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Patriots News 08-21, Preseason Game #2, Roster Coming Into Focus

Steve Balestrieri
Steve Balestrieri on Twitter
2 months ago at 5:00 am ET
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary

Patriots News 08-21, Preseason Game #2, Roster Coming Into FocusDavid Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning; here are your weekly Patriots news 08-21, and some NFL notes this week. Training camp this week saw some ugly actions by both the Patriots and Panthers during the joint practices prior to the team’s preseason game on Friday night.

Both day’s sessions featured bench-clearing brawls that impacted the practices, caused several players to be ejected and saw a fan get hurt as the melee spilled over into the fan section. 

Head coaches Bill Belichick and Matt Rhule each gathered their teams around them and told them to knock off the extracurricular nonsense or risk ending the joint sessions. Wednesday’s fight started when Panthers’ safety Kenny Robinson leveled New England’s Kristian Wilkerson on what was supposed to be a thud (not full contact) drill and then stood over him as the receiver lay on the field. Wilkerson had to be helped up and left the field on a cart. He’s out with a concussion. 

Panthers coach Rhule wasn’t happy with how that unfolded.“I didn’t see the hit, but I did see him standing over the player,” Rhule said. “That’s not how we want to practice. We don’t stand over someone and taunt them. That can affect their livelihood. So we sent him off. …We should be playing football the real way, where you help a guy up, not standing over a guy.”

Wilkerson and Robinson had fought on Tuesday, and Rhule said that he’d watch the film and decide Robinson’s fate, not ruling out releasing him.

Patriots Have Good and Bad Moments in PS Game #2: 

The Patriots and Panthers preseason game which the Patriots won 20-10, had its good and bad moments. But the final score in these games isn’t as important as coming out healthy and getting the younger players some valuable experience in a game situation. 

And in the first instance, the bad news was that rookie WR Tyquan Thornton was forced to leave the game with a shoulder injury. He caught a pass and was swarmed by a host of Panthers players while trying to break a tackle. We learned yesterday that he injured his collarbone, but it will not be a season-ending injury, but he’ll miss the valuable time when the offense begins to take shape. After this week, we’ll have a much clearer picture of what the team looks like. The team has more joint practices scheduled against the Las Vegas Raiders and then the final preseason game.

Other observations included:

Defense Looks Strong: Now, this comes with a caveat as neither of Carolina’s top two QBs (Baker Mayfield or Sam Darnold) played. However, the defense held the Panthers to just 192 yards of offense and averaged just 3.3 yards per play, which was 2.5 yards per rush and 3.9 yards per pass.

The defense created four turnovers (two fumble recoveries, two interceptions) and garnered five sacks, seven tackles for loss (TFL), and five QB hits. They allowed just 57 yards rushing and 138 passing.

Late in the game, with the Panthers backed up, Ronnie Perkins appeared to sack QB Matt Corral close to being a safety. But on the ensuing play, DeMarcus Mitchell sacked Corral again and stripped the ball in the end zone that was recovered by Sam Roberts for a touchdown.

Starting Offense Struggles Before Getting it Going: The first two drives for the Patriots’ starting offense were not pretty. Both resulted in three and outs, and Mac Jones went 0-4 passing. 

But the third drive was the exact opposite. Backed up to the 19-yard line, Jones led them on an 81-yard drive to give the team a 7-3 lead. On this drive, Jones was 4-4 for 61 yards, including a 45-yard beauty to Nelson Agholor, where he dropped it right in the bucket. 

Ty Montgomery, who appears to be locking down the team’s 3rd down back role, ran it in from the two for the touchdown. It should be noted that the offensive line was reshuffled with both starting tackles, Trent Brown (more below) and Isaiah Wynn, missing. The starting unit consisted of Yodny Cajuste, Cole Strange, David Andrews, James Ferentz, and Michael Onwenu. 

While they continued in their inconsistency this summer, I think they will be fine, and as Mac Jones said, they’re going to get it all figured out.

Where were Trent Brown and Kendrick Bourne? Neither Brown nor Bourne played on Friday night.  In Brown’s case, did he get injured during practice, or was the team just giving him the night off?

The same could be asked of Bourne. The fact that he didn’t play at all raised some speculation that the wide receiver, who many expect will have a big Year 2 (here included), may possibly be in the team’s doghouse and become trade bait. He hasn’t had a good training camp, and with Agholor, who was thought to be traded, having a very good summer, he could be on the block. We’ll see how this all plays out.

Phil Perry of NBC Sports Boston reported that several teams have contacted the Patriots for wide receiver help. He hasn’t dressed for either preseason game, which is an area for concern.   

Jahlani Tavai Gets the Start At LB: One of the more curious decisions by the coaching staff was starting LB Jahlani Tavai over some of the other linebackers. Tavai is not as fast or athletic as some of the new faces on the team. And unfortunately, he showed that he’s a liability, especially in coverage when he’s on the field. 

Once he came off the field, Mack Wilson showed why he’s been getting so much hype this summer. Wilson is much better in coverage and is capable of playing sideline-to-sideline. He’s also a good physical tackler. 

While the Patriots’ coaches are high on Tavai, it just doesn’t seem to pass the eye test in keeping either Wilson or McMillan off the field for him. 

Pass Rush Appears Improved: Other than Matthew Judon a year ago, the Patriots’ pass rush was lacking. But with Judon and Josh Uche returning and several young players stepping up, it appears that the pass rush should be much improved in 2022. 

While one shouldn’t read too much into preseason production, the younger players and veterans have consistently shown that they can play. Christian Barmore, Uche, Ronnie Perkins, LaBryan Ray, Sam Roberts, DeMarcus Mitchell, and veteran Henry Anderson have all shown enough good tape to stick around. The five sacks were garnered by five different players on Friday night.

Anfernee Jennings continues his excellent summer. While he was forced into an off-the-ball linebacker role as a rookie due to injuries to veterans and missed all of last year with an injury, the light has come on for him in Year 3. It would be a shocker if he is not the starter at the edge opposite Judon on Week 1. He’s big (6’3, 259) but athletic in his own right. He can set the edge as well as get after the passer. 

Lil’ Jordan Humphrey Making A Push For 53-man Roster Spot: Humphrey has been very impressive attacking the seams of the defense the past two weeks, and on Friday, he had 5 catches for 71 yards on six targets.  

He’s making a great case for himself to stick around on the 53-man roster. While he’s not a burner, he’s big at 6’4, 225 and uses his body well to shield off defenders. and is good at finding holes in the seams. During the telecast on Friday night, Patriots.com columnist Paul Perillo floated the idea that he could serve as a 3rd tight end, something I wrote about in my last 53-man roster projection last Sunday. After Friday night’s game, Belichick called him a “tight end-ish” type of player.

But he made a special teams play that wowed the fans watching in the stadium and on television and even surprised ST’s legend, Matthew Slater. Humphrey fought through his block in covering a Jake Bailey punt, and then as the ball bounced into the end zone, Humphrey went airborne and was able to flip the ball back in play where it was downed. Slater was very impressed by his effort.

 “You have to understand how difficult of a play that is,” Slater said. “Great awareness by him, and then just the effort to go out and lay your body out to get that ball back, keep it in play. So that’s really an elite play from him, and it’s great to see a guy like that show up in the game because he’s worked so hard since he’s been here. He’s done everything we asked, taken coaching.”

“I looked at Justin Bethel and was like, ‘I don’t know if we can make that play,’” Slater added. For a player trying to make the roster, plays like that can go a long way in earning a spot. 

Quick Hitters For the Patriots and the NFL:  

DeShaun Watson Suspension: The Cleveland QB had his suspension increased to 11 games and fined a record $5 million dollars. But an added stipulation that he go to evaluation and a treatment plan, according to Roger Goodell. 

If he doesn’t comply with those, his reinstatement could be delayed. And thus far, Watson has not shown any remorse. In his statement after the additional discipline was handed down, Watson still denies any wrongdoing.

“I’m going to continue to stand on my innocence,” Watson said on Thursday. “Just because settlements and things like that happen doesn’t mean that a person is guilty of anything.”

Watson and Browns owner Jimmy Haslam are tone deaf, with Haslam basically saying that since he was a star QB, he should be given a break. Haslam thumbed his nose at more than two dozen women who were assaulted by Watson and gave him a fully guaranteed $230 million dollar contract. The first season was structured to pay him only $1 million so that when he was suspended, it wouldn’t affect his pay as badly. That was enabling at its worst. 

Haslam pledged $1 million to sexual assault victims, which is a billionaire’s equivalent of pocket change. He and his wife Dee insisted that Watson was remorseful when he is clearly not.

“I think in this country, and hopefully in the world, people deserve second chances, OK? I really think that” Haslam said. “I struggle a little bit. Is he never supposed to play again? Is he never supposed to be a part of society? Does he get no chance to rehabilitate himself? That’s what we’re gonna do, OK?

“You can say that’s because he’s a star quarterback. Well, of course,” Haslam said, chuckling. “But if he were Joe Smith, he wouldn’t be in the headlines every day. We think people deserve a second chance. We gave Kareem Hunt a second chance, and that’s worked out pretty well.”

Would someone who is innocent agree to an 11-game suspension and a $5 million fine? No, they’d fight it tooth and nail and take it to court. The 11-game suspension was too light, and it paints Watson, the Browns, and the NFL in the worst possible light.  

Joe Cardona: One of the neat parts of the joint practices this week was to see the Patriots long-snapper get out of his Patriots uniform and into a Navy uniform and re-enlist a Chief Petty Officer who requested that LT Cardona do the honors. It is always a big deal for anyone re-enlisting to do so among their peers and request the officer of his/her choice. I’ve been on both sides, and it is a ceremony that one will never forget.

Wink Martindale: The Giants’ defensive coordinator was asked this week about the Giants blitzing Patriots QB Bailey Zappe so often in Week 1 of the preseason, which isn’t normally done so early in the preseason. And he responded with a smirk and mocked Bill Belichick using one of his most famous quotes. 

“We’re on to Cincinnati,” Martindale said. 

Belichick was peeved because the Giants blitzed Patriots quarterbacks 21 times in the game, in what is a reportedly unwritten rule. “If it’s unwritten, I don’t know,” Martindale said. “We’re on to Cincinnati,” repeating Belichick’s quote from 2014. The Giants face Cincinnati tonight at 7 p.m.

Marcus Jones: The Patriots rookie slot corner and kick returner looks poised to play some meaningful snaps this season. That’s why it was a bit surprising to see Myles Bryant get the first reps over him on Friday night. While it could be that Bill Belichick is going with the veteran, as he has done frequently in the past, it also could mean nothing.

With slot corner Jonathan Jones playing outside corner opposite Jalen Mills now, the slot corner role is up for grabs. Moving Jonathan outside makes sense since the team will be facing Tyreek Hill and the Dolphins in Week 1. 

Longtime Patriots captain Devin McCourty has been impressed with rookies Marcus and Jack Jones (with four Jones on the roster, it will be tough to keep up with who is playing this season). 

“It’s been fun. Both those guys are hungry, eager, ready to go,” he said about Marcus and Jack Jones. “I think Jack is a guy, you can see his football instincts. Great feet. You can see what he’s able to do. And Marcus is my guy, sits by me in meetings. I’m cracking on him all day, but I think he wants to learn so much. Obviously, he’s playing a little bit everywhere in our defense — inside, some safety-type stuff.

“But I love both those guys. I love how they’ve come in, want to learn, want to get better.”

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 and I looked at the first preseason game last week, and who stood out, be sure to check it out. 

Russ Francis/Chuck Fairbanks: The former Patriot tight end and head coach both should be in the Patriots team Hall of Fame, and the fact that especially Francis isn’t is an absolute travesty. Francis and the Raiders’ Dave Casper changed the game with how teams used the tight end position…this will be on our Sunday posts until it happens.

_______________

“Yeah, he’s made some plays for us since he’s been here. He’s a big kid that is tough and has very good hands and is kind of a big receiver, tight end-ish type of guy, has a good feel, very good instincts in the passing game, handles himself well in the middle of the field with linebackers under him, over him, in between him. Kind of does the right thing there and helps the quarterback out and is a big target. He gets some tough yards after the catch. Did a decent job blocking on some of the perimeter plays. Then he showed up in the kicking game. That was a player that we got late, wasn’t with us in the spring, signed him in July, or late June, whatever it was. He’s coming off an injury last year, but he’s come in, really worked hard, and made a very positive impression here. We’re glad we have him.”

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick on WR Lil’ Jordan Humphrey after the preseason game against the Carolina Panthers.

_______________

“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.

 


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Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: Anfernee Jennings Bill Belichick Damien Harris Devin McCourty Jack Jones Jonathan Jones Lil' Jordan Humphrey Mac Jones Mack Wilson Marcus Jones Patriots Patriots edge rushers Raekwon McMillan

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