In no particular order, here are 10 things we learned this week about the Patriots and the NFL:
1. The Patriots could have three guys on the roster this year who have fathers who have played in the NFL: Matthew Slater (and his dad, Hall of Famer Jackie), Bobby Carpenter (former NFL running back/fullback Bobby) and Andre Carter (and his dad, ex-Denver defensive lineman Rubin Carter). Jackie Slater has connections to both of them. He played with Rob Carpenter for one season with the Rams, and against Rubin Carter several times when the Rams and Broncos knocked heads. “I remember Rob. He came out to us from the Giants, and we were teammates together for a year. He was a great player -- he really loved playing the game,” Jackie said. “Funny thing is, I have a connection to Rubin as well: I played against him and that ‘Orange Crush’ defense in Denver several times. I’ve gotten a chance to talk to young Carter a couple of times, and he has the same character and the same dignity that was present in his father. Three great football families.”
2. One guy who has made his rep as a do-everything part of the Patriots is Matthew Slater. The 26-year-old has seen extensive special teams experience, and also has lined up as a defensive back and a wide receiver. However, the New England coaching staff keeps him on his toes during the offseason: while some players receive offseason workout plans specific to their position, Slater is ready for just about anything in 2012. “I think I have to prepare as I’ve always prepared, and that’s to be ready to do whatever is asked of me when my number’s called,” he said this past week in between workouts at Gillette Stadium. “So I’ll train the same way I’ve always trained if not harder because I know that the competition is out there and I have to go out there and prove myself year in and year out. Last year was last year, so I know I have to come in and work hard. If they ask me to play safety, put my hand in the ground, whatever it is, I’m going to be ready to do it.”
3. The Patriots did agree to terms with kicker Chris Koepplin on Friday, but I wouldn’t read that as a shot across the bow of Stephen Gostkowski. This will be the second stop in Foxboro for Koepplin, who handled a lot of the work in training camp (and kicked off in the preseason) as Gostkowski returned from quad surgery. In addition, it’s worth mentioning that several teams carry an extra specialist or two throughout the preseason in hopes of easing the workload on the starter. In that context, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them add a punter and/or long snapper between now and the start of camp.
4. Recently, there’s been a curious evolution among young quarterbacks. Five to ten years ago, college signal-callers pointed to Tom Brady and Peyton Manning as the model for quarterbacks, the sort of QB they wanted to eventually become. But in the last few years at the combine -- maybe it was a generational thing -- more and more young quarterbacks have changed their tune, saying the looked to players like Aaron Rodgers as the new template for a successful quarterback in the NFL. So when watching, ESPN’s “QB Camp with Jon Gruden,” it was interesting to hear Robert Griffin III invoke the names of Brady and Manning when he broke down a play where he was able to hurry his teammates to the line to catch Oklahoma with too many men on the field. (For what it’s worth, it looked an awful lot like what Brady did several times this season in New England’s hurry-up offense.) “They’ve got a D-lineman running off the field — he’s tired,” Griffin said. “I feel like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, those guys, when they catch those guys getting off the field they’re like, ‘We need to snap the ball because we’re gonna get five free yards.’”
5. Patriots backup quarterback Brian Hoyer and new wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez went to the same Ohio high school, St. Ignatius, and were part of the same high school team when Gonzalez was a senior and Hoyer was a junior. “It’s very odd. When you leave high school, you certainly don’t expect to kind of reacquaint yourself with your high school quarterback in the National Football League,” Gonzalez said this week. “It’s cool, and it’s nice to have kind of a familiar face and somebody that you’ve known awhile. I’ve known his wife longer than him. She was one of my sister’s best friends growing up. There’s definitely a familiarity there that’s nice and comfortable.”
6. Speaking of Gonzalez, the former Colt was asked this week what it will be like to look across the field at Gillette Stadium when Denver comes to town and see former teammate Manning with a Bronco on the side of his helmet instead of a horseshoe. “That’ll be odd. It’s funny how it works out that he goes to a team that ends up coming back here,” Gonzalez said. “I think more than anything, that just shows you that nobody is immune to being cut. Nobody is immune to their career being over. The only guarantee in the NFL is there are no guarantees. That’s what our old offensive coordinator, Clyde Christensen, used to say, and it’s the truth: It’s near impossible to predict what’s going to happen in the NFL from week to week, month to month, year to year. [Last year], nobody would have thought that he’d be in Denver. It’s just how it is. It’s kind of a fluid deal and part of what makes it fun, I think.”
7. Not that this matters in the grand scheme of things, but Jerod Mayo and Gary Guyton -- the latter of whom signed a free-agent deal with the Dolphins this week -- became extremely close over the last four seasons in New England. Guyton was also considered one of the most pleasant guys in the locker room -- a quiet, reserved individual, he was almost painfully shy at times around the media. At the same time, few players dropped as precipitously down the depth chart over the last few years as the former Georgia Tech standout. He started every game in 2009 and still got a sizable number of snaps in 2010 and 2011, but as individuals like Brandon Spikes and Dan Fletcher asserted themselves at the inside linebacker spot, Guyton’s total snaps slipped. He started the year as part of a positional rotation at linebacker, but after a Week 11 win over Kansas City, he took just 47 snaps the rest of the way (per Pro Football Focus).
8. Of the 17 unrestricted free agents on the Patriots’ radar at the start of free agency, six of them have re-signed with New England (Dan Koppen, Deion Branch, Matthew Slater, Dan Connolly, Niko Koutouvides, Tracy White), while four have signed elsewhere (Guyton, Antuwan Molden, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Mark Anderson). Six of them have yet to sign (jncluding Kevin Faulk, Shaun Ellis, Gerard Warren, Andre Carter and James Ihedigbo), and one (Wes Welker) has been assigned the franchise tag, and hasn’t yet signed his tender.
9. Of the six who haven’t signed yet, the odds are that if his health allows, Carter is the favorite to return, followed by Ihedigbo and Faulk. (There’s an outside chance that Gerard Warren could return as well, but that likely won’t be decided until camp gets closer.) Ihedigbo’s future could depend on what the Patriots are going to do long-term with Devin McCourty: If the team feels the combination of McCourty and newcomer Steve Gregory are a good combo at the free safety spot (with Sterling Moore thrown in for occasional depth purposes), Ihedigbo could be in for an interesting positional battle if New England elects to being him back. If predominantly corner is more in the cards for McCourty, then Ihedigbo’s spot could be more secure.
10. Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork will hold his annual draft day fundraiser at Pinz in Milford on the 26th, an event which benefits the Joslin Diabetes Center and the Diabetes Research Institute. For more on the event, check out his website, vincewilfork75.com.