Sports

New England Patriots HOFer Kevin Faulk sees Mac Jones set up for success

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

1. Seeing the similarities: Patriots Hall of Famer Kevin Faulk had an up-close look at Mac Jones, the team’s hopeful quarterback of the future.

In one respect, he didn’t like what he saw. In another, he loved it.

Faulk, who enters his second season as LSU’s running backs coach, watched closely from the sideline last December as Jones sizzled in leading Alabama to a 55-17 win against his Tigers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

It was the type of performance from Jones (20-of-28 for 385 yards, four TDs, no interceptions) that makes for sleepless nights for an opposing coach, but one that also sparked optimism when Faulk considers a bright future for the only NFL team he played for (1999-2012).

“Very intelligent. Doesn’t make too many bad decisions. Understood what the offense was. Understood what he needed to do as the starting quarterback, and I think that will be the same way here,” Faulk said of Jones last week on a visit to Massachusetts for an autograph signing. “The situations are similar for him.”

Faulk, 45, is like many who follow the Patriots in his interest on how the quarterback picture will develop, beginning with the first training camp practice Wednesday. The Patriots obviously didn’t select Jones No. 15 overall with the intention for him to be a backup, so the question is how long veteran Cam Newton can hold him off.

“Very curious, because [Jones] can be very productive in this offense if he is who he is shown and proven to be in college — the one year he played,” Faulk said. “He hadn’t played much the previous years, but you could tell from last year that he paid attention.”

Faulk also took note of the Patriots’ second-round pick, Alabama defensive tackle Christian Barmore, who was a handful for LSU to block.

“Can’t wait to see what he does. Very disruptive in the SEC, and we always say the SEC is a step below the NFL,” he said.

Faulk and LSU are looking to rebound from a 5-5 campaign in 2020, and when he was in LSU’s weight room last week, he chopped it up with new Patriots defensive tackle Davon Godchaux, a former Tiger using the college’s facilities.

Faulk, who played four seasons with the Tigers (1995-98), said he takes pride in seeing LSU alumni land with his former NFL team.

So it’s no surprise that one of the first things he did upon his arrival to town last week was visit Patriots headquarters, specifically to pick up some new gear from the team’s Pro Shop.

“Felt like home when I got there,” he said.

2. Vaccination rate: One of the most popular questions from followers is where the Patriots stand with vaccinations, and if they have reached the 85% threshold for players. There are likely to be competitive advantages to being at 85%, such as affecting how teams can meet. The NFL also informed clubs that there are notable consequences for teams that lag with vaccinations. The Patriots, as is often the case with health-related topics, are not divulging their vaccination information publicly, but the sense I get is they are within striking distance — if not already there.

3. Gilmore’s next step: The most significant Patriots news from past week was cornerback Stephon Gilmore reporting with rehabbing players Thursday after skipping June’s mandatory minicamp. That eliminated the possibility of a holdout, which was a long shot anyway because it could have led to up to $50,000 in daily fines. Gilmore, who is still recovering from a partially torn quad, is opening camp on the physically unable to perform list. As for what his arrival means going forward, my thought is it was a necessary initial step toward a possible contract compromise. It would have been hard to imagine the Patriots getting to that point without having Gilmore in-house first.

4. OL coach shuffle: Friday’s news that co-offensive line coach Cole Popovich won’t be with the Patriots in 2021 in a decision related to the COVID-19 vaccine and NFL guidelines is significant in the sense that Popovich — set to enter his seventh season with the team — was groomed under legendary Dante Scarnecchia and a reliable staffer. But the way coach Bill Belichick set up the staff following Scarnecchia’s retirement after the 2018 season — with longtime Youngstown State offensive line coach Carmen Bricillo sharing duties with Popovich — softens the blow to the team. Also, former Patriots offensive lineman Billy Yates is a general assistant on staff and can chip in as well.

5. Stidham’s status: The Patriots have started eight players on the active/physically unable to perform list, and quarterback Jarrett Stidham is among them, meaning he is not cleared for practice despite having participated fully in all spring practices (and even organizing players-only workouts before that). That is often a tip that a player has been managing some type of nagging ailment over a longer range of time, instead of suffering a new injury in the past month or so. If that is indeed the case for Stidham, his status would elevate to one of the more notable storylines of the coming week. Will he be on the field for the first practice Wednesday? If he isn’t, media-based chatter in the spring about how the team splits QB repetitions four ways quickly becomes moot. It would then be Newton leading the way, followed by Jones and veteran Brian Hoyer.

6. Waiting on Mac’s number: When the Patriots take the field for their first practice Wednesday, it’s likely Jones will still be donning the unconventional No. 50. Belichick, as previously noted, puts the rookies in different numbers as a reminder of sorts to focus on more important things than numbers, colored gloves, etc. He can do that until the first preseason game, so Aug. 12 when the Washington Football Team comes to town, would be the date to bookmark for official jersey numbers (Jones’ No. 10 from college remains available).

7. Consistent culture: Recently retired Patriots safety Patrick Chung isn’t buying the idea that the team’s culture is different now, post-Tom Brady. Trade requests (N’Keal Harry) and contract disagreements (Gilmore) have sparked that thought in some circles, but not Chung’s, who said: “Bill is going to make sure that culture stays the same. That’s how Bill is. Regardless of who’s there, who’s not there, he’s going to make sure those players are ready to go and compete.”

8. Short-handed Saints: Top wide receiver Michael Thomas reportedly had ankle surgery in June that makes it unlikely he will be available for the first month of the season, and just more than one week ago, starting defensive tackle David Onyemata was suspended six games for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. That double-dose of bad news for the Saints has some added meaning for the Patriots, who host New Orleans in Week 3.

9. Krafts and 18: Local Boston television station WBZ, which is a broadcast partner of the Patriots, is mourning the death of producer Jimmy Murphy. Patriots owners Robert and Jonathan Kraft each donated $18,000 to the GoFundMe page supporting Murphy’s family, while also sending along a custom Patriots jersey and personal note. In Hebrew, the number 18 stands for “life,” and their generous donation honors Murphy’s memory.

10. Did You Know?: After the Patriots’ streak of finishing .500 or better was stopped at 19 years, the Pittsburgh Steelers now hold the longest streak — 17 years. Pittsburgh hasn’t finished with a losing record since 2003, the year before quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was drafted in the first round. The Cowboys (1965-1985) hold the longest streak of finishing .500 or better — 21 years.



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