Michael Bennett, in 11th season, experiences new formation

NFL

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:

1. Bennett enjoying new beginning: Michael Bennett is in his 11th NFL season, and he told me late Thursday night that he experienced something for the first time in his career in the Patriots’ 10-3 win against the Carolina Panthers on Thursday.

Bennett had never been part of an alignment where he is the only player in a three-point stance and everyone else is standing around the line of scrimmage. That’s what happened on the second-quarter play when Bennett, aligned over starting center Matt Paradis, powered through the A-gap to register a sack.

“That was a new one for me, personally,” the 33-year-old Bennett said.

Bennett and Patriots defenders say such an alignment — which was also used on the play in which Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was sacked and hobbled off with an ankle injury — reflects the versatility of the Patriots’ defense.

For Bennett, the unique wrinkle reflects part of what has made his time in New England enjoyable — it’s been a time for new beginnings, even at this latter stage of his career.

“It’s about building relationships with your teammates. That’s what I try to do every single day,” said Bennett, who has played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2009-2012), Seattle Seahawks (2013-2017) and Philadelphia Eagles (2018). “It’s getting to know guys on a personal level, and I think that’s how you can execute together. Because you have a feel for what makes him go as an individual, and what matters to him. To me, that’s the most important thing.”

2. Kim’s guidance draws praise: Bennett was one of several players spending time on the field with director of skill development Joe Kim before Thursday’s game, working on hand technique. Kim’s martial arts background has helped others over the years — he got his start in the NFL under Bill Belichick with the Browns in the 1990s — and Bennett is enjoying the experience. “He understands pass-rushing and what it’s like, and how you attack the guys,” Bennett said. “There aren’t a lot of guys who can come into the league, and not have any experience as a football player, and teach techniques like that. Joe Kim does a great job of that.”

3. Harry’s status a top question mark: Preparations for the Sept. 8 season opener against the Steelers now intensify, and it seems fair to wonder if first-round pick N’Keal Harry will be available. Ever since Harry hobbled off the field in the Aug. 8 preseason opener, he hasn’t practiced in full. And in the limited time that reporters have been present at practice — basically for a light jogging session — the rookie receiver hasn’t passed the eye test in terms of looking comfortable.

4. Business as usual with Chung: The fallout from safety Patrick Chung set to be arraigned on charges of cocaine possession Wednesday … was no fallout? That was at least the vibe in the locker room following Thursday’s game, with safety Duron Harmon saying, “Pat is a great guy — a leader, a captain, a great father. I can’t talk [enough] about all the good things about Pat. All I can say right now — obviously it’s an ongoing investigation — is we love Pat, and we’re going to do everything we can to rally behind Pat.” That also seems to be the approach of the higher-ups in the organization at this time — giving the situation time to run its course legally (which could extend into 2020).

5. Newton was good test for Patriots DBs with Big Ben on horizon: Matt Stafford, Marcus Mariota, then Cam Newton. That trio of quarterbacks the Patriots practiced against (Stafford/Mariota) and/or faced in preseason games gave Patriots defensive backs a chance to get quality work that should benefit them in the regular season. Specific to the Patriots’ opening game against the Steelers, it set up nicely for them to see Newton and the Panthers on Thursday. “They all have some things they do really well, which at some point you’re going to see during the season. Cam Newton, for example, has a huge arm and can throw the ball. Week 1, [Ben Roethlisberger] has a huge arm and can throw the ball,” safety Devin McCourty said, before pointing out another benefit: Facing Tom Brady in practice every day only helps the overall cause.

6. Stidham’s development shows value of preseason: The drumbeat is growing louder to eliminate/reduce preseason games, and while the product is admittedly not enthralling, count me in what seems like the minority for keeping four games. Rookie quarterback Jarrett Stidham is a prime example as to why: He has played 153 snaps to this point, which is incredibly valuable to Belichick and his staff as they evaluate whether Stidham — who has been mostly impressive — could elevate to the No. 2 spot over veteran Brian Hoyer. I don’t see how that would even be a consideration without actual preseason games.

7. Roberts — just 14 snaps all preseason: This is the time of year when the Patriots are often active on the trade market, and fourth-year linebacker Elandon Roberts is a player who is on my radar. Roberts has played only 14 defensive snaps this preseason, which could be a reflection that he is getting squeezed out of the rotation, and I wonder if the Patriots put him on the kickoff coverage unit Thursday to give opposing scouts a look at how well he runs. Roberts doesn’t usually cover kickoffs. Perhaps former Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia would see some value in bringing Roberts aboard for a late-round pick.

8. Gunner has won over teammates: In what could be the Patriots’ 2019 version of “Rudy,” receiver/punt returner Gunner Olszewski of Division II Bemidji State is making a charge for a roster spot that has caught his teammates’ attention. Olszewski’s determination was previously reflected when he said he would play for “three hots and a cot” — a reference to three meals and a place to sleep — and Belichick noted Olszewski’s competitiveness after Thursday’s game. Olszewski’s solid work as a punt returner — he’s outplayed 2018 sixth-round pick Braxton Berrios — reminds me of Julian Edelman as a rookie in 2009. “He’s relentless. That’s what we love about Gunner — he just goes in and throws his body on the line. He doesn’t care. I love watching Gunner play,” receiver Phillip Dorsett said. The title of Edelman’s book, of course, is “Relentless.”

9. Did You Know? Brady, who turned 42 on Aug. 3, is older than eight current head coaches — the Cardinals’ Kliff Kingsbury (40), Bears’ Matt Nagy (41), Bengals’ Zac Taylor (36), Packers’ Matt LaFleur (39), Rams’ Sean McVay (33), Dolphins’ Brian Flores (38), Jets’ Adam Gase (41) and 49ers’ Kyle Shanahan (39).

10. Vereen adds depth to Patriots broadcasting roster: Is there another team in the NFL that produces as many sports broadcasters as the Patriots? Running back Shane Vereen, whose profile was highest as a player when he was with the Patriots (2011-2014), has been hired by Fox to be part of its college football coverage. Vereen joins a roster of former Patriots who have impressively transitioned to a media career: Troy Brown (NBC Boston), Tedy Bruschi (ESPN), Matt Chatham (NESN), Christian Fauria (sports radio WEEI), Rodney Harrison (NBC), Ted Johnson (The Sports Hub), Willie McGinest (NFL Network), Randy Moss (ESPN), Rob Ninkovich (ESPN), Ross Tucker (formerly Sirius XM NFL Radio), Sebastian Vollmer (German TV), Jermaine Wiggins (sports radio WEEI), Damien Woody (ESPN), Charlie Weis (Sirius XM NFL Radio) and Scott Zolak (The Sports Hub/Patriots radio analyst).

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