The Patriots got back to practice on Sunday, their first session with the 53-man roster including some practice squad players in place for 2015. Former Pats WR Kenbrell Thompkins is back in the fold as a practice squad WR.
Last season Malcolm Butler came out of nowhere to not only make the team but played a significant role in the Super Bowl victory over the Seattle Seahawks. At the time Butler had been a long-shot to make the roster but this year he’s in position to be the team’s top corner with Darrelle Revis now on the Jets.
Who on the Patriots roster this season may be the latest under-the-radar guy who will give the team a big boost in play in 2015? We’ve picked one player each from the offense and defense who we feel may be a big contributor this season. Feel free to let us know in December how these picks pan out.
Lewis, the best of the 3rd down backs so far: One of the biggest questions facing the Patriots offense this year was who was going to replace Shane Vereen as the change of pace, third down back. It looks like they found their answer in an unlikely place.
The Patriots signed Dion Lewis to a future’s contract in December 2014 and a source in Foxboro back in the early spring was telling us how impressed the Patriots coaching staff was with him. So needless to say, it was intriguing once camp begun to see Lewis in the flesh.
Lewis had a bit of experience in Philadelphia after a few very productive seasons with the Pitt Panthers, gaining 2860 yards on 544 carries for 30 touchdowns while adding 52 catches for 405 yards out of the backfield. Patriots coaching assistant Michael Lombardi, then GM for the Browns traded for Lewis.
During the 2013 preseason he broke his leg and also suffered ligament damage to his knee. He missed all of that season, and still not 100 percent physically, was cut in 2014 by the Browns and then the Colts out of training camp.
At first glance the diminutive and generously listed 5’8, 195 pound ( he looks a few inches shorter), Lewis wasn’t impressive and he wasn’t showcasing that explosive quickness we were hearing about in the spring. But all of that changed in the second and third preseason games against New Orleans and Carolina.
Dion Lewis has been an exciting addition for the Patriots this preseason. (USA TODAY Images)
Not only was he quick out of the backfield, he showed some outstanding changes in direction, making people miss and was explosive in both the running and passing games. In addition, Lewis was a willing and physically effective blocker, something the Patriots covet in their third down backs, which was something Shane Vereen excelled in.
“I’ll do whatever I’m asked to do — special teams, running back, anything,” said Lewis after a practice earlier in preseason. “Whatever I’m asked to do and I’ll show I’m accountable and get the trust of my coaches and teammates.”
He was one of the Patriots best players on the field in Carolina and showed some of the wrinkles that the Patriots could utilize him with as they split him out wide in the red zone and he caught an easy touchdown from Jimmy Garoppolo.
The team also has James White and Travaris Cadet, both of whom the coaches have liked this summer as well as veteran Brandon Bolden to fulfill that role. White has been impressive in his own right this summer in his second season. Cadet missed the entire slate of preseason games after injuring his hamstring but impressed the staff enough during the spring and early camp to warrant a spot. Bolden is a bigger back who can fill the role but is mainly a core special teamer.
Lewis who turns 25 later this month, is still young enough to make a big splash with the team this season. And he should get the chances to excel.
Flowers continues torrid summer: Rookie Trey Flowers may have been a comparative steal in this season’s NFL Draft with the 101st pick in the 4th round. He’s part of a very deep group of edge rushers that includes Rob Ninkovich, Chandler Jones, Jabaal Sheard, fellow rookie Geneo Grissom and Rufus Johnson.
While not the optimum height for an edge rusher at 6’2, Flowers has very long arms that he uses very effectively. And while his scouting profile said that he didn’t have a quick first step, he’s been very effective firing off the ball this summer; he’s been impressive in both one-on-one drills as well as in full team work.
Flowers quickly earned reps with the starters during training camp and was turning heads from Day 1. Bill Belichick lauded his work back in August during training camp, saying that Flowers is “a tough kid, works really hard, and he seems to have a nose, an instinct for the ball.”
He got off to a great start in the preseason with a sack of Aaron Rodgers in the first preseason game before injuring his shoulder in the first quarter of that contest and missing the next game. After flashing in the Carolina game by opening a hole for a Chandler Jones sack, he was back in the flow. Then against the Giants, he dominated first round pick Ereck Flowers, garnering three QB hits as well as three hurries. But he was equally impressive setting the edge in the running game and playing in position. He’s looking like an established veteran and not an untested rookie on the field.
The Patriots defense will have to change this season to counter the loss of Revis, Browner and Arrington at cornerback. But with a very improved and deep front seven, the pass rush this year is going to be intriguing to watch.
For the past few years the team was thin at the edge with both Jones and Ninkovich forced to play well over 90 percent of the snaps at defensive end. This not only hurt their production but wore them down as well. Now, the coaches have the enviable problem of finding enough quality snaps for all six players on the edge.
Flowers may have leaped over fellow rookie Grissom on the depth chart and has earned his way onto the roster as a rookie. While he may not play a ton of snaps each week, look for those to be very effective ones for the soft-spoken 22-year old, he has the makings of a very solid player in 2015.
The 2015 season for the Patriots starts in earnest on Thursday night when the Pittsburgh Steelers come to town. The games are for real now and the history of this season’s team has still yet to be written. But for Dion Lewis and Trey Flowers, they may have a large part in influencing how that history is written.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: 2015 NFL Season 2015 Patriots Training Camp 2015 Preseason 53 Man Roster Projection Bill Belichick Chandler Jones Danny Amendola Dion Lewis Foxboro Stadium Geneo Grissom Jabaal Sheard James White Jimmy Garoppolo Jonas Gray LaGarrette Blount Malcolm Butler Patriots Patriots edge rushers Rob Ninkovich Tom Brady Travaris Cadet Trey Flowers