Sunday 7: The Jack Jones buzz is building

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1. Saying cornerback is a position of need on the 2022 Patriots is an understatement the size of offensive tackle Trent Brown. It’s an area of huge need. Most believe the Pats cornerback room is a weakness on the team heading into camp. Some, like our own Khari Thompson, say it is the weakest position group on the current team. With a deficit in talent in the cornerback room, and offensive weaponry proliferating all over the division, let alone the conference, there’s a reason why major transition is underway in this group. And while several position groups are turning over in talent - linebacker and offensive line come to mind first - no group has had more turnover than corner. Gone is last year’s best defensive player, Pro Bowl corner JC Jackson, who left via free agency for a payday on the Los Angeles Chargers. And in his place is no one single veteran or highly drafted replacement. Rather Bill Belichick and company have chosen to shop in bulk for their next corner, or corners, to make a difference on the team. Those familiar with the Belichick era shouldn’t be too surprised about coach/GM choosing the discount or value route to discover talent.

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Through free agency and the draft the Pats have brought in a number of corners in hopes someone, anyone, sticks around, makes the roster and make a difference. Expectations can’t be too high for veteran corner Terrance Mitchell, and while there are feel good vibes aplenty with the Malcolm Butler reunion tour, who knows what he has left in the tank after a year off. Where else to look? Hopefully the early buzz on a rookie corner proves to be worthwhile, earning him a shot at meaningful minutes, earning some playing time alongside incumbent vets Jalen Mills and Jonathan Jones.

Rookie Jack Jones, taken in the fourth round out of Arizona State, has turned heads and opened eyes since arriving in Foxborough this spring. Jones was the second corner drafted by the Pats, behind Marcus Jones out of Houston in the third round. Jack Jones arrived with an interesting resume, having finished as one of the highest graded corners in the 2021 college season, but also with the baggage of his off-field issues (a misdemeanor of commercial burglary back in 2018). Whether it was his off-field issues or his size that concerned some GMs, fact remains Jones can play and looks the part. Those in attendance at OTAs and mandatory veteran minicamp left impressed by Jones’ physical style of play and compete level. Words like feisty, sticky, and ballhawk have been bandied about in describing the early glimpses of Jones in the secondary.

Though smaller (5’11” 170 lbs) than some elite or number one corners, Jones plays bigger thanks to tenacity and attacking style of play. And it seems many in the area are getting on board with both Jones’ talent and opportunity. Tom E. Curran recently sang Jones’ praises in an appearance on “Gresh & Keefe”. Our own Andy Hart, who also said on “Gresh & Keefe” that Jones was impressive in his practice debut, ranked Jack Jones, who’s never played a down of professional football, all the way up at 33 on his list of Patriots 1-87.
Some sites have even tabbed Jones as the rookie who will surprise most this season. Seems a lot of early praise for someone who hasn’t had a professional pass thrown his way yet. Perhaps expectations being so low for the corners, and Jones not coming in with the hefty expectations of a first round pick, have helped raise eyebrows for the rookie.

Those concerned about his off-field issues should take heart that he’s in an organization that is known for being buttoned up and usually handling problems away from the field well. Jones’ former coach, Herm Edwards, knows Jones can be “a handful” but is in the right place to thrive as a professional. Some may be dubious about Herm’s words after he told us N’Keal Harry was a good fit on the Patriots, but this is more a behavioral issue than schematic fit.

The opportunity is there for Jones. The need for a competitive and competent corner is glaring. If he can keep his nose clean, stay on the field and continue to build on the early good word coming from Foxborough, perhaps he can earn more playing time, potentially snag a starting role and help the Patriots shore up their weakest area, not just on the defense, but on the team. All while proving he should have been drafted earlier and is more than a “Candidate For Bottom Of Roster Or Practice Squad”.

2. Though Jack Jones is generating early individual buzz, the biggest buzz generator in Pats Nation this week was the announcement that the red jerseys and “Pat the Patriot” throwbacks were confirmed to return for the 2022 season. Fans have had a lust for the primary uniform of the team from 1960-1993, which also made a series of throwback returns up until 2012 when the NFL instituted a single use helmet rule that prohibited the use. Said rule has since changed, thanks in large part to a push by the Patriots, and the vintage look is back. The news was a massive hit with both fans as well as those not actively associated with the team.

A twitter search of the terms “patriots throwbacks” reveals thousands of engagements, mostly all positive, which should thrill the team. Their intro video has over one 1.1 million views on twitter as of Sunday. And the news of the throwbacks returning was taken so well even Tom Brady responded, which is big news in Pats Nation (“Tom mentioned us! He still loves us!”) Brady seemed peeved they put the uniforms back in rotation after he was no longer with the team. Understandably so, for in addition to the sharp looks and iconic logo, Brady was 7-1 in the red throwbacks during his time with the Pats, the lone loss coming back in 2009 on the road versus the Dolphins. He also had one other loss in the throwbacks, also coming on the road in 2009, vs. Denver (the McDaniels game). For what it’s worth the white throwbacks will not be back for 2022.

3. Now that big #87, he who “soy fiesta,” has hung ‘em up a second time it seems to be easier for the New England area and all of Pats Nation to return to Gronk Appreciation Mode. Many in the region and within the ranks of the fanbase were miffed when Gronk unretired and was traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, of all teams, to join Tom Brady back in the spring of 2020. As it was fans were a little surprised he retired, out of the blue, on a Sunday night in March of 2019. But he gave it his all and when out a champion. That “Mr. Recovery” healed up enough and chose to play again, but not in New England, rubbed a lot of Pats fans the wrong way. That he went on to help the Bucs and Brady win a Super Bowl poured salt in a gaping wound. But now Pats fans no longer have to see him catching passes from Brady in a different uniform and can hopefully go back to remembering, celebrating and appreciating what a dominant force and unique talent he was. We may have selectively forgotten how great Gronk was in a Pats uniform because of the hurt feelings over his choosing Brady in the parental divorce between GOAT and Pats. But there’s no disputing the team doesn’t have a second half of their double dynastic run without arguably the greatest tight end ever, or GOATE as I like to call him.

Of course when and if this turns out to be a play by Gronk to avoid the rigors of training camp and an 18 game season, and he answers the phone when Brady calls for his return in November, as speculated on by agent Drew Rosenhaus, then we’ll see if the love letters, tribute posts and crushed Bud Lights in Gronk’s honor are still valid or taken back once again.

4. As was announced Friday, David Andrews restructuring his contract this week was a big move for the Patriots as it freed up enough cap space for the team to sign their final three draft picks in first round guard Cole Strange, second round receiver Tyquan Thornton and fourth round quarterback Bailey Zappe. Now, a month before training camp opens officially the entire rookie class is signed and in the fold (Pats are one of 18 teams to have their whole rookie class signed up), a big step in the right direction for a coach in Bill Belichick who notoriously hates any missed time during a rookie campaign. Andrews didn’t lose any money in the process, just converting salary into signing bonus, a move that comes as no surprise from a team leader and captain like their center. As to whether any more restructurings take place remains to be seen. Typically the team likes to have a few million is free money should a need arise or a trade be made in season. Right now they have less than half a million dollars in 2022 salary cap space.

5. The NFL is nothing if not a copycat league, and the idea of teams trying to find a way to imitate something other teams do successfully should come as no surprise. One offensive innovation we’ve seen in recent years is the wide receiver as running back. Call the position offensive weapon, if you will. This was popularized last season by 49ers receiver Deebo Samuel who filled in a few times at RB when the team’s running back room was injury riddled. Samuel was dynamite as a ball carrier, averaging over six yards per carry and scoring eight touchdowns to boot. Pats fans have long admired Samuel’s talent and regretted the Pats selecting N’Keal Harry over him in 2019 (one can imagine the sentiment is the same inside Gillette Stadium). And if the team wants to have their own version of him on the 2022 squad there’s a player who believes he can do it, is willing to give it a shot AND is a former teammate of Samuel.

Appearing on the “Stacking The Box” podcast Pats receiver Kendrick Bourne said he would be game if he were given a chance to be a Deebo Samuel style ball carrier and offensive weapon. As the offense evolves, both to suit Mac Jones as well as the talents of the other players, you’d have to think the Pats would give Bourne, a natural playmaker many feel was underutilized in 2021, a shot to carry the rock a few times this season. We’re here for it, for sure. And if they did it wouldn’t be the first time the Pats have deployed a receiver as running back. Back in 2018, with a myriad of injuries plaguing the running back room, Cordarelle Patterson stepped in a RB/OW for a few games and was quite successful for the Pats, averaging over five yards a carry. Maybe the Pats could play the copycat card as well as the “whats old is new again” game as they seek to evolve and improve the offense in a more potent AFC.

6. Ever the competitor, Tom Brady loves him a good rivalry, almost as much it seems these days as he does living out loud on social media. And this week, weeks before his 23rd season in the league, Brady seemed to stoke the flames of rivalry with a QB who resides in the division he left two years back.

Brady, who never subtweeted, quote tweeted or attacked anyone online while with the Pats, has had a field day doing so since joining the Buccaneers and becoming “Tampa Tommy”. And it’s kinda fun, one of the only fun things about him playing for someone else, seeing his true competitive nature and fiery side of his personality come out like this. Allen, who has never beaten Brady on a golf course or football field, in either conference, obviously was just looking to get a rise out of Brady, and it worked. Which gives the general football fan a fun new rivalry to look forward to. Buffalo has only known frustration against Brady the past two plus decades. If they were to meet again this season it would be in the Super Bowl, and wouldn’t it be fitting to see Buffalo have to go through their tormentor of twenty plus years, and Allen have to beat his former idol, to reach their goal of a championship?

7. Also from the AFC East...this less playful...Dolphins receiver Tyreek Hill shared an unfortunate item this week when he said that he received death threats over a recent comparison he made between Patrick Mahomes, his former QB in KC, and Tua Tagovailoa. On an episode of his “It Needed To Be Said” podcast, Hill said Mahomes had a stronger arm and Tua was more accurate. Obviously this can be chalked up to Hill, now a very highly compensated receiver for the new look Dolphins, pumping up his new QB. Sadly, fans of his former team took it even more personally than Mahomes, sending the completely uncalled for threats his direction, a sad indictment of the world where faceless intimidation, bullying and threats are made with no regard for humanity on a daily basis.

When an incident like this arises, it reminds me of the advice of Craig Ferguson, comedian and former host of “The Late, Late Show” on CBS, as far as social media goes. Granted, yes, Tyreek Hill’s comments were made on a podcast, but in this day and age you have to imagine that anything you say will be taken to an extreme wherever someone can chase clout or get noticed thanks to the words or actions of another, especially someone of Hill’s prominence and fame. Ferguson’s rule for social media is three questions he always asks himself; “Does this need to be said? Does this need to be said right now? And does this need to be said right now by me?” Again, Hill was looking to curry favor with his new team, QB and fanbase, and while he may have endeared himself to them a bit more he poked a bear with his words that lead to very unnecessary results. Still, a lot of celebrities and athletes - heck, everyone - would do well to heed Ferguson’s words whenever it is they take to Twitter, post to Instagram or talk quarterback play on their podcast in the day and age of overreactions and anonymous aggression.