New England Patriots

Lt. Joe Cardona, USN, is in his eighth season as the Patriots long snapper. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

  • Three Patriots thoughts ahead of their second preseason game of 2022 against the Carolina Panthers…

    An officer and a long snapper

    Following Wednesday’s joint practice, a second straight marred by altercations and ejections forcing the Patriots and Panthers to form separate huddles and face an ultimatum — no more fighting or else no more, period — both teams came together for a shot of perspective.

    Gathering in a corner of the main practice field at Gillette Stadium, players and coaches circled around New England’s long snapper Joe Cardona, who had changed out his pads and red No. 49 jersey for his camouflage Navy Working Uniform. Cardona, a 2015 graduate of the Naval Academy and Lieutenant in the Navy Reserve, introduced his unit and explained his duty of this day — the reenlistment of a Navy Chief Petty Officer.

    Five years ago, Cardona did the same before an audience of teammates and Jacksonville Jaguars. Afterwards he described the honor he feels, as an officer, swearing in an enlistee.

    “They approached me, personally, and asked if I would do it for them. When someone comes out of their way and asks you to do their reenlistment, they’re saying they want you to be part of their service story and have an important part [of their career]. The fact they deem me willing or deserving, that is something I take a lot of pride in,” Cardona said on Aug. 7, 2017. “They’re signing up for a few more years of service, and when they asked me to perform the reenlistment, I jumped at the opportunity.”

    Cardona’s father, Patrick enlisted in the Navy and served 24 years, between active and reserve duty, before taking a job with the Department of Defense. Joe has already committed more than half that time in his own service, including a year at the Naval Academy Prep School in Newport, four more in Annapolis and another eight concurrent with his NFL career.

    As if balancing football and military commitments aren’t enough, Cardona serves as the team’s NFLPA representative and devotes time to causes in the community. In the past year-plus, he also worked to help bring the Army-Navy Game to Gillette Stadium next year.

    “Being part of the Army-Navy Game committee bringing the game to Foxborough was really something special, to be able to see that end of operations,” Cardona said after a recent practice. “If you really think about the amount of work, the amount of process that goes into it, planning for a big event like that, it’s awesome to be a part of.”

    He intends to continue doing his part until December 2023.

    “And now, as we transition to 2023 and getting ready for the game,” Cardona says. “I’ll make sure I’m still involved.”

  • Coaching connection from Annapolis to Philadelphia

    Wayne Hardin

    The late Wayne Hardin, Hall of Fame coach at Navy and Temple, was a mentor to Bill Belichick and Matt Rhule. (Photo by Neil Leifer/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images)

    While Bill Belichick is in his 48th season coaching in the NFL, Matt Rhule is in his 48th year on Earth and just his fourth in pro football. Despite such disparate ages and experience, they’ve had a relationship for close to a decade.

    Belichick touched on it before Tuesday’s practice.

    “When Matt was at Temple – I have some connections to Temple – and of course Baylor, they have players,” he said, alluding to Rhule’s successful stints as a college head coach. “And then when he came into the National Football League – Carolina – we talked then.

    “We’ve talked multiple times through the years. I have a ton of respect for Coach Rhule. His consistency of producing outstanding teams in multiple organizations: Temple, Baylor, we’ll see where they’re going in Carolina.”

    One of the connections bridging their generation gap was the late Wayne Hardin. At Navy in the early sixties, Hardin’s staff included Bill’s father, Steve, and his teams, among the greatest in academy history, featured Heisman Trophy winners Joe Bellino and Roger Staubach. Brilliantly innovative, Hardin was a coaching role model for young Billy, and close friend to a much older Bill until his death at 91 in 2017.

    Hardin left Annapolis with a 38-22-2 record in six seasons for Philadelphia, where he was hired by the city’s Continental Football League franchise in 1966 and, beginning in 1970,  became Temple’s winningest head coach, compiling an 80-52-3 record over the next 13 years. The Owls then endured more than two decades of mostly football futility, leading to their ouster from the Big East in the early 2000s.

    Temple’s fortunes changed with a move to the Mid-American Conference and hiring of ex-Patriots’ linebacker Al Golden, followed by Steve Addazio’s two-year stint and a brief return to the Big East. Rhule succeeded the latter in 2013, just as Temple joined the American Athletic Conference, and took the Owls from two wins to back-to-back 10-win campaigns in 2015-16.

    Throughout, he communicated regularly with Hardin.

    “Coach (Hardin) was a tremendous mentor and friend to me and was always there with a kind word or sage advice,” Rhule said in a statement upon Hardin’s passing. “I will miss him immensely, but I am a better man and coach for having him in my life.”

  • Carolina QB’s

    Carolina QB

    Sam Darnold (left) and Baker Mayfield were two of the top three picks in the 2018 NFL Draft. (Photos by Bob Socci)

    In Carolina’s preseason opener at Washington, Baker Mayfield started at quarterback, giving way to Sam Darnold after one series. Each left with points on the board. Mayfield presided over a 13-play, 54-yard field goal drive and Darnold threw an eight-yard touchdown pass three plays after a Commanders’ fumble on their 20-yard line.

    During their two days practicing against the Pats, neither seemed to gain an edge. Rhule expressed an intention to play a lot of backups in tonight’s game, but did not specify his plans at quarterback. If both play, we’ll have seen the top three picks in the 2018 draft at Gillette this preseason. Last Thursday, second overall choice Saquon Barkley logged 13 snaps for the Giants. 

    Barkley was selected between Mayfield — first by the Browns — and Darnold — third by the Jets. Both quarterbacks were acquired by Carolina via trade — Darnold a year ago and Mayfield in July — and each is playing this season on his ‘fifth-year option.’

    Since their rookie debuts, Mayfield and Darnold rank one-two in interceptions thrown. Mayfield has been picked off 56 times in 60 games and owns a 29-30 record as a starter. Darnold has thrown 54 I-N-T’s in 50 games, while going 17-32 in his starts.

    Opposite the Pats, they are a combined 0-6 with 11 interceptions, three TD’s and 16 sacks. Last season Darnold turned it over on three straight series in a 24-6 loss in Charlotte, while Mayfield was intercepted twice in a 45-7 drubbing in Foxborough.

    Bob Socci is in his 10th season calling play-by-play on the Patriots Radio Network on 98.5 The Sports Hub. Follow him on Twitter @BobSocci.