Author Archives: Steve Balestrieri

Steve Balestrieri

About Steve Balestrieri

A former US Army Special Forces NCO and Officer, Steve has been following the Patriots since their days at Fenway Park. Steve has worked in the film industry and writes as an Editor at SpecialOperations.com and as a reporter for the Millbury Daily Voice, Millbury-Sutton Chronicle, and the Grafton News. He's also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

Patriots Injuries Now Put Tight End In Murkier Territory

Steve Balestrieri
August 12, 2019 at 6:30 am ET

The tight end position for the Patriots has been an area of concern since the spring. Rob Gronkowski retired, Dwayne Allen is now a member of the Dolphins and Jacob Hollister was traded. The team brought back Ben Watson, but he’s 38 and suspended for the first four games of the season. 

They brought in Matt LaCosse from the Broncos and after a good spring, there was the hope that he could take his game to the next level with Tom Brady and the Patriots. Stephen Anderson, a move tight end was returning, as well as Ryan Izzo who missed his rookie season with an injury. 

They added UDFA Andrew Beck from Texas and the team gave him a guaranteed sum of $110,000, which isn’t a lot but it was the most of their undrafted free agents.  Then the team signed veteran Lance Kendricks who played for the Packers last year.

While this was far from optimal, with the players they have, it was considered possibly enough that they could get it figured out and that the team will be able to maybe surpass the production they had from the position in 2018. With Gronk et al. in 2018, Patriots tight ends caught 54 passes for 761 yards and three touchdowns. But the team took a hit where they could least afford it in the past few days. 

Kendricks left practice early with an injury while the team was still in Foxboro on July 28 and he didn’t practice or play during the time in Detroit. During the game, LaCosse was off to a good start and had two catches for 37 yards. But he suffered a lower leg injury in the game and went down in obvious pain. Members of the training staff had to help him off the field. An already thin group just got thinner.

No one knows the severity of the injuries to Kendricks or LaCosse. The upcoming practice this morning [Monday] will be telling. If neither is able to go and both miss considerable more time, then the team is between a rock and a hard place. 

Watson is still a quality tight end, but he’s going to miss the first four weeks of the season and they’ll still need another tight end to step up. They can’t expect Watson at 38 to carry the entire position. 

Anderson has flashed in small doses, and he only played a half dozen snaps [hurt also?] on Thursday, while Izzo is more of a blocking tight end than a true receiving threat. Beck has been getting more reps as a fullback or H-back than a true tight end, which may be his calling eventually. 

So, what do the Patriots do now? If Kendricks and LaCosse do indeed miss more time, then the team may have to make a deal to bring in another tight end. James Develin, the team’s fullback, can also help out there as he practices with the tight ends frequently during camp sessions. He’s an outstanding lead blocker but isn’t a great receiving threat.

Today won’t tell the tale but an absence of the two injured players puts this position into further question marks as time rolls along. In a perfect world, both Kendricks and LaCosse return to practice this morning and everything falls into place. 

But that perfect world doesn’t exist. Everyone in attendance [media and fans] will be watching today to see if those two players come up the steps and onto the practice fields. If not, the phone lines should be busy in Foxboro.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

New England Patriots News 8-11, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
August 11, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 08-11 and AFC East notes this week. 

The Patriots return home and are off today after they played their first preseason game of the year against the Lions. They’ll be back at practice tomorrow and Tuesday and then head off to Tennessee where they’ll conduct joint practices with the Titans before preseason number 2. 

Check back with us frequently on PatsFans.com as we’ll continue to post daily training camp updates as well as breaking news. 

 Quick Hitters:

Chase Winovich – “It felt good to have it all come together,” Winovich said. “Hopefully, I made my family a little proud today.” On his first NFL action [1.5 sacks] and having his family there to see it.

Tom Brady – celebrating more for Brian Hoyer than Jarrett Stidham on Thursday? Don’t laugh, it is true. In the deep dive to find any controversy in Foxboro, we now have people analyzing his body language. 

Damien Harris – Didn’t play a down in Detroit, causing some to wildly speculate on what was the reason. I’d put money down that the coaching staff already puts him with some of the other established veterans [James White, Sony Michel] and gave him the night off. He’ll get plenty of work in Tenn. this week. 

Matt Patricia – was hearing the boo birds in Detroit on Thursday night. Entering his second season as the head coach, he’s already feeling the heat. The Lions’ fans have endured 60 years of frustration and that awful showing in the first preseason game was not a good start. 

Bill Belichick – Was in midseason form on Friday. Asked if Jerod Mayo was calling the defensive plays, Belichick refused to confirm or deny it. Pressed on it, in typical clipped Belichickian, he said, “we do what’s best for the football team and will continue to do so.” Well…all righty then.

Dan Skipper – the huge 6’9 left tackle hasn’t exactly filled the coaches and fans with optimism this summer. However, in the Thursday preseason opener, we didn’t hear his name called once as Brian Hoyer and Jarrett Stidham worked for the most part with clean pockets. Granted, the Lions didn’t have their top starters out there. But at this point, we’ll take what we can get… A much bigger test awaits in Tenn.

Belichick Doesn’t Use New Coach’s Challenge on DPI:

There has been a ton of buzz this offseason on the new coach’s challenge for defensive and offensive pass interference and how they will change the game, especially time-wise. 

During the Patriots game with the Lions this week, there were two plays that the Patriots could have challenged during the game. Both were long passes from Jarrett Stidham to Maurice Harris. Both passes went off Harris’ hands, however, both seemed to be classic cases for the coach to throw the flag. 

Belichick didn’t choose to challenge either play although there was sufficient video evidence to suggest that both plays were DPI.  He was asked why he chose not to challenge the plays during his presser on Friday and gave a very distinct un-Belichick response to those questions. 

“It’s just… I don’t know. Maybe I’ve got to get used to the new rules.” 

Matt Patricia did challenge one play but the official call on the field stood and his challenge was denied. He had this to say after the game.

 “I think right now with the preseason, I think a lot of us, coaching-wise, we’re just trying to figure out how this is all going to be officiated,” Patricia said. I thought that maybe would be an opportunity we can see how they officiate it and we want to take that situation. It doesn’t really matter what we think of it, either way, it’s just I want to know what they’re going to look at and how they’re going to evaluate it.”

Belichick’s comment was far from the norm with him. He is always on top of changing rules and for him to say what he did was very curious, to say the least. 

Jarrett Stidham Finishes Off Good Week With An Impressive Game:

Oh my, how perceptions can change quickly. When the Patriots drafted QB Jarrett Stidham in the spring, the Auburn signal-caller wasn’t on anyone’s hot list for QBs who were designated as future starters in the league. 

But the rookie landed in a perfect place. With Head Coach Bill Belichick, Offensive Coordinator/QBs Coach Josh McDaniels, he has the right people for him to teach the system, and language of the Patriots offense. Don’t discount Asst. QBs coach Mick Lombardi. Of course, it doesn’t hurt learning on how to run the Patriots offense from Tom Brady. 

Stidham was a mixed bag in minicamp and early in training camp as he was trying to learn the system and how everything works together. Contrast that to the poised, calm demeanor we saw on Thursday in the huddle for the Patriots.

Granted it is only one game and as Belichick is sound of saying, “we have a long way to go”, but the coaching staff has to be quite pleased with how far and fast he is progressing. His deep ball accuracy is something he’s shown all summer and he delivered two passes on the money to Maurice Harris, but he dropped both. 

While it is far too soon to be putting him in competition with Brian Hoyer for Brady’s backup QB job [Hoyer was equally, if not more impressive Thursday night], now the doubts about his ability are being replaced with cautious optimism.

Bill Belichick chimed in on his performance during his Friday presser.

“I think there were several plays that fell into all the categories – quick throws where the read was clear and the receiver was open, and then maybe a secondary read, and then there were a couple of times where he scrambled and extended the play,” Belichick said. “Ran a couple of times and completed a pass. There was a little bit of everything there and most important thing for the quarterback is not to turn the ball over make good decisions and throw accurately. He did all those at times.”

Meyers Continues A Stellar Camp With A Big Game Performance:

For a guy who caught 92 passes a year ago, it was a bit of a surprise to not see Jakobi Meyers get drafted in April. While he didn’t test well at the NFL Combine [4.6 time in the 40], watching him play at NC State was another thing. And he’s carried that over to the Patriots now.

We’ve been singing his praises for a bit now as he constantly shows up big in practice and joint practice. He’s developing a chemistry and trust factor with Tom Brady, that we wrote about last week. But he had yet to do it in a game, which the UDFA rookie says he heard too.

 ”I was getting a lot of texts about, ‘Oh I heard you were doing great in practice,”’ Meyers said. ”It doesn’t mean anything because we didn’t have a game yet. So just the fact that I can go out there and show that I deserve to be here, for now, I’m just trying to keep pushing forward.”

In his first game action, Meyers was very impressive catching six passes for 69 yards and two TDs. And the rookie has his feet firmly on the ground, he isn’t worried about who DIDN’T draft him, but working for who did.

”I have to keep proving to my coaches that I deserve to be here,” Meyers said. ”I’m not on the team yet. I’m trying to make sure I can stay here and continue to be here. That’s who I’m trying to prove a point to, not really to people who didn’t give me the call.”

After the game, he was asked about his ability to catch on with this offense so quickly, something several established [and very productive] WRs have been unable to do. His comments were spot on.

“Because I want to be great,” he said. “I want to be in a position where they can depend on me, trust on me in tough downs, and at the same time, we’ve got a lot of great players on our team. All I have to do is listen. If I’m doing what they tell them to do, then I’ll just stick around.”

Winovich, Unlike Samson May Get to Keep His Hair:

Rookie edge player Chase Winovich has had a good productive training camp. And on Thursday night in front of a lot of hometown fans and family where he played nearby at Michigan, they got to see him perform. And he was very impressive with 1.5 sacks and displaying his non-stop motor, very good hands and bend coming around the edge.

Winovich spoke to the media after the game and made sure to downplay his own accomplishments and speak about the team, like he’d been playing for Belichick for years…

“It was cool. But it’s like anything. I’ve talked about this before, and I’ve always felt this way, and it’s definitely emphasized here,” Winovich said. “You saw me make the play, maybe on a couple of occasions today. But really, there are so many guys up front – Nick [Thurman], David [Parry], Byron [Cowart], Trent [Harris], really all the linebackers making the calls, Terez [Hall], Christian [Sam], and I could go on and on. There are so many intricacies during the game itself, just making adjustments with Coach [DeMarcus] Covington and Coach [Joe] Kim and Coach [Jerod] Mayo. I could name everybody by name. Just everything that goes into there and then goes back to all the work that we put in, staying extra at times, going over stuff, and working with Willie McGinest on technique.”

Belichick had to like his next answer when he was asked about what has he learned the most since joining the team this spring. 

“That’s probably my biggest thing, is the physicality and the moves and stuff, you improve on that stuff, but I’m just getting a lot better at my awareness and that stuff,” Winovich said. “Just trying to get better. I’m a rookie. I’ve got a lot to improve on.”

Winovich’s trademark look is his long blonde flowing locks, and one of the Patriots rookie initiations is to give them horrible haircuts. The rookie considers his hair a “source of pride and strength”

Winovich took to Instagram after the game with a picture of himself during game action. And one of his comments came from Brady himself who chimed in “Maybe you get to keep your hair.”

If Winovich keeps progressing like he is, maybe some of the players will begin sporting blonde wigs with a flowing mane under their helmets…

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Trade Eli Harold to Philly For OL Ryan Bates:

The Buffalo Bills have already had a lot of injuries to their offensive line. So, they traded DE Eli Harold to the Eagles for UDFA Ryan Bates who played both left tackle and right tackle for Penn State in 2018. 

Harold was just signed by the Bills this spring. He spent his first three seasons with the 49ers after being drafted in the 3rd Round [79th overall] in the 2015 NFL Draft and produced just five sacks. He notched four more last year with the Lions. With a base salary of just $805,000, Harold is not expensive and should benefit from playing in the aggressive scheme of Jim Schwartz. 

Bates wasn’t expected to make Philly’s roster and the OL is a position of need for Buffalo after the injury bug has hit. This move makes sense for both teams. 

Stills Doubles Down on Criticism of Dolphins Owner Ross for Trump Support:

The Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross is hosting a fundraiser for his old friend Donald Trump who is running for re-election in 2020. That fact doesn’t sit well with Dolphins WR Kenny Stills who blasted the owner on social media stating, “you can’t have a non-profit with this mission statement then open your doors to Trump.”

Stills is referencing Ross’ non-profit organization the RISE Foundation which is hosting the event at Ross’ home. RISE [Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality] stands for racial equality and according to Stills, Ross is being hypocritical for hosting Trump with this event. 

Head Coach Brian Flores on Wednesday said that while he respects the veteran receiver using his platform, he was disappointed that Stills didn’t talk to Ross directly instead of airing it out over social media. Stills, after the Dolphins preseason game on Thursday, added more fuel to the fire.

“Someone has to have enough courage to let him know he can’t play both sides of this,” Stills said. “It’s something that I can look back on and say I made the right decision. … If you’re going to associate yourself with bad people, then people are going to know about it. I put it out there for everybody to see it. If you say you’re going to be about something, let’s be about it.”

Ross also stood by his friendship with the President with a statement of his own. “I always have been an active participant in the democratic process. While some prefer to sit outside of the process and criticize, I prefer to engage directly and support the things I deeply care about,” Ross said.

“I have known Donald Trump for 40 years, and while we agree on some issues, we strongly disagree on many others and I have never been bashful about expressing my opinions. I started my business with nothing and a reason for my engagement with our leaders is my deep concern for creating jobs and growing our country’s economy.

“I have been, and will continue to be, an outspoken champion of racial equality, inclusion, diversity, public education and environmental sustainability, and I have and will continue to support leaders on both sides of the aisle to address these challenges.”

Stills is not expected to receive any discipline from the team over his criticism of the team’s owner and Ross has stated that he doesn’t take the comments personally. 

Quinnen Williams and Jachai Polite Quiet in Jets PS Opener:

The New York Jets played their next-door rivals, the New York Giants in preseason Week 1 this week. Top draft pick Quinnen Williams had a fairly quiet game, playing in just 11 snaps on defense but did draw a penalty, and assisted on one tackle.

Edge player Jachai Polite, the rookie edge player from Florida, who has been on the receiving end of a lot of criticism early in camp played mainly with the third-team defense and also was not as active as the coaches would have hoped. He was in on two tackles and played in 32 defensive snaps.

Sam Darnold and the offense, however, was a different story. Darnold started the game and needed only seven plays to travel 75 yards for a touchdown. Included in that were a 32-yard pass to Chris Herndon where Darnold scrambled to find him and a 28-yarder to Jamison Crowder on a check down. He later hit Crowder for a three-yard touchdown to finish off the drive.  A very good start for Adam Gase’s offense and Darnold in his second season. 

________________

“It’s a different type of preparation when both teams practice together, both teams get an equal opportunity to practice against each other, get familiar with each other instead of running plays off cards. The other teams actually do what they do and we develop a familiarity with them as well as compete against them. If you don’t do that then both teams prepare separately without that type of competitive preparation and then play the game. We got a lot of good 1-on-1 work, a lot of good individual work, and we got a lot of good teamwork for all three days.”Bill Belichick on joint practices –  8-9

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

Patriots Rookies, Defense Shine in Preseason Win Over Detroit

Steve Balestrieri
August 9, 2019 at 6:51 am ET

The New England Patriots looked much more prepared for the first week of preseason football than the Detroit Lions did. They were sharper, looked in better shape and appeared to be farther along in their installation than their opponents did. 

While most of the starters on either team sat this one out, the final score is pretty much immaterial in these matchups. However, it was difficult not to be impressed with the production the Patriots players displayed in the Motor City as they whipped the Lions 31-3. 

We wrote in our pregame piece we wanted to see the rookies in the passing game show what they can do in live game action. Jarrett Stidham, N’Keal Harry, Jakobi Meyers, Gunner Olszewski, along with 2nd-year player Braxton Berrios, as well as newcomers Maurice Harris and Matt LaCosse are all going to be counted on at some point to produce when the games matter. 

And with a deep and loaded defensive unit, we wanted to see how the edge rushers and secondary men held up. It is safe to say that they passed their first test quite well.

Here are some of our observations from the Patriots first game action of 2019.

Hoyer/Stidham Both Look Very Sharp:

Pats QBs Brian Hoyer and rookie Jarrett Stidham played extremely well in their first game action of the year. Hoyer looked very much in control of the offense, and afforded excellent protection, he was able to go thru his progressions and deliver the ball with good accuracy in the first half. 

Hoyer finished 12 of 14 for 147 yards with 2 TD passes. He was very much in command of the offense and it seemed like they could move the ball at will over the Lions’ second-team defense.

Stidham, the rookie 4th round draft pick from Auburn had a very impressive first outing. As we’ve reported from Foxboro since the spring, he throws a very nice football and really puts some spin on it. But learning a new offense for a rookie QB is a daunting task. And he went thru the typical rookie growing pains early in camp.

In Detroit, Stidham looked like a player that already has a firm grasp of the offense. He looked extremely poised and in control, went thru his progressions really well and delivered the ball on-target. While he had a couple of hiccups where he double-clutched the ball, trying not to make a mistake, it was a very impressive debut for the rookie. He completed 14-24 for 174 yards with a TD. arguably, his two best passes, deep balls to Maurice Harris were dropped but could have been flagged for pass interference. But Stidham was justifiably pleased to get his first NFL action under his belt.

“I had a great time,” said Stidham. “This is my first NFL experience, getting to play. There are a lot of things to improve on, but overall it was a lot of fun. It was a great experience.”

Meyers, WRs Answers the Bell in First Game Action:

Jakobi Meyers has been the story of the Patriots training camp thus far, learning the offense and quickly gaining the trust of all of the quarterbacks on the roster. But we live in New England… where regardless of what has transpired, fans have been force-fed to accentuate the negative, “Well can he do it in a game?” has been a common refrain the past two weeks.  Well, his first game action was a success.

Meyers isn’t a burner, he isn’t going to wow anyone by blowing the top of the defense. His slow 40 time at the NFL Combine was the reason he went undrafted after a 92-catch season at NC State. But he has a knack for getting open and finding the seams of opponents’ defenses. And he has sticky hands and makes the difficult catches.

He had six catches for 69 yards [Gronkowski approves] and two TDs in a very impressive first effort on Thursday night in Detroit. He mentioned going against a very stout Patriots defense in practice as a positive.

“Even before this week of practice with the Lions, practicing with ourselves for two weeks — I mean, that’s a tough group of guys,” Meyers said. “You see what they did today, the show that they put on today. Going against them, I feel like I got better. I kept trying to take one step forward every day, and I feel like it prepared me for this week and today.”

N’Keal Harry had two very impressive catches before suffering a minor injury but one that kept him out for the rest of the game. Braxton Berrios and Gunner Olszewski both looked impressive in the return game, something that may win them roster spots. Maurice Harris continued his solid camp with three catches including a touchdown from Brian Hoyer.

Yes, the schemes were vanilla and the starters weren’t in there, but all you can ask for your players in this situation to do is produce….and they did. Moving on to Tennessee.

Defense Smothers Lions All Night:

The Patriots defense was very impressive all night long holding Detroit to under 100 total yards of offense, [94], just 21 passing and allowing just a late field goal after going up by 31. Good stout run defense, excellent play in the secondary and a fearsome pass rush defanged the Lions all night long.

Derek Rivers led the way with 2 sacks, Chase Winovich, playing in front of many hometown fans chipped in with 1.5 and looked very impressive. Danny Shelton, Jamie Collins, Shalique Calhoun, Terez Hall, Ja’Whaun Bentley each had one sack while Byron Cowart chipped in with a half-sack.

The depth of the defense, something we’ve been harping on all spring and summer was on full display Thursday night.

“You saw me make the play maybe on a couple of occasions today, but really, we have so many guys up front,” Winovich said. “Sacks are very contagious. It’s a great thing anytime you can make a play and get the fans, even though we are in an opposing stadium I guess, and get your team into it. You really get into a groove feeling the game out. We are just playing great team defense I think”

Again, it is just a first step, but this was a very impressive one. 

Hate to Be a Debbie Downer….But:

It wasn’t all roses on Thursday night. FIrst, on the injury front. Harry left with what appears to be a minor injury, but that will bear watching. Matt LaCosse went down in bad pain grasping his lower leg/ankle and didn’t return. Keion Crossen left with what appeared to be a concussion.

Rivers played well after he made a bad mistake in getting past the QB and allowing him to scramble for big yardage. He got an earful from Bill Belichick on the sideline after that one. But his play after that was a huge positive. 

Joejuan Williams was really solid in the secondary and outstanding in the running game but then took a very stupid penalty by throwing a runner to the ground well out of bounds…he’ll hear about that in the film session tomorrow.

________________

Overall, this performance on Thursday night capped off a productive week of joint practices and their first preseason game. It gave them plenty to build off of…we’re on to Tennessee next week. 

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

Patriots at Lions, Preseason Game 1, What to Watch For

Steve Balestrieri
August 7, 2019 at 9:01 am ET

The Patriots are wrapping up their final joint practice with the Lions on Wednesday and then all of the attention will turn to the first preseason game of the year. With that said, we should finally get a look at the Patriots rookie players with the real numbers that they’ll be wearing this season. 

Don’t expect to see any of Tom Brady and most of the starting lineups in Thursday’s game, they’ll get eased more into the next two games. This one is usually about the rookies and the new players to the roster. Expect to see a lot of QB Jarrett Stidham in this one. 

*For you who have been going to training camp, the following are the jersey numbers of the Patriots rookies for the game, unlike the funky numbers they’ve been wearing in training camp.

#4 Jarrett Stidham QB
#7 Jake Bailey P
#9 Gunner Olszewski WR/KR
#10 N’Keal Harry WR
#16 Jakobi Meyers WR
#19 Ryan Davis WR
#33 Joejuan Williams CB
#37 Damien Harris RB
#41 D’Angelo Ross DB
#42 Nick Brossette, RB
#42 Malik Gant, S
#47 Ken Webster CB
#50 Chase Winovich Edge
#63 Martez Ivey OL
#64 Hjalte Froholdt G
#65 Yodny Cajuste T
#67 Tyler Gauthier, OL
#68 Tyree St. Louis OL
#86 Andrew Beck TE
#99 Byron Cowart DL

So, with all of the roster number hoopla out of the way, what exactly are we looking for after preseason Week 1? 

Come Back to Foxboro Healthy: 

Injuries are part of the game and we know they are inevitable, but the last thing you want to see is a player from either team going down with an injury. Just two years ago it was there in Detroit when Julian Edelman made a cut and went down with a torn ACL without being contacted. It ended his season before it began and may have cost the team down the road in Super Bowl LII. 

So, while the coaches want to see their players perform well in all three phases of the game, coming out of the game as intact as possible, health-wise will be paramount.

Watching Stidham and Young Receivers in the Passing Game:

Stidham was drafted by the Patriots with little fanfare, he was hardly thought to be one of the best QB prospects in the draft. Part of the issue was the terrible offensive system they ran at Auburn. Stidham still has a long, long way to go but has been progressing nicely in camp and had a really good day on Tuesday’s joint practice. 

Now, he’ll get to put his foot in the water for his first NFL game action. Thus far, he’s had a typical rookie spring/summer with issues holding the ball too long and trying to learn an entire new offensive system, to some sessions where he’s thrown the ball well.

And he’s got a plethora of receivers who are new to the Patriots. Unfortunately, top draft pick N’Keal Harry may not be among them. Harry tweaked a hamstring in Tuesday’s practice session, so he may be held out of this one…it will bear watching. 

But rookies Jakobi Meyers, Gunner Olszewski, Ryan Davis, 2nd-year man Braxton Berrios, as well veteran newcomers Maurice Harris, and Dontrelle Inman are getting their first reps in Patriots uniforms. 

Meyers is generating a ton of buzz around his play and his early grasp of the Patriots playbook but Berrios, who had a strong spring and a frustrating beginning to camp has shown signs of life against the Lions secondary. These preseason games will tell the tale of who earns more reps and carves out a role on the roster. 

Harris and Inman are veterans but want to put forward solid contributions in preseason working against mainly vanilla coverages to earn more reps with Brady, who is doubtful to make an appearance. 

Rookie Damien Harris has shown the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield during camp sessions. It will interesting to see if the coaches decide to use him and Brandon Bolden in that capacity in their first game action of 2019. 

Running Game Can Be Hit or Miss:

The problem with trying to judge running backs, and Harris should see a ton of action along with Nick Brossette and Jakob Johnson, is that the back-up offensive lines are in the game. And it frequently occurs that the offense can sputter in running situations as the backups don’t have the reps together to work in harmony with one another. 

However, I’m intrigued to watch what Harris and Brossette can do. Brossette will have a very tough time cracking the 53-man roster as the position is loaded this year. But I liked what I saw of him in college and thus far in limited reps. He’s playing for a practice squad role. 

Brandon Bolden is one of our favorite Patriots players to watch. The reserve running back and special teams ace should also see quite a bit of action in the preseason opener both in the running and passing game. 

Special Teams Battle: 

As much as I thought Ryan Allen could have made a case for Super Bowl LIII MVP, I’ve been sold on Jake Bailey since minicamp. He has a leg that puts distance and incredible hang time into the ball which almost puts it into the outer marker for Logan. He and Allen are battling it out for the punter’s job in 2019. While Bailey has the much stronger leg, Allen’s forte is directional punting and consistency, where he has the edge over the rookie.

One thing to watch all thru the preseason is kickoffs. Bailey is adept at it as well as being an emergency field goal kicker. He’s shared duties with Stephen Gostkowski on kickoffs in camp thus far and it could make a difference in the final cutdown. 

Defense As a Whole, But Keep an Eye on the Secondary:

The Patriots defense looks to be much better, deeper and more versatile than last year’s unit.  While many of the starting members may only play sparingly, the guys that really bear watching are the new players or those fighting for roster spots. 

Chase Winovich has stepped up his game in the practices with the Lions, it promises to be intriguing to see A. How they use him and B. How well he does in his first game action. The rookie from Michigan looks to be a very promising player. Shilique Calhoun, we wrote the other day is having a very solid camp. He continued his strong play against the Lions and has a chance to earn more reps as camp progresses. 

Other edge players on the bubble and bear watching are Derek Rivers, Keionta Davis, Trent Harris, Ufomba Kamalu, and Nick Thurman. All of them have played well so far but need to step it up during the next four weeks. 

In the secondary, with Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, and Jason McCourty known quantities, the guys we really want to see are new 2nd round pick Joejuan Williams, Duke Dawson, Keion Crossen and D’Angelo Ross at cornerback. 

At safety, Terrence Brooks, Obi Melifonwu, and Malik Gant are all vying for roster spots behind Devin McCourty, Pat Chung, and Duron Harmon. Both Brooks and Melifonwu have played well and have gotten reps with the starting unit. 

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

New England Patriots 53-man Roster Projection 2.0

Steve Balestrieri
August 5, 2019 at 8:30 am ET

With the Patriots first ten days of training camp over, it is time to take another crack at our New England Patriots 53-man roster projection. With eight practices in, several of them fully padded, we’ll look at the early risers and whose falling. We’ll revisit this after a week with the Detroit Lions and their first preseason game.

Offense –
Quarterbacks: (3)

Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Jarrett Stidham
Out: Danny Etling

The Patriots will continue to go with three QBs as Brady, Hoyer, and Jarrett Stidham will man the position this year. It will be interesting to see if Stidham shows enough in the upcoming preseason games to push Hoyer as Brady’s backup in case of emergency.

Running backs: (6)

Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, James White, Damien Harris, Brandon Bolden, James Develin
Out: Nick Brosette, Jakob Johnson* [NFL International Player]

Sony Michel looks good, now that he is back on the field and he and Damien Harris are getting more frequent looks in the passing game. James White looks as good as ever while Brandon Bolden isn’t going anywhere, he’s a good depth guy and outstanding on STs. Develin could easily be posted with the tight ends as he practices with them frequently. If the Patriots decide five is enough would that make Burkhead expendable? Possibly, but for now, he sticks.

Brosette is a victim of the numbers and lands on the practice squad. Ditto for Johnson who is automatically granted an extra spot on the PS due to his NFL International status

Tight ends: (2)
Matt Lacosse, Ryan Izzo, **Ben Watson Suspended**
Out: Lance Kendricks, Stephen Anderson, Andrew Beck

The Patriots have Lacosse being the receiving tight end with Izzo as the blocker who nudges out Anderson, the move tight end thus far. Ben Watson will return after the first month which means they’ll have to make another cut somewhere.

Beck got a fair amount of guaranteed money and could become another fullback option if Develin gets hurt, he’ll be a practice squad candidate.

Wide Receivers: (5)
Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, Phillip Dorsett, Maurice Harris, Jakobi Meyers
Out: Braxton Berrios, Dontrelle Inman, Damoun Patterson, Ryan Davis, Gunner Olszewski, **Josh Gordon Suspended** Demaryius Thomas [PUP], Cameron Meredith [PUP]

Edelman, Harry, and Dorsett are the top three, Dorsett is still an intriguing case. He has all of the tools to be a very productive receiver but only produces in short flashes. But given the cuts, he’s the only viable kick returner on the roster unless the coaches want to push Edelman or Michel back out there. 

Harris has been the most consistent receiver on the field thus far and Meyers is already beginning to develop the chemistry with Brady that will be needed. Thomas has yet to see the field so no one knows if he has anything left in the tank. Gordon has applied for reinstatement by the league so we’ll be watching to see how that unfolds.  

Berrios can’t get any separation and after a strong showing in the spring, has taken a step back. This coming week with the Lions will be huge for him. Inman has been largely invisible but just began making progress this week. Patterson, Davis, and Olszewski are practice squad candidates.

However, Berrios and/or Olszewski could carve out a role in the return game. Preseason will tell the tale.

Offensive line: (8)
Isaiah Wynn, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, Joe Thuney, James Ferentz, Ted Karras, Hjalte Froholdt
Out: Yodny Cajuste [NFI], Dan Skipper, Cedric Lang, Tyree St. Louis, Martez Ivey

Hmm, depth at tackle remains a dicey situation with Isaiah Wynn still not a full go at practice. At this point, they need to start getting him real reps and not a walk-thru if he’s going to be ready for the regular season. The team is giving Dan Skipper every opportunity to win a roster spot but he’s shown that even against the 2nd tier guys, he’s getting beat. Not good for a left tackle.

Cajuste is still on NFI and the longer it drags on, the more it seems that he won’t be ready until midseason. The answer for the short term? Joe Thuney at LT, Karras at LG and now it makes more sense to keep Ferentz. 

Defense –

Edge Players: (4)
Michael Bennett, Deatrich Wise, John Simon, Chase Winovich
Out: Derek Rivers, Keionta Davis, Trent Harris, Nick Thurman, Ufomba Kamalu

Bennett and Wise are your defensive ends in a base 3-4, which they’ve run a lot of this spring/summer. Simon and Winovich could easily be lumped in with the linebackers. It is curious if they do run a 3-4, Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler could be 3-4 DEs as well. Rivers has looked good so far, but Winovich is looking just a strong right now and would, IMO get the nod. 

Nobody is closing the door on Davis, Harris, Thurman, or Kamalu at this point. All of them have had good moments in camp. Plenty can happen in the next few weeks, but as of today, they’re on the wrong side of the numbers crunch.

Interior Defensive Line: (4)

Lawrence Guy, Mike Pennel, Danny Shelton, Adam Butler

Out: Bryon Cowart, David Parry

Guy and Pennel should be the Week 1 starting combination inside. Shelton returns, as the backup nose tackle. Guy and Butler offer versatility in either inside DL in a 4-3 or as 3-4 DEs playing a five-technique. This is a solid group and Mike Pennel should be an immediate early downs producer. 

Cowart and Parry have some ground to make up but are for the time being, outside looking in. 

Linebacker: (6)

Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Elandon Roberts, Brandon King
Out: Christian Sam. Terez Hall, Calvin Munson, Shalique Calhoun

Linebacker is a position of strength and the Patriots could still play Winovich and Simon here as well. If they were to add another roster spot for extra depth, Sam, who is having an under the radar camp or Calhoun who has played well in limited reps could find their way on the roster. 

Hightower, Bentley, and Roberts will handle the inside duties while the others will play outside, but moving players around seems like a given this year. 

Cornerback: (7)
Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, Jason McCourty, Joejuan Williams, Jonathan Jones, Duke Dawson, Keion Crossen
Out: Ken Webster, D’Angelo Ross

You can never have enough talented corners…right? Gilmore, McCourty, and Jackson give the team three very good to excellent boundary corners. Jones and Dawson will handle the slot. Williams is a big corner (6’4) that allows him to play against the bigger WRs or matchup with tight ends. 

The versatility and depth of this group give the Patriots their deepest part of the roster. Both Ross and Webster are candidates for the practice squad.

Safety: (4)
Devin McCourty, Pat Chung, Duron Harmon, Terrence Brooks
Out: Obi Melifonwu, Malik Gant, Nate Ebner [PUP], AJ Howard

Brooks has been seeing a lot of reps on defense with the top unit and the veteran ST’s ace edges out Obi Melifonwu right now. Obi has had a good camp and has gotten a lot of reps himself with the top unit. His size and athleticism make this one a tough choice. But the competition continues. 

Ebner is on PUP for now and Gant is a candidate for the practice squad.

Specialists: (4)
Kicker Stephen Gostkowski, punter Jake Bailey, long-snapper Joe Cardona, Gunner Matthew Slater
Out: Ryan Allen

Gostkowski and  Cardona aren’t facing any competition in camp and other than Brady, perhaps, these two should rest easiest in training camp. Bailey the strong-legged punter and Allen are locked in a good camp battle. Bailey has a booming leg with incredible hang time while Allen is the steady vet. But Bailey can also kickoff and fill in for Gostkowski on FGs if need be. Slater practices hard on his own all session long with a staff member, working on his gunner skills. 

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

Tom Brady Extension Done, Although Still Year to Year

Steve Balestrieri
at 6:30 am ET

The Patriots and Tom Brady have agreed to a two-year extension for the Patriots QB that will ostensibly keep him in a Patriots uniform until after the 2021 season. The news was first reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Brady’s salary will actually increase by $8 million to $23 million while saving the Patriots a reported $5 million against the salary cap in 2019. His salary in 2020 is reported to be $30 million and in 2021 a reported $32 million. 

ESPN’s Mike Reiss posted the following about Brady’s contract.

One of the most notable parts of Brady’s two-year extension is the two seasons added are void years, according to ESPN’s Field Yates. What that means is the extension gives Brady an $8 million raise this season, and then the sides can –and likely will — adjust the contract in 2020 and 2021.

Brady has never held the Patriots hostage under the cap by demanding to be paid top dollar and what other QBs, who have never achieved what he has, are being paid. He’s always stated that his priority is the team spend the money to surround him with better players. 

Brady has always maintained that his wife, supermodel Gisele Bundchen who makes somewhere about $50 million annually keeps them quite comfortable. He’s always had trust [as Reiss pointed out] that the Patriots and Robert Kraft will pay him fairly for what he has produced on the field. 

Tom Brady speaks to the media after practice this week.

So, while on paper Brady is receiving a two-year extension worth $70 million, it remains a year-to-year proposition. The team can void it next year or in 2021 if they so choose. Brady was asked about his contract after training camp practice earlier last week, and he said, “We’re all day-to-day if you think about it,” he answered. “None of us are really promised anything. So, I’m trying to do the best I can today and just let those [contracts] things sort themselves out… so, we’ll see how it goes.”

Brady has steadfastly maintained that he wants to play until he is 45 years old. This new extension will carry the Pats QB to within six months of that milestone. 

Of course, there are some on social media that are livid. As always, they are looking for a nefarious back-door, a hand-shake deal between Brady and Kraft. If you are bored and want to get a good laugh, search for “Brady contract extension” on Twitter and read some of the most outrageous tweets out there. Some of these people must have thousands of shares of stock in Reynolds Wrap for the tin-foil hats that they’re wearing. 

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

New England Patriots News 8-04, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
August 4, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 08-04 and AFC East notes this week. 

Training Camp is in full swing and the Patriots are on the road today, heading to Canton, Ohio for a visit to the Pro Football Hall of Fame and then on to Detroit where they’ll begin three joint practices with the Lions before their preseason game with them on Thursday.

Check back with us frequently on PatsFans.com as we’ll continue to post training camp updates as well as breaking news. 

 Quick Hitters:

Tom Brady – celebrated his 42nd birthday yesterday and the team was given the day off. In past years, the fans at training camp serenaded Brady with Happy Birthday but didn’t get the opportunity to do so this year. In his 20th training camp, he still is going strong and the competitive fire still burns bright for him. 

Ty Law – was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame last night. Some of his biggest moments came in the biggest games. No one can ever forget his playoff game against the Colts where he intercepted Peyton Manning three times or his pick-six of  Kurt Warner in the Super Bowl XXXVI win over the Rams. Well deserved.

Ed Reed – was also inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame last night. We all know the mad respect that Bill Belichick and Tom Brady had on him as a player. Reed said this week that he’d love to coach again and …[This must make Ravens fans cringe], he said, “I would love for it to just be with the Patriots.”

Isaiah Wynn – is making slow but welcome progress as the team began easing him into team drills this Friday, the first such development in his return from an Achilles injury last year at this time. Perhaps he should have used deer antler spray?

Martez Ivey – The big 6’5, 315 lb offensive lineman from Florida was signed by the Patriots this week as the team waived Cole Croston. Despite 31 starts for a perennial powerhouse, Ivey’s footwork and hand placement were always an issue. He’s a longshot to make the roster but we’ve seen what Dante Scarnecchia can do 

Josh Gordon Applies For Re-instatement:

Patriots wide receiver Josh Gordon has applied to the NFL for reinstatement according to Charean Williams of Pro Football Talk. Now the NFL must decide whether or not to reinstate Gordon and if he should be suspended for any further time.

The NFL suspended Gordon indefinitely late in the 2018 regular season for violating the terms of his conditional reinstatement under the league’s drug policy. Gordon last played in the NFL in Week 15 of the 2018 season against the Steelers. 

The Patriots, hopefull of a possible return by Gordon, placed a second-round tender on him this spring. In 11 games in 2018, Gordon caught 40 passes, for 720 yards and three touchdowns for the Patriots. Now we wait and see what comes out of Park Avenue.

Jakobi Meyers Enters a Big Week After An Impressive Start to Camp:

With the first eight practices in Foxboro in the books, the Patriots move on to joint practices with the Lions this week.  This is a big week for many of the players but for UDFA Jakobi Meyers it is another chance to shine. 

And shine he has thru the early stages of training camp. The former QB now wide receiver would be on the 53-man roster if the cutdown was today. That’s why this week against the Lions in practices and then on Thursday in the first preseason game is so important. Bill Belichick spoke highly of the progress Meyers has made thus far.

“He’s a smart kid and he understands, and has versatility, understands the offense,” Belichick said. “Like any rookie, any young player, there’s a lot of things he needs to work on technique-wise — recognition, route adjustments — just a lot of fine points. He basically knows what to do, but there are a lot of subtleties and nuances that all receivers need to pick up — certainly in our offense — and he’s doing that.

“There’s more that we’ve had to get down, but he’s making progress there. Whether that comes from his quarterback background, or his experience, or his intelligence, or his learning, I’m not really sure. But that’s not really an issue. He’s a smart kid, and he learns well.”

His hard work and grasp of learning the offensive playbook have earned him more reps with the starting unit and QB Tom Brady and he’s been making the most of them. Late in practices, the Patriots go to their hurry-up or two-minute offense. And Brady has developed a bit of chemistry with the rookie, going in his direction three times in the past two sessions, completing all three passes. 

Meyers made what many are calling the best play in camp so far on Thursday. Jarrett Stidham threw a jump ball to Meyers between two defenders. Meyers tipped the ball over the defender’s head to himself and hauled it in for a huge play. 

Meyers’ versatility, he can play outside or in the slot is always a welcome asset to have in New England. He’s bigger than most slot receivers at 6’2, 202 and his quarterback’s background has definitely helped his development. He understands the route concepts of the plays from the QB’s perspective which is of tremendous help in knowing the adjustments the WRs must make in the Patriots intricate system. He’s not all the way there yet, but he’s making some serious strides. 

On Friday, Brady threw to Meyers twice before he made his break, something that shows Brady already trusts him to be where he has to be when he has to be there. That level of trust isn’t easily earned from #12. Belichick was asked about his learning curve earlier this week. 

“The more you learn, the more you know, the more you can understand about what you do, what the people around you do, what the defense is doing, what the people on the other side of the ball are doing,” Belichick said. “I mean, that’s all good. That’s all eventually going to work to your advantage, the more you can understand the big picture and all of it.

“It’s hard to get everything the first time around, sometimes the third, fourth time around you hear things, or you hear things said to the guy next to you, or maybe the defender that’s across from you. You hear the coach correcting him, and it just helps you learn more about the overall of your position, the area that you’re involved in. 

“I think we have a lot of guys on our team that fall into that category, but understanding the big picture is certainly the goal, more than just memorizing an assignment. I mean, you have to know what to do, but the more you can understand the total concept of what’s going on, then really the easier it is to execute.”

Meyers developed quite a rapport with QB Ryan Finley at NC State catching 62 passes in his junior year and 92 passes last fall. It certainly seems like he’s on his way to carving out a role for himself in the Patriots offense with Brady. That’s why this week will be intriguing to watch how he does in Detroit. 

Sony Michel and Damian Harris Making Big Strides in the Passing Game:

One of the more intriguing developments over the last week of training camp has been the emergence of both Sony Michel and rookie Damien Harris in the passing game. Michel had a very good rookie season running the ball, followed by an outstanding playoff run where he gained over 330 yards and scored six touchdowns in three playoff games. James White has traditionally given the team outstanding production in the passing game. 

What is intriguing is that with an increased role in the passing game, the Patriots would have four running backs who can be viable targets that opponents must account for [Rex Burkhead, currently dinged up is the fourth]. The team was putting both Michel and Harris in motion a lot more in the past few sessions, getting them a freer release.

With a new WR corps and without Julian Edelman for the first few weeks of training camp, this development gives Tom Brady more valuable weapons in the passing game. With four very good running backs, the Patriots can mix and match and create matchup nightmare scenarios for the opposing defenses. 

Harris, a rookie from Alabama wasn’t asked to do a lot of receiving in college but has very good hands and is an excellent pass blocker. Michel only had 11 targets in his rookie season…that is about to change.

Patriots Sign WR Cameron Meredith And Immediately Place Him on PUP:

The Patriots signed former Bears and Saints WR Cameron Meredith this week after he was released with an injury designation from the Saints. The 6’3, 207 WR was signed by the Bears as an UDFA in 2015. His breakout season was 2016 when he caught 66 passes for 888 yards and four TDs. He missed all of 2017 with an injury and was with the Saints last year catching nine passes for 114 yards and a score in six games. 

The Patriots aren’t rushing him back and plan to work on him strengthening his knee as well as improving flexibility before he’ll be put on the field. Therefore, they immediately placed him on PUP. He can be removed at any time if he’s deemed healthy enough.

Per Doug Kyed of NESN, If the Patriots don’t remove Meredith from the PUP list by the Aug. 31 cutdown date, then he would revert to regular-season PUP and no longer takes a spot on the Patriots’ roster. Meredith then could begin practicing after the Patriots’ sixth regular-season game. If he didn’t begin practicing within a five-week window, he would be shut down for the rest of the season. If Meredith begins practicing within that five-week window, the Patriots would have a 21-day window to activate him to the 53-man roster.

So, Meredith can either begin practicing in the next 27 days or the team will place him on PUP where he can get healthy and possibly provide mid-season help at the position. It was a low-risk, high reward signing. 

Kyle Van Noy the 1st Guest on Patriots Off-Topic:

The Patriots website have created a new podcast called “Patriots Off-Topic” which deals with the stories of the players and their interests off the field. Hosted by Patriots social media coordinators Angelique Fisk and Mackenzie Knoop, it is a different type of podcast and their first stab at it was breaking some new ground.

Linebacker Kyle Van Noy was their very first guest who spoke about being a father, starting his Van Noy Valor Foundation and being at the ESPYs. Van Noy who was adopted spoke about his wife’s father and brother who were both adopted and their work with foster kids. 

It is slated to be a regular podcast on the team’s schedule this season. Give it a listen on the link.

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Beasley, Having “ A lot More Fun for the Bills” Than in Dallas: 

When the Buffalo Bills signed slot receiver Cole Beasley, we’ve said quite a few times that Buffalo would try to carve out a role for him similar to what the Patriots do with Julian Edelman. Offensive Coordinator Brian Daboll spent a few years here in New England and it seemed like a no-brainer. 

Well, after more than a week of training camp, Beasley is just loving his time in upstate New York and especially the way he’s being used in the offense. And it doesn’t sound like he’s homesick for the Cowboys.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” Beasley said, on the NFL Network. “I wanted more opportunities. I wanted more options. I wanted more freedom in my routes. And [Brian] Daboll has done a great job of giving me those things and it’s created a lot of opportunity for me here. He added, “It’s been a lot more fun playing out there with the guys.”

It sounds like Daboll is incorporating a lot of the same offensive plays that the Patriots run from Daboll’s comments.

“When you’re given the freedom that I am in this offense, you have to be very definitive in the way you run your routes and your breaks,” Beasley said, in the NFL segment. “I have some routes where I can go five different directions and make a decision at the top [of the route]. I just can’t go one way and then make a decision late to go someplace else or it’s going to be an interception.

“So there is a lot of pressure on me for that, but that’s exactly how I wanted it and that’s why I came here.”

“I’m just glad to be [Buffalo] where it’s 100 percent about ball and not a show or a brand,” Beasley said last month. “It’s purer here. I’m proud to be part of something like that.”

Dolphins Pro Football Hall of Famer Buoniconti Dies at 78:

The Miami Dolphins lost a legend last week. Nick Buoniconti, an undersized, over-achieving linebacker passed away at the age of 78. Buoniconti began his career with the Boston Patriots. He was a six-time All-Star with the Patriots before moving on to Miami in 1969.

Buoniconti was an eight-time Pro Bowler and won two Super Bowl titles with the Dolphins in 1972, with the 17-0 team, and 1973. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2001. He was the leader of the Dolphins “No-Name Defense.” He played for Miami from 1969-1974, and then in 1976. 

“Nick was the leader of our defense and another coach on the field,” said safety Dick Anderson. “You combine him with our defense coach, Bill Arnsparger, and you know why he always bragged that we made just 11 mental errors on defense during the entire perfect season of 1972. We just had to go where they told us to go and make the play.”

“Nick was special to me in every way. He was someone I greatly admired,” said Don Shula, Dolphins coach during his playing career.”… His groundbreaking work with The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis [after his son Marc was paralyzed playing football] has made a huge difference in the lives of so many people. I am thankful to have had Nick in my life. I will miss him.” RIP

Jets Sign Center Ryan Kalil:

The New York Jets agreed to terms with former Carolina Panther Ryan Kalil on a one-year deal worth up to $8.4 million on Thursday.

This is a big move as Kalil is a big upgrade over Jonathan Harrison. However, he did suffer a serious neck injury in 2017 and that could play a factor in his effectiveness down the road. But GM Joe Douglas has been working for nearly two months to get the veteran center to come out of retirement. 

Kalil is a five-time Pro Bowler and a two-time All-Pro at the position. But serious injuries to his shoulder and neck led to a decline in his effectiveness. Kalil was on to his second career as a Hollywood producer [worked with Will Farrell for an NFL spoof], and felt that after a year, his body was healed up enough to give the NFL one more go around.

________________

“We have a lot of things that we need to work on, in every area of the team; everything. So I don’t think I feel good about anything right now. I don’t feel necessarily bad about it. We’ll see how it is. Start to find out when we’re in competitive situations in the next couple weeks. Might not really know where we are on some things until the middle of the season. I don’t know, we’ll see.” Bill Belichick on 8-1

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

Patriots Training Camp Day 8 Observations

Steve Balestrieri
August 2, 2019 at 1:55 pm ET

Offense Struggling or Defense Too Good?

The Patriots conducted their eighth practice of training camp  This one was in shorts and shells with no contact.

Attendance – Julian Edelman and Yodny Cajuste remain on NFI, Demaryius Thomas is still on PUP along with Nate Ebner and Ken Webster. In addition, Lance Kendricks was absent while Rex Burkhead was limited. Edelman, Webster, and Ebner were on the field for the beginning of practice. 

As we’ve seen recently, the kickers also retreated down to the lower practice field where you can’t see much of anything. But we will say, someone’s chipping should be improving….

The intensity was scaled back today as the team was working on individual drills and some situational work early. Later the punters returned and each had turns trying to pin the receiving team deep along the sideline…more below.

Defense lining up for running game drills. (SBalestrieri)

The offense has scuffled along the past few days and Friday wasn’t an exception. Tom Brady was getting frustrated, his voice was carrying over the field as he exhorted the troops. Is it the case of the offense not playing well or just that the defense is looking locked in and ready for the regular season? The chicken or the egg? 

N’Keal Harry pulls in a pass in WR drills 8/2. (SBalestrieri)

Our other observations included:

  • Jakobi Meyers got some reps with the first team this morning as Harry was taking them with the second unit and Brian Hoyer. Later in the session, Harry moved back up in with the first unit.
  • Sony Michel continues to get a lot of looks in the passing game. During the early 7-on-7 work, Brady went in Michel’s direction twice in the first four snaps.
  • Isaiah Wynn took the early snaps with the first unit of the offense which is a positive sign for him. When the team later went to 11-on-11 drills, Dan Skipper “the Weatherman” took over.
  • Brady worked early with the running backs in passing drills while Jarrett Stidham worked with Braxton Berrios, Ben Watson, Maurice Harris, and Matt LaCosse.
  • Berrios continues to be taken to school by Jonathan Jones, who is blanketing him in coverage. Berrios can’t get separation and the 2nd yr WR is getting increasingly frustrated. 
  • Jones swatted away a pass intended for Berrios as he was trying to come across the middle and Brady tried to force it in there. 
  • The secondary as a whole has been outstanding. On the second snap of 7-on-7s, Brady had no one open, scrambled to his right and still no one was able to shake free. He then tucked the ball away as if to run….outstanding coverage.
  • Brandon Bolden made a nice leaping grab from Brady during 7’s. Bolden ran a wheel route down the right sideline and Brady delivered a nice ball where Bolden jumped up high to bring it down.
  • The punters returned to the field with Jake Bailey getting the first reps as the drill was designed to pin the opposition deep along the sideline. His first punt wasn’t very deep but he got a nice roll and it was not returnable. His second punt was much better with distance and great hang time. 
  • Ryan Allen’s last two punts were not good ones. The first he shanked it short, the second was short as well with little hang time and was returnable. 
  •  Jamie Collins picked off a Hail Mary pass.
  • JC Jackson continues to play at a high level and is having a very impressive training camp thus far
Dontrelle Inman makes an over-the-shoulder catch. (SBalestrieri)

The Patriots are off on Saturday and Sunday is a travel day as the team will stop off in Canton, OH for a stop at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. On Monday – Wednesday the team will conduct joint practices with the Detroit Lions, before their preseason game on Thursday night.

The team probably won’t return to Gillette until next Saturday. 

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

Cliffs, Turnover, Age… Tom Brady Remains Resolute

Steve Balestrieri
August 1, 2019 at 10:07 am ET

The Patriots training camp is seven days and six practices [the seventh practice will begin as this posts] into the 2019 campaign. And the Patriots are blessed to have the same coach and quarterback combination on hand for the 20th consecutive year.  Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have been a constant in the league that every year suffers a huge amount of turnover. 

Brady’s first training camp stands in stark contrast with this one. Back then he was an unheralded, late 6th round draft choice from Michigan who many believed had no shot at a long career in the NFL. But he had an incredible work ethic, a huge chip on his shoulder because of his draft position [which remains], and absolute faith in himself. He introduced himself to Robert Kraft that summer and Kraft recalled, “he looked at me with laser-focus and said, ‘I’m best decision this organization ever made.’”

After 18 years as a starter, Brady has led the Patriots to nine Super Bowl appearances and six wins. He stands in rarified air, no one in the Super Bowl era can come close to those numbers. And every year since his knee injury in 2008, Brady has faced the same questions it seems every summer. Is this the year where he shows his age? Where Brady and the Patriots fall from the heights and re-join the pack of Super Bowl afterthoughts instead of front-runners? Will Brady… fall off a cliff? “Tom Brady is going to be a bum in short order,” Max Kellerman pronounced early in 2016. In the past three years, the Patriots have been to three straight Super Bowls, winning two. But still, the questions remain. 

While he claims to ignore the noise… and the trolls on the national beat, we know better. He uses them for an incentive to work harder than his already famous work ethic. He approaches every day and every practice as if he’s that late 6th rounder trying to make the team, instead of a six-time Super Bowl champion. 

Tom Brady speaks to the media after practice on 7/31

On Wednesday, he wasn’t scheduled to speak with the media but felt like he should after the offense had a very sloppy, unproductive session. He walked over and told the horde of media that quickly surrounded him to “Fire Away.”

He was quickly asked about his contract status. He’s entering the final year of his deal and was questioned as to he’s comfortable working on a one-year deal. He answered as that 6th round rookie would. 

 “We’re all day-to-day if you think about it,” he answered. “None of us are really promised anything. So, I’m trying to do the best I can today and just let those [contracts] things sort themselves out… so, we’ll see how it goes.”

Asked about if he’s still having fun out there, even in the stifling heat and humidity yesterday he said, “ Yeah, absolutely. I have a great time, I mean football is – I love the sport. I’ve loved playing it since I was a kid. You know, it’s hard for me to imagine doing anything else in life. I love playing ball, so to still be out here at 41 – soon to be 42 – it’s a pretty great thing for me.”

Brady also addressed the balancing of family time with his preparation and commitment to football, giving a tremendous amount of credit to his wife, Gisele.

“The last couple of years, it’s been great for me to spend the off-seasons with them, and really fill up that bucket and give them the time, support, and love that they need. When I’m here doing my thing, my wife’s got to hold down the fort and she has put a lot on hold over the years to support my dreams. I feel like it’s my responsibility as a husband to do the same for her. She’s happy when I get back to football because she knows how happy I am. It was a great off-season, but now it’s time for football, and I think everyone in our family is prepared for that.”

Brady addressed the turnover of players and coaches and said that it takes a total team effort to get everyone pulling together. 

“Well, there’s a lot of turnover every year and you deal with the turnover, and there’s a lot of new guys trying to assimilate into what we’ve done here for a long time. It’s really up to them to get up to speed, and everyone here has got to help them get there. Between the coaches, the veteran players, the leaders – it’s our responsibility to get everyone on the same page, doing the right thing and trying to help us in whatever way they can help us move the ball down the field and score some points.”

Asked about a contract extension and if he’s earned one, Brady poked fun at NBC Sports Boston with all of the polls they’ve conducted during the offseason. 

“I don’t know. That’s up for talk show debate. What do you guys think? Should we take a poll? Talk to Mr. Kraft, come on.” Chuckling, he added, “No, like I said, we’ve got a great relationship so we’ll see how it goes.”

So, while the hot-take artists continue to predict the demise of the Patriots and Brady, he remains steadfast in his preparation, commitment to the game and his extremely competitive nature on the field. 

Having been at nearly every training camp practice for the past decade, every year I watch him go thru his progressions and throwing motion with my binos looking for the cracks that every hot-take artist claims to be there [and never steps foot in Foxboro] and I don’t see it. If anything, his throwing mechanics are even better than they were a decade ago. He may be in even better shape physically than he was then. 

The Patriots offense may struggle early in the 2019 season with the turnover at wide receiver and tight end, but as long as Brady is under center, there is no doubt that they’ll find a way to figure it out. Those national hot take artists will continue the drivel every summer ad nauseam and when he finally does retire or fall off, they’ll celebrate like they had it right all along. Brady has made them all look foolish for a long time. He’s the classic man in the arena that a former President wrote about 67 years before he was born. 

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt

The Patriots get back to practice this morning and look for Brady to be looking to get the offense moving forward right off the bat… It’s inevitable.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

Patriots Training Camp Day 6 Observations

Steve Balestrieri
July 31, 2019 at 5:25 pm ET

Sloppy Affair For the Offense

The Patriots conducted their sixth practice of training camp and their third in full pads on the fields behind Gillette Stadium on a very hot, humid Wednesday morning. It was perhaps the worst showing of the summer by the offense who were plagued by dropped passes. Between the heat, humidity and the Patriots defense, the offense had a rough session. They never looked in sync and had a hard time stringing any plays together.  

Not Practicing – Julian Edelman and Yodny Cajuste remain on NFI, Demaryius Thomas is still on PUP along with Nate Ebner and Ken Webster.

Byron Cowart and Dontrelle Inman returned after missing three practices and two respectively. Cowart worked on conditioning while Inman jumped right back into team drills. After warmups and stretching, Rex Burkhead retreated to the lower practice fields for work with the training staff. About halfway thru practice, Lance Kendricks left with a member of the training staff, which could have been a heat issue. 

Ben Watson speaks after practice on 7-31. (SBalestrieri)

The practice was conducted in full pads. Our observations included:

  • Once again a big part of the focus on Wednesday was the running game. Early in the session, James White was leading the way 
  • N’Keal Harry had a rough go of it, the worst of his career with four (4) drops one of which irritated Brady and he let the rookie know it. 
  • Braxton Berrios didn’t have a great session either, he had a drop from Brady and another from Hoyer. 

On the subject of Berrios, with Edelman out, he was expected to really compete and get work with the top unit on offense. After a really solid spring, things haven’t worked out. He hasn’t stood out at all. And worse yet, he isn’t getting any separation from the corners and he’s been mainly going against the second-tier guys. 

Maybe in the preseason, they’ll scheme up something to get him open more. Right now, I thought he’d be rapidly becoming the Amendola option to this offense. Although there is still a long, long way to go, right now, I’d put him on the outside looking in. 

Back to observations…

  • Jakobi Meyers is having a pretty impressive camp along with Maurice Harris. While he isn’t getting the reps that Harris is, whenever he’s being called, he is producing. He used his height to outleap Keion Crosson and brought down a pass from Stidham. I’d put him over Berrios…right now.
  • During the first 7-on-7 period, the offense struggled with drops on three plays. Berrios dropped a pass from Stidham, then he dropped one from Brady as the ball sailed right thru his hands. 
  • Harry dropped one on a quick drag route close to the line of scrimmage. 
  • Harry then ran a nice comeback route as Brady gunned the ball to his back shoulder. The rookie made the nice difficult catch on that one. 
  • During 11-on-11, Harry dropped a quick slant where Brady put the ball right in his hands. 
  • Brady just missed hitting Ben Watson with Devin McCourty providing tight coverage. The window was tight and he just missed him.
  • When Brian Hoyer came in, he tried to hook up with Phillip Dorsett but Jason McCourty did a nice job of breaking up the pass.
  • Stidham hit Damoun Patterson on a drag route close to the line of scrimmage. Then he threw behind Patterson on the next snap. 
  • During the final 11-on-11 which looked to be a hurry-up offensive series Brady laid out a deep seam pass for Harry but he dropped it. This was one of the only plays of the summer where Gilmore was beaten clearly.
  • Jonathan Jones made a really nice play of breaking up a pass intended for Berrios. Jones is having an outstanding camp thus far. Perhaps only Gilmore is playing better in the secondary right now.
  • Hoyer attempted to split double coverage with a deep seam pass to Watson. Terrence Brooks got a piece of it and Duron Harmon picked it off. 
  • Joejuan Williams had his best day of camp and broke up another pass to Watson. He had a couple on nice breakups today. 
  • Dan Skipper was getting the majority of first-team reps at left tackle but in the 1-on-1 drills he was beaten cleanly by Shalique Calhoun, who quietly is having a good camp and later was pancaked by Ufomba Kamalu. Not a good sign.
  • David Andrews and Joe Thuney held their own in the drills with good, solid stops. 
  • Backup defensive lineman Nick Thurman looked impressive in his individual 1-on-1 against Tyree St. Louis. 
  • New offensive lineman Martez Ivey was in uniform and has a long, long way to go with his conditioning.  Forced to run a penalty lap, he was so slow that the trainers came out to check on him….time to hit the hills. 
  • Punt returners today were Chung, Berrios, Olszewski, and Dorsett. 
  • Jake Bailey did a good job both on hanging his punts high in the air and on holding for Stephen Gostkowski’s field goals….hmmm.

The next practice session is slated for Thursday morning at 9:15 a.m.

Brady speaks to the media after practice. (SBalestrieri)

Brady, Watson, James White, and Dont’a Hightower all spoke with the media after practice. Brady spoke about the difficulties working against this defense and getting the new players up to speed.

“They’re all new players, so we’ve got to figure out how to get them up to speed to what our expectations are, the level of competition on a daily basis,” Brady said after practice. “We have a very good defense this year. Those guys are challenging us on every day. It’s hard to complete passes on our secondary. That’s just the reality. So, it’s actually great work for our offense to see how we measure up against a very good defense.

“Days like today are frustrating for us and we’ve got to learn from the corrections and try to come out and have a better day tomorrow.”

Play of the Day:

Okay, now that we got Harry’s struggles covered, he also had the play of the day, so that his day wasn’t a total loss. One play after dropping an easy catch, Harry made the very difficult one. He attacked the seam and was facing tight coverage from Jason McCourty . He went up and made an incredible leaping catch where he came down hard on his back. He was shaken up for a few seconds but quickly returned to the huddle and continued. 

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.