Demaryius Thomas

Patriots' Demaryius Thomas opens up about car crash: 'I could have been gone'

Patriots' Demaryius Thomas opens up about car crash: 'I could have been gone'

Demaryius Thomas may not be healthy enough to play in the New England Patriots' season opener.

But the veteran wide receiver is happy to simply be on an NFL team after his violent car crash earlier this year.

Thomas, who was arrested in late February on a vehicular assault charge, discussed the incident at length for the first time in an interview with TMZ Sports on Wednesday.

"I could have been gone," Thomas said.

"I wake up every morning and thank the lord above. ... And, just thankful for just not even just being able to do what I do -- being able to talk, walk, eat, all those things that we forget about on a daily basis."

Thomas allegedly was driving 70 mph in a 30 mph zone in the early morning of Feb. 16 when he flipped his SUV over a curb, injuring himself and two passengers.

The crash happened four days after Thomas' release from the Houston Texans, but the 31-year-old signed with the Patriots exactly two months later on April 16.

Thomas, who tore his Achilles in December and may not be ready for the start of the 2019 season, admitted he's "still going through some stuff" as a result of the crash. But he appears grateful to even have a second chance after his brush with death in February.

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Sunday Notes: Ja'Whaun Bentley may be the key to the Patriots defense leveling up

Sunday Notes: Ja'Whaun Bentley may be the key to the Patriots defense leveling up

Analysis of the Patriots this offseason has focused mainly on what they don’t have and how/when they will get it.

Makes sense. When it’s time to shop and stock time, focus is on the things you need, not what you already have.

But while the offense is being retooled and redesigned, the Patriots defense – its strong suit in the 2018 playoffs – has the potential to be even better in 2019. And that’s even with the departure of Trey Flowers and three key defensive coaches – Brian Flores, Josh Boyer and Brendan Daly.

The key to the Patriots leveling up? It could be second-year linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley. Why Bentley ahead of newly-acquired players like Michael Bennett, Jamie Collins or Mike Pennel or mainstays like Donta Hightower, Stephon Gilmore or Devin McCourty?

Because of the domino effect a healthy Bentley could have on the rest of the defense beginning with Dont’a Hightower.

The smarts and versatility Hightower brings in a uniquely fast and powerful package make him the player that the Patriots hoped they were getting when they signed Adalius Thomas more than a decade ago.

In 2016, Hightower’s value as an edge defender was tapped in the final five games of that championship season when he went from taking 22 percent of his snaps on the edge to 52. A play you may remember from his time there? His strip-sack of Matt Ryan in the Super Bowl that made America sit up straight and say, “They really are going to do this, aren’t they?”

In 2017, Hightower was being readied for a bigger role on the edge (great insight on the move at that time from Pats Pulpit) but missed the first couple of games with a sprained knee. The Patriots defense was a confused shambles during his absence and – when he got back – he was back at inside linebacker. The improvement was drastic. But a torn pec in Week 5 cost Hightower the rest of the season and the New England defense was never as trustworthy after that.

Same thing last season. Hightower, who’d trained differently in the 2018 offseason and showed up more streamlined, was in for a bigger role on the edge. He began the season there and Bentley, a rookie from Purdue, was in the middle with the “green dot” as the lead communicator for the defense.

The Patriots opened 1-2, Bentley tore his pec, Hightower moved back to the middle, took over communication and things got better. Again. He capped the year with an MVP-worthy performance in the Super Bowl when he had a sack off the edge, another lined when he was lined up at defensive tackle and a pressure on Rams quarterback Jared Goff when he exploded through the Rams right tackle Rob Havenstein.

Kyle Van Noy’s eye-opening performance in 2018 came in part because he was able to play more freely with a PhD in linebacking next to him.

So, back to Bentley. He’s not going to approach Hightower’s level of institutional knowledge. But if he can get enough of it right, Hightower is then freed up to be in different spots. The likelihood of that happening? High. Bentley’s style is reminiscent of another No. 51, Jerod Mayo. With Mayo now coaching linebackers, Bentley becomes his pet project. Van Noy has another year of smarts and production under him and the return of Jamie Collins means the Patriots have two guys that can deal with the run, cover adequately and rush the passer while Bentley and Elandon Roberts take over as the guys relied on to deal with grinding running games.

Meanwhile, Hightower is continuing to train for speed. He’s now about 20 pounds lighter than the 270 pounds he carried when he was drafted so obviously, the intention is to have him spend less time in the middle. If Bentley can hold it down, a defense that closed last year holding the explosive Rams to just a field goal in Super Bowl 53 could be even better this year.

*****

It’s smart to keep an eye on the Kyle Rudolph situation in Minnesota. It’s devolved in the few weeks since the draft since the cash-strapped Vikings and the 29-year-old tight end hit an impasse. Rudolph is due $7.625 in salary. Asked last week if he’d consider a pay cut, his answer was, “No way. I’m too young for that.” That is the correct response for a player who’s caught 204 passes for 18 touchdowns the past three seasons with Case Keenum, Kirk Cousins and Sam Bradford throwing to him.

If the Patriots were to trade for Rudolph, they have to create space. And this could create urgency to get Tom Brady’s contract restructure done so that his $27M cap hit comes down and there’s room to fit Rudolph.

Even though the Patriots whiffed on the tight end they went after hardest to replace Rob Gronkowski – Jared Cook – they’ve done a good job whipping bodies at the spot since with Matt LaCosse, Austin Sefarian-Jenkins and Benjamin Watson. Rudolph is a different level player, though, in terms of production and durability.

Would trading for him mean one of the other tight ends would be immediately cut loose? And would Rudolph’s addition mean a post-Thanksgiving return by Gronk would be less likely (though I’m not sure it’s likely right now)?

If the Patriots do make that move, it would be bad news for the AFC.

*****

It has to be encouraging for the Patriots to see wide receiver Demaryius Thomas able to build some straight-line speed as he works back from his Achilles injury. But even if he’s trending upward now, the process of getting back to full speed is still just beginning

Thomas will almost certainly start training camp on the PUP list and – even if he is able to compete by early September – he probably won’t be full speed and confident for another two months based on medical sources I’ve spoken with. So the decision will be whether activating a less-than 100 percent version of Thomas in September is necessary or whether the Patriots and Thomas will choose to wait. I’d bet on the latter.

*****

The NFL is putting together some interesting lists for the league’s 100th anniversary and I’m one of the 50 voters enlisted to help choose the winners. Huge honor. The categories are Greatest Play; Greatest Teams; Greatest Games; Game Changers; and Greatest Characters. The process begins with Greatest Plays. We are charged with logging on to a website, reviewing 100 plays and choosing the top 50. We’re trying to establish how much I can legally share with you all while going through the process so stay tuned because I love input.

PERRY: Roster projection 2.0 - Does Jamie Collins make it?>>>

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Patriots undrafted WR Meyers brings quarterback brain to receiver spot

Patriots undrafted WR Meyers brings quarterback brain to receiver spot

When the Patriots waived Bruce Ellington with an injury designation on Wednesday, it put the picture at the receiver spot in New England back into focus. 

Julian Edelman and first-round pick N'Keal Harry are clear locks to make the roster. Phillip Dorsett performed consistently when given an opportunity in 2018 and feels like the best bet to be the No. 3 for the Patriots when September rolls around. 

After that? Question marks abound. 

Free-agent signee Maurice Harris brings with him size and a reputation as a diligent worker established in Washington. Demaryius Thomas is a big-name veteran who has to get back healthy from a torn ACL at 31 years old before he can be counted upon. Braxton Berrios was a sixth-round choice last year who red-shirted as a rookie. Damoun Patterson got some experience on New England's practice squad in 2018 and will be looking to crack the active roster. 

Then there are three undrafted rookies who could shake things up at the position for Bill Belichick. For 15 years, at least one undrafted player has made the active roster in New England. Might Jakobi Meyers, Ryan Davis or Xavier Ubosi keep the streak alive? 

Ubosi has impressive size (6-3, 215 pounds) and athleticism (4.50 40-yard dash, 10-foot-5 broad jump at his pro day), and was a big-play machine for Alabama-Birmingham (35 catches, 837 yards, eight touchdowns) last season. If the Patriots want an outside-the-numbers option, Ubosi has intriguing traits.

Davis (5-9, 185 pounds) looks like a classic slot for the Patriots. Catching passes from fourth-round pick Jarrett Stidham at Auburn, Davis showed an ability to accelerate quickly, break tackles, and weave in and out of traffic in the short area of the field. If the Patriots want someone to challenge Berrios inside, Davis could be the guy. Like Berrios, Davis also has punt-return experience (22 returns in 2018) which could increase his value at One Patriot Place. 

Then there's Meyers, who in some ways is the most interesting of the UDFA bunch. He played in the slot at NC State even though he looks more like an "X" at 6-2, 203 pounds. He joined the Wolfpack in 2015 as a quarterback, changed positions in 2016 and has been on an upward trajectory ever since. He caught 63 passes in 2017, and last year he upped that number to 92 for 1,047 yards and four scores. ACC coaches named him first-team all-conference for his efforts, and he was a "no-brainer" add to the Senior Bowl, according to executive director Jim Nagy.

When Nagy spoke to us for "The Next Pats Podcast", he said he couldn't believe that Meyers wasn't drafted. 

"I was shocked, frankly," said Nagy, who worked for the Patriots for seven years as a scout. 

"Jakobi is a really good player. Kelvin Harmon was their other [receiver who] got picked in the sixth round. In my mind, Jakobi was a better player. The way I'll frame it for you is, for the Senior Bowl . . . we brought 114 to the game so those last spots you're really making some tough decisions on the last three or four receiver spots. 'Who do we bring?'

"Jakobi was a no-brainer. He really was. I never hesitated thinking we should bring Jakobi to this game. It really surprised me [he wasn't drafted]. That's a heckuva free-agent get."

Nagy said that one of the first things to flash on Meyers' tape at NC State was the fact that he thought his way through plays as a quarterback might. His background as a passer helps him understand coverages and how to adjust routes accordingly.

"A lot of times," Nagy said, "when you do college receivers, and I know I've heard coach Belichick comment about it publicly over the last few months here, and we used to get preached this when I worked there: Projecting college receivers is one of the hardest positions because the college passing game is so different.

"All those routes are locked. Those kids don't have to read coverage. But that's the first thing you see in Jakobi Meyers. They played him in the slot. He's not a typical Patriots slot. They like the undersized quicker-than-fast guys who can get in and out of cuts. But he did play in the slot for NC State. And he's got a really nice feel for coverage and adjusting stuff when he has to. He's got a savvy about him. That's the first thing that jumps out at you." 

Meyers certainly has the size to play outside and could be viewed as a versatile piece in the Patriots offense. And though it may not be quite at the level N'Keal Harry showed during his time at Arizona State, Meyers has proven he's no slouch when it comes to making plays in contested situations or over the middle. 

"Toughness is not a question for a guy being a former quarterback," Nagy said. "He does not care if he gets hit. He can come to the ground and secure the catch. Really strong hands. Again, I just can't believe how that guy could go undrafted what he put on tape this year for NC State...He's a guy that I definitely think could make that 53-man roster coming out of camp."

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