Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 6-18, & AFC East Notes.
The Patriots are now off until training begins in about 5 weeks. With the OTAs and minicamp in the books, the team is good shape getting ready for the upcoming season. The weather was as unpredictable as ever this spring but that probably helps the team as they get used to playing in all weather conditions.
Five of the top news items coming out of the spring both good and bad include:
- Gronk is 100 Percent Heading into Camp:
Perhaps the best news to come out of the spring was that TE Rob Gronkowski was present for all of the workouts and that he wasn’t held back or limited in any way. That is particularly good news. As good as this offense was a year ago, it is even better with a healthy Gronkowski on the field.
- Cooks is Going to be Exciting to Watch:
Brandin Cooks turned heads here in joint practices last year and now is a member of the Patriots. The Patriots don’t normally have a receiver that has the blistering speed he does and it is going to be fun to watch how they try to integrate the productive WR into their offense.
- Linebacker Still a Concern Heading into the Summer Break:
Something we’ve discussed this spring was the depth at linebacker behind Dont’a Hightower. It is still a question of who steps up and wrests the reps away from the others. Shea McClellin, Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts and UDFA Harvey Langi are among the players who should be looking to compete for playing time once camp begins.
- Injuries to Monitor:
With the aforementioned Hightower not participating and obviously on the mend from offseason procedures, there were a couple of other players limited or missing time that will bear watching. Duron Harmon was limited all spring and Lawrence Guy, Kony Ealy, Jimmy Garoppolo and Andrew Jelks all suffered some sort of setback during spring workouts that caused them to miss time. They’ll bear watching once camp opens.
- Spring is a Great Time for the Under-the-Radar Guys:
Every spring we always hear or see (in many cases) some players rise up and stand out in the OTAs and minicamp. Or as Chris Price told me in a podcast this week the “Zach Sudfeld Effect.” Jonathan Jones stepped up to play a lot of nickel corner thus far. Other players making an early splash include RB D.J. Foster, WR Austin Carr and DB David Jones. Whether they can continue this will bear watching. Every year there are players who shine early and fade (Sudfeld) and those that continue to play well (Malcolm Butler). That’s what makes training camp so intriguing.
Speaking of Chris Price, the former WEEI Patriots beat writer and author has a couple of books in the works. His book on the 2016 Patriots Super Bowl Season should be on the shelves soon. He is also working on a book about the Hartford Whalers of the NHL. Price told me this week as a kid growing up in Connecticut, the Whalers were a franchise that the fans closely identified with. If these two books are just half as good as his previous work, they’ll be must reading and great gifts for the sports fan in the house.
Price also does a super podcast (Cover 2) with Don Banks on the Patriots website. Besides great Patriots content, they cover the overall NFL landscape and are doing a great job. Some great intriguing guests as well.
Patriots in the Heads of their Opponents Already? It would seem so:
The Patriots and more specifically Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are seemingly lodged firmly in the psyches of their opponents before the season even starts if the latest on Social Media are any indication.
In Pittsburgh, the headlines asked if Sidney Crosby, fresh off of Stanley Cup championship was better than Tom Brady. But that wasn’t it for the Steel City, as Pittsburgh LB Ryan Shazier was asked if the Steelers have a “Patriots Problem” having lost four in a row to NE. Shazier took it a step further stating the NFL has a Patriots problem and the Steelers feel they can get over the hump this season.
And finally in Miami, Ndamukong Suh, who has a known reputation as large for dirty tactics as much as big plays made the statement at Dolphins OTAs that will certainly have found its way into the bulletin boards of Foxboro. Suh, stated, “I think one of the great things about Miami and this team, we’ve never been scared of the New England Patriots. We never will be. So, with that being said, when we play them late in the season, we’ll be prepared.” Earlier this spring Jarvis Landry predicted that Miami would sweep New England in 2017.
Confidence in one’s team is always fine, bravado is another. If you want to beat Belichick and Brady, take a page out of their book and say nothing about your opponents and tell the media, you’re focusing on yourselves at this early juncture of the spring/summer.
Patrick Chung gets Incentive Boost in his Contract:
The Patriots, with plenty of cap space this year are giving safety Pat Chung the incentives to have a terrific 2017 season. Chung, according to ESPN’s Field Yates is getting an incentive laden boost in his contract that can pay him up to $1.7 million dollars this season.
Chung is signed through the 2018 season and is set to make $900,000 in 2017. His incentives can nearly double his pay, boosting him an additional $800,000. The Patriots have three safeties that they’ve paid on the higher end of the payroll with Chung, Devin McCourty, and Duron Harmon. They gave a similar incentive boost to Rob Gronkowski earlier this spring.
Chung has played much better in his second stint in New England, although his play slipped a bit in 2016. It could be that he was suffering from some ailments that we weren’t aware or it could be that the physical toll of playing the position close to the box as Chung does is finally taking a toll. Either way, the team is giving him the option to excel now and it is a smart move by Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio.
Kraft’s Touchdown in Israel Brings 18 HOFers to the Holy Land:
Patriots owner Robert Kraft makes an annual pilgrimage to the country of Israel with a bevy of Hall of Fame players to experience first-hand the sights and sounds of the Holy Land and to see the growth of football in the stadium in Jerusalem that bears his name.
This year’s group contains, Lem Barney, Jerome Bettis, Jim Brown, Cris Carter, Dave Casper, Eric Dickerson, Marshall Faulk, Joe Greene, Willie Lanier, Joe Montana, Andre Reed, Mike Singletary, Bruce Smith, John Stallworth, Roger Staubach, Andre Tippett, Aeneas Williams and Ron Yary.
Kraft told the assembled Hall of Famers on the plane flight to Israel, “My family and I are into spirituality, and no matter what your background, you’ll find a way to be uplifted by the country.” Updates will be posted on the Patriots website.
Pats Heading to W.V. For Joint Practices with the Texans:
The Patriots and Bill Belichick have always believed in joint practices. It breaks up the monotony and dog days of training camp and allows you to evaluate your players against an opponent that they’re not familiar with. Both teams benefit from it and it is an opportunity to improve as a whole.
Not surprisingly, the team has a pair of joint ventures lined up this summer. The Jacksonville Jaguars will visit Foxboro before their preseason game on August 10 for a pair of joint workouts on August 7-8 and now the team has announced that they’ll conduct a pair of practices with the Houston Texans before the preseason game in Houston on August 19.
However, the practices with Houston will be held at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia on August 15-16. It is the second time the Patriots will visit the resort after having held joint practices with the Saints there in 2015. The Saints visited Foxboro last year for joint sessions.
East Bound and Down…AFC East Notes:
Bills RT Jordan Mills Draws Raves from the Coaches:
Buffalo Bills right tackle Jordan Mills had a 2016 season that many, including himself would rather forget. The fifth-year tackle allowed seven sacks and was whistled for four holding penalties.
But the new coaching staff of coach Sean McDermott is starting everyone off with a clean slate and one of the most impressive players thus far has been Mills, who put the work in during the off-season. “Jordan Mills has had one heck of an offseason,” McDermott told the Bills media last week.
Mills has settled in because he took the time to watch tape and evaluate his own play which allowed him to fix his mistakes.
“You’ve just got to in the lab in the offseason, learn from it and get better,” Mills said.
“And I felt like I did that every single day that I came back. It’s a different coaching style They expect different things out of us, but mostly my footwork in the run game and pass game, just keeping my hands up, using my hands better and stuff like that. And mentally, too, studying my opponents and looking at other offensive linemen around the league.”
I just focus on what I have to do and execute to the best of my abilities, and I felt like I did all spring.”
Dolphins’ Gase Admits Mistake with Wake in 2016:
Miami head coach Adam Gase has been very upfront and open about his missteps in his first season in 2016, specifically when speaking about the mistakes the team made with Cameron Wake. In 2016, Wake was coming off of a serious Achilles injury and the team erred on the side of caution, easing Wake into the lineup, an issue that Gase is far alone in making. Now he says, that was a mistake.
“I thought we were being smart,” Gase said to the Miami media. “It backfired on us. What we should have done is let him (Wake) play.”
But Gase is taking a similar track with center Mike Pouncey as he returns from a serious injury this year. “He’s on a really, really good track now,” Gase said. No decision has been made yet as to Pouncey’s availability for training camp but the team remains optimistic. “We need him to heal and be there for the duration,” Gase said.
Jets Building for 2018, Will Have $80 Million In Cap Space:
While the Jets prospects for the 2017 season appear dim, they’re laying the groundwork to be building for the future. The Jets are expected to have more than $80 million in cap space heading into 2018, which would be tops in the league.
The carryover from the 2017 season would put them in the $66 million dollar range according to Rich Cimini of ESPN, and they still have $24 million plus that they can spend this season.
The Jets crop of free agents next season include Sheldon Richardson, Morris Claiborne, Marcus Williams, Demario Davis, Wesley Johnson, Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Josh McCown. None of whom are indispensable as of today.
The Jets are expected to be looking for the next franchise QB either in the 2018 NFL Draft or via free agency. A couple of the QBs listed by Cimini include the Redskins’ Kirk Cousins and the Patriots Jimmy Garoppolo.
WR ArDarius Stewart is one the mend from not only one but two surgeries on his groin and thumb since being drafted by the Jets in April. Stewart wasn’t able to participate but coach Todd Bowles expects him to be ready for training camp.