Patriots

Perry: All aboard, the Hollister hype train is leaving the station

Perry: All aboard, the Hollister hype train is leaving the station

FOXBORO -- Well, that didn't take long.

Before the fifth Patriots training camp practice, the team's annual night practice inside Gillette Stadium Bill Belichick was asked about second-year tight end Jacob Hollister. He was, as he often is, simultaneously complimentary and realistic.

"Yeah, well each player's role will depend on how they perform and what they do," Belichick began. "I can't control that. But yeah, Jacob improved a lot last year and he's gotten off to a good start this year from the offseason program, to our spring workouts, to the start of training camp.

"He's still got a long way to go. He has a lot of football in front of him. He didn't have a lot of experience--had some--but has gained a lot and will gain a lot more. I think he's got a great future. He works hard, he's a tough kid, he plays hard, practices hard and has become much better at his fundamentals and techniques at his position."

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There's a lot in there. There's the acknowledgment that Hollister has a long way to go, that he still has a boatload of experience to get under his belt before a true picture of his potential emerges.

There was also a line or two in there that would qualify as positively glowing coming from Belichick. It's not often the Patriots coach singles out a player, one who just averaged under six offensive snaps per game in his rookie season, and says "he's got a great future."

So which cross section of Belichick's assessment deserves more attention? This seems to be an instance where things were probably laid out for us in order of importance.

Hollister may very well have a bright future, but he has a long way to go before anyone can definitively say what that means.

Undrafted coming out of Wyoming last season, it didn't take long for Hollister to establish himself as a resilient player. In his first preseason game, against the Jaguars, he caught seven passes, showing an ability to make late adjustments to footballs as well as a willingness to take big hits and pop back up for more. He finished the game with seven catches for 116 yards.

Since then, Hollister has built on his reputation as a diligent worker, which has long been the scouting report on him, as former Arkansas coach and current consultant to the Patriots coaching staff Brett Bielema -- who got to know Hollister when Hollister worked out with his twin brother Cody leading up to the 2017 draft -- told Quick Slants the Podcast last year.

Hollister showed enough last year to be trusted to be on the field in hurry-up scenarios when the Patriots wanted to use two tight end packages, getting the nod over Dwayne Allen. And with a full offseason in the Patriots system, Hollister could be identified as a breakout candidate in 2018.

He looks like a more fluid receiver than Allen, and with the wideout position pocked with question marks this summer, Josh McDaniels could turn to more frequent usage of his "12" personnel (one back, two tight ends) in the fall, meaning more work for Hollister.

Still, there's a lot left to learn about Hollister's game. He's made a handful of nice plays through five days of camp, including a lunging touchdown from Brian Hoyer with safety Eddie Pleasant close in coverage on Sunday. But he saw all of 10 targets last season, catching five. He played 93 total snaps, including playoffs, splitting his passing game (45 snaps) and running game work (48) almost evenly. He was inactive for the AFC title game and the Super Bowl, and the most memorable moment of his rookie season may have been when he laid out near the goal line against the Chargers in Week 8 to help spring Rob Gronkowski for an easy touchdown.

Who will Hollister be moving forward? That's still up in the air. Can he be relied upon to move defenders in the running game? Or does the 6-foot-4, 245-pounder fall into the "big receiver" category? At this point, he's closer to the latter as he's the lightest tight end on the Patriots roster.

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Likely helping Hollister in the coaching staff's eyes is that he contributed to successful plaus in the offense's goal line packages last year, and the fact that he's a capable special-teams player.

It's not just coaches who like him, either, Tom Brady spent a chunk of Monday night's warmup period going over the nuances of a route with Hollister, and Hollister was part of Brady's daily (and relatively exclusive) passing-game side session during a down moment in Sunday's practice.

Hollister's roster spot looks safe. And there's certainly promise there. But if the expectation is for Hollister's "bright future" to come to fruition in September, that may be too much hype for a second-year player who still shares a meeting room with (and until further notice will cede snaps to) the best tight end in football.

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Tom Brady leaves motivational comment on N'Keal Harry's Instagram

Tom Brady leaves motivational comment on N'Keal Harry's Instagram

Tom Brady's future with the New England Patriots is currently up in the air. But at least he's still taking some time to give his Patriots teammates some love on social media.

N'Keal Harry dropped a post on Instagram Friday night that had a picture of him in workout gear at a football practice facility. And the caption with the photo simply read "Cookin' Up".

Here's a look at the post, per Harry's official Instagram account. 

View this post on Instagram

Cookin’ Up👨🏾‍🍳🔥

A post shared by N'Keal Harry (@nkealharry) on

That post should be encouraging enough for Patriots fans, as Harry had some nice moments as a rookie and if he continues to put in work, the first-round pick should improve heading into his second season.

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But Brady weighing in on Harry's post with a motivational comment? That could be even better news for Patriots fans.

Brady's comment read: "Going to be a great year for you" and he tagged Harry's handle in it. Here's a screenshot of the comment, per NESN's Zack Cox. 

That's certainly a nice gesture and it seems Brady is continuing to support his (perhaps soon-to-be-former) teammates despite his uncertain future.

However, skeptics of Brady's potential return will point out that the QB said only "it's going to be a great year for you" when talking about Harry's upcoming season. He could've said us had he known that he was returning to the team, but it's also highly unlikely that he was thinking about that minor difference when posting the comment.

Either way, Brady's future with the Patriots is murky and it remains to be seen what will happen come the official start of free agency March 18. For the time being, at least he's staying in touch with his teammates on social media.

Xavier McKinney on NFL Combine meeting with Patriots: 'It was a little tough, a little awkward'

Xavier McKinney on NFL Combine meeting with Patriots: 'It was a little tough, a little awkward'

The New England Patriots have been the subject of many NFL Combine meeting stories over the years. And 2020 has been no different.

Notably, the team told one tight end prospect that he had a "loser's mentality" at one point in their interview. They also asked one of the quarterback prospects how he would feel to replace Tom Brady. And an LSU tight end said that he was "kinda scared" in his meeting with the team.

Some haven't minded the meetings. And one Clemson Tiger actually "felt comfortable" talking to the Patriots.

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Still, the same can't be said of former Alabama safety Xavier McKinney. 

McKinney had a formal meeting with the Patriots at the combine and he called his interview with New England "tough" and "awkward".

"That was one of the harder meetings that I had. It was a little tough, a little awkward," McKinney said, per Nora Princiotti of The Boston Globe. "But Vinnie Sunseri was in there so it just made me a little more comfortable just knowing that I’ve been in the room with him plenty of other times. It was a good meeting though."

Sunseri joined the Patriots coaching staff this offseason but the former Alabama safety had previously served as a graduate assistant with Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban before. So, he had a connection with McKinney, which eased his nerves a bit.

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But McKinney said he just felt "uncertain" about the meeting coming out of it.

"Just towards the end, I wasn’t sure if they enjoyed the meeting or if I did well," McKinney said. "You kind of walk out of these meetings kind of uncertain sometimes. But I think that’s just how it goes. You just try to do the best you can."

McKinney has a good point and players often are unsure about what teams think of them. That's by design. Some teams really don't like to tip their hand in the lead-up to the draft, and the Patriots are certainly among those that keep their intentions close to the vest. 

So, it's well within the realm of possibility that the team liked McKinney. They just may not want him to realize that right away.

McKinney had 95 tackles, three sacks, and three interceptions in his final season at Alabama. He's expected to be one of the first safeties off the board and our own Phil Perry mocked him to the Patriots in his first NFL mock draft of the offseason in January.