Patriots

Jonnu Smith bringing ‘worker’ mentality to Patriots’ offense

Smith says he's excited to play alongside Hunter Henry in the Patriots' two-tight end offense.

Jonnu Smith Patriots
Tight end Jonnu Smith celebrates a touchdown catch last season. Stacy Revere/Getty Images

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Whether it was the time he spent practicing against the New England Patriots in preseason or having former Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel as his head coach in Tennessee, Jonnu Smith says the franchise’s culture has made a strong impression on him from afar.

“You see why they’ve won, why they’re successful,” he said. “It’s a blue-collar organization. This organization works.”

Now, he’s a member of the Patriots organization himself, talking with reporters for his first (virtual) press conference with the team on Tuesday.

Smith says he sees his own hard-working approach reflected in his new team’s culture, calling it “the perfect opportunity.”

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“I’ve seen the success the Patriots have had in the past with the two-tight end system and was confident in their ability to be able to allow us to make plays and put this team in position to win,” says Smith.

The four-year pro is coming off a career-best season in 2020 that saw him rank fourth among NFL tight ends in touchdowns along with new highs in receptions (41) and yards (448) in a run-heavy Titans system. He joins the Patriots alongside fellow tight end Hunter Henry, saying he’s “excited” to play next to the former Chargers pass-catcher: “He’s a great tight end, and I’m excited to be out there battling with him, competing with him, making each other better.”

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Smith and Henry’s versatility figures to revive the Patriots’ two-headed attack at tight end after the team largely abandoned it last season and struggled lacked tight end production. But while he has primarily played as an in-line tight end with the Titans while Henry has more often split out as a receiver, Smith said he doesn’t have a preference for how the Patriots deploy him.

“Whatever it takes,” Smith said of his philosophy. “Wherever I need to be at to help the team is what I’m going to do…I don’t care if I have to play on the defensive side of the ball. I love the game.”

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Smith says he has plans to join Henry in working out with some of his teammates in Southern California in the offseason to help “get on the same page” before training camp and, more importantly, “build brotherhood” off the field. He’s also spoken with New England’s presumptive starting quarterback Cam Newton by phone: “He’s a hell of a guy.”

The young tight end also says he was honored by Belichick’s flattering words about him before the Patriots played Smith’s Titans in a 2019 wild card game. The Patriots head coach called Smith “probably the best in the league” after the catch — a mentality “to “never let the first guy bring you down” Smith says he honed as a boy.

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But he maintains he doesn’t try to play the game to impress anyone: “I play because I love it.”

And it’s that workman-like approach he hopes to bring to Foxborough as the franchise tries to return to its winning ways.

“These are guys who built something that they believe, and I’m excited to be part of it. There’s a winning mentality here when you walk in the building.”

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