Foxborough, Mass. (AFP) – Juno Smith struggled to contain his tears earlier this season shortly following signing a free agent contract with the Patriots.
Those sentiments resurfaced again on Wednesday with the tight end off the field following his first training at his training camp with his unused team. The helmet in his hand, with each step Smith’s toothy smile grew prior he raised his fist in the air.
“Man, that’s just – I don’t even know,” said Smith, who signed a four-year, $50 million deal with the Patriots. “Someone was yelling my name. I was just showing love, you know what I unkind? It feels so pleasing to come out here, man.”
After leaving the Tennessee Titans, the only team Smith has played in the NFL since he enlisted in 2017, he is out of action following sustaining a leg injury during his first New England practice final month. Back on the field on Wednesday, unfettered and with fans watching for the first time since 2019, it helped him absorb what he called “far from remembrance”.
He said, “I just felt it. It’s a distinct considerate of energy here in Foxboro. I’m happy to be a part of it.”
Smith was also a key part of the Patriots offseason spending spree that was targeted to upgrade several regions on their roster.
One of those areas was the passing game, which in 2020 suffered largely due to the lack of a reliable pass catcher by midfielder Cam Newton to target, especially on the tight end. In two seasons without Rob Gronkowski, production has fallen dramatically. Since Gronk’s initial retirement ahead of the 2019 season, a group that included Ben Watson, Devin Isaias, Ryan Ezo, Matt Lacus and Dalton Kane has amassed 54 catches for 672 yards and three touchdowns.
This prompted Bill Belichick to bring in Smith and previous shipper Hunter Henry, along with recipients Nelson Agulor and Kendrick Bourne.
The hope is that the two-pronged attack of Smith and Henry, who have combined 121 catches and 10 touchdowns over the former two seasons, can donate the quarterback – whether Newton or rookie Mac Jones – several options in the red and also begin things up on the perimeter of the field.
Smith loves the possibilities that he and Henry bring. He thinks they are just as unstoppable as Tom Brady’s Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
Boston TE party. Let’s get it back. Hell player. Hell’s tight end. Smith said about Henry’s Inferno Man. “We’ll do distinguished things together.”
Henry said that although he was a little worried following the Patriots signed both players, he thinks they can co-exist.
“We talked about it. Sure, Henry said I handled the case, but this offense was built for tight ends.” Obviously, they’ve had a lot of success with tight ends. We are very distinct players from the players of the former. …they have a tremendous legacy here, so we’re not trying to be those guys. We try to be ourselves. Just looking forward to the next challenge.”
Smith recently posted photos of himself training with Newton and both of them had already been in Foxboro for a few weeks to start camping.
It pays off, Smith said.
“I have nothing but distinguished things to say about Cam,” he said. “We’ve taken another step in working with each other this off season. Building chemistry, getting to know each other. Getting to know each other’s families….that translates to success on the field and that’s what we’re talking about.”
He sees the alike potential in working with Jones, too.
“Mack Sunville. That’s what I call him. Maxonville. He’s from Jacksonville. So I call him Mac Sunville, man,” said Smith. I wasn’t expecting a Mac to have this considerate of ostentation that he got.”
But what might tie everything together for Smith has nothing to do with football. This summer, he and his wife welcomed their third child — and their first daughter. It’s what makes his unused football town feel like home, he said.
Her name, too, is a symbol of her father’s unused start.
“Have,” he said, “like my safe haven.”
Notes: Cornerback Stephon Gilmore, one of eight Patriots who opened camp on an active roster/physically unable to perform, appeared on the sidelines wearing his workout clothes late in practice and can be seen chatting with LB Dont’a Hightower and CB JC Jackson. Gilmore missed New England’s entire Offseason program as he looks to improve his $7 million base salary for 2021. … LB Kyle Van Noy and OT Trent Brown were on the PUP roster prior camp, but both were on the field and featured on Wednesday.
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