FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Thornton’s blazing speed: Running the 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine is one of the ultimate solo pursuits for rookies looking to break into the league. All eyes are on them. No one is there to pick them up.
How former Baylor wide receiver and Patriots second-round pick Tyquan Thornton prepared for that defining moment — in which he posted a blazing time of 4.28 seconds, the fastest of any receiver this year and fourth fastest of any receiver since 2006 — is a notable story that potentially bodes well for his transition to the pros.
Thornton was planning to prepare in Texas but made a late switch to XPE Sports in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where he was part of a training group with Baylor cornerback Kalon Barnes (seventh round, Panthers) and University of Texas-San Antonio cornerback Tariq Woolen (fifth round, Seahawks).
The three produced the fastest times at this year’s combine — Thornton’s 4.28, Barnes at 4.23 and Woolen at 4.26.
“They just kept pushing each other. It was a competition and it ended up working well where they all killed it at the combine,” said XPE’s Matt Gates, who has been training prospects for the combine since 2003.
Just as Thornton fed off the competition with Barnes and Woolen, the Patriots are banking on the same thing happening in a New England receiver room headlined by DeVante Parker, Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Burne and Jakobi Meyers.
There is more to playing football than running a 40-yard dash, of course. So how Thornton’s scorching speed is blended into the Patriots’ overall system — and if he can master a variety of routes — will be one of the key determinants of whether the team had a successful draft.
Gates, who worked with the 6-foot-2, 181-pound Thornton for a 10-week stretch that began in early January, is optimism.
“When we started pre-testing, I was like, ‘Man, we’ve got something here,'” he said. “Super smooth. Super explosive. And honestly, for a guy that is that fast, you don’t typically see someone who can change directions and catch the ball well. A lot of times you’ll see straight-ahead wide receivers who can blow the top off it, but they can’t run a route. Tyquan can do all that — he’s got good hands, he’s smart, he picks things up quick.”
One example of how Thornton picks things up came early in the 10 weeks spent training with Gates.
“His technique wasn’t great. Even though he had a track background, we just had to tighten up some things on his start and a few things along the way,” Gates said. “It’s clicked right away.”
Baylor QB Blake Shapen drops a dime to Tyquan Thornton, who makes a fantastic catch for a touchdown.
2. Heat prep: With the Patriots scheduled to open the season in Miami, hydration and conditioning — always important — figure to be emphasizing that much more throughout training camp. Along those lines, the Patriots and Raiders are planning to hold at least one of their Las Vegas-based August joint practices outside, with the other inside Allegiant Stadium. Las Vegas weather in August is often sizzling, with highs sometimes hitting triple digits.
3. Jed’s guests? The Patriots might see a benefit of staying out West after their Week 14 game against the Cardinals, instead of traveling home and then turning back around for a Week 15 game on the road against the Raiders. Coach Bill Belichick has done that in the past, most recently with back-to-back road games in Los Angeles in 2020. If so, an extended stay at the University of Arizona — where former Patriots quarterbacks coach Jed Fisch enters his second year as head coach — would make sense.
4. Rookie intros: Offensive lineman Cole Strange and the rest of the Patriots’ 2022 rookie class were on the field for the first time Friday and Saturday in a closed-to-the-media rookie minicamp, and they will now spend the majority of the offseason in town as they transition to life in the pros. Members of the draft class were brought in two weeks ago for more of a brief introduction, and now the official onboarding process is underway and the daily on-site work begins. While always subject to change, May 26 is the first time media members are scheduled to have access at practice.
5. McDuffie & McCourty: University of Washington cornerback Trent McDuffie, whom the Chiefs traded up with the Patriots to select at No. 21 overall, was compared to longtime Patriots captain Devin McCourty by a scout when factoring in his combination of on-field talent and off-field traits. While the Patriots were widely acknowledged to have received excellent value in their trade down to No. 29 — gaining third- and fourth-round picks — the trade could ultimately be judged differently if McDuffie turns that McCourty comparison into reality.
6. Patriots’ request: One of the notable nuggets from NFL Vice President of Broadcasting Mike North was that the Patriots requested to play their games out West back-to-back if possible, which tied into New England ultimately getting four straight prime-time games. It’s a request other teams made as well, with North noting Atlanta, San Francisco, Miami and Las Vegas falling into that category.
7. Eyes on Watson: Any potential discipline that Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson faces from the NFL bears watching in New England when considering the Patriots travel to Cleveland in Week 6. Whereas the Patriots face Arizona later in the season and won’t benefit from missing DeAndre Hopkins during his six-game suspension, there’s an element of unknown with whether they’ll see Watson.
Booger McFarland discusses how Deshaun Watson fits with the Cleveland Browns after being traded.
8. Kraft’s SBJ honor: A crowd of about 1,000 is expected at the Marriott Marquis Times Square on Wednesday night, when Patriots owner Robert Kraft will join a esteemed company as he is presented the Sports Business Journal Lifetime Achievement Award. Kraft is scheduled to be introduced by Meek Mill. The award goes to leaders and pioneers who have helped shape the dynamic sports industry, and past winners include Dan Rooney, Jerry Jones and Paul Tagliabue — all of whom are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. SBJ publisher and executive editor Abraham Madkour highlighted how Kraft’s background as a fan has shaped his Patriots ownership tenure.
9. Ekuale’s choice: Defensive lineman Daniel Ekuale was elevated from the Patriots’ practice squad seven times last season and provided some interior pass-rush presence. Little-known story: He considered an opportunity to join the Bills for the playoffs but elected to stay in New England on the practice squad instead. Ekuale will now vie for a roster spot at a position that includes returning starters Davon Godchaux and Lawrence Guyalong with Christian Barmore, Byron Cowart, Carl Davis and sixth-round pick Sam Roberts.
10. Did you know: The Patriots visit the Vikings on Thanksgiving, marking the first time they’ll play a game on the holiday since 2012, and the sixth time overall:
Nov. 22, 1984 — 20-17 loss to Dallas
Nov. 23, 2000 — 34-9 loss to Detroit (Tom Brady‘s NFL debut)
Nov. 28, 2002 — 20-12 win against Detroit
Nov. 25, 2010 — 45-24 win against Detroit
Nov. 22, 2012 — 49-19 win against NY Jets (Mark Sanchez butt fumble)