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Saturday Patriots Training Camp Observations: 7/26/14


It was another eventful day at Patriots training camp behind Gillette Stadium.

The New England Patriots held their first padded practice of training camp on Saturday. The sound of crashing pads and the more physical element of practice emphasized football is just around the corner.

The first two days of practice were spent focusing on how players look, moved and the reps each were getting at their respective positions. Adding pads to the practice made the two-hour session a lot more interesting and made it easier to evaluate not only the lineman, but defensive players too.

Here are my notes from Saturday’s practice:

- Wide receiver Aaron Dobson, Jeremy Gallon, cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, special teamer Matthew Slater all did not participate and remain on the Physically Unable to Perform list. Defensive lineman Dominique Easley, offensive lineman Chris Martin and linebacker Deontae Skinner also did not participate and remain on the Non-Football Injury list.

Defensive lineman Tommy Kelly has been cleared off the PUP list and had limited particpation. Similar to Rob Gronkowski he did not take part in team drills. Defensive back Jemea Thomas, Daxton Swanson and receiver Greg Orton were not spotted. Orton was carted off with an apparent leg injury Friday.

- The Patriots announced 13, 819 fans were in attendance Saturday. Patriots Nation was out in full force and brought a ton of energy to the practice.

- The sun was out for a second day in a row and coming down right on Revis Island. The All Pro cornerback was tremendous Saturday, intercepting Tom Brady twice, both passes directed at Julian Edelman.

He wasn’t perfect, though. Brandon LaFell beat him down the sidelines — his only significant play through three days — and Edelman beat him over the middle during a late seven-on-seven session. Nevertheless, it was great to see what Revis can bring to the table in person.

- In that same vein, many times today we saw Revis at left cornerback and Brandon Browner on the right side. Both get physical, especially Browner who will use his immense size to knock receivers off their routes. Everything Revis does is so smooth and he makes it look so easy. The addition to both of these players could turn the defense into one of the league’s best.

- Early on in practice, Gronkowski was taking part in some blocking drills with other lineman. Fullback James Develin was holding a large pad and was put on his back by an incredible blow from Gronk. It illustrated just how valuable Gronkowski is, not just as a pass catcher, but also in the run game.

- Second-year cornerback Logan Ryan had a nice day. He had one interception off a deflection (Jimmy Garoppolo to Justin Jones) and also had several pass breakups. His continued development could make the pats secondary even more dangerous. Ryan looks comfortable moving around in different formations.

- Rookie running back, James White, has flashed a few times throughout the first three days. It’s hard to evaluate tailbacks at times during camp, but White had a few good runs Saturday and it looks like he’ll be in the mix to contribute very early on.

- From a pass catching perspective, Gronkowski, Edelman, Danny Amendola and Kenbrell Thompkins have all been very good throughout each of the three days.

I have yet to see Brandon LaFell have a good practice. He beat Revis on a deep pass Saturday, but had several drops and struggled to fight through physical man coverage. Despite his signing bonus, I am starting to question his spot on the roster. We’ll have to wait-and-see to make a total judgement, but first impressions have been underwhelming.

- While Duron Harmon has been pegged as the starter next to Devin McCourty at safety, Tavon Wilson continues to see a lot of reps with the perceived “first team” defense. It’s tough to know what the coaching staff is thinking or what it means, but worth noting.

- The center and right guard spot battles are ongoing. Friday, Dan Connolly (center) and Josh Kline (right guard) had a majority of the snaps.¬†Saturday was a different story. Ryan Wendell returned to center with rookie Jon Halapio seeing some action at right guard. It’s the NFL version of musical chairs, only so many spots available. Wendell and Connolly might be fighting for one spot with all of the young lineman on the current roster.

- At the end of practice, the team brought out Danny Nickerson to sing “Happy Birthday”. Nickerson, a Foxboro boy¬†with an incurable brain tumor, was celebraiting his sixth birthday. Even though he was shy, it was an amazing moment. The large crowd followed up with a big applause.

Overall, the practice was more intense than the previous two days. Sunday should be similar to Saturday as positional battles continue to heat up.

Be sure to check out¬†Friday’s Notes¬†to get caught up if you haven’t and tomorrow more observations will be posted. Stay tuned!¬†Do¬†you have a Twitter account?¬†Be sure to follow me:¬†@PatriotsHaven!

Friday Patriots Training Camp Observations: 7/25/14


The Patriots got down to business during their second practice behind Gillette Stadium on Friday. (PHOTO: Derek Havens/PatsFans.com)

The New England Patriots opened up training camp to the public for the second day on Friday and fans piled in to watch the team practice.

Unlike Thursday’s practice session, which had dark clouds covering the sky followed by light rain to end the session, the sun was shining brightly Friday. Day two of practice was beautiful and a great atmosphere yet again in no small part due to all of the fans.

The players and coaches were in a light-hearted mood, but also got down to business working on fundamentals.

Here are my observations from Friday:

- The only two players not seen Friday were cornerback Jemea Thomas and offensive lineman Chris Martin. Wide receiver Aaron Dobson, cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, special teamer Matthew Slater, linebacker Deontae Skinner, defensive lineman Dominique Easley, wide receiver Jeremy Gallon and defensive lineman Tommy Kelly were not participating in practice. 

- It was a hot day Friday, so at the beginning of the session a few players got wet-and-wild. It was the NFL version of a slip and slide. One of the assistants soaked the far corner of the field for a while and then a few players — Garoppolo the only one I could pick out with confidence — would try to corral a simulated fumble.

- You hate to see any injuries in this setting, but recently re-signed WR Greg Orton went down with an apparent knee injury and had to be carted off. It’s not known how serious the injury is, but it didn’t look good.

- Rookie QB Jimmy Garoppolo had a rough day Friday. He struggled completing passes in team drills, fumbled a handoff with tailback Brandon Bolden and threw two interceptions. Obviously it’s early, but the second-round pick will want to put this practice behind him quickly.

In that same vein, four players ran penalty laps Friday. Logan Mankins the first offender; Bolden and Garoppolo for fumbling a handoff and Nate Solder for jumping offsides in seven-on-sevens. While coaches weren’t smiling, every time the player ran by the fan bleachers they received some loud cheers and applause from the crowd.

- It’s still early and I want to see more improvement, but Kenbrell Thompkins has put together some solid practices. He’s made some highlight reel catches and spent a lot of time with Brady, Gronkowski and Edelman for the second straight day. Once again,¬†the opportunity is there for¬†Thompkins. Brandon LaFell and Josh Boyce have progressed slowly, plus Dobson is still recovering. He’s making the most of his chances.

One of the plays of the day was during team drills at the end of the session. Brady hit Thompkins who made a nice diving catch to beat cornerback Darrelle Revis in the endzone. Tom Brady ran over and slapped Thompkins’ helmet, the two have built a good chemistry.

- The center position has gotten a lot of attention because many expect the Patriots to reshuffle going into the year. On Friday Dan Connolly got a lot of run at center with second-year lineman, Josh Kline, starting at right guard. It will be interesting to see how the team continues to move the guys around.

- It’s really hard to judge running backs without pads, but Shane Vereen made some nice plays Friday. He had a few great catches on wheel routes and saw significant reps lined up at wide receiver. We haven’t seen much of Stevan Ridley, but I expect that to change once the pads come on. Brandon Bolden has not looked good. He’s had a fumble and dropped a few passes.

- A funny moment after practice. Running back Stevan Ridley was signing for some fans and a group of young kids ran up to him. They weren’t asking for his signature, though, but a selfie with them. No. 22 was all smiles and it got some laughs from the rest of the crowd. It’s awesome to see the players interacting with the fans in a relaxed environment.

Overall, the practice was very similar to Thursday’s: positional drills, seven-on-seven, eleven-on-eleven, etc. Saturday’s practice should be really interesting as the team goes into pads for the first time this July.

Be sure to check out Thursday’s Notes¬†to get caught up if you haven’t and tomorrow more observations will be posted. Stay tuned!¬†Do¬†you have a Twitter account?¬†Be sure to follow me:¬†@PatriotsHaven!

Thursday Patriots Training Camp Observations: 7/24/14


Here’s a photo of Tom Brady connecting with tight end Rob Gronkowski during Thursday’s practice session (PHOTO:Derek Havens)

The New England Patriots opened up training camp to the public on Thursday and many observers got their first look at the 2014 squad.

Patriots fans were out in full force. No question a sight for sore eyes as football is back. The first two days the players are in workout gear and helmets so we will get our first padded practice Saturday.

Here are my observations from Thursday:

- Wide receiver Aaron Dobson, cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, special teamer Matthew Slater, linebacker Deontae Skinner, offensive lineman Chris Martin, defensive lineman Dominique Easley, wide receiver Jeremy Gallon and defensive lineman Tommy Kelly were not participating in practice. Skinner and Martin were not on the field.

- The first day of camp always has a ton of energy from the crowd and today was no different. After several months without the Patriots, fans are a little football starved. So when Tom Brady, Vince Wilfork and Rob Gronkowski stepped on the field for the first time, there was an uproar.

¬†- Danny Amendola was the first Pats player out on the field. He looked good, no noticeable limp and made sharp cuts. Then again, I said the same thing last July. I’m not worried about how he does in camp or even preseason for that matter. For Amendola, it’s all about when the pads go on and the hits come. Big year for him.
¬†- Kenbrell Thompkins stood out at several points during the practice session. He made some terrific catches and looks like he’s built a good chemistry with Brady.
 - Many fans saw exactly what they wanted to see Thursday, Brady throwing a pass to Gronkowski in the endzone. Gronk looked good, showing some burst off the line and cutting well. While he did participate in position drills, he watched from the sidelines as the team ran 7-on-7 and 11-on-11s.

- None of the Quarterbacks were overly impressive in Thursday’s session. Obviously Brady looked much better than Ryan Mallett or Jimmy Garoppolo, but even no. 12 was off on a few passes. The backup QB position is one of the more interesting situations to monitor, but both had ups-and-downs. First impression from Garoppolo was his quick release and he’s not afraid to throw it into tight windows.

¬†- Cornerback Brandon Browner is big. I know I’m not breaking any news, but it was incredible to see him tower over the other defensive backs. He broke up a few passes and was moved around throughout the day. He’ll be an interesting chess piece Bill Belichick can move around this season.
On another note, it was awesome to see Revis hanging out with the other defensive backs and wearing Patriots gear. He looked good in drills, but I don’t think we’ll get a great look at him for a few more days. Revis did look comfortable, though. He fits in nicely.

 

Overall, a lot more positives than negatives as camp is underway. Be sure to check back throughout the weekend for more observations and analysis.

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

Patriots 53-Man Roster Projection 1.0


The Patriots look to get back to work as they gear up for the 2014 season. (USA TODAY Images)

The NFL is back! Ok, maybe not quite yet, but training camp is nearly upon us. It’s hard to believe the New England Patriots haven’t played a game in over six months. The offseason is coming to a close and players are heading back to Gillette Stadium as the 2014 season is only a few weeks away.

Training camp opens up Thursday and 90 players will be fighting to make the team. Here is an early 53-man roster prediction.

Quarterback: 3

Tom Brady
Ryan Mallett
Jimmy Garoppolo

Brady is the face of the franchise, the only real question is who will be the backup? Expect Mallett and Garoppolo to battle it out in camp.

Running Back: 3

Steven Ridley
Shane Vereen
James White

Ridley, Vereen and White all seem like locks to make the roster. Brandon Bolden will be in the mix along with undrafted free agent tailbacks Roy Finch and Stephen Houston, but I’m not sure any of the three carry enough weight to make the team.

Full Back: 1

James Develin 

Last season, Develin carved out a solid role within the offense. He brings toughness in short-yardage situations and performs on special teams. The Pats experimented moving him around — even lining up at tight end — in OTAs, could we see an expanded role this year?

Wide Receiver: 6

Julian Edelman
Aaron Dobson
Brandon LaFell
Danny Amendola
Kenbrell Thompkins
Josh Boyce

This will be one of the biggest positions under the microscope over the next few weeks. As of now, six wide receivers seem like they have a legitimate shot at making the roster, but health questions make the situation unclear. Second year receivers Thompkins and Boyce will have the opportunity to step up while Dobson and LaFell work their way back.

Tight End (2)

Rob Gronkowski
Michael Hoomanawanui

By far the thinnest position on the roster. Essentially, it’s Gronkowski or bust for the tight end position. It seems possible he returns week one, but it’s not a guarantee. “Hooman” will have another chance to show he offers more than run blocking.

Tackle: 4

Nate Solder
Sebastian Vollmer

Marcus Cannon
Cameron Fleming

While I see Solder and Vollmer as the set starters, both Cannon and Fleming have the versatility the Pats covet in lineman.

Guard: 3

Logan Mankins
Josh Kline
Jon Halapio 

The number of three guards is somewhat misleading because of the great versatility on the Patriots roster. Mankins will start at left guard, but what about the right side? Cannon, Connolly, Stork, Kline, Halapio — it’s up for grabs.

Center: 2

Bryan Stork
Ryan Wendell

Wendell had a very good season two years ago, but came up small in 2013. Stork has the size and talent to start from day one, which should make this training camp battle fun to watch.

Defensive Ends: 5

Chandler Jones
Rob Ninkovich

Michael Buchanan
Will Smith
Zach Moore

After Jones and Ninkovich, there’s a noticeable drop off. Buchanan offers intriguing upside, Smith could be valuable as long as he returns healthy from a knee injury sustained last season and Moore might need some time to develop. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the team look for some veteran help.

Defensive Tackles: 5

Vince Wilfork
Tommy Kelly
Dominique Easley
Chris Jones
Sealver Siligia 

The defensive tackles could be a dominant force this season, but it could be a weak spot for the team depending on health. Wilfork (achilles), Kelly (knee) and Easley (knee) are all returning from serious injuries so how they return could be critical for the team’s defense. Jones and Siliga hope to pick up where they left off last season.

Linebackers: 6

Jerod Mayo
Dont’a Hightower
Jamie Collins
James Anderson
Steve Beauharnais
Cameron Gordon 

The three starters are set — assuming the Pats run a 4-3 base defense — Mayo, Hightower and Collins. The backup roles are up for grabs, however, and undrafted free agent Cameron Gordon is someone to keep an eye on. Every year New England keeps a UDFA or two on the 53-man roster and I project Gordon for a spot this season.¬†Anderson provides versatility and Beauharnais looks to make an impact after¬†a quiet rookie year.

Cornerbacks: 5

Darrelle Revis
Alfonzo Dennard
Kyle Arrington
Logan Ryan

Daxton Swanson

The big name left off is Brandon Browner. I believe he makes the team, but he won’t be able to start the year on the Patriots 53-man roster so first-year cornerback Daxton Swanson is kept for depth for the first few weeks. After Browner’s suspension is over, Swanson may be put on the practice squad or Injured-Reserve with the “Foxboro Flu” (wink, wink) if the team doesn’t want to lose him. The other four players aren’t much of a surprise and will likely see significant action throughout the season.

Safeties: 4

Devin McCourty
Duron Harmon
Jemea Thomas
Nate Ebner

McCourty and Harmon are slated to start for New England. Sixth-round selection Thomas provides versatility and depth, while Ebner’s presence on special teams helps his cause for a spot.

Special Teams: 4

Kicker: Stephen Gostkowski
Punter: Ryan Allen
Long Snapper: Danny Aiken
Specialist: Matthew Slater

No surprises here, Gostkowski and Allen are locks. Aiken will battle UDFA long snapper Tyler Ott, but I don’t think he’ll be able to make the team. Slater, a special team standout and team captain, also earns a spot on the roster.

Breakdown –¬†Offense: 24 ¬† Defense: 25 ¬†Special Teams: 4

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

Player Bio: Jeremy Gallon

Name: Jeremy Gallon

Position: Wide receiver

School: Michigan

Selected: Round 7, Pick 244 overall

Height:¬†5’7

Weight: 185

Strengths:

  • Displays strong hands, route running ability¬†
  • Has great balance and vision after the catch¬†
  • Tremendous college production¬†
  • Could contribute on special teams

Weaknesses:

  • Undersized¬†
  • Not dynamic, lacks top end speed
  • Has trouble blocking

Analysis: 

Gallon has strong hands, displaying great hand-eye coordination. He runs good routes and can read defensive zones. The Michigan product lacks top end speed, but shows burst and agility on tape.

Gallon shows some similarities to Julian Edelman. He may be able to contribute on special teams and has traits that could translate to the NFL. Almost built like a running back, great vision with the ball in his hands. His production in the Big Ten stood out on numerous occasions. Loves the game, very passionate.

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

Player Bio: Jemea Thomas

Name: Jemea Thomas

Position: Defensive back

School: Georgia Tech

Selected: Round 6, Pick 206 overall

Height:¬†5’9

Weight: 192

Strengths:

  • Tough, versatile athlete¬†
  • Four-year starter, accountable¬†
  • Shows great awareness, high football IQ
  • Strong tackler, loves to hit
  • Plays much bigger than his size

Weaknesses:

  • Undersized frame that can struggle against bigger athletes¬†
  • Average range, displays stiff hips at times
  • Question about his fit at NFL level¬†

Analysis: 

The Patriots love to bring in young defensive backs and Thomas is a player with potential. He’s not necessarily a starter, as he could struggle to find a perfect fit, but Belichick loves versatility. Even though he’s 5’9, the Georgia Tech defensive back plays much bigger ¬†on the field delivering crushing blows to opponents.

Thomas should be able to contribute on special teams right away, his ticket to potentially landing on the 53-man roster, but he could elevate himself into a much larger role in the future. He could play cornerback, nickel (in the slot) and strong safety at times. His toughness and competitive spirt stands out.

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

Player Bio: Zach Moore

Name: Zach Moore

Position: Defensive end

School: Concordia-St, Paul

Selected: Round 6, Pick 198 overall

Height: 6’5

Weight: 269

Strengths:

  • Has NFL size; Long, lean, athletic frame
  • Quick off the snap, flashes pro ability¬†
  • Scheme diverse, working in 3-4 and 4-3 defenses¬†
  • Improved throughout collegiate career¬†
  • Two time captain, good work ethic¬†

Weaknesses:

  • Behind in development, requires some patience¬†
  • Must learn to convert speed to power
  • Irrelevant facing double teams
  • Can lose leverage getting too upright¬†

Analysis: 

Moore is an impressive player, even as a prospect facing lower level talent. He’s a long, lean athlete that has all the tools to develop in the right pro system. He had great production, having 33 sacks at Concordia.

While Moore will be a 24-year-old rookie, he has intriguing upside moving forward. While he’s raw, there’s a chance he can contribute from day one. Moore will put pressure on Jake Bequette and Will Smith for a roster spot in training camp. He might require some patience, but Moore could pay dividends down the line.

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

Player Bio: Jon Halapio

Name: Jon Halapio

Position: Guard

School: Florida

Selected: Round 6, Pick 179 overall

Height: 6’3

Weight: 323

Strengths:

  • Big, thick body with a fierce mentality¬†
  • Can drive defenders, anchor on the line
  • Tough, played through a torn pectoral his senior year
  • Team captain, 43 career starts

Weaknesses:

  • Lower body technique needs work
  • Struggle to react, poor balance with contact
  • Limited blocking range
  • Run block mauler, but needs work in pass protection
  • Injuries may be a concern

Analysis: 

The Patriots went back to the Florida pipeline to grab another offensive lineman. Halapio is a big-bodied mauler that will need work on pass protection in order to develop at the NFL level. He’s tough and is a warrior in the trenches. Despite a torn pectoral, he pushed through the pain and then wanted to prove he was better than his 2013 tape in the pre-draft process.

Halapio needs some work, but has the potential to be a solid NFL guard. The Patriots needed to inject some youth to their line, they did just that. Expect Halapio to be a backup lineman to start, maybe coming in on short-yardage situations.

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

Player Bio: Cameron Fleming

Name: Cameron Fleming

Position: Offensive Tackle

School: Stanford

Selected: Round 4, Pick 140 overall

Height: 6’5

Weight: 330

Strengths:

  • Good size, big body and strong hands
  • Explosive and agile for his size
  • Shows good awareness and alertness
  • Three year starter in pro-style offense¬†
  • Very intelligent

Weaknesses:

  • Tight hips, struggles versus speed rushers
  • Could improve finishing off blocks
  • Footwork could improve

Analysis: 

Fleming is an impressive prospect. He might not be totally NFL ready, but he has starting potential. He’s a big-bodied specimen that can move well for his size, showing explosiveness when engaging defenders.

Fleming is a very intelligent player and hard worker. He majored in aeronautics and astronautics at Stanford. His former college coach, David Shaw, said on ESPN, “The bottom line is he doesn’t get beat.”

He started for three years in a pro style offense and compares to Marcus Cannon a bit. He could play right tackle, may be able to kick inside to right guard. Just a depth guy from the start, but could push for a starting role down the line.

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

Player Bio: James White

Name: James White

Position: Running back

School: Wisconsin

Selected: Round 4, 130 overall

Height:¬†5’9

Weight: 204

Strengths:

  • Good vision, balance
  • Takes care of the football, only two fumbles in 754 carries
  • Excels in pass protection, willing blocker
  • Shifty runner, short-area burst
  • Tough, competitive, highly respected in Wisconsin’s program¬†

Weaknesses:

  • Lacks top-end speed
  • Undersized, short arms and small hands
  • Does not push the pile
  • Hasn’t shown the ability to be a feature back, split carries all four years

Analysis: 

With Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen entering contract years, the Patriots were expected to take a running back or two in this year’s draft.¬†White should be able to contribute to the committee right away with his ability to pass protect. New England needed a backup third-dpwn back and White should fill that role.

The Wisconsin tailback has shared carries throughout his collegiate career, displaying excellent ball security. He maximizes runs, showing burst through the hole. He has not shown the ability to be a feature back and most likely won’t at the NFL level.

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