FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Thoughts and quick notes on the New England Patriots and the NFL:
1. Strong option: In a perfect world for the Patriots, veteran James White will return to the form that made him the most productive running back in the NFL before suffering a serious right hip injury last September. From 2015 to 2020, no running back in the NFL has had more receptions (364), receiving yards (3,161), and receiving touchdowns (25).
But White opened 2022 training camp on the roster physically unable to perform, which initially caused the Patriots to consider other options.
Pierre Strong Jr., the 2022 fourth-round pick from South Dakota State who posted the fastest 40-yard rush time among running backs at the NFL combine (4.37) this year, is one of them.
In an interview with ESPN.com, South Dakota State coach John Stiegelmeier described a player who seems like an ideal candidate for the role.
As a wide receiver: “He’s phenomenal. That’s his biggest strength. He’s got amazing hands – very soft. We’d like to isolate him on a linebacker and say ‘advantage Pierre.'”
Pickup Blitz: “We never worried about him. I think he showed it in the [Shrine] Bowling game, where he blocked FBS All-Stars and stuck to it. We work it; it’s not something we take for granted. We go full speed with a linebacker coming right at you [and] you can’t cut it. So Pierre’s courage and ability are where it’s needed.”
In 48 career games with the Jackrabbits, who play in the Championship Football Subdivision, Strong Jr. totaled 62 receptions for 581 yards and three touchdowns.
He could have had increased production had he not been as successful as a pure rusher, where his speed and running style in a zone-based scheme helped him amass 4,669 yards on 631 runs (7.2 average) and 40 touchdowns.
“His ability to get his legs up in the air is unique, so you’re really trying to tackle a leg if you get to him,” Stiegelmeier said. “He wasn’t a guy who quit and try to juke-a-guy [runner]. He would do it at full speed, in the open, and breaking down and tackling when he’s going full speed is really difficult.”
When Stiegelmeier (entering his 26th year) reflected on five seasons of coaching Strong, he said how it started spoke volumes – a redshirt freshman in 2017, then deep in the depth chart to start 2018.
“He kept working hard, we had a few injuries and then the last half of the  season, he ended up being our best rusher,” he said.
“His humility, his ability to be a team player and do what is asked of him and not want more, but prepare for more – that’s not a common trait these days. young men, student-athletes, want it and think they should be Pierre was patient, humble, and when he got his chance, he exploded.
The Patriots have traditionally been patient with rookie returns. White barely played in 2014 after New England selected him in the fourth round, and Shane Vereen played sparingly in 2011 after being tabbed in the second round.
It gave them time to adjust to the demands of the blitz pickup — often cited as the No. 1 responsibility for earning the trust of the coaching staff — and the NFL as a whole.
In 2022, the Patriots have Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson as their traditional top running backs, with Stevenson saying one of his goals this offseason is to become more of a factor in the passing game. Thick-legged rookie Kevin Harris (sixth round, South Carolina) adds depth behind them.
Then in the more traditional pass-and-go role are White, Strong, third-year player JJ Taylor, and eight-year veteran slash option Ty Montgomery, who was signed as a free agent in march.
“I’ve had a number of people who follow the Patriots say that Pierre fits their philosophy perfectly in terms of using running backs,” Stiegelmeier said.
2. Training camp: Rookies, quarterbacks and rehab players have already shown up for Patriots training camp, with the rest of the roster arriving Tuesday. The team will train Wednesday to Saturday at 9:30 a.m., then Monday to Thursday at the same time. At 7 p.m. on August 5, practice is scheduled inside Gillette Stadium for season ticket holders and Foxborough residents.
3. Belichick and Seymour: With Aug. 6 a day off at Patriots training camp, it’s the perfect time for coach Bill Belichick. That’s when Richard Seymour is inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame (Noon ET, ESPN), ranked third in speaking order, and Belichick is now released to travel to Canton, Ohio.
4. Parker’s Number 1: Wide receiver DeVante Parker wore No. 1 at Ballard High School in Louisville, Kentucky, and that explains his motivation to go 11-1 in his first season with the Patriots. It’s a return to basics. The number became available when N’Keal Harry was traded to the Bears on July 12.
5. Strong’s Calves: One thing that surprised Stiegelmeier when it came to scouting NFL teams Strong: “A large majority of them wondered about his legs, because he had very skinny calves. They thought he looked like more like a distance runner. For me it’s more about the heart, not about the legs, chest or arms…I was amazed at how much importance they placed on the appearance of ‘a guy. I think that’s part of the NFL’s thorough evaluation.
6. Thornton’s Cuffs: Between Strong’s calves and second-round pick Tyquan Thornton’s wrists that measured 6 1/8 (the skinniest of all receivers), it will be remarkable to see if those measurements play a part in each player’s development. Thornton, a receiver for Baylor, seemed genuinely surprised it was an issue, telling Spring, “Skinny wrists? I mean, what are you using your wrists for? That was new to me.”
7. Mac MVP? ESPN NFL analyst Mike Tannenbaum is bullish on Patriots quarterback Mac Jones, making him his “sneaky MVP” pick during an appearance on Get Up last week. Patriots fans should hope Tannenbaum is as prescient as he was about Justin Herbert’s entry into the 2019 draft, as he always bragged about it over Tua Tagovailoa when it wasn’t the majority opinion.
8.UDFA Series: The Patriots have had an undrafted free agent on the opening day roster in each of the past 18 seasons, the third-longest streak in the NFL behind the Chargers and Colts. Of the five UDFAs on the 2022 roster, here’s a view of the candidates most likely to keep the streak alive:
C Kody Russey
ST Brendan Schooler
DL LaBryan Ray
OLB Da Marcus Mitchell
Mr. Jacques Julien
9. Hines vs. Stueber: Patriots rookie offensive linemen Chasen Hines (sixth round, LSU) and Andrew Stueber (seventh round, Michigan) opened training camp on the active/non-football injury list, but they appear to be in different categories recovery. Hines is working on the pitch, unlike Stueber, which would seem to indicate that he is further away from a potential comeback.
10. Did you know? The Patriots face two opponents in 2022 whose head coaches were drafted by New England: Kliff Kingsbury (sixth round, 2002) at Arizona (December 12) and Kevin O’Connell (third round, 2008) at Minnesota (24 november). The last team to face two drafted players as head coach was Chicago in 2014 (Jim Harbaugh, Ron Rivera).