The New England Patriots concluded the OTA portion of their offseason program with a practice Friday. This session, unlike the one Thursday, was closed to the media.
The Pats are scheduled to open mandatory minicamp next week. While evaluations and storylines should be abundant during this upcoming three-day period, here are some closing notes as this phase of New England’s offseason draws to a close:
Uche Making an Impact
During the OTA practice session Thursday, most eyes were on the return of long-time Patriots defensive captain Dont’a Hightower. While it was great to see the Pats’ veteran linebacker back on the field, another member of the Pats depth chart has continuously performed at a high level.
Second-year linebacker Josh Uche has made the most out of his opportunities this offseason.
The former Michigan Wolverines standout continues to display the tenacity and high football acumen that made him a highly touted selection in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft. In the limited portions of practices open to the media thus far, Uche has shown great speed off the ball.
Thursday was no exception. Early in practice, he tested Trent Brown on a speed rush and then easily maneuvered around rookie tackle Will Sherman. Per Evan Lazar of CLNS Media, Uche “smoked" Sherman during 11-on-11s with a 'ghost' move where he fakes a punch and dips underneath to turn the corner.” With Uche showing this much promise so early in his preparations for the 2021 season, it will be interesting to see how he looks when the team begins padded practices.
Bolden to Wear 25 in ‘21
When the Patriots take the field for mandatory minicamp next week, one of the stalwarts of the Patriots' offensive backfield will be sporting a new number. For running back Brandon Bolden, the choice to switch from 38 to 25 was both personal and heartwarming.
Via an Instagram post Thursday, Bolden explained that he will be wearing 25 this season as a tribute to his grandfather, former Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Frank Pitts. Pitts was a member of the Super Bowl IV championship Chiefs team and has been an influential force in Bolden’s life.
Patriots PR Staff Among the NFL’s Elites
The Patriots media relations staff recently was recognized as a 2021 nominee for the Pete Rozelle Award by the Professional Football Writers of America (PFWA). The Rozelle Award is given to the NFL club public relations staff that consistently strives for excellence in its dealings and relationships with the media.
The award is named for Rozelle, NFL commissioner from 1960-89, who started his distinguished career in sports PR roles. Rozelle used his public relations principles as commissioner to build relationships with the media during a period of unprecedented growth and challenge for the league.
New England’s staff was nominated alongside its counterparts from the Denver Broncos, Pittsburgh Steelers, Tennessee Titans and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
In the end, it was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers staff that would win the 32nd Rozelle Award, largely in part for their dealings with the media during the team’s Super Bowl-winning season, as well as the addition of high-profile free agents such as former Patriots Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski.
Congratulations to Patriots Vice President of Media Relations Stacey James and staff on being recognized among the elites of NFL public relations.