Q: What are you initial thoughts on being drafted by the Patriots?
JS: Shoot, I’m extremely excited. Obviously, New England has won a bunch of Super Bowls in recent history and Coach [Bill] Belichick is obviously one of the brightest minds in football, so just being able to be a part of what Mr. Kraft is doing in the organization, what Coach Belichick is doing in the organization, I’m so fired up and ready to get to work and be a part of a great organization.
Q: What kind of pre-draft contact did you have with the Patriots and what did that entail?
JS: I went on a top-30 visit to New England – it was actually my last visit on April 11 or somewhere around then. So, I went up there for a day, was able to sit down obviously with Coach Belichick, Coach [Josh] McDaniels and other people throughout the organization. It was a really great visit. I enjoyed getting up there and getting to know them and allowing them to get to know me a little bit and what I’m all about. It was a great visit, and like I said, I couldn’t be more fired up to be a Patriot.
Q: What did you learn on that visit about the New England system and how it might suit your skill set?
JS: Yeah, I loved it. We sat there and went through some of their offensive systems that morning, and just to dive into a NFL playbook that is so successful, I had a lot of fun with it. Obviously, there’s a lot of things that I’m going to have to learn moving forward, but I’m with Tom Brady and Brian Hoyer and Danny Etling. Those are three guys that have a lot of knowledge and I’m going to be able to sit there and soak up everything from those guys and learn a lot and hopefully play at a high level.
Q: A lot has been made that you were better in 2017 than you were in 2018. What happened in 2018 from your perspective?
JS: I think there’s different things that happen throughout the season, and I think myself, Coach [Gus] Malzahn, Coach [Chip] Lindsey, if we were all to kind of look back and go back and read through the season, I think we’d just open it up a lot more. When you lose a guy like Kerryon Johnson and Braden Smith up front, some of those guys that have a lot of experience, you just have to find out your identity. And I think we found our identity during our bowl game against Purdue. It’s one of those things, but I wouldn’t trade my time at Auburn for anything. I loved it there, and the great thing about Auburn is that it can really help prepare you for the next level. And sure enough, I’m lucky enough to sit here and be a Patriot and further my career a little bit.
*Q: What are your biggest strengths as a quarterback? *
JS: I think with any quarterback, the first trait needs to be leadership and confidence because you’ve got to go into a locker room – people are looking at the quarterback as one of the leaders of the team and somebody that really has to propel a team forward. I think that’s always been one of my biggest traits. On the football side of things, I’ve always been able to make any throw on the field and I’ve been able to adapt my situation. At Baylor, I had one offense. At Auburn, I had a different offense. Being able to adapt to different situations like that, I think I’ve done a really good job at.
Q: What are your thoughts on backing up Tom Brady, working with him and competing against him?
JS: It’s obviously going to be great. Tom Brady is obviously a great player and, from what I’ve heard, a great teammate. So I’m just looking forward to spending some time with him. You can’t play for 20 years and not have so much knowledge of the game, so just being able to sit there and soak up everything that he’s gone through and pick his brain here and there about different things. It’s a tremendous opportunity to learn under him and Brian Hoyer. Obviously Brian’s been around the league for a really long time and has a ton of experience. To be in the same room with those guys and to learn from them, it’s going to be great and I’m really looking forward to it.
Q: I saw you go way back with Damien Harris. When did you first get to know him and have you stayed in touch with him?
JS: Oh, yeah. I was telling somebody last night that we played Pee Wee football together back when we were eight years old, back when we were in Kentucky. So, I’ve known Damien for basically my entire life it seems like and we’ve definitely kept in touch, and I’ve obviously played him the last couple of years. It’s funny, as soon as I get off this call, I’m actually going to give him a shout and tell him how excited I am to play with him again. Life always comes full circle, and to be with the very first year of tackle football playing with Damien and now we’re both New England Patriots, it’s going to be a lot of fun.
Q: Was losing those guys up front last year tough to deal with confidence wise and were there ever times you feel like you hurried yourself too much trying to compensate for that?
JS: I told Coach McDaniels and Coach Belichick, there were definitely times last year where for whatever reason, I just decided to get out of the pocket when I shouldn’t have or just didn’t trust my eyes at a certain point or my feet. That’s something I’ve obviously been working on this spring up to the draft and it’s something I’m going to have to continue to work at in order to get better at the quarterback position. I’m really looking forward to doing that, and there’s no one better to learn from than Coach McDaniels and Coach Belichick and those guys in the quarterback room.
Q: How valuable was your experience at the Senior Bowl and did you have any contact with the Patriots back then? Was there any initial interest from the team?
JS: I met up with a scout from New England, but outside of that, I hadn’t talked to Coach McDaniels or Coach Belichick or anybody from the organization up until my top-30 visit. Actually, I take that back. I had a one-on-one meeting with Nick Caserio before my Pro Day for about an hour and a half.
Q: What was your experience like being a part of the NFL Draft Academy series?
JS: Oh, it’s been great to document this whole process because not a lot of guys get to go through it, so just doing that and getting my story out there a little bit and seeing what kind of person I am in football and outside of football – that whole process has been a lot of fun.
*Q: What are your thoughts on being drafted at 133 overall? *
JS: I’m extremely excited. This is a great fit for me and my skill set and I’m really looking forward to diving deeper into this system and getting to learn from Coach Belichick, Coach McDaniels, Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, just learning from all of these people. I couldn’t think of a better situation.
*Q: With Tom Brady turning 42 this summer, do you feel any pressure to be the next face of this franchise? *
JS: No, I don’t think I feel any pressure. Like I said, it’s an awesome opportunity to learn from a guy like Tom. And like I said, he’s played so much, he’s seen everything, he’s won a lot – there’s just so many different intangibles that I want to soak up from him. I’m sure everybody wants to be as good as Tom Brady one day. I’ve got to take it one day at a time, and that’s what I’m going to do and I’m going to work as absolutely hard as I can to make sure I can do whatever it is to help this organization out.
Q: Do you have a friendship with Danny Etling from competing against him in the SEC? Did he give you an idea of what it’s like to play for the Patriots?
JS: So, I actually got to talk to him for quite a while on my top-30 visit and we sat down at lunch that day and we were talking about the year before and all that stuff. He obviously spoke very highly of Tom and his work ethic and what he’s all about and he said just like anybody, just soak up as much as you can.
Q: Would you say you’re someone that likes to watch a lot of film, a film junkie?
JS: Oh, absolutely. I love watching ball. Whether it’s college, pro, I just love learning more about football and picking people’s brains and that sort of thing. So, I would definitely say I’m a football junkie.
Q: Did you meet with Nick Caserio before your pro day? It sounded like it was a relatively lengthy meeting. What was that like?
JS: Yeah, I did. So, we met the night before the pro day and that was kind of my first contact with the Patriots. We sat down and went over a bunch of different things and their offense and my offense at Auburn and just kind of my background a little bit. He was just trying to get a feel for me, and it was obviously great to sit there and learn a little bit from him.
Q: Was there anything different about going through the Patriots’ process compared to interviews with other teams?
JS: You know, I think everybody does it in their own way, and I think how Coach Belichick does his whole process with the draft is unique. I think they like to find their guys that they really want to go after and they have a unique way of doing it. It was really exciting to be going through what they had us do and everything like that. And like I said, everyone just kind of has their own way of doing things.
Q: Why do you say it’s unique?
JS: For instance, some teams will just bring you in and you’ll sit down with maybe the quarterback coach and the offensive coordinator, maybe the head coach, maybe a consultant or whoever it is, and just watch film – not really do too much, just kind of talk through things. Some teams get you up on the board, some teams don’t. It just kind of depends. They really like to find out how smart you are and they like to really challenge you in that way. That was something that not a lot of teams had done with me prior to the Patriot visit. So, like I said, they just have a unique way of doing things.
Q: Did they test your recall when you came for your top-30 visit? Did they ask you about what you spoke with Nick Caserio about and see if you retained it?
JS: They didn’t ask me necessarily that but when you sit there and you go over this play or that play at 8:30 in the morning and then be able to regurgitate it at 11:30 and doing stuff in between those three hours where maybe you’re not thinking about it. Things like that they definitely test you on.