Dom. Feb 25th, 2024

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:

1. Maye day: When Phil Longo was offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach at the University of North Carolina from 2019 to 2022, he remembers what unfolded when the school was recruiting Drake Maye, whose family has deep ties to the school.

Maye and then-incumbent Tar Heels quarterback Sam Howell ended up on opposite ends of a pingpong table and it turned into a marathon match.

«They stayed at the house until 2 in the morning because neither wanted to leave until they were ahead. You just couldn’t get them out of the house. At some point, we had to go in there and kick them out,» Longo told ESPN.

«I remember feeling like ‘We’re recruiting the right people’ because that’s what you need out of your quarterback. A guy who can’t stand losing and is going to fight to the end of the game. I was already able to say that about Sam, then I was very fortunate to have another one [in Maye].»

Howell went on to become a fifth-round pick of the Washington Commanders in the 2022 NFL draft. This year, Maye is projected to go earlier. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. slotted Maye to the Patriots at No. 3 in his first mock draft.

So what should Patriots fans know about Maye?

Longo starts with the quarterback’s basketball background because he believes it’s what makes him a unique prospect.

«There’s a longstanding history of basketball in his family and it’s really what plays into him being as athletic as he is. You look at him, and he’s a tall, lanky quarterback [6-foot-4, 230 pounds]. I don’t think just looking at him that you would initially think he’s as athletic as he is,» he said.

«I’m certainly not saying he’s Patrick Mahomes, but he is in that mold. Mahomes has his own unique kind of body style; the way he walks and carries himself. Drake is a little different. He has really, really good feet. He can contort his body in a lot of different ways and make throws. He can throw offplatform extremely well — better than you would think. That is one of the things that I think separates him from some others. It will be interesting to see how it translates at [the NFL] level, but he also was an exceptional runner at the college level.»

Longo’s attack-minded offense — which draws parallels to the late Mike Leach’s Air Raid system — brought out the best in Maye in 2022, his first season as a full-time starter. Maye was 342-for-517 for 4,321 yards, with 38 touchdown passes and seven interceptions. He added 653 rushing yards on 172 carries and seven touchdowns.

Longo moved on to become Wisconsin’s offensive coordinator in 2023 and Maye wasn’t as productive in his second season as a starter, finishing 269-for-425 for 3,608 yards, with 24 touchdown passes and nine interceptions. He also had 449 rushing yards on 112 carries and nine touchdowns.

The key traits that intrigue NFL teams, however, didn’t change.

«He has good arm strength, good vision and he’s very, very intelligent. He is very consistent with his decision-making,» Longo said. «He is aggressive when you give him some freedom in regards to checking a route or plays. He’s a good, total-package kid.»

Maye’s father, Mark, played football at UNC (1983-87). His brother Luke played basketball at the school (2015-19) and won a national championship, and another brother, Beau, was a walk-on for the Tar Heels in the 2022-23 season. Another brother, Cole, won a baseball national title at Florida.

Longo said he believes that Maye’s experience growing up in an «ultra-sport-driven family» fed his competitive nature, which is the type of thing NFL scouts ask him about as much, if not more, than what they see on the field.

«The majority of the questions are about the things you can’t see on film. What is the character of the kid? Is he obsessed with the game? Does he have natural leadership ability? If he does, what is it? Is he a quiet guy that is going to teach and mentor and coach guys? Is he a yeller and a screamer?» Longo explained.

«Matt Corral, who we had at Ole Miss, wore all his emotions on his sleeve. You knew how he was feeling just by looking at him. That’s how he played and it’s what made him good. Then Sam [Howell] was the opposite. He was cool, calm, collected — the house is on fire and it doesn’t matter, he’ll handle the problem, assess it and address it.

«Then Drake is kind of in-between — you can tell when he’s fired up, when he’s happy, when he’s disappointed with himself, when he doesn’t like a call. But it was never so drastic that he gets off that midline of being composed or poised that it would affect him emotionally in the game. He’s very mature.»

2. Coaching follow-ups: First-year Patriots head coach Jerod Mayo noted in a Monday interview on sports radio WEEI that his top priority is to build his coaching staff. He moved the football forward on defense with the anticipated promotion of defensive line coach DeMarcus Covington, and now the focus turns to offense and special teams.

At this point, the majority of interviews with coaches from other teams have been over video conference and described more as initial conversations. Thus, the next step is flying candidates who made a strong initial impression into town for in-person interviews, which should shift the hiring process into a higher gear this week.

Those who have reportedly already spoken with Mayo, or plan to do so, include Thomas Brown (Panthers OC), Nick Caley (Rams TEs), Tanner Engstrand (Lions passing game coordinator), Brian Fleury (49ers TEs), Luke Getsy (Bears OC), Jerrod Johnson (Texans QBs), Thomas McGaughey (Giants STs), Dan Pitcher (Bengals QBs/stays in Cincinnati), Zac Robinson (Rams QBs), Jeremy Springer (Rams assistant special teams) and Marquice Williams (Falcons STs/stays with Falcons).

Caley, the former longtime Patriots tight ends coach who interviewed for the team’s offensive coordinator job in 2022, is viewed by some close to the process as well-positioned to ultimately lead the offense.

3. Belichick’s motivation: Tom Brady had the «Brady 6» — the six quarterbacks selected before him in the 2000 draft who always served as a motivating factor. Now Bill Belichick has the «Belichick 7» — the seven franchises (other than the Patriots) that had head-coaching openings this offseason and elected to hire others (assuming Seattle and Washington do so). Those familiar with Belichick’s thinking relay that he believes having no job is a better result than a job that wasn’t the right fit. So it seems safe to say he’ll be motivated to find the right one in the future.

4. Mayo leftovers: Among the leftover nuggets of note from Mayo’s initial radio interview:

  • He has yet to move into Belichick’s old office. «I’ll get there at some point,» he said.

  • Director of player personnel Matt Groh and director of scouting Eliot Wolf have primarily helped him through the interview process with building a staff.

  • Of Belichick, he said: «I feel like Coach still has a lot left in the tank. I wish him nothing but the best.»

  • Of Steve and Brian Belichick possibly staying: «I have a good relationship with both of them. They’re great coaches.»

  • He isn’t sure what longtime special teams captain Matthew Slater is planning to do in 2024.

  • Summing up his style: «It’s about the players. One thing I took away from Coach Belichick is players win games and coaches lose games. We can talk all we want to about scheme and what we want to do, but if you don’t have players out there that have a shared vision, it’s going to be hard to score points. … We will remain a game-plan team. Whatever we have to do to make the other team play ‘left-handed’ — offensive, defensive and special teams-wise — that’s always been the goal.»

5. Scouting trail: With Senior Bowl practices scheduled for this week, Troy Brown (receivers/returners) is the only Patriots coach scheduled to be on hand, barring a late change of plans. Brown was committed to attend as one of the Senior Bowl offensive coordinators, providing him a chance to gain more experience, in a decision made before the Patriots’ coaching change from Belichick to Mayo. As for Mayo, staying behind in Foxborough gives him a chance to drill down on finalizing his coaching staff.

6. Jordan’s versatility: Running back Dion Lewis is one of the top examples of a Patriots «futures» signing paying off (2015), and while those have been more of the exception, here’s one thing that fifth-year offensive lineman Michael Jordan has going for him after signing with New England last Wednesday — versatility. The 6-foot-6, 315-pound Jordan has primarily played guard in games, but the Packers had him work mostly at center in practices in 2023 and the Panthers had also experimented with him at tackle in preseason games.

7. Stewart’s intel: Owner Robert Kraft stressed the collaborative approach the Patriots hope to adopt in 2024, and the Jordan signing — albeit a modest one — reflects part of what he was mentioning. If Patriots senior personnel adviser Patrick Stewart wasn’t on staff, my understanding is that it probably doesn’t happen. Stewart was director of player personnel/VP of player personnel at Carolina from 2020 to 2022, a stretch when Jordan started 10 games for the Panthers.

8. Strange’s offseason: With starting left guard Cole Strange having undergone knee surgery, which puts him on more of a rehabilitation track this offseason, it highlights the importance of the team building quality depth. Jake Andrews, the 2023 fourth-round pick from Troy, finished the season at left guard. Atonio Mafi, the 2023 fifth-round pick from UCLA, was the initial top replacement. Now Jordan adds another option.

9. JuJu checks in: Patriots wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who missed the last three games of the season with an ankle injury and never seemed fully healthy when he joined the team, was one of the few players showing up at Gillette Stadium last week. He’s scheduled to earn $7 million in guaranteed money in 2024 and count $10.2 million against the salary cap, so the Patriots hope to receive more return on their investment than they did last season (29 catches, 260 yards, 1 TD).

10. Did you know? The Patriots have drafted just six players from the University of North Carolina — center Rip Hawkins (second round, 1961), guard Ron Wooten (sixth, 1981), cornerback Jimmy Hitchcock (third, 1995), safety Dexter Reid (fourth, 2004), receiver Brandon Tate (third, 2009) and nose tackle Tim Goad (fourth, 1988).

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