Patriots

Postcard from Training Camp: Fight highlights intense Patriots-Titans practice

Postcard from Training Camp: Fight highlights intense Patriots-Titans practice

NASHVILLE — Day 2 of Patriots-Titans joint practices was an entertaining and intense one that featured a mild dustup which we will get to.

The biggest on-field takeaways were these: First, Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota will be very happy when the Patriots defense gets the hell out of town. Second, Tom Brady — throwing to Gunner, Braxton, Dontrelle and Jakobi — put the Tennessee defense through the wood-chipper. A good Tennessee defense. A Tennessee defense that has really talented secondary players yet still had at least three complete busts that resulted in long scores. Let’s get after it.

WHAT THEY WORE/WHO WAS THERE?

Full pads in the very warm but not-quite-as-oppressive weather of Nashville. Returning after missing yesterday’s practice was Jamie Collins and he was a full participant. Dan Skipper, the left tackle who had some heat-related issues, was out there for the full package. Phillip Dorsett, Maurice Harris and N’Keal Harry did not participate in practice. Dorsett had his hand taped when he was spotted. Harry was in and out of the Titans facility and spent a lot of time just kind of wandering around. Maurice Harris has a lower leg injury and I’m hearing he may be a while. Elandon Roberts was also back out at practice.

NOTEWORTHY

The fracas. On a Dion Lewis red-zone running play during 11-on-11 work, Titans rookie receiver A.J. Brown was locked up blocking Stephon Gilmore. Both men kept their hands locked on one another’s jerseys after the play. Brown kind of smirked at Gilmore and said something. Gilmore shoved. A slow build began as players alternately shoved and tried to make peace until someone shoved/twisted Devin McCourty and the veteran Patriots safety bubbled over and it got real physical. There was no punching but it was a bit of a slow-moving stampede. The most amusing aspect? When Titans coach Mike Vrabel waded in to make peace, rookie receiver Tajae Sharpe was doing the “Lemme at ‘em!” bit and kind of pushed/nudged Vrabel who then began working blue and looked prepared to use Sharpe as a javelin. Also, former Jet Terrence Brooks was a prime agitator on the Patriot side of things. Nobody from either team was sent off and there was no further mayhem.

Isaiah Wynn got a significant amount of work on Thursday and he continues to look like a more-than-solid offensive lineman. Probably closer to really good.

After 1-on-1s and special teams work, the Patriots broke into the aforementioned 11-on-11 work, and that was really where the Patriots top unit shined. The first foray for the Patriots starting first-and-10 at the Tennessee 10 included a shallow cross TD to Gunner Olszewski, an incompletion on the right to Gunner and a curl to Braxton Berrios caught at the goal line.

The next series had a Brandon Bolden run stuff, an incompletion over James White then a TD to White sitting down at the goal line.

When the Titans' first offense came out, the Patriots had a run stuff, a tipped pass by Dont'a Hightower and a third-and-10 pass defended by Obi Melifonwu intended for Anthony Firkser.

When the Patriots’ twos came in, there was a tough rep for rookie Joejuan Williams and Keion Crossen, who had a bust that resulted in an easy score. Williams also got whistled for a defensive hold in the end zone.

Second-year tight end Ryan Izzo continues to look really capable as a blocking tight end. Really good pop and anchors well. For a team that’s hurting for pass-catchers at the position post-Gronk, at least Izzo looks capable of succeeding Dwayne Allen.

After watching Brady shred in the red zone, it was an arresting sight to see the five-year veteran at quarterback for Tennessee, Marcus Mariota, seem so perplexed and inaccurate.

On consecutive plays, Gunner drew a flag on highly-regarded corner Adoree Jackson on a Brady throw down the middle. Then Tennessee somehow lost track of Benjamin Watson for about a 40-yard touchdown.

It wasn’t a tremendous day for rookie quarterback Jarrett Stidham when his group got out there around 11 a.m. for situational work. He twice had passes batted down at the line by defensive tackle Brent Urban, threw a widowmaker over the middle to Jakobi Meyers that Meyers reached for with one hand and deflected upward and delivered late on the sidelines to Braxton Berrios. On that one, he waited so long for the play to develop, it looked like a team meeting with defensive backs and receivers converging in a mini-swarm. Gotta come out faster.

Duke Dawson, who’s not having an awesome camp, did have a nice pass breakup in situational work.

At 11:30 a.m. the teams wrapped up with two-minute work. This is where the Titans offense did do some work as Mariota hit tight end Delanie Walker with consecutive seam throws. That “drive” stalled when a Titans offensive lineman was flagged (there are officials here) for holding Shilique Calhoun.

On the first two reps of the Patriots “drive” there was an incompletion under duress to Jakobi Meyers followed by a pressure given up by Skipper which drew audible agitation from offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia. Then, somehow, the Titans lost track of Berrios who ran a simple deep post and got loose for about a 60-yard gain.

A play later, Berrios didn’t finish a route as anticipated and got reamed by Brady. The two connected again for another long gain but that was called back by a hold. Brady, on the move to his right, then hit Dontrelle Inman on the right sideline as Inman worked back to the ball.

There were also long gains on throws from Brian Hoyer to Meyers and Gunner Olszewski.

SIGHTED

Former Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel was there with his son, Clay. FOX Sports analyst Charles Davis, who does the Titans preseason games, was there. Former Patriots/Chiefs and Falcons GM Scott Pioli was on the sidelines as was former Patriots and Titans executive Floyd Reese.

Brady spent a long time speaking with Taylor Lewan after practice. The Titans offensive lineman had nice words about Brady during the NFL Network’s Top 100 Players series. Also there was former Tennessee and Ravens receiver Derrick Mason.

NEXT?

The Patriots are off on Friday and will be back at it again on Saturday night for their preseason game. Expect Tom Brady to play in that one.

How Brady trolled Vrabel with pre-practice trophy>>>>>

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Sports Uncovered: The Bill Belichick you don't know has snowball fights with players

Sports Uncovered: The Bill Belichick you don't know has snowball fights with players

Bill Belichick is the NFL's Scrooge. Having fun is overrated — he's just here to win football games.

That's the perception, anyway. But the latest episode of NBC Sports' "Sports Uncovered" podcast reveals a whole different side of the New England Patriots head coach.

How different, you ask? Well, what if we told you Belichick started a celebratory snowball fight with one of his players after a blowout victory?

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Rob Ninkovich certainly wasn't expecting it. New England had just walloped the Tennessee Titans 59-0 in a 2009 game that ended with inches of snow on the field, and the Patriots edge rusher — then in his first year with the team — was walking to his truck in the Gillette Stadium parking lot.

"All of a sudden a snowball comes in," Ninkovich recalled to our Phil Perry in Episode 2 of the "Sports Uncovered" podcast. "I'm like, 'Who the heck is throwing snowballs?' And it was Bill."

" ... I’m sure he was pumped because we had won by a lot. It was just kind of like a fun moment where you were like, 'He’s not so bad.' "

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As Ninkovich and other ex-Patriots related in the podcast, Belichick can be light-hearted and even playful around his players behind the scenes. But the Patriots coach can also be scathingly critical — which is why Ninkovich had to make an important calculation before returning fire.

"I threw a snowball back, but it was one of those, 'Make sure you don’t hit him,' like way overthrow," Ninkovich said. "But you've gotta act like you’re going to throw a snowball.

"Because if you throw a 90 mph heater and it hits him square in the eye, then you could possibly be cut. Or he respects the fact that you come after him."

Ninkovich apparently made the right call: He went on to enjoy an eight-year career in New England as one of Belichick's most reliable defensive players and helped the Patriots win two Super Bowls.

To hear more about the "other" side of Belichick, check out "Sports Uncovered: The Belichick You Don't Know" and subscribe to "Sports Uncovered" for free wherever you listen to podcasts.

Reality of players opting out could drastically alter 2020 NFL season

Reality of players opting out could drastically alter 2020 NFL season

First thing Tuesday morning, Patriots cornerback Jonathan Jones took to Twitter to say, “I don’t know who needs to hear this but you can’t social distance football … “

Jones soon got an amen from Dont'a Hightower: “Ain’t no way.”

And another from Patrick Chung: “Not a damn shot. They are trippin’.”

There were plenty of “But, but, but … ” rebuttals in the replies to Jones’ tweet.

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Folks pointing out that the MLS, MMA and English Premier League are back to action with success; that it’s hard to distance in other professions too; that the odds of a young, fully healthy athlete contracting a case that even requires hospitalization is infinitesimally small.

None of which are going to make Jones say, “Gee. They’re right. I have nothing to worry about.”

Be assured, Jones, Hightower and Chung are just the tip of a very large iceberg of players reluctant to play in 2020 with coronavirus still raging. Despite that reluctance, most will still play. But many may not.

Which brings us to the “opt-out” issue the NFL and NFLPA are wrangling over right now. It has the potential to be the biggest obstacle to getting camps started and — when some players inevitably do opt out — it could quickly and drastically alter teams for the 2020 season.

According to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, the NFLPA’s asks are these:

  • An opt-out clause for at-risk players to receive salary (but not bonuses) if they decide not to play.
  • An opt-out clause for players with at-risk families to earn an accrued season and benefits if they decide not to play.
  • An opt-out clause for players who leave the team after reporting (terms uncertain).
  • A $250,000 stipend guaranteed to all players if they show up to camp and everything is shut down because of COVID-19 concerns. That amount rises to $500,000 if the season starts, only to be shut down.

According to Fowler, a memo last month listed these as “considerations for high-risk individuals”

  • African American, Hispanic or Pacific Islander
  • BMI ≥ 28
  • Sleep apnea
  • Hypertension
  • Altered immunity
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Cardiac disease

Rookies for some teams are scheduled to report to camp July 21. Patriots rookies are scheduled to show on July 23. Veterans will be a week later. Yet the opt-out provision is still unresolved.

No other sport requires the amount of contact football does. No other sport has rosters even close to the size of an NFL team.

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And considering the “at-risk” list from the memo, there are scores of players who’d fall into those categories. The league is 70 percent African-American. Along the offensive and defensive lines where 300-pound players are routine, BMIs over 28 are going to be the norm.

Meanwhile, not included on the “at-risk” list from the league memo is sickle cell disease. Sickle cell is included on the Centers for Disease Control list of people with “increased risk of severe illness from Covid-19.”

According to an article titled “Playing Through Sickle Cell” from the website The Undefeated, “One out of every 365 black births results in a sickle cell disease diagnosis.”

Separately, the article notes, “Between 1 million and 3 million Americans, and upward of 10 percent of all African-Americans have sickle cell trait. Most with the trait are asymptomatic, but under unique circumstances, including intense physical activity, high altitude and severe dehydration, normal red blood cells can become sickled, which means athletes are at higher risk of being affected.”

A July, 2017 article on the website Bleacher Report noted that, at that time, there were “26 deaths in NCAA Division I football (since 2000), 11 due to sickle cell trait, experts said.”

Sickle cell, the prevalence of players who would be considered obese and the unavoidable amount of physical contact are all factors for many NFL players as they consider returning to work in an intensely physical job.

No matter how carefully teams screen, no matter how many temperatures are taken, no matter how committed teams pledge to be about masking up on the premises, there’s no way to fully allay the concerns of players who have these pre-existing conditions.

A player like Patriots center David Andrews, who missed all of 2019 because of a condition that caused blood clots in his lungs, will have to reconcile whether health risks from a disease that attacks the respiratory system are worth taking.

How can the league counter those concerns? It can’t. How will it respond to players who want to opt out? So far, it hasn’t. Not in any concrete way.

“You think people care (about the risks players are about to undertake)?” one player asked me this week. “People want to watch football.”