Can the Patriots again have the NFL's No. 1 scoring defense?

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Can the Patriots again have the NFL's No. 1 scoring defense?

Covering the NFL for almost 20 years allows you to make relationships with a bunch of people. So I thought I'd tap into some of those people as we gear up for New England Patriots training camp for a series of pieces about topics we've been kicking around.

The panel consists of one former Pats player still in the game, two scouts of AFC teams, one front-office member in the AFC, and one NFC scout. They all requested anonymity for obvious reasons (as the player said, "Hey, I might want to end up back there!") I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I had talking to these guys.

OTHER TOPICS


Today's topic: Was that No. 1 scoring defense a year ago repeatable?
 
Scout 1: Why the hell wouldn’t it be? From a talent perspective, they’re better. {Stephon] Gilmore is an upgrade over Logan Ryan. [Trey] Flowers this year, with another year of experience, is better than Flowers from last year. I’m a big believer in their three safeties [Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon]. With a secondary like that, even if it takes them time to find a consistent pass rusher, they’ll still be effective. I like the addition of David Harris too. He’s not the player he once was but to me, that’s a major league upgrade over the mismatch of bodies they used alongside [Dont'a] Hightower once Jamie Collins got sent away.
 
Scout 2:
Look, you can’t dismiss the numbers from last year. You just can’t. But I never thought they were ALL that. You have the best offense in the league. You have teams consistently chasing points. And you have an intelligent coaching staff that says, "Okay, take all the underneath stuff you want. Eventually, you’ll have to try and make a scoring play and that’s where our playmakers take over." The fact that group showed discipline is a feather in their cap, but I think they’ll miss Logan Ryan more than most do, and I think wear and tear are showing on Chung and a couple of other guys that will test their depth. They’ll be Top 10, maybe even Top 5 -- and that’ll be more than good enough -- but I don’t see a repeat. 
 
Scout 3: I’m not a fan of the Gilmore signing. I think his effort was inconsistent in Buffalo and his performance was too. Do you think [Bill] Belichick and [Matt] Patricia will tolerate that? Maybe they have no choice because of the contract and the need to make it look right, but I’d be surprised if there weren’t some hiccups there. Then you wonder how that plays with the guy across from him [Malcolm Butler]. He deserves to get paid. It didn’t impact Logan Ryan. He kept showing up, no matter how he was deployed. They aren’t a great pass rushing team to begin with and that was with [Rob] Ninkovich. I think to expect some of those journeyman types - [Kyle] Van Noy, [Shea] McClellin - to aid the rush is probably wishful thinking. Oh sure, they’ll scheme up some pressures and whatnot, and that defense will still be in the upper half of the league but I don’t see similar numbers. I just don’t.
 
Front office executive: I just looked at their schedule. This isn’t last year just based on that and that alone. [Drew] Brees. [Cam] Newton. [Jameis] Winston. [Matt] Ryan. [Philip] Rivers. [David] Carr. Some of the best receivers in football: Michael Thomas, [DeAndre] Hopkins, Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson, Julio Jones, [Demaryius] Thomas and [Emmanuel] Sanders in Denver, [Amari] Cooper in Oakland. That’s a pretty good reason to go out and make the Gilmore signing. I know they pride themselves on not allowing the big plays but with that group, eliminating them entirely will be difficult. And if you make that your mission, then there are catch and run plays to be had underneath. That will put pressure on what I would consider an underwhelming group at DE/OLB. Never mind if something happens to Hightower. I trust Bill and the defensive coaches to make the necessary adjustments and even go out and do something before the trade deadline to address a shortcoming.
 

Hightower happy to be back in New England following free agency

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Hightower happy to be back in New England following free agency

FOXBORO -- Dont'a Hightower met with reporters to talk football on Wednesday morning at Gillette Stadium, the first time he had done so since signing an extension with the Patriots back in March.

About five months later, no regrets.

"It’s good. I’m glad I didn’t have to relocate," Hightower said with a smile. "Stressful, but glad it’s over with. Glad I’m here. I’m glad I’m back on the field now."

Hightower, who was removed from the physically unable to perform list on Wednesday, explained that there was a point during the free agency process at which he believed he might end up playing elsewhere. 

"Yeah, it’s free agency," Hightower said. "But it is what it is. It’s over and done with now. I’m here."

On spending his career to this point in New England and being a member of the Patriots, Hightower added: "It’s meant a lot. I’ve been here my whole career. It wasn’t a hard change for what I had in college, so I was definitely used to it. So it wasn’t a big change. I feel like I’ve had a lot of success in programs like this. Alabama and New England are not too far different. The culture around here, the teammates, the coaches is second to none anywhere. When it came down to my decision, it wasn’t too hard of a choice."

Brady recalls scrubbing rooftops, cleaning industrial parks as a Michigan intern

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Brady recalls scrubbing rooftops, cleaning industrial parks as a Michigan intern

FOXBORO -- Tom Brady's not sure if he'll be able to get back to Ann Arbor as he and the Patriots spend some time this week in the state of Michigan leading up to their preseason game against the Lions on Friday. He's hoping he'll be able to sneak over at some point. Maybe he'll have an opportunity to talk to the football team.

On Wednesday, Brady described his time at Michigan as the "pit stop" of his life's journey from California to Massachusetts. It's also representative of the midpoint of his life now in a way since he spent 18 years growing up on the West Coast, and now he's in his 18th year in New England. 

As part of his college experience, Brady learned what it was like to work a job that didn't involve throwing a football. As it turned out, those experiences didn't provide much in the way of on-the-job training for his eventual career. But he didn't know he was going to become a Hall of Fame quarterback. When the fifth round came and went in 2000, he said on Facebook back in 2014, he figured those summer internships during his Michigan days and the resume they beefed up might help him land a gig that would pay the bills. 

"Those were good experiences," he said Wednesday. "I was at Michigan in the summer. You work different jobs, you get a scholarship check, but you're trying to afford -- like all of us were -- our coll experience. I worked in construction. Worked at a golf course to play free golf. That's what I liked to do. Worked at a festival at night so I was working two jobs. It was good experiences. It really was hard work."

And it might have taken his appreciation for playing football -- something he plans to do at an age when most players have been retired for a decade or more -- to a different level.

"I've been so fortunate to do something I love to do," he said. "I've said for a long time, working out and training and being on the practice field never feels like work for me. That definitely felt like work when you're cleaning up industrial parks and scrubbing the tops of roofs and stuff like that. Man, I was pretty tired at the end of those days."