‘I sound like I know what I’m doing’: Where has Patriots QB Drake Maye made strides this spring?

NFL

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

1. Maye-Polk connection: Rookie quarterback Drake Maye missed a throw on an out route in last Wednesday’s practice during the two-minute drill, so he followed his regular routine by staying after practice to work on it.

He didn’t have to recruit a receiver to join him. Ja’Lynn Polk, as usual, was right there.

The Patriots’ first- and second-round picks made it a habit over the past four weeks to take extra repetitions after practice and were usually the last players to leave the field.

“I think it’s important,” said Maye, the No. 3 overall selection from the University of North Carolina. “It’s picking up little things every day.”

The extra work might have been a factor in Maye and Polk combining for a 5-yard touchdown to end the final practice of mandatory minicamp — a bang-bang play on a fade route with one second remaining that sparked a raucous celebration from the entire offense and had defenders dropping for pushups.

It was the type of play that reflected a growing trust between them, helping them end their first NFL spring practice with an exclamation mark.

“The drive before, Drake goes ‘be ready,'” said Polk, the No. 37 overall pick from the University of Washington. “We had an option to go fade or another route. I heard it in my head, him say ‘I’m throwing that fade.’ So I was like, ‘Go make a play.'”

Little is expected of the Patriots in the 2024 season — they are projected as one of the NFL’s lower-echelon teams — but the potential development of Maye and Polk sparks hope for the future. It wasn’t lost on media observers that the same fade route they connected on — Polk crashing to the ground near the back-right corner of the end zone — was something they had spent time on after a prior practice.

“We’re working on that timing, [and me] figuring him out and the things that he’s really great at,” Polk said of the post-practice sessions. “He wants to go out there and get those extra catches in, and if there was something he didn’t feel like he did a great job in practice, he wants to make sure he corrects it after practice and gets it right.”

In addition to throwing to Polk and fellow rookie Javon Baker (when he has been healthy) after practice, Maye also regularly took snaps under center — a reflection of his adjustment to the NFL after having mostly played in the shotgun in college.

Having those snaps become more routine, coupled with the footwork associated with it, has been a significant part of Maye’s spring. So, too, has been aligning with his left foot up in the shotgun, a technique that offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt teaches because he believes it gives the offense the best chance to play in rhythm. Maye’s adjustment has also included calling plays in the huddle, something he hardly did at North Carolina.

“More and more, the huddle calls are coming together. I don’t sound like I’m fumbling words in there. I sound like I know what I’m doing. Mixing up a bunch of letters, a bunch of numbers, it’s getting that down pat,” he said.

“It’s a good thing I’m a pretty big dude in there [6-foot-4, 223 pounds]. I look guys in the eye, not just looking down, and commanding it, and getting a good break. A good clap. It kind of gets you in a good mood [that] ‘this is going to be a good play.'”

At the start of the spring, Maye was taking repetitions behind veteran and current starter Jacoby Brissett and 2022 fourth-round pick Bailey Zappe. By the end of the spring, he was mostly repping immediately behind Brissett.

Nonetheless, coaches have preached patience. As has Maye himself.

“I feel like I’ve made some progress. At the same time, I have a lot of work to go. I still haven’t even been touched out there — I’m a quarterback in a red jersey,” he said. “It’s different taking hits from those guys, some big dudes up front.”

Returning offensive captains David Andrews and Hunter Henry have been complimentary of Maye’s approach. Andrews said he’s “doing all the right things” while Henry noted his positive attitude and how “he’s a fun guy to be around.”

“He’s going in the right direction,” first-year head coach Jerod Mayo said. “Now, in saying that, we know there are going to be some down days. That’s one thing I’ve been trying to stress to him is, ‘Just keep chipping at that rock, get 10 percent better every day. It’s not always going to be great.’ He’s done a good job.”

2. Godchaux’s deal: Starting defensive tackle Davon Godchaux didn’t practice during last week’s mandatory minicamp, with Mayo confirming he is among a “bunch of guys” that want to “redo contracts.” Mayo added that Godchaux is “one of our best players,” has been showing up at the facility daily, and that the sides are working through it.

Godchaux is scheduled to earn a base salary of $7.15 million in 2024 — which is the final year of his contract — and can make an additional $1 million in roster bonuses. None of that money is guaranteed.

So Godchaux’s status is among the contract-related issues for executive vice president of player personnel Eliot Wolf and his staff to address before the start of training camp in late July.

Said Mayo: “One thing I’ve learned is sometimes the value that the team has on a person is a little bit different than the value the market has on a person. I’m green, but I’m learning. I’m evolving, and those are the conversations that have to be had.”

3. 60k for Brady: Magic was in the air Wednesday night during Tom Brady’s Patriots Hall of Fame induction ceremony in front of 60,612 fans inside Gillette Stadium. 60,612! Consider this contrast: When Brady is ultimately enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio — likely in 2028 — the capacity at Tom Benson Stadium is about 24,000.

Brady’s inspirational speech, a rousing ovation for Bill Belichick in his first visit back to Gillette, and Robert Kraft announcing the retirement of Brady’s No. 12 and a soon-to-come statue, were among the highlights on Wednesday. As for the unscripted moments that resonated, the way the crowd reacted to Randy Moss, and Moss’ emotion, was as real as it gets. Unforgettable.

Brissett, who was teammates with Brady his rookie season in 2016, wore Brady’s No. 12 jersey to the ceremony. Also, more than one million users streamed all or part of the event.

4. Maye took it in: Maye attended Brady’s induction, sitting among a group of fellow rookies, and was there through the end of the three-hour program. Maye, who previously met Brady in Los Angeles at the NFL Players Association Rookie Premier event after the draft, referred to him as the “GOAT.” Maye and the rookie class will remain in town for the next couple of weeks for strength and conditioning work before a multiweek break leading into the start of training camp in late July.

5. Gonzalez feels good. Cornerback Christian Gonzalez, the Patriots’ 2023 first-round pick, gave a positive report on his health last week after participating in all spring practices. Gonzalez missed 13 games last year with a shoulder injury that required surgery. His ability to recapture the form that led to him being named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month last September will be among the critical storylines for the Patriots’ defense.

6. Strange-Mayo link: The injury that Patriots 2022 first-round draft pick Cole Strange is rehabilitating from — a torn patellar tendon in his left knee sustained last December — is something that Mayo endured as a player late in his career in 2014.

So when Mayo previously said that Strange was in the “month-to-month” category, and that every player other than Strange is tracking to be available health-wise by the first few weeks of training camp, he was speaking from first-hand experience of the challenging comeback Strange hopes to make.

7. Sow’s switch: Without Strange at left guard, 2023 fourth-round pick Sidy Sow took the most repetitions at that position this spring. In a sense, it was a return to his roots as he started 44 games at left guard while at Eastern Michigan (in addition to 11 at left tackle) before finding a home at right guard in his rookie NFL season (13 starts).

“It’s been fun switching back over there,” he said, noting the early chemistry he’s had a chance to develop with left tackle Chukwuma Okorafor.

8. Gibson’s impression: Mayo said he hoped the spring contributed to players bonding, and in the case of free agent signee Antonio Gibson, the pass-catching running back formerly of the Commanders, he believes that has helped him have a “pretty smooth” transition to New England.

“The locker room is very accepting. I feel like it’s more of a bond here, they do a lot of things together. Nothing against my brothers on the other side, but everybody communicates with each other — from offense to defense,” he said. “That’s a good feeling coming over here and them being accepting.”

9. They said it: “Don’t be stupid and go out there and gain 35 pounds because you haven’t been doing anything. Be ready, camp is coming, and that’s where you earn your job.” — Sow, on the message from the coaching staff for players over the next month

10. Did you know: The Patriots won’t face the Giants in the preseason for the second year in a row. This marks the first time since 1999-2000 that the teams won’t meet in the preseason two straight years.

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