Good morning; here are your weekly Patriots news 05-15 and some NFL notes. Thanks again to Ian Logue for filling in for me last week as it was a rough week.
RIP to Gino Cappelletti, who passed away this week at 89. The former Patriot great on the field and in the broadcast booth. I had the pleasure of meeting him once and he was a great gentleman and ambassador not only for the Patriots but for the game. Gino is the All-Time leading scorer in the AFL and was the MVP in 1964. He should be in Canton.
I’ll never forget his voice when Adam Vinatieri kicked the game-winning FG against the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI. It took away a lot of years of frustration for the guys who started in 1960 and lived through the lean years. You’ll be missed, Gino.
Quick Hitters For the Patriots and the NFL:
Sam Roberts: The Patriots rookie, DT from Division II NW Missouri State, was the first rookie to sign his initial contract. Drafted in the 6th Round (200th overall), Roberts signed a four-year, $3.83 million deal with the Patriots. Roberts was awarded the 2021 Cliff Harris Award as the nation’s best small-college defensive player, notching 61 tackles, including 18.0 for a loss and 6.5 sacks.
Patriots PR Staff: Led by Stacey James, Aaron Salkin, and Stephanie Burham, the media access personnel was awarded the 2022 Pete Rozelle Award winner by the Professional Football Writers of America (PFWA), which recognized James’ staff for overall professionalism with the beat writers who cover the team, particularly in the challenging media access climate during the 2021 season. Congratulations, it was the first time the Patriots’ PR staff has been so honored.
Matt Sokol: The Patriots claimed the 6’6, 260 tight end from the Lions after he was put on waivers. He was on the practice squad with Detroit when Matt Patricia was the head coach, so there is a bit of a connection there. He’s had two stints with the Chargers, Lions, and Jaguars. But he’ll have an uphill climb to make the roster.
Matt Patricia/Joe Judge: There are times when I think people just over-analyze stuff to death. I’ve read countless times on social media the argument that they’re “not qualified” to be offensive play callers (coordinators without a title…imagine that?). Granted both failed …badly as head coaches, but if a man is a head coach in the NFL, he’s qualified to be a coordinator. Patricia (according to Mike Reiss of ESPN) has the inside track to be the next play-caller, and that makes sense. As a defensive coordinator, he’d search for the opposing team’s tendencies, which will entail a similar although opposite approach offensively. Belichick and Brady would meet every week to go over the opposition, and Bill never was an offensive coordinator. Calling the plays on offense will be a challenge, but he and Mac Jones have time to work on that this spring/summer. Replacing Josh McDaniels has become a big issue when many of the same people wanted him out of town…Color me not concerned about either Patricia or Judge until I see it on the field.
Jarrett Stidham: The Patriots traded Stidham and a 7th round pick to the Las Vegas Raiders and Josh McDaniels for a 6th round draft pick. Stidham never really was able to fill the coaches with confidence that he could do the job. The handwriting was on the wall after the team drafted Bailey Zappe in the 4th round.
While the Patriots really like Zappe, he will have to prove himself. But the drafting of him in no way shape or form reflects on Mac Jones’ tenure as the starter; at least for 2022. During Tom Brady’s tenure, the Patriots drafted 10 (ten) QBs, three in the 3rd Round Kevin O’Connell in 2008, Ryan Mallett in 2011, and Jacoby Brissett in 2016. One in the 4th Round, Rohan Davey in 2002, and Jimmy G. in the 2nd round in 2014.
I look forward to Jones and Zappe competing with each other every day and pushing one another. That wasn’t going to happen with Stidham.
Patriots 4th & 2 Podcast: If you haven’t checked out our PatsFans.com podcast, “Patriots 4th & 2”, in a bit, please check it out. Derek Havens and I posted a video of the team’s draft picks, albeit a bit late.
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.
UDFAs, Who Will Stick To Run The Streak To 18: The Patriots have had a remarkable streak of 17 straight years of an Undrafted Free Agent (UDFA) making the 53-man roster out of training camp. And not only make the roster, but they’ve had several earn prominent roles on the team.
Among the players on the current roster who were originally UDFAs are David Andrews, Jonathan Jones, Malcolm Butler, and Jakobi Meyers. The recently departed J.C. Jackson, Brandon Bolden, and Jakob Johnson were all likewise UDFAs who signed elsewhere during free agency.
So if the Patriots streak runs to 18 straight years with a UDFA making the roster, who will it be? First, let’s take a look at who they have signed thus far.
D’Eriq King QB/WR/RB, Miami
Devin Hafford CB, Tarleton State
Jake Julien P, Eastern Michigan
DaMarcus Mitchell LB/Edge, Purdue
LaBryan Ray DL, Alabama
Kody Russey C, Houston
Brenden Schooler S, Texas
The team also signed Marlborough, Mass. native Liam Shanahan the OL from LSU, but he was released.
While all of the players have their own possibilities, the most obvious player who is very intriguing is the diminutive but electric King from Miami. He could play WR, RB, or even QB, although that doesn’t seem to be in the cards.
King caught 61 passes in his college career and is electric with the ball in his hands, and as Matt Groh told him, he may be expected to do “a little bit of everything” once the team gets together. That may include, lining up as a running back, or the slot, jet sweeps, and possibly run-option passes?
However, the player I’m most intrigued with may just be the long shot to make the roster. LaBryan Ray from Alabama was a five-star recruit when he went to Tuscaloosa to play for Bill Belichick’s close friend Nick Saban. He has good size and athleticism for a 6’5, 285 defensive lineman.
But in his five years with the Tide, he’s suffered one injury after another. It limited his effectiveness and his progression. He’s never realized his potential. Can he finally stay healthy? That remains to be seen. But he does have the physical tools to be a good pro. And playing in a similar style of defense that the Patriots employ will help with the transition from college.
He could be a nice addition as a subpackage depth piece in his rookie season for a defensive line that could use a jolt of youth and athleticism. He’ll be one player that I’ll be keeping an eye on…hopefully all summer and beyond.
Who Makes The Year 2 Jump For the Patriots?
The Patriots had a stranglehold on the AFC East for nearly two decades during the Brady/Belichick era, but those days are past. The division goes through Buffalo now, and will continue to do so, until another team can knock them off.
If the Patriots want to do that, they need to make a big jump in play in several areas. Of course, that begins with the play at quarterback.
Mac Jones had a very good rookie season, leading the Patriots to a playoff berth, the only rookie QB to do so out of the five taken in the first round. Jones completed more than 67 percent of his passes, passing for 3,801 yards with 22 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
But he’ll have to be better in Year 2, and he should be. Whereas Cam Newton received most of the 1st team reps last year, this is now Jones’ team, and he will have all spring and summer to work on the chemistry with the other members of the offense.
With a year under his belt with learning the offensive playbook, Jones should enter 2022 with a much better grasp of the offense, which should allow him to play and process faster and more instinctive. Patriots owner Robert Kraft spoke earlier this spring about Jones and his development.
“This year will be very telling,” Kraft told Jeff Howe of The Athletic. “To come into something as new as this, as established, I think he got beat up pretty bad, and he kept coming back and getting up and really doing some great stuff. He took some real beatings and hopped up just the way he handles himself. He has developed a good relationship with the whole cadre of receivers. I’m very happy with what I’ve seen. But this is a big year, the second year.”
“Part of it, in fairness, is the chemistry of the people around him,” Kraft added. “I hope that some of the free agents who we brought in who didn’t perform as high as we would have liked last year will (produce) this year because they’ve adjusted to the system. And we’re making changes to take advantage of what they do best. In my opinion, we have a lot of talent that hasn’t been tapped into yet.”
Having speedster Tyquan Thornton in the mix should help Jones and all of the receivers find some open space to work. Jones faced the most 8-man boxes in the league last year. Adding Thornton and DeVante Parker will solve much of that.
Jonnu Smith – Had a disappointing first season with the Patriots, catching just 28 passes for 294 yards and just one touchdown. Josh McDaniels later said that the team didn’t do enough to get him the ball. This will be a big year for Smith. He and fellow tight end Hunter Henry were expected to be a big part of the offense. Henry became a favorite red-zone target for Jones, but that never materialized for Smith.
The Patriots need to find a better way of taking advantage of his talents; he’s been characterized as a “Swiss Army Knife” that can run, catch, and move around the formation to create favorable matchups. That needs to be a priority in 2022.
Nelson Agholor – He also had a disappointing first year in Foxboro, catching only 37 passes for 473 yards and three TDs a year ago. The chemistry with Jones was never there, as several times, there were plays that were just a tad off. Whether it was on Jones or Agholor…or both remains open for debate. But with a year under their belts, the two should find much better chemistry in 2022. Agholor believes it will.
“Everybody runs certain routes, but the route tree [here] is a little different than what I’ve ran before,” Agholor said this week. “Now I know it, so I get to put my own spin on how we do things and play fast.”
He added, “Whereas a year ago, I was learning, so you do things at a certain learning tempo. You never get to go full speed, because you want to make sure you’re doing it right, so you kind of move with caution. Now I know what it looks like and I get to just put my flavor on it.”
Young Players on Defense – The Patriots opted not to draft a linebacker in this year’s draft, which means Cameron McGrone, Raekwon McMillan, Josh Uche, Mack Wilson, Ronnie Perkins, Anfernee Jennings, Shaun Wade, and Joshua Bledsoe are on notice.
By foregoing with draft picks and veteran free agents (thus far), these players will be expected to perform and bring an element of speed and athleticism to a defense that was sorely lacking it a year ago. McGrone, McMillan, and Bledsoe didn’t play a down last year in their first season due to injury. Perkins had a red-shirt type of season.
It’s time for the young players on defense to shine or risk being gone. At least the team will see what they have in these young players. The defense should look much different. With the lighter, more athletic linebackers, we may see some fundamental changes in how they play as well.
“We’re just in phase 1 here getting ready to start phase 2 and actually put the team together. Look, we’re still putting the team together. We’re still working through college free agents. We’ve been able to add some good undrafted college free agents here through the years, and we’re working through that process right now.
“So to take the easy way out, that answer is yet to reveal itself. We’ll keep working. We are going to continue to try and find ways to make this team better, so I think it would be very early to compare this team that is a work in progress to last year’s team that played 17 regular season games and was fortunate enough and earned their way into the playoffs.”
Patriots Director of Player Personnel Matt Groh on the makeup of the roster as it currently stands.
“So, how was your week?”
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Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: Bill Belichick Cameron McGrone Damien Harris Jonnu Smith Joshuah Bledsoe Mac Jones Nelson Agholor New England Patriots Patriots Patriots edge rushers Patriots wide receivers