FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Kelly on AVP: Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Kelly and Alex Van Pelt circled the date on the calendar just a couple of weeks ago and were looking forward to meeting at Kelly’s “Hunters Haven Lodge” in upstate New York. The plan was to reminisce about the “good old days” when the quarterbacks were Buffalo Bills teammates in the mid-1990s, which was the beginning of a beautiful friendship that has endured.
Then came an audible, which Kelly understood well because that’s what quarterbacks often do.
“We were going to have dinner, but he got a call from the Raiders to go out there for an [offensive coordinator] interview,” Kelly told ESPN. “Then I found out where he landed — the Patriots. And I was like, ‘Come on, man!”
Kelly burst out laughing, retelling the story of how he learned Van Pelt had been tapped by first-year New England head coach Jerod Mayo to be the team’s offensive coordinator.
“That was almost like when Thurman [Thomas] went to the Dolphins and I said to him, ‘How could you do that?'”
Kelly bleeds Bills through and through — his legend with the franchise and what he means to Western New York is well-documented — so seeing good friends cross into rival AFC East territory might not be his first choice.
But he’s thrilled for the 53-year-old Van Pelt to finally have a chance to coordinate his own offense, build a staff to complement him and be the primary playcaller for the first time since beginning his post-playing career in 2005 as a quarterbacks coach for the Frankfurt Galaxy of the now-defunct NFL Europe League.
“Alex is like a brother to me,” Kelly said. “He was my backup my last year, and it was like having a coach right beside me, that extra eye. Like having Frank Reich right beside me. You’d listen to Frank in meetings, and listen to Alex in meetings, and you knew when they were done playing, they were both going to be amazing coaches.”
One aspect that stood out to Kelly was Van Pelt’s knack for knowing when to chime in and when to back off. He surmises that’s been a key ingredient in helping Van Pelt develop close bonds with many of the quarterbacks he’s coached, such as Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay.
Since Van Pelt has primarily worked under head coaches who called their own offensive plays — Mike McCarthy (Packers), Zac Taylor (Bengals) and Kevin Stefanski (Browns) — there is some unknown with how he’ll handle the responsibility.
He called plays in the Browns’ playoff win over the Steelers in the 2020 season when Stefanski was sidelined with COVID-19, and also stepped in to call plays in 2009 with Buffalo when then-coach Dick Jauron dismissed the team’s offensive coordinator in the days leading up to the season opener — a less-than-ideal situation.
Kelly predicts Van Pelt’s approach with the Patriots will be similar to how both played the game.
“I know what my mentality was and how much I wanted to attack. And that’s one of the things Alex was — he was aggressive,” Kelly said.
And as for Van Pelt joining the rival Patriots, Kelly is willing to give him a pass.
“I think the main thing is that I’m blessed to say Alex Van Pelt is one of my best friends,” he said. “I respect not only what he meant to me when I played, but what he means — right now, unfortunately — to the New England Patriots. Just a class act from start to finish and I love the guy.”
2. OL reinforcements: Super Bowl LVIII between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers has naturally generated the most buzz, but when it comes to the Patriots, last Sunday’s Senior Bowl is far more important. And here is one of the critical takeaways that could help secure the Patriots’ future.
“Our best offensive line class was my first year in 2019, when we had five go in the first round. I think overall this is a stronger group,” said Jim Nagy, the Senior Bowl executive director, who had just rewatched some one-on-one drills from practices leading into the Senior Bowl.
Last season, the Patriots ranked last in ESPN’s pass block win rate, which conveys how often linemen can sustain their blocks for 2.5 seconds or longer.
Van Pelt is bringing former Browns assistant offensive line coach Scott Peters with him to New England, making him one of the most important hires of the offseason. Peters learned under highly regarded coach Bill Callahan, but the Browns didn’t target Peters for promotion upon Callahan’s departure, instead hiring Andy Dickerson.
3. Nagy nuggets: Mayo had mentioned quarterback, offensive line and receiver as positions the Patriots could target early, and with that in mind, here are two more Senior Bowl soundbites from Nagy with a Patriots twist:
Offensive tackle: “It’s a really good year to need a tackle. I think there’s going to be a starting tackle — and a really good one — there for you in the second round. It will just depend on when that run on the offensive line goes, and I do think it’s going to be early. I think we’ll see the first three rounds dominated by offensive line, because it’s such a need area for every team.”
Wide receivers: “This is one of the deeper positions in the draft. Into the third round, I think there will be some guys that will be able to step in and make an impact right away — kind of like [Houston’s] Tank Dell did last year out of the Senior Bowl. We’ve had a Day 2 grade on Roman Wilson of Michigan since last spring and he certainly validated that. Is Ricky Pearsall of Florida going to be there?”
4. BB the Crusader: One way former Patriots coach Bill Belichick has been keeping himself busy is supporting the Holy Cross women’s lacrosse team, which is coached by his daughter Amanda. The Crusaders opened the season Saturday at home against Fairfield.
5. More aggressive D? Patriots outside linebacker Matthew Judon, in an appearance on 98.5 The Sports Hub’s “Felger and Mazz” show from the Super Bowl, hinted at one way the team’s defense might look different under Mayo and first-year coordinator DeMarcus Covington. “I think we’re going to play a little more aggressive,” he said. Judon, who sustained a season-ending torn biceps in Week 4 last season, also relayed that he is “fully functional,” has his “strength and mobility back” and as a result, “I’m ready to play.”
6. Mayo’s succession: By putting succession plans in Mayo’s contract extension last offseason, the Patriots didn’t have to go through the traditional NFL hiring process as part of their head-coaching search in adhering to the league’s Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview at least two external minorities. Commissioner Roger Goodell approved the team’s approach in hiring Mayo — who was promoted from inside linebackers coach and is the Patriots’ first Black head coach — saying at the Super Bowl this past week: “I think that is smart management. Ultimately we all want to keep our people, develop our people. [Owner Robert Kraft] knew Jerod Mayo was head-coaching material. That is a very positive thing for teams to do, so I don’t believe it is skirting the Rooney Rule. I believe it is benefiting our players and our coaches to have that kind of stability in our clubs.”
7. ‘Dynasty’ release: Friday marks the release of the first two parts of the documentary “The Dynasty: New England Patriots” on Apple TV. Something unexpected — David Nugent, the 2000 sixth-round pick from Purdue who was Tom Brady‘s roommate as a rookie, was one of the most entertaining storytellers of the initial episode, taking viewers inside the old End Zone Motel and then the condo he shared with Brady as the then-rookies engaged in fierce video game battles in Tecmo Bowl. A true reflection of the modest beginnings of Brady.
8. Ernie’s emergence: When Patriots director of football research Ernie Adams worked for the team, he kept a low profile, which made his presence in the second part of “The Dynasty: New England Patriots” particularly notable. He delivered a couple of haymakers at the media, at one point reflecting on the Brady-Drew Bledsoe quarterback controversy in 2001 and saying: “The media is the group I call ‘The Scribes.’ It’s a lot of people that don’t have a clue what they’re talking about, frankly.”
9. Did you know? — Part I: Chiefs linebackers coach Brendan Daly, who previously was in New England (2014 to 2018), has coached in the past 10 AFC Championship Games and seven of the past 10 Super Bowls.
10. Did you know? — Part II: Former Patriots tight end Jermaine Wiggins (Panthers) and former Patriots receiver Brandin Cooks (Rams) are two of just three players who have started for and against the same franchise in Super Bowl history. 49ers cornerback Charvarius Ward, the former Chief, is set to join them Sunday.