Mike ReissESPN staff writer6 minute reading
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Quick thoughts and notes around New England Patriots and the NFL:
Insurance coverage: In a perfect football world, every player would report to training camp with a clean bill of health and be on the field for the first practice to maximize the limited time leading up to the regular season.
That rarely happens, and for the Patriots, starting right guard Mike Onwenu’s offseason ankle surgery and opening training camp on the physically unable to perform list is an example of how a “next man up” situation can come quickly to teams.
Onwenu is one of the Patriots’ best players, a key cog in helping keep quarterback Mac Jones upright. He played all but six snaps last season and was ranked an “honorable mention” in ESPN’s offseason top-10 poll of managers, coaches, scouts and players.
The Patriots will be patient with the 6-foot-3, 350-pound Onwenu, and until he’s cleared for practice after missing all on-field work this spring, they’ll get an early look at what insurance they have — a group that includes the first offensive lineman they selected in this year’s draft, Troy center/guard Jake Andrews.
“He’s a fighter, a competitive guy, a blue-collar guy. I think it’s a perfect match,” Troy head coach Jon Sumrall told ESPN.com. “If you say a ‘New England Patriot-type’ guy, Jake Andrews is not just a ‘Yes,’ he’s a ‘Hell Yes!”
The Patriots selected Andrews with the fifth pick of the fourth round, No. 107 overall. The timing of the selection, as well as the team-building strategy behind it, is remarkable.
The fourth round starts on the third day of the draft, meaning every team resets their board at that point. The overnight break, combined with teams not expecting players to still be available, explains why there were three straight trades at the start of Round 4 (the Saints, Raiders and Eagles all moved up).
The Patriots could have traded up, too, but instead saw greater value in securing Andrews, who started at right guard in 2020 and 2021 before moving to center as a senior in 2022. Sumrall understood why.
“He’s made of the right stuff and has the right kind of wiring, if you will,” he said. “Extremely tough. Dependable. A great teammate. Loves the game and the details of what it takes to be a great O-lineman. It’s a lot of fun as a football coach to coach a Jake Andrews-type guy.”
The selection also sparked a stretch in which the Patriots used two of their next three picks on offensive linemen: Eastern Michigan tackle/guard Sidy Sow (Round 4, No. 117) and UCLA guard Atonio Mafi (Round 5, No. 144). The strategy was obvious: build upward depth up front when inevitable injuries hit.
A native of Millbrook, Alabama, Andrews was a state championship wrestler in high school — a similar background to former Patriots starting guard Stephen Neal (2001-10). Sumrall said that shows up in Andrews’ game, especially with hand-to-hand combat.
He was also coached by former Patriots assistant Cole Popovich last season in Troy.
“Cole was a monumental part of what we did and how we did it,” Sumrall said. “The way he taught the style of O-line play; teaching progression and unselfishness was a lot of Patriots stuff.
“Our protection system that we ran has a lot of derivative and underlying themes from the Patriots’ system. I think it served our players extremely well to be taught an NFL style of play from a technical and schematic standpoint.”
2. Scar on Klemm: Dante Scarnecchia was the Patriots’ offensive line coach when Adrian Klemm played for the team (2000-2004). Now Klemm returns to the organization as offensive line coach — a critical hire along with offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien — and Scarnecchia likes the fit. “Adrian is a really good coach,” he said. “I was really impressed with the way he performed his exercises [in college], the demands he made of him to the players. No-nonsense guy. I think he will do a good job here.”
3. D-Hop follow-up: My biggest takeaway from receiver DeAndre Hopkins agreeing to join the Titans instead of the Patriots is that the “what if” was the deciding factor for both sides. For Hopkins, too much of the Patriots’ offer was tied to incentives. And for the Patriots, the “what ifs” of how Hopkins would fit into their program — and what it would look like if those incentives weren’t close to being reached — contributed to their more cautious approach.
4. Conditioning test: When Patriots veterans report to training camp Tuesday, they will be put through a conditioning test that former New England running back James White described during a co-host appearance on Sirius XM NFL Radio last week. White explained that players must complete 20 sprints of 60 yards each, with a short break of a few minutes in between.
“The weather can make it more difficult — if it’s hot,” he said on the “Opening Drive” program with co-host Solomon Wilcots. “You’ve got Coach Belichick watching, all the scouts watching, and it’s the fast start to camp. I know the feeling a lot of these guys are going through. Some guys are probably questioning if they’ve done enough the last five weeks. Some guys may have done too much.”
The forecast for Tuesday calls for a temperature of 88 degrees.
5. Bourne’s bounceback? Seven-year veteran receiver Kendrick Bourne was critical of himself for his performance in 2022 (35 catches, 434 yards, 1 TD) after a productive 2021 season with the Patriots (55 catches, 800 yards, 5 TDs). His hard work this offseason has made an impression, with one member of the team relaying that he had a “good spring.”
6. RB depth: The Patriots’ practice with running backs Leonard Fournette and Darrell Henderson Jr. last Wednesday reflects a combination of due diligence and recognition that they have not filled the void left by James Robinson’s release in June. No signing was imminent then, but the sides could always meet again in the future.
7. The guy’s status: One of the things left over from the spring that needs to be resolved is the status of starting defensive lineman Lawrence Guy, who did not report to mandatory minicamp for what are believed to be contract-related reasons. Guy is entering his seventh season with the team and was a captain in 2020. A modest contract adjustment, similar to what the Titans did for safety Kevin Byard, would be a nice gesture from the club for a team-first type of player.
8. Trent’s motivation: Being able to count on veteran offensive tackle Trent Brown has been a challenge for the Patriots, as evidenced by his no-show for the first day of June’s mandatory minicamp. But if Brown’s recent social media activity is any indication, he may be locked into training camp. That would help answer a big question for the team, with Riley Reiff and Calvin Anderson — both of whom had their professionalism noted by teammates this spring — next on the depth chart.
9. They said that: “He has all the potential in the world. Hopefully he keeps his head on his shoulders and makes smart decisions on and off the football field. He can be a top corner in this league [and] reminds me of a young JC Jackson.” — James White, via Sirius XM NFL Radio, on Patriots second-year cornerback Jack Jones
10. Did you know? Over the last 10 seasons, there have been only two Super Bowl winners to have a leading rusher with more than 1,000 rush yards. The last was LeGarrette Blount for the Patriots in 2016.