FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. The Patriots capped off their mandatory three-day minicamp on Thursday by presenting returning players their 2017 AFC championship rings inside the team auditorium, according to multiple members of the roster. The ceremony is naturally different from the raucous party that owner Robert Kraft has hosted at his home to hand out Super Bowl rings in the past, as it is much more understated. But one similarity is that Kraft addresses the team (and makes a significant financial commitment with the rings), and players said the essence of his message was that while it wasn’t the ring that he hoped to present them, the only thing worse than losing a Super Bowl is not being in the Super Bowl at all. Kraft pointed out that it took the franchise 25 years to win its first AFC championship and that he never wants to take conference championships for granted. In contrast, the Patriots have won nine conference championships in the last 25 years. Players said Kraft applauded their work ethic and relayed that a big part of his success is surrounding himself with good people and that he has had the good fortune of being surrounded by some of the greatest coaches, players and teams in NFL history.
2. Picture what it would be like for tight end Rob Gronkowski to receive his AFC championship ring Thursday and share some poignant emotions of the way last season ended with ownership, the coaching staff and his teammates, and then to have rumors swirl out of control on social media less than 24 hours later about whether he could be traded. Gronkowski told reporters at a local football camp on Saturday that he viewed it as "fake news" and his comments highlight one of the most common gripes players and coaches have relayed when discussing today's media culture: The divide between what is often being talked about and speculated upon, and what is actually taking place inside the team's facility, has arguably never been wider. Specific to Gronkowski, here's what I believe to be closest to the truth: Once he visited with Bill Belichick on April 24 to open the lines of communication and declare his intentions to play in 2018, the team was fully committed to him, as he was to the team.
3a. Trent Brown and first-round draft choice Isaiah Wynn teamed up as the top left tackle and left guard, respectively, in the Patriots' mandatory minicamp. They've developed a quick bond off the field as well, in part because Brown was told by former 49ers teammate Louis Murphy -- who like Wynn hails from St. Petersburg, Florida -- to take care of him. "That's my guy, he's a good kid," Brown said of Wynn.
3b. On the field, Brown and Wynn took a verbal lashing from offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia on the second day of camp for a missed assignment in a run-blocking drill, with Scarnecchia pulling them out of the drill and having them watch from the sideline. Mount Scarnecchia was erupting, his voice booming across the practice fields. Brown said he's all for hard coaching, pointing out that his father was his coach growing up, and "I've heard a lot worse from him. You take it [like] a building block and try to grow from it."
3c. One area in which Scarnecchia has been working closely with the 6-foot-8, 355-pound Brown in spring practices is hand placement in pass protection. Brown relayed that Scarnecchia reviewed his tape with him, pointing out that his hands would sometimes be down by his waist, leaving him vulnerable and in a defenseless position instead of being the aggressor and more ready to strike. It's things like that that make Brown feel he's "definitely going to be a better player by the time the season gets here."
4. When I caught up with third-year wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell at one of his offseason reading events, he mentioned how his primary goal was to be ready for organized team activities this spring and put the 2017 season behind him after missing it with a knee injury. But Mitchell was still working on the rehab field by the end of mandatory camp, which had to be a disappointment to him. The way I now view Mitchell's standing on the roster is similar to Danny Amendola in recent years: The club needs to take extra caution with him and almost plan to carry an extra receiver as insurance.
5. Veteran defensive end Adrian Clayborn, the Patriots' most significant unrestricted free-agent signing (two-year deal, base value of $10 million), seemed amused when I asked him why he always seemed to be the first player on the field for practices this spring. "I've done it the last couple years. As I've gotten older, I need to warm my body up a little bit. Nothing else to it," said Clayborn, who turns 30 on July 6. Clayborn said he also likes to use the time to go through the team's practice plan for the day, which is the type of "quiet leadership" that earned him widespread respect in Atlanta the past three seasons.
6. If Julian Edelman's four-game suspension is upheld, the Patriots won't have to count him on their initial 53-man roster, so they'll essentially get to keep an extra player they otherwise wouldn't have. While the Patriots would obviously prefer to have Edelman, that's not a bad silver lining when considering their cuts have been desired targets around the NFL. Last year, for example, the club saw four players claimed on waivers by other teams (receiver Austin Carr, tight end James O'Shaughnessy, offensive tackle Conor McDermott, cornerback Kenny Moore II), which was a league high. In 2016, they lost three players on waivers (linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill, cornerback Cre'Von LeBlanc and cornerback Darryl Roberts), all of whom have carved out solid roles with their new teams.
7. Who is undrafted Maryland cornerback J.C. Jackson? That was one of the top questions of Patriots mandatory minicamp, as Jackson took extended repetitions opposite Stephon Gilmore and seemed to be competitive against top personnel. Here are five things to know about Jackson:
Projected as a midround pick, he slipped out of the draft completely, which might have been tied to off-field issues he had early in his college career at Florida.
He spent 2015 at Riverside Community College (California) before enrolling at Maryland and playing there for two seasons. He entered the draft after his junior season.
Jackson had 17 pass deflections and four interceptions over two seasons at Maryland.
The Patriots guaranteed him $60,000, the third-highest total of any undrafted player on the team.
He measured 5-foot-9¾ and 201 pounds in the pre-draft process, running a 4.46 in the 40-yard dash.
8. Jackson's extended opportunity is a result, in part, of seventh-round pick Keion Crossen being slowed by an undisclosed injury. Crossen flashed potential in the first OTA open to reporters with an impressive end zone interception but had been working with rehabilitating players in the next four practices open to reporters. Likewise, receiver Braxton Berrios (sixth round, Miami) has also been with the rehab group. The key for Crossen and Berrios will be that they're ready for training camp, because rookies, in general, are already facing an uphill climb to catch up with the rest of the team.
9. From the hypothetical-question department: If the Patriots had been forced to cancel an offseason camp in 2010 for violating offseason workout rules, and then lost three days of organized team activities in 2016 for the same violation, and then another two OTAs in 2017 for the same infraction, what would the media reaction be? That came to mind because it's what happened to the Ravens this past week, and it seemed hardly anyone even paid attention to it. One takeaway: Because of the Patriots' success, they often seem to be held to a higher standard.
10. When I asked him Thursday about the possibility of holding joint practices during training camp, Belichick wasn't interested in previewing his plans, saying he was focused only on the short term (the team has four more OTAs scheduled for this week, with Thursday's session open to reporters). But obviously, those are the types of plans that would have to be mapped out well in advance, and the most likely possibilities would be leading into the first two preseason games at home -- against Washington and Philadelphia. Word out of Washington is that, barring an unexpected turn, there are no plans in the works, which would leave the Eagles as the most likely scenario. The Patriots and Eagles getting together again after Super Bowl LII, if it happens, could set a training camp attendance record. If any joint practices come to fruition, a more formal announcement would come in the next week or so.