Sunday 7: Christian Barmore hopes to ‘finish’ quarterbacks


1 – Mac Jones is obviously at the center of everything the Patriots hope to accomplish in 2022. The NFL is QB-driven league after all, so New England’s second-year passer will be the focal point in Foxborough this spring, summer, fall and beyond.

But Jones is far from the only potential star from the 2021 draft class whose developing future could be a key factor in what Bill Belichick’s team could look like in the coming years.

In fact, it may not be crazy to think that if Jones is the foundation of the offense in New England that fellow Alabama alum and former second-round pick Christian Barmore could hold a similar spot on the defense.

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Barmore started two of the 17 games he played as a rookie last fall, finishing with relatively modest numbers that included 46 tackles, 1.5 sacks, nine QB hits and three tackles or a loss in 55 percent of New England’s defensive snaps. But the potential he has to be a dominant force on the defensive line was obvious.

“I’m real excited to be back, I cannot wait to get ready to play football again,” the energetic, fast-talking Barmore said at last week’s OTAs at Gillette Stadium.

And while Barmore’s sophomore season may not get the attention or hype of Jones’, the 6-4, 310-pound force is as focused on quarterbacks as the rest of the NFL world. Just from a different perspective.

“Finish the quarterback. That’s really my thing right there,” Barmore said of his goals for his second season, a statement that should serve as a warning for opposing passers in 2022.

Already a productive tandem in their first season together in New England a year ago, Barmore and Pro Bowl edge rusher Matt Judon have the potential to be an even more impactful presence on the Patriots defense in 2022. That’s especially true if Barmore can achieve his self-proclaimed goal to “finish the quarterback” more this coming fall.

That development could be particularly important given the many questions the Patriots’ defense faces at the linebacker and secondary spots.

2 – Many players focus intently on their physical development in the offseason, including paying particular attention to their nutrition.
Barmore and Jones both talked about it during their media sessions at OTAs last week.

“For me, it was just cleaning up my diet and I've learned more this offseason than I probably ever have about nutrition, sleep, wellness, all that stuff,” Jones said.

That led to a leaner-looking Jones, with wide receiver teammate Kendrick Bourne noting that his quarterback’s “stomach is gone.”

Even though Jones may indeed be in significantly better shape at this point in the process, he did note that having to endure the rigors of playing quarterback over a long NFL year may actually require him to put some weight back on his frame between now and September.

“I'll get a chance to bulk back up before the season starts and be able to absorb the hits,” Jones said.

Although given what he’s learned about taking care of his body this offseason, his “bulk” phase still may not include the chocolate chip cookies that he seemingly so enjoyed in the past.

3 – Speaking of Jones, the question of where the second-year quarterback ranks among NFL starters has been bandied about of late. Pro Football Network put out its list of NFL QBs and slotted Jones at No.
18 overall, just behind Philly’s Jalen Hurts and ahead of New Orleans’ Jameis Winston.

That ranking led to a discussion of Jones’ development and stature on the latest “6 Rings” podcast as well as a Twitter poll to get a feel of where New England fans believe their QB ranks.

Interestingly, 15-percent of Patriots fans believe that Jones is or will be a top-10 NFL quarterback this season, while a large majority, 59-percent, rank him somewhere between 11 and 15 in the league. Total those numbers, and nearly three-quarters of all New England fans believe Jones is in the top half of NFL quarterbacks entering his second season.

4 – Former Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel offered up an interesting perspective on New England’s current offensive coaching staff this week, using his experiences with the team back in his rookie season of 2005 as foundational insight. That was the first season after Charlie Weis left his New England offensive coordinator job to become the head coach at Notre Dame, leaving Josh McDaniels to take over the Patriots offense, though not the coordinator title.

Cassel told NBC Sports Boston that, “Josh was running the offense” in 2005, though Belichick and even longtime offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia had significant contributions to the process.

Based on last week’s OTA practice and what Belichick has revealed about his post-McDaniels coaching staff, Joe Judge and Matt Patricia will be key voices on this year’s offensive staff. Judge is coaching Jones and the quarterbacks, while Patricia is working with the offensive line.

According to Cassel, Judge’s role with the quarterbacks would seem to give him the inside shot at calling plays, at least based the quarterback’s experiences in plenty of NFL stops.

“Usually that's the case," Cassel said of the play-caller being in the QB room. "There's the most communication in those individual meetings as a quarterback group. If your OC isn't the one there, they can miss communication. They can miss how a quarterback is seeing certain things, suggestions taking place. I've never been in a room where there isn't a coach in that room calling plays. Seven teams and 14 years, there's never been a voice on that phone that hasn't been in that room."

5 – While the Patriots are trying to find someone to step into the offensive coordinator and play-caller role to be like McDaniels, New England’s former offensive boss is off in Las Vegas trying to very much be his own man.

During his first NFL head coaching stint with the Broncos back in 2009-10, it was perceived that McDaniels tried to be too much like his former boss Belichick. Now, more than a decade of learning later, he’s apparently more comfortable just being true to his own personality and coaching style.

“I’m not Bill and I can’t be. I’m just going to try to be myself and hopefully I can be a good leader for our team,” McDaniels told reporters last week in Las Vegas.

Most first-time NFL coaches make significant mistakes in the role, something McDaniels obviously did in Denver. It will be interesting to see from afar how much he learned not only from the short stint with the Broncos but in the time since.

“I’ve been looking forward to an opportunity like this for a couple years now and I’m so blessed to have the staff that we have and the group that we have working, and the support staff that we have around me,” McDaniels said. “I feel like I’ve learned a lot. I feel like it’s slowed down for me, for sure. Doesn’t mean anything at this point in time of the year, doesn’t have any bearing on what’s going to happen down the road, but definitely feel a comfort level now in terms of understanding what my role is and how to do it better.”

6 – If former Celtics coach Rick Pitino were coaching the Patriots linebackers he might lament that Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins aren’t walking through the door at Gillette Stadium. The position is obviously undergoing a dramatic transition from proven veteran talent to unknown young contributors.

Beyond former captain Ja’Whaun Bentley, one of the relative veterans in the linebacker room is Raekwon McMillan. A former second-round pick of the Dolphins who started 32 of the 45 games he played in Miami and Las Vegas from 2018-20, McMillan missed his entire first season in Foxborough with a torn ACL. But he’s back healthy and very much in the mix at New England’s new-look linebacker position.

“After sitting back and watching last year, I’m ready to go this year,” McMillan declared at OTAs. “It was a little hard at the beginning because I was looking forward to playing. Looking forward to helping this team win. I wasn’t able to do it last year but we’re moving forward to this year and it’s going to be a good year.”

McMillan is well aware that the Patriots are moving forward with a relative young group of linebackers, but seems optimistic regarding the youth movement. Patriots director of player personnel Matt Groh expressed excitement about the group on draft weekend.

“We got a lot of young guys, lot of good chemistry though,” McMillan said. “A lot of the old veteran guys that had a lot of Super Bowl runs, playoff runs, you name it, those guys did a lot for this team and for this organization. But we have a young group coming up and I like where we’re at.”

7 – Much has been made about the turnover on the offensive coaching staff with McDaniels’ departure leaving Judge and Patricia to take on significant new roles that they aren’t familiar with. Even Belichick seems to be focusing more on the offensive side of the ball, at least based on how his time was spent during the first OTA open to the media last week.

It should be noted, though, that the Patriots have continuity on the defensive side of the ball. The group returns the entirety of its assistants, including play-caller Steve Belichick and leading voice Jerod Mayo.

From McMillan’s perspective, there’s a strong foundation of coaching expertise and leadership to pull from.

“Steve and Jerod are some of the best coaches that I’ve had while I’ve been here in the NFL,” McMillan said. “Jerod, coming from his pedigree of how he played and led some of these teams out here. And Steve, you know what I’m saying, his last name says it all. But having those two in the room with you and just picking their brains and seeing how they see football it helps me play it when I come out there and play football

“Jerod, coach Mayo, he’s a crazy dude. He walks in with great energy every day. You all know him from being around here, he comes in with energy, gets you going in the morning. And Steve is kind of the cerebral guy, sits back in the back but always has his comments and two cents of how you can make plays within his defense because he’s sat and watched it for so long.
Both of the guys give you good information on where you can make plays.”

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