The New England Patriots were back on the practice fields on Wednesday for their seventh session of this year’s training camp. With the team returning to shells after one day of full pads, the intensity level was lower than it had been on Tuesday but there was still a lot going on.
With that said, let’s clean out the notebook before turning our attention to Day 8.
Bill Belichick is happy to have Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy back
Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins left a massive hole behind when they departed the Patriots in free agency last spring. That hole only grew bigger when Dont’a Hightower announced his opt-out just a short time later, and the team’s 2020 defense was never really able to fill it.
While Collins remains in Detroit, both Van Noy and Hightower are back with the Patriots preparing for the 2021 season. Needless to say that head coach Bill Belichick is happy about that.
“It’s been great to have both of them back,” Belichick said on Wednesday.
“Both very instinctive players as well as have a good grasp and understanding of our defensive system. But beyond that, they’re able to process information. A lot of it new looks, new situations and make good decisions and also help their teammates execute in those situations as well through good communication or anticipation of a problem that they can recognize and adjust to pretty quickly. So yeah, it’s been great having those guys.”
Hightower and Van Noy are both again projected to play starter-level roles for the Patriots this year. While it remains to be seen how exactly they will be used in the rebuilt front seven, having players of their experience and positional flexibility is obviously good news for the entire unit.
Consistency remains an issue for the Patriots’ quarterbacks
All eyes were on the Patriots’ quarterbacks again on Wednesday and if there is one main takeaway it is that inconsistency remains the only form of consistency Cam Newton and Mac Jones have at this point. While Newton looked terrific on Tuesday, he had a tough time on Wednesday. Jones, meanwhile, struggled on Tuesday before a solid bounce-back performance the next day.
New England’s coaches have mentioned the importance of consistency at various points during the offseason. Now it’s on both Newton and Jones to start showing it on a day-to-day basis.
Ivan Fears appreciates Vinnie Sunseri’s presence in the running back room
Veteran running backs coach Ivan Fears has a new assistant this season. After working with Troy Brown in 2020 — Brown is currently coaching wide receivers and returners — he now has Vinnie Sunseri as his right-hand man. Sunseri may have played safety during his NFL career, but Fears apparently appreciates what the 27-year-old is bringing to the table.
“He’s not Troy, but he’s Vinnie. I call him the ‘Crazy Italian,’” Fears said about him.
“He’s great. He’s a good guy, he really is. He’s really intelligent, works his butt off. I’ve been very fortunate for that. He’s got a ton of energy, just like we need because I’m not going very fast around this football field. In fact, I’m going pretty damn slow around this football field. But having a guy like him with a lot of energy, bounce and that kind of stuff we need for the guys it’s kind of nice. It’s kind of nice. I like it.”
Sunseri first arrived in New England in 2016, spending time on the team’s practice squad. Last year, he returned in a coaching role on the defensive side of the ball. In 2021, however, the Patriots have decided to move him to offense to assist Fears with coaching running backs.
Rhamondre Stevenson’s soft hands
Speaking of the running back room, fourth-round rookie Rhamondre Stevenson entered the NFL with the “bruiser” tag attached to him. Just a few days into his first training camp, however, he showed that he can be much more than a powerful between-the-tackles runner: Stevenson displayed some soft hands and an ability to get out into the open from the backfield.
While he did have one drop on a pass thrown by fellow rookie Mac Jones on Wednesday, he looked comfortable in a receiving role — one he is not all that unfamiliar with: Stevenson finished his college career at Oklahoma having caught 28 passes for a combined 298 yards.
Carmen Bricillo has a ‘Do your job’ mentality after Cole Popovich’s departure
When Dante Scarnecchia announced his retirement last offseason, the Patriots did not use one coach to replace him. Instead, they turned to Carmen Bricillo and Cole Popovich as co-offensive line coaches. Heading into 2021, however, only Bricillo remains.
Popovich was projected back and is even still listed in the Patriots’ media guide, but he decided to leave the team — reportedly due to the league’s Covid-19 regulations. As a result, Bricillo is now leading the room with former NFL lineman Billy Yates helping him in an assistant role.
The 45-year-old finds himself in a new situation, but one that is not entirely unfamiliar to him.
“When you’re sitting in the other chair you’re obviously trying to make sure and doing it,” Bricillo told reporters on Wednesday. “I’ve coached a bunch of years, I’ve run rooms in the past. Not at this level, but coaching is coaching. Just step in and hopefully do your job, like it says on the front door.”
Bricillo arrived in New England in 2019, initially serving as a coaching assistant under Scarnecchia before taking over alongside Popovich last year. While the current situation is a new one for him, the 45-year-old has plenty of experience.
He is in his 18th year as a coach and spent the nine seasons prior to joining the Patriots as the offensive line coach at Youngstown State. The NFL is a different animal, though, and Bricillo has to make some adjustments compared to last year — especially as far as his presence in the offensive line room is concerned.
“You hear me talking a lot more in meetings,” Bricillo said. “I mean, four or five hours of straight talking versus the other is probably the biggest change.”
Patriots introduce a new place kicker, sort of
From the “You don’t see this everyday” department: the Patriots practiced a field goal blocking drill on Wednesday but neither Nick Folk nor Quinn Nordin were asked to kick the football away. Instead, Patriots.com’s Paul Perillo identified Chris Mattes as the man handling the duties.
Mattes is in his fifth season as the team’s director of player operations and as such responsible for helping players maneuver through life in pro football. He does have an athletic background after playing Major League Lacrosse and coaching the sport at Maryland, but never came near attempting field goals at an NFL level.
Mattes is of course not the first non-player to fill a similar role in practice. Former Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio repeatedly stepped in as a scout team quarterback. Even with him now in Houston, the tradition apparently lives on in another form.