The New England Patriots are set to begin 2021 training camp in just over a month’s time. However, the Pats continue to remain top of mind when it comes to the latest news and notes throughout the league. From the potential return of an iconic mascot, to hunting GOAT, here are some late-week highlights, courtesy of the Patriot Maven notebook:
Paging Pat Patriot
A familiar face might be finding his way back to Foxboro in 2022.
On Thursday afternoon, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that the NFL had approved the use of alternate helmet shells, thus repealing the “One Shell Rule” that had been in effect since 2013. The rule had required teams to use a single helmet for the entire season as a means of enhancing player safety. While the stickers and facemask could be altered, the helmet shell remained constant.
As such, several NFL teams were prevented from using alternate helmets of different colors. This included the New England Patriots, whose iconic white shell helmets featuring the “Pat Patriot” logo have been a favorite of the fan base for quite some time.
With the “One Shell Rule” lifted starting in 2022, the Pats now may be able to bring back their classic white helmets, and the red jerseys that go with them. In fact, some may say that it is more likely than not. The team hinted at doing so last April when it revealed it first new set of uniforms in 20 years. In a press release, the Patriots stated: “We recognize that fans also have an affinity for the red ‘throwback’ uniform and we hope to incorporate that into our uniform rotation in the future.”
As first reported by Mark Maske of the Washington Post, NFL teams will have until July 31, 2021 to inform the league about alternate helmets for 2022. Meanwhile, somewhere in Foxboro, Massachusetts, Pat Patriot is readying his three-point-stance.
Amid errant rumors surrounding his playing status in 2021, Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower continues to display his eagerness to once again suit up for the team in the upcoming season. While the defensive team captain has expressed an excitement to begin training camp, his sharp eye is focused on the regular season.
Much like all NFL fans and media alike, Hightower has the date of Oct. 3 prominently circled. For this Week 4 matchup, the Pats will welcome the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers to Gillette Stadium, including former teammates Rob Gronkowski and Tom Brady. The nationally televised, Sunday Night Football matchup arguably will be the most anticipated game of the 2021 regular season. After all, it will be both Brady and Gronkowski’s first game against their former teammates after arriving in Tampa last offseason.
Count Hightower among the Pats ready to welcome their former mates back to Foxboro, especially Brady. The pair were teammates from 2012-19, a span during which both helped the Patriots win eight division titles, four AFC titles and three Super Bowl titles.
"It's going to be good to see 12 again," Hightower told Stan Grossfeld of the Boston Globe about facing the former New England quarterback. "I've been going against him in practice for so long, I'm looking forward to playing against him."
In case you were wondering, Hightower does not seem likely to ease up on Brady in the event he is able to sack his former teammate.
"Oh, you mean, like, 'soft sacking' him? Nah, you can't do none of that stuff with him, man,' " Hightower said. "He's trying to throw touchdowns. In between the lines, it's football. I'm sure he wouldn't expect anything different."
Combine in the Commonwealth?
While Indianapolis has been the home of the NFL scouting combine for the past 34 years, the event is likely to have a new home starting in 2023. In a memo sent to all 32 teams, the league has announced that a bidding process will take place, with the hopes of securing the services of different host cities. After having been canceled amid the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, the combine will remain in Indianapolis for the 2022 season.
While Los Angeles, Miami, St. Louis and Houston have been mentioned as possible host cities, it might be unrealistic to expect Boston, or any other New England city to be added to that list.
While certainly not impossible, Gillette Stadium in Foxboro seems to be a long-shot site, at best. The combine is usually held in late February to early March. In order to give NFL hopefuls an equal chance to showcase their talents and attributes, the event should take place indoors, in a climate-controlled environment. Being an outdoor arena, Gillette Stadium does not fit the description. In addition, the region’s most prominent indoor facilities, TD Garden (Boston), XL Center (Hartford), or Dunkin’ Donuts Center (Providence), among others, are simply not large enough to host the event.
As a result, New England is largely unlikely to welcome the scouting combine in the near future.