MOBILE, Ala. — Four thoughts on the Patriots after a week of prep for the college all-star games …
1. With most of Bill Belichick’s staff coaching the West team at the East-West Shrine Bowl in Las Vegas and defensive line coach DeMarcus Covington serving as a coordinator for the American team at the Senior Bowl here, the Patriots have been deeply entrenched in the all-star games.
They would send representatives in seasons past, but the heightened level of involvement this year could pay dividends.
Only two members of New England’s 2022 draft class — defensive back Marcus Jones and running back Kevin Harris — did not participate in an all-star game last year. Jones received an invite to the Senior Bowl but could not practice while recovering from shoulder surgery.
The other eight draft picks participated, with four in the Shrine Bowl (wide receiver Tyquan Thornton, cornerback Jack Jones, running back Pierre Strong, and defensive tackle Sam Roberts) and four in the Senior Bowl (guards Cole Strange and Chasen Hines, quarterback Bailey Zappe, and tackle Andrew Stueber).
Working so closely with this year’s prospects will further inform the Patriots on the available talent at their positions of need. The coaching roles provide an opportunity that the scouting department wouldn’t have otherwise.
“We get to see up close how these kids move and how they learn,” said Patriots wide receivers coach Troy Brown, who is serving as the West’s head coach. “I get to watch them first-hand do things I didn’t get to see them do in college, being able to coach them, see them, and listen to them.”
2. Another benefit of this week is the experience it provides Patriots assistants. Not only did Brown and Covington work in elevated roles, but so did assistant wide receivers coach Ross Douglas, cornerbacks coach Mike Pellegrino, safeties coach Brian Belichick, and special teams assistant Joe Houston.
Brown, who joined New England’s staff in 2020, appreciated the chance to have additional responsibilities and decision-making power. According to Brown, the practice planning, among other aspects of the week’s itinerary, was left to him.
“I’ve been responsible for all that stuff,” he said. “It puts me in a spot where I’ve never been before and an experience that I couldn’t experience anywhere else, other than doing it here. That is a valuable lesson that I’m learning about the head coaching position.”
For Brown, a former player who had no coaching experience prior to the Patriots, earning a larger role at events such as the Shrine Bowl is one example of how the NFL and its teams can continue to support minority candidates.
“I take it as an important step for coaches like myself and minority coaches, to be able to step up and prepare for the next level,” Brown said. “You just would never get that experience doing it some other way, doing it in a regular practice.
“Here, it’s an actual week-of-game situation. You have to go through the whole process of prepping the team, prepping the coaches, making sure all the T’s are crossed and I’s are dotted.”
3. The two conspicuous absences at the Shrine Bowl were senior football adviser Matt Patricia and tight ends coach Nick Caley.
Caley, whose contract is set to expire, interviewed for the offensive coordinator position with the Patriots prior to the hiring of Bill O’Brien. Caley also interviewed for the same job with the Jets, who hired Nathaniel Hackett, and the Texans, who have yet to make a decision. Tampa Bay, Arizona, Dallas, Indianapolis, Washington, Baltimore, and Tennessee are in the market for offensive coordinators, as well.
If Caley does not receive a promotion, he could return to New England, where he has spent the past eight seasons. He also could make a lateral move to become the tight ends coach of the Raiders, where he would work with ex-Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and other former colleagues.
If Caley and the Patriots end up parting ways, tight ends coach becomes another important vacancy on the offensive side. The Patriots initially listed offensive assistant Tyler Hughes as tight ends coach for the Shrine Bowl, but ultimately did not have a designated coach working with that position group during practice.
The Patriots also are in the hunt for an offensive line coach. They interviewed Adrian Klemm, currently with Oregon, but Ducks head coach Dan Lanning said Wednesday he doesn’t expect any changes to his staff, which means Klemm is likely staying put. Former Patriots center Ryan Wendell, currently an assistant offensive line coach for the Bills, also interviewed for the job.
Internally, the Patriots could turn to Billy Yates, who was working with the offensive line in Las Vegas alongside running backs coach Vinnie Sunseri.
4. Special teams coordinator Cam Achord remained involved in practices ahead of the Shrine Bowl, which boosts the likelihood of a return despite his unit’s dreadful performance this past season. The Patriots could still pair Joe Judge with Achord, even though Judge might want to shake the label as a special teams guy. But it seems more likely Judge will continue to work with the offense, based on his role in Vegas this week.