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Sunday Patriots Notes: Kyle Dugger has taken the next step in his development

Related: Patriots vs. Browns: News, analysis, injuries, previews, final score, and more

Detroit Lions (0) Vs. New England Patriots (29) At Gillette Stadium Photo by Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Week 6 of the NFL season is upon us, and it will see the New England Patriots take on the Cleveland Browns on the road. As was the case last week, the expectation is that the Patriots will once again rely on backup quarterback Bailey Zappe in light of Mac Jones’ ankle injury.

With that said, there were plenty of other stories that have emerged over the last week that we did not have time to cover elsewhere. Welcome to this week’s Sunday Patriots Notes.

Kyle Dugger has taken the next step in his development. Arguably the biggest game of last week’s shutout win over the Detroit Lions saw edge defender Matthew Judon strip-sack quarterback Jared Goff, with Kyle Dugger picking up the loose football and returning it for a touchdown the other way. The play was a highlight-reel moment for Dugger, and the high-point of what had been a quality season so far for the former second-round draft pick.

While he did miss one game due to injury, Dugger has taken the next step in his development. Three years removed from playing Division-II football at Lenoir-Rhyne, he is now not just a cornerstone in the New England secondary but a big-play threat as well as one of the better young safeties in the entire NFL.

Look no further than last week’s game.

Dugger himself, meanwhile, has been following a simple recipe to get to the point where he is right now. Do your job and focus on your fundamentals, and the rest will sort itself out.

“Just leaning heavy on the fundamentals, what I’m coached and what I’m taught to read,” he told reporters earlier this week. “Things like leverage, pre-snap and post-snap — and just having patience and making sure that I’m focused on the little things and the fundamentals in those plays.”

So far this season, the approach has served Dugger well. While there is a lot of talk about the famous second-year jump players take from Year 1 to Year 2, the defender appears to be in the middle of a Year 3 leap. New England’s defense is all the better for it.

Why Rhamondre Stevenson prefers not having a fullback. The fullback position had been a staple of the Patriots defense for years, but the team moved on from it this offseason. Jakob Johnson, who had served in that capacity for most of the previous two seasons, was not retained as a restricted free agent and has since signed in Las Vegas.

The absence of the fullback position has changed the Patriots’ running game, but one of its backs is quite happy about it.

“It’s what I’m used to, honestly,” said Rhamondre Stevenson this week. “Last year was my first time even having a fullback. I miss Jak, to say the least, but I like having more spread-out formations running the ball.”

In its essence, a fullback serves as the lead-blocker whom a running back has to follow. This, in turn, limits the reads a running back has made but also his ability to freelance — to a degree at least — after receiving the hand-off. As Stevenson has shown this season, he is quite apt at doing that.

Tyquan Thornton is getting his feet wet. After missing the first four weeks of the season due to the collarbone fracture he suffered in preseason, Patriots rookie Tyquan Thornton was back on the field last week versus Detroit. While he did play 42 percent of offensive snaps and caught two passes for seven yards, his debut as a whole was a relatively quiet one.

That said, it was an opportunity for the second-round draft pick to “get his feet wet”, as his position coach put it.

“I saw him out there get his feet wet, and get a chance to get hit and tackled in a real NFL game, and getting some rust off of himself, and being able to run around out there on the field, and see what it’s like,” said Troy Brown this week. “He got the experience what a real NFL game feels like on Sunday.”

Thornton himself echoed those remarks, pointing to the first time he was tackled in the game — by none other than second-overall draft pick, and 6-foot-7 behemoth Aidan Hutchinson.

“It was definitely like an ‘I’m cool’ moment the first time really getting brought down to the ground since the injury,” the Patriots wideout said after the game.

His ability to make it through the game unscathed is obviously important, but Thornton’s presence as a whole was a positive. The Patriots do like the speedster, after all, and do have plans for him in their offense.

“It’s good to have him back out there,” said head coach Bill Belichick. “He’s got a long way to go. There’s a lot of things that he learned from [Sunday] that will be better next week in practice and hopefully be better next week in the game.

“He’s a hard working kid, he’s smart, he’s got good versatility in the skills that he can do and has. But, long way to go. Just try to keep stacking days together here. I wouldn’t expect anything to just happen overnight. Good progress, again, good guy to have as a receiver for our passing game. Glad we have him.”

Jakobi Meyers credits Cam Newton for his development. Jakobi Meyers has been a cornerstone of the Patriots’ offense for the last two seasons, but that outcome was far from a given when he entered the league as a rookie free agent in 2019. Meyers played primarily a backup role his first year in New England, and also started Year 2 as a depth option.

At that point he was in a dark place, as he told former N.C. State wide receiver Emeka Emezie this week. However, one of his teammates helped lift him up: quarterback Cam Newton.

“He came to me and was like, ‘I can see it. You’re a good player, but you’re in your own head right now. Just keep going. When you’re number’s called you’ll be alright,’” Meyers recalled. “I was down. When he came into the building, he was really lifting me up. When I finally got the ball, he was giving me a chance; he was feeding me. Stayed positive. Whenever he went training he took me with him. Cam was really a great quarterback to play with.”

Meyers emerged as a reliable weapon in the Patriots’ passing attack midway through his second season — and first with Newton as his quarterback. While the former league MVP was let go the following year in favor of first-round draft pick Mac Jones, Meyers’ role has not changed.

He is still the Patriots’ most trustworthy wideout and through five weeks this season is ranked first in targets (27), receptions (20) and yards (261) while also being tied for first in receiving touchdowns (1). Meyers accomplished all of that despite missing two games.

“Jakobi’s worked extremely hard,” said Bill Belichick about his growth since 2019. “He’s developed route running concepts and techniques at multiple positions, inside, outside, play-action, dropback, quicker throws, knowing when he has more time to operate, knowing when he has to get open quicker, things like that, based either on the timing of the play or the situation.

“He’s a very smart, savvy football player on a lot of levels. Not just in the passing game, but in the running game and in other formations and things like that. It’s been a great time of growth for him.”

Matthew Judon uses his media conference to send a message. The reigning AFC Defensive Player of the Week, Patriots outside linebacker Matthew Judon sent a message on the field last week against Detroit. A few days later, he also sent a message while at the podium talking to the media.

That message? Pay women properly. Judon was captured by Pats Pulpit’s own Brian Hines donning the sweater with the slogan on it:

The Kraft Family makes a massive donation. The Patriots trying to make a difference off the field extends beyond messages being sent by their players. Just this week, team owner Robert Kraft and his family donated $50 million to Massachusetts General Hospital in order to address “healthcare disparities caused by race, ethnicity, geography, and economic status.”

The donation is the largest of its kind in the history of the institution, and it more than doubles the previous commitments made by the Kraft family through the years.

“On behalf of the hospital, I would like to express our profound gratitude to the Kraft family for this transformative and inspirational act of philanthropy, which is not only the largest of its kind in our history, but also the latest highlight of their already lengthy history of support for MGH,” Mass General president David F. M. Brown, MD, said in a statement.

“We are committed to serving our communities and this incredibly generous gift positions MGH to help even more patients in need of our care.”