- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the Patriots:
1. When Patriots rookies participated in the team's minicamp May 3-5, they did so without numbers on their jerseys, which is something that coach Bill Belichick has followed through on over the last couple of years as a way to promote communication and have players get to know each other without the crutch of referring to a player by his number. I looked around the NFL to see if any other team did the same thing in rookie minicamps and couldn't find one. If Patriots rookies were looking for a teammate's number, they had to look for the small digits on the back of the helmet, or maybe on a player's shorts. In contrast, the league's other teams all had their players with big numbers on their jerseys, and in addition to that, some teams also had the player's name written in tape across the front of his helmet (including the Bills, Dolphins, Browns, Raiders, Cowboys, Redskins, Lions, Vikings and Buccaneers) or even on the back of their practice jerseys.
2. When Jets coach Rex Ryan publicly called out 2012 first-round draft choice Quinton Coples for slacking off in the weight room (Ryan claimed it was for just one day, which some found hard to believe), the first thing I thought of was the link between Coples and Patriots 2012 first-round draft choice Chandler Jones. The Jets selected Coples (16) over Jones (21) last year, and both essentially play the same position (defensive end/outside linebacker type). Jones thought he was going to the Jets, which is something he repeated earlier this month in an interview with Patriots reporters. Through one year, the partial tale of the tape: Coples with 16 games played and 5.5 sacks; Jones with 14 games played and 6 sacks.
3. Along those same lines, I think it's going to be interesting to compare and contrast Bills rookie receiver Robert Woods (41st overall) and Patriots rookie receiver Aaron Dobson (59th overall) in the next few years. As Belichick said, the Patriots entered the draft with the intention of addressing the receiver position, and by trading down from 29 to the 50s they took themselves out of the mix for Woods, who reportedly looked sharp in Buffalo's rookie minicamp. I think Woods was more of a fit for the Patriots than Cordarrelle Patterson (29th, Vikings) or Justin Hunter (34th, Titans), the other receivers taken in the range that the Patriots traded out of. Now they'll face Woods twice a year.
4. With teams counting the top 51 players against their salary cap, the Patriots haven't had much movement in terms of available cap space over the last few weeks. As of Friday, the NFL Player Association's latest figures put the Patriots' space at $8.6 million. Only eight teams have more salary cap space than the Patriots, according to the NFLPA.
5. Between the physicality of professional football, and also the free-agent era, I'm not sure we'll ever again see something (from a non-specialist) like what Ronde Barber pulled off: He played all 16 seasons with the same team and never missed a game due to injury. Barber retired Thursday. Of his 241 regular-season games, just three came against the Patriots.
6. I know it's just a jersey number, but I thought cornerback Kyle Arrington's gesture to give his No. 24 to veteran safety Adrian Wilson was one of the classiest things I've seen a Patriots player do for another player in recent years. Yes, Arrington probably received something in return (Wilson had joked that he'd supply a full year of Pampers for Arrington's new baby), but the number still had meaning to him, just as 24 is a big part of Wilson's football identity. I listened to Belichick talk about team players on Thursday and how everyone has to give up a little bit of something in this game, and Arrington's willingness to do so for Wilson -- who is adjusting to a new environment after 12 seasons with the Cardinals -- is the shining example this week.
7. Patriots linebackers coach Pepper Johnson was one of 63 participants to attend last week's NFL Career Development Symposium at the Wharton School of Business (University of Pennsylvania). The three-day program was geared toward aspiring head coaches and general manager candidates through presentations, panel discussions, breakout sessions and networking opportunities with owners (Robert Kraft was in attendance), club presidents, coaches, general managers and league executives. Johnson has been with the Patriots for all 14 years of Belichick's tenure (all as a position coach), and his work with the scout team, managing substitutions during games and coaching the defensive line or linebackers has been lauded by Belichick in the past. I've wondered in recent years about Johnson's coaching aspirations, and if he might have to ultimately leave New England for an opportunity for advancement if that's one of his goals.
8a. Another thing I learned from Belichick from listening to his keynote address at the symposium, "Sports Medicine and the NFL: The Playbook for 2013," is how it's important to him that team doctor Thomas Gill (who co-chaired the symposium) attends at least one practice a week. Apparently, that hasn't always been the case with team doctors. Said Belichick: "You [can] run into situations where doctors will examine a player and say, 'In the office exam, this looks like a problem' or 'In the office exam, he looks fine' but I see the reverse of that on the field. ... I think one of the things that has narrowed the gap between the coaching and the medical side on our end is Tom's continuous involvement and observation of our players in practice sessions, at least once during the week, a lot of times twice, particularly with guys who are rehabbing, and see how they are performing and see what I am seeing."
9. The NFL doesn't require teams to open their full rookie minicamp practices to reporters, although some teams do. For example, the Jaguars not only opened their rookie camp to reporters, but to fans as well. The Cowboys were another club to open their practices over the last two days, from start to finish, to reporters. Others take a different approach and limit their access, which is the category in which the Patriots fall (and others such as the Broncos and Saints). Reporters covering the Patriots were present for stretching and agility drills at the rookie minicamp. The league requires that a certain number of organized team activities remain open throughout, so we'll see more at that time.
10. Receivers Donald Jones and Lavelle Hawkins don't project as No. 1 or 2 options for the Patriots, and there's a chance they might not even make the team, but their signings have a common thread: Both had value to their previous teams, but just not at the salary they were scheduled to make. The Bills liked Jones, but felt like a restricted free-agent tender at $1.3 million was too rich. So they didn't tender him an offer, making him an unrestricted free agent, and the Patriots got him for $630,000. Meanwhile, Hawkins was on the books for $1.9 million with the Titans in 2013 before being released, and the Patriots signed him for $715,000 (plus a $150,000 signing bonus). The word "value" is thrown around a lot, but from a pure economics standpoint, it does seem to apply with both signings.