Before their joint practices with the Carolina Panthers are kicked off on Tuesday morning, the New England Patriots held another session all by themselves. Training camp practice No. 12 was a comparatively low-energy affair, with plenty of plays being run on three-quarters speed, but there is still a lot to take away from the day.
Let’s clean out the notebook.
Bill Belichick sees a lot of progress in rookie Sam Roberts. New England rested a majority of its starters during last Thursday’s preseason opener versus the New York Giants, but the team nonetheless saw some promising performances out of the players that did actually take the field. Among them was rookie defensive lineman Sam Roberts.
Playing in his first ever NFL game, the sixth-round selection showed up several times as a disruptive player. When all was said and done, Pro Football Focus had him credited with five quarterback pressures.
“He’s certainly had some good moments and good plays,” head coach Bill Belichick said on Monday. “It’s a big jump for him: the level of competition, scheme, everything else. He was one of the best where he played, and that’s flipped now. He’s a talented guy, he works very hard. He’s improved a lot. He’s got a lot of room to grow.
“His fundamentals and his recognition and obviously experience in the league — he has a long, long way to go on that. But, he’s better every time he steps onto the field, he’s been healthy, he’s been on the field, he’s gotten a lot of reps, which is how you improve. I like working with him, but we’ll see how it goes. He’s got a ways to go, but he’s making a lot of progress.”
Roberts joined the Patriots out of Northwest Missouri State, where he established himself as one of the best defenders in Division II. Naturally, though, the level of competition is a much higher one in the NFL — one the youngster apparently is starting to get used to one.
Mack Wilson sees Bill Belichick’s praise as a challenge. New England’s head coach spoke positively about New England’s off-ball linebackers’ ability to help out in coverage in the past. For one member of the group, however, that praise is not an invitation to get complacent. Instead, first-year Patriot Mack Wilson sees Belichick’s praise in a different light.
“I take that as a challenge from Coach Belichick,” Wilson said. “Obviously he knows what we can do, he sees us at practice every day. He just wants to see it display on a game level, going up against somebody else. I feel like all of us can cover, so whatever challenge we have for that practice, that game, we just go out and execute.”
Wilson was on the field for 29 percent of New England’s defensive snaps in the preseason opener. He registered five tackles and a quarterback hit.
Monday’s attendance a sign of things to come? The Patriots have to trim their roster down to 85 players by Tuesday, 4 p.m. ET, and one player suspiciously absent on Monday was core special teamer Cody Davis. Davis carries a $2.3 million salary cap hit entering the final year of his contract, and releasing him would save the team almost $1 million.
With rookie Brenden Schooler accounting well for himself as a special teams-only presence, could New England be making an early move and part ways with the veteran? That is all speculation at this point in time, but it shows how there are considerable moving parts at play when it comes to roster construction and cutting down the team.
Patriots coaches explain the value of preseason. The first preseason game is in the books, with the second to be played versus the Panthers on Friday night. While the exhibition schedule is an opportunity for New England to get together as one and compete against some different competition for once, it’s value extends beyond just hitting somebody else.
“We all need preseason,” offensive assistant Matt Patricia said on Monday. “Nobody has coached a game in a long time, nobody has played a game in a long time. There’s certainly things that we can improve there.”
For linebackers coach Jerod Mayo, meanwhile, the value of preseason lies in finding the players who can best use their fundamentals to their advantage.
“The preseason isn’t about scheme, it really isn’t,” he said. “It’s about who can play football, who can really fall back on their fundamentals and do a good job that way. And then we get to the scheme as the season approaches.”
David Andrews wants to be involved any way he can. Even though he spent the 23-21 loss to the Giants last week on the sidelines alongside most other starting members of the Patriots offense, center David Andrews still made sure to get himself involved in the operation. On several occasions, he was seen addressing the offensive linemen who did take the field.
So, David Andrews, assistant O-line coach? Not so fast, according to the man himself.
“I’m a player. I’m trying to stay a player as long as I can,” he said on Monday. “I don’t want to be a coach yet with their hours.
“But I was just trying to help the guys, do what I can. I enjoy it. It’s a way for me to stay active in the game, kind of like I did in 2019. Instead of just standing there twiddling my thumbs, I figured I might as well stay active, locked in, talk with James [Ferentz], see what he sees and do something somewhat productive.”
That position was no unfamiliar one for Andrews. As he alluded to, he did the same in 2019 when he was forced to sit out an entire season after blood clots were discovered in his lungs.
On Thursday, the team captain did what he did back then: help in any way, shape or form. That help did not go unnoticed by the man who was responsible for calling the offense, Matt Patricia.
“That’s great when you have veteran players like that ... which was good for me in the game to be able to have him and James Ferentz, who obviously played in the game,” Patricia said. “Those are two veteran players for us at the center position, which is a position that has all of that knowledge to be able to communicate out to the other players.
“Both of those guys have done a phenomenal job throughout training camp and through the spring of providing that leadership and that veteran communication to everybody. It’s been really great.”
David Andrews, Christian Barmore have put their training camp scuffle behind them. The Patriots’ last open practice before Monday’s saw two of the team’s best players get kicked out for fighting. Andrews and defensive tackle Christian Barmore wrestled each other to the ground, resulting in both sidelines clearing.
The two men at the center of it all were then kicked out of practice, with Barmore leaving for the locker room and Andrews doing some conditioning work away from the rest of the team. One week later, the altercation is behind the two.
“It’s just football,” Andrews said.
“That’s my brother,” Barmore added. “You know how football is. We’re buddies. That’s my guy. Just a football thing. That’s my guy. That’s my OG. I learn every day from him. Real good player. It’s love.”
Andrews and Barmore both project to play prominent roles along the Patriots’ offensive and defensive lines, respectively, this season. The former will again serve as starting center, while the latter is in line to make the second-year leap in hopes of establishing himself as one of the better young interior D-linemen in the NFL.
Kendrick Bourne shares his offseason goals. Free agency acquisition Kendrick Bourne had an encouraging first season with the Patriots in 2021, but he still sees some room for growth heading into Year 2 in the system. On Monday, he spoke about one particular area that he wanted to get better at.
“Definitely just finishing with the ball better,” he said. “I definitely feel like I could have finished the run upfield rather than falling to the side or getting tackled in a certain way. Finishing harder forward with the football.”
After Bourne joined the Patriots on a three-year, $15 million contract last offseason he became one of their most productive players and built a quick rapport with rookie quarterback Mac Jones. When all was said and done, he had caught 62 passes for 877 yards and seven touchdowns.
Additionally, Bourne carried the football 13 times for 139 yards. He also completed his lone pass attempt for a 25-yard touchdown to Nelson Agholor.
Steve Belichick ‘excited’ to work with and against Matt Patricia. For most of his career with the Patriots, linebackers coach Steve Belichick worked under coordinator Matt Patricia. Patricia led the team’s defense for six years before departing for the Detroit Lions.
While he is back now, his role has changed — as has Belichick’s since Patricia’s initial departure in February 2018. Whereas Belichick is no longer coaching the safeties but is now responsible for the linebacker position, Patricia flipped sides altogether and is now offensive line coach and de facto play-caller.
“It’s a little different, but happy to have him in the building,” Belichick said about Patricia. “Same thing last year and same thing before he left for a little bit. Guy that I’ve learned a whole lot from, so I’m excited to see him out here. Work with him and work against him.”
When asked whether or not the former Lions head coach is still a resource of information for him, Belichick made sure to point out that all of the coaches are connected regardless of role or title.
“Everybody in the building regardless of their title has relationships with everybody in there,” he said. “I like to pick everybody’s brain. I don’t even know what his title is, I guess. He’s my friend.”
Matthew Judon gets the birthday treatment. Pro Bowl linebacker Matthew Judon celebrated his 30th birthday on Monday, which prompted the team to gather after practice and sing him a “Happy Birthday” tune. Him being honored by his teammates came one day after he was honored by the rest of the NFL.
Judon, after all, was voted 52nd on the NFL Network list of the Top 100 Players in the league.
“He can cover running backs out of the backfield; he can obviously pass-rush; he can defend the run,” New Orleans Saints safety Tyrann Mathieu said about him. “Being with a guy like Bill Belichick, they run a versatile system, and it allows guys like him to really show who they are.”