Belichick has his fax straight

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Belichick has his fax straight

There were a few interesting developments from the last day of Patriots mini-camp, which didn't take place yesterday at Gillette. I say didn't take place, because it didn't take place. Instead, Bill Belichick canceled everything at the last second, fueling speculation that the coach isn't as committed as he's been in the past.

I don't know about you guys, but I'm starting to worry. Anyone have Rod Rust's number?

In Rust We Trust!

Anyway, how do you think Belichick spent his afternoon off: Maybe he and Linda made an early escape to Nantucket? Maybe "VI Rings" was calling his name from the Sound?

Or maybe it was all a trick, and Belichick had the locker room bugged with cameras so that he could study the way each player reacted to the cancellation. Maybe he wanted to see which guys were a little too happy about having the day off, while hoping to see at least a few disappointed faces.

Personally, I want to believe that Belichick spent the afternoon hanging at Chili's with Tom Thibodeau and Tony LaRussa; sitting around a high top, getting awkwardly drunk like the dudes in Hall Pass.

Yeah, let's go with that one. And let's take one more second to marvel at the fact that Belichick actually gave his entire team a Hall Pass. You're a good man, Bill.

Other than that, there was one other highlight from the Pats' non-practice: Apparently, despite all the drama surrounding BountyGate and the return of Drew Brees' mole, the Patriots are in communication with the Saints about teaming up for a few joint practices during Training Camp. Or I guess "communication" is one way to describe it.

Here's what Saints interim head coach Joe Vitt had to say about practicing with the Pats: "I got a fax from Bill Belichick this morning and we're taking a look at that."

Now that's funny. Belichick's working the fax! Why do I get the feeling that at this point every team in the league has one dusty fax machine (labeled: PATRIOTS) left in the corner of their office?

On one hand, I guess it's good that the fax machine is still in heavy rotation at Patriots HQ, because it will make the transition a lot easier for Rust Regime: Phase 2. On the other hand, I know it's a a good thing that Belichick didn't fax over the cancellation of yesterday's practice, because the players would still be out there waiting.

As Belichick watched through his binoculars, ready to cut the first one who walked off the field.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Five things to know about Cyrus Jones on the day of his Patriots introduction

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Five things to know about Cyrus Jones on the day of his Patriots introduction

The Patriots will introduce corner Cyrus Jones as their first pick of the 2016 draft on Friday, presenting him with a jersey as he poses for pictures with team owner Robert Kraft and president Jonathan Kraft. 

Jones was taken with the No. 60 overall selection in the second round of last weekend's draft, providing coach Bill Belichick's cornerback group with some depth. The 5-foot-10, 197-pounder from Alabama is also an accomplished punt returner -- he brought four back for touchdowns last season -- giving him a variety of avenues by which he could contribute as a rookie. 

Here are five things to know about Jones on the day he's introduced . . .

1. He's fairly well prepared for the coaching he'll get in the NFL after playing under Nick Saban at Alabama: "Playing for Coach Saban – he’s a great coach, arguably one of the best, arguably the best in the country – and I’ve heard many things that he’s compared to Coach Belichick and that our program is ran similar to how the Patriots’ is run," Jones said after being drafted. "I feel as though I’m greatly prepared for the next level thanks to Coach Saban and the people I had around me for four years, just getting me ready both on and off the field." Before the draft, Jones had only met Belichick once. It was on the day before the Alabama pro day, and Jones watched film with the future Hall of Fame coach and some of his 'Bama teammates. Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower made the Saban-to-Belichick transition relatively smoothly back in 2012. Now that he's one of the leader's of Belichick's defense, perhaps Hightower can help Jones in that regard if he needs it. 

2. He's ready to play inside, outside and as a punt returner: At his height, some have Jones pegged for a nickel corner role, but he played outside in college against some top-tier receivers in the SEC, and he feels he can do the same as a pro. "I don’t think there’s anywhere I can’t line up and be successful on the football field," he said. "I played outside most of my career at Alabama and I had success. I don’t think there’s any reason why I can’t line up on Sundays and do the same thing, so I feel as though I’m very confident that I can play on the outside." But Jones knows his special teams abilities may give him the best shot at consistent playing time as a rookie. "I returned punts in high school and I was pretty good at it," he said. "I just had that knack for just finding creases and being able to see where to cut at and I had good vision always. That ability just increased in college, and as I got more comfortable I started to have more success over time and I had my best year my senior year. I think, like you said, that’s going to be a big way for me to get on the field early next season."

3. He was a highly-recruited receiver coming out of high school: Jones grew up in Baltimore (yes, he was a Ravens fans) and attended Gilman School where he became a four-star recruit. He actually began his career for the Crimson Tide as a wideout, catching four passes for 51 yards as a true freshman. He transitioned to corner as a sophomore. "Coach Saban, you know, we were losing a couple of defensive backs after my freshman year and coach knew that I could play DB," he said. "He asked me, would I be willing to try it out for the spring time? I bought in and I just wanted to help the team in any way possible and it worked out for me and the team."

4. His nickname on social media is Clam Clampington: If you follow Twitter, you've already seen Jones' handle. It's not an alter ego, exactly, just a nickname given to him by one of his friends after he had a good game. "My best friend actually watched one of my games and I had a good game. I forget which game it was, and he said that I played so well that it looked like my name should be Clamp Clampington, and I just thought it was pretty hilarious at the time and kind of catchy. I ended up changing it on all my social media pages and it just went on from there."

5. He used to be teased by his Alabama coaches for being so into film study: "I love watching film," he said. "I used to get teased a lot at ‘Bama by my coaches saying I should have an office where their offices were because I was in the film room so much and up there almost just as much as they were. I love watching film and think that’s the key to becoming a better player. There are a lot of players in this league that have physical gifts and talent but you know working hard off the field, I think that’s what separates you." 

Curran: Shula will be remembered in New England as an angry old man

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Curran: Shula will be remembered in New England as an angry old man

Don Shula landed in the hospital this week and, fortunately, the 86-year-old former Dolphins coach was treated and released

But the news served as a reminder of two things. One, Shula’s getting really old. Two, the time will come when it’s time to pay proper tribute to his coaching career and also point out that the petty potshots Shula’s lobbed at the Patriots since 2007 have colored New England’s opinion of him.

All politics are local,” the great Tip O’Neill once said. Sports, too. We view things through our parochial prism, asking, “What does this (person/event) mean to me?”

The first thing people think about in this six-state region when it comes to Shula isn’t his 36 years as an NFL head coach, record 347 career wins, two Super Bowl titles, six Coach of the Year awards and his team’s perfect season in 1972. The first thing they think about is the times he’s ripped and discredited Bill Belichick and the Patriots. Few people under 40 will remember watching Shula coach in the 1984 Super Bowl. Few under 30 will remember him coaching in the NFL, period (he retired after the 1995 season).

That’s reality. And it’s too bad, because Belichick has always spoken on Shula with reverence. And the respect, at least for a while, was reciprocated.

More than a decade ago, as the Patriots prepared for the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 38, Belichick was asked about what he remembered about the 1972 Dolphins.

“They won all their games," Belichick deadpanned, before adding, “They had a pretty good coach. I tell you what, they had a pretty good coach (Shula). One of the coaches that I was fortunate, when I came into the league, he was coaching in the division I was in. I think Don is obviously one of the all-timers and should be."

While Belichick’s primary coaching idols were his father Steve, legendary Browns and Bengals coach Paul Brown, and Navy coach Wayne Hardin, Belichick closely followed Shula as well.

Growing up a Colts fan in Annapolis, Belichick said, “[Shula] was a guy I probably saw more of than anyone else. And who better to look at than Don Shula?"

Shula reciprocated.

"I just think he's done a tremendous job," Shula said back then. "One of the great coaching jobs of all-time was (in 2001). He brought them out of nowhere, with a young quarterback. The way they won, instead of sitting on the ball at the end like [announcer John] Madden wanted them to, they showed confidence in [quarterback Tom] Brady and the system, and they won in overtime. And then you look at what they did (in 2003) . . . They somehow find a way to win. Close games, they find a way to do it. And the other thing you admire is, they had so many injuries and you never heard a complaint. All they did was line up each week and win. The emphasis was on getting the next guy ready to play, and playing the next game.

"That starts at the top, Belichick, the coaching staff, the organization. Everybody is talking about parity, and they don't know what to expect, but (the Patriots) have gone to the Super Bowl two out of three years. That speaks volumes about their organization, their coaches and their players."

Shula’s tune changed, not surprisingly, in 2007 when the Patriots began to stalk the 1972 Dolphins perfect season.

In early November, Shula said the Patriots videotaping of opponent’s coaching hand signals in the first game of the season and in previous years “tainted” them. "The Spygate thing has diminished what they've accomplished," Shula said. "You would hate to have that attached to your accomplishments. They've got it."

Shula tried to walk his comments back two days later. "If they run the table, and they win all the games, then they are doing it within the rules of the National Football League," Shula said. "And there shouldn't be any asterisk to it. That would be the accomplishment that they made. It would be the best in all of sports."

But less than a month after that, with the Patriots bidding to get to 12-0, Shula was a guest in ESPN’s Monday Night Football booth when the Patriots played in Baltimore.

It was one of the most memorable games of the Bill Belichick Era and Shula rooted openly on national television for the Ravens. (This live blog recap is hysterical.) Bill Simmons described Shula’s appearance by writing, “Don Shula's interminable 'Monday Night Football' cameo during the Pats-Ravens game was the interminably long cameo by which all other interminably long cameos should be measured: I didn't find anything that he said to be interesting; he openly rooted for one of the two teams; he wouldn't even leave when Mike Tirico thanked him for stopping by 25 different times . . . ”

While the pride of ownership in being the lone team to have a perfect season is understandable, the annual champagne-popping and chest-puffing of those Dolphins had jumped from cute to obnoxious years before. Reactions among the ’72 Dolphins when the Patriots finished the regular season 16-0 were evenly split between genuine and grudging respect.

“My heart is dead set against it,” said ex-Dolphin Bob Kuechenberg. “The '72 team is uniquely immortal in American sports and I don't want us to lose that special place. We will forever be immortal, and if they win every game in front of them, then they will join us among those ranks.”

Belichick stayed consistent in his respect for Shula. He mentioned having had dinner with Shula in the offseason prior to 2007. He said in December of that year, "I was a big fan of Coach Shula from when he was at Baltimore and his association with my dad, going all the way back to when they were in Ohio . . . The team they had was an awesome team and they were fun to watch.”

The whole thing lay dormant for nearly seven years until a Florida columnist sat down with Shula in January 2015 on the occasion of his 85th birthday. During the conversation, Belichick’s name came up. 

“Beli-cheat?” Shula replied.

Two weeks later, league operations officials seized footballs they believed the team removed air from prior to the AFC Championship Game and Deflategate was born.

In May, at an event kicking off the Dolphins 50th season, Shula lobbed another grenade.

“We always tried to live by the rules and set an example that it was always done with a lot of class, a lot of dignity’’ Shula said. “Always done the right way. We didn’t deflate any balls.”

That cemented Shula’s place on the Patriots fans’ enemies list and sent them off dredging up the occasions when Shula or his team line-stepped in what was unarguably a time when getting the valued “edge” was a lot easier and accepted.

Which brings us to now, where Shula seems at odds with the only current coach who belongs in the pantheon of great coaches alongside him and the others. Shula, Belichick, Brown, Chuck Noll, Joe Gibbs, Vince Lombardi, Tom Landry, Paul Brown and Bill Walsh. Rank them how you like but those are the best there’s been.

Does Shula really have that little respect for Belichick that, at the mention of his name, he seeks to discredit him? Or has he just been playing the hits for the Miami media when he’s had the chance?

At 86, I suppose the opinion of him in New England isn’t a daily concern of Shula’s. And it’s his prerogative to say whatever he likes. His coaching legacy is safe. But broadsides of Belichick make it hard for people up here to think first of his coaching acumen when Don Shula’s name is in the news.