FOXBORO, Mass. — Some leftover notes and nuggets from Thursday’s New England Patriots media availability at Gillette Stadium:
— Trey Flowers still was at Arkansas the last time the Patriots and Green Bay Packers met in the regular season in 2014, but he has experienced the feeling of sacking Aaron Rodgers.
That sack came during New England’s 2015 preseason opener. Flowers, then a rookie fourth-round draft pick wearing No. 74 and playing his first game in a Patriots uniform, beat future Pro Bowl left tackle David Bahktiari before engulfing Rodgers in the backfield.
“I was on the right,” Flowers recalled this week. “I lined up, just got a good rush and sacked him.”
It would take more than a year for Flowers to develop into a high-caliber pass rusher for the Patriots, though. Four snaps after that sack, he suffered a shoulder injury that wound up costing him nearly his entire rookie season.
Having now established himself as one of New England’s best defensive players, Flowers will be an important cog in the Patriots’ effort to slow down Rodgers and Co. this Sunday night at Gillette Stadium.
“We’re hoping to get some rush on him and kind of have him uncomfortable back there,” he said. “It takes a team. A lot of guys are being productive for us over the (last) few weeks, and we continue to work.”
Flowers views this game as a litmus test for the Patriots’ defense, which allowed just six points and forced two turnovers Monday in a win over the lowly Buffalo Bills but surrendered 71 total points to the Kansas City Chiefs and Chicago Bears in the two games before that.
“I think it’s definitely a challenge for us going against a high-powered offense with one of the greats at the quarterback position,” Flowers said. “Just being able to go out there and execute against a high-powered team, high-powered offense, I think it’ll definitely let us measure up and see how far we’ve come.”
— Patriots assistant coaches spoke to reporters for the second consecutive day. Defensive line coach Brendan Daly spent much of his media availability raving about Flowers, but he also offered updates on several other Patriots defensive ends:
On Adrian Clayborn, who has a sack in each of his last two games after tallying zero in his first six: “He’s been really good in terms of trying to understand exactly what we want him to do and go out there and execute that to the best of his ability. It hasn’t always been perfect, but I would say there is a process coming in here new that takes some time to get adjusted (to). There’s some time on the job that’s required, even for a veteran player who’s been around the league at multiple different spots. It’s different. … That’s just part of the process. He’s done a really good job. He’s been a leader for us. He’s got a great attitude, he works his ass off. I’ve been really pleased with his progress.”
On Keionta Davis, who returned to the lineup Monday after sitting out four straight games as a healthy scratch: “There’s another guy that works hard every day in practice, continues to get better, has ridden the roller coaster to a degree of active, inactive, how much he’s playing, which inevitably happens with a lot of young players. We’re standing here talking about Trey Flowers. I’ll go back to Trey Flowers’ rookie year — we couldn’t get him active. Couldn’t get him active. Ended up putting him on IR early to have surgery because we couldn’t get him active. It didn’t mean he wasn’t a good football player, and I’d put Keionta in that category a little bit. There’s a numbers game every week. You can’t play with 53. They limit it to 46. If you could play with 53, he’d probably be out there every week. But you’ve got to make decisions based on roster management and what you need to play that particular game. Some weeks, his skill set lends it better than others, and he continues to work in all facets of the game to try to improve where he’s at and become a more valuable member (of the team) and therefore get more opportunities. But he’s done a good job there.”
On Derek Rivers, who, like Davis, has been a healthy scratch for multiple games this season: “I’d say it’s a similar process. A lot of these young guys, it takes them some time. And they’ve all worked hard. They’ve all got different skill sets — different things that they bring to the table that they may do better than the other guy, from kicking game to defensive pass rush to early-down run to whatever the case may be. He’s continued to work hard. I would say there’s definitely been improvement in his situation. He has adjusted some things to help accommodate things that we need done defensively that may not be best for him, if you will, but what we need to execute, and he’s done a nice job of it.”
— Safeties coach Steve Belichick has an unusual set of responsibilities, and not just because he’s the son of the big boss.
At just 31 years old, Belichick is the youngest position coach on the Patriots’ staff, and he coaches the team’s most veteran group, with the exception of the quarterbacks. He’s less than six months older than both Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung and was a college teammate of Duron Harmon’s at Rutgers.
This is Steve Belichick’s third season in his current role, so serving as an authority figure to guys his own age is nothing new for him. But he still feels the need to find creative ways to keep his troops motivated.
“Those guys, they’ve got, like, 40 years of experience,” Belichick said. “So yeah, I’ve got to get creative. I don’t want them to get complacent. Overconfidence is the result of self-coaching, so I’ve got to try to keep them on their toes and do whatever I can to get the best out of them. …
“(I) just try to stay a step ahead of those guys, and they do a good job of staying a step ahead of me.”
Steve Belichick said having such an experienced group — which also includes the 29-year-old Nate Ebner — “absolutely” has helped him improve as a coach.
“They’re very knowledgeable as players, so it forces me to know my information and know what I’m doing,” he said. “I don’t know what it would have been like if it was a younger group, but I feel like they’ve definitely pushed me along in a good way and brought me along.”
Thumbnail photo via Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Imges