Socci’s 3-and-out: Playing with a hard edge, guarding against the hard count
September 30th, 2022
While Lil'Jordan Humphrey has one catch through three games, he's flexed his muscles as a blocker. (Brian Fluharty/USA TODAY Sports)
Through three weeks of this Patriots season, as you’ve no doubt heard if not asked yourself, there’ve been two burning questions about the team’s receivers.
Why, our favorite sports talkers, their callers and occasional guests (including this one) have wondered, hasn’t Kendrick Bourne played more than one out of every four offensive plays? When seen on the field, he’s caught seven of nine targets for an average of 16.4 yards.
Concurrently, how did Lil’Jordan Humphrey go from Week 1 practice-squad call-up to Week 3 regular on the field for 54 offensive snaps vs. Baltimore? After all, he was targeted just once last week and has one grab, gaining 11 yards, in three games overall.
While one remains a mystery, the other got some clarity in a conversation Tuesday with receivers coach Ross Douglas, who assists Troy Brown at the position. Asked what the staff sees as Humphrey’s strengths, Douglas described attributes associated with his usage — predominantly as a blocker in the run game.
“He brings a toughness and an edge really to our wide receiver room,” Douglas says of the 6-4, 225-pound Humphrey. “You look at some of the things he’s done and some of the things we’ve asked him to do, quite frankly.
“Anything we’ve asked out of him, he’s done (and) embraced his role.”
Against the Ravens, Humphrey’s role expanded in the absence of Jakobi Meyers, whom Titans head coach Mike Vrabel referred to as the Pats’ “best blocker” last November.
Despite missing Meyers opposite Baltimore, Rhamondre Stevenson and Damien Harris rushed for a combined 114 yards and two scores on 23 carries. With Humphries’ help, they averaged nearly five yards a rush.
“Anytime you talk about running the football you talk about toughness, physicality, being able to move people from point A to point B,” said Douglas, likening Humphrey to Meyers as blockers. “Both those guys really, just truly bring an edge, especially at the wide receiver position (because) some (defensive backs), quite frankly, don’t want contact in the run game.
“So just being able to emphasize just the toughness and overall physicality our offense can bring, there’s some edge and grit to them. Both of those guys truly embody that. They’re selfless players, they do whatever it takes for the team to win. Both those guys have truly embraced being in those ‘dirty work’ positions.”
At the University of Texas, where he was an 1,100-yard receiver as a junior, Humphrey wanted only to get his hands on the ball. Only after becoming a pro, as an undrafted Saint, did he wrap his arms around the idea of using those hands to move defenders.
“When I went to New Orleans I guess I realized that was going to be my way to get on the field,” Humphrey said at his locker on Thursday. “I just took on that role and took on the mentality to be a physical blocker so I can get on the field as much as possible.
“It’s really a mindset. I had to change my mindset, going from a pass catcher in college to like (realizing) I had get on the field some way, somehow, and blocking was it. I just had to change my mindset and become a blocker. I came in (here), showed myself a little bit and hopefully I can continue to grow with that.”
When told of Vrabel’s praise of Meyers, Humphrey concurred.
“Jakobi goes in there and he’s smacking (guys),” he said. “So yeah, I love him as a blocker, as a receiver. I like his game. He’s one of those guys, for sure.”
Humphrey’s shown Douglas that he’s one, too.
Cornerback Jack Jones has earned increased playing time each week in his rookie campaign. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
After appearing for 11 defensive plays in his NFL debut at Miami, rookie defensive back Jack Jones’s snap count has increased each of the last two weeks. In Pittsburgh, he defended on 22 of 59 plays (37 percent). Opposite Baltimore, he lined up for 26 of 60 defensive snaps (43 percent).
Despite his slight, 5-foot-11 frame, at a listed 175 pounds, Jones has shown both in preseason and Week 2 at Pittsburgh, in particular, that he’s willing and able to play physically. One instance, in run support against the Steelers’ Najee Harris, stands out to teammate Jalen Mills.
“I remember Jack had a play in (training) camp where we had the rookies in there and they were kind of live tackling and he had a tackle on the edge where he kind of put his head down,” Mills recently recalled. “Then after that (coaches) pulled him to the side and helped on his tackling.
“I just think that goes to show the hard work he puts in throughout the week. When the opportunity came for him to make that big play on that running back, it came out and he did his job.”
It’s that kind of play, as opposed to the build of the player who made it, that has consistently stuck with defensive coach Steve Belichick.
“Whatever (Jack) looks like that is what it is. You can’t see a person’s mentality from just looking at him,” Belichick says. “You kind of have to talk to him, get to know him. That kid loves football.
“He’s passionate about what he does. He takes a lot of pride in what he does and I appreciate that. And I know with that type of mindset that I continue to learn more about as I spend more time with him that it’s only going to get better from here.”
The Pats must listen to Aaron Rodgers’ hard count with their eyes to avoid jumping offsides. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)
As if his mind, vision, mobility and — of course — arm aren’t enough to make Aaron Rodgers one of the three or four most difficult quarterbacks to defend, there’s his hard count.
No one, in the game today and perhaps ever before, has used his voice to induce opponents into jumping offsides as effectively as Rodgers. Even as his reputation precedes him, defenders who know to listen with their eyes at the snap of the ball, repeatedly react to his varied cadences.
Sunday’s safest bet is that Rodgers, likely more than once, will use his bark to try to get Patriots like Matt Judon to bite.
“Just watch the ball, trust your eyes,” Judon said Thursday, when asked how to avoid getting duped by Rodgers’ voice. “He’ll do it first play, he’ll do it third quarter, he’s definitely going to do it in important situations. But for him every play is important because he feels like he can get a ‘Hail Mary’ or home run ball and they do it well.
“I don’t know if it’s practiced or they work on it after practice, but once they get that (offsides) all the receivers go vertical and so you’ve got to continue to play even if it happens and you’ve got to play the play out. We’ve all actually seen it, I think everybody in the NFL (has). But it continues to happen for him.”