Patriots

Patriots have laid-back Saturday at US Bank Stadium

Patriots have laid-back Saturday at US Bank Stadium

By Nicki Jhabvala
Pro Football Writers of America

MINNEAPOLIS -- Shortly before 11 a.m. Saturday, a loud voice blared from the speakers inside U.S. Bank Stadium.

The bowl will be closed until noon, the voice told a stadium filled with event staff and security.

Clear out.

Minutes later, Patriots players donning their white jerseys and blue plants, and coaches dressed in all navy sauntered out of the tunnel and onto the field, heading toward the south end where a tower of bleachers awaited them at the 10-yard line.

After three days of practices at the Vikings’ Winter Park facility, Saturday for the Patriots was photo and fun day, a time to gather with family, pose for a group shot and mingle after as Super Bowl LII neared. No practice was scheduled. No walkthrough, either.

"The families go through so much. They sacrifice so much for all of us and the time that we spend away and the strain that a season puts on them," coach Bill Belichick said. "So it's great to have them all here and it's great to give them an opportunity to be with their sons, daughters, husbands and to bring their family in and take pictures on the field and just kind of enjoy the day.

“It's a nice event for everybody -- the players and families, and the team picture with the kids. Everybody will look back on this."

Planted in the middle of the Eagles' end zone was a ladder and camera screen.

One by one, the players and coaches, as well as team president Jonathan Kraft and chairman/CEO Robert Kraft, filtered onto the bleachers, awaiting direction from the photographer standing on the ladder.

"One. Two. Three," the photographer yelled from his perch.

The Patriots' logo flashed on the far big screen and, just like that, the team's Super Bowl LII trip was documented.

After a few extra snaps -- just in case -- Patriots staffers called for the players' children and spouses, who had been sitting in the stands above the opposite end zone.

The children, most wearing their fathers’ jerseys, scattered in front of the bleachers. Receiver Chris Hogan, standing front and center just below Robert Kraft, cradled his young twins, one in each arm, and cornerback Stephon Gilmore did the same with two kids.

Then all looked ahead at the camera and smiled for the family photo.

A final, "Thank you very much!" from the photographer was their signal to disperse and for the team's remaining time inside U.S. Bank Stadium, they gathered to soak in the moment, reflect on the journey and take a few family selfies.

An hour later, the same voice that closed the stadium bowl ushered the Patriots players to the buses.

"This afternoon is a normal Saturday for us,” Belichick said. “So it would either be traveling if we were on the road, or if we were home the players would have the afternoon off to relax, get a massage, just catch up on whatever. Then we meet tonight and play tomorrow. We're on as much of a normal routine as we can be on."

Back to football.

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Georgia the new Rutgers? Contingent of Bulldogs growing in New England

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AP Photo

Georgia the new Rutgers? Contingent of Bulldogs growing in New England

FOXBORO -- David Andrews was excited. He just had a hard time showing it.

The Patriots center stayed up long enough to see his team pick at No. 23 in the first round of the NFL Draft, long enough to see his Georgia teammate Isaiah Wynn have his name called.

But the Thursday night prime time event isn't for everyone, and so Andrews wasn't fully conscious by the time the Patriots picked a second Bulldog, Sony Michel, at No. 31.

"I was in bed. My wife stayed up and watched it," Andrews said last week. "I was in bed and I saw Isaiah get drafted, and then I passed out. She came busting in th'.;e room about Sony getting drafted, and at that point, I really didn’t care. I was just trying to get to sleep, but . . . No, I was very happy for them. It was awesome to talk to them. They were here the next day. I didn’t really get to see them, but it’s good to see them around, see some familiar faces"

Suddenly, with five Georgia players on the roster -- Andrews, Wynn, Michel, Malcolm Mitchell and undrafted free agent John Atkins -- they now make up one of the largest contingents of players from one school in Bill Belichick's locker room.

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Iowa is right there with Georgia at five players (Aidrian Clayborn, Cole Croston, James Ferentz, Riley McCarron, Matt Tobin). Vanderbilt is next on the list with four (Adam Butler, Andrew Jelks, Jordan Matthews, Ralph Webb), even with Rutgers (Devin and Jason McCourty, Duron Harmon, Kenny Britt). Arkansas follows closely behind with three (Trey Flowers, Dietrich Wise, Cody Hollister).

If you look at the coaches involved in helping certain groups of players develop, the Patriots connections become even a little more clear.

At Iowa, it's Kirk Ferentz, who served as a Belichick assistant in Cleveland back in the 90s. At Vanderbilt, Belichick thinks highly enough of Derek Mason that he gave Mason and the Vandy coaching staff a behind-the-scenes look at spring workouts in New England last year. At Rutgers, Belichick's relationship with former Scarlet Knights coach Greg Schiano has been well-documented.

Then there are the coaches who've bounced around a bit and impacted multiple players on the Patriots roster at different spots.

Bret Bielema, who's been helping the Patriots this offseason (and was spotted with Belichick at The Preakness this weekend), coached all three Arkansas products as well as James White during his time at Wisconsin. Bo Pellini has coached three Patriots (Vincent Valentine and Rex Burkhead at Nebraska, Derek Rivers at Youngstown State).

Then there's that Georgia connection. Kirby Smart coached all three Bulldog rookies as well as the two Alabama products on the Patriots roster (Dont'a Hightower, Cyrus Jones) when Smart was coaching defense for the Crimson Tide. Former Georgia coach and current Miami sideline boss Mark Richt recruited all five Georgia players currently on the Patriots roster, and he coached both Miami rookies now in New England (Braxton Berrios, Trent Harris).

Asked why Belichick and the Patriots front office would be so interested in acquiring so many players from the same school, Andrews replied, "That’s a psychology question. Man, I don’t know . . .  

"You know, no, I don’t think there’s really like one thing. I think those are some great guys. They all work really hard. They’ve been great teammates to me, so that’s something you can always respect, and it’s guys like that you love having in your locker room and playing with.

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No matter how you look at it, the Georgia connection in New England is as strong as ever.

"Georgia the new Rutgers? Oh, I’m going to have to talk to Dev and Du about that and all those guys," Andrews said with a smile. "We might be now. We’ll have to see."

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Johnny Manziel signing with Hamilton of the CFL

Johnny Manziel signing with Hamilton of the CFL

Johnny Manziel won't be in the Patriots' plans at quarterback anytime soon.

The former Browns QB, Heisman winner in 2012 and first-round pick in 2014 announced on Saturday morning that he had decided to sign a contract to play in the CFL in order to "further my football career after a long break."

"I believe this is the best opportunity for me moving forward and I'm eager for what the future holds," Manziel tweeted. 

Manziel also announced that he'll be co-hosting the "Comeback Szn" podcast for Barstool Sports alongside his agent Erik Burkhardt and our buddy, former "Boston Sports Tonight" and "Football Fix" co-host, Kayce Smith.

"It's just a really good fit," Burkhardt said on "Comeback Szn." "Good offense. It's a really good league. It's been around forever, we vetted it well, and at the end of the day, like Johnny said, he wants to play ball."

Manziel, who's been out of football the past two years because of substance abuse and emotional problems, has battled bipolar disorder. He will play for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats under head coach June Jones, who has also coached in the NCAA and NFL ranks. Jones served as offensive coordinator of the Falcons (1991-93) before becoming their head coach (1994-96). He was also quarterbacks coach and interim head coach for the Chargers in 1998 before heading to the college ranks. Jones coached at Hawaii then at SMU, where he was the first person to offer Manziel a college scholarship. 

CFL rookie contracts are for two years, meaning the Tiger-Cats will have his rights through the end of the 2019 CFL season. 

Earlier this year, CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie reiterated the league's stance that they're not in the business of letting players break their contracts to pursue NFL opportunities.

The Patriots took a look at him this spring, but even if they had interest, the possibility of which we discussed on Quick Slants the Podcast last month, any marriage will have to wait. 

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