."

McCourty indicated that he didn't feel as though there would be any issues welcoming Kaepernick to the Patriots locker room if that ever came to pass. 

And though McCourty is one of the faces of the Players Coalition -- which has worked to steer the national conversation away from anthem demonstrations to work being done in communities that need it -- he maintained that having the face of the anthem demonstrations in the locker room might actually give Kaepernick an opportunity to highlight the charitable work Kaepernick has done.

According to Business Insider, he's donated over $1 million to various charities in over a year and a half. 

"I think he's still doing positive stuff," McCourty said. "I think him as a player would probably spotlight some of those things. Because right now people only talk about still the same thing. If he had that viewership, as far as the NFL, people would get to see what he does. 

"I think the people who see what he does now are the people that follow him and want to know. Whereas the average NFL viewer, they're not going to see what Kaepernick is doing right now. I think him in the NFL would give people the opportunity to see that. Obviously it would come up. Whatever team he signs to, the first question is going to be, What are you going to do? It's going to come up."

The question is whether there is a team out there willing to take on a player who would generate those discussions and the swirl of media attention that would follow.

For McCourty, that wouldn't be an issue. 

"I've never been opposed to [discussing it]," he said, "obviously."

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Patriots again No. 2 in Forbes valuations of NFL teams

Patriots again No. 2 in Forbes valuations of NFL teams

The Patriots were No. 2 in the NFL after losing Super Bowl 52 to the Philadelphia Eagles and they're again No. 2 in Forbes' annual valuation rankings of NFL teams.

For the fourth year in a row, the Pats, at $3.8 billion. have finished second to the Dallas Cowboys ($5 billion, up from $4.2 billion a year ago for Jerry Jones' team). 

Here's the Top 10:

The Patriots were second in 2017 (at $3.7 billion) , 2016 ($3.4B) and 2015 ($3.2B). Not bad when you consider that in 1994, Robert Kraft purchased the team for $172 million. 

The Buffalo Bills at $1.6 billion bring up the rear among the 31 NFL teams for the second year in a row. 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE