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How Bill Belichick has thrived when Patriots turn to ‘next man up’ – New England Patriots Blog

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If anyone can survive the unusual offseason the New England Patriots have had, it’s coach Bill Belichick. He has built a dynasty with the “Patriot Way,” a winning, team-first culture backboned by the “next man up” mentality.

The 2020 NFL season might be Belichick’s toughest test yet. The offseason, including the opt-outs of six Patriots players this week (most notable is linebacker Dont’a Hightower), has led to lower expectations — at least according to Las Vegas. New England’s pro football championship odds are at 20-1 according to Caesars Sportsbook (through July 30), its worst preseason odds since 2002.

The Patriots’ roller-coaster offseason has included some massive changes. For example:

  • They return 57% of last season’s snaps, the second lowest percentage in the NFL, behind the Panthers (47%).

  • Eight of their top 15 players, in terms of snaps, who played last season are not returning.

  • Four of their eight longest-tenured players are not returning (kicker Stephen Gostkowski, quarterback Tom Brady, offensive tackle Marcus Cannon and Hightower).

Consider this adversity another opportunity for the Patriots’ “next man up” mentality to thrive under Belichick. Here are what some numbers from past Patriots’ seasons reveal:

  • Someone always steps up: Under Belichick, they have had 141 different players score a touchdown, third most in the NFL since 2000 behind the Detroit Lions and Denver Broncos, per the Elias Sports Bureau

  • There is value to be found: In the past 10 seasons, they have had the most snaps by undrafted players (55,620) in the NFL. That includes players such as center David Andrews, cornerback Malcolm Butler, wide receiver Danny Amendola and running back LeGarrette Blount.

  • They can overcome losses at the most important position: Since Brady’s first career start in 2001, QBs not named Brady have a 13-6 record for the Patriots. That includes starts from Matt Cassel, Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett

Has New England’s system been perfect when it comes to replacing important contributors? Of course not. Consider:

2019 — Benjamin Watson/Matt LaCosse: If you want to make a case for the Patriots struggling in 2020, look at how they replaced tight end Rob Gronkowski last season. Patriots tight ends combined for an NFL-low 37 receptions in 2019 following Gronk’s retirement. It was one of the many reasons New England finished 17th in offensive efficiency, the team’s only ranking outside the top 10 since the metric’s inception in 2006.

2009 — Patriots’ defense: They had traded defensive end Richard Seymour and Vrabel, and safety Rodney Harrison and linebacker Tedy Bruschi retired. The holes on defense became exposed against the Ravens in the AFC wild-card game. Baltimore running back Ray Rice went untouched for 83 yards on the first play of the game, and Baltimore put up 234 rushing yards and four touchdowns on the ground in a 33-14 win.

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Stephen A. Smith says the Patriots will be better off with Cam Newton due to the relationship between Bill Belichick and Brady having run its course.

Rare examples aside, the mentality, which has been a constant in New England, has been a hallmark of its sustained success under Belichick. For two decades the team has been able to overcome injuries, win despite some controversial personnel decisions and find hidden gems and castoffs around the league.

Check out more examples throughout the past 20 years of how the Patriots have fared when turning to the “next man up”:

2017 — Amendola/Chris Hogan: Amendola and Hogan saw their roles expand in 2017 after wide receiver Julian Edelman suffered a season-ending injury in the preseason. Their biggest contributions were in Super Bowl LII, when they combined for 14 catches and 280 yards, a game that also saw Brandin Cooks leave with an injury.

2016 — Trey Flowers: Flowers, a fourth-round pick in 2015, was pressed into action after Belichick traded defensive end Chandler Jones to the Arizona Cardinals. Flowers emerged with a team-high 7.0 sacks in 2016 after he had played one game in 2015.

2016 — Garoppolo/Brissett: The Patriots started their Super Bowl season 3-1 when Brady served a four-game suspension because of the Deflategate investigation. Garoppolo won his first two starts before injuring his shoulder, and Brissett won his debut, 27-0 against the Texans, in place of Garoppolo.

2015 — James White: White stepped into Shane Vereen’s role, catching passes out of the backfield, once Vereen signed with the Giants. White had 14 receptions and the game-winning OT touchdown in Super Bowl LI against the Falcons.

2014 — Butler: The undrafted free agent from Division II West Alabama will be immortalized for his interception in Super Bowl XLIX. Butler also emerged as the No. 1 cornerback in 2015, following Darrelle Revis’ departure in free agency. However, the “next man up” mantra burned the Patriots in Super Bowl LII when Butler was benched and New England lost 41-33 to the Eagles, allowing a season-high 374 passing yards.

2014 — Blount: The running back was conveniently signed one day before Jonas Gray infamously missed Patriots’ practice following his 201-yard, four-TD game. Gray didn’t play the following week and Blount was the beneficiary. He ran for 148 yards and three touchdowns against the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship Game, a 45-7 win.

2013 — Julian Edelman: Before Edelman became Brady’s go-to guy and a Super Bowl MVP, he was a special-teamer who occasionally filled in for Wes Welker, and even played some cornerback when the Patriots were thin at the position. Not to mention, he was a seventh-round pick and a former college quarterback. He burst through in 2013 after Welker signed with the Broncos, shattering his previous career high (37 catches in 2009) with 105 receptions.

2010 — Rob Ninkovich: A journeyman who was released by the Saints and Dolphins, Ninkovich ultimately filled the hole left by Mike Vrabel at linebacker. Ninkovich won two Super Bowls and led the Patriots with 45.0 sacks from 2010 through 2016.

2008 — Matt Cassel: The quarterback stepped up when Brady tore his ACL in Week 1 of the 2008 season. Despite entering the season with 39 career pass attempts, the 2005 seventh-round pick led the Patriots to an 11-5 record. Cassel ranked ninth in the NFL in Total QBR (63), ahead of the likes of Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, San Diego’s Philip Rivers and Dallas’ Tony Romo.

2007 Wes Welker: Troy Brown passed the torch to Wes Welker as the team’s slot receiver. Welker, another unheralded player acquired by Belichick, had five 100-catch seasons in New England and was a perfect complement to Randy Moss during the Patriots’ historic 2007 season.

2005 — Asante Samuel/Ellis Hobbs: Belichick made a controversial, cost-saving move in 2005 when he released future Hall of Fame cornerback Ty Law. The move led to the emergence of 2003 fourth-round pick, Asante Samuel, who became the team’s No. 1 corner, and rookie third-rounder Ellis Hobbs.

2004 — Troy Brown: The Patriots coach moved veteran wideout Troy Brown to slot cornerback midway through 2004 with cornerbacks Ty Law and Tyrone Poole injured. Brown picked off three passes during the regular season, including one off former teammate Drew Bledsoe. He also played a key role on defense in the Patriots’ 20-3 win against Peyton Manning’s Colts in the playoffs.

2003-04 — Vrabel: Belichick loves versatility and Vrabel, a linebacker by trade, is a great example. Vrabel caught 10 passes from Brady in his career, all touchdowns, including go-ahead scores in Super Bowls against the Panthers and Eagles. The Patriots have had 13 different players catch Brady’s 18 touchdown passes in Super Bowls.

2003 — Eugene Wilson: The first high-profile example of a controversial personnel move by Belichick was team captain Lawyer Milloy in 2003, who Belichick cut a week before the season to save salary-cap space. Harrison, a free-agent signing at safety earlier that offseason, stepped in for Milloy. But it was Wilson, a 2003 second-round pick, who added much-needed depth. Wilson had four interceptions his rookie season.

2001 — Brady: The quintessential example of next man up is Brady. The 2000 sixth-round pick stepped in for an injured Bledsoe, making his first career start in Week 3 of the 2001 season. Brady was thought of as a game manager that year, but consider that his five game-winning drives in the fourth-quarter/overtime (including Super Bowl XXXVI against the Rams) were tied for most in the NFL. Six Super Bowls later, the rest is history.

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Vikings LB Cameron Smith discovers heart condition after positive COVID-19 test

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MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota Vikings linebacker Cameron Smith said he will miss the 2020 NFL season due to a congenital heart condition he only discovered after testing positive for COVID-19.

Smith, a fifth-round pick in 2019, announced Saturday he will have to undergo open-heart surgery to fix a bicuspid aortic valve. It’s a procedure he didn’t realize he needed until he tested positive for the coronavirus and underwent further testing.

“Although this will unfortunately end my 2020 season, it is really a blessing that we found this as my heart is severely enlarged and wouldn’t have lasted much longer,” Smith wrote in an Instagram post.

The linebacker said that the surgery will allow him to continue to play football once healed and that he “didn’t think twice about going with that one.”

Smith was a four-year starter at USC, where he totaled 354 tackles for the Trojans and earned All-Pac-12 honors in three seasons. He appeared in just five games for the Vikings in his rookie year and notched eight tackles.

Minnesota added linebacker depth on Saturday by signing former Raiders linebacker Quentin Poling. The team waived running back Tony Brooks-James as the corresponding move.



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NFL training camp 2020 – Larry Fitzgerald still has it, while Browns and Lions get key weapons back

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As 2020 NFL training camps continue, Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald shows that age is nothing but a number while the Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions each got key offensive weapons back in the fold.

Here’s what you need to know from camps across the league:

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Top news of the day

Browns WR Jarvis Landry passes physical, rejoins active roster
Browns wide receiver Jarvis Landry has been activated off the physically unable to perform list after passing his physical and has rejoined the active roster. Landry, who hasn’t missed a game over his six years in the NFL, underwent hip surgery on Feb. 4 after battling an injury there throughout last season. The Browns on Saturday also activated safety Karl Joseph (foot) and tight end Pharaoh Brown (foot) from the off physically unable to perform list, and claimed cornerback M.J. Stewart off waivers.

Lions’ T.J. Hockenson among 3 removed from reserve/COVID-19 list
The Lions activated tight end T.J. Hockenson off the COVID-19 reserve list Saturday, over a week after he first went on the list at the start of training camp. Hockenson, the team’s first round pick last season, had 32 catches for 367 yards and two touchdowns in his rookie season before suffering a right ankle injury on Thanksgiving against Chicago that ended his year.

Source: Seahawks’ Quinton Dunbar to be removed from commissioner’s exempt list
Seahawks cornerback Quinton Dunbar is being removed from the commissioner’s exempt list, a source told ESPN, confirming an NFL Network report. The move is expected to become official Sunday. Dunbar’s removal from the exempt list allows him to re-join the Seahawks at team headquarters, which he’s expected to do as early as Sunday. Dunbar could still face an NFL suspension.

Washington releases RB Derrius Guice shortly after arrest
The Washington Football Team released Guice on Friday night, less than two hours after he was arrested on domestic violence charges in Loudoun County, Virginia. Washington wasted little time in releasing Guice, saying in a statement that it had learned of a domestic violence-related incident Thursday. The team alerted the NFL and met Friday with Guice to let him know he was excused from all team activities.

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“Duce has always been someone that can control the room. He demands respect and guys do respect him.”

Eagles TE Zach Ertz, on Duce Staley.


What our NFL Nation reporters saw today

On Sunday morning, Cory Undlin will step in front of his defense for the first time at the Detroit Lions practice facility in Allen Park, Michigan. He’s seen them for months now, but until Sunday he hasn’t been able to actually be face-to-face with any of them. At least in real life. The Lions new defensive coordinator was hired in January and met with his players over Zoom all spring until now. “To say excited would be an understatement, obviously,” Undlin said. “The respect that I have for virtual meeting right now and the way that whole spring was, and I talked about this a lot in June, if you’re having a conversation with somebody and you’re able to look them in the eye, like we are right now, I don’t care if you’re in person or not, this classroom, this media situation we’re in right now, we’ve been doing this all spring and I’ve got a great feel for all those guys and I think they all have a great feel for me, whether we’re in the meeting room or virtual however. But there is obviously a different feel after you can do it for six months and now you’re physically in the same room. There is a difference. We know that. And I can’t wait.” — Michael Rothstein

The transition from Doug Pederson to Duce Staley has been “seamless” according to tight end Zach Ertz. Staley is manning the day-to-day operations while Pederson quarantines after testing positive for the coronavirus. “Duce has always been someone that can control the room,” said Ertz,. “He demands respect and guys do respect him.” Pederson continues to lead a lot of the team meetings virtually, “giving us direction at the end of the day,” Ertz said. — Tim McManus

Panthers coach Matt Rhule is optimistic there will be football this season at Bank of America Stadium even though the North Carolina governor this week extended Phase 2 of COVID-19 re-opening another five weeks to at least September 11. Rhule says he can’t imagine a safer environment than the one that has been created at BOA for coaches, players and staff members. So far the Panthers haven’t placed a player on the NFL’s Covid-19 list. Whether all this will lead to some fans attending games Rhule can’t say. He’s preparing for all scenarios. “Obviously, we want to play in front of fans,” Rhule said. “We also want to be safe.” — David Newton

The Rams have placed DT A’Shawn Robinson on the active/non-football injury list, the team announced Saturday.

Lindsey Thiry, ESPN3h ago

Following up on Jeremy Fowler’s report that Panthers LT Russell Okung considered the NFL’s COVID-19 opt out and hasn’t ruled out retirement. According to Okung’s agent, J.I. Halsell, retirement only is on the board if Okung is “not feeling comfortable in his work environment due to an outbreak of COVID. At this moment, we’re nowhere near that scenario, meaning consideration of retirement is nowhere near imminent.” Okung missed 10 games last season with the Chargers with a pulmonary embolism due to blood clots. Halsell said Okung fully plans to play for Carolina this season unless the current COVID-19 situation takes a turn for the worse. — David Newton

Giants veterans had their first day off. This after they completed their fifth day of the acclimation period Friday. The acclimation period is eight days total before they enter a four-day ramp-up period when they can actually do 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills (without pads). — Jordan Raanan



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Lions’ T.J. Hockenson among 3 removed from reserve/COVID-19 list

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The Detroit Lions activated tight end T.J. Hockenson off the COVID-19 reserve list Saturday, over a week after he first went on the list at the start of training camp.

Hockenson, the team’s first-round pick last season, had 32 catches for 367 yards and two touchdowns in his rookie season before suffering a right ankle injury on Thanksgiving against Chicago that ended his year.

The Lions are counting on Hockenson to play a pivotal role in his second year as the team’s top tight end, paired with Jesse James.

The Lions have slowly returned to health after having eight players land on the COVID-19 list in the first week — including quarterback Matthew Stafford, who ended up with a false positive that helped lead to alterations to the NFL’s testing protocol. Stafford was activated Tuesday.

In addition to Hockenson, cornerback Amani Oruwariye and punter Arryn Siposs were also activated from COVID reserve on Saturday. Oruwariye is in line to be Detroit’s top depth cornerback. Siposs, a former professional Australian Rules football player who then went to Auburn, is competing for the team’s punting job with Jack Fox.

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