Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the Patriots:
1. First-year Patriots offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo grew up in Lexington, Massachusetts, was a two-way lineman on the 1984 undefeated Lexington High team that lost in the state championship to Brockton, and went on to play football at Boston University before getting his now 22-year coaching career started at Boston College and then BU. His local roots are deep, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise what he said to his Patriots offensive linemen the first time he met with them this offseason. His remarks centered around former Patriots great and Pro Football Hall of Famer John Hannah and the message was how Hannah set a standard every offensive lineman is still striving to achieve, and how his attitude resonated through the entire team. That’s what DeGuglielmo looked up to as a young player, it’s how he approaches his coaching craft (a lot of fire), and it’s what he wants his linemen to keep at the forefront of their thinking.
2. Another reminder of the 45-year-old DeGuglielmo’s roots came when he first arrived at Gillette Stadium and had the chance to meet Andre Tippett, the longtime Patriots linebacker and Pro Football Hall of Famer who now serves as the team’s Executive Director of Community Affairs. There was some added meaning behind the meeting. “I had to say to him, ‘I’m sorry, I watched you when I was a kid.’ He kind of looked at me, and it makes him feel old, and that wasn’t my intention. I just admire that crew, that era of football player,” said DeGuglielmo, who might be a first-year Patriots assistant replacing the legendary Dante Scarnecchia but who comes with a rich knowledge of the team’s history. “To look back at those guys, I think it’s a great opportunity for these younger guys.”
3. With the Cowboys losing linebacker Sean Lee for the season with a torn ACL sustained in organized team activities, some have reflected on Lee’s injury history at Penn State and served up a reminder that Dallas took a risk on Lee and is now paying for it. The storyline made me think about Patriots first-round pick Dominique Easley (two torn ACLs in 22 months at Florida) and how some parallels can be drawn between the risks with Lee and Easley. Sometimes those situations work out with big-time results (e.g. Curtis Martin, Frank Gore). Other times, it sets up nicely for the “told-you-so” crowd.
4. One of the teaching points that stood out to me from the Patriots’ organized team activity Friday was how defensive backs playing man coverage match up to a bunch formation with three receivers aligned tightly on one side. That is a big part of today’s NFL, and at one point I looked up and saw the combination of defensive backs Darrelle Revis, Kyle Arrington and Devin McCourty working on the drill. The next time, it was Brandon Browner, Arrington and McCourty. While there is always a danger of reading too much into a voluntary organized team activity, the consistent presence of Arrington as the slot corner served as a reminder to me of how the coaching staff values him in that role. The Patriots were in sub defense 67 percent of the time last season, which is why many now view the slot corner through a “starter-type” lens.
5. I think one of the things that has been stressed to rookie quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo by those close to him is that he’s landed in an ideal spot to grow both personally and professionally. While an opportunity to play might not come as quickly as it could have elsewhere, the chance to share a quarterback room with Tom Brady and learn under Bill Belichick is the type of foundation that will be a great benefit for a 22-year-old making the jump from Eastern Illinois to the NFL. At the NFLPA Rookie Premiere this weekend, Garoppolo told Alex Flanagan of NFL Network that Brady has welcomed him. “Getting to know him, he’s a good guy on and off the field. Very competitive, just like me. But he’s willing to help me. Him and Ryan [Mallett], have been nothing but helpful to me. I’m thankful for that,” he told Flanagan.
6. If I could bend the ear of Bills general manager Doug Whaley, one question I’d ask is if he feels he’s layered the quarterback position with enough “disaster insurance” in the event starter EJ Manuel (10 of 16 games played in 2013) runs into more injury issues in his second season. The Bills have Thad Lewis, Jeff Tuel and Dennis Dixon on the depth chart behind Manuel. After trading their 2015 first-round draft choice to move up five spots to select receiver Sammy Watkins this year, I wonder if they’ve covered themselves enough at the game’s most important position. Manuel’s health and development is obviously the key, and the Browns, who own the Bills’ first-round pick next year, stand to benefit if Manuel doesn’t play a full 16-game season and take the next step as the Bills’ brass hopes.
7. Early last week, I listened to first-year Dolphins offensive coordinator Bill Lazor talk about players adjusting to new terminology as he implements a system that focuses on tempo (think Chip Kelly in Philadelphia) and getting the football out on time. Then late last week, I heard Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels talk about how the terminology of the Patriots’ offense is essentially the same as it was when Charlie Weis was the offensive coordinator in the early 2000s. The contrast was notable to me, highlighting one of the things that I believe contributes to the strength of the overall Patriots program under Bill Belichick: The offensive system is bigger than any one coach and by developing a pipeline of young coaches through the years (e.g. McDaniels, Bill O’Brien) to carry it on, it creates a level of continuity that is most conducive for players to grow.
8. The Patriots’ Week 2 opponent, the Minnesota Vikings, is also adapting to a new system and terminology under offensive coordinator Norv Turner. Quarterback Matt Cassel explained last week how he’s never been in a “numbers-based” system. When thinking ahead to the Patriots-Vikings game in Minnesota on Sept. 14, one takeaway is that New England coaches seem to like the idea that the game was scheduled early in the year. With the Vikings playing outdoors the next two seasons at the University of Minnesota as a new indoor facility is built, avoiding a cold-weather December game was preferred.
9. Random thought with Patriots left defensive end Rob Ninkovich in mind: With second-round draft choice Cyrus Kouandjio (Alabama) expected to push for a starting role in Buffalo, first-round draft choice Ja’Wuan James (Tennessee) projected to start in Miami, and Breno Giacomini (Seahawks) signed to a lucrative free-agent deal by the Jets, all three AFC East opponents are likely to have new right tackles this season. A lot of new personnel for Ninkovich, who has totaled a career-high eight sacks in each of the past two seasons, to study as he looks to build off back-to-back eight-sack seasons.
10. Today marks the date that teams can sign free agents without having them count against the compensatory draft pick formula. For the Patriots, all eyes are on the tight end spot, where Dustin Keller and Jermichael Finley could provide an instant upgrade if their health checks out. Finley was reportedly set to visit a “mystery” team on Friday, but we couldn’t confirm if the Patriots were in that mix. Keller previously played under tight ends coach Brian Daboll with the Jets in 2008, so there is some background there.