Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the New England Patriots:
Bill Belichick is always thinking of ways to build a better team and foster more team chemistry, and there was something notable along those lines in the Patriots' locker room after Friday's preseason game: Many of the lockers of returning players were moved to a different spot in the room. That threw a bit of a curveball to reporters covering the team who were entering the locker room for the first time this year, and were programmed to head to a certain spot only to find out a player like Vince Wilfork had been relocated from one side of the room to another. It sort of reminded me of when Belichick had the walls painted inside the facility and all pictures taken down a few years back to indicate a fresh start. I'm not sure why Belichick did the locker-room shuffle this year, but the idea of potentially breaking up cliques and fostering integration across position and age groups makes sense.
There is often talk about the connection between a quarterback and his receivers, and when Randy Moss first came to New England, his locker was right next to Brady's. That's what came to mind when seeing that Brady's locker is now flanked by second-year receiver Aaron Dobson and five-year veteran Brandon LaFell, which is new.
The high total of penalty flags (28 overall, 21 accepted) made the Patriots' preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles difficult to enjoy. The officiating crew seems to understand this as well. As one reporter was walking past a group of officials after the game, one of them called out, "Don't be too hard on us tomorrow." The message was clear: Officials seem to know this isn't what anyone wants to see, but it's an extreme preseason measure that the league hopes will correct an on-field behavior it wants changed. Referee John Parry predicted the number of flags would decline by Week 1 of the regular season. Here's hoping he's right, because if this continues, the NFL will only be hurting itself.
After two preseason games, the Patriots have to feel good about rookie quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. I think it's fair to say that while there's still a long way to go, Garoppolo is currently ahead of schedule, especially given that he was coming from a lower level of competition compared to other top quarterback prospects. From top to bottom, and with future upside in mind, this looks like one of the Patriots' best quarterback depth charts in Bill Belichick's tenure.
When it comes to Garoppolo, I think there is a belief in Patriots circles that if they didn't take him 62nd overall, the Houston Texans were ready to pounce three picks later at the top of the third round. Given Bill O'Brien's presence as Texans head coach, it's not too much of a stretch to connect those dots. The more I watch Garoppolo, his on-field poise and overall presence, the more he strikes me as O'Brien's type of guy. I wonder if the Texans considered a trade back into the second round, or if they assumed Garoppolo might slide to them with the Jacksonville Jaguars (61), Patriots (62), Miami Dolphins (63) and Seattle Seahawks (64) picking ahead of them.
Patriots rookie center Bryan Stork (fourth round, 105th overall) has been sidelined since July 29 with what appeared to be a lower-leg injury, and that didn't surprise one personnel man I spoke with who noted that his team had Stork a bit lower on its board because of health questions. Stork had a significant medical file at Florida State, and from informal polling of some around the league, the Patriots seemed to have him graded a bit higher than others, which seems to come back to their willingness to be a bit more forgiving with his injury history.
It was hard not to come away impressed with the Eagles after spending time around them in joint practices last week with the Patriots. One of the more intriguing things is head coach Chip Kelly's approach, and the thinking that sometimes less time on the job can produce better results. It's not that Kelly and the Eagles aren't working hard; they're just trying to work smarter. I've sometimes wondered if coaches truly need to put in all those hours -- Patriots owner Robert Kraft recently told Sirius XM NFL Radio that to do the job well it's about a 20-hour-a-day deal -- and I like how Kelly challenges the conventional wisdom in that area.
Parry enjoyed being around the Patriots last week, in part because of the teaching environment created by Belichick. We don't often hear from referees, so the perspective was interesting to me. "The ownership, the coaching staff and the organization has a history of creating a culture, and when you come here, you feel it. Everything is done right from the moment you get here -- from the locker room, how we're treated, security, to communication on the field," he said. Those remarks came before Belichick was hit with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty Friday night, but we don't suspect Parry would be changing his tune regardless.
When I watched the Jaguars on Thursday night, I saw a team that reminded me a bit of the 1994 Patriots in the sense that they're in the early stages of a promising rebuilding project. The first year was just trying to get some NFL-caliber players on the roster, and now in the second year, one can sense some momentum building in establishing a winning culture.
Looking forward to seeing the Carolina Panthers in town this week for Friday's preseason game, but because they play tonight, the quick turnaround will affect their approach in making their matchup with the Patriots the often-referred-to "dress rehearsal" for the regular season. Quarterback Cam Newton is expected to make his debut tonight and play through the first quarter and possibly to halftime, and thus it will be interesting how much we see him Friday considering his prior left ankle injury. Probably not a lot.