Matt Patricia, the Patriots' defensive coordinator since 2012 (though he had been the chief defensive play-caller for the New England defense since Dean Pees' departure after the 2009 season), is now with the Detroit Lions as their head coach.
That's given the Patriot sideline a 'new' defensive voice in unofficial-official defensive coordinator Brian Flores. Flores, of course, is no stranger to the Patriot organization. In fact, this is going to be his 15th year on the Patriot staff (and he's coached and/or advised in almost every possible role one can over a decade and a half under Bill Belichick). But it's Flores' change in tone and direction that's been received well throughout the spring and start of summer training.
Namely from some of the defense's top talents, too.
“Coach is definitely different," Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower said of the switch from Patricia to Flores. "I think guys are learning a lot better, a lot easier. A lot of young guys are stepping up and able to pick up for some of the older guys.
"It definitely works in our favor.”
"I’ve had [Flores] for so many years now, but he’s always straight to the point," Devin McCourty said. "He’s an aggressive coaching style guy, but I think the thing I loved about him when he was our safety coach – same thing now as D coordinator – he’s going to tell you exactly how it is and how he feels – what he thinks is best for you individually, for the team. I think we always get that from him. I will say that’s more the kind of culture here anyway, starting with Bill [Belichick]."
But McCourty was quick to point out that Flores hasn't come in and tried to reinvent the wheel.
"It’s always going to be different because somebody else is calling it, you know what I mean," McCourty offered. "He’s not going to be the same as [Matt Patricia], but our defense is kind of the same, you know what I mean – like we don’t have a whole new defense because Flo’s been in this system for years. It’s a lot of crossover."
It's just that the message -- from veterans to free agent additions to first-year players -- has been communicated clearly.
"Communication is a big deal around here, and I think that just comes from Bill," said McCourty. "It’s just not acceptable for us defensively to cut guys loose, not cover – you know what I mean – 10 guys on the field. All of that falls into communication. So, that will never change, and Flo will be on us more than anybody about that defensively."
“Maybe it’s just the way that he teaches it,’’ Hightower said of Flores' early success with the defense. “The way that the guys kind of absorb it a little bit different. We meet a little different, talk about things a little different.
"It’s just small, quirky things that you can’t necessarily put a finger on, but it’s obvious whenever you can kind of have first-year guys come in or even [free agents] that can pick things up.’’
Flores finding a way to get his message across should not be a shock to anybody. Flores received legitimate consideration for open head coaching gigs, and he helped lead what was an undeniable patchwork linebacking corps to a Super Bowl last year.
And considering the way the New England defense was torched in their Super Bowl LII loss to the Eagles, any potential improvement -- especially one that comes as early as this communication one seems to -- will be beyond welcomed.