Patriots rookies Kyle Dugger and Mike Onwenu have been team's two biggest first-year contributors through three games this season, and with J.J. Taylor and Devin Asiasi seeing an uptick in action lately, the team is getting some early returns from their newest players. Both Dugger and Onwenu figure to play sizable roles when the team travels to Kansas City this weekend.
Onwenu got the first start of his career at left guard on Sunday against the Raiders, the culmination of some notable improvement that the rookie sixth-round pick has made since the early days of training camp. The college guard started the season as the sixth offensive lineman, but with the injury to David Andrews the team saw Onwenu as the next man up.
"Mike's done a good job," said Bill Belichick on Wednesday morning via WebEx. "He's a smart kid, he learns quickly and he played right guard at Michigan – he's played that some, but as you mentioned, he's played the other two more. So, his ability to adapt and adjust his footwork based on whether he's playing tackle or playing on the left side of the line and all that has been pretty impressive."
Onwenu was quick to credit those around him for his quick rise despite a unique offseason that didn't allow any of the rookies to get a jump in OTAs and minicamp.
"I think it's really just been testament to the people around me," said Onwenu on Wednesday. "You know I'm surrounded by a group of high-class professionals and athletes, from my coaches to my teammates. Even though we didn't have those sessions at the beginning of the season, preseason, we all got together. I came along, they brought me along and we're at this point now."
"He's a very strong player with good feet, good balance and likes football and understands football," continued Belichick about the rookie offensive linean. "Things come pretty easily to him in terms of instinctively on the field. Obviously, our system is not the easiest system to learn at any position, but just instinctively when he has to make a decision, he has to decide how quickly to combo to level two, what angle to take to block down on the guy, so forth. He just does a lot of little things well and does them right."
As a sixth-round pick, Onwenu's rise has been a pleasant surprise, but so has the quick emergence of second-round pick Kyle Dugger who came with quite a few questions having to make the jump from Division II to the NFL, but so far has looked comfortable during the transition.
"[Kyle] learns a lot every day, both in practice and in the games," said Bill Belichick last week about the second-round pick out of Lenoir-Rhyne. "There's still obviously things that he's learning about and will learn from and will improve the next time, but I think he's tracking well."
After seeing time against Darren Waller last week, Dugger could again find himself thrown into the first against one of the best tight ends in the game in Travis Kelce.
"I'm super excited just to compete at this level, against this offense and how explosive they are and how effective they are," said Dugger. "I'm really looking forward to just getting out there and being able to compete, doing whatever I can to help the team win."
What has Dugger learned this week about how to prepare for the explosive Kansas City offense?
"Just doing your job well," said Dugger. "Whatever it is that's asked, that you're supposed to be doing or you're responsible for, make sure you're executing your technique, using your help, things like that. Making sure you're doing your job and making sure you're also finishing plays as well, that's huge."
Practice & Injury Report
The Patriots got started on preparations for the Chiefs on Wednesday with a fully padded practice on the lower field. Gunner Olszewski and Damien Harris were notably present after spending three weeks on Injured Reserve, they'll now have three weeks before a roster decision must be made on them so don't pencil them in for this weekend just yet. James White was also back at practice, while Cody Davis did not participate after sustaining a rib injury against the Raiders.
DID NOT PARTICIPATE
DB Cody Davis (rib)
DL Adam Butler (shoulder)
WR Julian Edelman (knee)
RB Sony Michel (quad)
T Isaiah Wynn (calf)
WebEx Quotes of Note
Stephon Gilmore on having James White back at practice:
"A great teammate, great guy. Hard worker. Happy to have him back, prayers to his situation. It's always good to have one of your brothers back on the football field. It's a brotherhood when we go out there and fight for each other so happy to have him back."
Devin McCourty on James White:
"From a selfish standpoint, I think we love having him around. Ultimately we want him to do what's best for him and his family. I know it's a good feeling just to be back in a normal setting, back with a bunch of people who care about you and being able to lean on that support. So we are excited knowing he was coming back this week and having him back in the locker room, being able to catch up with him and laugh and have some good times with James is great."
JoeJuan Williams on who he'd like to model his game after:
"Devin, on and off the football field, that's the guy I want to be like, he's the quarterback of our defense, knowing that he's back there it helps out a lot, I know he'll be on his job, helps me play my role. Hopefully I'm close to being like him one day, love having Devin back there."