New England Patriots News 6-12, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
June 12, 2016 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are Sunday’s Patriots news 6-12 notes and what’s happening around the AFC East.

Hogan quietly building trust factor/chemistry with Brady:
The talk this week during minicamp was mainly centered around the Patriots new …and big tight end Martellus Bennett. And while the colorful Bennett was indeed impressive, equally impressive was the work being done by new WR Chris Hogan.

Hogan came over as a FA from the Bills this spring and without Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola available thus far this spring, he is stepping into the void extremely quickly. Thus far he’s taken on more of the Edelman role in the offense and is proving a quick learner of the Pats complicated route tree.

He’s spent time off to the side with Brady during OTAs and minicamp, working one-on-one with the QB and building up their own chemistry and timing. While he doesn’t have the short-area quickness of Edelman, Hogan does possess the better size and more straight line speed. It looks so far that he could seamlessly step into Brandon LaFell’s “X”-wide receiver slot once everyone is back to practice. And being able to get in this much work with Brady this early bodes well for the start of the season which starts in Arizona.

Hogan comes back and makes a nice catch in front of Biggers

Hogan comes back and makes a nice catch in front of Biggers

Like Father, Like Son… Steve Belichick Seamlessly Stepping in:
One of the most interesting if, understated scenes that played out during minicamp was watching new safeties coach Steve Belichick interact with his players. And his first impressions was that unsurprisingly, he’s lot like his father.

After one series, the younger Belichick called over all of his charges and they had an impromptu discussion over what had just transpired. Veterans Pat Chung and Devin McCourty were also actively involved in the five-plus minute conversation as the group discussion went on oblivious to the rest of what the team was doing.

In keeping with what the elder Belichick stressed all week, that it was “a teaching camp” the younger Belichick gets high marks for setting the season off on the right foot.

Tight End Michael Williams Tears ACL, is released:
Backup tight end Michael Williams tore his ACL during Wednesday’s practice and will need surgery, effectively ending his 2016 season. In a corresponding move the Patriots released him and if he clears waivers, then he will revert to IR.

Williams, 25, was acquired by the Patriots with Detroit in August of last year. The 6-foot-6, 304-pounder, originally entered the NFL as a 7th round draft pick (211th overall) by the Lions in the 2013 NFL Draft out of Alabama.

He played in 15 games with nine starts for the Pats last year catching three passes for 26 yards. This spring the converted tackle appeared to slim down some and was being used more in the passing game and had a couple of nice catches down the seams during minicamp prior to his injury.

With Williams lost for the year, that leaves Clay Harbor, A.J. Derby, Steve Scheu, and Bryce Williams fighting for backup spots to Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett.

Brown/Foster are looking to carve out roles at RB:
Going into the spring, one of the areas that were deemed ready for an upgrade was the running back position. The Patriots finished 30th in rushing in 2015 and their top two backs Dion Lewis and LaGarrette Blount ended up on IR.

But the Patriots eschewed on the prospects in the draft, instead, signing veteran Donald Brown and UDFA D.J. Foster from Arizona State. They’ll compete with veterans James White, Brandon Bolden (mainly an STs standout), Tyler Gaffney, as well as fullbacks James Develin and Joey Iosefa.

While still very early, both Brown and Foster have made strong cases for themselves. Brown has been able to carry the ball in the running game, provide good pass protection and be a capable receiver out of the backfield in his career. This week, he looked smooth sliding out of the backfield catching passes and his versatility may be called upon, especially if Blount isn’t ready to go.

Foster is an intriguing player who has that instant burst of acceleration off the snap and has very, quick feet in being able to plant and go in an instant. He also has the added versatility of being a special teams’ capable player, returning kicks which is an added bonus. Both of these players will bear watching once training camp begins.

Grugier-Hill Taking a Similar Path as King a Year Ago:
When the Patriots drafted Kamu Grugier-Hill in the 6th round of the NFL draft this season, one of the things that immediately drew attention to the undersized LB/S hybrid player was his athleticism and speed. We knew that he’d have to make a spot for himself via STs, similar to how Brandon King did last season.

At the time, King was considered a long shot to make the roster, but every day we’d watch STs Coach Joe Judge work with King one-on-one on different drills and we stated then, that the team had plans for King. Now we’re seeing the same thing with Grugier-Hill.

During minicamp we watched Grugier-Hill and King work on the side with coaches and long snapper Christian Yount on punt blocking drills. Later in camp, he worked with Pro Bowler Matthew Slater as a gunner. During Thursday’s session he showcased his speed on defense by knocking a pass away on one snap and later, breaking on a Jacoby Brissett pass, Grugier-Hill was able to pick off the pass. With the Patriots it always helps your cause if you can do a lot of things, versatility being the key.  Grugier-Hill is a player that has a lot of potential.

Kamu Grugier-Hill and Brandon King get some one-on-one time in STs drills

Kamu Grugier-Hill and Brandon King get some one-on-one time in STs drills

Cornerback Competition Likely to Heat up in July:
The Patriots entered the 2015 season with nothing but questions at the cornerback position. A year later they appear, on paper to be deep and talented if still unproven there. And if minicamp is any indication, then training camp promises to be even more fun to watch.

With Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan and top draft choice Cyrus Jones all roster locks, that leaves last season’s slot corner Justin Coleman, Darryl Roberts, free agent E.J. Biggers, and UDFAs V’Angelo Bentley, Jonathan Jones, and Cre’Von LeBlac fighting it out for the final two roster spots.

We watched this group closely during minicamp and each of them was making plays. Once the pads come on in about six weeks, it promises to be very entertaining to watch. And with Ryan out during this week’s practices, it increased the reps for everyone else to make some headway…and they all did.

East Bound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Dolphins Plan on Running Up Tempo Offense:
New Dolphins Head Coach Adam Gase and Offensive Coordinator Clyde Christensen plan on having the Dolphins offense running an up-tempo attack this season, including some time in the no-huddle.

“Just keep pushing the pace. It gives our quarterback some time at the line so all of them don’t get snapped with 22 seconds left on the clock,” Christensen told the Miami Herald. That’s not necessarily the intention. … One of the reasons we’re at the line of scrimmage is the tempo, for the conditioning, and for the advantage-based part of it where it looks like it’s going to be fast and then all of a sudden we can get into a play we want to get into.”

The Dolphins are already practicing it during OTAs and as one would expect it requires a lot of conditioning on the part of the players. With some improved weapons for QB Ryan Tannehill, this will be an interesting development to watch.

Jets Counting on Henderson, Mauldin at LB:
The J-E-T-S, Jets are facing replacing some veterans this season and it just isn’t at the QB position where the Ryan Fitzpatrick watch has continued to drag on. The team is also having to contend with the loss of long-time veteran Calvin Pace as well as Demario Davis at the linebacker position in 2016.

The team did sign veteran free agent Bruce Carter this spring but they’ll really be leaning on two younger players in Erin Henderson and Lorenzo Mauldin. The team gave Henderson a one-year deal in 2015 and despite a slow start by the end of the season, he was sharing reps with Davis. Mauldin was a rookie in 2015 and used as a sub-package pass rusher. He’s expected to take on a bigger role in 2016.

The team also drafted two intriguing prospects at linebacker in Darron Lee in the 1st round and Jordan Jenkins in the 3rd round of the 2016 NFL Draft. So it will be a new look for the Jets linebackers but promises to be an exciting group.

Former Bills’ QB Says Ryan Will Be Fired with No Playoffs:
Well, that didn’t take long… Rex Ryan is officially on the hot seat with the Buffalo Bills. Former QB Jim Kelly on the Jim Rome Show this week said that if the Bills don’t make it to the postseason, “I think Rex will probably be looking for another job,” Kelly said on Thursday. “I think everybody knows that, including Rex.”

The Bills currently own the dubious distinction of holding the longest playoff drought in the NFL, at 16 years and it has been 20 since Buffalo’s last playoff win for the football-crazed fans in upstate NY.

Bills owner Terry Pagula was on record this year stating the both Ryan and GM Doug Whalley have to make the playoffs this year.

As for the ever bombastic Ryan? He says he’s not worried. “The media looks at it [like], ‘Well, we have to win this year'” Rex Ryan said earlier this month. “Or what? Oh, I am going to be fired? I don’t think so. I’m not going to worry about it because we are going to win anyway. But it’s like, that is an ultimatum? No.”

 

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