Ferentz-Belichick connection continues as Patriots sign free-agent lineman

Ferentz-Belichick connection continues as Patriots sign free-agent lineman

Bill Belichick knew James Ferentz's dad when James was about the size of a set of shoulder pads. Now James is under contract with the Patriots.

The team announced on Thursday that it signed the free-agent offensive lineman, along with fourth-round pick Deatrich Wise and rookie free agent Sam Cotton

Ferentz checks in at 6-foot-2, 285 pounds and spent the last two seasons with the Broncos. The 27-year-old entered the league in 2014 as an undrafted free agent out of Iowa and spent that season on the Texans practice squad. 

In 2015, Ferentz made it onto the field for 14 games and one postseason game (against the Patriots in the AFC title game) as the Broncos went on to win Super Bowl 50. Last season, he played in seven games for Denver. He was released last week. 

Ferentz's father is Kirk Ferentz, who has been the head coach at Iowa since 1999. Before manning the sidelines for the Hawkeyes, Kirk spent time in the NFL with the Browns and Ravens. Belichick gave Ferentz his first NFL gig in Cleveland in 1993 as the Browns offensive line coach. Ferentz held that title through Belichick's tenure there and moved with the team to Baltimore, spending three seasons with the Ravens. 

Belichick hired another one of Ferentz's sons, Brian, to the Patriots coaching staff in 2009. In 2011, Brian was the team's tight ends coach. The following Ferentz took over as Iowa's offensive line coach, and in January he was named the team's offensive coordinator. 

The Patriots landed a pair of Iowa products as undrafted rookies earlier this offseason, signing offensive lineman Cole Croston and running back LeShun Daniels Jr. 

Bill Belichick liked what Cyrus Jones brought as a returner vs. Texans

patriots_cyrus_jones_082017.jpg

Bill Belichick liked what Cyrus Jones brought as a returner vs. Texans

Cyrus Jones brought back four punts for 58 yards during Saturday's preseason game with the Texans, showing the vision and burst that made him a dynamic return man at Alabama and helped make him Bill Belichick's second-round draft pick in 2016.

Two of those four returns -- he also had one kickoff return for 17 yards -- stood out as Jones made "something out of nothing," as Belichick put it after the game. 

MORE: 

On the first, Jones caught a Shane Lechler boot at the Patriots 27-yard line with three Texans bearing down on him. He sidestepped Dylan Cole with a subtle move to his left, then turned on his speed. Using good blocks from Jordan Richards, Duron Harmon and Justin Coleman, Jones had himself a 32-yard gain. 

After the fact, Jones was congratulated by a large swath of his teammates on the Patriots bench. Jonathan Freeny, Jonathan Jones, Elandon Roberts, Brandin Cooks, Nate Ebner, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, James White and special teams coordinator Joe Judge all happily patted Jones on the helmet or shoulder pads to encourage the second-year corner. 

Jones has been open about how the difficulties he had holding onto the football as a rookie impacted him, but in the early going this year, ball-security has not seemed to be an issue. He muffed one punt on the first practice of training camp, he double caught another in West Virginia last week, but other than, he has handled his return responsibilities well. 

Defensively, he was involved on two long Jaguars touchdowns last week and opted not to speak with reporters afterward. Had his confidence been impacted, it didn't seem to last long. Belichick noted he liked the aggressiveness Jones showed as a returner, despite fielding one that turned into a loss of three deep in Patriots territory. 

"I though Cyrus did a good job in the return game, both in punts and kickoffs," Belichick said. "Ran hard. Ran aggressively. Made good decisions with and without the ball. Had a couple of situations where the ball either hit the ground or was going out of bounds. I thought he did a nice job."

The Patriots seem to have a solid top-four at corner with Malcolm Butler, Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe and Jonathan Jones. Cyrus Jones would seem to fall outside that group in competition for the fifth spot alongside players like Justin Coleman, Kenny Moore and DJ Killings.

But if Jones continues to show positive results in the return game, he could earn a roster spot for his abilities in that regard. Not only do the Patriots place a premium on the kicking game and the importance of field position, but if Jones could help take some of the load off of other returners like Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, there would be value in that as well.