Hightower (knee), Amendola (head) missing from Patriots practice

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Hightower (knee), Amendola (head) missing from Patriots practice

FOXBORO -- Both Dont'a Hightower and Danny Amendola were missing from the start of Wednesday's practice at Gillette Stadium, raising key questions on both sides of the ball before the Patriots take on the Saints this weekend. 

First, there's the on-the-field component. 

If Hightower misses time with an MCL issue (suffered in the third quarter of the season-opener), that could potentially leave the Patriots vulnerable at two spots in their front-seven. He was used on the edge against the Chiefs, and when he left newcomer Cassius Marsh saw significant snaps. When healthy, Hightower also has the ability to move back to the middle of the defense and serve as the team's primary communicator. Pre-snap chatter on the defensive side of the ball was an issue Jerod Mayo highlighted during the latest Quick Slants the Podcast, and he thought moving Hightower back to the middle may help iron out some wrinkles in that area.

As for Amendola, if he is sidelined, then the Patriots will be without their top slot option behind Julian Edelman. In his absence, the Patriots could turn to Chris Hogan to play on the inside more often. They could also opt to utilize their backs as pass-catchers more frequently. The Patriots could be very short on numbers at the receiver position if Amendola (six catches, 100 yards versus the Chiefs) misses time, with Brandin Cooks, Hogan and Phillip Dorsett as the only players at that spot. 

Second, there's the emotional component. 

The Patriots were already without two of their emotional leaders against the Chiefs with Edelman out for the year and Matthew Slater inactive with a hamstring injury. But in the third quarter, after Hightower and Amendola left the game, the team went on without two of its most respected players. 

There are plenty of Patriots behind that group who can lead: Tom Brady, obviously; Devin McCourty and Rob Gronkowski, both captains; Duron Harmon and David Andrews, two newly-named captains. But in a loss like theirs against the Chiefs, when players openly admitted after the game that they lost some energy going into the fourth quarter, perhaps the team could have used an emotional lift that it never received.

Those are a few of the issues to keep in mind if both Hightower and Amendola continue to miss time moving forward. We'll have an updated injury report from today's fully-padded practice later on Wednesday afternoon.

Watt: Brady, Belichick hurricane relief donation 'speaks volumes about their character'

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Watt: Brady, Belichick hurricane relief donation 'speaks volumes about their character'

JJ Watt ended up raising over $37 million for his Hurricane Harvey relief fund online. As it turns out, that number got a bump from a couple of his rivals in the AFC.

According to The Houston Chronicle, Watt told reporters on Wednesday that Bill Belichick and Tom Brady were among the over 209,000 people who donated to his fundraising efforts.

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"That's  an incredibly kind gesture and shows what kind of people they are and speaks volumes about their character," Watt said. "They're good people."

Watt will square off against Brady and Belichick when the Texans visit Gillette Stadium on Sunday. Belichick said on Wednesday that his team will have to focus on Watt, who was injured and unavailable during last season's Divisional Round matchup between the two clubs. 

"The quickness that J.J. has with the power that he has is a pretty rare combination," Belichick said. "On top of that, he’s got great length and he’s got a great motor. You're not talking about a 6-foot-1 guy. You’re not talking about a guy that takes plays off. You’ve got to deal with his length, his power, his quickness on every single play. That in itself is difficult. He just wears guys down with effort and toughness.

"Then when you take the skill that he has and combine it all together, that puts him at a very – I mean you're talking about the best defensive player in the league for more than one year. He's got a lot going for him and he’s facing it every week. It’s not like he’s sneaking up on anybody. You know when you’re playing him that he’s going to get some extra attention. Every team knows where he is and every team is trying to make sure he doesn’t ruin the game, yet he’s still very, very disruptive. He’s a great player."

Belichick describes UDFA strategy: Be honest with the plan, give them a shot

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Belichick describes UDFA strategy: Be honest with the plan, give them a shot

FOXBORO -- The Patriots have had a number of undrafted rookies arrive to New England and have success. Malcolm Butler is an obvious example. Same goes for newly-named captain of the offensive line David Andrews. Last year it was Jonathan Jones who made an impact as an undrafted player out of Auburn. This year defensive lineman Adam Butler is leading the charge among a trio of undrafted rookies who've made the club.

Why is Bill Belichick's club able to land players who weren't drafted but still may be coveted around the league? How do successfully find players who fit?

That they're willing to pay doesn't hurt. They shelled out a significant amount of cash for linebacker Harvey Langi and tight end Jacob Hollister after this year's draft, both of whom made the 53-man roster out of training camp. 

But the other parts of the formula are reasonably straight-forward, and Belichick explained them on Wednesday: Have a consistent message, be honest with players before they arrive, then give them a chance. 

"I know I've talked to other players, we all have, that have been at other teams, other organizations," Belichick said, "and a lot of times the player will make comments along the lines of, 'My coach wanted me to do this, but my coordinator wanted me to do that, or my coordinator wanted me to do this, but my coach wanted me to do that. Or a personnel guy drafted me to do this, but the coach wanted me to play this way, or somewhere else. Sometimes within an organization or within a team between the head coach, the coordinator, the position coach, personnel, scout director, GM, whatever -- sometimes, whether that's in college or in the NFL -- sometimes it's not a totally consistent message.

"One of the things I tell the players is that whatever message I'm giving you, that's the way it's going to be. That collectively as a staff and as the head coach, we're gonna all be on the same page. Whatever it is I'm telling you, whatever it is the position coach is telling you, we've already talked about that and it's gonna be consistent. I think if you have any questions about it, there's always somebody who can verify it, be it another player or another coach or another somebody that that person knows that that player knows or his representatives or somebody that can verify that, yeah, that's the way it was in these other examples that we can usually cite based on our longevity.

"I just believe in being honest with a player. If it's not what he wants to hear, then that's OK. Then we're both probably better off with a different decision. I'd want to hear from the player, how he really feels, not him trying to sell me something because that doesn't really help us either. Guy tells you something and that's not really what it is, and it doesn't work out, then that's sometimes probably why it doesn't work out. I try to be as honest as I can with a player.

"Sometimes things change. If that happens, I'll tell the player that. 'This is what we brought you here for, this is what we want you to do, but look here's the situation we're in now so we need for you to move and do something differently than what we talked about. I'll tell the player that. That comes up from time to time because that's -- we're not really being dishonest about that. That was my intent with the player. But because of circumstances, that may change, and I want to do what's best for the team.

"Most of the time I'm able to tell the guy pretty clearly what we envision him coming in as and what the opportunity will be and that it'll be up to him to compete in that situation and make the most out of the opportunity. If that's him doing it or somebody else doing it, I can't control that. I can't control performance. I can just control opportunity and situation to a degree. Then from there it's up to the player. But that's how I've always tried to do it."

Take Adam Butler as an example. Belichick met with Butler at Vanderbilt and liked what he saw. He couldn't guarantee a spot for Butler if he ended up with the Patriots, but he told him what he liked about Butler's game -- namely, his versatility -- and how it might work out. 

It has worked out, as Butler has played 45 snaps against the Saints, which was second among Patriots defensive linemen behind only Trey Flowers. 

"When Adam and I were at Vanderbilt and we met down there, that's one of the things we talked about. That's one of the reason we were interested in him was his versatility," Belichick explained. "When he wasn't drafted, we had a conversation on the phone about signing here after the draft, we talked about that again, about how his versatility would be a big attribute for him coming here if he could make that work, which I'd say he has to a degree. That's one of his strengths.

"He did it at Vanderbilt. I saw that when we watched film. We went through his different roles in the defense, in regular and in sub. I thought he explained them very well to me, he had a very good understanding of how he was playing when he was on the nose, on the guard, as a 5-technique in their 3-4 defense and so forth. How it changed and what he needed to do differently and how he would adapt his technique or his read based on the different positions.

"It was clear to me he had a very good understanding of that. He's been able to do that here as well. Not perfectly by any means, but good and getting better. That's been a big asset for him is being able to do different things for us: play inside and outside, and run situations and pass situations, and run games and so forth. We've given him a lot. He's been able to handle it."

It sounds like the opportunities will continue to come for Butler so long as he continues to earn them. As was the case with Malcolm Butler, David Andrews and Jonathan Jones before him.

Hard to argue with the formula.