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Patriots News July 18, Training Camp Primer – Tight Ends

Steve Balestrieri
Steve Balestrieri on Twitter
3 months ago at 5:00 am ET
Posted Under: Patriots News

Patriots News July 18, Training Camp Primer – Tight EndsPaul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 7-18, we are almost down to single digits before camp begins.

Be sure to check out our early 53-man roster projection as we’ll be adjusting it as time goes on and training camp begins.

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: 

Richard Sherman: The free-agent cornerback who spent the past three years with the Niners was arrested and held without bail for a felony  “burglary domestic violence” which has been dropped, to a list of misdemeanors including criminal trespassing, malicious mischief, driving under the influence and resisting arrest. 

Sherman’s wife Ashley, called 911 operators and pleaded for help but also to protect Sherman who is going through some personal struggles and needs further help, adding that he was threatening suicide. 

Ashley Sherman said in a statement to the Seattle Times, “he didn’t harm anybody,” Moss said. “My kids were not harmed in the incident. He’s a good person and this is not his character. We’re doing all right, just trying to get him out. I want people to know no one was injured.”

She appeared at the court hearing in support of her husband, reiterating that he needs help. “I love and support my husband,” she said after the hearing. “I am committed to helping Richard get the support and care that he needs. Richard has always been a loving father and husband. And we are looking forward to seeing him at home with his family.”

Sherman posted a statement on Twitter after his court appearance. 

“I am deeply remorseful for my actions on Tuesday night. I behaved in a manner I am not proud of,” Sherman said. “I have been dealing with some personal challenges over the last several months, but that is not an excuse for how I acted. The importance of mental and emotional health is extremely real and I vow to get the help I need. I appreciate all of the people who have reached out in support of me and my family, including our community here in Seattle. I am grateful to have such an amazing wife, family, and support system to lean on during this time.”

Tom Brady: The legend of Brady continues to grow when it was reported this week that he played the entire season with a torn MCL that required surgery after the Super Bowl. Brady suffered the injury while still with the Patriots, but didn’t miss any playing time. 

After moving to a new team in 2020, the fact that Brady put up 5694 yards passing with 50 TDs with 15 INTs (including playoffs) culminating with a Super Bowl win and MVP award, all with a torn MCL is some incredible stuff. Unbelievable. 

Cassius Marsh: “Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look: He thinks too much:” William Shakespeare. Marsh, who is beginning to sound like a broken record, much like Rob (no way, no how) Parker’s tired rants about Tom Brady, has an act that has long outlived its usefulness. 

Marsh spent two months in New England, was a poor fit, and was released. Now he’s spent four years talking about his time in a Patriots uniform. Now with the Steelers, he continues his bile against the Patriots, “they treat their players like crap, they have no fun” rant, which I’m sure he believes will resonate with the Western PA crowd.

Joe Judge, the former Patriots STs/WR coach told a funny story about how Julian Edelman responded to it back in 2017. Edelman walked into a meeting room and wrote on a blank whiteboard “Winning is Fun”. 

Marsh is now on his seventh team entering his 8th NFL season

4th & 2 Podcast: If you haven’t checked out our PatsFans.com podcast, “Patriots 4th & 2” in a bit, please check it out. Yes, we’ll be back in the studio tomorrow for our 10th-anniversary episode.

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.

Devin Asiasi

Devin Asiasi looked much improved this spring (Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports)

Training Camp Primer – Tight Ends:

The Patriots have been in a tight end quandary since Rob Gronkowski’s abrupt retirement in 2019, right after the NFL Draft. The past two years have absolutely horrible in terms of production at the position. After a combined 36 catches at the position in 2019, the team drafted two tight ends, Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene, who, combined with Ryan Izzo (Matt LaCosse opted out) managed only 18 catches in 2020. Yuck. 

So, things had to change in 2020. And to be fair to Asiasi and Keene, rookie tight ends rarely make a big splash in the NFL. And with no viable veteran to lean on, the position and the offense suffered. Bill Belichick responded in a big way. 

With the top two tight ends in free agency Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith available, the Patriots signed both. Izzo was traded to the Houston Texans for a 7th round draft pick. LaCosse returns and the team added Troy Fumagalli this spring and he was active in all of the spring workouts. 

The outlook was suddenly very different for the team with the veteran additions and the expected 2nd-year jump from last season’s rookies make this year’s group looking now like a strength. So much so that the team is expected to run a predominately 12 personnel look (1 RB, 2 TEs, 2WRs) this year. 

Let’s look at the roster and discuss the overall outlook for the season. 

Current Roster: Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, Devin Asiasi, Matt LaCosse, Dalton Keene, Troy Fumagalli, Rashod Berry* (listed as TE/DE)

Roster Locks: Henry, Smith, Asiasi

Discussion: After paying big money for Henry and Smith, they are locked. I believe that Asiasi is also a lock due to his draft position a year ago. Unless they cut players elsewhere, they’ll probably go with four tight ends. That leaves three players vying for one position.

Hunter Henry – Bill Belichick has raved about Henry for so long it seemed like there was no way that his coming to New England would ever come to fruition…it made too much sense, right? Wrong. Belichick signed Henry to a three-year, $37.1 million dollar deal, with $24 million guaranteed including a $15 million signing bonus. 

A traditional inline tight end that can block and attack the seams, Henry looks to be the red zone target that the Patriots have lacked since 2019. He is a guy who will open up the middle of the field and presents a tough matchup for defenses. 

Jonnu Smith – Before Belichick signed Henry, he signed Smith who came over from the Titans to a contract for even more money. Smith signed a four-year deal worth $50 million with $31.25 guaranteed including a $15 million signing bonus. 

Smith was somewhat of an afterthought in a Tennessee offense starting with Derek Henry, and A.J. Brown, however, with the Patriots going to a two-tight end set with Henry, it will allow Josh McDaniels to use Smith as a chess piece. Look for him to move all around the formation, from an inline tight end to the slot, and even split out wide or in the backfield, creating favorable matchups.  

Devin Asiasi – The 2020 season was a difficult one for the big rookie out of UCLA. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was no rookie minicamp, OTAs, team minicamp, and with a limited training camp and no preseason, he never found his comfort level. That should change in Year 2. With his draft position (99th overall) in 2020, I believe he’s a lock for this season. 

A very good blocker and pass receiver, Asiasi may not see a ton of reps because of the top two acquisitions, but he should be much improved in 2021. His comfort level was already visible during the offseason workouts. ESPN’s Mike Reiss commented on him that he, “quietly put together a solid spring.” According to several media reports, he was moving much better this spring which bodes well for an increased role in 2021. 

Dalton Keene – The Patriots’ other rookie from last year didn’t appear very comfortable in the offense in 2020 but offers an intriguing skill set. He can play the “move” tight end, line up as an H-back or even jump in as a lead blocker as a fullback. 

We were expecting to see that versatility more this spring but he was limited for much of it with a left leg injury. But if he can step it up during training camp, he could supplant Jakob Johnson on the 53-man roster due to that versatility. 

Matt LaCosse – The Patriots brought him to Foxboro in 2019 and with Tom Brady at the helm underwhelmed with just 13 catches for 131 yards. And then he opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19.  

I believe that LaCosse faces a very tough uphill battle to make the roster, given that as a veteran he underwhelmed, even with Brady under center, and then missed the entire next season. 

Troy Fumagalli – The seemingly longest shot to make the roster since he was signed in May is another intriguing player. He’s been in the league for three years but only has 14 catches of production on his resume. So, does that mean he’s out? Not so fast. 

He’s known as a blocking tight end and was a backup in Denver, but the former 5th round draft pick in 2018 could find a niche as the backup blocking tight end. If Keene fails at the versatile, fullback/tight-end role, Fumagalli could be the under-the-radar guy who wins it. 

Rashod Berry – Speaking of under-the-radar,  Berry is still listed as both on the offensive and defensive side of the ball, however, while spending the majority of the 2020 season on the practice squad, he was active for three games. 

In those games, all of Berry’s snaps were either on defense or on special teams. So, the idea of him playing tight end seems very remote. 

Overall, the tight end position seems much, much stronger and deeper than it was just a year ago. With the re-adoption of 12 personnel grouping the production of this group should skyrocket, and after the last two years, it can’t go anywhere but up.  But with the core three (Henry, Smith, and Asiasi) signed through 2023, things are definitely trending upward. 

Josh Uche was “flying all over the field” this spring. (Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports)

Josh Uche, Anfernee Jennings 2nd-Year Jump in 2021:

The Patriots’ defense suffered a huge step backward in 2020. The run defense was terrible and after losing Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, and Elandon Roberts in free agency, the linebacking position took an even bigger hit when Dont’a Hightower opted out of the season. 

The team drafted both Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings in the 2020 draft but neither had a significant impact in 2020, but that could change this season, even if their snap totals aren’t going to be as high as one would expect.

The Patriots made big improvements at linebacker this spring. They signed Matthew Judon, Kyle Van Noy (back after one year in Miami), and Raekwon McMillan during free agency, drafted Ronnie Perkins and Cameron McGrone, and welcome back Hightower. 

Jennings was forced into wearing many hats during his rookie season, something that the team normally doesn’t like to do with young players, and was forced to live with some rookie mistakes. But has the versatility to play just about anywhere on the field. He seems best suited to be a strong-side run-stuffing linebacker with some pass-rushing ability as well. Playing in Alabama’s system set him up with a good idea of how the Patriots’ system works. In Year 2, he should be playing more instinctively. 

Uche is the guy who a lot of people (here included) are excited to see in 2021. Uche, according to ESPN’s Mike Reiss, “has been the surprise of minicamp and is primed to play a more significant role next season.” Appearing in just nine games because of injury a year ago, he played just 17 percent of the defensive snaps and contributed nine tackles and a sack. 

Uche was reportedly flying around the field this spring and was constantly in the backfield. Granted, this was against players without pads but it shows that he too is set to play more instinctively in 2021. 

With the additions, the Patriots made at the linebacker position this spring, Uche and Jennings may not get a ton of snaps in 2021, but look for those snaps to be very productive ones as the position returns to a position of strength once again. 

_______________

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

 


Posted Under: Patriots News
Tags: 53 Man Roster Projection Anfernee Jennings Bill Belichick Dalton Keene Devin Asiasi Hunter Henry Jonnu Smith Josh Uche Matt Lacosse New England Patriots NFL Patriots tight ends Rashod Berry Troy Fumagalli


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