Patriots

What Tom E. Curran's watching at Patriots OTAs

What Tom E. Curran's watching at Patriots OTAs

We get our first media access to a 2019 Patriots practice today. Now there are ruuuullllles in place, so it’s not a conventional practice by any stretch. Players are only allowed to wear protective knee and elbow pads and their helmets. There’s no “live” contact, meaning players are working techniques but not using any force.

There will be, however, 7-on-7, 9-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills so we’ll get our beady, little eyes on that activity.

What will my beady eyes seek? Well, Bill Belichick likes to make it tough on us at these OTAs and minicamps by having players wear jerseys without numbers. So, for the first portion of the practice, I’ll be trying to figure out who’s there and who’s who. Once done, I’m keying on …

WHO IS DOWN?

This stuff is voluntary so every player who isn’t on the field — like the most important one they have, Tom Brady — isn’t necessarily in disrepair. But we have a mental list of guys we won’t see out there. Demaryius Thomas, Patrick Chung, Isaiah Wynn, Ja’Whaun Bentley and rookie Yodny Cajuste are all coming back from surgeries. Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins is reportedly not going to be in attendance either. Some guys will take part in limited capacities, I’m sure, which will be indicators of their not being full-go here at the end of May. All that will be important to weigh when watching who is working where.

WHO IS WORKING WHERE?

Now, this would probably be the worst time of year to draw long-term conclusions based on deployment. The Patriots covet versatility. Since they already know positions young players have generally mastered, they stick guys in unfamiliar spots to see if there are there others they can play as well. This helps build depth if worse comes to worst. All that said, it will be instructive to me if I see N’Keal Harry or Dontrelle Inman taking reps in the slot. And it will be worth noting where Jamie Collins is being used and who he’s on the field with. Again, no conclusions. Just info.

YOUNG'UNS

The Patriots have an armada of first- and second-year players. From the 2018 draft, I want to see what Wynn, Duke Dawson, Bentley, Christian Sam, Braxton Berrios, Danny Etling and Ryan Izzo look like. I also need to get eyes on Harry and JoeJuan Williams, the Patriots first two picks last month. Auburn slot receiver Ryan Davis also has me intrigued. He was a UDFA. And I definitely want to see how the ball comes out of Jarrett Stidham’s hand relative to second-year quarterback Danny Etling and Brian Hoyer. They say that, in shorts and a t-shirt, it’s hard to find a better pure thrower than Stidham.

COACHING 'EM UP

There are new coaches all over the staff. Jerod Mayo’s working with the linebackers, Joe Judge has gone from special teams to wideouts, Bret Bielema has the defensive line… it’s been a big shuffle. And they are learning just as much as the players. Watching their bedside manner and the tempo of the workout — which is always pretty quick and urgent — will be interesting.

TIGHT ENDS IN FOCUS

The Gronk void needs filling. At least a portion of it. Izzo, rookie tight end Andrew Beck, Benjamin Watson and Matt LaCosse are the ones who will do it (in addition to Seferian-Jenkins). I’m intrigued by LaCosse. He didn’t play with terrific quarterbacks in Denver, the Patriots targeted him early in free agency, he seems to move well and catch naturally. Seeing him “live” may allow me a chance to anoint him as a very promising prospect as I did with Zach Sudfeld, all the Hollisters and anybody else over 6-foot-4 who seemed better at running and catching than I am.

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Raiders QB Derek Carr to face Patriots early in what could be bounce-back season

Raiders QB Derek Carr to face Patriots early in what could be bounce-back season

Editor’s note: In the coming weeks our Patriots insiders will be speaking with beat writers from around the NFL to get an outside view on what the future holds for the Patriots. Today’s team: The Las Vegas Raiders with Scott Bair of NBC Sports Bay Area.

The Las Vegas Raiders reportedly were among the teams with some level of interest in signing Tom Brady in NFL free agency, but the Silver and Black ultimately decided to stick with Derek Carr as its starting quarterback.

Carr shouldn't be too comfortable, though.

Despite making the most of a tough situation in 2019 during which the Raiders lacked skill and depth at many offensive positions, Carr's job doesn't appear to be safe. For example, the Raiders signed veteran quarterback Marcus Mariota in free agency, and he has several seasons of starting experience.

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NBC Sports Bay Area's Raiders insider Scott Bair recently spoke to our Patriots insider Phil Perry, and one of the topics centered around Carr's future and if he can once again perform at the level of a top-tier quarterback.

"Actions speak louder than words, and (head coach) Jon Gruden and (general manager) Mike Mayock at the combine and all these different places, they say the right things -- Derek Carr is their guy," Bair said. "But then, they're constantly flirting with Kyler Murray and Dwayne Haskins, and they sign Marcus Mariota to a deal that could evolve into paying him starter money should he take over that job. Those actions don't say (Carr is their guy).

"I've seen every professional snap that Derek Carr has ever taken. I've seen every practice rep that I've been allowed to see, and I may be in the minority, but this is a guy I believe can be an upper-tier NFL quarterback. He can make every throw, and if you go back to 2016 when he had a loaded offensive line and lots of good skill players, he finished third in MVP voting despite the fact he broke his leg in Week 16. I know that's in there. Now, Raiders fans don't believe me, the national media doesn't believe me, but I think the stage is set for him to have a career year and find that 2016 form yet again, that most fans think is lost forever."

One defense Carr will go up against in 2020 is the New England Patriots.

The Raiders are scheduled to visit Gillette Stadium on Sept. 27 for a Week 3 matchup, and they currently are underdogs by almost a touchdown, according to oddsmakers. Bair thinks the matchup is closer than the betting lines would suggest.

"I would definitely hammer the Raiders pretty hard right there," Bair said. "I just think they're going to have a lot of explosive firepower, and when there's uncertainty at quarterback, (the more explosive team) seems to be a safer bet. Maybe you know better than I do exactly how (the Patriots') quarterback situation is shaping up, but if there are major questions marks there, I would go with the more established quarterback, the more established offense. Again, (the Raiders) are going to be able to score in bunches, and I think they're going to be pretty excited to come to Foxboro and finally get a win, even if Brady isn't there."

The Raiders and Patriots both face a bit of uncertainty at quarterback entering the 2020 season, and whichever coach is able to surround his young QB with the best system and the right talent will put his team in a strong position to reach the playoffs. The Patriots haven't missed the postseason since 2008, while the Raiders have made only one appearance since 2002.

If Brian Hoyer starts for Patriots in Week 1, that's absolutely crazy

If Brian Hoyer starts for Patriots in Week 1, that's absolutely crazy

Rob Ninkovich sounded drunkovich when he spoke of Brian Hoyer starting Week 1 for the Patriots.

Get that man a breathalyzer. Stat.

And if Nink turns out to be right, get Bill Belichick one too. 

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I have said this before — and I will say it again: I will not watch one down of Brian Hoyer under center for the Patriots.

And you shouldn’t either!

Don’t be a sucker. Really, you’re going to waste your time watching a guy who has started 25 games in 11 seasons in the NFL?

He may be a nice guy, good at carrying a clipboard and ridding Tom Brady of his insecurities, but he is a lousy quarterback. Patriot fans deserve better.

Going from Tom Brady to Brian Hoyer is cold turkey to the extreme. I can feel the cotton mouth, cold sweats and shakes coming on already. 

Does Bill Belichick expect you to accept Brian Hoyer as a starter? If he does, it should piss you off. 

If Hoyer does get the call you can still watch some of the game. I plan to. When the Patriots are on offense I will switch to the other game or Red Zone, and when I see on my phone that the Pats are back on defense, I will switch back over and watch Gilmore, Hightower and the McCourtys do their thing. 

That’s my plan and I’m sticking to it.