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Thursday Patriots Training Camp Observations: 7/30/15

The New England Patriots opened up training camp to the public on Thursday and many observers got their first look at the 2015 squad. Patriots fans were out in full force, no question a sight for sore eyes as football is back.

Here are my observations for Thursday. —
– A lighter day for the team as camp opens up. As it states in the Collective Bargaining Agreement, clubs cannot practice in pads until the third day, so we likely won’t see that until Saturday.

Only some players had shells, most were in shorts and t-shirts. A very hot day, low intensity, as camp gets underway.

– A lot of energy from the players and fans Thursday. Chants from the crowd periodically yelling “Brady! Brady! Brady!” When Robert Kraft walked onto the field, he visited with fans and then was met with a loud round of applause, pumping his fist in the air.

– The players were not wearing jersey numbers on their clothes, which made it difficult to keep track of certain things. Some players are easier to spot than others, but it will limit some of the information we’ll be able to provide.

For those asking, this isn’t standard operating procedure for Bill Belichick and the Pats. Maybe in Organized Team Activities or mini-camp, but not training camp. This move, to me, is about Belichick sticking it to the media with the “Deflategate” narrative rolling on. Unfortunately, the fans are collateral damage.

– Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo both looked sharp today. Garoppolo had an early interception, but recovered nicely. He looks much improved from the last time I saw him live, which was last summer. He looks more confident under center and has command in the pocket.

Brady looked strong as well, picking up where he left off. He had a few beautiful passes, finding Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski and Josh Boyce regularly.

In a lighter day, mostly quarterbacks and pass catchers are going to stand out. But I was happy with the development from Garoppolo and Brady’s strong showing with everything going on.

– The most impressive player on the field Thursday was Edelman. I don’t want to overstate it, but it was noteworthy. He looked crisp in-and-out of his breaks, ran precise routes and had some very nice catches.

Last summer it looked like he took a step forward and took his game to a new level, that carried over into the season. With nearly 90 players and coaches on the field, he separated himself.

– Staying in the same vein, Brian Tyms and Aaron Dobson had solid days. Both are battling for the fourth receiver role and caught everything that came their way.

– At one point during a special teams drill, Brady took Rob Gronkowski, Scott Chandler, Dobson and Edelman to corner end zone. Each player took turns running routes, mostly fades to the corner and slants near the goal line.

Not sure who is taller, but Chandler and Gronkowski are huge. Josh McDaniels will get creative with them in the red zone. Opposing defenses are going to have a hard time slowing the offense down.

– We didn’t see much of them, but it was good to have linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Jerod Mayo on the field. Hopefully both will be ready to go for the opener. Along with Jamie Collins, the Patriots will have a very talented group in the middle of the defense.

– The play of the day happened towards the end of practice. Brady handed the ball off to Brandon Bolden, who handed it off to Edelman on a reverse sweep. Brady ran a wheel route off right tackle and Edelman threw a pass to no.12. Brady hauled in the pass with one-handed and kept his feet in bounds down the sideline for the score.

What I’ll Be Watching for As Patriots Training Camp Opens

After a summer hiatus, I’m back.

Ok, I’m sure all of you are more focused on the Patriots returning to the practice field. With the team reporting Wednesday, July 29, we’ll get our first access later this week.

Let’s put the Deflategate narrative aside, we’ll focus on the field. With training camp just about underway, here’s what I’ll be looking for over the weekend. —

– With Tom Brady’s status in limbo for the upcoming season, how will Bill Belichick split up the reps in practice? Will Jimmy Garoppolo have a shot with the expected starters?

In the same vein, how has Garoppolo progressed from his rookie season? Does he have command in the offense? is he able to make progressions and accurate throws? His overall development could have huge implications moving forward.

– The cornerback position will be under a microscope throughout camp. Bradley Fletcher, Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, Robert McClain and the recently added Tarell Brown will be in the mix to start. After the departure of Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner and Kyle Arrington, they’ll be an all new starting lineup in New England.

– Dont’a Hightower and Jerod Mayo did not open up the week on the Physically Unable to Perform list, which was a surprise to many. Will they be able to contribute in camp? Doubtful. But it would be great to see them take part in any drills as they gear up for the season.

– Does Dominique Easley make an appearance? What does he look like? The 2013 first-round pick has a ton of potential, but knee injuries have held him back. Is he the mix? How is he moving? If he can start off the season on a healthy note he could add a boost to the interior pass rush. He will open up camp on the PUP list, so who knows what his participation level will be.

– With Shane Vereen in New York, the third-down tailback role is up in the air. LeGarratte Blount will get a lions share of the carries, but Brandon Bolden, Jonas Gray, James White, Dion Lewis, Tyler Gaffney and Travaris Cadet will fight for a legit role in the offense.

– With Dan Connolly retiring, who will fill in at left guard? Josh Kline and rookie Tre Jackson come to mind, but the team could play musical chairs in the first few weeks until the coaching staff feels comfortable with a starting five.

– Defensive end Jabaal Sheard is one of — if not the — biggest free agent signings of the off-season for the team. It’s hard to evaluate line play during training camp practices, but how does he look? Where does he line up? Is he explosive and can he work his way into the starting group or significant reps? Many are hoping the front seven turns up the heat with the secondary in flux, Sheard could be a part of that.

Butler’s Punishment Could be More Detrimental than Construcive

Super Bowl XLIX hero, Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler, has been absent from the Organized Team Activities to this point and now we have more details on the situation.

Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald reported Wednesday afternoon the second-year defensive back showed up late to the first practice and has been held off the field ever since.

Reportedly, Butler scheduled a flight to Boston the day before OTAs began and his flight was delayed due to weather conditions. When he arrived to the facility the next day, he was late for the start and head coach Bill Belichick decided to keep him off the field for the last three weeks.

Howe added while Butler has been held out of workouts on the field, he’s been at the team meetings, film and weight training sessions.

Butler is expected to be back on the field soon, possibly as soon as Thursday when OTAs resume for June 11-12. The Patriots will hold Mandatory mini-camp on June 16-18.

While Howe gave us more clarity on a murky situation, there’s still a question if there’s more to the story. Based on the given information, however, this punishment seems very excessive and could ultimately prove to be more detrimental to Butler’s development.

One line of thinking is Belichick could be trying to bring Butler back down to earth, after a busy off-season filled with public appearances and autograph signings born from his Super Bowl heroics.

But is this the right way to go about it?

It’s hard to question one of the greatest coaches in NFL history, but that doesn’t mean every move is the correct. By keeping Butler off the field for three weeks, he’s lost mental reps as he goes into his second year.

Given the cornerback (lack of) depth, Butler is penciled in as a potential starter. While showing up late to work is wrong, these OTA workouts are voluntary and weather is out of Butler’s control. I guess it’s easy to make excuses with hindsight 20/20, but this seems over the top, even for Belichick.

While each NFL season is a marathon and the team is just beginning this year’s journey, we’ll have to play the wait-and-see approach over the next few weeks and into training camp to see if there’s any ramifications from this incident. Hopefully Butler learns from this and can give himself more wiggle room moving forward.

Do you have a Twitter account? Follow me: @PatriotsHaven


Former Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington has agreed to join the Baltimore Ravens, leaving New England’s cornerback position with more questions than answers. (USA TODAY Images)

The New England Patriots released cornerback Kyle Arrington earlier this week, but it didn’t take long for him to find a new team.

Arrington agreed to a three-year contract with the Baltimore Ravens on Wednesday night, pending a physical.

The 28-year-old had two years left on his contract with the Patriots, but the team obviously felt his $4.6 million cap figure was too high given his role with the team.

Arrington released this statement earlier this week, thanking the Patriots organization. —

“Want to take the moment to thank the New England Patriot organization for an incredible opportunity to be apart of such a first class franchise the last six years. Definitely want to thank the fans and New England community as well. This has been my home away from home and it’s been an amazing journey. From ’09-’14 you guys weren’t just my teammates, you are my brothers! Always……#PatsNation”

With Arrington gone, New England has allowed all three starting cornerbacks — Darrelle Revis (New York Jets) and Brandon Browner (New Orleans Saints)  — from last season walk away.

With a retooled secondary in 2014, the Patriots hoisted the Lombardi Trophy for the first time in a decade. Now, they have moved in a different direction and are left with more questions than answers at the cornerback position.

Here are the cornerbacks currently on New England’s 90-man roster: Logan Ryan, Bradley Fletcher, Malcolm Butler, Robert McClain, Justin Green, Chimdi Chekwa, Jordan Richards, Daxton Swanson, Darryl Roberts, Jimmy Jean and Eric Patterson.

Maybe you just read that list and said “Who?” or “Yikes”, heck, if you’re putting a positive spin on the current list of cornerbacks on the roster, all the power to you.

The season isn’t starting this Sunday, so there’s a possibility of a trade or signing before training camp and the regular season begins in four months.

For now, however, all you can do is evaluate the current players on the roster. Based on the list of names, there is not one guy you can pencil in and label as a known commodity. All 11 of these players have questions surrounding them, which is sure to draw fear and frustration from a fan base that saw what a strong unit the team put on the field last year.

Training camp is still a long ways away, but this position will be under a microscope as the players battle for their roster lives. It’s a fluid situation, though. We’ll see if moves are made before now and then. Stay tuned.

Do you have a Twitter account? Be sure to follow me: @PatriotsHaven!

The New England Patriots traded their fifth-round selection, 147 overall, with the Green Bay Packers. In return, the Patriots acquired the 166 (fifth) and 247 (seventh) overall selections.

The Packers selected UCLA quarterback, Brett Hundley, at the 147th spot.

The Patriots have five more selections in the 2015 draft, as it stands now.

Fifth round: 166

Sixth round: 178, 202

Seventh round: 237, 253 (compensatory)

Do you have a Twitter account? Be sure to follow me: @PatriotsHaven!

The New England Patriots are in good position heading into day three of the 2015 NFL draft.

Bill Belichick has seven selections going into Saturday, giving him and the front office plenty of ammunition to move around if they wish to do so. To this point, the Patriots have selected three players; Malcom Brown, Jordan Richards and Geneo Grissom.

Here’s how the board sets up on the final day. —

Fourth Round: 101, 111, 131

Fifth Round: 147

Sixth Round: 178, 202

Seventh Round: 253

Quick Take: 

The team has targeted defense with the first three selections, but cornerback has still not been addressed. As it stands now, offensive guard and cornerback are the two most pressing needs from this viewpoint.

Beyond those two needs, running back, wide receiver and linebacker could all be targeted positions in day three.

“There are a number of players that could still be a positive factor for us,” Belichick said Friday night. “There are guys we want to pick. Hopefully we’ll get some of them.”

We’ll see how it plays out.

Do you have a Twitter account? Be sure to follow me: @PatriotsHaven!

Player Bio: Patriots Select Geneo Grissom in the Third Round


The Patriots added Oklahoma’s Geneo Grissom in the third-round of the 2015 NFL draft. (USA TODAY Images)

Name: Geneo Grissom

Position: Defensive End / Linebacker

School: Oklahoma

Selected: Round 3, Pick 97

Height: 6’3

Weight: 262

Strengths:

  • Athletic and versatile
  • Long arms, muscular build and NFL frame
  • Strong burst off the ball, shows good pursuit
  • Pass rush ability, can generate pressure from multiple positions
  • Raw, but best football may be in front of him

Weaknesses:

  • No defined position
  • Lacks lateral agility and quickness, struggles in space
  • Playing strength does not match frame

Expert’s Takes: 

“He’s played all over the place at Oklahoma. He can be an edge rusher and can drop into coverage. He is an athlete, is versatile and smart, and fits New England.” — Mike Mayock

Grissom is clearly a work in progress. Once he locates the ball, however, Grissom accelerates quickly and arrives with a pop. A team willing to gamble on his upside could be handsomely rewarded.” — Rob Rang

Analysis: 

Grissom is an intriguing selection. The Patriots front seven is loaded with young talent and Grissom’s athletic ability and versatility will be a nice piece for Bill Belichick to play with as he develops.

The Oklahoma product is still raw and the first step is figuring out where he will play or what his primary role will be as he transitions to the pro level. Over the past several years he’s changed schemes, defensive coordinators and positions, so settling into a more steady environment could be huge for his growth.

Grissom has ideal size, build and length for his projected position on the outside. If he can contribute as an edge rusher in sub packages his rookie season, that should be considered a win. Based on what I’ve seen and read, his upside is worth the third-round selection. He’s a player to keep an eye on during training camp, you can never have enough pass rushers in today’s NFL.

Do you have a Twitter account? Be sure to follow me: @PatriotsHaven!

Player Bio: Patriots Select Jordan Richards in Second Round


The Patriots selected Stanford defensive back Jordan Richards in the second round of the 2015 NFL draft. (USA TODAY Images)

Name: Jordan Richards

Position: Defensive Back

School: Stanford

Selected: Round 2, Pick 64

Height: 5’11

Weight: 211

Strengths:

  • Team captain and defensive leader
  • Known as a “coach on the field”, High football IQ
  • Productive, Three-Year Starter
  • Willing tackler in run support, good pursuit

Weaknesses:

  • Limited range in pass coverage
  • Out of comfort zone in man coverage or deep safety
  • Despite understanding assignments of his teammates, struggles to diagnose opponents route combination and can be late to react

Expert’s Takes: 

“Richards is a very smart safety. This is a bit of a reach for the Patriots; maybe two rounds early.” — Daniel Jeremiah

Richards has enjoyed a productive career for the Cardinal, racking up post-season all-conferences honors after each of the past two seasons. He has good agility and gets his hands on a lot of passes (22 PBUs over his career) but must do a better job of fighting through blocks and making reliable tackles in the open field to overcome his lack of ideal size.” — Rob Rang

 

Analysis: 

The Jordan Richards selection caught many by surprise. NFL(dot)com had Richards as a sixth or seventh round projection, classic Belichick.

From this viewpoint, this was a bad move. It’s all about the “V” word, value. This was very reminiscent of the Tavon Wilson pick several years ago. It’s not a knock on the player himself, rather where he was selected.

Secondly, the position is questionable. And what does this say about Duron Harmon and Tavon Wilson? Two back up safeties Belichick selected too early in past drafts that are currently back ups. New England addressed the interior defensive line, but guard, cornerback, running back and wide receiver all seemed like bigger needs.

Nevertheless, we’ll have to wait and see how Richards plays out. By all accounts, the Stanford product is an outstanding person. Smart, polished and mature. A team captain and started for three years. Interested to learn more about him over the next few days.

Do you have a Twitter account? Be sure to follow me: @PatriotsHaven!

Player Bio: Patriots Select Malcom Brown in First Round of 2015 NFL Draft

Name: Malcom Brown

Position: Defensive lineman

School: Texas

Selected: Round 1, Pick 32

Height: 6’2

Weight: 319

Strengths:

  • Big-bodied, athletic lineman with ability to play in 3-4 or 4-3 defensive fronts
  • Great feet for his size, plays with power and explosion off the snap
  • Puts pressure on offensive lineman, can diagnose plays and react quickly
  • Uses hands well to counter initial contact, control opposing lineman
  • No off-field concerns, high maturity level

Weaknesses:

  • Must develop more pass rush moves
  • Plays with high motor, but can wear down as game goes on
  • Technique will need work to reach potential in NFL

Expert’s Takes: 

“This is a great pick for the Patriots. To get Brown at 32 is tremendous. He has an ability to push the pocket. He can be a three-down player, but in New England he’ll be in a system in which he plays all over the place.” — Mike Mayock

Compares To: Arthur Jones, Indianapolis Colts — Like the 6-3, 337-pound Jones, Brown’s size, strength and agility will intrigue clubs operating out of a base 4-3 or 3-4 alignment, alike. Also like Jones (who battled through a devastating knee injury as a senior to outplay his fifth-round selection), Brown possesses the maturity to take full advantage of his gifts. — Dane Brugler, Rob Rang

“One of my favorite players in this draft class, he’s easy to figure out when you study him… He can be dominant at the point of attack but also has that quickness to penetrate up-field.” — Daniel Jeremiah

Analysis: 

Going into the first round I selected Florida State University defensive lineman, Eddie Goldman, in my mock draft. The position was correct, but Malcom Brown was expected to go earlier in the round — I had him going 23 to the Detroit Lions. Despite initial reports the Patriots were going to trade down, New England took the Texas prospect to end the first night of the 2015 draft.

Brown is an excellent pick for the Patriots. He gives the team a big-bodied, athletic and versatile lineman to put in the trenches. Pairing Brown with 2014 first-round selection, Dominique Easley, could give the Pats a powerful combination in the middle of their defense.

Brown can eat up space, take on blockers and push the middle of the pocket, helping fill the void left by Vince Wilfork. With Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich on the outside, along with linebackers Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins and Jerod Mayo, New England’s defensive front seven looks promising for the upcoming season.

Do you have a Twitter account? Be sure to follow me: @PatriotsHaven!

On the Clock: Final 2015 NFL Mock Draft

It’s that time of year, the NFL Draft is finally upon us. Put down the draft guides, scouting reports and prospect film, it’s time to see how the board falls. Here’s my first and final 2015 mock draft.

1) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State

The Bucs get their quarterback of the future, it would be a surprise if any other name was called.

2) Tennessee Titans: Leonard Williams, DL, Southern California

I don’t buy the Mariota talk here. Tennessee gets the best overall prospect to bolster their defensive front.

3) Jacksonville Jaguars: Dante Fowler Jr., DE/OLB, Florida

Head Coach Gus Bradley comes from a Seattle team that loves to attack opposing QBs, now he gets Fowler to lead the Jaguars front seven.

4) Oakland Raiders: Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama

Cooper or Kevin White, could see Oakland going with either of the top receiving prospects. The Raiders pair the Alabama prospect with their promising young QB, Derek Carr.

5) Washington Redskins: Vic Beasley, DE/OLB, Clemson

Washington needs front seven help and Beasley is one of the most explosive edge players in this year’s class.

6) New York Jets: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

The calm and collected Mariota is thrust into the bright lights of New York. With Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker and Chris Ivory, the Jets offense is starting to come together.

7) Chicago Bears: Kevin White, WR, West Virginia

With many of the top defensive front seven prospects off the board, the Bears target Brandon Marshall’s replacement.

8) Atlanta Falcons: Bud Dupree, DE/OLB, Kentucky

Head Coach Dan Quinn begins to rebuild Atlanta’s mediocre defensive front. Look for the Falcons to try and trade up. This is the first spot where running back Todd Gurley could be in play.

9) New York Giants: Brandon Scherff, OT, Iowa

The Giants get the talented and versatile Iowa lineman to help keep Eli Manning upright. Plug and play.

10) St. Louis Rams: Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford

With the NFC West’s strong defensive fronts, look for the Rams to target their offensive line.

11) Minnesota Vikings: DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville

The Vikings pair Parker with his former college QB, Teddy Bridgewater.

12) Cleveland Browns: Danny Shelton, DT, Washington

The Washington defensive lineman is big, strong and explosive. Immediately upgrading the interior of Cleveland’s defense.

13) New Orleans Saints: Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State

Sean Peyton loves his offensive weapons, but the defense should be the top priority in this draft. Waynes makes too much sense at this spot.

14) Miami Dolphins: Kevin Johnson, CB, Wake Forest

With Waynes off the board, the Dolphins target Johnson to help build their secondary. Gurley is also an option.

15) San Francisco 49ers: Arik Armstead, DL, Oregon

The 49ers have lost a ton of defensive talent this off-season. Armstead is a versatile lineman that can help fill the void in the middle of their defense.

16) Houston Texans: Breshad Perriman, WR, Central Florida

With Andre Johnson gone, it’s time to add a playmaker on the outside to pair with Deandre Hopkins.

17) San Diego Chargers: Ereck Flowers, OT, Miami (FL)

Running back is a possibility in this spot, with Melvin Gordon a good potential fit, but San Diego elects to add help in the trenches.

18) Kansas City Chiefs: Cameron Erving, OL, Florida State

After losing Rodney Hudson in free agency, Erving would be a nice addition for Andy Reid. The FSU prospect can play anywhere on the line.

19) Cleveland Browns: Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State

The Browns continue their rebuild of the wide receiver position, taking the sure-handed Strong for whoever is under-center this fall.

20) Philadelphia Eagles: Byron Jones, CB, UConn

Almost impossible to predict what Chip Kelly will do on draft day, but the athletic Jones could help Philadelphia’s mediocre secondary. Keep an eye out for ASU safety Damarious Randall, too.

21) Cincinnati Bengals: Jake Fisher, OT, Oregon

The Bengals reportedly love Fisher and they get add him to the offensive line to keep Andy Dalton protected.

22) Pittsburgh Steelers: Landon Collins, S, Alabama

Some have suggested a cornerback here, which is a definite possibility, but safety is a need with Troy Polamalu retiring a few weeks ago. Collins helps turn the page to a new-look Steelers defense.

23) Detroit Lions: Malcom Brown, DT, Texas

With Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley moving on in free agency, this would be a solid addition to the middle of Detroit’s defense.

24) Arizona Cardinals: Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia

Finally, Gurley comes off the board. It’s hard to imagine him lasting this long, but Bruce Arians won’t let him fall past this point.

25) Carolina Panthers: D.J. Humphreis, OT, Florida

Wide receiver is also in play here, but the Panthers offensive line is a mess. They stick with their board and address their top need.

26) Baltimore Ravens: Marcus Peters, CB, Washington

Cornerback is the most glaring need for Baltimore and they land arguably the most talented cornerback prospect in this class.

27) Dallas Cowboys: Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin

Gordon falls, but could be scary behind Dallas’ monster offensive line. Dynamic playmaker that can take pressure off Tony Romo.

28) Denver Broncos: Cedric Ogbuehi, OT, Texas A&M

It’s easy. Protect Peyton Manning, contend in January. The Broncos add to their offensive line.

29) Indianapolis Colts: Jalen Collins, CB, Louisiana State

The run of cornerbacks in the first-round continues. Collins is raw, but very athletic with a high upside.

30) Green Bay Packers: Denzel Perryman, LB, Miami (FL)

The Packers look to add more talent to the defense. Defensive line, linebacker and cornerback all in play. Perryman would fill a hole and give Green Bay the ability to put Clay Matthews back on the edge.

31) New Orleans Saints: Randy Gregory, DE/OLB, Nebraska

Once though of as a top-10 selection, Gregory falls because of a failed drug test. Continuing with the defensive theme, the Saints add a much-needed edge prospect to their defense.

32) New England Patriots: Eddie Goldman, DL, Florida State

The void left by Vince Wilfork is huge, figuratively and literally. Goldman makes a lot of sense if the Patriots decide to keep this pick, we all know trading down is a big possibility though.

New England struggled against the run last season and the Florida State prospect could make an immediate impact. At 6’4, 336, Goldman is a big-bodied lineman with a lot of upside. He plays with power, violent hands and can control the middle of the field. He can two-gap and move offensive blockers at the point of attack.

Goldman’s biggest negative is the lack of a consistent pass rush. Pairing him with last year’s defensive tackle Dominique Easley, however, could prove to be a dangerous tandem. If Goldman can eat up space in the middle, he’ll free up other players in New England’s front seven to get after opposing quarterbacks.

Do you have a Twitter account? Be sure to follow me: @PatriotsHaven!

Listen to our “Patriots 4th and 2 Podcast” on Blog Talk Radio as writers Russ Goldman, Steve Balestrieri and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news on Wednesday.