With the NFL preseason slowly coming to an end, and final roster cutdowns a mere two days away, there is a lot going on around the New England Patriots and the rest of the league. Let’s use this forum right here to go through some of the stories that have emerged over the last few days: time for our Sunday Patriots Notes.
1. Projecting the Patriots’ 2021 team captains. Once New England fully turns its attention from preseason to regular season football, the team will also have to make a decision on its team captains. So, who will get the call?
Based on previous seasons and the players currently under contract, let’s make a prediction:
- QB Cam Newton: While his status as the Patriots’ starting quarterback is not undisputed — rookie Mac Jones has played some impressive football this summer — Newton is all but certain to again be voted a captain this year.
- RB James White: White was re-signed to a one-year contract this offseason, giving him an opportunity to add to his résumé in New England and be named a captain for fourth straight season
- C David Andrews: Andrews was a captain for the last four seasons, and his status will not change in 2021.
- WR Matthew Slater: The veteran special teamer was voted a captain each of the last 10 seasons. He is a tone-setter and an embodiment of the so-called Patriot Way.
- DT Lawrence Guy: Guy became a first-year captain last season, and should again be in line to receive the honor after returning to the club in free agency.
- LB Dont’a Hightower: Hightower was a captain before his Covid-19 opt-out last season. The expectation is that he will resume that role, essentially taking the spot held by Jason McCourty last season.
- LB Ja’Whaun Bentley: After Hightower’s opt-out, Bentley took his spot as a leader both on and off the field. He should get another opportunity to serve as a captain in 2021.
- S Devin McCourty: McCourty will be voted a captain for the 11th straight season. He is in the same category as Matthew Slater when it comes to tone-setters within the organization.
While most of the players on the list are relatively safe bets to be voted captains, not all of them are locks to receive the honor. Ja’Whaun Bentley in particular stands out. While he was a captain last year, Hightower’s return might prompt the players to vote for somebody else. If that happens, defensive lineman Deatrich Wise Jr. or offensive tackle Trent Brown appear to be realistic candidates to take over.
2. Sony Michel did not see his trade coming. The Patriots moving on from former first-round running back Sony Michel did not come as too big a surprise. He played some strong football over the course of the summer, but the team had declined his fifth-year contract option shortly after adding Rhamondre Stevenson in the fourth round of the draft. All signs pointed towards a departure.
Michel, however, did not expect the move. Speaking with ESPN’s Lindsey Thiry, he mentioned that he was “surprised“ when the Patriots informed him that he had been traded to the Los Angeles Rams in return for two late-round draft selections.
“I would assume that most people, when they’re traded, they’re surprised a little bit,” Michel said. “Last two days kind of just been, the best way I can put it is football terminology, sudden change. It’s like, something suddenly happens and you just got to get ready to kind of execute. Not much time could be wasted. Just kind of got to get up, get ready to go and kind of get adjusted, acclimated with the new adjustment.”
Michel spent three seasons with the Patriots, helping the team win a Super Bowl as a rookie. However, he never returned to the same level of play and was seemingly surpassed by Damien Harris in 2020. Earlier this week, the club therefore decided to move on from the 31st pick in the 2018 draft.
3. The Patriots unsuccessfully tried to bring a Packers executive aboard this offseason. Following the departure of long-time director of player personnel Nick Caserio, New England was forced to rebuild its front office. Among the changes was Dave Ziegler taking over Caserio’s role, and some comparatively minor promotions as well.
Along the way, the Patriots apparently also set their sights on Green Bay’s assistant director of pro scouting/salary cap analyst, Chad Brinker According to Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer, the team went after Brinker but the Packers denied him the opportunity to interview with the club:
During the offseason, New England put in a request to interview Brinker for a job helping lead its salary-cap operation, as part of new director of player personnel Dave Ziegler’s effort to rework facets of the team’s personnel department. The Packers blocked Brinker from interviewing and promoted him in the aftermath (which is common when teams block coaches or scouts). So clearly, the Patriots were looking outside the building for voices (Brinker worked with Patriots exec Eliot Wolf in Green Bay), which they haven’t always done.
Instead of joining the Patriots, Brinker was promoted to personnelI/football administration executive. He will be a name to watch moving forward, and could remain on New England’s radar next year as well.
4. The Patriots have not played a Sunday preseason game in a long time. New England ending its preseason against the New York Giants is nothing new: the two clubs have met in the final contest of their exhibition schedules every year since 2005. However, Sunday’s contest will still be different.
Not only is it the third preseason game for both teams as opposed to the fourth — the NFL’s move to a 17-game regular season is to blame for this — the game will also be played on a Sunday. While Sunday is the standard day for Patriots and NFL regular and postseason games, that is not the case in preseason: New England has not played a Sunday preseason contest since a 2008 game in Tampa Bay.
5. Devin McCourty honors Carli Lloyd. Carli Lloyd is not just one of the greatest soccer players of all time, she also spent her college days at Rutgers — the same school that was visited by the aforementioned Patriots team captain Devin McCourty. On Sunday, ahead of the preseason game versus New York, McCourty arrived at the stadium wearing Lloyd’s jersey from the U.S. National Team:
6. Josh Uche explains his ’mean streak.‘ Second-year linebacker Josh Uche has been among the most disruptive players on New England’s defense this summer. Just this week during joint practices with the Giants he repeatedly forced his way into the backfield to register would-be sacks. On Thursday alone he would have taken down New York quarterback Daniel Jones on three different occasions.
Uche’s intensity stood out all summer, and on Friday he explained the reason behind it — going back to the start of his football career.
“That just goes back to where I’m from,” he explained. “I’m from Miami, Florida. Growing up in Miami, Florida is a football hotbed. I just always remember my Pop Warner coach, Coach O, he told me, ‘It’s OK to be a nice guy, but when you get on the field, you’ve got to flip a switch.’ You’ve got to become kind of a — for lack of a better word — a mean streak, if you will.“
That mean streak has helped Uche make his way from Miami to Michigan and eventually to New England: the Patriots picked him up in the second round of last year’s draft. Now entering his second year in the system, he appears to be a prime candidate to make the famous performance jump head coach Bill Belichick has repeatedly mentioned in the past.
It all starts with his “mean streak” mentality.
“That’s the mentality I took with me up until now,“ Uche said. ”When you step on the field, you’ve got to flip that switch and turn up the intensity and the passion. That’s kind of how I go.“
7. Julian Edelman tells a funny story about Randy Moss. When Julian Edelman arrived in New England in 2009, he was a seventh-round draft pick that tried to make the transition from college quarterback to NFL wide receiver. As a result of this, he got to share the locker room with one of the best wideouts in league history, Randy Moss.
Earlier this week, Edelman spoke about his former teammate while appearing on Cris Carter’s WR1 podcast:
While they only spent a little more than one season together, Edelman spoke highly about Moss — a former teammate of Carter’s in Minnesota. Now, both Edelman and Moss carry the “ex-Patriot” label: Moss left New England in 2010, while Edelman announced his retirement earlier this offseason.
8. Dante Scarnecchia is impressed with New England’s quarterbacks. Long-time Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia has not been with the organization since his retirement last year, but he still has close ties to the organization. He also knows a thing or two about the game, so his statements to ESPN’s Mike Reiss about the team’s quarterback position certainly are worth taking a look at.
“I watched the quarterbacks to see what they look like after all the things that have been said. I was really, really impressed by both the quarterbacks,“ Scarnecchia told Reiss.
“It looks like Cam [Newton] has better command of the offense, and the ball seems to be coming out a little bit faster. And I think what they’re doing with Mac Jones is everything. They’re lining up in stuff that has gone beyond Basics 101 and into other things — the empty backfield sets, the protection adjustments, all the stuff that goes with it. And he seems to be doing very well with it all.”
While it remains to be seen how the Patriots’ quarterback competition turns out, it seem as if the team is in good hands regardless. At least Scarnecchia seems to think that way.
Bonus note: To end this on a personal note, don’t be surprised if you don’t find this writer’s name popping up on Pats Pulpit over the next few weeks: Baby Buchmasser is on its way, meaning that it will be “next man up” around these parts of the internet. The depth here is great, however, so you don’t have to go anywhere else for your Patriots coverage.