Patriots Notes: How Pats’ Top Rookie Impressed Coach Before Season Began

Plus: Praise for Nick Folk

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November 13, 2020

Some notes and nuggets from Friday’s video conferences with New England Patriots players and coaches:

— Sixth-round draft pick Mike Onwenu, our pick for Patriots first-half MVP, began impressing co-offensive line coach Carmen Bricillo months before the season began.

“When we were doing the Zoom meetings all offseason and we were able to work remotely, here?s a rookie that I would get a text message (from) at 10:30 at night, and he?s asking me something,” Bricillo recalled. “I kind would smile and show it to my wife, because it was something that, clearly I knew he was looking at film at 10:30. We got in the Zoom meeting the next morning, and that was going to be the first question we were going to answer. So it?s a testament to how hard he works, and it is what you?ve got to do. In this business, the more you can do.”

That willingness to learn has helped Onwenu, who played almost exclusively right guard at Michigan, develop the versatility needed to start games at right guard, left guard and right tackle, as he’s done this season. He’s excelled at each spot, entering Week 10 as Pro Football Focus’s third-highest-graded offensive lineman.

?Mike is what we saw in the evaluation process,” Bricillo said of the imposing 350-pound rookie. “He?s a lunch-pail kind of guy who just shows up and does his job and does it quietly and listens. You can tell he?s a serious guy that really takes being a pro seriously.

“The vets were talking today in (a) meeting. (Fellow O-line coach) Cole (Popovich) had the vets kind of talk a little bit about what this game (against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday) kind of means, and I saw Mike just sitting there really intently listening to what the vets had to say. And that shows in his play. Nothing?s perfect. Lots of room to grow for Mike, and he knows that. He?d be the first to tell you. But he?s a guy that shows up every day to work, and he?s fun to work with.”

— Special teams coordinator Cam Achord and special teams captain Matthew Slater both saluted veteran kicker Nick Folk, whose 51-yard field goal as time expired Monday night gave New England a 30-27 win over the New York Jets.

“Nick?s the pro that you definitely love having on your team,” Achord said. “He brings that veteran leadership, steady approach. When you send him out there, you just get that feeling. You know it?s going through, which is a good feeling going out there.”

Folk missed one practice last week with a back injury and was listed as questionable for Monday’s game. Punter/kickoff man Jake Bailey practiced field goals during warmups as a precaution.

Folk downplayed the injury after the game, but Slater called it “a serious situation.”

“Anyone who’s had any type of back issues knows that that’s not fun,” Slater said. “So he showed a tremendous amount of toughness, mental toughness, physical toughness and professionalism last week, but he’s done that the entirety of the time that he’s been here. So I appreciate him, appreciate what he did last week. We’re fortunate to have a guy like that here and I think all of us can look to him and learn about what it looks like to be a professional football player, because he certainly embodies all those things.”

The 36-year-old Folk missed field goals in Weeks 1 and 2 and an extra point in Week 3 but has been perfect ever since, going 10-for-10 on field goals and 5-for-5 on extra points over New England’s last five games.

“I can’t say enough good things about Nick,” Slater said. “And I’ve been spoiled to be with some really, really good specialists in my time. Played with Stephen (Gostkowski) for a long time. And Nick is as professional as anyone I’ve ever played with. The way he approaches his craft, the way he approaches technique, the way he approaches taking care of himself. He’s got a plan, and he goes about that plan in a great way. I’ve learned about being a professional from Nick.”

Thumbnail photo via Paul Rutherford/USA TODAY Sports Images
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