Team has questions of health, who steps up for 2nd CB, 4th WR
The Patriots get back to work on Monday after a day off on Sunday and has two days of practice before flying down to West Virginia for joint practices with the New Orleans Saints. The two teams will practice together Wednesday and Thursday prior to meeting in the second preseason game this weekend.
The biggest questions surrounding the Patriots remain health related; with so many players either still on PUP or banged up during practice, it has taken a toll on some of the positional competitions.
There remains uncertainty on who will step up at the right cornerback and the 4th wide receiver positions. Hopefully that will start to play itself out now during the practices with the Saints and after the preseason game with them.
RCB, Injuries, and Uncertainty Remain: At cornerback, the left side position is locked; Malcolm Butler has been a fixture there since Day 1. The coaches haven’t moved him around at all and his performance thru training camp thus far will have done nothing to change their minds. He’s had a very strong summer, showing great technique, physicality and athleticism. But who is going to step up opposite him at right corner.
Tarel Brown seemed to have the inside track although he’s still recovering from foot injuries from 2014. He’s been the most consistent performer of the corners after Butler. But he probably still isn’t at 100 percent physically and the coaches held him out of the Green Bay preseason game. On Saturday, he left practice early with the training staff and didn’t return, although it was thought to be a heat related issue.
Darryl Roberts got the surprise start on Thursday and acquitted himself very well before being injured (hand/wrist), late in the first quarter. The 7th round draft pick from Marshall has good size (6’0, 190), as well as excellent athleticism. Roberts got off to a slow start the first few days of camp, not surprising being a rookie but has been getting better every day. A big question for him will be how serious his injury is, otherwise look for him to push for more and more reps.
Logan Ryan was expected to compete for the one of the top two CB spots before training camp began. Beginning his third season in New England, he is the most tenured corner on the team. But he’s been mostly unimpressive at camp; he hasn’t stood out and on Thursday was burned badly by the Packers Jeff Janis on a 4th and 1 pass that went 22 yards for a Green Bay touchdown. He did come back for a nice breakup on a later Packer fourth down attempt but Ryan has to be a big question mark at this point.
Robert McClain has had a strong camp after coming over from the Falcons during the offseason. The 5th year vet from UConn is a pretty physical player despite his diminutive 5’9 height. McClain seems to be solidifying Kyle Arrington’s old slot down in the slot. He’s been very good there and he’s a better fit there than outside.
Bradley Fletcher came over from the Eagles after a poor 2014. It was thought that a clean slate and a fresh start with New England may be just what the doctor ordered. But things haven’t played out that way thus far. He too has had an up-and-down camp and seems to glide thru too many reps where he disappears much too easily. On Saturday, with Roberts and Ryan out of practice, rather than trust him with the majority of reps, the coaches moved Devin McCourty down from safety to play corner. That is a subtle way of Bill Belichick putting the veteran on notice. This will be a big week for Fletcher against the Saints. Dax Swanson and Jimmy Jean are strictly backups and depth guys at this point.
Health Biggest Concern at WR: The Patriots return all three starters at WR from 2014, however the biggest worries for now remain their health. Brandon LaFell is still on PUP and Julian Edelman is dealing with an ankle injury. Danny Amendola has had a strong camp, but who steps up after them?
Aaron Dobson and Brian Tyms are both vying for the 4th WR position; Dobson got off to good start and was having a strong camp before health issues again crept up and he’s been missing for most of the past 10 days. Tyms started slowly and then was injured and missed some time. But healthy now, Tyms had arguably his best day at camp on Saturday. He and Dobson are more of the long, fast deep threats in the passing offense.
Brandon Gibson has quietly had a solid camp and followed that up with a good performance in the preseason opener. He can play outside, in the LaFell mode and work the chains or in the slot where he’s most comfortable. He’s been there every day which is a positive sign as well.
Josh Boyce is entering his third season for the Patriots and has yet to make his mark. With the injuries at WR, he’s been getting a lot of reps with the first team offense and after a few good practices, things were looking up. But a poor showing in the Green Bay game followed by a sub-par practice on Saturday has him outside looking in again.
Jonathan Krause and Chris Harper are speedy, young WRs who have been coming on lately. Both got a chance to showcase their talents against the Packers and played well. Harper in particular, albeit against the threes and fours caught seven passes on seven targets in an impressive debut. Both will look to impress the coaches earn some more playing time.
These two practices at Foxboro followed by the joint sessions with the Saints are going to be a big opportunity for the players at both WR and CB to earn some playing time and a roster spot. It is a very important week for many of these guys looking to carve out a niche. Against an unfamiliar opponent, every rep will be watched closely by the coaching staff.
These two positions are still wide open for competition and these types of opportunities don’t last long. The clock is ticking and the time is now for these players to make a big impression on the coaching staff.