FOXBORO, Mass. — New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels might have some tricks up his sleeve involving Jonnu Smith.
Speaking after Friday night’s simulated game inside Gillette Stadium, the multi-talented tight end hinted at new aspects of his skill set we could see for the first time this season.
“I’m just excited to be able to use my ability to its fullest potential,” Smith said. “Even touch some areas where maybe I do some things I’ve never done before. Kind of scratch the surface here and see what lies beneath.”
Smith already was a highly versatile player at his previous NFL stop, lining up all over the formation for the Tennessee Titans and even taking occasional handoffs out of the backfield. He’s carried the ball six times for 82 yards and a touchdown in his four-year career, including a 57-yard dash against the Houston Texans in 2019.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has called Smith “probably the best in the league” at generating yards after the catch. The numbers bear that out: the 25-year-old has ranked in the top three among tight ends in YAC/reception in each of the last two seasons, per NFL Next Gen Stats.
The Patriots shelled out big bucks to overhaul their talent-deficient tight end room this offseason, signing Smith and Hunter Henry in the opening days of free agency. Smith wasn’t on the field much during the spring — he skipped voluntary organized team activities and tweaked his hamstring early in mandatory minicamp — but he’s been a full participant in training camp, showcasing his skills as a blocker and pass-catcher.
His powerful displacement of edge rusher Josh Uche was one of the standout moments of Thursday’s practice. On Friday, he hauled in three touchdowns from rookie quarterback Mac Jones. (The practice was non-competitive, so those touchdowns were uncontested.)
Smith said he and Henry plan to bring two-tight end sets — which were almost entirely absent from New England’s offense last season — “to another level.”
“They’re going to use my ability, man, to help this team be in the best position possible,” Smith said. “I consider myself a guy that can do a lot of things at the tight end position, and whatever it may take to help this team win, that’s what I’m going to do.”
Smith seems to be enjoying himself in New England. He called the atmosphere at Friday’s in-stadium practice — which was attended by thousands of season-ticket holders and Foxboro residents — “amazing.”
“These fans are awesome, man,” said Smith, who said he grew to appreciate Boston history and culture by watching movies like “The Departed” and “The Town.” “Just getting out here and feeling the game-day vibes, it’s something to look forward to. This is it.
“When you talk about, NFL football, the New England Patriots, Sunday in Foxboro — that’s the stuff you grow up dreaming about. To be here, be part of this team, be able to say I’m going to be a part of helping this team win is very humbling.”
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