What to watch for at Patriots OTAs: TEs seizing opportunity?

What to watch for at Patriots OTAs: TEs seizing opportunity?

On Thursday, reporters will have the opportunity to attend a Patriots OTA practice for the second time this spring. It will be the team's fifth practice (out of 10 total voluntary sessions) during Phase Three. 

Who will have our attention during the shorts-and-tees workout? Which drills will be worth watching closely? Let's lay out some of the storylines we'll be tracking here... 


Tom Brady's not expected to be present for the voluntary session Thursday, which means the passing workload will continue to fall on the shoulders of Brian Hoyer and Danny Etling (and occasionally director of player personnel Nick Caserio). The last time reporters were allowed to watch practice, it seemed pretty clear that the team missed Brady's presence and the sharpness that comes along with having one of the game's most accurate passers taking the majority of the team reps. We'll see if OTA practice No. 5 is any sharper now that the offense has had some time to work together. 


Availability is more important than ability, and availability for these sessions matters. There are plenty of players dealing with injuries who will be either absent or limited, but part of our jobs this spring is to figure out when the participation levels of injured players is changing. So... What's the status of Dont'a Hightower, who wasn't spotted for practice No. 2 but was on the field later in the week? How about Malcolm Mitchell, who was on the field for OTA No. 1 but then missing for No. 2? And what of Trey Flowers? One of the team's most important defenders was not present the last time reporters were in attendance, leaving a good deal of the edge-defender workload to Derek Rivers, Adrian Clayborn and Deatrich Wise. Corner Jonathan Jones, safety David Jones, running back Brandon Bolden, guard Joe Thuney and receiver Cody Hollister were all missing from OTA No. 2. Thuney is dealing with an injury that's expected to keep him sidelined for the spring. 


The lower fields at Gillette Stadium are where players rehabbing injuries typically go to work. (For reporters, the view to the lower fields is mostly obstructed...hence "almost out of sight.") Last week, the lower-field group included first-round pick Isaiah Wynn, corner Cyrus Jones, defensive lineman Lawrence Guy, safety Nate Ebner, defensive lineman Malcom Brown and tackles Marcus Cannon and Trent Brown. If they're working in team drills Thursday, we'll note it. Also taking part in rehab work on the lower fields last week was... 


...Julian Edelman. When he was on the upper fields, he looked strong and unafraid to cut off of his surgically-repaired knee. He did not, however, participate in 7-on-7 or 11-on-11 work so he spent part of the practice down below. Edelman returned punts and enthusiastically participated in drills, often stepping to the front of the line, which seemed to be an indication he's feeling good despite not being a full go practice-wise. 


The receiver spot looks like one of the most competitive on the roster. Though OTAs are more of a "teaching camp" than a "competition camp," some pass-catchers may start to stand out with what they do in May and June. Last week, Kenny Britt's size and hands helped him catch some eyes. Cordarrelle Patterson also had an impressive end zone grab soon after a botched route during a team rep. Phillip Dorsett and Jordan Matthews will have continued opportunities to show they're picking things up as well. 


Keion Crossen had a good day in front of reporters last week. Has he kept that up in the sessions that haven't been open to cameras? Will he continue to show off his athleticism in opportunities given? This is a time of year where often an under-the-radar player or two starts to flash some potential. Could it be Crossen, a seventh-round corner our of Western Carolina, this year? Ryan Lewis, who spent last year on the Patriots practice squad and was eventually paid like a rostered player, saw some work across from Stephon Gilmore last week. He's another young defensive back to keep an eye on. Same goes for second-round pick Duke Dawson, whose strength at the University of Florida was in the slot. This looks like a strong position group when everyone is healthy. Gilmore, Eric Rowe and Jason McCourty figure to make up the top three on the depth chart with Jonathan Jones, Cyrus Jones, Dawson, Lewis, Crossen and others vying for roles.


With Rob Gronkowski absent, that means more chances for players like Dwayne Allen, Jacob Hollister, Troy Niklas, Will Tye and rookies Ryan Izzo and Shane Wimann. Hollister and Tye stood out with athletic grabs during OTA No. 2. 


Last week, with reporters standing by, the Patriots focused more on the punt game when it came to special teams periods. Will they shift gears to kickoffs on Thursday? The reason it'd be interesting if they did is because of the rules changes recently implemented for that play. The major changes are a) no more running starts for coverage teams and b) only three players on receiving teams can be deep. How will that impact what the Patriots do -- both in coverage and on returns - remains to be seen. But at some point, this spring - maybe not until mandatory minicamp June 5-7? - we'll get an idea of how the play will look with the rules changes in place.



Howard Stern interview shows post-Patriots Tom Brady is staying on the high road

Howard Stern interview shows post-Patriots Tom Brady is staying on the high road

If you asked Bill Belichick his opinion of Tom Brady’s media tour this week – Player’s Tribune, Howard Stern – he’d probably snort and wonder why it’s necessary in the first place. Why feed the jackals at all?

But for Brady, not having to ask Belichick’s permission to speak freely (or to deal with the passive-aggressive consequences if he failed to) must be liberating.

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Which is a little sad for an accomplished 42-year-old in a public position, but that was what it was.

Even if Belichick is somewhere rolling his eyes about newly-liberated Brady unburdening himself, it’s obvious this is not a grievance-airing exercise on Brady’s part.

Will that day ever come? Maybe. There are plenty. But the person Brady’s chosen to be in his adult life doesn’t fixate on negativity. And looking at the rough patches and irritations in his 20-year professional marriage to the Patriots – even if they are salacious and interesting because they are secrets well-kept – isn’t the way he rolls. 

He’s a love guy. He’s a Four Agreements guy.

He is publicly living on the post-Patriots high road as the 129-minute interview with Howard Stern showed on Wednesday.

Here are a few takeaways from the fascinating interview.


It seemed important to Brady that the takeaway to his leaving the Patriots be the simple fact that his desires as a player and Belichick’s as a GM/team builder were at cross purposes.

It wasn’t primarily because Brady felt unappreciated or disrespected at the bargaining table. If he was hit with the truth serum, Brady would concede they were there, but they were symptoms of how Belichick viewed Brady and as opposed to how Brady viewed himself.

And Brady gave Belichick a complete pass for that.

"I think he has a lot of loyalty,” Brady said. “He and I have had a lot of conversations that nobody has ever been privy to, nor should they be, that so many wrong assumptions were made about our relationship or about how he felt about me. I know genuinely how he feels about me," Brady said.

“Now I'm not going to respond to every rumor or assumption that's made, other than what his responsibility as coach is to get the best player for the team -- not only in the short term but in the long term as well. … I got into uncharted territory as an athlete because I started to break the mold of what so many other athletes had experienced.

“I got to the point where I was an older athlete and he's starting to plan for the future, which is what his responsibility is. I don't fault him for that. That's what he should be doing. Not that I would ever coach, but if I was ever in a position of authority, I would understand that too."

This wasn’t a revelation for anyone paying attention.

In December, I laid out the scenario, writing that: 

The Patriots didn’t want to ante up (in 2019) for a 42-year-old quarterback year the same way they didn’t want to ante up for Brady in 2017 when he was 40.

With his 43-year-old season approaching, Brady and his agent Don Yee are going to sit down and ask for a bump to bring him in line with the rest of the league’s best quarterbacks after Brady has one of the worst statistical seasons of his career?

Doesn’t that seem like a request that Bill Belichick would begin to answer with the words, “With all due respect …”?

So where’s that leave Brady? …

Do they even bother sitting down at the table to talk or do they just realize they’ve come to the end of the road?

Do they agree on an amicable divorce because of one irreconcilable difference: Brady believes he can still play at a high level, the Patriots don’t want to take that on faith and don’t love the idea of throwing $25M at the position so Brady can follow that muse.

This season has done nothing to bring the two sides closer together.

What the two sides are headed for isn’t about Sunday’s game or even the 2019 offseason. The night in April 2014 when the team drafted Jimmy Garoppolo and Belichick mentioned Brady’s age and contract status, the die was cast.

People shouldn’t have needed a neon sign pointing them in the direction of what ultimately was going to happen. 

Especially after last August.  


Brady went into training camp last July waiting on a contract extension to take him through 2020. It’s what he expected. The truth was spoken in jest when he was asked about it on the first day of camp and he told the media to “Talk to Mr. Kraft…” before adding “hopefully we can keep it going.” 

When he didn’t get the extension and only got the raise after it came clear how miffed he was, the gig was up. We discussed it at the time on our podcast and the timing of his Brookline home hitting the market was not a complete coincidence. It happened just days after the extension didn’t come to pass. 

As Brady told Stern on Wednesday, “I would say I probably knew before the start of last season that it was my last year," Brady said. "I knew that our time was coming to an end."

Brady’s demeanor in Tennessee when the Patriots showed up for joint practices soon after he agreed to the 2019 raise was somewhat telling. Just Employee No. 12 reporting for duty.

And after Antonio Brown was released, Brady gave an answer to Jim Gray that said exactly that: "The reality is I don't make any personnel decisions. I don't decide to sign players, I don't decide to trade them, I don't decide to release them, I don't decide to draft them. I don't get asked. I show up and I do my job. I'm an employee like everyone else.” 


Brady told Stern candidly that there were times he bluntly told his coaches that he wasn’t going to throw to players he didn’t trust.

“I would say, ‘I don’t have any trust this guy can help us win the game,'” Brady said. “I definitely expressed my opinion to say, ‘If you put him out there, I’m not going to throw him the ball.’

“Fortunately for me, coach Belichick always saw it the same way, which is why I think we have such a great connection. He saw football very much the same way I saw it...We saw the process of winning very much the same way.”

That set off a round of recency bias in which folks pointed to first-rounder N’Keal Harry as being a player Brady wasn’t interested in throwing to. That was followed by a round of, “Well, if Tom showed up to OTAs …”

The truth is, Brady was resistant to throwing to guys he didn’t trust for most of his Patriots career. Bethel Johnson, Chad Jackson, Chad Johnson, Joey Galloway, Aaron Dobson, even Chris Hogan for a big chunk of 2018 and Phillip Dorsett this past season all found themselves outside Brady’s circle of trusted targets.

The fact is, Brady’s demands aren’t just high in terms of route precision, he also wants players to be intuitive in their route-running. If something is taken away, they need to see it like he sees it and react. Which is a very hard tightrope to walk for a player who doesn’t want to screw up and piss Brady off.

It will be interesting to see how tolerant Brady is with brand new targets in Tampa who he won’t have the time to develop chemistry with.


Brady dismissed the notion legacy means much to him. And you have to believe him. But that’s now. Winning his fifth Super Bowl meant something because it pushed him past Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw. Winning his sixth championship tied him with Michael Jordan. He won an MVP at 40 in 2017. If he played a full season in 2016, he probably would have won it that year as well at 39. He won a Super Bowl at 41. His legacy is intact.

Tampa Bay is gravy and he can play with less stress and more enjoyment, it seems.

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“We all think we’re going to live forever but the reality is we don’t know when our day is going to come,” Brady said. “I could stop playing football because I’m worried about what’s going to happen. Why don’t I live my life the way I want, and enjoy it, the way that is most fulfilling to me? For me, that’s doing what I love to do. You don’t tell a musician to stop singing at age 42. You don’t tell a painter to stop painting at 42.”

Rex Ryan says Tom Brady, not Bill Belichick, was the key to Patriots dynasty

Rex Ryan says Tom Brady, not Bill Belichick, was the key to Patriots dynasty

It's a question we'll never get a definitive answer to. Who was more important to the New England Patriots in their 20-year dynasty, Tom Brady or Bill Belichick?

That debate will only heat up once Brady begins his new chapter with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In fact, it was mentioned to Brady on Wednesday during his interview with Howard Stern on SiriusXM, and the ex-Pats quarterback called it a "sh---y argument."

Still, the argument was made shortly thereafter by Rex Ryan on ESPN's "First Take." The former New York Jets and Buffalo Bills head coach says it was Brady, not Belichick, who was the key to New England's six Super Bowl titles.

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“It was definitely Tom Brady,” Ryan said. “If I’ve got to take one I’m taking Brady.”

“Let’s give [Belichick] somebody else, let’s give him [former Jets quarterback] Geno Smith, let’s give him whoever, and let’s see how many Super Bowls he would have won. We saw the answer was zero in Cleveland.”

Watch the full clip below:

Ryan actually makes a fair point, although there certainly seems to be some saltiness on his part since Geno Smith was his QB from 2013-14. Smith didn't take too kindly to his former coach's remarks, either.

Although we'll never know how Brady's Pats career would have gone without Belichick and vice versa, 2020 will be a true test for both New England icons. Brady will look to prove he can duplicate his success in Tampa with Bruce Arians as his head coach, and Belichick will look to do the same likely with Jarrett Stidham under center.