FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Here are some quick-hit thoughts on the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. This is a defining week when it comes to the Patriots’ plans with running back Dion Lewis, who remains on the physically-unable-to-perform list as he rehabs from a torn ACL sustained Nov. 8. Lewis’ rehab has gone well, he took part in the final practice of the spring, and if there were a Super Bowl to be played today, I believe he’d be on the field. At the same time, coach Bill Belichick always considers the big picture and builds his team in a way that positions it to be at its strongest when it counts. With that in mind, and considering Lewis’ injury history, does Belichick see value in Lewis opening the season on the reserve/PUP list to give him almost a full calendar year before he takes the field again? Lewis would miss the first six games in that scenario. I believe Belichick is considering it, and if we don’t see Lewis on the practice field by the end of this week -- as the Patriots prepare for the “dress rehearsal” third preseason game at Carolina -- that scenario becomes a much stronger possibility.
1b. Starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, slot receiver Danny Amendola and right guard Tre' Jackson fall into a similar category as Lewis, as they remain on the PUP list. By the time the Patriots return from Charlotte after Friday’s preseason game against the Panthers, preparations for the Sept. 11 opener will be shifting into higher gear.
2. When the Bills waived bruising second-year running back Karlos Williams on Saturday, one obvious question in New England was if the Patriots might be interested, given that the position is viewed by many as an area of need. From a pure football perspective, I could have seen the club considering it, even given Williams’ four-game suspension to open the season. But usually players whose names are attached to a domestic-violence situation entering the draft are ruled out, which is why I view it as unlikely (even though there were no charges against Williams).
3. The Patriots just finished two weeks of joint practices -- first with the Saints, then with the Bears -- as the workouts have been a growing trend around the NFL. There were 15 teams that held or will hold joint practices this year, and the Patriots, Texans, Saints and Buccaneers did multiple weeks. But as the numbers show, though more teams are practicing jointly, not every club is sold on the concept. The Chiefs under veteran coach Andy Reid don’t see the benefit. Ravens coach John Harbaugh might also be trending in that direction after forgoing joint practice this year.
4. Belichick is the NFL’s second-oldest head coach, at 64, while John Fox checks in as fifth-oldest, at 61. They’ve competed against each other in high-stakes games over the years -- most notably the Patriots-Panthers matchup in Super Bowl XXXVIII and more recently in Patriots-Broncos tilts -- so it was neat to watch them work together in three practices this week. Fox’s respect for Belichick and his program struck me, as did his efforts to keep things in line during the sometimes-chippy practices (e.g. going out of his way to check on Julian Edelman, who was the recipient of an unnecessary hit in a non-tackling drill). “Their hosting, the operations, the fields, they are a first-class organization, and it was good to come operate with them,” Fox said.
5. A leftover, behind-the-scenes nugget from Patriots-Bears joint practices: After Bears backup quarterback Brian Hoyer was picked off by Patriots rookie linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill on Monday, he relayed that Tom Brady came up to him and told him not to take it too hard because Grugier-Hill is a good player and had been doing that to New England quarterbacks as well. Grugier-Hill, a sixth-round pick from Eastern Illinois, who shows up on all core special-teams units and has been disruptive on defense by closing quickly and showing good ball skills, has made a fast impression on some of his teammates in New England, starting with Brady.
6. For the faithful New England college football followers: Titans coach Mike Mularkey called UMass receiver Tajae Sharpe a “pleasant pick” in the fifth round, as Sharpe continues to build momentum as a top option for quarterback Marcus Mariota. Sharpe had six catches for 68 yards on Saturday against Carolina, with Mularkey saying, “He’s made some big catches that we haven’t had here in a while.”
7. When Belichick was asked about the possibility of bringing in a veteran quarterback for the first four games of the season, he acknowledged that the club has discussed it. But what I took from his remarks is that the Patriots don't see any viable options right now and won’t be signing a player such as Michael Vick, Charlie Whitehurst or T.J. Yates just to say they have a veteran behind Jimmy Garoppolo and rookie Jacoby Brissett. If the right player becomes available or there is an injury, it could happen, but that doesn’t seem likely.
8. There has been a noticeable difference in playing time for the Patriots’ starters through two preseason games, compared to the starters of their regular season-opening opponent, the Cardinals. Consider that top New England linebackers Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower have played 57 snaps apiece through two games. Their former teammate, Chandler Jones, has played 21. That is a reflection of the different philosophies of Belichick and Arizona’s Bruce Arians.
9. I’ve made it a point to watch Belichick after games because the players from the opposing team that he seeks out reflect, to me, the level of respect he has for them as players and/or a personal connection that has meaning to him. On Thursday, he was weaving in and out of a crowd of players to find 12th-year Bears kicker Robbie Gould, who entered the NFL with New England as an undrafted free agent in 2005. The week before against New Orleans, Belichick specifically seemed to seek out third-year receiver Brandin Cooks, veteran safety Roman Harper and linebacker James Laurinaitis to shake their hands. When Belichick found Laurinaitis, who was talking with former teammate Chris Long at the time, he greeted both by saying, “Rams!” That's a side of Belichick we don't often see.
10. One last Belichick story: During a news conference last week, he was in the middle of an answer about the Long brothers -- Chris (Patriots DE) and Kyle (Bears OL) -- when he introduced Saints eighth-year punter Thomas Morstead into the discussion. Belichick was relaying how joint practices were a great benefit to the Patriots because of facing top players such as Kyle Long when he veered off by mentioning Morstead and that “you’re not going to see it any better than that if you put the ball in the JUGS machine. It’s a clinic.” When word got back to Morstead in New Orleans, one observer said he had never seen him so excited.
Sunday schedule: Media access to locker room (11:15 a.m. ET).