Patriots are learning quickly under new defensive leader Brian Flores
FOXBOROUGH – Brian Flores is an easy spot at Patriots practice.
He’s the one in the baseball cap and headset barking orders and feedback (both the good and the bad) to his defense.
Flores, now in his 15th season with the organization (though he still looks like he’s in playing shape), will be calling the shots on defense this season, assuming many of the duties formerly held by coordinator Matt Patricia.
While both Flores and Patricia work in similar fields – and octaves – linebacker Dont’a Hightower revealed Thursday the two have their own coaching styles. The veteran linebacker, who enjoyed a close relationship with Patricia, clearly is big fan of Flores’s, as well.
“It’s a little different,’’ said Hightower when asked about the transition. “Coach is definitely different. I think guys are learning a lot better, a lot easier. A lot of young guys are stepping up and able to pick up for some of the older guys. It definitely works in our favor.”
Hightower believes Flores’s style will lead to quicker contributions from more people.
“Maybe it’s just the way that he teaches it,’’ he said. “The way that the guys kind of absorb it a little bit different. We meet a little different, talk about things a little different. It’s just small, quirky things that you can’t necessarily put a finger on, but it’s obvious whenever you can kind of have first-year guys come in or even guys who maybe got signed [as free agents] that can pick things up.’’
Patricia’s defense took some heat in the early going last season and many players pointed to communication as the root of the problem. Once those issues were ironed out, the defense developed into a dependable unit. Flores’s style might help eliminate communication problems in the bud.
“You can definitely tell there’s a difference somewhere along the line,’’ said Hightower, who lined up in multiple spots on the first day of camp. “It helps everybody else on the field when everybody knows what they’re doing. You can play faster and do different things. Whatever he’s doing is working.”
Hightower, who played in just five games last season before being shelved with a torn pectoral, said his goal for 2018 is a simple one: “I want to be able to contribute a lot more than I did last year.’’
The seventh-year vet and two-time captain said the offseason noise surrounding the Patriots is not something he concerns himself with.
“The stuff that happened last year doesn’t really bother me much,’’ he said. “I mean, the talk doesn’t [affect me], because it’s not important to me. I’m just trying to do what I can to keep my [butt] on the field.’’
Danny Etling completed 6 of 9 passes during the main portion of practice, including hitting on 4 of 5 while working with the full squad. It was an impressive performance given the limited amount of snaps he was afforded.
What was more impressive, however, was Etling’s string of pinpoint passes during an extra session as practice was breaking up, shortly after the squad had run the dreaded hills.
Working with a handful of young receivers and defensive backs, the seventh-round rookie showed excellent patience, zip, and accuracy as he worked under the eye of assistant quarterbacks coach Jerry Schuplinski. In all, he hit on 12 of 16 passes during the drill.
The 6-foot-3-inch, 225-pounder started red hot, hitting five straight to Riley McCarron, Devin Lucien, and Braxton Berrios. He ended just as hot, completing his final four to McCarron, Ryan Izzo, and Lucien. His back-shoulder bullet to McCarron was probably his best throw.
Etling’s only real hiccup came when he was picked by second-year safety Damarius Travis, who had a solid opening day.
Julian Edelman looked as a spry as ever and led the receivers during individual drills. He was followed by Chris Hogan, Jordan Matthews, Phillip Dorsett, McCarron, and Berrios. Cordarrelle Patterson and Lucien later joined the group after participating in kickoff return drills . . . Dorsett did some work in the slot as the team prepares for life without Edelman, who will miss the first four games of the season because of a league suspension . . . Jason McCourty, who did a lot of looking on during OTAs and minicamp, was in the mix at cornerback. Devin’s slightly older brother is expected to battle with Eric Rowe to man the slot, previously occupied by Malcolm Butler . . . Jason MCourty was asked to confirm that Devin told him to act just like his younger brother if he wants to fit in Foxborough. “Yeah,’’ he said laughing. “He talks too much.’’ . . . Riley McCarron and Braxton Berrios got the bulk of the punt return work . . . The starting offensive line was Trent Brown (left tackle), Joe Thuney (left guard), David Andrews (center), Shaq Mason (right guard), and Marcus Cannon (right tackle) . . . The second unit featured Isaiah Wynn (LT), Ted Karras (LG), James Ferentz (C), Cole Croston (RG), and LaAdrian Waddle (RT).