Joejuan Williams Jersey

As far as “big gets” go for Vanderbilt football, Joejuan Williams was one of the biggest. The in-state blue-chip prospect was the prize of Derek Mason’s 2016 class, a four-star recruit who chose the Commodores despite overtures from Alabama, Penn State, LSU, Oklahoma, and bitter rival Tennessee.

Williams is now a member of the New England Patriots, selected 45th overall, in the second round of the NFL Draft.

The 6’4 cornerback lived up to his stature in three momentum-building years in Nashville. He turned his side of the field into a part-time graveyard, leaving opposing wideouts tiptoeing through his coverage with held breath and understated reverence. While his numbers don’t scream “elite” on the surface — he didn’t record an interception until his 23rd game at Vanderbilt — his ability to nullify other team’s top receiving threats will make him a commodity at the next level.

And now, with the 2019 NFL Draft less than 20 miles from his home in Hendersonville, Tennessee, he’s ready to face a whole new set of lofty expectations. While Williams wasn’t the first cornerback to hear his name called at this year’s draft, he could be the one who puts together the strongest pro career.Williams is a press-coverage monster who rolled his top statistical season — 61 tackles, four interceptions — into a place in the top half of the 2019 NFL Draft. He’s a physical, route-stifling presence who won’t get outjumped and who is capable of completely erasing scoring threats in the red zone.

The easiest comparison to make with Williams is Richard Sherman — another tall cover-corner who played under Mason (currently Vandy’s head coach, formerly Sherman’s DBs coach at Stanford) and came into the league facing questions about his athleticism and coverage ability. Here’s what NFL.com had to say about the three-time All-Pro’s weaknesses the spring before he was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in the fifth round:

And here’s a sampling of what the league’s official scouting report said about Williams’ issues as a pro:

Pretty similar! And while Williams certainly needs to refine his coverage skills, he was a fast learner en route to becoming the leader of the Vandy secondary. Mason moved his star cornerback across the lineup and in several different coverages in order to confuse opposing quarterbacks, lining him up on the sideline, in the slot, 10 yards off the line of scrimmage, and in close quarters for press coverage.

That last bit is where Williams will likely see the most use in the NFL thanks to his size, but his three years in Nashville showcased a versatile corner who can handle any assignment given to him.

SEC teams understood this. Jordan Ta’amu threw for more than 450 yards in his 2018 matchup against the Commodores, but he rarely even looked at Williams’ side of the field in the process. Wherever Vandy’s top corner was, Ole Miss deliberately shifted its offense to the other side of the field. The Rebels didn’t throw to anyone Williams had one-on-one coverage with until the fourth quarter of that game — and the play ended in a breakup.DaMarkus Lodge eventually scored a touchdown in press coverage against Williams, but he needed a perfectly thrown ball and a circus catch to do so:

Williams is also a strong tackler, adding plenty of value against the run as he developed in Nashville. His big frame helps him shed blocking wideouts relatively easily, and he’s solid enough to bring down faster backs along the edge or blast between the hashes and ruin power back’s runs, too.

The biggest knock on Williams is a lack of elite top-line speed. His name faded away from the tail end of mock drafts early in March after his 4.64-second 40-yard dash time underwhelmed at the combine. He rectified that performance with a 4.50-second split at Vandy’s pro day weeks later, but it still casts a shadow across his overall draft profile — especially with faster corners with gaudier stats (LSU’s Greedy Williams, Washington’s Byron Murphy) available.

His play was mostly outstanding at Vanderbilt, but he also proved to be a boom-or-bust player in press coverage. There were certainly moments where he got overzealous in his course correction after making a mistake early in a play.

There’s some benefit to that — in that worst-case scenario you want a guy being aggressive and hoping the referees don’t notice rather than just getting burned — but it’s going to lead to a lot of flags in Williams’ rookie year. He also had several plays where he kept up with faster receivers downfield but failed to get his head back to the line of scrimmage to make a proper play on the ball, leading to both big plays and penalties downfield.

Despite contributing immediately in Nashville, Williams is still growing at the position. He’ll go from watching quarterbacks avoid his side of the field at Vanderbilt to get picked on immediately by veteran passers.

He should be able to hold his own, even as a rookie, but there will be a learning curve in the NFL.

SB Nation’s own Dan Kadar has Williams ranked No. 80 on his big board, which would project the Vandy product as a third-rounder. The NFL also sees him as a Day 2 pick, and he’ll be attending the festivities in his de facto hometown with his family when he learns what the next chapter in his football career holds:His sliding draft stock means nearly every team in the league should have the opportunity to add him (sorry, Chicago). But teams with major, glaring needs at corner are more likely to take a more highly regarded prospect in the first round rather than hope Williams falls to them on Day 2. That could mean the Steelers and Raiders could have met their coverage needs before the second round.

So who’s left in the second wave of CB-deficient clubs? The Colts could use someone across from the newly re-signed Pierre Desir, and they’ve got a pair of second-round picks. The Chiefs were a candidate to take a cornerback in the first round until they traded that pick away in the deal for Frank Clark. Now, their first pick comes at No. 61 (and their second at No. 63).

The Bills have bigger holes to fill than cornerback in the first round, but Williams would be an outstanding complement to fellow former SEC star Tre’Davious White on Day 2. The Texans are hoping Bradley Roby will fix their secondary issues in 2019, but they’ll also be in the market for cornerback help throughout this year’s draft.

The Cowboys are interested, even if their social team isn’t exactly sure who Williams is:Williams needs to be fine-tuned, but concerns about his athleticism are overblown. At his core, he’s a massive cornerback who runs well enough to keep up with deep threats while blocking out the sun in the red zone. There will be an adjustment period as he adapts to another tier of competition, but his ability to shut down his side of the field against teams like Mississippi, Kansas State, South Carolina, and Baylor showed just how valuable he can be.

Williams wasn’t a combine standout, but his three-year body of work at Vanderbilt and his fearlessness when it comes to negating whomever he’s assigned to make the Sherman comparisons apt. If he can level up his bump-and-run coverage game, he’ll be a game-changing force in the NFL.

And if he can’t, he’s still a massive cornerback who covers well enough near the line of scrimmage to completely derail opponents after they cross into field goal range.

N’Keal Harry Jersey

N’Keal Harry was viewed as one of the most talented wide receivers heading into the 2019 NFL draft, but very few people thought that he would be picked ahead of A.J. Brown and D.K. Metcalf. In fact, Harry was the second wide receiver taken in the draft behind just Marquise “Hollywood” Brown. Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots selected him with the No. 32 overall pick.

All of that being said, let’s dive in and take a look at three bold predictions for the Patriots’ rookie in his first season in the NFL.Harry Will Catch at Least 55 Passes

There is no question that Harry will be able to step up and become a weapon for New England in his first year. Recording 55 receptions is something that he should be able to do, assuming he is able to stay healthy and comes in and plays to his potential.

Having a quarterback like Brady throwing the football will help the rookie wide out. Very few rookie receivers are able to come into the NFL and play with an all-time great. There is a good chance that he could eclipse this number, but 55 receptions would be a very successful rookie season for Harry.In His First Season, He Will Catch 10 Touchdown Passes

Next up, the Patriots are going to have a lot of fun utilizing Harry’s size in the red zone. Rob Gronkowski is no longer on the roster, which will make Brady look elsewhere in the end zone. Harry will be more than capable of stepping up and making plays when called upon.Standing in at 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, Harry has elite size and he has the athleticism and speed to go along with it. He will be a lethal weapon for Tom Brady to utilize.

Last season at Arizona State, Harry ended up catching 73 passes for 1,088 yards and nine touchdowns. He averaged 14.9 yards per reception as well. Those numbers show why the Patriots took him so high in the draft.

It has been a long time since Brady has had a weapon with the size and ability that Harry possesses. He will join a wide receiver group that includes Demaryius Thomas, Julian Edelman, and Phillip Dorsett. Harry could very well end up being the No. 2 or No. 3 wide receiver for the Patriots right off the bat.Rookie receivers rarely put up 10 touchdown receptions in their first season. Harry will hit that number and may even come away with a couple more when everything is said and done.

Harry Will Win the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award

Finally, the Patriots are going to see the No. 32 overall pick come through with a big enough season to win the Offensive Rookie of the Year award. There are quite a few rookies who will compete for this award, but Harry is being put into a perfect situation.

N’Keal Harry was viewed as one of the most talented wide receivers heading into the 2019 NFL draft, but very few people thought that he would be picked ahead of A.J. Brown and D.K. Metcalf. In fact, Harry was the second wide receiver taken in the draft behind just Marquise “Hollywood” Brown. Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots selected him with the No. 32 overall pick.
The Only Player Screwed Harder Than Isaiah Thomas

Standing in at 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, Harry has elite size and he has the athleticism and speed to go along with it. He will be a lethal weapon for Tom Brady to utilize.

Last season at Arizona State, Harry ended up catching 73 passes for 1,088 yards and nine touchdowns. He averaged 14.9 yards per reception as well. Those numbers show why the Patriots took him so high in the draft.

It has been a long time since Brady has had a weapon with the size and ability that Harry possesses. He will join a wide receiver group that includes Demaryius Thomas, Julian Edelman, and Phillip Dorsett. Harry could very well end up being the No. 2 or No. 3 wide receiver for the Patriots right off the bat.

All of that being said, let’s dive in and take a look at three bold predictions for the Patriots’ rookie in his first season in the NFL.

nkeal harry
Harry Will Catch at Least 55 Passes

There is no question that Harry will be able to step up and become a weapon for New England in his first year. Recording 55 receptions is something that he should be able to do, assuming he is able to stay healthy and comes in and plays to his potential.

Having a quarterback like Brady throwing the football will help the rookie wide out. Very few rookie receivers are able to come into the NFL and play with an all-time great. There is a good chance that he could eclipse this number, but 55 receptions would be a very successful rookie season for Harry.
In His First Season, He Will Catch 10 Touchdown Passes

Next up, the Patriots are going to have a lot of fun utilizing Harry’s size in the red zone. Rob Gronkowski is no longer on the roster, which will make Brady look elsewhere in the end zone. Harry will be more than capable of stepping up and making plays when called upon.

Seahawks, Doug Baldwin, N’Keal Harry

Rookie receivers rarely put up 10 touchdown receptions in their first season. Harry will hit that number and may even come away with a couple more when everything is said and done.
Harry Will Win the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award

Finally, the Patriots are going to see the No. 32 overall pick come through with a big enough season to win the Offensive Rookie of the Year award. There are quite a few rookies who will compete for this award, but Harry is being put into a perfect situation.

The combination of his skill-set and Brady throwing him the ball will be too much for the field to overcome. Harry will end up winning the prestigious award and will start his NFL career off with a bang.

Duke Dawson Jersey

FOXBORO — It was far from an ideal situation last year as only three of nine players drafted by the New England Patriots in 2018 stepped on the field.

First-round pick and offensive tackle Isaiah Wynn, cornerback Duke Dawson, linebacker Christian Sam, wide receiver Braxton Berrios and tight end Ryan Izzo did not even make it to the first week of the regular season before being placed on injured reserve. Linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley landed on IR just three weeks into his promising start.

But now, as coach Bill Belichick and the Patriots gear up for the 2019 NFL Draft starting on April 25, they can do so knowing they have the 2018 class in the fold as well. Belichick was optimistic about that during his pre-draft press conference at Gillette Stadium on Wednesday.“Obviously, many of our 2018 draft choices had partial seasons or minimal, in some cases. We’re excited to see how those guys will do this year, obviously,” Belichick said. “It’s a hard-working group. Those guys are here on a very consistent basis, and, hopefully, we’ll get a much longer look at the 2018 draft class than we were able to get last year.”

Heading into this year’s draft, the Patriots currently are tied for the most picks (12), including six in the top 101. However, that does not mean they will draft 12 players.

More likely than not, New England will be in the mix of teams packaging picks to move up at various points during the draft, trading this year’s picks for those next year, and so forth.

Belichick said nothing is off the table.

“We have a lot of draft picks as we sit here today,” he said. “I don’t know that that necessarily means that they will or won’t be there on draft weekend. We’ll see how all of that goes. Just evaluate situations as they come up and try to make the best decisions we can for the football team. There’s no set goal in mind as to how many picks to have or what to do with them. We just want to try to make good decisions at every opportunity we can to improve our team in whatever way is possible and that includes everything.”
Defensive adjustments

The media availability on Wednesday was the first time Belichick spoke publicly to reporters since incoming defensive coordinator Greg Schiano unexpectedly resigned. Schiano was never officially offered the position, but was thought to be the replacement for current Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores.

Belichick was asked about the Patriots lacking of defensive coordinator at this point.

“Well, I mean, we’re not talking about an unprecedented event here,” he said. “Yeah, we’ve dealt with changes before. We’ll continue to deal with them.”

He declined to comment on how the Patriots would be replacing the position on the coaching staff.The Patriots officially announced they have re-signed kicker Stephen Gostkowski and signed tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Contract terms were not announced.

Seferian-Jenkins, 26, most recently played for the Jacksonville Jaguars last year, starting the first five games before being placed on IR on October 9. He caught 11 passes for 90 yards and a touchdown.

The 6-foot-5, 262-pound Seferian-Jenkins has played five seasons in the NFL with Tampa Bay (2014-16), the N.Y. Jets (2017) and Jacksonville (2018). He was a second-round pick out of Washington.

Overall, Seferian-Jenkins has played in 43 regular-season games with 29 starts and totaled 116 receptions for 1,160 yards and 11 touchdowns. His most productive season was with the Jets in 2017, He posted 50 receptions for 357 yards and three touchdowns.

Seferian-Jenkins will look to help fill the void left by the retirement of Rob Gronkowski and departure of Dwayne Allen this offseason. The Patriots will almost certainly draft a tight end, as well.
Visiting Gillette

The Patriots had a pair of quarterbacks come in for pre-draft visits on Wednesday, according to a report from NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport. Both West Virginia quarterback Will Grier and Duke quarterback Daniel Jones attended.

New England also hosted a pair of free agents including longtime Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and former Jacksonsville Jaguars running back T.J. Yeldon, according to ESPN’s Field Yates.

Sony Michel Jersey

Surprising to no one, the New England Patriots won yet another Super Bowl in 2018. A key contributor to the offense was their rookie running back in Sony Michel.

Michel was the Patriots’ first-round selection out of the University of Georgia. Georgia always has a way of producing talented running backs in the NFL dating back to Herschel Walker in the 1980s to now with Todd Gurley.

Michel took some time to get on the field with the Patriots as he was rehabbing from an injury he had in college. The rookie running back ended up starting in eight games last season.

In those eight games, Michel carried the ball 209 times for 931 yards and six touchdowns. He was also vital to New England’s Super Bowl run, as he had 71 rushes for 336 yards and six touchdowns in the playoffs.

Now, Michel will want to improve upon a stellar rookie season by remaining healthy in 2019. Here are three way-too-early bold predictions for the Patriots running back.

In just eight starts last season, Michel managed to gain 931 yards on the ground. Furthermore, it’s even more impressive considering the loaded backfield in New England that consists of Michel, James White, and Rex Burkhead.

In 2019, Michel should sit atop the depth chart as the number one running back on the roster. His name should be etched in stone right this second.

The Georgia product ran rampant on opposing defense in his limited opportunities. Seeing him run probably put a smirk on Bill Belichick’s face (a full smile would cause a complete overload of emotions for Belichick).

Michel will continue to showcase why he was a first-round pick in 2019 by surpassing 1,300 yards rushing.

Dating back to his college days at Georgia, Michel has been a guy who can explode for a long run. For instance, Michel averaged a whopping 6.1 yards per carry in his four seasons at Georgia.

Last season, Michel showed flashes of his big-play potential but injuries and limited opportunities slowed him down. New England is going to set Michel free in 2019 to break off extended runs.

In 2018, he averaged a mere 4.5 yards per rushing attempt. That put him as the 29th ranked running back in terms of yards per carry.

Now, Michel has a whole offseason to get more comfortable in the Patriots system and get healthy. We could see a much-improved version of Michel in 2019 and defenses will probably be chasing him downfield more often.

Every season the Patriots have a ton of opportunities to get the ball into the end zone. The 2019 season shouldn’t be an exception for Michel and company.

Last season, the rookie running back punched it in six times over the course of the regular season. Again, he only started in eight games and was being utilized in a loaded backfield.

He should become more of a focal point in the rushing attack in the 2019 campaign. Therefore, he will have more chances to come up with more touchdown celebrations since he’ll be in the end zone more often.

New England’s young running back will vault himself to 12 rushing touchdowns in 2019 and put his name in the discussion of top running backs in the NFL.

Isaiah Wynn Jersey

Don’t expect the results from last year’s NFL draft to carry over into this year.

Three former Georgia football players — Roquan Smith, Isaiah Wynn and Sony Michel — were selected in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. This year, only cornerback Deandre Baker is expected to hear his name called during the first round on Thursday.

But there will still be plenty of Bulldogs entering the NFL. Twenty-one former Georgia players competed at the 2019 Georgia Pro Day and nine were invited to the NFL Scouting Combine. ESPN’s Todd McShay and Mel Kiper Jr projected Baker, linebacker D’Andre Walker and receivers Riley Ridley and Mecole Hardman to be selected in the first three rounds in their latest mock draft.For potential NFL players like Baker, Walker, Ridley and Hardman, a lot more is in flux than where they will be picked and what team they will play for. In the process of transitioning to the professional ranks, players must carve out their role as fast as possible.

According to McShay, Ridley shouldn’t have a problem finding his place at the next level. Any team searching for a No. 2 or No. 3 outside receiver should be able to scoop up Ridley around the third round, McShay said in a conference call on Monday.

“He’s a physical receiver who has good route running skills,” McShay said. “And the longer I’ve been in this business, the more I appreciate that in terms of translating to the next level. Guys that know how to separate with their hands and use their bodies and box out guys and be physical. And that’s what he is.”Ridley doesn’t have everything going for him, however. He finished the combine in early March with the second-worst vertical jump among receivers and a lackluster 40-yard dash time of 4.58 seconds. He decided against trying the drills again at the pro day. And until his final collegiate season, Ridley’s stats didn’t really jump off the page either. But then he increased his receptions from 14 to 44 and caught nine touchdowns.

“He kind of became the guy,” McShay said.

Playing alongside Ridley was Hardman, who offers a different set of skills than his former teammate.

“[Hardman’s] got the speed, he’s got the explosiveness,” McShay said. “He is not nearly as polished as a route runner, but he’s someone who can create after the catch.”

Kiper Jr. listed Hardman as a potential steal in the third or fourth round because of his speed and special team capabilities. Last season, ESPN named Hardman to its All-America first team as a kick returner. He ran a punt back 70 yards against Middle Tennessee in 2018 and had a 47-yard kickoff return the season prior.

What about Baker? How will he fare in the draft and in the NFL?

After all, he is the only former Georgia player projected to be picked in the first round. McShay said Baker is a “really, really good football player,” but there might be one problem.

“If he falls, part of it is going to be frustration from the coaching staff about the way he finished his career, in terms of not playing in the bowl game but being around and not being the best influence,” McShay said. “That’s the best way I can put it.”

Baker, who was the 2018 Jim Thorpe Winner as the best defensive back in the country, sat out Georgia’s loss to Texas in the Sugar Bowl. It’s unclear how McShay knows Baker’s conduct upset Georgia’s coaching staff.

It’s also unclear whether any of this matters come draft night. Because other than the fact that Georgia almost certainly won’t have more than one player selected in the first round, almost anything can happen.

Devin McCourty Jersey

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:

Veteran cornerback Jason McCourty was one of four Patriots players to testify in support of an education bill at the Massachusetts State House on Friday, saying the experience sparked more nerves than playing in the biggest game of his professional football career.

“We’re in a different arena here. We have beliefs and we support different things, and then it’s the next step of coming here and talking about it — not knowing what you’re walking in to. For us, we were probably a lot more nervous than we were when we walked in for the Super Bowl,” said the 31-year-old McCourty, who played a key role in the Patriots’ victory over the Los Angeles Rams.”We were nervous at the Super Bowl, but you can walk in and say ‘Hey, when the ball is kicked off, it’s just football, something we’ve done since we were little kids.’ There was no point today where it was like riding a bicycle.”

McCourty, who was joined by his twin brother Devin, special-teams captain Matthew Slater and safety Duron Harmon, called it a “very humbling experience.”

The players received a cheer from the overflowing crowd inside the Gardner Auditorium when called for their testimony, which was against protocol.

During the testimony, which lasted about 10 minutes, Devin McCourty explained that the group was representing the Players Coalition. “We focus on educating ourselves on a subject matter and then uplifting the voice of people who just don’t get the opportunity,” he said, noting that the focus of the coalition includes education, economic advancement, criminal justice reform and police and community relations.The education bill players were supporting is aimed at helping low-income districts.

“We all feel as though we have been gifted with a tremendous, unique platform as professional athletes. Our hope today has been to lend our voices to thousands of children, in particular impoverished children of color who need all of our help,” said Slater, the son of Pro Football Hall of Famer Jackie Slater and a longtime Patriots captain. “It is our belief that we should do everything within our power to give every child the opportunity to have the same learning experience within our educational system.”

At the end of the testimony, one member of the Massachusetts Legislature’s Joint Committee on Education commended the players, citing their activism as similar to what Muhammad Ali once did to bring attention to social causes.

When punter Ryan Allen signed a one-year, $1.55 million deal to return to the Patriots in 2019, it sparked an obvious question: Why just one year? Some might have looked at the deal as a show of low confidence from the Patriots. But a source close to the situation said Allen had an option for a multiyear deal, yet he preferred the shorter term. The decision seems to be a result of the money on the open market coming in lower than he had desired (he also switched agents one week into free agency), and so a one-year term provides him the chance to build off a strong performance in Super Bowl LIII by returning to a solid opportunity in New England in a prove-it type of year. If Allen delivers, he’ll be in a stronger negotiating position in potential extension talks with the Patriots, or on the open market in 2020.

From a Patriots perspective, they might now be more inclined to bring in competition for Allen, similar to what they did in 2018 with undrafted rookie Corey Bojorquez. Allen decisively won that competition, but the Patriots had hoped to keep Bojorquez on their practice squad as a developmental prospect before the Bills unexpectedly swooped in.

Similar to how the Patriots made an aggressive pitch to receiver Adam Humphries in free agency and didn’t close the deal, a source close to tight end Jared Cook said the Patriots aggressively courted him before Cook elected to sign with the Saints late last week. Rob Gronkowski’s uncertain status seems to have played a significant part in Cook’s thinking, as there is clearer path to a top role on the tight-end depth chart in New Orleans. Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater on his message to teammates: “We need to start shifting our mindset from celebration mode to work mode. Certainly, all of us that were part of what we accomplished last season are very thankful for the way the season turned out, but we have to turn the page. We have to understand this year is going to be a new year with different challenges. We’re going to have to find our identity all over again, and it’s going to take a lot of work and time.” That process shifts into a higher gear when the Patriots’ voluntary offseason program begins April 15. While always subject to change, early indications are that quarterback Tom Brady plans to follow a similar routine as last year when he remained away from voluntary workouts, in part to focus more on family time.

Condolences to Dolphins coach Brian Flores, whose mother Maria lost her battle with cancer earlier this month. In a classy gesture a few weeks ago, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross wanted Flores to have as much support around him as possible so he offered up his private plane for many of the team’s assistant coaches to be present for the funeral.

Jason McCourty told me his return to the Patriots as a free agent (two-year deal with a base value of $10 million) came after he considered some other opportunities. He had hoped that was how it would turn out. “It was a cool process, and a brand-new process,” he said, pointing out he had never hit the open market at the start of free agency. “Talking to New England, talking to my agent, you’re trying to figure out which teams are involved and how much you’d want to play there. It’s your due diligence. At the end of the day, it brought me back here, and I’m happy to be here. I was able to build some really good relationships and I loved the environment here. And to be honest, from a personal standpoint, to not have to move my wife and kids for the third consecutive year is pretty good. I asked my kids what they wanted and they all said ‘The Patriots with Uncle Dev.’ So everybody’s happy.”

With Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia widely acknowledged for his exemplary work with Trent Brown, which helped Brown land a four-year, $66 million contract with the Raiders in free agency, it served up a reminder of something Scarnecchia said last season. He believes longtime Colts offensive lineman Chris Hinton, whom he coached in the late 1980s in Indianapolis, should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Scarnecchia is respected as one of the best offensive line coaches in recent NFL history, and with Hinton’s candidacy not seeming to have generated much momentum to this point, perhaps Scarnecchia’s remarks will catch the attention of voters this year.Set to enter his 10th season with the Patriots, Devin McCourty shared with me how he viewed the team’s offseason: “Free agency is always interesting, exciting, sad. It brings all emotions. As an older guy, you hate seeing some of the young guys go; like I’ve watched Trey [Flowers] and Malcolm [Brown] come in and develop. But then you’re also happy to see those guys do what they were supposed to do here and now have opportunities to help their families, and go play elsewhere. You kind of wish it would be with you, but getting older, you understand. But I’m very excited. I thought one of the coolest parts of our defense last year was the mesh of the secondary, and the guys’ personalities, and how well we played with each other. All of those things got better as the season went on. The hard part now is we have to understand none of that matters and we have to build that back up from scratch. But I always say, it’s better to have a better foundation. It gives you a chance to be better earlier and longer.”

When coach Bill Belichick wrote a letter to the Pro Football Hall of Fame committee on behalf of Richard Seymour, he called Seymour and Vince Wilfork the two best defensive linemen he’s ever coached. Catching up with Wilfork last week for a story on Patriots left tackle Isaiah Wynn’s recovery from a torn Achilles, Belichick’s letter came up in the conversation. It meant a lot to him. “Any time you have the greatest coach of all time mention you in regards to the respect he has for us … to be put in that category is mind-blowing,” he said. “A lot of people don’t understand the defense we ran; a lot of times we went into games with just four linemen. Anyone can just rush up the field and have 6-7 defensive linemen roll in and keep them fresh. But Bill had enough confidence in his defensive linemen to go into games with a lot less than that. We won a Super Bowl like that. I always tell people, you haven’t played defensive line unless you’ve two-gapped, taking on double teams, being durable. That’s a defensive lineman.” Wilfork is enjoying retirement in Houston, coaching four different youth baseball teams in Houston.

The NFL’s annual meeting is scheduled from Sunday to Wednesday in Arizona (there are several rule proposals to consider), and Patriots owner Robert Kraft is planning to be in attendance. But Kraft is not expected to talk at the meetings, forgoing all interviews as his legal situation remains unresolved (players declined comment on that topic Friday). Kraft released a statement on Saturday. Meanwhile, Belichick has been mixing some vacation time with college scouting, and he is scheduled to be in attendance at the Arizona Biltmore. The annual coaches breakfast with reporters is set for Tuesday.

Matthew Slater Jersey

New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski will surely be missed by many of his former teammates. Captain Matthew Slater explained what he enjoyed about Gronkowski, who retired from the NFL this offseason.

“Authenticity goes a long way, especially in today’s world,” Slater told reporters, via NESN’s Zack Cox. “You see a lot of inauthentic things, you see a lot of inauthentic people, but that certainly wasn’t the case with him. He was as genuine as they come. His character remained the same from the day that he got here until the day that he left.

“Despite all the success he was able to have on the football field, he was still a fun-loving kid that just enjoyed being around football. And I think that’s the thing that I appreciated about him most — that Rob was always Rob, and you knew he was always going to come in with a smile on his face having fun.”

Gronkowski, 29, finished his career with 521 receptions for 7,861 receiving yards and 79 touchdowns, and will likely be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He joined the Patriots as a second-round pick in 2010, and fought through a handful of injuries during his career, including multiple back, knee and forearm issues. Still, he finished his career with three Super Bowl wins and five Pro Bowl nods.

His contributions went beyond his output on the field. He carried himself with unending positive, which went a long way in New England, where working for Bill Belichick comes with enduring constant criticism.

“Just a tremendous friend,” Slater said. “(I’m) so appreciative of the way that he always treated me. From the day that he got here until the day that he left, he was so kind to me. Always made me feel like he was a friend and that we had a unique relationship.

“I’m just so thankful for the nine years spent with him. That’s something that I cherish as a man, as a fan of the game as a teammate of his. Can’t say thank you enough to him really for the experience of a lifetime getting a chance to play with him.”Matthew Slater is embarking on his 12th NFL season and it’s also his first in nine years without having Rob Gronkowski as a teammate.

The former Patriots tight end retired this offseason and with the Patriots beginning their voluntary offseason workout program this week, it’s their first time together without Gronkowski. Although, it’s worth noting Gronkowski did not attend the workouts last year.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Slater reflected on what it was like to play with Gronkowski and how the team will look to replace him.

“I’m just so thankful for the nine years spent with him,” Slater said. “That’s something that I cherish as a man, as a fan of the game as a teammate of his. Can’t say thank you enough to him really for the experience of a lifetime getting a chance to play with him.”

“Just a tremendous friend,” he added. “[I’m] so appreciative of the way that he always treated me. From the day that he got here until the day that he left, he was so kind to me. Always made me feel like he was a friend and that we had a unique relationship.”

What stands out most about Gronkowski to Slater was how he acted off the field.

“Despite all the success he was able to have on the football field, he was still a fun-loving kid that just enjoyed being around football,” he said. “And I think that’s the thing that I appreciated about him most that Rob was always Rob and you knew he was always going to come in with a smile on his face and having fun.”

The Patriots know they are not going to be able to replace the tight end with one player — both on and off the field — so it is up to everyone to do their part, no matter how small it is.

“Obviously when you lose a player like that, a lot of guys are going to have to step up. Change is inevitable for all of us,” Slater said. “We certainly want to celebrate what he did and then we’ll certainly have a bunch of guys around here that’ll be ready to step up and work hard and hopefully be up to the task.”

Stephen Gostkowski Jersey

“The dog would run us down, jump at us, and bite us. His whole body took my legs out; it was like an open-field tackle,” he said. “I felt like it was maybe me. But then the same dog took out [Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker] Myles Jack, so I felt a lot better after that.”

Gostkowski, 35, chuckled while retelling that story from the NFL-USO Tour, a trip for which he was joined by Jack, New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan and Chicago Bears quarterback Chase Daniel.

Players visited Camp Bonifas, Camp Casey, Camp Humphreys, Kunsan Air Force Base and Osan Air Force Base. The annual trip aims to strengthen America’s military service members by keeping them connected to family, home and country.

“I went in expecting it to be cool, and it was a lot of more fun and rewarding than I thought. It was very humbling that people care we come over there,” said Gostkowski, who was recruited by the Air Force Academy as a football and baseball player coming out of Mississippi’s Madison Central High School before deciding to attend the University of Memphis.”We play a game for a living. It pales in comparison to what they are doing in real life, and the decisions and sacrifices they make. To give that thanks back to all servicemen and women out there, it was an honor for me. I probably got more out of it than anyone there, which is crazy to think.”

Gostkowski was motivated to take part in the unique opportunity this offseason. It was presented to him through Donna Spigarolo, the team’s director of community relations.

“I’ve been playing for 13 years, and we’ve already gotten to do a lot of cool things as far as Super Bowls, going to Pro Bowls, and stuff like that. But I never truly felt like I took advantage of a lot of other things offered,” he said. “I’m not going to play for 15 more years, and I wanted to try to take advantage of a lot of things presented as far as being a player in the NFL.

“Having [Naval officer and long-snapper Joe] Cardona on the team, and how into the military Coach [Bill] Belichick is, and how much the team always does to honor the military, I thought it would be a really cool idea to see how they live and what they actually do when they are deployed and on these bases.

“It’s a different culture shock from what we have as NFL players. It’s an eye-opening experience to see these men and women who serve our country and give such a sacrifice to allow us to do the things we do — like kick a ball for a living. My thought was that if I go over there and put a couple smiles on people’s faces, it was very rewarding for me personally to support the guys and girls that are out there doing a lot of the jobs that honestly not a lot of us would do.”

Among the parts of the experience that resonated with Gostkowski: the trip to Camp Bonifas and going on a tour of Panmunjom, which is a small village located in the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas.

“You realize how lucky you are,” Gostkowski said. “Then we got to go down into the tunnel, where the North Koreans, during the Korean War, tried to dig out to gain access into South Korea. That got sniffed out by the South Koreans and they put up a big barricade. That tunnel had to be only 5-feet tall, so you pretty much had to walk almost a half mile with your back bent. That was probably the hardest workout I’ve had in a long time.”During visits to each base, Gostkowski said players “did a lot of meet-and-greets” and he was struck by the volume of Patriots fans. Players rode in tanks and visited with Air Force pilots, which he said made him feel like “my 6-year-old does when we take him to go see fire trucks.”

“I was in awe of these fighter pilots that fly these F-16s and you see the bombs that get connected to them, see them take off, and what they go through,” he said. “They have a little locker room, like ours, and the camaraderie they have together — they all get together Friday night.

“It’s almost like a lot of teams within a team, which is like football — where you have offense, defense and special teams and you all come together for one goal. With the pilots, they had their maintenance crew. They had the people who ran the computers. There is so much that goes into it, how many different jobs there are; the leaders of the troops are like coaches, and they would talk about how it’s kind of like playing a sport and everyone is supposed to be part of a team.

“People look up to NFL players. But me, Cam, Chase and Myles were in awe of them — the stuff they go through, the sacrifices they make.”

The players also took note of how the NFL provides something for military members to rally around, giving them a connection to home.

“The countless number of stories I heard, ‘We wake up every Monday at 1 in the morning to watch the NFL games.’ Or, ‘We had a giant Super Bowl party’ and, ‘You don’t know how much joy the Patriots bring me every week.’ Just how much football means to people,” Gostkowski said.

“We go to training camp for a month. Theirs is a two-year training camp with not a lot of days off, and no family to see, and so far away from their normal life. They have to be ready at a moment’s notice to go to war. To give thanks to the troops who do so much for us, going over there coming off a Super Bowl win, it was a really cool experience. … It makes you reflect and be grateful for all the things you have.”

Donald Trump Jersey

This is terrible,” President Donald Trump said, at a meeting in the Oval Office on May 17, 2017, when Attorney General Jeff Sessions told him of the appointment of Robert Mueller as a special counsel. Mueller’s mandate was to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election, the Trump campaign’s possible coördination with those efforts, and related matters. According to notes taken by Jody Hunt, Sessions’s chief of staff, who was present, Trump said, “This is the end of my Presidency. I’m fucked.” He then turned his wrath on the Attorney General, who had recused himself from the investigation, even though his job, Trump said angrily, was to protect him: “How could you let this happen, Jeff?”

The description of that confrontation, in Mueller’s four-hundred-and-forty-eight-page report, which was released, with redactions, on Thursday, does not include Trump’s pointing to a particular secret or nest of illegality that he feared Mueller would discover. The special counsel, whose team of lawyers and F.B.I. agents interviewed some five hundred witnesses, was not able to establish that there was any coördination or conspiracy between the campaign and the Russians. (He has, however, issued indictments of more than two dozen Russian nationals.) Instead, the looming disaster that Trump foresaw was as indiscriminate as his rage (“Everyone tells me if you get one of these independent counsels it ruins your Presidency. It takes years and years and I won’t be able to do anything”) and as boundless as his self-pity (“This is the worst thing that ever happened to me”). His outburst demonstrates what the Mueller report shows to be his guiding presumption: that being President means that you are protected from legal scrutiny. The May 17th meeting is presented as evidence under the rubric of “The President’s Efforts to Remove the Special Counsel,” one in a series of acts that the report defines as a potential obstruction of justice.

Mueller did not make a “traditional prosecutorial” judgment on whether that evidence amounted to crimes that should be further pursued. Attorney General William Barr, who succeeded Sessions, said, in a press conference just before the report’s release, that constitutional questions about whether a sitting President could be charged with a crime had not been a determining factor for Mueller. That assertion seems to be contradicted by the report, which cites those very concerns while noting that the special counsel’s demurral does not mean that the President is “above the law.” A crime can be prosecuted later, once a President is out of office, and, prior to that, there are “constitutional processes” available to Congress. The most notable is impeachment; whether that option is a wise one, given the finding on collusion and the proximity of the 2020 election, is a question that the report leaves to others to answer. (The report does say that “if we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state.”)

Barr, for his part, seems amenable to Trump’s view that the Attorney General ought to protect the President. In his press conference, Barr repeated a phrase often found in Trump’s tweets, including at least three on Thursday: “No collusion.” He suggested that Mueller had come to see Trump’s potentially obstructive acts as honest emotional responses to false and “relentless” speculation in the media and to the scheming of his political opponents. This is less a legal defense than a replay of an old apologia for Trump: he may be a reckless tweeter, an insulter of allies, and an outright bigot, but at least he is “authentic.”

There have been theories put forward in the press that turned out to be overstated or untrue, and the Mueller report undermines the more florid ones. Based on the report, Trump is not an agent of the Russians, receiving direct instructions from Moscow. (You don’t have to be a spy to be a bad President.) And yet the stories that often unsettled Trump—impelling him to commit potentially obstructive acts—were accurate. An example of this scenario, and of how obstruction can build on obstruction, involves Trump’s attempts to persuade Don McGahn, the White House counsel, to help him remove Mueller. In June, 2017, the Washington Post reported that the special counsel was investigating Trump for obstruction, apparently in connection with the firing of James Comey, the F.B.I. director. McGahn told Mueller that, in the days that followed, Trump got on the phone and instructed him to call Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General, who had authority over the investigation, and “tell Rod that Mueller has conflicts and can’t be the Special Counsel.” McGahn had already looked at these supposed conflicts and dismissed them as “silly” (one involved golf), but Trump pressed him. “You gotta do this,” he said. “Mueller has to go.”

McGahn decided that he would rather resign than comply; he told Reince Priebus, the chief of staff, that the President had asked him “to do crazy shit.” McGahn and Mueller both stayed on, but a few months later the Times and the Post ran stories about the incident. Trump pressured McGahn to publicly deny the accounts, which he refused to do. (Another aide said that Trump told him that McGahn was a liar.) The Mueller report identifies both of Trump’s alleged acts as potentially obstructive, and adds that there is evidence “that the President knew that he should not have made those calls to McGahn.”

The point about the President’s intent is crucial, because a question in determining whether obstruction of justice occurred is whether someone acted “corruptly.” Many factors—“personal, political, or both,” as the report puts it—may be at work. The number of investigations that have spun off from the Mueller probe—on matters ranging from hush-money payments to lies that Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, told about lobbying he’d done for Ukraine—suggest that the President had cause to worry. Trump may think that acting corruptly is just something that Presidents do, out of habit or opportunity. (“You’re telling me that Bobby and Jack didn’t talk about investigations?” McGahn reported Trump as saying, in the course of a separate, also potentially obstructive effort to get Sessions to “unrecuse” himself.) But thinking that no one can or will stop you from breaking a law does not make that law any less real. The true source of Trump’s horror at Mueller’s investigation may have been the sudden knowledge that he was just as accountable as anybody else. That sort of realization might ruin a President, but it’s precisely what the Presidency needs.

Dont’a Hightower Jersey

Dont’a Hightower looks like he’s getting a little more trim for the 2019 season. In a recent workout photo alongside fellow Patriots teammate Shaq Mason and Jaguars running back Benny Cunningham, the linebacker looks pretty lean as he gears up for yet another season.

While responding to former NFL cornerback Marquise Cole, Hightower noted that he’s down to about 250-255 pounds at this point in the offseason. For reference, Hightower is officially listed as 260 pounds on the Patriots website, so it’s not a steep drop of weight, but a drop nonetheless. The linebacker did enter the league at 270 pounds.

Here’s the picture of the new-look Hightower, who is repping his former school in Alabama: For the sixth time in franchise history, the New England Patriots are Super Bowl champions! Take a second to sign up for our FREE Patriots newsletter!

This effort by Hightower to drop a little weight before next season could simply be the linebacker striving to be a bit more athletic in 2019, while also maintaining health. In 2018, Hightower enjoyed one of the healthiest seasons of his career playing in 15 regular season games while totaling 48 tackles, a sack and an interception. Hightower also was able to suit up in all three of New England’s playoff contests and totaled six tackles, two sacks and four quarterback hits en route to the third Super Bowl title of his career.

“That means a lot,” Hightower said back in January about having one of the healthiest seasons of his career. “Like you said, my time on the field hasn’t always been as much as I wanted it to be, but this year it’s meant a lot to me. I’ve been out there, I’ve been able to play, I’ve been able to be with my teammates from OTAs to minicamp, so I’ve enjoyed it.”

While Hightower is losing some weight, his quarterback in Tom Brady is reportedly looking to put some on. In a report by Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network on Monday, the quarterback is looking to bulk up before the start of the 2019 season. Tom E. Curran of NBC Sports Boston added to that report saying Brady’s camp is looking for the quarterback to bit a bit more filled out by the end of the 2019 season. Typically, Brady loses about five pounds over the course of an NFL season. At the end of last year, Brady finished at 223 pounds. This time around, the target finishing weight is 232 pounds. Curran notes that Brady’s TB12 diet will stay the same, but the resistance workouts will “employ heavier bands.” Curran says there’s no singular reason for the switch, but the overall effort is to simply keep Brady fresh.

In any event, two of the biggest leaders on the Patriots may be looking a bit different in 2019.