Justin Francis was back on the practice field today, and that's good news for the Pats. Although in a way, it's pretty amazing that it's news at all.
Admit it, you'd never heard of Justin Francis before this season. You might not have heard of him after three weeks. I don't think I did. Yet slowly but surely, you started to hear his name.
He made his first play in Week 9, an assist against Buffalo. He made his first tackle three week later at Miami. He had two tackles and two assists in Week 14 against San Francisco, by which point his name started sounding familiar.
There's Francis again . . .
You know, this Francis kid is always around the ball . . .
Then, in the season finale against the Dolphins, Francis exploded with the first, second and third sacks of his NFL career. He was suddenly a viable presence on the Pats defense line.
So it was at least somewhat worrisome when Francis skipped practice on Tuesday. But far more comforting to see him back there today, with the hope that he'll continue to make a name for himself here in New England. (And that shouldn't be too hard, considering his Wikipedia page is only three sentences long.)
And yes, I know. That's still three sentences longer than mine.
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NFL Network draft expert Mike Mayock quarterbacked a marathon conference call with reporters from around the country on Monday in order to shed some light on the prospects who will compete at the combine later this week. One thing that stood out? He's not ready to crown anyone in this year's crop of draftable signal-callers.
As a result of the dearth of pro-ready talent at quarterback, Mayock recognized Patriots backup Jimmy Garoppolo as perhaps the top target for any quarterback-needy team. Garoppolo might interest the Cleveland Browns in particular, Mayock noted, because of the number of picks they have near the top of the draft.
"In my opinion," Mayock said, "if I'm the Cleveland Browns and I've got No. 1 and No. 12, if I came away with either [defensive end Myles] Garrett or [defensive tackle] Jonathan Allen at No. 1, and gave up the 12th pick in the draft to get Garoppolo? I would be stoked.
"I would feel like I had a difference-maker on defense and we had a quarterback on offense. Now let's get to work. We got five in the first 65 picks. Let's get to work. From my perspective, especially looking at the quarterbacks this year, if they gave up No. 12 and could get Garoppolo, I'd be all over that."
As the Patriots so often like to do, they promoted from within to fill an open coaching position on Monday.
The team announced that they've named Nick Caley as their tight ends coach, filling the vacancy left behind when Brian Daboll accepted the offensive coordinator position at the University of Alabama last week.
Caley was a coaching assistant with the Patriots for the past two seasons after spending a decade in the college ranks at John Carroll (2005-06), Akron (2006-07), Auburn (2008), Iowa State (2009-11), Eastern Illinois (2012), Arkansas (2013) and Florida Atlantic (2014).
Caley is one of several John Carroll products -- including director of player personnel Nick Caserio, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and assistant quarterbacks coach Jerry Shuplinski -- working for the Patriots at the moment. He graduated from the Jesuit university situated just outside of Cleveland in 2006.