The Patriots wrapped up on-field preparations for the Buffalo Bills on Saturday afternoon and the assistant coaches checked in with the media after practice on a number of topics. The division champs will provide another stiff test for New England as a number of young players continue to emerge into significant roles.
After a challenging offseason, the team is starting to see some returns as those young players get game experience.
"A lot of people like to just say it's the playbook but it's everything," said Jerod Mayo of the challenges facing new players in New England, adding that the experience will really start to pay off next season. "You know what to expect, the playbook, the X's & O's start slowing down and then your natural athleticism starts to shine through. I would say all those guys next year, they should be better. If not, it's on me."
But many young players have already made significant strides this season, with tight ends Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene getting some extensive reps as the season winds down.
Where does the improvement start to show itself with players like them?
"I think the overall understanding of how we're trying to get things done from play to play," said tight ends coach Nick Caley. "I think that comes with repetition, that comes from going out there and actually living through the experience physically.
"Every rep is an opportunity to grow. I'd say most of all it's the understanding of the scheme and the concept of what we're trying to get out of every play."
In a week where Patriots fans and pundits have been wondering if it's time to find out what the team has in second-year quarterback Jarrett Stidham by getting him more quality game reps, perhaps as the starter, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said it's about more than just getting game experience.
"The bottom line is you have to take every opportunity you have on the football field, whether it's practice, preseason games, regular-season games, whatever it is, OTAs, all those things count for something," said McDaniels. "You have to approach it that way in terms of being a professional and trying to develop your craft, your skills and improve as a player. It's great to say 'we'll put them in there, that'll be the quickest way to improve them,' but to me, every opportunity is an opportunity to improve an individual."
And many have seized their opportunities this season. From Michael Onwenu, who has been a surprise starter after being selected in the sixth round, to Kyle Dugger, who has made the jump from a small college to the NFL and looked like he's belonged, or other rookies like Justin Herron and the two tight ends, the Patriots are hopeful all can take even bigger leaps next season, similar to that of Jakobi Meyers, a 2019 undrafted rookie, who is coming off his second 100-yard game this season.
"Obviously, it's really fun to see your guys go succeed on the playing field but all we care about as coaches and players is winning games," reminded Meyers' position coach Mick Lombardi. "We can have as many stats and productive plays we want, if we're not winning games, it doesn't really matter to anybody."
Webex Quotes of Note
Cam Achord on Jake Bailey and Matthew Slater making the Pro Bowl:
"It's an awesome accomplishment and that's a year's worth of work, it's not just one day and that goes back. They do a great job every day, showing up ready to work, working on their craft getting better every day. It goes without saying they performed well for us this year. They've done a great job both on and off the field, stepping up and providing great leadership for us."
Ivan Fears on the experience of his running back room:
"I have been fortunate to have a lot of experience in my group. James, Rex, Son,y all have played. Damien was the only one who didn't have a lot of playing time, but he sort of fell right in with those guys as far as the things you need to do to be a player and that was key. That was very important to us. So it gave me a room of really good football players. Guys who could play the game, understood what it took to win, understood what it took to be productive and worked their ass off, really did. I was very fortunate with that, no matter who was hurt, always had quality players to throw on the field and that's helped us a lot as far as my position goes."
Cole Popovich on Justin Herron's development:
"I think Justin is coming along really well. At the beginning of the year he had that stretch where he had an ankle and was kind of down for a few weeks. That's a bit of a setback for any rookie, for any player, especially a rookie. Since he's come back he's done a really nice job. Similar to Mike [Onwenu], he's a smart guy, that's were looking for, smart guys who can really learn and help us out early on. He was definitely one we identified like he could and felt like we had a tackle with him from the beginning."