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Unfiltered Notebook 12/23: Herron is latest rookie to see an expanded role

The Patriots have gotten some solid contributions from their rookie class and left tackle Justin Herron is the latest to make strides.


Justin Herron is just the latest member of the 2020 rookie class to overcome a challenging introduction into the NFL and gain some valuable experience this season. The sixth-round pick made his fourth start of the season against the Dolphins, going wire-to-wire at left tackle, his first start along the line since October.

"It was a great feeling to go out there and start next to a great group of guys," said Herron on Wednesday afternoon via Webex. "Honestly, it was kind of nerve-racking. I had a little bit of anxiety at the beginning but as the game went on and I was talking to Joe and talking to David and everybody else, they were able to keep me calm."

The rookie has now started games at three different positions, including his first of the season, which came at right tackle against the Chiefs. Now, Herron has played every snap in two games at left tackle as well, showing he could have potential as a swing tackle who can play both positions.

"Honestly, I just come in and try not to think about, 'I want to be a swing tackle,'" said Herron. "I just want to come in and make sure that I'm prepared in both situations, just being ready for anything. And if I need to be thrown in at left, I'm ready. If I need to be thrown in it right, I'm ready. I try not to think too much of the title, I just try to make sure that I'm playing for everyone next to me and making sure I do my job, no matter where they put me."

Herron isn't the only rookie linemen to make an impact this season. Michael Onwenu is a fellow sixth-round pick and has 14 starts under his belt as he's settled in at right tackle, where he's started every game since starting there against San Francisco.

The two rookies have helped each other through a challenging season that has seen both of them thrown into the NFL fire.

"We have a really good relationship," said Herron of Onwenu. "We're always just talking to one another. If I don't know something, I'll ask him and he'll tell me, but if he doesn't know something he'll ask me and I'll tell him. So we do a good job of feeding off of one another and learning from each other. I think that's the biggest thing that I like about our relationship is that we are consistently learning from each other. Even when he goes in at guard he's telling me how, 'this is what I did,' just in case I have to go in.

As the team rounds into the final two games of the season, Herron should continue to stack some valuable experience that will pay off down the line as he puts the finishing touches on a promising rookie season.

"I think the biggest thing I've learned it's just understanding that football is a job now," said Herron."I always talk about how the older guys are always preparing us. David [Andrews], Joe [Thuney], Shaq [Mason], Isaiah [Wynn], the list goes on and on and on. They just do a great job of showing me the ropes, of how you're supposed to attack each day and knowing that this is your job, this is how you attack it."

Bills used to playing with a lead

Bill Belichick kicked off the week with his usual Wednesday press conference and it wasn't surprising to see him praising the newly crowned division champs.

"Since we last played Buffalo, they've played extremely well, probably playing as well as any team in the league," said Belichick. "Really just done a good job in all three phases of the game. They're excellent in the kicking game. [Andre] Roberts is having another good year. Defensively, they have done a good job of playing from ahead, limiting the points, getting negative plays in the running game, taking the ball away."

The bit about playing from ahead stood out and after digging into Football Outsiders time statistics, it confirmed the nugget from the coach. The Bills have played with the lead for the second-most time in the league and they've also trailed in a game for the second-least amount of time.

It would appear that a point of emphasis this week will be to put Buffalo in an uncommon situation and force them to chase. No easy task for a Patriots team that hasn't scored a touchdown in eight quarters.

Webex Quotes of Note

Adrian Phillips on J.C. Jackson:

"A guy like J.C., he brings it every day. He doesn't care if it's a walk-through, he doesn't care if we're in pads or not, he's going to bring it every day. He's the type of guy that no matter what the situation is he will not let you catch the ball. So he doesn't care if the coaches throwing it, he doesn't care if Stid or whoever might be throwing it, he does not want that person to catch the ball and he brings that mentality to practice every day. That's why it shows up on gameday.

Jakobi Meyers on his year two development:

"I was really panicky last year. I probably knew the right thing but I wasn't 100 percent sure I did. Hopefully, I was just putting it in God's hands, maybe I'll go out there and do something right. This year I was definitely a lot more confident. I understood not only my position but everyone else's position and I was able to help out a little more. I'm definitely more confident and hopefully, I can build on that going into next year."

Sony Michel on the team's mindset in the final two games:

"It's about focusing on finishing. We still got two more games left. Obviously, the Bills are a good team, they are winning a lot of football games, so I got to stay focused. And the Jets, they haven't given up. As you can see last week they won and I'm sure they're going to be willing to come in here and try to beat us so we just got to stay focused, take one game at a time and that's kind of where my mindset is. That's where everybody else's mindset is also."

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