FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes on the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. While he had a few hiccups in Thursday’s preseason opener, cornerback Stephon Gilmore has been one of the Patriots’ most consistent players throughout training camp. He has locked down the team’s No. 1 spot on the depth chart, and in a quiet moment after a practice last week, I talked to him about finally landing in a situation with some stability.
Consider the head coach/defensive coordinator combinations he has played under since entering the NFL as a first-round draft choice of the Bills:
2012: Chan Gailey/Dave Wannstedt
2013: Doug Marrone/Mike Pettine
2014: Marrone/Jim Schwartz
2015: Rex Ryan/Dennis Thurman
2016: Rex Ryan/Rob Ryan (assistant head coach for defense)
2017: Bill Belichick/Matt Patricia
2018: Belichick/Brian Flores
While the Patriots have a change on D with Patricia departing, it’s essentially the same defense, which Gilmore said wasn’t the case when similar changes unfolded in Buffalo.
“Out of all my years I had different coaches, it changed a lot and I had to learn new stuff. You have to make it work. But this year is pretty much the same stuff, so I’m looking forward to it,” he said.
One of the tenets of good player development is that the chance to grow in the same system -- assuming it’s a good fit for the player -- leads to the best chances of success.
Along those lines, Gilmore makes no excuses, and has viewed it as a positive as he enters his second season in New England.
“You learn to play everything, and adjust on the fly, so I’d say it’s a blessing having all those coaches. It taught me how to adjust, to play anything,” he said, before adding that he didn’t necessarily seek out stability as a free agent last year, but is pleased to have found it.
“It was a good decision,” he said.
2. While the Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady have traditionally addressed his contract situation with two years remaining, one thing that makes last week’s adjustment ($5 million in incentives for 2018) different from the past is that the deal wasn’t extended. So assuming Brady plays at a high level in 2018, the sides will be back in a similar situation at this time next year (when his cap charge rises from $22 million to $27 million). And then if Brady again has a big season in 2019, he would be scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency as he approaches a season in which he would turn 43 in the preseason. The Patriots could always assign the franchise tag in that scenario, which would be unprecedented for a quarterback at that stage of his career.
3. Fourth-year player Trent Brown is the leading candidate to replace Nate Solder as the Patriots’ starting left tackle. He’s been entrenched in that spot through the first stretch of training camp, and here is one takeaway from an extended conversation with him last week: The Patriots asked him to report to training camp at 380 pounds, but when he arrived, he said he tipped the scales at 370.
4. When Gilmore was with the Bills and receiver Eric Decker was with the Jets, they squared off twice a season. I asked Gilmore what stood out to him about facing Decker and he said the key was to watch what happens at the top of the route. “He’s very strong there, that’s what he’s good at. He’ll get you turned around,” Gilmore relayed. “We had some battles.” Decker, 31, is obviously at a different point in his career in 2018, and still has to make the Patriots’ roster. But if the Patriots could squeeze one more year out of his career, it would help them at arguably their greatest position of need. Decker, who signed Aug. 3, dipped his toes into the water by playing six snaps in Thursday’s preseason opener.
5. Thursday night’s opening toss provided a preview of what might be coming when the Patriots announce their captains: Fifth-year running back James White and seventh-year core special-teamer Nate Ebner joined Devin McCourty and Matthew Slater -- both of whom have been elected captains from 2011 to '17 -- at midfield. That’s good company to keep and a reflection of how the team is relying more on the leadership of White and Ebner.
6. When veteran Patriots safety Patrick Chung answered questions from reporters last week, he was wearing a band around his left wrist that read “Jack Strong," and it highlighted one of the nice aspects of training camp: how players connect with fans. Chung said he had met a youngster at practice Tuesday who had been diagnosed with cancer in his leg, and would be having his leg amputated. Chung exchanged his gloves for the band and told him that he would wear it until it snapped as a way to show his support. “Kids are cool,” Chung said. “The most honest people on the planet.”
7. Watching the first half of the Patriots’ preseason opener, with quarterback Brian Hoyer struggling, sparked memories of the 2008 preseason and one lesson I’ve carried with me from a reporting perspective. In that ’08 preseason, Matt Cassel had a tough outing in Tampa Bay, and I wrote that if the Patriots ever had to turn to him, they’d be in trouble. Then the regular season came, Brady tore his ACL, and Cassel was the quarterback in an 11-win season. The takeaway: Be careful of reading too much into preseason action.
8. With the NFL planning to continue its rotating-scheduling format in 2019, all but two of the Patriots’ opponents are determined, with one of the highlights a home game against the Cowboys, which will mark just the seventh time the Cowboys will play a regular-season home game in Foxborough. I’ll never forget the 2003 visit -- a 12-0 Patriots win -- because of the drama that surrounded the matchup of head coaches Belichick and Bill Parcells, who were still working through the residual effects of Belichick’s departure from the Jets three years prior.
9a. Three Brady nuggets from the NFL’s “Record and Fact” book:
He can join Peyton Manning (14) and Drew Brees (12) as the only players in NFL history to pass for at least 4,000 yards in at least 10 seasons.
He needs 21 touchdown passes (including postseason) to pass Manning for the most touchdown passes in NFL history; he currently has 559.
He needs 3,841 passing yards to become the fourth quarterback in NFL history with at least 70,000.
9b. Did You Know: Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski has led the league in scoring five times in his career, and this season he can surpass Don Hutson and Gino Cappelletti as the only player to lead the league in scoring six times.
10. Defensive end Everson Griffen, who enters his ninth season with the Vikings, has no connection to New England, and that’s why his response to Stacey Dales of NFL Network stood out to me last week. Asked about what the Vikings are trying to build, with continuity in mind, Griffen said he always looks toward the Patriots’ philosophy as the standard in that area. In an offseason when the Patriots’ approach has drawn scrutiny and headlines from Eagles offensive lineman Lane Johnson and 49ers linebacker Cassius Marsh, Griffen offered a different outside perspective.