LAS VEGAS — Every player who buckled up a chin strap this week in preparation for the East-West Shrine Bowl is a good player.
But are they good teammates?
That’s one of the many questions Matt Groh and his evaluating team were looking to get answered as they begin to ramp up preparations for April’s NFL draft, in which the Patriots have eight selections, starting with No. 14 overall.
While Troy Brown is running the on-field operations as the West squad’s head coach, Groh, the Patriots director of player personnel, is leading the staff charged with scouting the participants from both teams both on and off the field.
“These games are tough,” said Groh. “All these guys are used to being starters, and you’ve got to have a little bit of unselfishness. Some of these guys have started every game of their college career and now they’re the third Z [receiver]. So how do they adjust to that? Can they still go about things the right way?
“Look, everything is not going to be perfect. In the NFL, they’re going to have to prepare through that adjustment as well. Most of these guys aren’t going to be thrust right into the starting lineup. So just doing what’s best for the team, being mature, being dependable, being where they’re supposed to be.”
Groh noted that a week in Sin City can be a big test, with all the temptations and distractions.
“There’s a lot going on in Las Vegas, but those guys who are buckled down, really trying to learn the playbook [will stand out],” said Groh. “It’s not just the team’s performance, but it’s understanding that this is very much an individual kind of game. But we want to look as good as we can at a productive group.”
In addition to their first-round pick, the Patriots, pending trades, have a second-rounder (No. 46), a third-rounder (No. 76), two fourth-rounders (Nos. 104 and 114), and three sixth-rounders (Nos. 170, 173, and 178).
Doctor in the house?
Truman Jones was not a Patriots fan.
Raised in Atlanta, Jones knows all too well about the heartbreak of “28-3.” Having played at Harvard, it didn’t get any easier for the defensive end.
“There’s a little tension there, a little hatred even,” Jones said with a slight chuckle.
In the past week, however, Jones has come around a little. An edge rusher for the West, he has been a sponge during meetings and practices, receiving a ton of tutelage, including some chats with Bill Belichick.
“It’s been great,” said Jones, who acknowledged that he “fell in love with Cambridge and Boston” over the last four years. “They’re really knowledgeable about the game and are great people as well. They have a great mentality and they’re really teaching us about all the intangibles that you probably wouldn’t hear if you weren’t, you know, working with this team.
“Just how to be on time, how to be early, how to prepare like an NFL player and really treat the game like a professional athlete. So I think they’re preparing us for that so that way we do get there and it’s not as much of a culture shock.”
A biomedical engineering major, Jones is focused on football, but also has an eye on his post-playing days, when he hopes to go to medical school and possibly become an orthopedic surgeon.
“It keeps me close to sports, you can work with teams, while also realizing that I’d have a unique opportunity to work with underserved communities and specifically deliver great care to them,” said Jones. “And so, thinking about that, ‘What specialty will then allow me to have the biggest impact with underserved communities?’ And orthopedics, like, it is great working with athletes, but there’s like more people I can help in a wider way.”
Along with Jones, other local connections on the West team include receiver Zay Flowers and safety/linebacker Jaiden Woodbey (both from Boston College), UCLA receiver Jake Bobo (North Andover/Belmont Hill), and Albany tight end Thomas Greaney (Bedford/Lawrence Academy) … Defensive tackle Devonnsha Maxwell said he had some epic practice battles with Patriots guard Cole Strange during their days at Chattanooga. “Just competing against somebody that is that good and you also consider yourself that good, it’s going to go back and forth,” said Maxwell. “It’s all day, every day. So we probably ended up as the two most tired people after practice because you competed hard all day.” Maxwell also said Strange would provide comic relief. “One day he showed up with his hair dyed, like, Smurf blue and the next day when we saw him, he was bald,” said Maxwell, unsuccessfully trying to hold back laughter. “Funniest thing I ever saw. Yeah, so that’s when I knew like, all right, Cole is different.”
Jim McBride can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globejimmcbride.