Unleashing Jonnu Smith’s potential is a New England Patriots priority for 2022

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Thoughts and quick notes on the New England Patriots and the NFL:

1. Jonnu jump: Dave McGinnis coached 31 seasons in the NFL, which included one stint as head coach of the Arizona Cardinals (2000-2003), and just wrapped up his fifth season as a radio analyst for the Tennessee Titans.

So when it comes to X and O, football personnel and experience with tight end Jonnu Smith, he speaks from a place of deep institutional knowledge.

Smith, who signed a four-year, $50 million deal with the Patriots last offseason after spending his first four seasons with the Titans, didn’t deliver outstanding production in 2021. He played 46.8% of the snaps offensively and he totaled 28 receptions for 294 yards and a touchdown, and had nine rushes for 40 yards.

Unlocking Smith’s potential is among the items on the Patriots’ offensive to-do list in 2022, and McGinnis warns anyone not to count him out.

“It’s like the expectations of a first draft pick,” he said. “The [free-agent] the money has gotten to the point now where you have to take it out and see how schematically your football team is using your people. That’s what you have to do as a coach. That’s what you have to do if you’re analyzing it. All I know is this: He’s a very viable tight end in this league skill-wise.”

McGinnis studied Smith when he came out of the Florida International in 2017 and had a front row seat to his first steps in the NFL as a backup to Delanie Walker, who benefited from having strong position coaches Arthur Smith and Todd Downing. McGinnis saw a player “progressively improving every year” who is a “very willing and explosive athlete.”

“They loved it here,” he said. “The coaching staff loved him. But as you know, the equalizing factor in the National Football League is the order of the draft and the salary cap. They couldn’t afford it.”

The Patriots could, but Smith’s rise in Tennessee, with receiving totals rising by 18, 20, 35 and finally 41, did not carry over to New England.

Some close to Smith wonder to what extent not participating in the Patriots’ voluntary offseason program last year was a significant factor in why. While few scouts and coaches question his raw ability, they say he’s the kind of player who needs refinement, dating back to his college days and early years in Tennessee, where he also experienced slow starts.

Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said during the season, “He’s a player who can do things with the ball in his hands; we know. Very talented guy, works very hard. I have to do better to get him the ball. «

That also highlights the important leap Smith needs to make.

When McDaniels specifically planned plays for him, there was some production. But as coach Bill Belichick often says, there aren’t many passing plays other than screens where the ball is designed specifically for one player.

So Smith needs to evolve like fellow tight end Hunter Henry did in 2021, making plays within the structure of the overall passing offense. Henry’s full participation in the voluntary offseason program could have given him a significant advantage over Smith in that area.

2. Dread the day: From running back Damien Harris’s emotional words on the sidelines (captured by NFL Films), to former Patriots assistant Brian Daboll’s postgame hug outside the locker room on Jan. 15, to Belichick referencing his exemplary mentorship on your season closing videoconference. It should only be a matter of time before veteran Patriots running backs coach Ivan Fears announces his retirement after 31 seasons in the NFL and 25 with the Patriots. The possibility of doing some part-time work for the team might be on the table, but as a long-time Fears colleague relayed, it’s a blow when people of the land leave the profession.

3. New RB coach: Fears mentored Vinnie Sunseri as his assistant in 2021, making Sunseri the top internal candidate to fill the role. Sunseri’s positive work was reflected in practice squad running back Devine Ozigbo, who gave up the opportunity to join the Jaguars’ active roster late last season and instead stayed in New England because he believed he was improving as a player under Sunseri’s guidance. Former Patriots running back Kevin Faulk, who recently coached at LSU, would also be a natural choice to bring back into the fold.

4. Thuney’s Tale: The Chiefs’ shocking comeback victory against the Bills made me think of former Patriots left guard Joe Thuney, now in his first season in Kansas City. Has anyone had a more heart-pounding first six seasons in the NFL?

Thuney was part of two of the greatest comebacks in NFL history: he lost 28-3 in Super Bowl LI to win and win Kansas City last week, not to mention the Patriots’ extra win against the Chiefs in the 2018 AFC Championship. Game. He has won two Super Bowls, lost two and is one win away from playing in another. I reached out to him last week and he summed it up this way: “Everything is so surreal.”



Stephen A. Smith expresses his disagreement with the NFL’s overtime rules after Jeff Saturday said he would not change them.

5. Belichick’s OT plan: Whenever there is a renewed debate about the NFL’s sudden-death overtime rules, as happened last week when the Chiefs beat the Bills without Buffalo possessing the ball in overtime, Belichick’s suggestion comes to mind. . Why not just put a certain amount of time on the clock and play it?

As Belichick said on WEEI in 2012: “I think the best part of the football game is the end, whether you take time-outs, how you run the game, how you get the ball back, how you try to keep the ball away from the other team.” . , whatever it is. I think it combines all the elements of football.”

6. Brady’s decision: Tom Brady’s explanation of what will determine whether he returns for a 23rd season in 2022 (family considerations) wasn’t surprising. One of the things Brady once said during his Patriots days is that his life got simpler for him as he got older and gained more perspective: He wanted to be the best husband/father and the best quarterback/goalmate. team, and not much else mattered. other than that. More admirable.

7. Slater’s Respect: Veteran Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater’s respect for football has made him a four-time finalist for the NFL’s Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award and a leading candidate to win it last season. A reflection of this has occurred in the last two weeks; I’m told Slater has been at Gillette Stadium every day … to prepare for next Sunday’s Pro Bowl.

8. McCourty’s Extra 1.5: Patriots veteran safety Devin McCourty said he plans to take some time off before evaluating whether he’s mentally prepared for a 13th NFL season, but has given no indication to those close to him that retirement is an option. probable. Actually, 2022 would be closer to his 15 or 16 because he’s started 24 postseason games, nearly a full extra season and a half. Only Brady (47), Jerry Rice (29) and Peyton Manning (27) have started more postseason games in NFL history. McCourty is tied with Brett Favre and Gene Upshaw.

9. Wolf roars for Ekuale: Defensive tackle Daniel Ekuale, who signed a one-year “future” contract with the Patriots last week after recording two sacks in the eight games he was promoted from the practice squad, came to the NFL with the Browns in 2019. when Elliot Wolf. he was the assistant general manager of Cleveland. Wolf’s high-level role in the Patriots’ front office the past two seasons is one of the main reasons Ekuale landed on New England’s radar.

10. Did you know that: Belichick has coached teams that have won in 50 different ballparks and is the only coach to reach that mark. The only two stadiums he hasn’t recorded a win at are Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas and US Bank Stadium in Minnesota, both on the 2022 schedule.

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Unleashing Jonnu Smith’s potential is a New England Patriots priority for 2022