FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Hogan closes the book on Patriots career: Wide receiver Chris Hogan sounded in good spirits as he came off the Carolina Panthers' practice field last week. His wife, Ashley, is expecting the couple's third child in October, and Hogan is transitioning from three seasons with the Patriots to a new home in Carolina. Here is our "exit interview" that closes the book on his time in New England:
What stands out to you most from your three years with the Patriots?
"There's so many things. Obviously, the ones that stick out are going to all three Super Bowls. All in all, I think the biggest thing I really found there was the team. That's something I probably will miss the most -- just how close everyone was and how everyone came to work every single day. We all had fun doing it. In the grind of the season, it gets hard sometimes, but everyone was in it together. For me, that was the most fun -- going to work every day with those guys and winning games. It doesn't get much better than that."
The one-handed catch in the AFC Championship Game at Kansas City -- is that a top play that comes to mind?
"Honestly, I don't really think all that much of it. It was moving the chains and trying to put ourselves in position to go to a Super Bowl. That's what I think about. And walking off the field at the end of the game, going up to Tommy [Brady] and everyone kind of counting us out and being in that moment. It was special to be part of that."
Any regrets from your time in New England?
"No. None. I was very, very fortunate to be around one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game, if not the best. One of the best coaches to ever coach. Great teammates. I miss Julian [Edelman] a little bit, going back and forth with him. I made a lot of friendships there, which I think will last the rest of my life."
You obviously enjoyed the experience. Was this a situation in which the team decided to move on?
"I'd rather not go into too much detail on that, but it's business, and I understand that. I appreciate everything that was given to me in New England -- the opportunity to go there and play -- and I'll always hold every single one of those people in that organization [in high regard]: Mr. [Robert] Kraft, Bill [Belichick]. It was time to move on, I guess. I take it for what it is. I enjoyed my time. And now I'm excited about the opportunity in front of me."
What do you look forward to most in Carolina?
"New chapter, a new opportunity to prove myself to a bunch of guys who haven't really seen much of me. These are the type of situations I like to be in. I'm really excited about it, learning a new offense and going through all that kind of stuff. Really just putting my head down and doing what I do. It's what I've been doing the last nine years that I've been trying to play this game [in the NFL] and taking advantage of all the opportunities you get."
You were often commuting from New England to Long Island on days off and weekends. How challenging are the family logistics in Carolina?
"It's something we obviously put a lot of thought into. People want to talk about the stuff that I do, but my wife is the engine that makes it all go. It will be tricky. There will be some tough times, especially with the kids getting older [twins turned 2 in March], but we're in this together, and we make it work. It will be more flights than driving on [Interstate] 95, but luckily it's a short flight, and we're both excited about this opportunity. ... The baby is due Oct. 6 -- on a Sunday, obviously [laughing]. We'll cross that bridge when we get to it, but I plan to be there for the birth of my child. That's something very special to me, and I know I want to be there for my wife and all she does for me and our family. So that would mean a lot to me to be there. For now, I'm going home [every weekend] and trying to be 'Super Dad' and take care of all my chores and try to take a little bit off her plate."
2. Patriots' possible concerns at offensive tackle: My top personnel-related observation from the Patriots' practice Thursday was seeing starting left guard Joe Thuney working as the first-unit left tackle. This was a result of 2018 first-round pick Isaiah Wynn (Achilles) and 2019 third-round pick Yodny Cajuste (calf) being not yet cleared for 11-on-11 drills and veteran Jared Veldheer informing the team earlier in the week of his plans to retire. Belichick often reminds that it's spring and there are no games tomorrow, and that is important context, but Thuney at left tackle made me wonder if the Patriots might regret not re-signing top 2018 backup LaAdrian Waddle, who departed for Buffalo on a modest one-year deal with $1 million guaranteed. At the least, Waddle could have provided insurance with a track record in the team's system as Wynn and Cajuste come back from significant injuries.
3. First impressions of first-round pick Harry: There's a long way to go, but when 11-year veteran quarterback Brian Hoyer relays that he has been impressed by 2019 first-round pick N'Keal Harry's improvement on a day-to-day basis, it reflects that Harry has made a favorable first impression on veteran teammates. Hoyer, as much as anyone, knows how challenging it can be for a rookie receiver to assimilate to the Patriots' system, and he said Harry has been fun to work with. When I watched the 6-foot-2, 228-pound Harry in practice, his large catch radius and the way he snatched the ball were notable (even as a punt returner). Harry, whom Belichick referred to as "smart," lined up in multiple spots and seemed to be decisive in knowing where he was going.
4. Old-era Patriots helping new-era Patriots: In a year when the Patriots' coaching staff has undergone significant turnover, and Belichick could still benefit from a few additions, it was notable to see former New England players Troy Brown (1993-2007) and Kevin Faulk (1999-2011) on the field Thursday as practice guests. Similar to Jerod Mayo, the Patriots linebacker (2008-2015) now in his first year as an assistant coach, the idea that Brown and/or Faulk could join Belichick's staff in the future highlights a unique dynamic that has resulted from Belichick's 20-year tenure: Connections to many early-era players remain strong, and the door is open for them to pass on their wisdom to the new generation of Patriots in different ways.
5. Eyes on the Patriots' quarterbacks: Brady not participating in voluntary organized team activities (for the second year in a row) has left the workload to Hoyer, 2018 seventh-round pick Danny Etling and 2019 fourth-rounder Jarrett Stidham. Hoyer and Etling took most of the primary 11-on-11 reps because of their experience in the system, but at one point when the team broke down by positions, Etling worked with special-teamers, and it was just Hoyer and Stidham throwing to pass-catchers. The Patriots don't often have four quarterbacks on their 90-man roster, so when Brady returns to the field, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and assistant quarterbacks coach Mick Lombardi will have to formulate a plan to maximize practice opportunities for all of them.
6. Diversity in cornerback crop stands out: This could turn out to be the most talented, diverse and deepest cornerback group of Belichick's 20-year tenure. That was one thought Thursday after watching lockdown coverage from All-Pro Stephon Gilmore alongside starters Jason McCourty and Jonathan Jones and then seeing J.C. Jackson's explosion out of his breaks (multiple pass breakups) and 2019 second-round pick Joejuan Williams' long frame and athleticism with the second group. There's also the return of 2018 draft picks Duke Dawson (second round) and Keion Crossen (seventh round), so there are a lot of options for the Patriots, depending on how they want to match up on a week-to-week basis.
7. Remembering Marquise Hill: Memorial Day weekend always sparks memories of late LSU and Patriots defensive lineman Marquise Hill, who died in an accidental drowning on this weekend in 2007. Hill was 24 at the time and entering his fourth season with the franchise. Hill's mother, Sherry, wrote a book to commemorate her son's life, "From The Cradle to the Bowl: Hero to the End."
8. Ninkovich on Chris Long's time in New England: With veteran defensive end Long announcing his retirement, I reached out to his close friend and former teammate Rob Ninkovich to ask how he viewed Long's time in New England (2016).
"It has to be hard to have your dad be a Hall of Famer when you play the same position as him. I think for him a lot of it was justification in trying to maximize his abilities -- to not be Howie Long's son -- and just be a good football player," Ninkovich said. "At one time, we were having a discussion, and I told him, 'It sucks that they gave me [No.] 50 because it can feel like a Mike Vrabel comparison all the time.' He looked at me and was like, 'Yeah, I'm Howie Long's son.' He wins that one."
Ninkovich added that what impressed him so much about Long was his work ethic, especially considering he had been financially secure from the day he was drafted No. 2 overall.
"Really, the last few years he was playing, it was for the love of the game and him wanting to do something special," Ninkovich said. "Coming from St. Louis, it was tough when you're winning a few games and some just accepted that. Then in New England to win a Super Bowl -- even though I'm sure parts of that were frustrating to him because he wasn't able to do some things he was used to doing as far as rushing the passer. The Patriots are a lot more scheme/technique-type stuff, as opposed to just pinning your ears back. I think that was a motivating factor for him after winning the Super Bowl with us -- go see how much he has left in the tank and see if he can get another [ring] somewhere else. He did and had another great run in Philadelphia, which was nice to see after the struggles he had early in his career."
9. Edelman captures punter competition: Leave it to veteran receiver/returner Edelman to accurately chronicle the main theme of the punter competition between incumbent Ryan Allen and 2019 fifth-round pick Jake Bailey (Stanford). Asked about Bailey delivering some crushing punts in practice, Edelman said bluntly: "My guy's got a boomer. But he's not very consistent." Ultimately, consistency is what the Patriots value most, and it's why the Allen/Bailey competition most likely will be determined over time, not based on a few punts. Bailey, given his draft status and edge in leg strength, figures to be given every chance to win the job.
10. "Three hots and a cot": The Patriots signed Gunner Olszewski of Division II Bemidji State (Minnesota) on Thursday, setting up a Danny Woodhead-type underdog story that is fun to chronicle when NFL teams have 90-man rosters. With Twitter follower @ErnieChiara passing along a Lakeland PBS news report on Olszewski's work at the University of Minnesota's pro day, which showed Patriots scout Steve Cargile front and center, it was clear what might have caught the Patriots' eye. Perhaps similar to Edelman in 2009, when he was converting from quarterback to receiver/punt returner, the diminutive Olszewski (swimming in his No. 72 jersey on the field) has the quickness and change-of-direction skills, in addition to a whatever-it-takes mindset, to warrant consideration as a convert from cornerback to receiver/returner. "I'd play for three hots and a cot," he told Lakeland PBS, referencing three meals and a bed to sleep in.