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New England Patriots News 8-23, Dugger the Early Standout in Camp

Steve Balestrieri
2 months ago at 5:00 am ET

New England Patriots News 8-23, Dugger the Early Standout in CampJoe Camporeale - USA TODAY Sports

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 08-23 and AFC East notes this week. 

The Patriots were back to work this week with the pads on and we got a first glimpse of the 2020 version of the team with pads on.   

 Quick Hitters For the Pats, and the NFL:

Gunner Olszewski “Much Farther Along” in 2020: The Patriots 2nd-year wide receiver from tiny Bemidji State, who has converted from a defensive back a year ago, has made great strides according to Bill Belichick. 

“Gunner’s improved tremendously – again, both physically and from a football standpoint,” Belichick said during his video conference call on Friday. “He’s a smart kid. He works extremely hard. He’s tough. He’s very, very competitive. He’s learned how to do a lot of different things for us, and he continues to work on things that will expand his opportunities. So, it’ll be interesting to watch him take advantage or try to take advantage of those opportunities, and watch him play and see how all that is coming together.”

He appeared in eight games as a rookie, catching two passes and returning 20 punts before winding up on IR in November. “His overall background, knowledge, understanding of being a professional athlete, training, some of his fundamental athletic skills – he’s refined those quite a bit,” Belichick added. “And he’s much, much, much further ahead from where he was last year.

Will that be enough for Olszewski to make the team again in 2020? There is still a long way to go, but he’s doing all the right things so far. 

Washington Coach Ron Rivera: The former coach of Carolina has been diagnosed with cancer after Rivera noticed a lump on his neck that didn’t go away in July. Prior to his press conference on Friday, Bill Belichick mentioned Rivera to the media.

“On behalf of our team and our organization I want to send along our best wishes to Coach Rivera.” Ron’s been a good friend and certainly a person that’s had a great career in the National Football League. He’s a quality person, player, coach so we just want to send our best wishes along to him and hope for a speedy and complete recovery. Hope that he’s doing well.” 

Defense Stands Out Early: As always in the first days of training camp, the defense always seems to have the advantage. Part of that has to do with the offensive schemes as the passing game concepts are very basic early in camp and the defenders, especially the veterans know what they’re facing. But the defense and the secondary in particular is the strength of this team and they’re off to a very good start. 

Team Signs Former Navy (surprise!) Tight End: Bill Belichick has a built-in bias for the Navy, having grown up in Annapolis while his father Steve coached at the Academy. So when the news that the team signed Paul Quessenberry, while it would have normally raised eyebrows, it didn’t here. Not because Quessenberry switched from defensive tackle to tight end, they’ve had guys do that many times in the past. But the former Naval Academy alum hasn’t played football in nearly six years. Yep, Quessenberry answered the call and served five years in the Marines. Still waiting on that Army guy Bill…

Kicking Competition? Folk Returning: NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reported that the team is resigning Nick Folk because rookie kicker Justin Rohrwasser is suffering from an injury. Folk kicked well last season, although his range was really limited. Also, the Patriots released Darius Kilgo and Alex Ellis. They signed Quessenberry and defensive tackle Xavier Williams.

N’Keal Harry: The Patriots 1st round draft pick in 2019 was expected to do big things in the NFL and had a series of injuries that derailed his rookie season. Now with a new QB (either Cam Newton or Jarrett Stidham) on board, he needs the reps in this year’s training camp to become the player that the team needs him to be. The problem is…he’s not getting them because he’s injured again and has already missed three days of camp. The concern for him is now beginning to grow. He’s still in the neophyte stage of his Patriots career and can’t afford to miss much time. After just a week, the injuries are already piling up…10 players were missing on Friday.

Patriots Salary Cap: Here is your Public Service Announcement (PSA) for the week/season. When it comes to the Patriots salary cap and trying to make sense of all of the nuances of it, there is Miguel (@PatsCap) and there is everyone else. Any questions about it are usually right on his timeline. And one of the great guys out there too. 

4th & 2 Podcast – If you’ve haven’t checked out our PatsFans.com podcast, “Patriots 4th & 2” in a bit, please check it out. We (finally) recorded a video podcast this week with Evan Lazar (CLNS Media). Evan is a great source of information when breaking down film and concepts and always has some great insight on the team.

Russ Francis/ Chuck Fairbanks: The former Patriot tight end and head coach both should be in the Patriots team Hall of Fame…this will be on our Sunday posts until it happens.

Stidham’s Injury Throws QB Competition a Monkey Wrench:

So, the injury suffered by Jarrett Stidham, it has alternately been called a hip as well as a groin injury, was serious enough for the team to send him to the hospital for tests. Although the tests came back negative, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, he is expected to be hampered by it for several weeks. 

That is bad news for the QB competition at the Patriots training camp. Although Stidham was back at practice (a glorified walk-thru) on Friday, he didn’t partake in any team drills. And if he indeed is limited in the next several weeks, then, the already shortened and cut-down training camp battle with Cam Newton will be severely impacted. 

Cam Newton is still trying to find his comfort level with the offense, since he’s been here only about seven weeks, and much of that without team interaction, and it has been widely believed that Stidham could have a leg up on the former MVP in that regard. But if he is unable to take serious reps for a while, then it would seem like Newton, who was stronger as the week went on in running the offense is primed to lead. 

But it also shows how fortunate the Patriots were for 20 years at the position and how durable Tom Brady was for so long. Stidham, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Jacoby Brissett all suffered injuries when trying to fill in for short amounts of time for Brady.

The energy brought by Newton to the field has been frequently mentioned and Julian Edelman, in an interview with Boston radio mentioned it again, although he said all three QBs are doing well, he was then talking about the vibe Newton projects to the entire team. 

“It’s been fun to be around. He has a confidence about him. All quarterbacks have a confidence, but it’s just a little different with Cam. It’s a vibe that can feel you and get you in a mindset.

Kyle Dugger Is Standing Out in Early Camp Practices:

Last week we wrote about the youth movement that the Patriots, especially on their defense are putting together. And so far, rookie safety Kyle Dugger is leading the charge. In a very encouraging sign, the rookie from small Division II school Lenoir-Rhyne in NC is a player to watch. 

With veteran Pat Chung opting out of the season due to COVID-19 coronavirus concerns for his family, Dugger has stepped up in a big way in the early going and has made the most of his opportunities. He’s earned the praise of Devin McCourty, who Dugger has wisely been joined at the hip with since camp began, and rare praise from Bill Belichick, something rookies don’t normally hear much of. 

“I think he does a good job just being around the football,” Devin McCourty said earlier last week. “Whether he’s down, whether he’s on the back end, he’s done a good job of that so far.”

The Patriots are already moving him around quite a bit, and seeing how he performs in a variety of roles. As a box safety to support the run defense, as a deep cover centerfielder, covering the slot, playing the ‘big nickel’ linebacker role, he’s down well and shown a tremendous nose for the football. 

Normally the Patriots ease their rookies into the mix, but the rookie with excellent physical skills seems to be way ahead of the power curve this summer. He’ll be someone to watch as things progress. 

Ivan Fears On J.J. Taylor, “Little Dion Out There”:

Ivan Fears is one of the most colorful and enjoyable coaches to talk to for the Patriots. A 44-year veteran coach, he’s a hard man to please but he’s also a source of unending encouragement on the field. Fears has a reputation (well deserved BTW) of getting the most out of his running backs, and so far, he likes what he sees in the diminutive running back J.J. Taylor. 

“Little Dion, that’s what he is. Little Dion,” Fears said. “Exciting, fun … he’s got some great hurdles to overcome and the kid battles his butt off to try to get that done. We’re very pleased with what we’ve seen from him, we really are. We’ll see how far he can carry it.”

“Have you seen him out there?,” Fears said with a chuckle. “Same quickness, same suddenness. He’s a hell of a pass catcher, guy’s got great vision, ah there’s a s**tload of stuff that’s good about him.” But as always with Fears there is the caveat. “He’s got to learn to play bigger than his size.”

We’ve been excited about Taylor’s possibilities despite being in a very crowded and deep running backs room this year. But it sounds like Fears is excited too. 

Slater Far From “an Old Dog” For the Pats:

Matthew Slater is one of the Patriots’ most respected players, on or off the field. He should receive consideration for Canton when his playing career is done. he’s an eight-time Pro Bowler and five-time First-team All-Pro. His eight Pro Bowls broke Steve Tasker’s record for the most special teams in Pro Bowl history. 

He’s also considered one of the Patriots voices in the locker room as a team captain to be reckoned with, although he is a quieter, lead by example type. But one of the reasons, he continues to shine is that the desire to improve still burns deep inside of him. 

“I realize I’m in a very unique position, but I try to just focus in and find joy in my work each and every day and try to refine my craft,” Slater said. “I never feel like I’ve done enough. I always feel like the coaches are challenging me to be better, but no one challenges me more than myself. And I enjoy the process. It is a very unique situation that I’m in.

“Sometimes you feel like, ‘Man, I wonder how my guys are doing over there in the receiver room’ or ‘I wonder how my guys are doing on the back end in the secondary.’ But there’s plenty of time for me to catch up with them. My focus is just on trying to get better and trying to work and again earn my way onto this football team.”

“I do think there are things that I can be taught to do,” Slater said. “I look at players like Justin Bethel or Cody Davis, and then having a chance to work with them now hand in hand, there are things that they do as a part of their game that I don’t do as well, and I think that I can try to incorporate those things. The saying goes, ‘You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.’ This old dog is still trying to learn new tricks. I embrace that challenge.”

Slater can be seen every summer working on his craft alone for large stretches of practice. It shows the respect he has of the coaching staff and the incredible physical condition he’s in as he constantly runs sprints up and down the field, perfecting his craft as one of the best gunners in the league. 

“I think you should never get to a place where you feel like you have it all figured out,” Slater said. “You should always be searching for more knowledge, more understanding of the game, and trying to improve yourself. I think when that process stops, when you stop evolving in that way…then it’s probably time for you to stop playing. And I don’t think I’ve reached that point yet.”

Slater, who is soon to turn 35 years old, shows no signs of slowing down.  And that is a great sign for the Patriots special teams and the team overall. 

_______________

“Well, I don’t think over-evaluating one individual play for any player at any position is usually a good evaluation tool. All players have good plays out there, all players have bad plays, as do the coaches. So I think you look at the body of work. We’re running hundreds of plays and it’s the composite of all of it. I don’t think it’s one play by anybody. Of course good plays are good and plays that aren’t so good, aren’t so good. But we all have those. I think it really comes down to the consistency and the overall performance of players and I would say, the progression and the track that they’re on. Are you improving, staying about the same or possibly declining? I would say we don’t see a lot of declining because guys are working out there every day and they’re generally getting better, but sometimes maybe it’s the rate of improvement and the overall consistency.”

Bill Belichick on evaluating the QB play and did he feel interceptions and decision-making in training camp has changed this year due to the different circumstances.. 

_______________

“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 Stitcher as Russ Goldman, Derek Havens, and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

 

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Posted Under: 2020 Patriots Training Camp
Tags: 53 Man Roster Projection Bill Belichick Cam Newton Dion Lewis Ivan Fears J.J. Taylor Jarrett Stidham Julian Edelman Kyle Dugger Pat Chung
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