‘Those two guys are really fast’: Myles Jack, Telvin Smith pose problem for Patriots’ offense
FOXBOROUGH — The Patriots’ offensive line passed its first test last Sunday when it mitigated the damage done by Texans pass rushers J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, and others.
The Jaguars, this Sunday’s opponents, present a problem similarly difficult, yet different in nature. Though defensive ends Yannick Ngakoue and Calais Campbell are nothing to scoff at, it’s at linebacker where Jacksonville truly soars.
Myles Jack and Telvin Smith buzz around the field like bees, stinging opponents before they’re able to turn their heads.
“It’s pretty special,” said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. “Those two guys are really fast. Jack is a strong player. Smith is fast — he covers a lot of ground, obviously, and very athletic. That’s as much speed at linebacker probably as most any team in the league.”
Strong words from a man who doles out praise through gritted teeth.
Jacksonville’s quickness up the middle makes it difficult for opposing running backs to free themselves in the passing game. That’s what the Patriots’ backs generally do best — when they’re healthy that is.
James White and newly signed Kenjon Barner are the only healthy runners on New England’s 53-man roster. Rex Burkhead is in the concussion protocol, first-round pick Sony Michel remains limited by his knee, and rookie Ralph Webb and newcomer Kenneth Farrow are relegated to the practice squad.
Still, the onus falls on the offensive line to keep Jack, Smith, and others at bay.
“These guys are fast, they read stuff well, and they get to the ball in a hurry,” said LaAdrian Waddle, who in Week 1 split time at right tackle with Marcus Cannon, another of Thursday’s limited participants (calf). “We just have to use our techniques and be on the same page as far as who has who assignment-wise, and play fast and physical.”
Nose tackle Abry Jones nicked a pass thrown by Eli Manning during the Jaguars’ Week 1 victory over the Giants, and not surprisingly, Jack’s head was on a swivel. He spotted the floating pigskin, nabbed it, and ran 32 yards for a touchdown.
Smith wasn’t as strong, perhaps hampered by a bad back that has limited him in practice this week. Regardless, New England will need to have all hands on deck if Jack and Smith are out there as expected on Sunday.
What’s this hogwash that Blake Bortles isn’t a particularly mobile or competent quarterback? Numerous Patriots vehemently disagree.
“He’s very mobile,” said defensive lineman Adrian Clayborn. “When he has to pull it and take off, he pulls it and takes off. He’s definitely fast. He’s not a slow quarterback.”
The perception that Jacksonville has achieved success over the past year-plus despite the play of Bortles is one met with quizzical looks in the Patriots’ locker room. Perhaps the mentality stems from New England’s leader, who on Wednesday lauded Bortles’s scampering ability.
“He runs very well,” said Belichick. “He’s a big, strong kid. He’s hard to bring down. He can extend plays.”
Bortles has never run for fewer than 300 yards in four NFL seasons, averaging as bit better than 5.5 yards per carry each year. He broke off a 41-yard keeper last week.
“In that Giants game, [Bortles] keeps it and he’s 41 yards down the sideline,” said Patriots safety Devin McCourty. “I think we’ve got to be ready for that and not fall asleep because he’s a really good runner. If we open up a gap upfront, he’ll take off and run.”
Phyllis Harrell, the mother of twins Devin and Jason McCourty, wore a unique outfit to observe her sons share the field for the first time in an NFL regular-season game last Sunday.
Harrell graced the Gillette Stadium sidelines before warm-ups donning a split jersey — half navy blue, half white — with No. 30 on the front for Jason, and No. 32 on the back for Devin.
“I think for her it was something that she loved to see just both of us together,” said Devin. “Obviously, she’s been that one person that’s watched us our whole life and she knows how much we like being around each other even though we might not admit it all the time. She’s just excited.”
Safety Nate Ebner (knee) and tight end Jacob Hollister (hamstring) joined Burkhead, Michel, and Cannon on the list of limited participants at Thursday’s practice. Burkhead is in stage four of the concussion protocol, which allows players to engage in limited contact drills. Once Burkhead is upgraded to stage five, he’ll be given the green light to participate fully . . . The Pro Football Hall of Fame has released its preliminary list of nominees for the 2019 class. The most notable former Patriots to make the cut were Corey Dillon, Richard Seymour, Tedy Bruschi, Willie McGinest, Ty Law, and Rodney Harrison.