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New England Patriots

New England Patriots

Rookie Marte Mapu, coming off surgery, has been practicing in a red non-contact jersey. (Photo by Eric Canha-USA TODAY) Sports

‘Seeing red’ has assumed a drastically different — as in exact opposite — meaning when watching the Patriots defense during the first week-plus of training camp.

Contrary to age-old semantics, the two words aren’t an expression of anger for Patriots fans; but rather, an act offering encouragement. Maybe even excitement.

Because so far, seeing red amid otherwise blue-clad defenders, has meant watching rookie Marte Mapu move around in a non-contact jersey. In the box, as a linebacker and safety. Or out in coverage, from the flats to free safety. Running to the ball. And batting balls down.

As one of several 2023 Draft classmates making positive first impressions in Foxborough, the easily distinguishable Mapu, a third-round pick from Sacramento State, projects a big upside as part of a unit conceived with variance and versatility in mind.

“I try to study the whole defense and try to make myself as versatile as possible so the coaches can use me how they want to,” Mapu said after Thursday’s practice. “I feel comfortable anywhere.”

But until they see him in blue, cleared for full contact coming off surgery to repair a torn pec in February, Mapu’s coaches won’t be comfortable using him anywhere, in any way.

“He’s done a great job, and I know you guys see him out there in the red jersey, so obviously we can’t do a full eval until we see what he’s actually able to do,” linebackers coach Jerod Mayo said Friday in his Webex press conference. “I will say this, he’s a very smart kid, or a smart man, I would say. He asks a lot of good questions. Honestly, there aren’t too many rookies that ask the questions that Marte asks.

“But once again, it goes back to the versatility. This guy can do different things. We just got to make sure we can see it on the field in a live situation.”

The ‘more you can do’ has long been a mantra of the Patriots in every phase, ingrained in the mindfulness of youngsters by coaches and veterans preaching how versatility equates to value. Fundamental changes in how the game is being played at the college level have led to more players who can do more.

Not just in New England. Around the NFL.

“When I first was drafted in 2008, we had like real bubbles, coming downhill,” said Mayo, selected eighth overall as a 230-pound linebacker. “Teams had real fullbacks, right?

“Now the game has started to spread out, where they’re stretching the defense vertically or horizontally. You need guys that can go forward, backwards.”

Mayo continued, all the while hand gesturing to his words. He pointed while saying “open up 45,” signaling the ability to quickly open one’s hips to run at an angle halfway between vertical and horizontal.

“We are seeing players like that,” Mayo says. “But I would also say, you have to go find them, you have to project that this guy can do certain things, because even though they may do one thing in college, if you can project that this guy can play linebacker, safety, whatever, there’s definitely value for that person in our system.”

  • One lineman’s misery, another’s opportunity

    Trent Brown of the New England Patriots takes the field before practice at 2023 training camp in Foxboro. (Credit: 98.5 The Sports Hub)

    While new offensive line coach Adrian Klemm says he knows what Trent Brown (pictured) can do, he’s learning about a number of others getting valuable reps in training camp. (Photo Credit: 98.5 The Sports Hub)

    Eight years before Bill Belichick chose Mayo, his first pick as Patriots head coach was offensive lineman Adrian Klemm, taken 46th overall in 2000.

    Now Klemm and Mayo are colleagues coaching under Belichick. While the latter has the luxury of working newcomers like Mapu into an experienced defense, the former oversees an offensive line in flux. 

    It’s a unit that had personnel questions when projected on paper coming into camp, only to incur injuries and lingering absences during the first eight days of practices. 

    Right guard Mike Onwenu is on the PUP list, recovering from ankle surgery; left guard Cole Strange is dealing with a left leg injury; left tackle Trent Brown has been limited in practice; and right tackle is open for competition. 

    Looking at a lack of continuity, Klemm sees opportunity. For players, particularly a rookie class that includes three offensive linemen, and coaches. 

    “I wouldn’t look at it so much as being difficult, but it’s an opportunity for us to see other guys go against some guys they normally wouldn’t and it’s a chance for them to showcase their talents and some of the work they’ve done in the offseason,” Klemm says. “It’s been good for them. It’s been good for us to evaluate guys that we don’t get to see as much, who sometimes don’t get as many reps. 

    “When they’re put in that position, it creates a certain sense of urgency. It’s not like, ‘Hey, I’ll figure it out next year’ or ‘I’ll figure it out in Week 3 or 4.’ You’ve got to figure it out now. They put their foot to the fire and they’ve got to respond.”

    Regarding Brown, specifically, Klemm says Trent’s been involved in meetings and “really engaged in everything we’ve been doing.” Despite his absence, Brown is not unfamiliar to Klemm, who’s watched a lot of video of his big tackle. 

    “I know what he can do,” Klemm says. “It does give us another chance to kind of get somebody in there that could potentially be his backup or be competing with him get some reps too.”

  • Barmore back on track

    Jan 1, 2023; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots defensive tackle Christian Barmore (90) reacts after a sack against the Miami Dolphins during the second half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

    Christian Barmore has much to celebrate these days. (Photo by Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports)

    Last Friday, on his 24th birthday, Christian Barmore received a most precious gift: his baby girl, Shiloh, was born. 

    Continuing what’s already been a big year for the new dad, Barmore now looks to have a big impact on the Pats defense. 

    A knee injury last October at Cleveland forced him to miss seven straight games over eight weeks, affecting Barmore’s ability to build on an All-Rookie season (per the Pro Football Writers of America) in 2021.

    “I think Christian did a really good job coming in ready, focused with a clear mindset, in shape, ready to work,” says defensive line coach DeMarcus Covington. “He’s done a really good job for us.”

  • Friday night’s lights

    The new video board at Gillette Stadium was turned on for the first time on Friday.

    The new video board at Gillette Stadium was turned on for the first time last Friday. (Photo by Alex Barth/98.5 The Sports Hub)

    Taylor Swift. Ed Sheeran. Luke Combs. Beyonce. They’ve all taken the stage facing the newly-enclosed North end zone of Gillette Stadium this summer. We all know how they sound.

    Nick Folk. Chad Ryland. Corliss Waitman. Bryce Baringer. They get their shot in Friday’s annual in-stadium practice before season ticket members and Foxborough residents. And special teams coordinator Cam Achord can’t wait to see how they kick. 

    “We’ve had a lot of concerts going in there, the (New England Revolution) soccer team’s been doing well, so there hasn’t been much opportunity for us to go in there in this training camp,” Achord said. “They’re still building. They’ve still got, I’m sure, some more renovations to finish and complete (but) this will be our first opportunity to get in there, catch the ball and kick, so we’re really excited to get in there.

    “We don’t know (how) it’s going to be until you start putting the ball in the air.”

    Unlike everyone else, Achord wouldn’t mind high winds and rain. Either way — and let’s hope it’s the other way — it will be an important test of the stadium reconfiguration’s effects on punts and placement kicks.

    Bob Socci enters his 11th season calling play-by-play for the Patriots Radio Network on 98.5 The Sports Hub.

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