Patriots

Was the next Jimmy G groomed for success at Toledo?

Was the next Jimmy G groomed for success at Toledo?

In late June last year, around two dozen of the nation’s premier collegiate quarterbacks gathered in Louisiana at the Manning Passing Academy, looking to absorb some wisdom from a family second to none among signal callers.

The patriarch, Archie Manning, was very visible on the Nicholls State campus, site of the workouts. So, too, was future Hall of Famer Peyton and his brother, Giants QB Eli. They were presiding over an extremely talented group headlined by USC’s Sam Darnold, Wyoming’s Josh Allen and, at the time, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Lamar Jackson of Louisville.    

But one of the camp’s instructors, David Morris, himself a former SEC QB at Ole Miss in the Eli era, kept noticing another quarterback, one with very little name recognition but some pretty audacious stats compiled at Toledo in his junior season. That kid’s name was Logan Woodside.

“Right off the bat, I could see he was real confident and had a strong belief in his abilities,” Morris told me. “He’s not intimidated by the group or people he was around. I mean, there are a lot of good QBs at that camp and he more than held his own. I didn’t know much about him but I wanted to find out.”

“When I went to the Manning Camp, I went down there with a purpose and that was to show everyone down there I may be from a small school and I’m not the tallest and not the biggest but I’m definitely one of the best quarterbacks in this class,” Woodside told me from Indianapolis as he prepares for this week’s NFL Scouting Combine.

I asked Woodside if he accomplished that goal.

“I think I proved it.”

Is he bragging? Morris doesn’t think so. He has worked with Woodside at QB Country in Pensacola, Florida, Morris’ training facility, preparing for the young QB for not just the combine and the upcoming NFL draft. What Morris saw was a kid willing to put in the time and then some to reach his ultimate goal.

“He’s not intimidated,” said Morris. “He likes that stuff. He thinks he can play with anybody. He thinks he’s the best quarterback at the combine. You gotta think like that. He knows he’s got a lot of work to do, but he believes he can get it done.”

“That’s how I’ve always been,” said Woodside. “I’ve always felt like I’m one of the best quarterbacks in the country. That’s just the confidence you have to have - not being cocky or anything. Just having that confidence in you.”

It hasn’t always been easy for Woodside, though his numbers at Toledo the last two seasons say otherwise. He completed 69 percent of his passes as a junior (when he had now Kansas City Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt in the backfield) then followed it up by hitting at a 64-percent clip as a senior surrounded by a much younger roster. Woodside threw 28 touchdowns this fall and just eight interceptions and saved one of his best days for the Rockets' toughest opponent, the University of Miami at the height of it’s ascension to the upper reaches of the Top-25.

“If you watch that game closely enough, you watch him take a hit or get sacked and you watch him come right back the next play or two pays later and put the ball right on the money or right on time,” said his offensive coordinator at Toledo, Brian Wright. “He never blinked and he kept on competing.”

Woodside actually rallied Toledo from down 10-0 to a 16-10 halftime lead before the wheels fell off. He still finished with nearly 350 yards passing, three scores and not a single interception. A year prior, in another showcase game, Woodside lit up BYU for more than 500 and five TDs in a 55-53 loss at Provo. Not bad for a player who was beaten out not just once, but twice as the starting QB at Toledo.

“That was really tough on me losing that job for the second time,” said Woodside, “but it was also what they decided was best for the team. I thought I was the better player but that’s not what they needed at the time. I understood that, grew from it and tried to get better so I could be the best backup I could be knowing I’d make sure I’d get another chance.”

Said Wright: “The thing that makes Logan successful is he approaches that situation, that adversity like you want. All he does is come to work the next day and say what do I have to do to get better. He doesn’t get bitter about the situation. He keeps that chip on his shoulder and feels like he has to prove himself every day but he channels that emotion in the right direction. Nobody is going to outwork me and trust me, no one does.”

Woodside doesn’t have to work much on his mechanics. In fact, Morris says he wouldn’t mess with the QB's upper half. The ball comes out smooth and clean, with a lightning-fast release. There’s a fluidity that you don’t see when you look at some of the more highly regarded throwers in this draft, such as Darnold or even a large collection of QBs already collecting paychecks in the NFL. One scout told me that Woodside’s release is already better than 8-10 starters in the league. That’s one of the reasons why his stock appears on the rise with still another seven weeks until the draft. 

Of course, the 23-year old wasn’t built in those NFL labs, where the QBs are preferably 6-4 and around 225-230 pounds. Woodside claims to be 6-2 and around 210 pounds. The height may not be as big a deal as the weight, although if you watched him bounce off hits and scramble and make plays with his legs, it’s pretty clear he’s plenty tough and plenty strong.

“I definitely don’t think arm strength is the only way you play in the NFL,” said Woodside. “You can zip it as hard as you want but if it doesn’t hit the receiver in the target then what is it really? What is that strong arm for? I think I have the arm strength to play in the NFL and hopefully, I'll show that this weekend.”

One way to make up a major league hose is to use that release and that football IQ to his advantage.

“You need to be able to read and understand the coverage and where the ball needs to go,” he said. “I knew our [Toledo] offense like the back of my hand and was able to react and put the ball where it needed to be and give my receivers a chance to make plays. That’s what it’s about.”

That and the intangibles - Woodside led Toledo to it’s first Mid-American Conference title in 14 years - will almost ensure he gets his name called on draft weekend. Will it be here, as the next Jimmy Garoppolo behind Tom Brady? Somewhere else? When presented the former option, Woodside lit up.

“That’d be a dream come true. I get cold chills just thinking about it,” he said of getting the call from the Patriots. “I grew up a huge Tom Brady fan. Everything that he went through at Michigan and it was kind of a similar situation to what I had at Toledo honestly. Nobody really believed in him so he went out there and proved it to them. And he’s still proving it.”

Woodside will fight to get that chance. He’s already proven that.

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Patriots' Rob Gronkowski announces retirement with heartfelt Instagram post

Patriots' Rob Gronkowski announces retirement with heartfelt Instagram post

The Rob Gronkowski era has officially come to an end.

With an emotional post on Instagram, Gronk announced his retirement.

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It all started at 20 years old on stage at the NFL draft when my dream came true, and now here I am about to turn 30 in a few months with a decision I feel is the biggest of my life so far. I will be retiring from the game of football today. I am so grateful for the opportunity that Mr. Kraft and Coach Belichick gave to me when drafting my silliness in 2010. My life experiences over the last 9 years have been amazing both on and off the field. The people I have meet, the relationships I have built, the championships I have been apart of, I just want to thank the whole New England Patriots organization for every opportunity I have been giving and learning the great values of life that I can apply to mine. Thank you to all of Pats Nation around the world for the incredible support since I have been apart of this 1st class organization. Thank you for everyone accepting who I am and the dedication I have put into my work to be the best player I could be. But now its time to move forward and move forward with a big smile knowing that the New England Patriots Organization, Pats Nation, and all my fans will be truly a big part of my heart for rest of my life. It was truly an incredible honor to play for such a great established organization and able to come in to continue and contribute to keep building success. To all my current and past teammates, thank you for making each team every year special to be apart of. I will truly miss you guys. Cheers to all who have been part of this journey, cheers to the past for the incredible memories, and a HUGE cheers to the uncertain of whats next.

A post shared by Rob Gronkowski (@gronk) on

Gronkowski's decision to retire doesn't come as a surprise. Injuries have plagued the Patriots tight end over the course of his career, and he recently opened up about the toll those injuries have taken on him.

Gronk finishes his career with 521 receptions for 7,861 yards and 79 touchdowns. Oh, and three Super Bowl titles to boot.

Next stop, Canton.

More to come. . .

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After missing on Jared Cook, pickings are slim for Patriots at tight end

After missing on Jared Cook, pickings are slim for Patriots at tight end

PHOENIX -- The Saints haven't officially locked up Jared Cook just yet, but he is as good as gone to New Orleans and are thrilled to have nabbed him, from what I've heard here at the league's annual meetings Sunday.

The Patriots were interested in Cook and pursued him "aggressively," according to Mike Reiss of ESPN. Cook would've provided the Patriots with a more than capable receiving threat at the tight end spot -- someone who hauled in 68 catches on 99 targets for 896 yards (13.2 yards per catch) last season in a below-average passing offense. But, as Reiss writes, it seems as though New England's uncertain plans at tight end might've impacted Cook's decision.

Bill Belichick and his front office, of course, are in a bit of a jam at the moment at that position. Rob Gronkowski said after the Super Bowl that he'd need a little time to determine whether or not he'd be back for 2019. From what his agent Drew Rosenhaus has said multiple times, though, he's still thinking. 

What can the Patriots do now? they signed Matt LaCosse earlier this offseason, but the options remaining in free agency are thin.

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Austin Seferian-Jenkins, 26: The 6-5, 262 pounder is an imposing physical presence and someone who has shown in the past that he can be a dual-threat type of player. He played just 220 snaps in five games last season due to injury -- he reportedly played through a core muscle injury before landing on IR -- catching 11 passes for 90 yards and a touchdown that came in Week 2 against the Patriots. In four career games against the Patriots, the former Jet has 13 catches for 95 yards and two touchdowns. 

AJ Derby, 27: The former Patriot, who was traded to the Broncos during the 2016 season, caught just three passes in four games for the Dolphins last year. A "move" tight end option coming off a foot injury, Jacob Hollister (who dealt with a hamstring issue much of last season) is probably the better option for that type of role at this point and already on the roster.

Erik Swoope, 26: Swoope was a headache for the Patriots last season when the Colts visited Gillette Stadium. He reeled in three catches for 44 yards and a touchdown in Week 5, but he caught just five more passes the remainder of the season. He was claimed off of waivers by the Saints in December but reverted to Colts IR (knee) after failing his physical with New Orleans.

Richard Rodgers, 27: The St. John's Shrewsbury product spent his first four seasons in Green Bay, playing in all but one game in that span. He saw action in seven games with the Eagles in 2018, catching just one pass on one target in 42 offensive snaps. Rodgers would be a bigger-bodied tight end 6-4, 260 pounds.

Lance Kendricks, 31: If the Patriots want someone who's proven to be durable over the course of a long career . . . maybe Kendricks is a stop-gap option. In eight pro seasons, he's missed just three games. He caught 19 passes for 170 yards and a score in Green Bay last year. Jermaine Gresham, 30, might also fall into this category. He's missed 12 games in nine seasons. 

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That's far from a murderers' row, but those are the bulk of the options at this point in free agency. 

The draft looks like the better opportunity for impactful tight ends. Evaluators describe this year's class as a strong one at that spot, with two Iowa players -- TJ Hockenson and Noah Fant -- right at the top of the list. 

Alabama's Irv Smith, who we mocked to the Patriots in our most recent seven-round draft, should be available to Belichick at No. 32. Enticing talents likely available later in the draft include San Diego State's Kahale Warring, San Jose State's Josh Oliver, LSU's Foster Moreau, UCLA's Caleb Wilson and West Virginia's Trevon Wesco. 

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