Brian Hoyer, left, has looked sharp this summer and completed 12-of-14 for 147 yards and two TDs in The Patriots 31-3 win against Detroit in the preseason opener.
1. How many QBs on final roster? When Tom Brady was coming off a torn ACL that sidelined him for all but 15 plays of the 2008 season, coach Bill Belichick made what was a surprising decision entering the 2009 season by rostering just two quarterbacks: Brady and then-rookie undrafted free agent Brian Hoyer.
What will he do this season?
Two games into the preseason, this is one of several roster-related questions that will soon be coming to the forefront. Belichick’s decision in ’09 was surprising, in part because The Patriots let go of Kevin O’Connell, who had been drafted in the third round the year before. And also because it thinned the insurance policy behind Brady, who was coming off the injury.
Since that time, The Patriots have kept three quarterbacks on the roster just twice — in 2011 with Brady, Hoyer and third-round pick Ryan Mallett, and in 2016 with Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo and third-round pick Jacoby Brissett. This has allowed them to keep another player on the roster who has a more likely chance to contribute on game day.
The quarterback locks this season are obviously Brady and fourth-round pick Jarrett Stidham, which means Belichick must ultimately decide how much he values Hoyer’s place on the team. Hoyer, 33, has been very sharp in recent weeks, making it a strong likelihood of keeping three quarterbacks.
“You can’t really worry about that. My approach is to just be the best I can be, and I think that will be good enough,” Hoyer said this week. “It’s not something I’m really concerned with. If anything, I’m trying to push the guy ahead of me, and I love being in that room with him. We have such a healthy competition on a daily basis, and I know that’s made me that much better since I’ve come back.”
Hoyer’s return has come with a new perspective after suiting up for Pittsburgh, Arizona, Cleveland, Houston, Chicago and San Francisco.
“With the type of career I’ve had, you just worry about the present. And you enjoy it,” Hoyer said. “Especially being part of this organization. With the ups and downs I went through over the years, to be back here, and be a part of something as special as this, I appreciate it so much more than I think I ever knew I could have the first time I was here (2009-11).”
2. McDaniels’ value grows: In Belichick’s remarks at The Patriots’ Super Bowl ring ceremony in June, he was complimentary of offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, saying how happy he was that McDaniels decided to stay with the organization when he could have instead become the Colts’ head coach. McDaniels’ value to The Patriots has arguably never been higher. This is partially a result of Belichick taking on more of the defensive coaching load (he can do so knowing the offense is in good hands), but also because the personnel at wide receiver and tight end isn’t as strong as it has been in the past. When you look up at Thursday’s practice and see that Brady is throwing to a top receiver trio of undrafted free agent Gunner Olszweski of Division II Bemidji State, veteran journeyman Dontrelle Inman and 2018 sixth-round pick Braxton Berrios — and 38-year-old Benjamin Watson is the top tight end — the appreciation for McDaniels’ work grows when the offense doesn’t seem to miss a beat. The return of wide receiver Josh Gordon from suspension should also help.
3. Gordon’s reinstatement part of NFL shift? Gordon’s conditional reinstatement was met with surprise by some around the NFL, such as new ESPN analyst/longtime NFL head coach Jack Del Rio, because of how quickly it happened. It is well-documented that Gordon and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell have developed a rapport, and perhaps that played a part in it. But I wonder if it might be more about a shift in the league’s thinking on these types of situations; the idea that working with players to support them is a better alternative than banning them. The players, of course, have to be able to meet their end of the bargain.
4. Checking in on Brady’s camp: After Brady was given a day off on the second practice of training camp, he hasn’t missed a session since. So much for rest for the 42-year-old. Oh, and he’s been as sharp as ever. One of the things that stood out in practices with the Titans is that his footwork and ability to slide and step up in the pocket is still there, along with the arm strength to make all the throws. Brady’s practice intensity is as still high. “They call him the GOAT for a reason. It’s crazy, but from OTAs, to training camp, to the preseason games, he has the same mentality,” said Inman, who is in his first season in New England after playing with the Chargers, Bears and Colts. “He always turns it on, and I guess he doesn’t turn it off until he sleeps.”
5. Practice through Belichick’s eyes: The Titans allow reporters to watch practice on the field, which at one point last week provided an opportunity to be alongside Belichick on the end line as he oversaw a red zone 7-on-7 passing drill with the top defense. This sparked a greater appreciation for what he looks for in terms of communication and switches with defensive backs, and truly, how much coordination there needs to be with the unit each play. The Patriots might have their deepest secondary in Belichick’s 20-year coaching tenure, and they locked down the Titans pretty good in the drill, which had Belichick fired up. One thought I had: This was “ThroWBAck Bill,” to his old days in the ’80s as Giants defensive coordinator.
6. Brissett’s chance to match the hype: With Colts quarterback Andrew Luck sidelined with an ankle injury, it has once again thrust Brissett into a top role. Colts coach Frank Reich has talked up Brissett as a “top 20” quarterback, and based on how Brissett’s time in New England ended in 2017 with his development plateauing, I’m intrigued to see if he can match the hype. Brissett is 5-12 as a starter, with a 59% completion percentage while averaging just over 200 yards passing per game. Those numbers, including his 58 sacks, fall well outside the top-20 range.
7. Ryan has McCourty-like presence in Tennessee: Arriving at the Titans’ facility early Wednesday morning, three hours before practice, the sun was just coming up and there was one player on the field working in solitary — former Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan. Now in his third season in Tennessee, Ryan is a pro’s pro always working at his craft, having taken much of what he learned in New England from Darrelle Revis, Devin McCourty
8. Did You Know: The Patriots enter the 2019 season with 113 regular-season wins this decade, needing three regular-season wins to move past the Colts’ record of 115 wins from 2000-09 for the most regular-season wins in a decade.
9. A decade later, Mayo and McKenzie back together: A nice moment from Patriots-Titans practice came when Patriots inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo and Titans inside linebackers coach Tyrone McKenzie walked onto the field together, as it served up a reminder of the passage of time. Mayo (2008 first-round pick) and McKenzie (2009 third-round pick) spent plenty of time together as players in The Patriots’ linebacker room, but McKenzie’s career never took off in New England after he tore his ACL as a rookie. McKenzie was well-liked and his path to the life inspired many. Now he’s rising in the coaching ranks, working under Titans defensive coordinator Dean Pees, who was The Patriots’ coordinator from 2006 to 2009.
10A. Patriots fans show up in Nashville: The Patriots’ fan base, and the number of those who showed up for practices with the Titans, made an impression on the locals. In 2018, the Titans held joint practices with the Buccaneers and the crowds were much lighter. The crowds, with some lining up 2-3 hours before the gates officially opened, helped create an added energy to two competitive practices with the teams.
Day 2 of Patriots-Titans joint practices and Patriots fans – once again – are lined up early at St. Thomas Sports Park. pic.twitter.com/Q19Y5r8rWX
— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) August 15, 2019
10B. Belichick’s country music request: A Belichick smile at the interview podium isn’t a regular occurrence, but a final question from Dan Roche of WBZ-TV on Thursday sparked one. Roche asked Belichick if he had any country music requests for the team’s final practice in Nashville, and Belichick seemed to like the outside-the-hash-marks question, even though he didn’t answer it. Perhaps Belichick just needed a little more time, as he ultimately put in the request for “The Boys of Fall” by Kenny Chesney. And while he was at it, Belichick — who was born in Nashville — also picked his friend Jon Bon Jovi’s tune “Who Says You Can’t Go Home.”