Patriots Notes: What New England Must Do To Replace Julian Edelman

Plus: High praise for Jonnu Smith and Kyle Dugger

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Some assorted notes and nuggets from Monday’s New England Patriots media availability:

— Special teams captain Matthew Slater spoke at length about the retirement of his longtime friend and former roommate Julian Edelman.

Slater, a teammate of Edelman’s for the last 12 seasons, was asked how the Patriots will replace the decorated wide receiver from an attitude and culture standpoint.

“Look, there’s not going to be another Julian Edelman that comes through here,” Slater replied during a video conference. “He was so unique. His DNA was 1 of 1. The toughness, the intensity, the ability to compete at a high level when the game was on the line — I mean, I’ve never seen anything like it. So when you talk about guys trying to step up and fill that void, I think it’s key that they just be themselves.

“This organization has had players that have come through here, starting with Tom (Brady) and others, that you just don’t replace. And you don’t try to be that guy; you’ve just got to be yourself. So look, we need guys to be tough. We need guys to be accountable. When the time is right, we need guys to be vocal and try to encourage their teammates to bring their game to another level. But they’ve got to do it their way. They can’t try to do it like Julian did, because there’s only one Julian.

“So I’m excited to see who steps up, how guys lead. I think young guys need to start taking ownership of this football team because the old guard only has so much time here left. I look forward to seeing that next wave, that next generation of leaders and men who are really going to try to take ownership of this team.”

From an on-field perspective, the Patriots will lean on last year’s leading receiver, Jakobi Meyers, along with free agent additions Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne to fill Edelman’s void. Like Edelman, who was limited to six games in his final season, all three have the ability to play either in the slot or out wide. New tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith also should be focal points of New England’s passing attack.

The Patriots already found Edelman’s punt-return successor in Gunner Olszewski, who made first-team All-Pro last season.

Edelman won three Super Bowls during his Patriots tenure, playing a key role in each. After he announced his retirement in April, head coach Bill Belichick released a glowing statement calling him “the ultimate competitor” and “the quintessential throwback player.”

Slater’s praise was similarly effusive.

“I think you guys all know covering Julian and I over the last 12 years or so how much I love him as a brother, as a friend, what he means to my family,” Slater said. “I can’t really put that into words in the short time that we have here together. But I’m so proud of him in everything that he’s accomplished in his great career here. I think he’s one of the all-time great Patriots. He means the world to me. His friendship is something that I value above all things.

“I hope that Patriots Nation continues to celebrate him and look back on his career with fondness and gratitude, because he gave us a lot of great memories in a Patriots uniform.”

— Smith has a big fan in Adrian Phillips.

The veteran Patriots safety raved about Smith’s route tree and mismatch potential after Monday’s minicamp practice.

“He was a beast, and he still is a beast,” Phillips said. “That’s what I got from that. When you watched him play (with) the Titans, you see a guy who can literally run everything. His route tree is wide-open. And then he gets here and you see that firsthand in practice, it’s just crazy. He moves like a receiver, but he’s big, he’s fast and it’s a real matchup problem.”

Smith caught eight touchdown passes in his final season with Tennessee and has been one of the NFL’s best in recent years at generating yards after the catch. He was a versatile weapon for the Titans, even taking occasional handoffs out of the backfield.

Monday’s practice was a forgettable one for Smith, however. He had some issues with drops amid rainy conditions in Foxboro, Mass., and did not finish practice after suffering an apparent hamstring injury.

It was Smith’s first practice in a Patriots uniform, as he chose not to attend voluntary organized team activities.

— Phillips also lauded fellow safety/linebacker hybrid Kyle Dugger, who impressed as a Patriots rookie last season.

“The main thing that you want to see in young guys is just how they take success and if they’re still hungry the next year, and he’s still hungry,” Phillips said. “There’s still a lot out there for him to get. He still wants to learn. He takes coaching, and he just goes out there and makes plays. He’s just physically gifted, and when you add that with somebody who cares about the mental aspect of the game, he has no ceiling.

“It’s good to see that, and if he stays on the right path, it could take him to some great places.”

Dugger, whom Phillips compared to Derwin James last September, started seven of the Patriots’ final eight games in 2020 and should play an important role in New England’s 2021 secondary.

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