FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. In a week when the Patriots' culture was a hot topic in the media after former reserve defensive end Cassius Marsh was critical of the franchise, it's important to strike a balance and note that not every player will share the same view. Marsh's remarks came a few days after I caught up with former Patriots linebacker Shea McClellin, who had a different experience that he calls "the best two years of my football career that I've had."
A big part of that for McClellin was the locker room culture.
"I definitely think it starts from the top, Bill [Belichick] and Mr. Kraft, and then it just trickles down," he said. "Then you have leaders like Tom [Brady] and Matt [Slater] and Dev [Devin McCourty] -- the captains. When you come in as a new guy or a young guy, and you see how laid-back and easy-going the captains are; they'll just come up and talk to you and genuinely want to know about how you're doing and how your life is. I think that's something that makes the chemistry and camaraderie that much better. When the older guys really care about you, it makes you want to play for them and for your teammates, and not just for yourself."
McClellin said he's still following the team closely and will be a "Patriots fan for life." He added he hopes to return to attend a game at some point in the 2018 season.
As for those critical of the Patriots, he pointed out that it's hard for those who haven't played for the team to have an educated opinion.
"I would say a lot of guys don't know what they're talking about, because they haven't experienced it," he said. "When you have a winning culture, everyone is going to hate on it. That's what comes with it, it's the way it is. It's hard for someone who hasn't been in the situation to say, ‘Oh, it's like this, it's like that.' It's a winning culture and you're going to get slander and hate -- that's just the way it is. From my standpoint, I absolutely enjoyed my time there -- from the coaches to the owners, players and trainers."
2. One leftover from Bill Belichick's participation in the "Championship Chat" leading into the NCAA men's lacrosse championship: He views too much information as one of the challenges of coaching and looks for ways to narrow it all down for players. He said he has taken a cue from Johns Hopkins men's lacrosse coach Dave Pietramala, his close friend.
"I've learned a lot from him that way; the way he presents the game plan to his team right before the game was something I started doing," Belichick told co-host Paul Rabil and moderator Paul Carcaterra. "We go through the whole week and game plan and cover it very thoroughly, but what Coach Pietramala did was 30 minutes before the game -- [one coach] would go through the offense, [another coach] would go through the defense. He just captured the whole game [plan] in 30 minutes. I wasn't there all week, but in 30 minutes I could see exactly what they were going to do. So we started doing that and I think that helped our players refocus, because one of the things in our sport is too much information. You talk about a team for a whole week -- oh, my God -- there's like 8,000 things to remember. ‘All right, let's bring it down, what do we really have to do here?' You can boil it down to four, five important things and cover it in five, 10 minutes. That's really the heart of the game."
3. Belichick, as part of the "Championship Chat," touched on how his viewpoint on work volume has evolved over the years. He said watching Rabil, the former Johns Hopkins and Major League Lacrosse star, has shaped his perspective on work ethic. "I think that's what I've learned for myself, and also to transfer to other players I coach, is that hard work is great but working smarter is even better. At times, you have to take a break, back off, and use your time efficiently."
4a. Second-year tight end Jacob Hollister, who made the Patriots as an undrafted free agent out of Wyoming in 2017, has noticeably added some weight and strength to his 239-pound frame. He showed up with a couple of solid receptions in Thursday's practice (with one drop), and here's one thing I learned about his offseason approach: A native of Bend, Oregon, he worked closely on a strength-and-conditioning standpoint with fellow Oregon native Kevin Boss, who played tight end for the Giants (2007-2010), Raiders (2011) and Chiefs (2012).
4b. You have a good memory if you remember Boss' 45-yard reception early in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLII against the Patriots. The Patriots had led 7-3 at the time, but it helped set up the Giants' first touchdown.
5. Devin McCourty on what it was like to have Kobe Bryant at the Patriots' facility on Wednesday: "I'm a big basketball fan, but I've never been this huge Kobe fan, but you walk away with a certain level of admiration. I texted a couple people, 'Kobe could easily be my favorite player now.' I think we got to learn a great deal just from who he is as an individual. ... His sense on how he viewed everything to do with playing basketball. Obviously, it's a different sport, but he was so meticulous on everything -- how he worked out, shooting jump shots, how he motivated his teammates to play at the level he wanted them to be at. He kind of looked at basketball overall, in every aspect that you could kind of see: relationships, games, practices, All-Star break, winning, how he reacted to losing. He hit everything as a competitor."
6. First-year Titans coach Mike Vrabel has several coaching mentors, with Belichick among them, and something he did this past week was a reminder of the Belichick influence: When offensive lineman John Theus and defensive lineman Matt Dickerson began fighting in an organized team activity, he threw them out of the practice. That has been a long-standing Belichick rule and it's straightforward: Players are thrown out of games when they fight, so that's why they're also thrown out of practices. It's often a selfish act that puts an individual's agenda ahead of the team's goals.
7. Something I noticed while looking at pictures from the Lions' organized team activity open to reporters this week: First-year head coach Matt Patricia had every player wearing a helmet without the Lions decal on it. The message seems to be something along these lines: Everyone is on equal ground, it's the early stages of forming a team, and getting a Lion on the helmet must be earned. While Patricia will form his own identity as a coach, it struck me as Belichickian.
8a. At one point after the Patriots' organized team activity, when rookie running back Sony Michel was surrounded by about 25 reporters and asked about a fumble and cutting one route a bit short, it struck me once again that the number of media members covering the Patriots has to be as high as any team in the league. A Patriots PR official estimated that there were about 70 credentialed media members on hand (including camera operators, team-employed reporters, etc.). Michel, who knows plenty about being in the spotlight from his time at the University of Georgia, handled it all in stride.
9. Nice shoutout by Patriots linebacker and captain Dont'a Hightower to DeMarcus Covington this week, mentioning the coaching assistant's name as someone who helped him last season after he went on injured reserve. Covington, who joined the Patriots in 2017 after serving as co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach at Eastern Illinois, spent a lot of time last year in the team's linebacker room, and Hightower credited him with teaching more about man coverages and the Patriots' overall coverage-based philosophy.
10. One of the most significant changes for the Patriots in 2018 is linebackers coach Brian Flores stepping into the void created by defensive coordinator Patricia's departure (albeit without the official title). McClellin forecasts a smooth transition. "I like Coach Flo -- he's awesome. It's a great opportunity for him and I'm excited for him. I think he'll do a great job stepping up into that role," said McClellin, who was coached by Flores in his two years with the club (2016-2017) and is now transitioning into his own career as a high school linebackers coach. "He's a really smart guy who knows what he's talking about. He'll get those guys rolling, for sure."