McDonald brings versatility to Patriots offensive line


McDonald brings versatility to Patriots offensive line

FOXBORO -- When Nick McDonald passed his physical and came off the PUP list, it looked like the Patriots were stacked at center.

McDonald spent his sophomore year on New England's practice squad until December. Once called up, he started at center twice in December against the Colts and Redskins. He was good insurance for Dan Koppen and Dan Connolly, certainly.

It appeared the rookie Green Bay cast off after 2010 turned into a nice little pick-up for the Patriots.

He could end up even better.

McDonald has gotten reps up and down the line during camp, but upped the ante last Thursday by taking snaps at tackle. Count Bill Belichick among those who are impressed.

"We don't have a lot of depth at tackle, so he was probably the most experienced -- not that he has a lot of experience," the coach said, "but still the most experienced guy who also has the athleticism to be able to play the position.

"I thought he did a pretty good job out there for not much practice. He hadn't done it in a couple years and went back out there and really did a pretty credible job. That was great to see."

True, McDonald hasn't played tackle since his days at Grand Valley State in Michigan, but the Patriots can't currently afford to ease him back in. Offensive line depth is too much an issue.

The Patriots toil through camp without the help of guard Brian Waters (not reported) and tackles Sebastian Vollmer and Markus Zusevics (both on PUP). Guard Logan Mankins returned to action Sunday, but it's hard to say where offseason ACL surgery leaves him. With tackles Matt Kopa and Kyle Hix missing practice for rehab, New England is left with a trio of rookies rotating in: Darrion Weems, Dustin Waldron, and Kyle Hill. Undrafted free agent Derek Dennis was brought in to help at guard.

You see the problem.

"There aren't many offensive linemen in the league that can play all five spots," said Belichick. "If he could do that, that would be very valuable to our football team."

Ah, yes. Versatility -- the most seductive trait a player can offer the Patriots coaching staff. Though if McDonald knows what he's got, he's not bragging about it.

The player was presented with Belichick's praise early Sunday evening. Reporters asked about the added challenge and responsibility of playing all over the line.

McDonald shrugged.

"You've just got to know everything. You've got to expect what the coaches want in different spots," he said. "You've got to get your nose in the book; you've got to know everything. It's what they expect out of you.

"It's not really that different," he insisted. "Scheme-wise it's different -- you've got to know different assignments. But playing center you know what the guard's doing; playing guard you know what the tackle's doing, so it all kind of works together."

Exactly what the Patriots are hoping for.

NFLPA tells rookies to be like Rob Gronkowski

NFLPA tells rookies to be like Rob Gronkowski

Rob Gronkowski is a model citizen in the NFL. In fact, the NFL Players Association is advising rookies to be more like Gronk, according to The Boston Globe

The New England Patriots tight end has developed a name for himself on and off the football field. With that attention comes branding. And at the NFLPA Rookie Premiere from May 18 to 20, the NFLPA encouraged rookies to develop their own brand -- much like Gronkowski.

“Some people think he’s just this extension of a frat boy, and that it’s sort of accidental,” Ahmad Nassar said, via The Globe. Nassar is the president of NFL Players Inc., the for-profit subsidiary of the NFLPA. “And that’s wrong. It’s not accidental, it’s very purposeful. So the message there is, really good branding is where you don’t even feel it. You think, ‘Oh, that’s just Gronk being Gronk.’ Actually, that’s his brand, but it’s so good and so ingrained and so authentic, you don’t even know it’s a brand or think it.”

Gronkowski's "Summer of Gronk" has indirectly become one of his streams of income. The tight end makes appearances for magazines and sponsors. Because of his earnings from branding and endorsements, he didn't touch his NFL salary during the early years of his career.

Gronk was one of three players who were the topics of discussion during the symposium. Dak Prescott and Odell Beckham were also used as examples of players who have been able to generate additional income from endorsements. Beckham, in particular, has been in the spotlight off the football field. He's appeared on the cover of Madden, and just signed a deal with NIke which is reportedly worth $25 million over five years with upwards of $48 million over eight years. His deal, which is a record for an NFL player, will pay him more than his contract with the Giants.

“A lot of people talk to the players about, ‘You should be careful with your money and you should treat your family this way and you should treat your girlfriend or your wife.’ Which is fine. I think that’s valuable,” Nassar said, via The Globe. “But we don’t often give them a chance to answer the question: How do you see yourself as a brand? Because Gronk, Odell, none of those guys accidentally ended up where they are from a branding and marketing standpoint.”

Tom Brady delivers video message at funeral of Navy SEAL

Tom Brady delivers video message at funeral of Navy SEAL

Tom Brady delivered a video message last week at the funeral of Navy SEAL Kyle Milliken, a Maine native and former UConn track athlete killed in Somalia on May 5.

Bill Speros of The Boston Herald, in a column this Memorial Day weekend, wrote about Milliken and Brady's message.   

Milliken ran track at Cheverus High School in Falmouth, Maine, and at UConn, where he graduated in 2001. Milliken lived in Virginia Beach, Va., with his wife, Erin, and two children.  He other Navy SEALs participated in a training exercise at Gillette Stadium in 2011 where he met and posed for pictures with Brady.

Speros wrote that at Milliken’s funeral in Virginia Beach, Va., Brady's video offered condolences and thanked Milliken’s family for its sacrifice and spoke of how Milliken was considered a “glue guy” by UConn track coach Greg Roy.

Milliken had served in Iraq and Afghanistan, earning four Bronze Star Medals and was based in Virginia since 2004.  He was killed in a nighttime firefight with Al-Shabaab militants near Barij, about 40 miles from the Somali capital of Mogadishu. He was 38.

The Pentagon said Milliken was the first American serviceman killed in combat in Somalia since the "Black Hawk Down" battle that killed 18 Americans in 1993. 

In a statement to the Herald, Patriots owner Robert Kraft said: “It was an honor to host Kyle and his team for an exercise at Gillette Stadium in 2011. It gave new meaning to the stadium being known as home of the Patriots. We were deeply saddened to hear of Kyle’s death earlier this month.

“As Memorial Day weekend approaches, we are reminded of the sacrifices made by patriots like Kyle and so many others who have made the ultimate sacrifice to defend and protect our rights as Americans. Our thoughts, prayers and heartfelt appreciation are extended to the Milliken family and the many families who will be remembering lives lost this Memorial Day weekend.”