FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Generational impact: Former Patriots defensive lineman Brent Williams saw a picture from South Dakota State’s recent pro day, and everything about it looked familiar to him.
Sitting on the bottom level of the metal bleachers is his son, Camren, wearing a blue sweatshirt with “Pat Patriot” on it, the same logo Williams had on his helmet during his playing days from 1986 to 1992. Camren’s arms are folded, his head is tilted forward, and with a clenched mouth he is intensely watching University of Sioux Falls running back Thuro Reisdorfer in a drill.
“He’s always locked in,” Brent Williams said. “I tell him, ‘You need to smile every once in a while. Let people see you have good teeth!’”
He is kidding, of course. He knows that laser-focused intensity well because he handed it down to his son, who is entering his eighth season in the Patriots’ personnel department and second in the all-important role of college scouting director.
The picture, in many ways, sums up what this time of year is like for NFL scouts. They relentlessly travel around the country to gather the most up-to-date information leading into the NFL draft on April 27 (8 p.m. ET on ESPN, ABC, ESPN App), then hope their next flight is on time (Camren’s flight, it turns out, was canceled leaving South Dakota).
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It also highlights how three decades after Brent played his last snap for the Patriots — with whom he totaled 48.5 sacks after being selected in the seventh round out of the University of Toledo — Camren is carrying on the family’s connection with the organization.
“One of the cool things is that [director of scouting administration] Nancy [Meier] is the person who called me to tell me the Patriots were drafting me. She also hosted [my son] Brennan on his visit [in 2013] and walked him out to the car when I picked him up because he was staying here. Nancy has known Cam since he was a baby, and for him to be working for her now, that’s really a special part of my experience and connection to the organization,” he said.
But connections only go so far.
“I find out stuff just like the regular fans do,” Brent said. “I feel like I should know more early, but that’s the Patriots way. Nothing gets out of there, not even to dad!”
The 29-year-old Camren, who has risen from scouting assistant to area scout, national scout and now college scouting director, is expected to be one of the few from the personnel department in the team’s small draft room — joining director of player personnel Matt Groh, director of scouting Eliot Wolf, pro scouting director Steve Cargile and possibly a few others.
Brent credits the influence of former Patriots running back/current Dolphins assistant general manager Marvin Allen, who is Camren’s godfather, as well as Camren’s time as a four-year letterman (2012 to 2015) on the Ohio State football team under coach Urban Meyer, for paving the way for his career path.
The family keeps a group text chain, and Brent and wife Jacquie have one small request for all their children: send a message when arriving to your destination.
“We just want to know that they got where they’re supposed to be safely, so we have this ‘landed’ text that you’re asked to send. Obviously, during this time period, Camren’s ‘landed’ texts dominate the family group text, because he’s bouncing from city to city,” he said.
All in hopes of landing the best prospects for the Patriots, the franchise with which their family ties run deep.
2. O’Brien’s intro: The Patriots hired Bill O’Brien as offensive coordinator on Jan. 26, and coach Bill Belichick is making him (along with the rest of the staff) available to reporters for the first time Tuesday. That will generate a new round of headlines on arguably the team’s signature move of the offseason, which owner Robert Kraft opined should be to quarterback Mac Jones’ advantage. Some close to the Alabama program, where O’Brien served as OC the past two seasons, believe Jones’ presence is one of the top reasons the job appealed to O’Brien.
3. Vrabel’s time?: Former linebacker Mike Vrabel, and current Tennessee Titans coach, is a Patriots Hall of Fame finalist for the seventh straight year, joining coach Bill Parcells (five times) and offensive lineman Logan Mankins (two-time finalist in first two years of eligibility). A fan vote will determine the winner. My thoughts? There are no right or wrong answers in a team Hall of Fame, because there are no set criteria for each voter. Best player/coach? Contributions to Super Bowl championships? Most impactful in the community? Fan favorite?
Parcells is the most polarizing candidate, and it’s not close. His arrival in 1993 changed the way many viewed the ragtag franchise and set the stage for what was to come in the decades after his (messy) departure. Vrabel is a no-brainer, and it bums me out that it has taken this long. Enough! And Mankins and Wes Welker (just missing the finalist cut) should be in; I think it’s just a matter of time.
4. Gesicki checks in: File this one under the category of jumping early but not getting called for a false start — newly signed tight end Mike Gesicki arrived in town last week in advance of the start of the team’s voluntary offseason program Monday. Phase 1 of the offseason program, which is the first two weeks, is all strength and conditioning work. Phase 2, which covers weeks 3-5, allows coaches on the field. Then phase 3, which covers four weeks, includes 10 total organized team activities and a mandatory minicamp (June 12-14).
5. Uche’s passion: Classy gesture from Patriots fourth-year defensive end Josh Uche, who joined Jones on Wednesday to address hundreds of local high school students at the KyleCares Conference, which is dedicated to promoting open and honest communication about the mental health of teens and young adults in today’s society. Uche is passionate about the topic and has been developing a mental health app specifically for athletes.
6. Local talent: The Patriots had about a dozen draft-eligible players in town for their local pro day last week, with Coastal Carolina defensive tackle Jerrod Clark (Brighton, Massachusetts) and UCLA/Duke receiver Jake Bobo (North Andover, Massachusetts) among the higher-profile prospects on hand. Harvard, Holy Cross, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, UConn and Merrimack were among the schools represented in some form, which reflects how the Patriots are ensuring they have their own backyard blanketed on the scouting trail.
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7. McSorley QB3 … for now: The Patriots’ signing of third-string quarterback Trace McSorley on Thursday makes sense so he can join Jones and Bailey Zappe from the beginning of the team’s voluntary offseason program this week. The 27-year-old fills the spot created by the release of veteran Brian Hoyer, and his longer-term staying power will be contingent, in part, on whether the team drafts a quarterback for the third year in a row.
8. Vollmer at draft: Former Patriots offensive lineman Sebastian Vollmer will announce the team’s second- and third-round picks at the NFL draft, as part of the league’s initiative to connect former and current players. The German-born Vollmer was a gem of a second-round pick in 2009, and with the Patriots scheduled to play in Germany this season (opponent/date TBA), he’s an ideal choice.
9. Patten’s legacy: Before the late David Patten won three Super Bowls as a member of the Patriots (2001 to 2004), he was chasing his dream as a member of the Albany Firebirds of the Arena Football League. A poignant reminder of this comes Sunday when his son, Daquan, will suit up as a receiver/defensive back for Albany (now called the Empire) in the team’s season opener. Daquan will wear No. 8 temporarily before hopefully donning his father’s old No. 86. Vinny Testaverde’s son, Vincent, is also on the team.
10. Did you know?: The Patriots’ past five first-round picks have been on the offensive side of the ball. Defensive tackle Malcom Brown (2015) is the last defender the team has selected in the opening round.