- The reigning MVP and the rest of the AFC champs have assembled, all together, for the first time since their Super Bowl loss. After a lot of water under the bridge, everything looks ... normal? ... in Foxborough. Plus, questions on Dak and Derek, Dez and Darnold, helmets, anthems and more
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — At one point during Tuesday’s first day of Patriots minicamp, it kind of, sort of looked like we finally had our Tom Brady-Bill Belichick showdown after all the months of drama.
The coach cursed into the wind after his first offense jumped offside. And the players were just finishing the attendant lap when Belichick started barking instructions more forcefully, and with colorful language, in Brady’s direction. The quarterback walked by him, without raising his head, back towards the huddle.
Was Brady blowing his coach off? Actually, no. As Brady passed the incensed leader of the New England dynasty, it became clear that Dwayne Allen was actually the target of the tirade. And that was actually the story here.
If you didn’t know any better, you’d never know there was ever an issue here watching the two-hour practice. In fact, Brady and Belichick didn’t interact with each other at all from what I could tell over that time. But that’s not unusual, and so this was back to business as usual as much as it possibly could be.
We’re going to get to your questions in a minute, but I figured this is where we’d start my first mailbag column, because you have the right to know everything from Brady’s first practice of 2018. And since I figured the Patriots would talk about having Brady back in the saddle as if nothing ever happened, the best use of my time at Gillette Stadium would be to actually keep a log of it.
So that’s exactly what I did. Buckle up. This roller coaster’s leaving the platform.
11:09 a.m. ET: Brady jogs out on his own, through a tunnel of media taking video then feverishly working said content up on to social media (yup, I’m guilty).
11:12 a.m. ET: Brady has his helmet on now and is throwing with receiver Chris Hogan and BS’ing with offensive linemen. Here we go!
11:15 a.m. ET: Brady takes his first snap since Super Bowl LII, lightly dropping back out of the gun (it’s a walkthrough) and finding fellow returnee Rob Gronkowski in the right flat. Then he connects twice with Kenny Britt, then Rex Burkhead, then Philip Dorsett.
11:22 a.m. ET: Brady takes a light jog, then stretches, looking pretty pliable.
11:29 a.m. ET: Stretching ends and Brady heads over to position drills. He’s now taking drops with assistant QBs coach Jerry Schuplinski and equipment manager Brendan Murphy swinging bags at the ball.
11:33 a.m. ET: Coordinator Josh McDaniels comes over for the back half of the drills, and Brady, Brian Hoyer and seventh-round pick Danny Etling start throwing to Murphy, serving as a stationary target. Brady finishes the drill by uncorking a rope in between the hashmarks at the 35 to the back right corner of the end zone. Touchdown!
11:38 a.m. ET: Shotgun handoff drills with the running backs, and a line-spacer. Three minutes in, they do handoffs from under center. My buddy Phil Perry notices the QBs are wearing gloves on both hands. Maybe to prevent another crazy freak cut like the one Brady suffered in January? Maybe.
11:43 a.m. ET: The gloves are off, and now Brady is throwing flat routes and corner routes to the backs, while Etling and Hoyer are on the other end of the field throwing to the receivers and tight ends.
11:48 a.m. ET: Brady’s now in passing skeleton with all the skill guys, throwing on air. He takes the first snap with the first group, throwing an outbreaking route to James White. Takes two crisp snaps, then Hoyer jumps in. Hoyer wraps the period with a dime to Gronkowski over Jordan Richards. And Gronk yells, “Woo woo!”
11:53 a.m. ET: More passing skeleton. Tempo’s picked up.
11:58 a.m. ET: The horn sounds, and we’ve got our first 11-on-11 period! Alas, these are run-game drills. Brady’s handoffs are, again, pretty damn smooth.
12:03 p.m. ET: The backups are in, and Brady’s on a knee talking to a team staffer at the fieldhouse end of the field ahead of another walkthrough period.
12:14 p.m. ET: Brady snaps back up and makes the first throw I’ve seen in practice to his buddy Julian Edelman.
12:18 p.m. ET: Horn sounds again, and Brady’s taking the first snap during a 7-on-7 third-down drill. He calls out the mike, and hits Burkhead underneath.
12:24 p.m. ET: Brady’s running 9-on-7s now with the tight ends and backs. Six minutes in, he switches fields with Brian Hoyer, who’d be running with the backups, and takes a knee behind a group that Etling is now leading.
12:35 p.m. ET: Brady’s still with the 1s (I actually wondered if he’d go through a one- or two-day demotion, to prove a point) as 11-on-11 work starts. He completes his first throw to Jeremy Hill, and takes four more reps before …
12:38 p.m. ET: The aforementioned false start leads a lap for him and the whole offense. (Brady finishes fourth on that lap, if you’re keeping score).
12:44 p.m. ET: This isn’t the toughest work—Brady and the quarterbacks are just dumping the ball off to other skill guys in a tackling pursuit drill.
12:48 p.m. ET: Special teams work has begun on the near field, and so Brady takes Edelman, Dorsett and Britt go the far field to get work in. Soon thereafter, a couple coaches and corner Eric Rowe join them. And then Gronk. Reunited!
12:51 p.m. ET: The kickoff team is working, and Brady and Gronk are hanging out on the sideline. Conversation looks animated and jovial.
12:52 p.m. ET: Time for red zone—and, my God, that’s Hoyer taking the first snap while Brady hangs back over McDaniels’ right shoulder! Etling’s chillin’ with Schuplinski, in case you’re wondering.
12:55 p.m. ET: Here comes Tom with the 2s! First throw, touchdown to Hogan. “That’s it, 12!” someone yells. After a couple plays, the field goal team rushes out, then Brady comes back on the field for a second down and throws for six again, this time to Jordan Matthews.
1:00 p.m. ET: High five exchanged between Brady and McDaniels.
1:01 p.m. ET: More 11-on-11 work, with Brady back with the first group, throwing first to Cordarelle Patterson. After a handful of snaps, he’s out hanging out with Hoyer.
1:09 p.m. ET: No-huddle time, and Brady is sharp. The reigning MVP completes six straight to guide the offense down the field. Coming back in the other direction, he airmails one over Riley McCarron’s head, then hits four more.
1:14 p.m. ET: Whistle blows, and Brady, Hoyer, Etling, McDaniels and Schuplinski gather for a post-practice stretch.
1:17 p.m. ET: Another whistle. Belichick gathers the team.
1:19 p.m. ET: Players start filtering off the field, and Brady and Edelman retreat to run some routes on a far field.
1:24 p.m. ET: Edelman’s heading for his press availability, and now Allen’s working with Brady.
1:26 p.m. ET: Brady, sans shoulder pads and helmet, jogs off the field.
And with that, your roller coaster has slowed to a stop.
Seriously, I’ve been around the Patriots since 2005, and this was pretty much as normal as it gets. Which, as you might’ve ascertained if you listened to Belichick’s pre-practice presser, was really the idea of this average June day in Foxboro. We all may have been treating it like an event. This story sure does. But Belichick and the Patriots weren’t feeding into that.
“I don’t think it’s really about who is or isn’t anywhere,” Belichick said. “It’s about each of us individually trying to make the most out of our opportunities to get ready for the season. That’s what we’re all doing.”
That’s just in case you were wondering. And now, on to the mail …
From @onewarriorr: Which QB is entering the season with more pressure—Dak Prescott or Derek Carr?
Of those two, and putting this in relatable, real-life terms, I’ll say it’s Prescott. He’s where Derek Carr was going into 2016—needing to prove himself worth the life-changing money that could be there for him after the season, when he’ll be eligible for a second contract for the first time. Dez Bryant’s gone, so is Jason Witten, and it’ll be on him to become the kind of distributor the Cowboys believe he can be without the burden of having to feed stars the ball. Zeke Elliott and the line getting back to their 2016 form wouldn’t hurt either. Other QBs under big pressure? Here are five: Ryan Tannehill, Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Blake Bortles and Joe Flacco.
From @NYCKING: Should the Jets start Sam Darnold in Week 1 or wait until later in the season?
My belief is there’s a very good chance that Sam Darnold wins the Jets job in camp and starts the Monday night opener in Detroit. And if he earns it, I think playing him is the right move, largely because of who he is. The risk in playing a young quarterback early is that he’ll lose confidence if he has an inability to take hits and/or to compartmentalize mistakes. Darnold showed last year at USC that those things won’t be a problem for him. So if he’s the best QB in August, and the Jets’ line isn’t a tire fire, roll him out there.
From @Naly_D: Why is nobody signing Dez Bryant?
First, he’s clearly not the player he was, which we’ve written extensively here on the site. Second, you have to wonder about his financial expectations if he turned down the deal ($7 million APY) that Michael Crabtree got in Baltimore. It’s not unusual to see vets used to making top-of-the-market money take some time to get comfortable with the idea of making a lot less—and some wind up waiting to see if there’s an injury somewhere that might cause a team to act with some desperation. If I had to guess, I’d say that’s where Dez is right now.
From @Hardycharchar: Will the Browns regret passing on Bradley Chubb?
Passing on a premium edge rusher—and a potential game-wrecking combo of Chubb and Myles Garrett—with the fourth pick was a risk by GM John Dorsey, to be sure. But my understanding is that the Browns felt like Denzel Ward actually had higher upside than Chubb did coming out, based on his raw athleticism and the fact that he really only had one year as a full-time starter at Ohio State. Plus, corner was clearly a much bigger need for the team.
From Ian St. Martin, Vancouver, B.C.: The [new helmet rule] is intended to prevent defensive players from using their helmets as weapons. So why not just change their helmets, soften the tops/leading surface and make them so that they’re not weapons? I've thought this for years—it would actually reduce concussions on helmet tip impacts, as it would allow for a greater redistribution of force if the leading surface had some give to it. It would be less protective from blunt forces to the top of the head, but since those are self-initiated, there shouldn’t be a problem. Has anyone in the league ever seriously investigated this solution? I’m thinking of something closer to a rugby helmet in the crown area than to a modern football helmet, but with an engineered area to absorb force, not just soft padding.
This email, Ian, reminded of Mark Kelso’s giant helmet pad from back in the day. And since I know others have better knowledge of this than me, I reached out to a source who worked on the concussion case. He responded by saying, “There’s every indication this would help and no reason to think the league hasn’t heard that for decades.” He attached this picture of a helmet worn by Chiefs legend Willie Lanier, which is on display at the Hall of Fame in Canton …
From Patrick Kopp: With the controversial anthem policy becoming official, what implication do you think this will have in terms of the draft and free agency? For example, would a player be more inclined to play for a team like the Jets, whose owner has been a supporter of peaceful protesting, as opposed to a team such as the Texans or Cowboys, whose owners have continuously been against kneeling or protesting during the national anthem?
This is a fair question—especially considering the way the trade of Duane Brown from Houston to Seattle went down last fall. And I think certain players might consider it. But in the end I still believe money will remain the driving force in most of these decisions for players, given how fleeting almost every player’s earning power is. And given that most of human beings largely base those sorts of decisions on money. After money, usually fit and role are factors. The bottom line is, for most players I think it’d be at most a tiebreaker when they’re making a call. Some, like Brown, may consider other issues more. But it’s important to remember, too, that Brown already had a lot of money in the bank, and was on a big contract, when he was dealt.
From Joe Wingard, Tulsa, Okla: How do you feel about this idea to make a change to the salary cap—Seeing how every state has different tax laws, how would you feel if the cap was adjusted, so at the end of the day every team had an equal playing field money-wise after accounting for the state tax?
There’s no doubt that agents make players aware that there’s a serious difference playing in, say, Texas or Florida, which have no state income tax, versus playing in California or New Jersey, where state rates are high. And so I get the question. But when I posed it to one agent, his response was that the owners would be awfully careful about creating any sort of rules based on taxes, because they’d want to protect their own interests. Where I think this question would get interesting is if the league ever put a team in Toronto or London, where taxes could be a serious problem for players.
From @jsbigredguy: Nice to read MMQB with the focus largely (96%+) on football. Congrats on gig. Originally discovered your work when you reported for NFL Network.
Figured this would be a good one to wrap up on. I appreciate everyone who reached out after Monday’s column went up (was scrambling a little to do it, having done my last Game Plan four days earlier). And I think we all realize how high the bar is that Peter set, which is part of what’s exciting about everything that’s coming next. I can promise you that most of what I do, and Peter was this way too, will be focused on football. I genuinely love the sport—it was easily the sport I most wanted to cover when I first got into this business, and I’m pretty lucky that I get to cover it at its highest level. And my hope is that’s reflected in everything I do. We’ll still cover the big-box NFL stories that aren’t 100 percent football, of course. But I think we all know what you’re here for, which is really what I’m here for, too.
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