New England Patriots News 06-02, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
June 2, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 06-02 and AFC East notes this week.

We can hardly wait for Tuesday when the mandatory mini-camp begins for the team and we’ll get our first look at the 2019 Patriots team on the field. Although it will be sans pads, it will be our first live look at football since the Super Bowl, so yes we’re psyched to be going down to the practice fields.

Quick Hitters:

Tom Brady – was at Harvard Stadium on Friday night for his annual Best Buddies charity touch football game. It is Brady’s signature charity and was attended by current teammates Julian Edelman, James White, Brian Hoyer, Ted Karras, Marcus Cannon, Joe Thuney and Joe Cardona. Retired Patriots included Troy Brown, Dan Koppen, and Christian Fauria.

Brady QBs for both teams and the kids, including his own and adults on the field always have a memorable evening.

Bill Belichick – Was quoted by former Arizona State head coach Todd Graham as being thrilled that WR N’Keal Harry was still available at #32 in the 2019 NFL Draft.

Graham who was replaced by Herm Edwards as head coach in 2018, spoke with Jeff Howe of the Athletic and  “When I talked to coach Belichick the night that he drafted N’Keal, he (Belichick) told me, ‘Man, we were so fortunate that he was still there,’ ” Graham said to Howe. “They were so glad he was still available. They had him graded a lot higher than where he was taken in the first round.

Brady Pt.2 – Can we all (okay, certain people) just stop with the hand-wringing over Brady skipping OTAs again this year? Granted it is spring and there isn’t a lot to write/talk about for the most part but this is a tired storyline.

And please, pretty please don’t tell me how the offense struggled in the first quarter of the season. It had nothing to do with Brady not being there for seven practices. Edelman was suspended, Gronk was hobbled and they had injuries all over the place. The offense struggling had nothing to do with Brady missing OTAs, nada, zilch, nicht.

Fast forward to the Super Bowl parade in February, was anyone talking about Brady’s absence then? Well, maybe someone did… My worries about him being ready to go in September based on OTAs? Less than zero.

Boston Bruins – Not Patriots related, but there was an awful lot of flap over a towel this week before the Bruins Stanley Cup Finals Game 2. And it reached the point of being ridiculous with the comments being tossed about.

Whether you are a fan of BarStool Sports or not, they are a major force in online readership today. Besides, we’re talking about a towel here folks. Sometimes I think people stay up at night wondering what the next thing they can find to be outraged at.

BarStool saw a chance to do some advertising and the Bruins took them up on it. I don’t remember anyone in Boston being so put out when Matt Patricia wore a Stoolie t-shirt after a Super Bowl win…but it is what it is.

Gerald McCoy – The free agent DL was thought to be on the Patriots radar after his release by the Bucs but now is seemingly headed to either Cleveland or the Ravens according to NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport.

Those two teams are considered the favorites to land the six-time Pro Bowler with Carolina being a distant third in the potential for landing him. It seems like the Patriots, who were interested initially, were priced out of the competition.

Andy Hart – The longtime writer for Patriots Football Weekly and a regular on the “Patriots Unfiltered” podcast by PFW is leaving for WEEI. Hart will be an on-air personality for the struggling radio station, where it is hoped that he’ll breathe some fresh air and a boost for their ratings. He’ll be missed at Unfiltered, where his constant jabs at Paul Perillo especially were always a highlight of the show.

Questions for This Week’s Mini-camp and Beyond:

As we mentioned above, the Patriots begin their mandatory mini-camp this week, June 4-6 at the Gillette Stadium practice fields. And we’re looking forward to getting our first look at what the team looks like in 2019, albeit without pads or contact. And of course, seeing several of the new players that have been welcomed on the team this year.

As we all know with Bill Belichick, roster building is a process and the OTAs and mini-camps are teaching tools for the team. The evaluation won’t begin in earnest until training camp comes in late July.

There are, however, several questions that we have as the team begins their quest for “Knockin on Seven’s Door” in September.

What is the Status at Tackle – The Patriots lost left tackle Trent Brown in free agency. They drafted Isaiah Wynn with their first pick in the 2018 NFL Draft to be their left tackle of the future, but he was lost for the year after tearing an Achilles in training camp. Marcus Cannon remains entrenched on the right side.

The Patriots drafted T Yodny Cajuste who could be their swing tackle this year and possibly their RT is Cannon moves on in free agency in 2020. But Cajuste had off-season surgery on his quad and isn’t expected to be ready until training camp. Then, they signed free tackle Jared Veldheer as an insurance policy, but he abruptly retired last week.

With both Wynn and Cajuste coming off of injuries/surgery, there is an awful lot of uncertainty there that we really won’t know the answers to until training camp and preseason games begin. Could the team make another foray into free agency? Possibly, especially with the aging but still solid Donald Penn available.

Production at Tight End – We touched on this a couple of times recently. While there is no replacing Rob Gronkowski, they have to find some relief with the production that Gronkowski provided the offense.

While no one is expecting Ben Watson (who’ll miss the first four games), Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Matt LaCosse, et al. to replace the big man alone, they will no doubt ask them to combine to replace a lot of Gronk’s production.

And they’ll no doubt lean on the running backs more in the passing game as well as the wide receivers to ease some of the burden. But in essence, the position is wide open for competition this summer. And it will be definitely one to watch.

Running Back By Committee, How the Rotation Spins – We also know Belichick has always liked to have a RB by committee approach. The 2019 season should be no exception. The Patriots running backs hit their stride down the stretch once everyone got healthy and they had Sony Michel, James White, and Rex Burkhead to keep opponents off-balance. But early in the season with Michel dinged up and Burkhead on IR, their depth was thinned.

This spring they brought back depth RB and STs ace Brandon Bolden and then, somewhat surprisingly drafted a very intriguing prospect Damien Harris from Alabama. Harris is a three-down back who excels at yards after contact and short yardage. He’s very good at running between the tackles, an outstanding pass blocker, and an underrated pass receiver with soft hands. Look for Michel and Harris to get increased looks in the passing game.

With a 1-2-3 punch with Michel, Harris, and Burkhead running the ball and White as the designated third-down back, the combinations that OC Josh McDaniels can throw at opponents is going to be interesting when the Patriots line up in their “21-personnel” grouping (2RBs, 1 TE, 2 WR). This week we’ll watch for any signs of this playing out.

N’Keal Harry, Intriguing Potential, But Let’s Pump the Brakes a Bit:

The Patriots drafted N’Keal Harry with the #32 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft and fans are excited. Heck, we’re all excited. He’s done everything right since being drafted to hit all the high notes. His family story and being raised here by his grandmother was one of those must-read pieces.

He was very well spoken on being drafted, and his openness on learning from Julian Edelman on route running in the Patriots system every day certainly hit the right chords. He was then invited for a photo-op with Edelman and Brady for a workout/glorified catch at Brady’s home. The team made sure to publish the fact as the three worked out together. That set tongues to wagging non-stop. Even Bill Belichick, he of the normally low-key, clipped answer, didn’t give the standard, “he and all the players have a long way to go” response had this to say about Harry: “It’s been good, he’s worked hard. He’s smart and works hard,” Belichick said. That is some heady praise indeed.

But let’s all remember, Harry is a rookie WR and we all know that rookie WRs, as well as many veterans, have struggled in their first season in Foxboro. Yes, there have been exceptions to the rule, but he’s learning a new offense and terminology and trying to find where his best fit is. That’s something that he and the coaching staff will work on all summer and into the regular season.

If Harry doesn’t catch 75-80 passes for 1000 yards and double-digit touchdowns in 2019, I’m not going to worry about and neither should you. Let him find his comfort zone and begin his learning curve. That being said…Can’t wait to see him on the field on Tuesday.

Joejuan Williams Creates Matchup Wins for the Secondary:

The Patriots drafted CB Joejuan Williams in the 2nd round of the draft only 13 picks after N’Keal Harry.  And the very first thing that stood out was his size. At 6’4, 211, many fans and media members began to recall the 2014 acquisition of CB Brandon Browner. And while it is early, those thoughts may not be far off.

The two are remarkably close in physical make-up and playing styles. Earlier this week, I got to speak with Evan Lazar on a podcast and he was discussing the similarities between the two players. Lazar always does a super job of breaking down film and players at CLNS Media. He wrote about Williams’ possible role here:

With Stephon Gilmore locking down the opposite side (a la Revis in 2014), the Patriots can become creative with an opponent’s bigger WRs or tight ends. If he’s a smaller shiftier player, that could fall to Jonathan Jones, Duke Dawson or Jason McCourty. But that distinction could fall to Williams or J.C. Jackson.

With a plethora of good corners, the Patriots defense, on paper, for now, has the potential to be as good, or better than the 2014 version. Williams could be much like Browner, with the ability to cover the opponent’s bigger WR or TE. In the case of WRs, with his lack of top end speed, he’d have over the top safety help.

In today’s NFL, you can never have enough good corners. And the Patriots have several of them. Williams adds another chess piece for the defense to counter any threats by the opposition.

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills “Rallied Around Josh Allen” – Alexander:

The Buffalo Bills made a lot of very good moves this offseason, both in free agency and in the draft. But if the Bills are going to make the jump to contenders, they are going to need 2nd year QB Josh Allen to play like the franchise QB he was drafted to be.

While the jury is still out on Allen, with many established analysts on both sides of the coin, Allen is gaining the trust and confidence of his teammates. And one of the more established and respected members of the Bills’ locker room, Lorenzo Alexander believes Allen is ready to make the next step.

“I think the team started rallying around Allen and we want to obviously use some of that juice we finished the season off with and transition it to next year,” Alexander said while guesting on the Jim Rome Show. That’s the first big hurdle, expectations are high for the Bills in 2019.

Flores High on Dolphins Edge Player Charles Harris:

The Miami Dolphins new head coach Brian Flores is incorporating a Patriots “multiple” defensive mindset in the Dolphins defense in 2019. Players are going to move around and have multiple responsibilities and have to know what other players are doing on the field at the same time. But one of Miami’s biggest lacks is at edge rusher and 3rd-year player Charles Harris is at a crossroads. But he has a believer in Flores.

Harris was drafted in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft and was supposed to be one of the Fins’ designated pass rushers. But thru two NFL seasons, Harris has just three sacks to his credit, which is leading many to place the “bust” label on him. But not Flores.

In speaking with ESPN, Flores raved about Harris, despite the edge rusher not being fully healthy with an injured wrist.

“I can’t say enough good things about him,” Flores said. “He’s the kind of guy we want in the building. Honestly, I don’t care about his past. I care about right now. That’s where I’m at. … He’s really doing a good job for us in the classroom, on the field. He’s smart. He’s hard-working. He’s got a lot of ability.”

Flores is reportedly going to place Harris more in space, giving him a chance to become more of a difference maker than on the DL where he got swallowed up in the running game at times.  

Jets Dysfunction Played Out in Detail By Mehta:

Patriots fans are well familiar with Manish Mehta. With his over-the-top predictions, he calls for every New York Jets coach or player signing as being the death knell to the Patriots dynasty.  Just a few weeks ago, he trolled Twitter with his “Top AFC East QBs for 2019” and placed Sam Darnold at the top of the heap.

But he wrote a scathing report about the Jets dysfunction this week which detailed the inner workings of a team where the owner is making moves without the general manager having the slightest clue.

If even a quarter of this is accurate, it is a pretty damning picture of the Jets front office and that starts with Chris Johnson. You can read it in its entirety here:

________________

One final thought about the Patriots’ “easiest schedule” talk, if you look from just before Halloween to early December, New England has Cleveland at home, Baltimore away on SNF, followed by a game at Philadelphia, home against Dallas, at Houston in another prime time game and home against Kansas City. Six tough games in a row, against five teams who made the postseason in 2018. Sound easy?

“So, how was your week?”

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.



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