Patriots

Sunday Notes: Deebo Samuel's judgment was debatable in goodbye to ‘Billy’ Belichick

Sunday Notes: Deebo Samuel's judgment was debatable in goodbye to ‘Billy’ Belichick

Interesting approach from South Carolina receiver Deebo Samuel. He visited the Patriots this week. When he got to the parking lot he whipped out his phone and, with the facility as his backdrop, said, “We outta here. Hey Billy. I’ll see you in a month, my man.”

The video was posted on Instagram and aired on NFL Network when Samuel was there as a guest. As the video aired, one of the hosts, former NFL player Brian Baldinger, looked at Samuel with a look of stupefied amazement.

Being overly familiar with the CEO and posting your confidence on social media isn’t a strategy you’d see recommended by experts for young job seekers. But the NFL isn’t a normal industry and sometimes Bill Belichick surprises with what he finds amusing. He doesn’t hate big personalities. He does hate distracting personalities. It’s a fine line.

What Belichick definitely doesn’t love is having what he talks about behind closed doors brought into the open. Samuel did reveal a bit. Again, this probably wouldn’t be viewed as a mortal sin but might elicit a fatigued, “What are we doing here…?” response.

Samuel’s impression of Belichick?

“I thought he was like a real, real serious coach like, ‘Don’t smile or a lot.’ But when I met him he was a little laughing, gave me a little smile,” said the receiver. “We had a good conversation there.”

What did they talk about, asked Baldinger.

“They really wasn’t hard questions,” said Samuel. “He was just asking about what type of plays I did. He was asking about kick returning, where I would be on the offensive side but it was really just a conversation, see what happens in the draft, whatever happens.”

Not exactly giving away any state secrets, as Belichick would say. Still, if Samuel does land here I’d expect his social media presence might taper off a bit.

Will he land here? That’s the question.

At 5-11, 215 pounds, Samuel is a sturdy, fast, ultra-competitive, works over the middle and returns kicks. He’s got great versatility. He isn’t as sudden as Julian Edelman and he’s so rocked up he looks like he could use some significant pliability time.

There are, as Belichick pointed out earlier this week, a lot of teams seeking slots. Parris Campbell, Marquise Brown, Andy Isabella and Hunter Renfrow are among the players mentioned first at the position.

The Patriots have had a variety of receivers in with different body types during the private-visit stage. Baylor’s Jalen Hurd (6-4, 227), Ole Miss’ A.J. Brown (6-0, 226), Notre Dame’s Miles Boykin (6-4, 220), Arizona State’s N’Keal Harry (6-2, 228) and Georgia’s Mecole Hardman (5-10, 187).

Visits are not necessarily an indication of outsized interest. Often, they are scheduled to answer lingering questions. Hurd, for example, had knee surgery in December. It would be wise to double-check his progress. But the Patriots are obviously going to draft a wideout. And while Brown and Samuel are bigger and more highly-touted slots, Hardman seems the most enticing to me because of his suddenness and elusiveness. He’s 40 pounds lighter than Brown, 30 pounds lighter than Samuel, he should be quicker. But he’s also faster (4.33 40) and – as a converted defensive back – still has room to grow as a receiver.

In the Patriots offense, understanding the concept and spacing, getting open, catching it and making the first guy miss are the attributes that made Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez, James White, Dion Lewis and Deion Branch the most trusted inside receivers Tom Brady’s thrown to. It really isn’t about running past people on the outside. It’s about uncovering on the inside where the high-percentage completions are there for the taking. If the right guy is running the route.

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Ready for a streamlined Donta Hightower? Check this out. Hightower and Shaq Mason were shown post-workout  Friday evening on a Twitter post. Former Patriots Marquice Cole weighed in on Hightower’s lack of weight. Hightower weighed in on Quice’s comment. Hightower was visibly less bulky in 2018 and now seems even leaner. It’s a departure from the 270-pound version of Hightower we saw during the first six seasons of his career. If Hightower’s aim was to become more durable, his 2018 season provided evidence it worked. He played and started 15 games – that was the most he’d started since 2013 when he played in all 16.

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Earlier this week, former NFL official and current NBC officiating analyst Terry McAulay pointed out that making pass interference reviewable means offensive linemen better stay legal when blocking on RPOs. Contact initiated by a blocker more than a yard past the line of scrimmage is pass interference.  

Now that coaches have a chance to scrutinize replays to see if anyone was blocking past 36 inches, there may be as many reviews for offensive pass interference.

Additionally, as Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk pointed out when passing on McAulay’s observation, this begs the question of whether replay officials are on the hook to look for OPI on touchdowns since every scoring play is reviewed.

“Will touchdowns get overturned to offensive pass interference because of a block two yards downfield that didn’t appear to have any impact on the play?” wondered Smith. “It’s important that the league think through all these possibilities and, if necessary, revise the rule at the May league meeting. One revision could be to make offensive pass interference reviewable only for contact that begins after the ball is in the air.”

Now let me add another layer. Illegal picks. If pass interference was reviewable, you can bet your sweet bippy Bill Belichick would have been throwing when the Chiefs ran a devastating and illegal pick in the final minutes of the AFC Championship Game.

Take another look at Sammy Watkins making a 38-yard reception down to the Patriots 2-yard line with 2:55 remaining and the Patriots ahead 24-21. Wide receiver Chris Conley obliterated Patriots corner J.C. Jackson about 4 yards downfield, leaving Watkins along and Belichick blowing a gasket on the sidelines.

That’s reviewable now. And if the owners do try to tinker with the rule, as Smith suggests, the outcry from coaches, GMs and media on the behalf of defensive players should be long and really loud.

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You like Nashville? Sure ya do. Will you like it in August? We will find out. Titans coach Mike Vrabel all but confirmed this week that the Patriots and Titans will be holding joint practices prior to the second game of the preseason in Nashville.

Over the years, the Patriots have gotten some really good work in during these shared practices. They twice went to The Greenbrier in West Virginia, first to work with the Saints and two years ago to practice with the Texans. With Houston on the early-season schedule, the Patriots held back a fair amount and the reviews weren’t quite as positive.

Last season, the Patriots decided to forego joint sessions and – perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not – the team was remarkably healthy during the 2018 season. Those joint practices can take a chunk out of a team. The Patriots also cancelled the last two practices of their final four-day session of OTAs in mid-June – and spent one of those four days visiting Fenway.

So it will be interesting to see how the Patriots approach the 2019 workouts given the health and results of last season.

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Only three of the Patriots nine drafted players saw any action in 2018 – Sony Michel, Ja’Whaun Bentley and Keion Crossen. And Bentley wound up on IR with a torn bicep after just three games. So there are a lot of unknowns among that crew, which Belichick alluded to this week.  

“Many of our 2018 draft choices had partial seasons or minimal in some cases,” Belichick said at his Wednesday predraft press conference. “We’re excited to see how those guys will do this year, obviously. It’s a hardworking group. Those guys are here on a very consistent basis and hopefully we’ll be able to get a much longer look at the 2018 draft class than we were able to get last year.”

Offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn, who tore his Achilles, is the most prominent player of the group. Second-round pick Duke Dawson, who was available late in the season after being injured but never saw the field, could also have a prominent role based simply on the amount the team was putting on his plate during training camp.

Linebacker Christian Sam, wide receiver Braxton Berrios, quarterback Danny Etling and tight end Ryan Izzo are the others who didn’t see any game action or were on IR and unavailable.

How will their presence impact the Patriots’ 2019 draft decisions? Well, for one thing, the Patriots don’t need 12 more rookies in camp and that’s how many draft picks they have so that fact underscores even more that the Patriots figure to be active traders when the draft begins.

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Julian Edelman puts percentage on chance Rob Gronkowski returns to Patriots

Julian Edelman puts percentage on chance Rob Gronkowski returns to Patriots

Rob Gronkowski says he's done with football, but his pal Julian Edelman isn't 100-percent convinced.

Edelman discussed Gronk's retirement on Barstool Sports' "Pardon My Take" podcast and was asked to give a percentage on the former tight end returning to the Patriots somewhere down the line.

"I’d say, maybe, an 11 percent chance,” Edelman answered.

Sure, that may be a cop-out response considering 11 happens to be Edelman's jersey number, but Patriots fans can at least find solace in the fact he didn't say "zero."

Edelman also says while he hasn't had a conversation with Gronkowski about the injuries taking a toll on the 30-year-old throughout his career, he could tell Gronk was banged up last season.

”When you’re banged up, football’s not always fun," Edelman said. "I can speak for myself on that. When you’re dealing with things — ankle, foot, back … Football is amazing when you feel great. … But it’s not easy, especially when you get older and have accumulated a lot of injury. So, you started seeing that it was tougher [for Gronkowski]. It gets tougher for everyone."

Gronkowski seems adamant he's staying retired, but he's certainly gotten a kick out of trolling those who believe he'll eventually return to the gridiron.

Time will tell whether the future Hall-of-Famer will change his mind. Until then, you can bet Gronk will continue living every moment of retired life to the fullest.

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Tom Brady posts selfie with rival Peyton Manning: 'We were friends this whole time'

Tom Brady posts selfie with rival Peyton Manning: 'We were friends this whole time'

The NFL might never again see a quarterback rivalry as awesome as the one between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.

Brady's New England Patriots and Manning's Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos teams squared off in many classic regular season and playoff battles, including a few AFC Championship Game matchups.

Despite the intense on-field rivalry, these legendary NFL QBs are friends off the field, as Brady reiterated in a tweet posted Wednesday featuring a selfie of him and Manning.

It's not often you see arguably the two-best quarterbacks in NFL history in one photo. 

Brady is coming off his sixth Super Bowl title, and oddsmakers like the Patriots' chances of winning a record seventh championship next season. Manning didn't enjoy the same postseason success as Brady, but he did win one Super Bowl each with the Colts and Broncos, in addition to many regular-season records that still haven't been broken.

The Brady-Manning rivalry was similar to the Larry Bird-Magic Johnson rivalry for the NBA in the 1980s -- both players pushed each other to new heights, and made their respective sports more exciting in the process.

Edelman reveals when he earned Brady's trust>>>

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