FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Quick-hit thoughts and notes with more of a personal touch (but still some Patriots):
1. I’m finishing up a vacation/staycation, which means there’s no regular Patriots notebook posting on ESPN.com on Sunday morning, as usual. That will return next Sunday. The break is nice to recharge, and it comes at a time when things are quiet around the team. For those who might have come looking for the Sunday notebook, here’s something a little different as a substitute.
2. Our 2013 Honda Odyssey minivan (closing on 134,000 miles and hopefully not too much past the 50-yard line of its life expectancy) still found its way to Gillette Stadium during vacation/staycation. Construction in the north end zone continues to progress, a trailer is set up in a nearby parking lot as a temporary ticket office, and signs for 2022 training camp have been erected. Soon enough, this place will be buzzing.
3. Speaking of buzzing, a big WOW with NBA free agency. I like the way Brad Stevens operates and how Brian Windhorst makes me a smarter fan. The Celtics’ 2022-2023 season will be as highly anticipated as any in recent memory.
4. An item that caught my eye in the Patriots’ pro shop this week: DeVante Parker’s No. 11 jerseys. When Parker was asked about 11 in the offseason, he said that’s what his number was for now, but it could always change in the future (perhaps out of respect for Julian Edelman). I wouldn’t expect it to change now. Once those go on sale, there’s usually no turning back.
5. Kindly asking the Weather Gods for consideration on Friday night. Looking forward to Red Sox-Yankees at Fenway Park, and with football season around the corner, a rescheduled game beyond the next couple weeks due to a rainout could put me out of the money.
6. Caught the coaching bug this spring. Flag football for third, fourth and fifth graders. What a blast, and I loved ESPN colleague Matt Bowen’s advice: “The primary goal is not winning a championship here. We want to have fun, learn some skills, get everyone involved, and support each other.” Check out this picture from the Chargers’ last game and then envision how proud this assistant coach was of the boys.
7. If any coaches are reading this, I have a suggestion for all of us: Let’s make it a point to have our teams thank the officials/referees after games, and ensure that their calls are respected by all during the action. They’re trying their hardest and it’s a thankless job.
8. Patriots center David Andrews once said he’ll never watch football the same way after playing for Bill Belichick, and that kept popping into my mind during the flag-football season. One example: Every time we hit the 2-minute mark of the first half, or the 2-minute warning, I kept thinking to myself, “This is when the majority of games are won or lost. We better be sharp with our situational football.” Come on, Bill! Get out of my head! My management of timeouts wasn’t always at Belichickian levels, but one of my favorites came in the final game when a turnover on downs gave the Chargers the ball with a chance to win and everyone was over-the-top fired up. Coach called a timeout before the first snap so everyone could take a deep breath and think through how they wanted to approach the game-defining series.
9. Previously had sweaty ice-hockey equipment as No. 1 in the category of worst-smelling thing that your kid could potentially be involved with … and then my animal-loving son introduced me to the piggery at a local farm, which has quickly become one of his favorite spots. This could lead to a change at the top of the stinks-the-most power rankings.
10. Did you know the Patriots provide meals for players throughout the offseason? It’s one of those small things, but probably contributes to players wanting to be at the facility, and also helps them make healthy choices. I think running back Damien Harris, in particular, is a big fan of the option. Note to self: Would be interesting to check with other teams to see if this is more the norm than the exception. I remember Rodney Harrison once raving about it, too.
11. One of the greatest things to ever happen to me was spending 12 summers at Camp Bauercrest, where lifelong friends were made and independence in a safe space led to great personal growth. I visited camp last week, the day the Celtics traded for Malcolm Brogdon, and one of the neatest things to see was the campers’ passion for sports broadcasting. In a makeshift studio set up for podcasts and newscasts, they talked about the Brogdon trade less than an hour after it happened, the expected signing of Danilo Gallinari, while also learning some of the nuances of sports media from ESPN’s Patriots reporter. This, to me, is one of the great things about sports.
12. Is there a more powerful connector? Sports are one of the few things that sparks passionate and fun discussion, and can bring people together instead of dividing them. With time, and the current climate we’re all living in, I find myself appreciating that more than ever. Toss in a good live concert and quality dinner (preferably on a patio), and that’s a winning trifecta for me.
13. One difference from when I attended camp more than 30 years ago: I probably wouldn’t have learned of the Brogdon trade until the day after it happened, maybe more. News travels much faster these days, everyone seemingly looking down at their phone to see the ESPN notification.
14. Another reminder I’m getting older: I read multiple newspapers online, but one of my favorite things to do in the football offseason is pick up the Boston Globe at the end of the driveway each Sunday, and flip from A1 to the “Connections” column at the end of the magazine insert. There’s something more enjoyable reading it page by page than clicking on a link, or looking at a screen. Brings me back to the days of setting my alarm to beat everyone else in the house to the paper so I could grab the sports section first; reading Peter Gammons, Will McDonough, Bob Ryan, Dan Shaughnessy, Jackie MacMullan, John Powers, Fran Rosa and Co. really ignited my passion for sports reporting.
15. Caught a little bit of Jason McCourty as a guest host on NFL Network’s “Good Morning Football” program early last week, and thought he was excellent and ready to slide right into that type of role if he so desires. My understanding is that he’s leaving the door open to still play, but there’s no shortage of feelers from TV folks. One nugget from McCourty: In ranking Julian Edelman one of his top-5 trash talkers, he shared how both Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler said they wouldn’t be the players are today if not for the way Edelman attacked them/trash talked them every day in practice.
16. The Honda Odyssey minivan needed a new battery last week. Wouldn’t start. Within 45 minutes, AAA was on the job to replace it, serving up a reminder it’s one of the best insurance policies if you can swing it. It’s hard to find customer service at that level these days. When you get it, the appreciation level rises that much more.
17. Anyone else fill up their gas tank at halfway because it’s too depressing to let it get near ‘E’? It’s my new thing, thanks to a buddy who suggested it, probably after getting tired of hearing me say it over and over again. Just feels better that way.
18. Edelman’s appearance on the “I Am Athlete” podcast generated some buzz because of his remarks on Jimmy Garoppolo, which were notable but also fell into the category of older news. Edelman’s most relevant soundbite to me was when he said: “You have to look at the Patriots from 2001-2004, those first three Super Bowls, it was a defensive-built team. That’s the thing I’m worried about with the Patriots. Is their defense going to be there to allow Mac [Jones] to have this slow progression into becoming what he becomes?”
19. That defensive question, and which coach ultimately leads the offense, are the two biggies. Short of Bill O’Brien having come back in 2022, the offensive coaching staff was always going to be a wild-card. And my sense is that O’Brien is so locked in at Alabama, it was never really a consideration. Thus, to me, what happens in that area in New England is one of the most compelling storylines of the NFL season.
20. Mark those calendars: July 19 for Patriots rookies to report. QBs and rehabbing players are usually early, too. And then it’s July 26 for everyone else, with the first practice Wednesday, July 27. It’s a privilege to cover the Patriots and NFL, and to do it at ESPN. I’m looking forward to this season as much as any, and hope you will enjoy following my reporting of it.