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Sunday Patriots Notes: New practice squad quarterback Garrett Gilbert knows what is expected of him

Related: Assessing Patriots QB Bailey Zappe ahead of his potential first career NFL start

New England Patriots Practice Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Week 5 of the NFL season is upon us, and it will see the New England Patriots play host to the Detroit Lions at Gillette Stadium. We know that the Patriots will look good thanks to their throwback outfits, but there are questions again about their quarterback position: Mac Jones will likely not suit up, with Bailey Zappe taking over as starter.

With that said, let’s take a look at some of the 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.

New practice squad quarterback Garrett Gilbert knows what is expected of him. With Mac Jones still nursing an ankle injury, and with Brian Hoyer off to injured reserve after suffering a concussion in Week 4 versus the Green Bay Packers, the Patriots needed to upgrade their quarterback depth. They did so by signing veteran Garrett Gilbert to their practice squad to serve as backup to projected starter Bailey Zappe.

The situation is not an unfamiliar one for Gilbert, who spent time with the Patriots before: briefly as a rookie in 2014 and also during the 2021 regular season. Re-signing in New England was therefore a homecoming of sorts.

“Obviously, some things have changed since last year, but ultimately, it’s not tough,” Gilbert said about picking up where he left off. “I’ve got to get back used to the scheme and used to some of the new things, but it’s nice to be on the field and in the huddle with guys that I know. And there’s still a lot of familiar faces here, so that’s been really nice.”

While Gilbert does bring some starting experience to the table, the Patriots hope that they will not have to turn the keys to the offense over to him anytime soon. The 31-year-old himself knows this too, but he also is fully aware of what is expected to him.

If push ever came to shove on Sunday or another time, he needs to be ready to take over no questions asked.

“As a backup quarterback, it’s my job to just get myself prepared to play,” Gilbert said earlier this week. “That’s been my main focus since I’ve been back here, getting myself re-familiarized with the offense and just what we do schematically. That’s part of my job, so that’s been my only focus since I’ve been back here: just getting myself comfortable and getting myself ready for Sunday.”

Gilbert has been elevated from the practice squad to the game-day roster ahead of New England’s contest versus Detroit. With Mac Jones likely out, he would serve as No. 2 behind rookie Bailey Zappe.

Who would be New England’s emergency quarterback? Last week’s game in Green Bay saw Brian Hoyer start and later, after his concussion, replaced by Bailey Zappe. With only two players active, this raised the question about who would replace Zappe if he himself were to go down. Luckily, the Patriots never found out but the topic itself is an intriguing one.

Let’s therefore take a look at a best-guess list of potential emergency QBs and their credentials:

Kendrick Bourne: While Bourne stated after the Packers game that he would not be the stand-in quarterback, he might help shoulder the load. Last year, after all, he threw a touchdown on his lone attempt — a sign that the team trusts his arm.

Lynn Bowden Jr.: Bowden Jr. is on the practice squad and therefore not a game-day option unless promoted or, more likely, elevated. Given that he spent some time in college as a quarterback, his name should very much still be mentioned here.

Damien Harris: Harris has not attempted any passes in game situations at the college and NFL levels, but he has occasionally lined up at quarterback in wildcat looks. The Patriots opting to go a similar route would make sense if no pure QB was available.

Jakobi Meyers: Meyers would likely be the frontrunner as next man up if the quarterback depth chart had been exhausted. A former QB himself, he is 4-for-4 for 88 yards and two touchdowns when asked to throw the ball since 2020.

Pierre Strong Jr.: The fourth-round rookie is a dark-horse candidate. After all, Strong Jr. was used as a passer on several occasions at South Dakota State: he ended his career going 9-for-9 for 208 yards and six scores.

The Patriots obviously hope that push never comes to shove, and that none of these players will have to be asked to take snaps under center at any point in time.

Patriots’ offensive tackles have out-performed their expectations so far. After some initial hiccups in the Patriots’ opening day loss in Miami, starting left tackle Trent Brown has started to settle down and play some quality football. What stands out about his performance is that it has come against the statistically most challenging slate of pass rush opposition.

The following graphic shared by Pro Football Focus’ Timo Riske illustrates this:

As can be seen, Brown laps the field as far as difficulty of assignment is concerned. Despite that, he is ranked 18th in the league in grade over expectation.

Also on the plus side, even though not quite as much, is right tackle Isaiah Wynn. The former first-round draft pick, who moved over from the left side this offseason, had his fair share of struggles last week — he gave up two sacks to the Packers — but as a whole has been outperforming his expectation as a pass blocker as well. He did that despite facing the 10th hardest slot of opponents.

Matthew Judon is a fan of Jamie Collins’ return. The Patriots brought veteran wide receiver Jamie Collins back into the fold earlier this week, signing the 32-year-old to a practice squad contract. There is no telling how his impact on the New England defense will look like, his teammates have apparently enjoyed having Collins back in the mix.

Among them is fellow linebacker Matthew Judon, who spoke about Collins’ return on Thursday.

“We love to have Jamie in the building,” Judon, who already spent parts of the 2021 season with him as a teammate, said. “Just his energy and the person who he is and how he plays the game. He’s been playing around here for a long time, so he knows a lot of things. He can be like, ‘Hey, do this, this and this,’ or he knows a lot about the defense, the ins and outs and he can kind of talk to the coaches and see from what he sees and what we can do.

“It’s good to just have a guy like that around the building. It’s always good. And I just enjoy his company.”

Collins and the Patriots have an extensive history together. He originally joined the club as a second-round draft pick in 2013, and over three separate stints appeared in a combined 85 regular season and playoff games.

His 2022 debut will have to wait, however. New England did not elevate him to its game-day roster, instead going with the aforementioned Garrett Gilbert and tight end Matt Sokol.

Run blocking remains out of sync, says a former New England quarterback. Former Patriots quarterback J.T. O’Sullivan has now turned to an analyst role, breaking down the position through his The QB School YouTube channel. His analysis also includes other aspects of the game, though, with one of his recent breakdowns also looking at one of New England’s run designs.

Granted, we are only talking about one play, but the assessment is not a positive one:

The Patriots’ running game as a whole has been quite productive this season. Negative plays are still too regular an occurrence, though, and something that needs to be cleaned up especially as long as Mac Jones is out and the offense has to support Bailey Zappe at quarterback.

Several Patriots are participating in the NFL’s International Diversity initiative. The NFL is currently in the middle of celebrating its international heritage. In Weeks 4 and 5, the league is allowing players and other personnel to wear a country or territory’s flag that represents their nationality or cultural heritage.

Over 200 players, coaches and executives are participating league-wide, including 20 members of the Patriots:

Cam Achord (France), WR Nelson Agholor (Nigeria), Bill Belichick (Croatia), Brian Belichick (Croatia), Steve Belichick (Croatia), WR Kendrick Bourne (American Samoa), DT Daniel Ekuale (American Samoa), K Nick Folk (Germany), Joe Houston (Cuba), QB Brian Hoyer* (Germany), Joe Judge (Ireland), LB Matthew Judon (Burundi), Joe Kim (South Korea), S Devin McCourty (Jamaica), G Michael Onwenu (Nigeria), Matt Patricia (Italy), Mike Pellegrino (Italy), Vinnie Sunseri (Italy), LB Jahlani Tavai (Samoa), LB Josh Uche (Nigeria)

*currently on injured reserve

“It means a lot to me,” Michael Onwenu, who is wearing the Nigerian flag on his helmet, told the Boston Globe earlier this week.

Camren Williams is assisting the next generation of scouts. The NFL’s Nunn-Wooten Scouting Fellowship is giving current and former players as well as college recruiting and personnel staff an opportunity to get a look at how NFL front offices operate, and which skills are required to work in professional scouting. One member of the Patriots took an active role in this process this year as well: College scouting director Camren Williams was one of the featured speakers in a virtual program aimed at helping the next generation of scouts and executives.

New England has a top-10 offense in big plays. The Patriots offense has had its fair share of issues this season, but one area it has performed well in is big plays. As was recently illustrated by NFL writer Marcus Mosher, the unit is ranked among the best in the league with a combined 29 such plays:

Per this definition, the Patriots have had 13 runs of 10-plus yards as well as 16 pass plays of 20 or more. As a result, they are ranked eighth in the league in total number of big plays after four weeks.

While big plays alone are not the ultimate metric to measure an offense’s success, they do show that the Patriots hav been able to generate chunk plays quite frequently. The fact that they have not consistently taken advantage of them, however, is proof of some shortcomings elsewhere: plays for negative yardage have been an issue, and even more so turning the football over.