Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Happy in retirement: Instead of leading a virtual meeting with his offensive linemen, the greatest assistant coach in Patriots history, Dante Scarnecchia, is learning new-age math techniques while helping his two grandchildren with schoolwork.
And he couldn't be happier.
"I'm doing really, really well," Scarnecchia said from his Massachusetts home late last week, four months into his retirement after 48 seasons as a coach, 34 spent in New England.
"I helped with the scouting this year after I stepped away, and that was good. I spent a lot of time going over most of the guys in the draft, and then when we started meeting on it -- which was conference calls and all that -- it was as tedious as it could possibly get and another reminder that this isn't going to be easy for anyone. I contributed however I could, but by the draft, I was pretty much done with it all.
"So how am I doing? I'm doing great, as busy as I've ever been in my life. I do a thousand things around the yard, I've cut down a lot of trees and worked in my shop. Now that we're home-schooling our grandkids half the time, I spend a lot of time with that. So I'm very, very, very busy in retirement."
That included a trip to Sedona, Arizona, where he hiked Old Creek Canyon, prior to the coronavirus pandemic. As for what else might be on his retirement bucket list?
"I never use the term 'bucket list' because it sounds too fatal to me," he said. "I would never refer to anything that way, and I don't want to ever be in a situation where, 'Boy, I better hurry up and get these 33 things done or otherwise my life isn't complete.' My mind doesn't work that way. I take each day the way it's offered.
"We do have plans to do things. We will travel in the future. We will do all the things we really like to do with our grandkids and our family. It will all be, as always, driven by that. Family first."
Scarnecchia, 72, had been retired in 2014 and 2015 before returning to the Patriots for the past four seasons. Now back in retirement again, he can't say he misses much.
"I look at the landscape that currently exists relative to this upcoming season, and more in particular now training camp, because OTAs aren't going to happen, and say, 'Oh my gosh, this as it currently exists is not for me.' Virtual meetings with the players would be a nightmare for me because I'm not techno-savvy. I don't like Zooming and doing all that.
"I've done it for 48 years. I think that's plenty, and I'm really, really grateful for every day, every year of those 48, and all the things it's provided us."
Scarnecchia added a final thought on a topic much bigger than football.
"From what we've all experienced the last three months, I think in so many respects that we're all going to be better for this," he said. "I know a lot of people have cabin fever, and being in lockdown has been particularly challenging, not being able to do the things you want to do and the places you want to go. But the good news there is that it forces you -- and we're blessed because we have our two grandchildren here, and our daughter -- to tighten everything up. You find other ways to do things. You spend more time [on things] that maybe you should be doing that maybe you didn't have the time for. ... This can be a really positive thing, and something when it's all said and done, maybe it draws everyone a little bit closer to the family unit.
"We all have to keep our health. We all have to do the right thing, what the powers that be mandate that we do -- especially here in a state that has been very, very hard hit by the coronavirus. This is a tough time, a challenging time -- I'm absolutely crushed by what's going on in Minnesota right now, the injustice of it all -- and I just pray those things get resolved and people don't get hurt. We just have to do better than what we're doing right now as a society in that regard."
2. Weis' insight: Charlie Weis, who served as Patriots offensive coordinator during the team's first three Super Bowl championship seasons (2001, 2003, 2004), shared his view on the state of the offense when we went back and forth during a guest appearance on Sirius XM NFL Radio's "Opening Drive" program this past week. Some thoughts from Weis:
On quarterback Jarrett Stidham beating out Brian Hoyer last preseason and if that foreshadows Stidham as this year's starter: "That's probably right, but here's the flip side of that: When a veteran is under contract Week 1, you're [committed] to his contract the whole year; if you let him go, and come back and re-sign him, now it's week-by-week. That's the business angle to it."
Back-to-the-future approach: "With as good as their defense is, I think there is a lot of similarities to the early 2000s -- you run the ball, play-action and take the pressure off the quarterback."
A potential trouble spot on offense: "My biggest question is, 'Who is the guy to take the top off the defense?'"
3. History with onside kicks: The NFL tabled a proposal Thursday to give teams an option to attempt a fourth-and-15 play as an alternative to an onside kick, which seemed like the right decision. Why make it any easier for a team that is behind? Think back to the Patriots' 27-26 win against the Browns on Dec. 8, 2013, and how Kyle Arrington’s recovery of Stephen Gostkowski’s onside kick was a key play in an improbable comeback (they had been down 26-14 with 2:34 remaining in regulation). The Patriots had to earn that win the hard way, as it should be.
4. Did you know: The Patriots have attempted 20 onside kicks in coach Bill Belichick's 20-year tenure (including playoffs) and have recovered three. Their most recent successful recovery came Nov. 8, 2015, vs. Washington.
5. Williams follows through on word: After entering the 2019 NFL draft following his junior season, Patriots defensive back Joejuan Williams had some unfinished business at his alma mater, Vanderbilt. He took care of it this spring by earning his diploma, which didn't surprise Terrence Brown, who served as cornerbacks coach in Williams' final season at the school.
"I talked to him last week and I know coming from where he does, being a Nashville native, and the upbringing he experienced, it was extremely important to him," Brown relayed. "When he declared early, I knew he was going to come back and complete it. To me, that's the kind of young man he is in terms of his commitment and dedication."
Brown envisions that approach helping Williams emerge on the field in New England.
"It's funny how the timing works, because I was actually watching some New England tape [Wednesday] and I sent him some video of them against the Buffalo Bills, and some technical things he learned at Vanderbilt that I noticed on film," he said. "Coach Belichick and those guys are going to find ways to utilize him, and I know he told me that he was going to be learning a little bit of safety moving forward. ... I think that will only benefit him in terms of his knowledge of the game increasing."
6. Supporting his successors: Cole Popovich and Carmen Bricillo spent time working under Scarnecchia in recent seasons, which could ease the transition from his retirement. Belichick hasn't officially named them offensive line coaches, but they've been taking on that role in tandem through the spring.
"They're both really good coaches and both really good people. Very, very smart guys," Scarnecchia said. "I know no one has been named, and there are reasons for that, but clearly those are the two guys that are going to do it, and I think they'll do an outstanding job. The other thing is they know the players. It's not like they're new, coming in from the outside. They've both been around there -- especially Cole, who has been in the system for five years. Carm for one."
7. Light hasn't lost his sense of humor: Matt Light, a member of the Patriots Hall of Fame, knows how to tell a story, like the time his phone went off in a team meeting in his rookie year (2001). Weis and Scarnecchia crushed him for it, which the former offensive tackle reminded Weis when he joined him as a guest on SiriusXM NFL Radio last week. "You took my phone for a week. I'm using my phone to talk to you right now, and you can't have it! You're not getting it," Light said to Weis. To which Weis replied: "You were a little aloof, needless to say, when you first got in there. But you played great for us and had a great career. From one of those guys who used to drive the head coach crazy, you managed to survive for a lot of years." Fun stuff.
8. New IR rules: One of the notable developments from last week's NFL's spring meeting is that teams will be able to bring three players back from injured reserve, not two, which provides for more in-season flexibility and could further affect decision-making on the initial 53-man roster. A player has to be on the initial 53-man roster to be eligible to return from IR. The Patriots had 13 on IR last season (seven in the preseason, six in the regular season) and used their designated-to-return spots on receiver N'Keal Harry and left tackle Isaiah Wynn.
9. Why not Hinton for Hall? The only two of Scarnecchia's 36 NFL seasons that didn't come in New England were with the Colts in 1989 and 1990 when he followed Ron Meyer to Indianapolis, which meant he coached offensive tackle Chris Hinton. Scarnecchia remains miffed that Hinton -- who advanced as far as a semifinalist in 2017 -- hasn't been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"He's one of the most gifted players I've ever been around and a wonderful guy. I think it's a travesty he's not in the Hall of Fame right now," he said. "Certainly in his career, he was one of the best tackles in the league, but for some reason his name has gone missing and he needs someone to champion his cause."
Scarnecchia, one of the most widely respected offensive line coaches in the NFL, is happy to be that champion for anyone willing to listen.
10. Harris' history on special teams: One way that Patriots 2019 third-round pick Damien Harris can avoid a repeat of his rookie season -- when he played in two games because of a stacked running back depth chart that remained mostly healthy throughout the year -- is to carve out a larger role on special teams. Harris returned nine kickoffs as a freshman at Alabama (19.3 average), blocked a punt as a junior and was also utilized on the punt team, so he has a background in that area. While Harris hopes to challenge Sony Michel for top running back reps, not to be overlooked is what he can do to enhance his value on fourth down, which is often a key when coaches decide which players suit up on game day.