FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes on the New England Patriots and the NFL:
1. McCourty twins continue to redefine success: Devin McCourty and Jason McCourty were chosen to deliver the 2019 commencement address at their alma mater, Rutgers, on Sunday, and they shared some insight on how they came up with remarks they hope will resonate.
The first thing the 31-year-old Patriots twin defensive backs did was make it a full family experience, including their wives, which meant scheduling babysitters for the kids so they could brainstorm ideas. They also watched numerous graduation speeches, pinpointing business executive Maverick Carter's remarks as ones that hit home to them.
After working on the speech for about a month, they were finalizing it this past week, figuring out the finer details of who will take the microphone at specific times. Devin explained it as a "responsibility to bring the best things you've learned in life so far" and to share "what you would tell yourself if you could go through it again."
One of the themes to graduates will be redefining what success is to them.
"At every stage of your life that changes. Our experiences. Our growth. It's always moving," Jason said.
"At some point, you're growing up and might think, 'If I can make a lot of money, I'll be successful.' You make some money and realize success isn't about that. You think if you make it to the NFL, it's a success. You make it there, but quickly you say, 'I want to be a starter,' and that becomes success. Then it's, 'I want to win a Super Bowl,' and that becomes a success.
"So we want to talk to the graduating class about always redefining what success is to you. At the same time, just staying true to yourself, and as you're attacking life, remembering it's not only about you."
Fittingly, Jason shared those thoughts at the Massachusetts Statehouse this past week, where along with Devin and teammate Duron Harmon, he was advocating for a Massachusetts education bill that would provide more funding for underserved districts. The McCourtys describe their involvement, through the Players Coalition, as "trying to elevate the voices that people don't always listen to." They continue to raise significant funds and awareness for sickle cell disease, a cause that hits close to the family.
Both expected some nerves leading up to their commencement address, which will be the culmination of a process that produced some poignant, emotional moments for them.
"I still remember doing interviews with Rutgers about it, and I was blown away by one of the questions: 'What do you think your dad would think of what you do right now?'" Devin said, referring to his father, Calvin, who died when he was 3. "I hadn't thought about it that much. So it's allowed us to look at what we've done and what we want to do in the future."
Added Jason: "When the opportunity came about, I was shocked. I don't think I consider myself somebody they would ask to do that, but it was something special to call my mom and tell her, 'Can you imagine they asked us to be the commencement speakers?'"
2. Collins' return proves the door is never closed: When the Patriots traded starting linebacker Jamie Collins to Cleveland midway through the 2016 season and landed just a late-third-round pick in return, it was a shocking move that had an "addition by subtraction" feel to it. Collins had been scheduled for unrestricted free agency after the '16 season, was looking for a significant contract and seemed to realize that the club wasn't going to extend as far financially as he desired, which might have affected his day-to-day approach. That combination, coupled with the Patriots' reducing his role at times in 2016, led to the trade, and Collins initially said the Browns had a "different level" of family atmosphere than New England. Now Collins is excited to be back, and having received a big payday in Cleveland, maybe his perspective has changed -- similar to the situation with safety Patrick Chung, who returned in 2014 after a season with the Eagles. At a time when teams can carry 90 players on rosters, it's a low-risk, low-cost ($150,000 signing bonus) move for the club, particularly considering Collins will be coached by his former teammate Jerod Mayo.
3. Where are the Patriots' helmet decals? One thing that stood out to me when comparing photographs from Patriots' rookie minicamp in 2018 and this year's was that the decals had disappeared from the team's helmets. Some teams do that as a reminder to players that they have to earn it as they start with a fresh slate.
4. Mayo's leadership as coach felt quickly: How things will come together on the Patriots' defensive coaching staff is a work in progress -- head coach Bill Belichick projects as the leading candidate to call the plays -- but players have described the former linebacker Mayo as quickly taking a notable leadership role in his first year as an assistant. Harmon, a safety heading into his seventh season, isn't surprised. "He was obviously a tremendous player, but he's a tremendous leader as well. I can honestly say I've never seen a player lead a team like the way Mayo led us [when he played in 2008-15]. He did things where he could bring players along and help raise their level of play. As an older guy now, you can only imagine what he could do for that locker room based on his leadership," Harmon said. "I'm excited to get back around him, to have his leadership and football mind. I believe he'll do a lot for the linebackers and, with his leadership, the entire team."
5. Inman has shown a knack for adjusting: One of the key traits that had to appeal to the Patriots in signing receiver Dontrelle Inman is football intelligence. He twice showed the ability to pick up a team's offensive system on the fly: when he was traded to the Bears in the middle of the 2017 season (23 receptions for 334 yards) and last year as an in-season signing with the Colts (28 catches for 304 yards). As has been well documented over the years, the Patriots' offensive system can be a challenge for receivers to acclimate to, but Inman's recent history -- coupled with the team's need to bolster its ranks -- was a catalyst to the sides coming together on a one-year deal with a $200,000 signing bonus.
6. Offensive rookies not on faster side: Patriots first-round pick N'Keal Harry (receiver) was clocked at 4.53 seconds in the 40-yard dash in the pre-draft process, which is a good time for his size (6-foot-2 and 228 pounds) but average overall at the position. Running back Damien Harris (third round) was clocked at 4.57, which is on the slower side at the position. Although 40-yard times don't always translate to on-field success, they provide a measuring stick of sorts on how much speed a team has added. Coupled with free agency, and additions such as tight end Benjamin Watson and receivers Inman, Demaryius Thomas and Maurice Harris, this is one area I wonder about with the Patriots' offense: Will the need for more speed be an issue?
7. Develin's unique ring: Patriots fullback James Develin has three Super Bowl rings and one permanent wedding "ring" tattooed on his left ring finger with the Roman numerals VII VI XIII. Why the tattoo? Develin relayed that he lost his original wedding band while throwing a football, and this was a way to ensure it never happened again. The numbers denote the date he married his wife, Jennifer: July 6, 2013.
8. Pellegrino keeps continuity in CB room: When Belichick elected to elevate assistant Mike Pellegrino to cornerbacks coach in 2019, filling the void created by Josh Boyer's departure to Miami, it was consistent with his approach of promoting from within. Pellegrino, 25, spent the prior four seasons as an entry-level assistant on staff, so players have familiarity with him. "He spent a ton of time in our room -- basically every day last year. He did a lot of work with the DBs in general," cornerback Jason McCourty said. "So I think between him, Steve [Belichick] and the guys we have in our DB room, not much will change. The difference will be more personality than X's and O's."
9. Belichick's investment in special teams: When the Patriots signed Brandon King to a two-year, $3.5 million extension through 2021 on Friday, it reflected how Belichick builds his roster with a handful of core special-teamers whom he's comfortable paying in the $1.5-2 million range. King's deal essentially splits the difference between contracts signed by Terrence Brooks and Brandon Bolden this offseason, as they also project to core special-teams roles alongside the likes of Matthew Slater and Nate Ebner.
10. Reporters to get first look at 2019 Patriots this week: Monday marks the start of the final phase of the Patriots' voluntary offseason program, with organized team activities, and reporters have their first access to watch practice Thursday. The team has its mandatory minicamp June 4-6, which is likewise open to media. "It's not actual football, with pads and hitting and running game, but it's a reminder that it's time to play football again," Harmon said. "We've been lifting and conditioning for [five] weeks now, and that gets a little old after a while. So it's exciting to get back and playing football again."