Some news and notes for this morning:
Belichick Focused on “Growth For Our Team”
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick spoke to the media on Monday, and one of the things he talked about coming off of Saturday night’s game in Green Bay is the growth he’s seen from his team over the past few weeks.
Heading into the season, especially on offense, there are a lot of new things they’re obviously doing under new offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien. It’s been a long process with a lot of work that’s gone into it, and the fact things still looked a little shaky against the Packers shows they’re not quite there yet.
Part of that has to do with the fact there has been new personnel up front, particularly on the offensive line. Atonio Mafi, Reilly Reiff, and Sidy Sow filled in early on in this one, with Mafi and Reiff filling in for Cole Strange and Mike Onwenu, who each remain sidelined at the guard positions.
All three struggled at times Saturday night, with the Packers bringing pressure both inside and from the edge, which played a role in some of the issues they had in the three series Mac Jones and that group was out there on offense.
The key question from there remains at right tackle, which Sow seems to be the front-runner to potentially take over if things continue the way they are now over these final couple of weeks.
Sow’s had some tough moments at times, including a sack he gave up Saturday night that killed a drive as every offensive lineman, with the exception of David Andrews, was run over by the Packers’ defense on the play.
But despite that, he otherwise played fairly well. Growing pains like that are what Belichick looks at, and after seeing some good moments from Jones and some of the other starters, he’s pleased with where they are. Although, he knows they still have some work ahead of them.
“I thought Mac did a solid job, both quarterbacks did,” said Belichick on Monday. “I mean, again, when you’re out there with ten other guys, no matter what position you play, there’s an element of the team operation and so quarterbacks, receivers, offensive line, protection, running backs, blocking, etc., it all goes together.”
“The biggest part of growth for our team is just everybody working together and improving our timing, not necessarily communication in terms of what to do, but just seeing things the same way so that we can react to them the same way and that just comes through repetitions and a lot of snaps and some experience doing it.”
“But Mac’s done a good job in his role on that, but there’s other things that he can’t control. There’s other people that he’s out there with that they have to get used to him, he has to get used to them. We’ve worked some of these things together but there’s some new things we’re doing and a couple new players, obviously, that there takes a little bit of time to break in to get that timing and, I would say seeing it the same way, down.”
Overall, Belichick also said that they got a lot of “good quality work” in against Green Bay, and the next step will be finishing out the preseason along with making what will likely be some difficult roster decisions in the coming days.
Belichick Pleased with Bourne’s Growth
Another player Belichick talked about was New England Patriots wide receiver Kendrick Bourne, who was quiet to start camp, but he’s come on as of late.
That progress hasn’t gone unnoticed, with Belichick noting that the veteran has worked hard and made a lot of progress to this point. He credits all the effort Bourne has put in going back to the spring, and it’s clearly carried over to this point in camp.
“He had a good spring, that spring led into having a good training camp,” said Bourne. “He’s done very well in all phases of the game. He’s played multiple spots, caught the ball well, blocked well. He’s had a good camp.”
Bourne caught three passes on four targets Saturday night, including a big one on a 3rd-and-8 where Jones had pressure bearing down him but he stood in and took a shot as he fired the pass, connecting on a 17-yard grab that Bourne went up and snagged to move the chains.
Unfortunately, Jones’ night ended one play later on the strip sack, but Bourne was among the positive moments we saw early on from the first offense.
Time Running Out on Thornton?
The Patriots obviously have some difficult decisions to make and one of them could involve the wide receiver position, which could make second-year receiver Tyquan Thornton the odd man out.
With both Kayshon Boutte and Demario Douglas having strong camps, it leaves the Patriots currently with DeVante Parker, Kendrick Bourne, and JuJu Smith-Schuster as the club’s top three wideouts, with Boutte and Douglas each seemingly having the edge over Thornton at this point to round out the bottom two spots should the Patriots elect to only keep five receivers.
From there, things are a little murky. It’s clear they want to keep Malik Cunningham in the fold, with Cunningham playing 31 snaps on offense and one on special teams, with all of his time on offense being spent at receiver.
He was targeted twice, both of which went incomplete, and one was nullified by a pass interference penalty, so it doesn’t show up on the stat sheet. But after showing some potential at quarterback, the club likely knows waiving him to try and get him on the practice squad may be a risky prospect.
Carrying three quarterbacks may be something they don’t want to do, especially given that every bit of depth is going to be crucial for them this season. So if Cunningham is kept on at receiver, it crowds that group even further.
After going down with an injury, the next question would be whether or not they may place Thornton on injured reserve, which is where he began last season after suffering a fractured collarbone during the preseason.
Needless to say, it’s a complicated situation. But for a player who may possess a lot of speed and explosiveness, which he showed when he hauled in that 27-yard toss from Bailey Zappe in the opener two weeks ago against Houston, it does them no good if he can’t stay on the field.
Unfortunately, that will likely affect whatever decision they ultimately make in the days ahead, which may not bode well for the former Baylor receiver.
Zappe’s still finding his way after a tough night Saturday. (PHOTO: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports)
Tough Week For Zappe
The former Western Kentucky quarterback had a tough outing Saturday night, finishing with a completion percentage of 45.5% after going 10-of-22 for 117-yards a TD against the Packers.
He had a hard time putting together any type of momentum, including one stretch where he was just 5-of-16 before closing things out completing 5-of-6 on his last drive, which ended with Zappe running it in from 6-yards out for the touchdown to put the Patriots up 21-17 to close out the third quarter.
It’s notable that the Packers broadcast talked about the issues he’s had with batted passes, which has been a problem all preseason and was an issue again on Saturday night.
Zappe said a couple of weeks ago that he worked on his delivery this offseason, but it clearly remains a work in progress.
“You’ve got to keep up with the new trends around the league, I guess,” joked Zappe after the Texans game two weeks ago. “It’s kind of something this offseason I worked on with QB Country, the people I trained with with. Just being able to throw around guys instead of trying to throw it over, try to prevent knockdowns or incomplete balls and just being able to move in the pocket and really just throw around guys. I mean, that’s really as simple as it can be. Just trying to get it as easy as I can to the receivers and let them do what they’re best at.”
Obviously, he’s still got some kinks to work out and he’ll hopefully get another chance Friday night down in Tennessee.
Odds and Ends
One bit of interesting information was MMQB’s Albert Breer, who appeared on 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Patriots Pregame with Marc Bertrand hinting that the Patriots may not be done making moves ahead of the season. Breer said “he wouldn’t be surprised” if the Patriots made a trade for a skill player, although “not a running back,” essentially hinting New England is potentially still exploring making a move to upgrade their receiver position ahead of the season. … When it comes to whatever their plan is with Cunningham, a lot of the discussion has stemmed on what the Saints did with Taysom Hill, which gave them a change of pace player in various situations. Belichick talked about this back in 2000 after he became head coach in discussing then third-string QB Michael Bishop. “What’s best for the football team is to throw a curveball instead of a fastball every time or to have a change of pace, and there are a lot of teams and situations where players can effectively complement each other,” said Belichick at the time. “Sometimes it’s a solution, and sometimes it’s a problem. I think each one’s different.” They used Bishop on the option a couple of times that year and then scrapped it, so it was short-lived, with a rookie out of Michigan eventually pushing both backup QB John Friesz and Bishop down the depth chart. Cunningham is arguably a little more gifted compared to the former Kansas State QB, but probably not quite as talented as that Michigan kid. … According to ESPN’s Mike Reiss, Pierre Strong Jr. has been in concussion protocol, which is why he’s been absent recently. He’s reportedly expected to rejoin the team this week after not traveling to Green Bay.
Posted Under: Patriots News
Tags: Atonio Mafi Bailey Zappe Bill Belichick Cole Strange David Andrews Demario Douglas Devante Parker JuJu Smith-Schuster Kayshon Boutte Kendrick Bourne Mac Jones Mike Onwenu Reilly Reiff Sidy Sow Tyquan Thornton