Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Vinatieri among kickers for Patriots to scout: Bill Belichick will turn 68 on Thursday, and while he adopts a “Younger Next Year” approach, he also has been reminded of his football longevity on parts of the scouting trail.
Consider this unique story: Belichick’s team has a notable vacancy at kicker, and one of the rookies for him to assess before this year’s NFL draft is South Dakota State’s Chase Vinatieri.
Does the last name ring a bell?
Chase Vinatieri was in the stands when his uncle, Adam Vinatieri, also a South Dakota State alum, coolly delivered game-winning field goals for Belichick’s Patriots teams in Super Bowls XXXVI and XXXVIII to kick-start a two-decade dynastic run of success. The nephew also was present when the Patriots hung on to win Super Bowl XXXIX.
“There are bits and pieces I do kind of remember — being at the [team] hotel, conversing with him before and after the games. I do remember how much of a celebration it was for him and our family,” the 23-year-old Vinatieri said in an interview with ESPN.com. “Now, I just go back and rewatch the YouTube videos of his kicks.
“Just recently, they were on TV, so as my family sat down and hung out, we rewatched those Super Bowls. It’s different now, being older, where I can understand what happened and how high-stakes they were.”
Chase, the son of Adam’s oldest brother, Chad, is now back home in South Dakota after spending two months working with Mike McCabe of One On One Kicking in Birmingham, Alabama. The Patriots are familiar with McCabe from his pre-draft work with Ryan Allen, whom the Patriots signed after the 2013 draft; he served as New England’s full-time punter from 2013 to 2018.
Like other prospects, Vinatieri had his pro day canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, so now he waits to see what will unfold during the draft (April 23-25). This year’s kicker class — which the Patriots are evaluating with the same urgency as they did in 2006, when they replaced Adam Vinatieri with fourth-round pick Stephen Gostkowski — is headlined by Georgia’s Rodrigo Blankenship, Georgia Southern’s Tyler Bass and UCLA’s JJ Molson. ESPN analyst Todd McShay ranks Chase Vinatieri fifth.
“From watching the draft the last few years, maybe one, two or three kickers get drafted, and so realistically, it’s more likely I’ll be an undrafted free agent,” said Vinatieri, who ranks third in SDSU history in field goals made (47) and points scored (374). “I’m definitely OK if that’s what it is. I’m just looking for a team to give me an opportunity.”
That was the same mindset his uncle took in the mid-1990s, when he went from South Dakota State to the World League, before hooking on with the Bill Parcells-coached Patriots at the start of a Hall of Fame-worthy career.
Chase, like Adam, wears jersey No. 4. At 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, Chase said he prides himself on being a football player, and not just a kicker.
Belichick is sure to smile at that thought. After all, that’s exactly how he used to describe Adam Vinatieri.
2. Stidham’s commitment to his craft: Patriots players who have been allowed to report to Gillette Stadium per NFL rules during the coronavirus pandemic, to specifically receive treatment from medical/athletic training staff, have made note of the presence of second-year quarterback Jarrett Stidham, among a small handful of others. Ultimately, Stidham’s on-field performance will determine whether he is elevated to the top spot on the depth chart, and no one wants to put more pressure than necessary on the 2019 fourth-round pick; but one thing some teammates have already come to respect from Stidham is his year-round commitment to his craft.
3. Prospects who fit the Patriots profile: Part of the fun of NFL draft season is playing the role of amateur scout, getting to know the background of some of the prospects, and then making the connection of how they would fit for the Patriots. Here are a few who stand out to me at what I view as the top positions of need.
Quarterback: James Morgan (Florida International) — Graduating magna cum laude with a prelaw degree is a reflection of his intelligence. He was a two-year captain, and he is built to last with some intriguing traits to mold.
Wide receiver: James Proche (SMU) — Production through the roof, lining up at multiple spots in a passing offense, with added value as a returner. He also was a team captain.
Tight end: Cole Kmet (Notre Dame) and Adam Trautman (Dayton) — Two of the highest-rated players in a year when the tight end crop isn’t considered deep, they both have some solid physical traits and off-field intangibles. On a related note, Trautman also had been recruited by Harvard, which has a solid recent NFL track record at the position (for example, Cameron Brate, Ben Braunecker, Anthony Firkser).
Center/guard: Matt Hennessy (Temple) — He could have played at Harvard or Yale. Hennessy is smart, and he was a team captain. His quickness would fit well in the Patriots’ zone-blocking scheme.
Edge: D.J. Wonnum (South Carolina) — He was a three-year captain with uncommon length who blocked two kicks. One can almost see Belichick smiling as he envisions an immediate role on the field goal rush unit.
Linebacker: Logan Wilson (Wyoming) — With high-end production and durability, and a projection as a core special-teamer from Day 1, put Wilson on the radar. Furthermore, his makeup and playing style (plenty of coverage responsibilities) could nicely complement bigger/more rugged linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Ja’Whaun Bentley.
Highly Quarantined discusses whether Tom Brady’s Players’ Tribune article make things better or worse for Patriots fans.
4. Follow-up on Brady’s interview: There was plenty to digest from Tom Brady’s two-hour interview on Wednesday with “The Howard Stern Show” on SiriusXM, much of which has been well-dissected at this point. Brady’s acknowledgment of marriage strain a few years ago, and how he was motivated to resolve it, was especially human and soul-bearing. One of the questions many would ask Patriots beat reporters over the years is, “What is Brady really like?” and that part of the interview spoke volumes to me.
5. More on the Brady-Belichick dynamic: Brady shared in the interview with Stern that he didn’t care for the debate over what his career would be without Belichick, and vice versa. That provided a springboard for ESPN Stats & Information to dive into some numbers, across the NFL, of longtime QB/coach combinations and how they fared when split. Including the playoffs, Belichick and Brady had a winning percentage of .769. Belichick’s winning percentage in his career without Brady (including the playoffs) is .462.
Here are some other notable coach/QB combinations for which there were drastic differences:
Bill Walsh/Joe Montana (.680) — Walsh with others: .427 (119 games without Montana)
Chuck Noll/Terry Bradshaw (.684) — Noll with others: .468 (189 games)
Marv Levy/Jim Kelly (.643) — Levy with others: .434 (106 games)
Tony Dungy/Peyton Manning (.736) — Dungy with others: .549 (102 games)
Tom Landry/Roger Staubach (.733) — Landry with others: .549 (323 games)
Pete Carroll/Russell Wilson (.688) — Carroll with others: .485 (101 games)
Dan Reeves/John Elway (.627) — Reeves with others: .473 (223 games)
6. Parker sheds light on potential Patriots staff shift: University of Rhode Island wide receiver Aaron Parker, who projects as a late-round pick, shared insight on how Belichick might be moving some pieces around on his offensive coaching staff. In an interview with Yianni Kourakis of WPRI in Providence, Parker discussed FaceTiming with Patriots assistant coach Mick Lombardi, who inquired on how he was training before they broke down film. Lombardi was the Patriots’ assistant quarterbacks coach last season, but a move to receivers (alongside Troy Brown) could make the most sense to fill the void created by Joe Judge’s departure to become the New York Giants’ head coach. That would likely mean newly hired Jedd Fisch (with a notable history of working with young quarterbacks) and Josh McDaniels team up to work with Stidham, veteran Brian Hoyer and a soon-to-be-added third signal-caller.
7. Did You Know? Only two NFL players have been traded three times since January 2017: wide receiver Brandin Cooks and defensive end Michael Bennett; and the Patriots were involved with both.
8. Gostkowski pays homage to Vinatieri: Former Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski was a guest on the Patriots Talk podcast on NBC Sports Boston last week, and it was fitting that he conducted the interview from his home with an Adam Vinatieri Indianapolis Colts jersey behind him. Gostkowski and Vinatieri swapped jerseys after a Patriots-Colts game a few years ago.
When Gostkowski was drafted in the 2006 fourth round to replace the legendary Vinatieri, who had surprisingly departed to Indianapolis as a free agent, it was such a big deal that the Boston Globe devoted its often-anticipated football season-preview section to the kicking game.
That was unprecedented.
As a staff writer for the Globe at the time, I earned the assignment to travel to Gostkowski’s hometown of Madison, Mississippi, to learn more about him. Fourteen years later, he leaves as the franchise’s all-time leading scorer.
9. A time for top new tandems to emerge: Brady targeted Julian Edelman 156 times last season, which was the most of any quarterback/receiver combination, according to ESPN’s Stats & Information research, followed by Philip Rivers/Keenan Allen (150) and Deshaun Watson/DeAndre Hopkins (148). This means that 2020 will be a season for new top tandems to emerge, as those combinations are no longer on the same team.
10. Patriots Hall of Fame committee meets on Monday: It’s time to begin narrowing the candidates for induction to the Patriots Hall of Fame, with the 28-member committee scheduled to meet virtually on Monday afternoon. Every former Patriots player or head coach who has been retired for at least four years is eligible for consideration, with a fan vote ultimately deciding the one inductee each year. Linebacker Mike Vrabel (2001-08) has been a finalist each of the past four years, while defensive lineman Richard Seymour (2001-08) has been so the past three. One point that resonates for me: Seymour has been a Pro Football Hall of Fame finalist the past two years, and if he can make that list, it’s overdue for him to earn his spot in the Patriots’ Hall.