Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 05-16 and AFC East Notes this morning.
With rookie minicamp underway, the team will hold its annual team minicamp in June which means training camp is right around the corner. Here’s hoping to see the crowds return to the Gillette practice fields this year.
Have you checked out our team news feature for all 32 teams yet? It is a great resource to keep up with what is going on all across the NFL.
Quick Hitters For the Pats, and the NFL:
Ja’Whaun Bentley: The NFL has changed the rules and regulations for 2021, regarding its jersey number policy allowing players more leniency in changing their jersey numbers. While several NFL players have taken advantage of this, no Patriot player has done so…until now.
Bentley announced on his social media that he was switching to #8, which is intriguing since he has never worn it as far as we can tell. Bentley wore # 33 at DeMatha High School in Maryland before wearing # 4 at Purdue. After joining the Patriots in 2018, Bentley has worn Jerod Mayo’s former # 51.
What the significance is for #8 will eventually come to light, however, for those keeping score at home, it should be noted that #8 was worn by Bryan Hoyer so, if you were hoping to see Hoyer back competing for a backup job this summer…it doesn’t look good.
One other change was that Josh Uche is switching from #53 to #55, but that isn’t related to the rule change, he was just giving it back to Kyle Van Noy who rejoined the Patriots this offseason. He’s traditionally worn #53 and Uche, in a show of respect gave it up to the returning vet.
🎱 x 🦍 See You Soon pic.twitter.com/INDfN74DEu
— Ja’Whaun Bentley🎈 (@NVBentley33) May 14, 2021
Robert Kraft: With all of the hoopla regarding the Patriots’ schedule release and the October 3, return of Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski to Gillette as members of the Tampa Bay Bucs, Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft was caught up by one of those TMZ Sports “exclusives” where they ask normally inane questions of celebs going through airports or coming out of restaurants but Kraft’s response was spot on.
Asked about the October 3 matchup, Kraft said he was “excited” and added, “He’s a great guy, and he did so much for us. I love him.” He added, “We should have a fun night!” Kraft said. “But I’m excited for Week 1 … and we play Miami.”
Julian Edelman: There was some goodnatured ribbing going on between Edelman and BFF Tom Brady, and Rob Gronkowski after JE11 announced his retirement in April. Brady joked “We know Julian didn’t retire,” Brady said. “Let’s be honest. He’s just too scared to tell Bill Belichick he wants to come to Tampa.”
Gronkowski followed suit with a tweet of his own, trying to jokingly coax Edelman to Tampa Bay, but Edelman wasn’t having any. He posted on Twitter, “Ain’t going anywhere Bubs #foxboroforever.” He then followed it up with another post, “I’m done boys”, he posted, but rumors will persist…as we all know.
Harvey Langi: A big welcome back to Foxboro to Langi, I had high hopes for him when he was first brought in that he could become a player that could evolve into a valuable role player on the Patriots defense. A horrific car accident, where he and his wife were rear-ended at a stoplight derailed his rookie season.
I had the chance to briefly speak with him during the 2018 team minicamp before he moved on to the Jets. He played quite well against the Patriots last year with 10 tackles. One can’t help but root for him, but with a now crowded and stacked group of linebackers, it isn’t going to be easy for him to land on the 53-man roster.
Salary Cap Questions? Ask Miguel: There is no one with more knowledge when it comes to NE’s salary cap than our old buddy Miguel Benzan aka @Patscap. If you’re going anywhere else for salary cap information, you’re doing yourself a disservice.
4th & 2 Podcast – If you haven’t checked out our PatsFans.com podcast, “Patriots 4th & 2” in a bit, please check it out. Russ, Derek, and I recorded a post-draft podcast last Sunday.
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.
Thoughts on Rookie Minicamp and Schedule Predictions:
The Patriots opened their annual rookie minicamp on Friday, albeit with a much smaller rookie class this year, due to the fact that the team only signed one UDFA this spring, kicker Quinn Norden.
The entire rookie class, as far as we know consists of:
- QB Mac Jones
- DT Christian Barmore
- DE Ronnie Perkins
- RB Rhamondre Stevenson
- LB Cameron McGrone
- S Joshuah Bledsoe
- OT William Sherman
- WR Tre Nixon
- K Quinn Nordin
NFL teams are permitted under the rules to invite five non-rostered players to rookie minicamp on a tryout basis. While the players will undergo non-padded, non-contact practices for the first time with the Patriots coaches. It is more of an orientation for the first-year players into how the Patriots practice, conduct meetings, and an overall feel on how day-to-day activities are conducted. In that aspect, the team’s rookies are in a far better place than their predecessors were a year ago when rookie and team minicamps were canceled due to COVID-19.
I know there is always excitement when the actual schedule is released in May, but despite questions we get on how the season’s win-loss record will play out, it is far too early for any of those prognostications. Before anyone has taken the field in a uniform in the NFL, it is (IMHO), a waste of time.
Beyond OTAs and minicamps, training camps still have to be conducted, the inevitable injuries for teams will occur. No one knows how well, or quickly, or even how poorly the new players on all of the new teams will jell. We already knew the opponents, every team is different (with the exception of TB who brought back their entire roster from 2020), and judging the wins and losses just from how the schedule plays out, is an exercise in crystal ball practice, not analysis.
I know the bosses of all the media sites want their analysts to annually conduct these. I’ll pass here, but I will repeat what I said after the draft that on paper…this is a team that could be much improved and possibly even compete for a playoff spot.
A Look At the Patriots Roster, Competition Will Abound This Summer:
The Patriots roster still has some open holes and while they may still swing a trade or add a veteran player or two, it seems pretty set…for now. This is by no means a 53-man roster projection, as we’ll take a look at that later.
For right now, this is just taking a look at the positions and how the coaches will have to make decisions on the players they have right now.
QB: Cam Newton, Mac Jones, Jarrett Stidham
Right now, Newton is the starter, and Jones or Stidham will have to show Belichick, who favors veterans over rookies, that they give the team a better chance to win. However, Newton and Jones seem locked, so will the team keep three QBs or just two?
Running Back: Damien Harris, Sony Michel, James White, J.J. Taylor, Brandon Bolden, Rhamondre Stevenson
Harris, White, and Stevenson by virtue of his draft position are pretty much locks for the roster. But Michel, who the Patriots declined their fifth-year option on, is far from a forgotten piece…at least for 2021. They could opt to keep him in the rotation and then let him walk in free agency. Or they could trade him or release him depending on quickly Stevenson catches on.
Many Patriots running backs get a “red-shirt” type of rookie season, Stevenson, because of his size, athleticism, and prowess on STs could break that mold. He’s a good receiver out of the backfield and has been good in pass protection, something the Patriots demand of their backs.
The Patriots coaches, especially RB coach Ivan Fears seem to like Taylor, who could be the heir apparent to James White who is on a one-year deal. Bolden has been a favorite of the coaches and players for his ability to step in and contribute as well as be a core STs player. There are many ways the team can go with this position and much of it will depend on how quickly Stevenson gains the trust of the coaches.
Full Back, H-Back: Jakob Johnson, Dan Vitale
The Patriots signed Vitale last year to be their featured fullback, he isn’t quite as big and physical as James Develin but was versatile and a good receiver. But he opted out last year due to COVID-19. In his stead, Johnson played well, at times he was dominant in the running game. This position is wide open, although I’d give Johnson the edge.
Wide Receiver: Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, Jakobi Meyers, N’Keal Harry, Isaiah Zuber, Kristian Wilkerson, Tre Nixon, Gunner Olszewski, **Matthew Slater**
With Julian Edelman retired and hurt last year, wide receiver was arguably the weakest position on the team in 2020. It should be noted that in free agency, the Patriots didn’t “settle” for Agholor and Bourne, but targeted them at the outset of free agency. They should (on paper), immediately upgrade the position.
Meyers had a very solid year in 2020. He’s versatile and can play outside or in the slot. Harry was the subject of trade rumors but has never been put in a position to succeed. Olszewski is mainly a return and Slater, though listed as a WR, will be carried as a STs specialist, which he should be a candidate for Canton for the work he’s done there. The rest are probably fighting for one spot.
Tight End: Jonnuu Smith, Hunter Henry, Devin Asiasi, Dalton Keane, Matt LaCosse
The tight end position has been the least productive in the NFL the past two years. The additions of Smith and Henry should change those numbers dramatically. Asiasi and Keane were just drafted a year ago, although neither one had a big impact as a rookie, it seems Asiasi has more upside.
With a fullback/H-back on the roster, it would seem like they’d keep just three TEs, but if they use the two-tight end sets, it could be four.
Offensive Line: Isaiah Wynn, Michael Onwenu, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Trent Brown, Ted Karras, Justin Herron, Korey Cunningham, Najee Toran, William Sherman, Yodny Cajuste
The first five are the presumed starters if the season started today. After that things are wide open and the competition looks to be fierce. The swing tackle position looks to be the one with the most intensely competed for.
Interior Defensive Line: Christian Barmore, Byron Cowart, Akeem Spence, Carl Davis, Davon Godchaux, Montravius Adams, Bill Murray
The team lacked a true nose tackle last year and it was noticeably lacking in the run defense. Godchaux should alleviate that. Barmore should be an upgrade along the interior defensive line in the running game and by creating pressure on the QB in the passing game. Cowart, Spence, and Davis have all flashed at times, Adams and Murray will also be right in the mix.
Defensive Ends: Lawrence Guy, Deatrich Wise, Nick Thurman, Henry Anderson, Ronnie Perkins, Tashawn Bower.
Bringing back Guy, who was arguably their best defensive lineman last year was huge. Perkins has a lot of upside but there are several doubters about the rookie, Anderson signing was big for the team, he is very solid against the run and offers good ability to rush the passer. Wise had a solid 2020 and Thurman flashed in limited reps. Bower looks to be a long shot.
OLB/Edge Rusher: Matthew Judon, Kyle Van Noy, Chase Winovich, Anfernee Jennings, Rashod Berry, Brandon King, Laroy Reynolds.
Signing Judon, and bringing back Van Noy brings a huge upgrade for the defense, especially in getting after the QBs. Winovich has shown the ability to get after the QB but has been very inconsistent in run defense. King is strictly STs. Jennings looks to be an early-down SAM Linebacker who has some rush ability.
Off the Ball Linebackers: Dont’a Hightower, Josh Uche, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Raekwon McMillan, Terez Hall, Cameron McGrone, Harvey Langi.
Linebacker was a definite weak spot for the 2020 Patriots. Getting Hightower back and getting Uche who is an athletic freak with more experience helps transform the group (with the above-mentioned additions) to a position of strength. This entire group will be fighting for roster spots and playing time. Lots of tough decisions to make here. Uche isn’t going anywhere, and it would seem Hightower as well, but camp will tell the tale.
Cornerback: Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, Jonathan Jones, Justin Bethel, Jalen Mills, Dee Virgin, Joejuan Williams, Michael Jackson, D’Angelo Ross, Myles Bryant
The deepest position on the team by far comes into 2021 even stronger. Gilmore was the subject of several trade rumors, but he’s still here and along with Jackson and Jones gives the Patriots one of the best cornerback trios in the league.
The big question is, how many of them can they keep? One could conceivably make a reasonable argument for keeping each one. One way to keep more is to possibly slide Mills and/or Williams to safety, but any cuts here will be tough ones.
Safeties: Devin McCourty, Kyle Dugger, Adrian Phillips, Joshua Bledsoe, Cody Davis
While the team lost the versatile Jason McCourty, having Devin back for another year, is a big plus, Dugger showed a ton of promise in his rookie season, Phillips played in the box, and as a subpackage linebacker. Bledsoe will have a tough time making the team, but as another box safety/sub-linebacker, he could be stashed for a year.
Special Teams: L/S Joe Cardona, P Jake Bailey (locked no competition), K Nick Folk, Roberto Aguayo, Quinn Nordin, KR Gunner Olszewski, Gunner Matthew Slater
Cardona and Bailey are locked, Slater is right there as well. Kicking is up for grabs, but it is Folk’s job to lose at this point.
The Patriots made a lot of moves in free agency and the draft and they have seemingly made great additions to the team and the depth has increased across the board. The moves should provide plenty of camp competition and that is a great sign for the start of the 2021 regular season.
Posted Under: Patriots News
Tags: Bill Belichick Brandon Bolden Cam Newton Devin McCourty Dont'a Hightower James White Julian Edelman N'Keal Harry New England Patriots NFL Patriots Patriots edge rushers Sony Michel Stephon Gilmore