Full steam ahead on LB hype train: Youth and speed rule in 2022

TEAM TALK

LOCAL LINKS

  • Mike Reiss says the Patriots are counting on a lift at linebacker from Cameron McGrone. Their 2021 fifth-round pick, who missed his rookie season because of a torn left ACL, adds youth and speed to a revamped group at inside linebacker.
  • Evan Lazar finds the Patriots assistant coaches “excited” about second-year LB Cameron McGrone, and hopeful that he will add more speed to the defense.
  • Andrew Callahan talks up the LB Cameron McGrone hype train. Second-year player McGrone is the third-youngest player on the team, and he personifies — at least for now — a global shift for the defense toward younger, faster and smaller players.
  • Zack Cox explains how Cameron McGrone impressed the Patriots as a rookie despite not playing.
  • Karen Guregian relays OLB coach Steve Belichick pumping up young pass rushers Josh Uche and Ronnie Perkins.
  • Andrew Callahan highlights Joe Judge on how he’ll coach Patriots QB Mac Jones.
  • Arnav Sharma (Patriots Country) NFL’s Best 25 Under 25: Where’s Patriots Mac Jones? PFF’s 25 top players under 25 years old has a notable omission. /Amazing the lack of respect for Mac Jones.
  • Dakota Randall’s Bailey Zappe Film Review: Could Patriots QB be more than just backup?
  • CBS Boston says the Patriots still don’t have an offensive play-caller to replace Josh McDaniels. /Or they do, but they’re just not saying.
  • Andy Hart demands Bill Belichick should pick a play caller ASAP.
  • Mike D’Abate (Patriots Country) Fear-less: Pats looking to new RBs coach to keep team moving in right direction.
  • Phil Perry notes Matt Patricia raves about Patriots draft pick Cole Strange’s athleticism.
  • Zack Cox tells us how first-round pick Cole Strange looked in his first Patriots practices: The athleticism that helped make Cole Strange a first-round draft pick has been evident.
  • Murph (E2GSports) Big Vince Wilfork will be fitted for a Patriots Red Jacket as you the fans have voted him to be enshrined into the Patriots Hall Of Fame.
  • Mike D’Abate (Patriots Country) Big Vince will be getting his call to the Patriots Hall.
  • Chris Mason hears Vince Wilfork explain how Patriots coach Bill Belichick made him the ‘best nose tackle to ever play the game.’ /He must mean Brady.
  • Ian Logue (PatsFans) Wilfork is headed to the Patriots Hall of Fame.
  • Alex Mullin (GilletteGazette) Breaking traditions as Patriots plan to joint practice wIth the Raiders in off-season.
  • Patriots Talk podcast: Tom E. Curran and Phil Perry talk about how the Patriots coaching plan of attack should be a concern for Mac Jones. (22.23 min.)
  • One Patriots Place podcast: Clare, Murph and Steve are joined by Alex Barth to talk all things Patriots. (1 hour)
  • Locked On Patriots podcast: Mike and Murph break down the Pats’ 2022 prime time opponents. (46 min.)

NATIONAL NEWS

Jalen Mills is ‘definitely more confident’ entering his second season with the Patriots

The oft-mentioned second-year jump is not just relevant for players coming off their respective rookie campaigns; it also applies to veterans entering their second season in a team’s system. The New England Patriots have several candidates this year.

Among them is cornerback Jalen Mills, who arrived in New England via a four-year, $24 million contract last March. Mills played some solid football for the team in 2021, and he is feeling better heading into Year 2 as a Patriot.

“Definitely feeling more comfortable,” he told reporters on a conference call last week.

“OTAs, we’re always gearing up. But from Day 1 — from now to last year — just going over the plays, going over the installs. My mind isn’t wandering and I’m asking a hundred questions. Now I’m asking fifty questions instead of a hundred this year. But I’m definitely more confident within the scheme.”

A part of the Patriots’ free agency spending spree last offseason, Mills settled into the starting outside cornerback spot opposite eventual Pro Bowler J.C. Jackson in 2021. He was on the field for 16 of 17 regular season games in this capacity, but Coronavirus protocols prevented him from suiting up for New England’s playoff loss in Buffalo.

His absence was a tough blow given that he had played some solid football up until that point. Being on the field for 84.6 percent of defensive snaps during the regular season, Mills allowed 37 of 65 passes thrown his way to be completed.

The former Philadelphia Eagles defensive back did give up a team-high seven touchdowns without registering any interceptions, but he settled down over the second half of the regular season to end the year on a strong note. Unfortunately, him testing positive for Covid-19 put an early end to his season and forced him to end it as a spectator.

Nonetheless, his 2021 experience as a whole was a positive one.

“I think I really just got comfortable within the scheme,” Mills said. “Two totally different schemes from the scheme I was playing in before and then last year. Just getting comfortable within the scheme, getting comfortable with certain guys.

“Certain guys do different things. Certain guys make different checks and knowing pre-snap if I have [Adrian Phillips] next to me he’s going to do something different than [Kyle] Dugger or [Devin] McCourty. Or if I had [Dont’a] Hightower next to me he was going to make a different check than Kyle Van Noy. So, that was the biggest thing for me: just getting comfortable within the scheme.”

The Patriots will be counting on Mills to play a prominent role within their defensive backfield yet again. After all, they lost Jackson to the Los Angeles Chargers and did not add a clear replacement through free agency or the draft. With slot cornerback Jonathan Jones furthermore coming off a season-ending shoulder injury, Mills is currently the only cornerback locked into a starting role.

New England’s defensive success might therefore depend on him showing some significant improvement compared to 2021.

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