NFL Notebook: With coaching turnover, it’ll be a big year for Patriots’ defensive leaders

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In this week’s NFL Notebook, we look at whether or not the Steelers should be removed from the list of Patriots’ AFC rivals, try and figure out at least a portion of the preseason schedule in advance of its release, and consider a few names as possible candidates for this year’s Patriots’ Hall of Fame. But first, 2019 is going to be a big year for New England’s defensive veterans. We explain why.

1. With an unprecedented (for them) amount of turnover when it comes to the coaching staff, the 2019 season is shaping up to be a key year for New England’s veterans, particularly on defense. The group, led by Dont’a Hightower and Devin McCourty, will likely be taking more on their plate this year as New England transitions into a new era when it comes to coaching. “Those two have always been like coaches on the field anyway,” said one longtime league observer this week. “But they’re going to have to take it to the next level in 2019.” There is faith Jerod Mayo will be a quick study when it comes to coaching — several veterans praised his knowledge when he was a player. And there’s a belief the coaching assistants will be able to make the leap this offseason. But this coming season will prove to be a real test for the likes of Hightower and McCourty and their leadership skills.

2. Had a good conversation with Big 10 TV football analyst Gerry DiNardo this week, and while the focus was on Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson, it’s worth noting DiNardo has a pretty good idea as to what sort of player fits in Foxborough.