Patriots rookies quickly learning 'everything is earned'

Phil Perry photo

Patriots rookies quickly learning 'everything is earned'

FOXBORO -- It wasn't a big deal. It just seemed odd. 

When the Patriots posted photos of their rookie minicamp online last week, the shots were pretty typical of this time of year. Players running through bag drills. Players catching footballs. Players blocking other players holding pads. 

The jersey numbers, though, stood out. They were, you could say, atypical.

Danny Etling, a quarterback drafted in the seventh round, wore No. 58. Sixth-round receiver Braxton Berrios, who measures in at 5-foot-9, 183 pounds, wore a number usually reserved for players about 50-60 pounds heavier: No. 55. Duke Dawson (pictured above), the team's second-round corner, was in jersey No. 52.

"We all got it," Dawson said of the funky-number treatment. "Everything is earned. It's not given. You've got to come in and earn everything."

That wasn't the spoken message from the coaching staff, Dawson explained, but that was what he took from the jersey assignments. 

"You can just sense it," he said. "You can feel it. That's how I look at it."

That's generally one of the major lessons Patriots rookies absorb after their first few days at Gillette Stadium: It doesn't matter how you got to Foxboro, whether it was through the draft, undrafted free agency or a rookie tryout. It's what you do when you arrive.

And when rookies arrived this year, they went to work in numbers that reminded them they had a long way to go before they earned more permanent digits. 

One player who had a jersey that matched his position was linebacker Christian Sam. He wore No. 54, which currently belongs to veteran 'backer Dont'a Hightower. 

Never mind the number, Sam said. Asked what it felt like to wear some gear with the Patriots logo attached, after a long pre-draft process of workouts and interviews, he replied, "Blessed."


Former Patriots DE Chris Long announces retirement

USA Today Sports Images

Former Patriots DE Chris Long announces retirement

Former Patriots defensive end and Super Bowl 51 champion Chris Long announced his retirement on Twitter Saturday night. 

The 11-year veteran had been mulling over the decision for the last four months after his season with the Eagles ended in the NFC's Divisional round against the Saints. 

Long will exit the NFL with two Super Bowl championships, both coming in consecutive years with the Patriots and then the Eagles. In 2016 with the Patriots, Long totaled four sacks, 35 tackles, seven tackles for loss and 10 quarterback hits. He will finish his career with 70 sacks, 85 tackles for loss and 150 quarterback hits.

Another legacy Long leaves will be his philanthropy. He donated an entire seasons worth of game checks to charity in 2017, and then donated a quarter of his salary in 2018 to help local children. Long was named the Walter Payton Man of the Year in February

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

This stat should make Patriots fans excited for year two of JC Jackson

This stat should make Patriots fans excited for year two of JC Jackson

As an undrafted free agent coming into the 2018 season, cornerback J.C. Jackson made the most out of his opportunity by earning himself a starting spot on the Patriots' Super Bowl championship defense. 

Jackson will face higher expectations as he heads into his second season in the pros, but the Patriots and their fans should have plenty of reason to be optimistic about the young corner. 

According to Pro Football Focus, Jackson ranked as the top corner in the NFL during the 2018 season in Passer Rating allowed (42.0), which was nearly 18 points higher than second place Avonte Maddox of the Philadelphia Eagles. 

Jackson allowed just 22 for 262 yards and zero touchdowns on 42 targets last season. He was also seventh in forced incompletion rate and 12th in the NFL with an 82.4 coverage grade, according to PFF's rankings. 

Jackson is with elite company at the top spot of PFF's Passer Rating allowed, beating out Miami's Xavien Howard, Denver's Chris Harris Jr., and Chicago's Kyle Fuller. The Dolphins just recently made Howard the highest-paid corner in the league. 

But Jackson wasn't the only Patriot to crack the top-10. Stephon Gilmore finished 10th in this category with a 71.8 passer rating allowed. Gilmore experienced the best season of his career in 2018, making First Team All-Pro and making the game-clinching interception in Super Bowl 53. 

A lot of people like to talk about what the Patriots lose each offseason, but after letting Malcolm Butler walk in free agency to the Titans, Bill Belichick seems to have found an ample replacement in Jackson. 

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.