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More Random Notes from (Brady- and Gronkless) Patriots OTAs

The Patriots made OTA practices available to the media for the second time this offseason. And I wasn’t about to let the opportunity pass without getting into not just my typical brand of expert scouting, but some hard-hitting Journalism. By using my close, personal friendship with the coach to ask the questions the others are too timid to. And when you think about it, his answer “It’s about time” works on both a real and a metaphysical level. Some random notes from the rest of the day:

–Belichick actually did get asked, in a couple of roundabout ways, about the criticism he’s taking from players like Lane Johnson saying it’s not fun to play here. And he really bared his soul in a way that was alarming. His lip quivered. His eyes glazed over like those of a lemur. He said he feels deeply hurt by the accusations because he’s always considered his players to be like his children, made to feel supported in a safe environment where they are free to express their individuality knowing they will be loved for who they are. Then pledged he would do better and sang three verses of “This is Me” from The Greatest Showman. No wait. That was in an alternate timeline. In this reality he said “We feel what’s important to us is to win” and we moved on.

–Getting a feel for the practice continues to be harder than normal thanks to the same, weird number patterns they’re using just to passive/aggressively stick their middle finger in the NFL’s eye for forcing them to wear numbered jerseys at all. For instance I mentioned last time how they’ve got the draft picks all numbered in the 50s in the order in which they were selected. So in helmets from a distance it’s hard to tell if 52 is rookie Duke Dawson or Elandon Roberts or 53 is Ju’Whan Bentley or Kyle Van Noy. And just to further mess with everyone, the program they give you leaves all rookies’ numbers blank. At some point I just want them to go all in, pay the fines and just give out random symbols. Let someone from the league office who monitors this nonsense “0.3” avoid a sack from “=” to complete a pass to “&” with the “Periodic Table abbreviation for Scandium” in coverage and “Poop emoji” making the stop.

–And the veterans are a box of chocolates too, now that Duron Harmon is wearing 21 and Jason McCourty has got 30. But since it usually takes me all of August to learn the new guys anyway, all this weirdly helps. It’s like swinging a weighted bat that’ll just make it easier when I’m facing live pitching.

–For future reference though, when you see a defensive back badly miss on a tackle, never mind the number and just assume it’s Jordan Richards.

–It’s good to see Brian Flores taking charge of the defense he’s officially-unofficially been put in charge of. At one point in a no-contact 11-on-11s where the defense broke up a pass, he screamed at someone away from the play (it might have been Marquis Flowers, but he’s not the only one wearing 59), “You did it again! Get your ass over here!” Then Belichick caught someone smiling so he pulled him out of line and made several teammates beat him with bamboo sticks like The Bird did to Louis Zamperini in Unbroken. It was tough to watch, but the message was delivered, believe me.

–The major positives are unquestionably seeing Dont’a Hightower back after not being on the field the last time the media was let in, and Julian Edelman. If there’s any issues with his running, I’ll be damned if I can spot them. Still, without Brady, I can’t help but detect a little bit of dog-missing-his-human-friend. He stayed on the upper field the whole time and didn’t take part in team drills at all. Nobody is looking forward to mandatory practices like Minitron.

–As far as the quarterbacks, on most of the drills the routes weren’t even defended. But still I saw plenty of misfires. Cordarelle Patterson having reach back on a ball behind him and so on. Not to overstate the case; they’re not Imperial Stormtrooper or Tim Tebow-level inaccurate. For instance, Etling hit Jacob Hollister deep over Jordan Richards (midseason form!). But enough that you can see the difference in Brady’s absence. I saw somewhere between six and eight PBUs, including ones by rookies Duke Dawson (off Hoyer, which was picked off by Damarius Travis), Christian Sam and JC Jackson, another by Jomal Wiltz (note: I’m not sure I want to go into a big playoff game relying on a DB with that complete sentence for a name) and one by Kyle Van Noy. Along with tentpole movie sequels and outdoor concerts, I’m afraid this is going to be the recurring theme of the summer.

–After one bad snap, Etling got a personal visit from Ernie Adams. I think. I don’t ever remember seeing Ernie Adams actually talk to a player at practice so I’m not ruling out that either A) He’s actually Belichick’s alter ego, the Tony Clifton to his Andy Kaufman, or B) The real Ernie Adams astral-projected himself from whatever secret lair hidden under a dormant volcano he operates out of. But whatever coaching fine point he gave him, don’t be surprised if the 7th rounder becomes the next Elway.

–There was a little moment of coaching right in front of us in a drill with running backs running corner routes. Sony Michel looked to hit all his marks and caught a pass at the marker, but Ivan Fears pulled him aside and went over some subtle nuance that the untrained eye couldn’t see. It’s just one of those things that demonstrate how he’s been doing the job here for 22 years.

–The Lane Johnsons and Cassius Marshes would probably be happy to know that after one of his players deserted, Belichick invoked the Roman Legion practice of Decimation, where he took every tenth remaining man and put him to the sword. But they were all UDFAs, so it’s no big loss. It’s really true what they say about the lack of fun here.