FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Intrigue with Boutte: Rookie wide receiver Kayshon Boutte was hoping to avoid attracting a media horde at his locker last week. So he pointed to a far, tucked-away corner of the locker room as a place he'd be more comfortable for an interview, and led a reporter in that direction.
The sixth-round pick from LSU figured he'd be a popular subject after leading receiver Kendrick Bourne was lost for the season to a torn ACL and with veteran DeVante Parker still in concussion protocol, but something still felt off to him.
"My whole big thing is, 'I didn't play since the first week, so I feel like I did nothing.' So there's nothing to talk about," he said while sitting in an empty locker for practice-squad players near one of the exits. "Maybe when I do something, we can talk. As of now, there's really nothing."
The Patriots might have something in Boutte, and in a disappointing 2-6 season, his status is among the team's intriguing storylines entering Sunday's home game against the Washington Commanders (1 p.m. ET, Fox).
He has been inactive since playing 55 snaps in a season-opening loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. On the last of them, he failed to get a second foot down along the sideline as a potential winning drive stalled on fourth down. Putting Boutte on ice led some to wonder if he'd fallen out of favor with coach Bill Belichick because of that final play. Boutte, however, has never believed that was the case.
"I don't feel like I'm in the doghouse," he said. "Looking back at the first game, I know that I can get open. I know how to create separation. That's why I'm comfortable with myself.
"I didn't get my second foot down, but you know, watching it and rewatching it, I understood that the way [cornerback Josh Jobe] placed his hand and pushed was the reason why. Once I watched that and understood, I had more comfort in myself and I wasn't beating myself up."
A likely explanation for Boutte's seven-game disappearance since is that he had been thrust into action earlier than expected as Parker missed the opener because of a knee injury and the team had no other options on the outside.
When Parker returned the following week, and the speedy, more experienced Jalen Reagor gained momentum after joining the team at the end of training camp, it allowed the coaching staff to return to its plan to give Boutte more time to develop behind the scenes.
"I've always said, a rookie receiver, it's a very difficult transition -- especially on the perimeter," offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien said of Boutte last week. "In college football, you're not always seeing the same type of coverages that you see in professional football, so sometimes the transition takes a little bit longer, but Kayshon has worked very hard and showed glimpses of what he can be. I believe in him and believe he has a good future."
O'Brien isn't alone. The 5-foot-11, 195-pound Boutte was a four-star recruit, according to Scouts Inc., out of Westgate (Louisiana) High School and chose to attend LSU over several other SEC schools.
He had some initial flashes of brilliance -- including one game as a freshman against Mississippi in which he totaled 14 receptions for 308 yards and three touchdowns -- before a combination of injuries and being called out by coach Brian Kelly for a lack of focus and commitment led to a downward trajectory. He eventually declared for the NFL draft after initially stating his intention to return to LSU in 2023.
Because Boutte was still available when the Patriots were on the clock in the sixth round (No. 187), Belichick, along with director of player personnel Matt Groh & Co., deemed it a reasonable spot to roll the dice on his potential.
Now, the Patriots enter Sunday with Reagor, rookie slot Demario "Pop" Douglas and veteran JuJu Smith-Schuster atop the wide receiver depth chart. Then it's 2022 second-round pick Tyquan Thornton (if his foot injury allows) and Boutte, with Belichick noting Friday that this was probably Boutte's best week of practice.
Boutte said he's motivated to let Bourne and Parker know he can be part of filling their voids, and other teammates have noticed his work over the past week.
"That dude, he can play anywhere on the field," Smith-Schuster said. "He can move. Really fast. Great hands. He's getting better every single day."
2. Thornton's injuries: Three days after O'Brien noted the obvious, that injuries have slowed Thornton's development, the 2022 second-round pick from Baylor landed on the injury report again Friday, this time because of a foot issue. Thornton's rail-thin, 185-pound frame sparked concern in some circles when the Patriots traded up to select him. Fair or not, those who sounded alarms look prophetic as he has missed time because of collarbone (preseason/regular season 2022), hamstring (spring 2023) and shoulder (training camp/regular season 2023) ailments ... and now possibly his foot.
3. OT ROI: The Patriots' two big offseason free agent signings at offensive tackle -- Riley Reiff (knee) and Calvin Anderson (illness) -- are now on injured reserve. Reiff (1 year, $5 million, with $4.15 million guaranteed) has played in just one game and Anderson (2 years, $7 million, with $4 million guaranteed) just two. Not close to the return on investment the club was banking on in what currently looks like mostly regrettable work on the free agent market (e.g., adding Smith-Schuster over re-signing Jakobi Meyers).
4. They said it: "At halftime on Sunday, that will be the halfway point of the season. So there's still the whole second half of everything this year and a lot of opportunity. ... I was on a [Dolphins] team a couple years ago that was 1-7, and we won seven straight, and before you know it, we're back on the winning side of things. Not to say that's always the case, but there's so much football out there that you have to put your best foot forward each week." -- Patriots tight end Mike Gesicki
5. Germany plans: The Dolphins, who play the Chiefs in Frankfurt, Germany, on Sunday (9:30 a.m. ET, NFL Network), have spent the week there after traveling Monday. The Chiefs traveled Thursday, which is similar to the itinerary the Patriots plan to follow this week leading up to the Nov. 12 game against the Colts at Frankfurt Stadium. That means the Patriots will have most of their game plan installed and the majority of their practice time completed before boarding the flight. The Colts are doing the same thing.
6. Austin's arrival: Rookie cornerback Alex Austin, who signed with the Patriots on Thursday, had made a solid behind-the-scenes impression on the Texans as a developmental option on the perimeter but got caught in a roster crunch due to a run of injuries along the offensive line. That led him to New England, which had an open roster spot and a desire to build more depth at the position. Austin played sparingly in three games for Houston, with Belichick noting his extensive preseason tape (77 snaps, 8 tackles, 1 pass defensed) as a key factor in the team's evaluation.
7. Kickoff decline: Patriots captain Matthew Slater pointed out that the team has covered just eight kickoffs through eight games this season and has returned seven. For context, the team had covered 17 kickoffs at this point last season, while returning 18. It all reflects Slater's growing belief that the NFL wants to eliminate the play. "It's very disappointing," he said.
8. Run D: Other than wins as the top priority, a popular topic among defensive linemen in the locker room is how the unit is faring against the run. Defensive tackle Davon Godchaux asked a reporter for the ranking last week, which highlighted one of the team's silver linings: The Pats are second in the NFL in yards allowed per carry (3.4) and ninth in average rushing yards allowed per game (97.9).
9. Did you know? -- Part I: Commanders coach Ron Rivera is 2-0 all time against Belichick, the wins coming in 2013 and 2017 during his Panthers tenure.
10. Did you know? -- Part II: The Patriots are 0-4 outside of AFC East play this season and have six consecutive non-division losses dating back to last season. That is the team's longest such streak since losing seven straight in 1995.