Notes from Patriots mini-camp

Notes from Patriots mini-camp

Day 1 of Patriots mini-camp is in the books. Here's a bit on what went down on this windy, overcast Tuesday.
Bill Belichick began the day by excusing Brian Waters' absence ("personal reasons"), so that's one body accounted for. But still no Daniel Fells. The tight end re-aggravated an existing injury and it's hoped he'll be ready at the end of next month for the start of training camp. Myron Pryor was also missing in action.
Off that, we've finally seen the return of Logan Mankins and Sebastian Vollmer. The pair strolled onto the practice field at around 12:37, worked in the bubble until 1 PM, and finally reemerged to run (both in and out of harnesses) on a side field.
Vollmer ran quite stiffly as though aware every second of his back. Mankins was running on his surgically repaired left knee but it is noticeably skinnier than his right and he favored it a bit.
Matthew Slater (unknown injury) and Tracy White (groin) didn't make their way out of the bubble until 1:38 PM, when practice was almost over. Rob Gronkowski (ankle) came out a few minutes later. He didn't stay long -- Gronk retreated into the stadium with assistant strength and conditioning coach Moses Cabrera.
Brandon Spikes also worked inside and did rehab running for a while.
Tight end Aaron Hernandez, absent last time media had access to an OTA, was on the field and running without event. He looked very quick in and out of cuts during 11-on-11 drills. Brandon Deaderick also returned.
Mini-camp and OTAs resemble each other well because of last August's CBA changes (no pads, so no "live" blocking, tackling, pass rushing, bump-and-run, etc.).
So what did we see? A lot of work from the secondary on pattern recognition. It's slow work -- fundamentals. You want your defensive backs to be able to read routes and react immediately with the appropriate coverages, eventually making it like muscle memory.
We saw a lot of special teams work during OTAs, but the Patriots broke things down a little more this Tuesday with punt-blocking.
Tom Brady threw routes on air to the receiving corps. It's not just the rookies like Matt Roark and Jeremy Ebert who need to see practical applications of the playbook. Considering the number of new Patriots -- Donte' Stallworth, Brandon Lloyd, Jesse Holley, Jabar Gaffney -- there's a lot of work to be done with making the footwork and timing of these routes second nature.
7-on-7 got a little interesting when the down and distance markers were added. This is when we saw some situational football, like third-down plays.
7-on-7 got REALLY interesting when a small kerfuffle broke out on field. I didn't see how it got started -- and it was broken up quickly -- but Rob Ninkovich and Ryan Wendell ended up running laps as a result.
Gerard Warren and Kyle Love also ended up "running" the sidelines. Likely for offsides or other penalties. Oops.
There looked to be a tough development on the defensive line as newly-acquired free agent Jonathan Fanene spent a long time with the training staff having his left knee checked. Fanene was on his back on the sidelines for several minutes while having his knee observed by trainer Jim Whelan. Fanene stayed on the field for the remained of practice but appeared to labor some as he came down a long flight of stairs and walked toward the Patriots locker room.
Rookie Chandler Jones also spent time with the training staff gesturing toward his ankle but it didn't appear serious.
Bill Belichick was exceptionally vocal during the 11-on-11 drills.
Patrick Chung fielded some punts in plus-50 situations. He caught one punt at about the 2-yard line then, realizing the gaffe (anything inside the 10, the returner usually should let bounce) he slammed the ball to the turf.
Julian Edelman also worked punt returns, but didn't have any temper tantrums.

Quick Slants the podcast Ep 54: Brady, OTAs, and contract situations

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Quick Slants the podcast Ep 54: Brady, OTAs, and contract situations

Tom E. Curran and Phil Perry attended Thursday’s OTA session and offer their analysis on some of the new additions in Quick Slants the podcast.

Also on the docket, a look at some upcoming contract situations for the team, Tom Brady’s 17th season and Robert Kraft taking legal action in support of Brady.

Listen to the entire podcast via the player below, or by searching CSNNE on iTunes.

New Patriots DE Chris Long willing to be led

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New Patriots DE Chris Long willing to be led

Chris Long’s been in the NFL since 2008. As the offspring of Hall of Famer Howie Long, he knows the ways and means of life in the league.
 
So, it’s instructive that a player who’s been around this long decided that success here hinged on allowing himself to be led. Check the ego, check the pride, behave as if you know nothing.
 
In doing so, Long’s affixed himself to the side of fellow defensive end Rob Ninkovich like a 275-pound remora.
 
“Rob and I really clicked,” Long said Thursday after a Patriots OTA session open to the media. “We’ve got a lot of similarities, and he’s a great guy to learn from and shadow. He’s been here obviously a long time. Rob knows how to do things the right way around here. When you see a guy like that, if you’re halfway smart, you follow him around and do what he does. If Rob goes to lunch, I go to lunch. That type of thing. Rob’s a good buddy already.”
 
Long was also observed Thursday spending a lot of downtime with Jabaal Sheard, the two defensive ends on a knee near the Gatorade conversing for a couple of minutes.
 
With Chandler Jones now a Cardinal, the Patriots defensive end depth chart this offseason has have Sheard and Ninkovich at the top, with Long in the mix situationally, one supposes. Reps need to be split for freshness. Meanwhile, Geneo Grissom and Trey Flowers are coming into their second seasons and will push for time as well.
 
For his part, Long isn’t projecting anything.
 
“Well, I’m still learning, so I can’t make the determination yet,” Long said. “Ask me again during training camp. Every day in the NFL is an opportunity. A coach I’ve had before said every day is an interview, and that’s how I like to look at things. Every day, you have a chance to get better and learn and worry about your own — farm your own land and do all that good stuff. That’s the way I approach everything. It would be a disservice to the other guys if I was worried about anything other than myself, that opportunity just to get out here on the practice field and compete and get better.”
 
And let yourself be led. 

Surprise! Rex and Rob Ryan talk themselves up

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Surprise! Rex and Rob Ryan talk themselves up

Can’t you just imagine the Ryan brothers as teenagers, riding along in a pickup, windows down, hair whipping, hollering their skewed affirmations over the Lynyrd Skynyrd.

“Biggest badasses in town?! US!!”

“Handsomest fat guys to be!? US!!”

“Defensive-geniuses-in-waiting destined to be criminally underappreciated and overlooked so that we’ll forever be obligated to remind everyone at every turn how tough, accomplished and slighted we’ve been? HELL, THAT’S US TOO!!”

It’s May, which means it’s Ryan propaganda season. Not that Jenny Vrentas of MMQB did the Ryan’s bidding with her fun Q&A that’s online today. 

All she needed to do was hit record and lay the recorder on the table. Rex and Rob take care of the tire pumping themselves.

Fortuitously, now that they’re together in Buffalo as head coach (Rex) and assistant head coach/defensive capo (Rob), they can pat each other’s backs rather than reach back and do their own themselves.

Rob – poopcanned from his last two jobs as defensive coordinator in Dallas and New Orleans – carried the show in this one firing passive-aggressive darts at Saints head coach Sean Payton and promising to “beat” Bill Belichick and the Patriots.

“At the end of the day, the last two years in New Orleans were a waste of time for me,” said Rob Ryan, who was fired last November by Payton. “I want to give everything I have to a team that I want to be a part of, with a head coach I want to be a part of. Not only is Rex a great head coach, but he is also a great defensive coach. He’s going to be the best coach that I can work for, anytime. And I have worked for Belichick, who is the best head coach in football, in the history of the game. But we’re going to beat him, and we’re going to beat him together. And it’s going to be an awesome challenge. I need to be in a multiple system. I was hired to be in a multiple system in New Orleans, and I did a damn good job and got fired for it. I am more hungry now than I have ever been. So I wanted to go with the right guy. And the right guy is someone I have 100 percent trust in and 100 percent faith in.

Payton has already termed Ryan’s contention that it wasn’t Ryan’s defense as “silly.” 

This in-depth look at the precipitous drop of the Saints defense has plenty of damning info about what a “hot mess” Ryan’s operation was. 

Payton is quoted in the piece saying after Ryan’s dismissal, "There were a few things that you looked at from a year ago and you said, 'We can't have X number of snaps with not the right number of guys on the field. We can't burn timeouts, you know, every other week because we can't get the right personnel on the field.' We just can't do that. We can't have guys looking left and right at the snap of the ball. There's a game last season where the first eight plays of the game, we're misaligned and we don't even cover down the right way. Those were just facts."

Facts, schmacts. You want facts? From the interview:

ROB: Well, the highest-rated defensive coach in the history of the league is you.

REX: Right.

ROB: We can pretend there is somebody else, but there’s not. Hey, my numbers are what they are. Now, I took over some pretty lousy jobs, but that’s OK. But no one’s numbers are better than his. I’m talking about Dick LeBeau’s; I’m talking about Belichick; I’m talking about all of them. Hell, even our dad. Who is the best that ever laced them up? Well, I’m just saying. To be the best defensive coach in football, I’ve got to learn from the best, so I came here. It’s been how many years since we’ve been together? He’s not learning anything, but I am. Look at some of his protégés. Bob Sutton is doing a fantastic job in Kansas City. Chuck Pagano was with Rex. He spun off a ton of great coaches, and it is going to be fun to be a part of that.

Here’s the thing, the Ryans are very bright defensive coaches with an in-the-trenches-with-you bedside manner that invites massive huge loyalty from their players.

But there’s also an outsized sense of pride and ego that both men seem to have that causes them to get caught up in style over substance.

Rex wanted to build a bully in Buffalo. His Bills talked tough before facing the Patriots last September and came unhinged in the first half, effectively taking themselves out of the game before it began. 

The Bills have an terrific array of defensive talent even with the loss of Mario Williams this offseason. They added Shaq Lawson and Reggie Ragland in the draft – both well-regarded players who could have early-career impacts. They have the pieces. But they had them in 2015 as well and underperformed. The fact is, Rex is in a “prove-it” season. Even though he points out in the interview that his family has coached in six Super Bowls, three of those were coached by Buddy Ryan, two by Rob and one by Rex. In 66 combined seasons of NFL coaching. Belichick’s coached in eight by himself in 42 NFL seasons. The results are lacking.

It is worth noting before I put a bow on this that respect for Belichick isn’t lacking. The interview is chock-full of references to Rob’s time with the Patriots from 2000 to 2003.

“All the respect in the world for Bill Belichick,” said Rob. “That was fantastic training working for him for four years, and I learned a ton. Look, he is the No. 1 nemesis of every coach in this league. So it’s not just Rex. Now, I think if you ask their offensive staff, the worst they ever play is against Rex. People say, “well, he hasn’t beat them [nine out of the last 10] tries.” Yeah, well, he has beat the hell out of that offense. I am sure the respect is mutual. But I know one thing, we are going to beat them. We are together, we’re going to beat the best. It’s two against one. Him one on one against any coach in the league, that guy is pretty damn good. And he’s also got his best buddy Tom Brady with him. He trained him, and he single-handedly made him great as well.”