Category Archives: 2018 Patriots Draft

Patriots – Giants Preseason Finale, What to Watch For

Steve Balestrieri
August 30, 2018 at 7:00 am ET

After all of the draft preparation, OTAs, mini-camps, training camps and three preseason games, it all comes down to the final preseason game for the fringe players on the rosters for both the New England Patriots and the New York Giants. Most of the players who will see action tonight won’t make either team. And many will be playing in the final game of their NFL careers.

For many others, they’ll be trying to create as much good tape as they can as a demo for the 31 other teams in the league to garner a practice squad invitation and a chance to further their NFL dreams.

The starters, especially the quarterbacks, Tom Brady and Eli Manning will not see the field and watch from the sidelines until the games are for real beginning next week. In last year’s finale, also against the Giants, the Patriots used 38 players.

Other than the long snapper Joe Cardona, punter Ryan Allen, and kicker Stephen Gostkowski, who had no competition in camp, only seven of those players made the 53-man roster. Only one of the fifteen players on defense in last season’s finale against the Giants made the roster, DE Geneo Grissom.

However, for those few players that are trending up as the preseason winds down, this final audition can make a big difference. Bill Belichick spoke about that earlier this week.

“We evaluate everything, but if there’s a rising trend, that carries a lot of weight,” Belichick said on Tuesday. “So, this is the last opportunity. If guys that have been improving the last couple weeks can add onto that, it will absolutely help them. It could help them a lot.”

The game will be broadcast locally on WBZ-TV in Boston with Bob Socci, doing the play-by-play, Scott Zolak handling the color commentary and Rob Ninkovich and Steve Burton handling the sideline reporter duties. Andy Hart and Paul Perillo from PFW will be live in the studio offering instant analysis as well.

So from a New England perspective, here’s what to watch for when the Giants and Patriots meet again to end the preseason.

Who’s Starting on Offense, Defense: There will be plenty of decisions to be made at the bottom end of the roster. Most of these players will be left out of the final roster cuts but a few may be looking to get at least practice squad consideration. Among them are:

RB Ralph Webb – Webb was a dark horse candidate to make the squad given the depth that the team had at the position when training camp began. But Webb worked hard and in his limited snaps in practice played well. He had a very impressive debut against the Redskins in the first preseason game. Since then, he’s been nearly invisible. It could mean that the team will likely try to hide him on the practice squad.

The Patriots added RBs Kenneth Farrow and Khalfani Muhammad this week. Look for them to get a lot of work in the game as an audition for other teams. Webb? Not so much tonight.

RB Mike Gillislee – The veteran back who was a starter at the beginning of 2017 is likely gone. Jeremy Hill has (in our opinion) clearly outplayed him and is a bigger factor in the passing game, something the Patriots value highly in their backs.

He still has a shot at making the roster if the injuries to Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead are deemed long-term, although both returned, albeit limited, to practice this week. He’s auditioning for another team.

QB Danny Etling – The Patriots late-round draft choice is another player who hasn’t seen much of the field since the opener. Has he shown enough development in practice to warrant a practice squad spot? The feeling here is yes. He may go wire to wire tonight at QB, with a chance to show what he can do.

WR Devin Lucien – Lucien has made the rounds in the last year. He was with the Patriots in camp and then bounced around with several team’s practice squad a year ago before making his way back to New England this summer.

He’ll probably be the most targeted receiver in tonight’s game, but his chances of cracking the 53-man roster are pretty low.

On defense, there are plenty of decisions that likely have to be made and many of the players still in competition for roster spots may get a final look. Among them are:

DB Jason McCourty –  The move to safety was an intriguing one, was it a good or bad sign? Opinions seem to be mixed on that subject. I think if we see a lot of him on the field it will not be a good sign for the veteran to make the team.

DE Trent Harris – “Toolbox Trent” from Miami has had a difficult time getting thru the deep group of edge players to get significant snaps this summer. But when he’s been on the field, he’s been productive. He’s someone who may get snapped up by another team after the cutdowns are made.

LB Christian Sam – The “other” linebacker taken in the draft is athletic but hasn’t had nearly the impact that fellow rookie Ja’Whaun Bentley has had this summer. He’ll be looking for a performance that will convince the coaches that he’s worth developing long-term and may end up on the practice squad.

DE Keionta Davis – The first-year player has turned some heads with his play this summer. He’s far from a finished product but certainly has shown potential. The feeling here is he’s close to making the 53-man roster, so he may be one of those players who the coaches want a final look at.

Crowded secondary – The Patriots have a few difficult decisions to make in the secondary. Both Jonathan and Cyrus Jones have returned to full duty and Jonathan, I believe is a lock to make the roster. Cyrus however, is a different story.

With the uncertainty in the return game, his special teams’ versatility may be the difference in him getting a roster spot.

The team also has rookies J.C. Jackson, Keion Crossen and practice squad player Ryan Lewis in the mix. All of these players have a legitimate shot at making the roster and tonight’s game may be the difference in who stays and who goes.

Corey Bojorquez – The UDFA rookie punter hasn’t seen the field in one preseason game yet. Bill Belichick and ST’s coach Joe Judge kind of danced around the subject of “Bojo” but the feeling is that they don’t want any tape on him to risk losing him to another team.

New England Patriots Training Camp Primer – Offensive Line

Steve Balestrieri
July 3, 2018 at 8:21 am ET

Health is the Biggest Question Mark

The Patriots head into training camp in just about three weeks now and as we’ve been saying, the competition this year at a number of positions will tell the tale on who goes and who remains. This has been a tumultuous offseason in many different ways. The Patriots lost a lot of key veteran players and all of the off-field hoopla surrounding Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski have been non-stop.

Soon that will all be behind us as the players get back on the field and we start talking about football again. In the next segment of our 2018 Patriots Training Camp primers is the Patriots Offensive Line.

The team lost left tackle Nate Solder this spring as he signed a big money contract with the Giants. He’s protected Tom Brady’s blind side for several years and done it well. Replacing a trusted veteran like Solder who was as good off the field for the team as well as on it.

So, with that in mind who are locked in and who’s on the bubble?

Roster Locks: Trent Brown, Isaiah Wynn, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon

The Patriots traded for Brown with the 49ers this spring, giving up a 3rd round draft pick in return. Although he’s played mostly right tackle in the NFL, he says he can play anywhere and the team may move him to left tackle.

Brown is a mammoth-sized human being. Listed at 6’8, 359 pounds, he’s every bit of that and possibly even bigger. But for a very large man, he has surprisingly good footwork. And he’s just 25 years old. Brown got some great kudos from Denver’s Von Miller who said this about the new Patriot:

“He’s the best right tackle in the National Football League,” Miller said of Brown. “And he may even be a top-five tackle, period, in the National Football League. There’s not another tackle who’s that tall, that big and can move the way he moves.”

The team used a 1st round draft pick (#23 overall) on Wynn and although he played left tackle for the Bulldogs, he projects to be a left guard in the NFL. Wynn is short for a tackle, 6’2, 302 but both he and Brown were competing for the left tackle spot but during the spring, they lined up next to one another with Wynn at left guard.

Andrews, Mason, and Cannon have been starters and remain solid pieces who have performed very well. The only questions with the locks revolve around health. Brown and Wynn are coming off of shoulder surgery, while Cannon was placed on IR late last season.

If this unit is the starting five on Week 1 and we believe that they will be, the team should be in a very good position for the offensive line play to start the season. Cannon’s availability physically is the only question. Will he be ready to go? Or will he begin camp on the PUP?

Near Roster Locks: Joe Thuney, LaAdrian Waddle

Thuney missed the spring minicamp with an injury and his spot was taken by Wynn. It will be interesting to note if Thuney is healthy for training camp, he may a fight on his hands to get back his starting left guard spot from the talented rookie from Georgia.

There is a possibility that Thuney will start training camp on the PUP if he’s still not ready to go. Health is the only possibility we’d see with him not making the 53-man roster.

Waddle is a valuable swing tackle who they brought back during free agency despite his getting feelers from other teams. He can play either side and has performed well when called upon. And with the long season that the team faces, he’ll be called on again this year.

On the Bubble: Cole Croston, Jason King, James Ferentz, Andrew Jelks, Ted Karras, Matt Tobin, Luke Bowanko, Ulrick John

The Patriots have several players vying for one or possibly two spots along the OL. Our feeling here is that Croston nails down one of those slots. We penciled him in for first 53-man roster projection. He’s versatile and can fill in at guard or tackle if needed.

But his spot will have to be earned so, the competition factor again will come into play. The team brought back King this spring, so that speaks highly for him. Karras has made the team as a backup and can play guard or center.

What may open the door for one or two more of these players is if Thuney or Cannon or maybe both are placed on PUP to start training camp. But with the demanding and outstanding OL coach Dante Scarnecchia back in the fold for another year, one thing is for certain. He’ll get the very best out of this group.

While as a whole, they have to improve but in pass blocking and in the running game, Coach Scar made it clear back in the spring, “I really like the guys we have here right now,” he said during the OTAs.

So physical questions aside, the Patriots offensive line may be very different, at least on the left side this year but they also have the potential to be very good and better than the 2017 unit as well.

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 Wednesdays at 12 noon.

New England Patriots Training Camp Primer – Running Backs

Steve Balestrieri
June 25, 2018 at 8:30 am ET

 

Different Look, Better Production?

The Patriots head into training camp in just a few weeks and there should no shortage of competition at several spots, especially at the back end of the roster. As a lead-in to the beginning of camp, we’ll break down the positions and give our take on who is a lock, a near lock for the 53-man roster and who is on the bubble. Next up are the running backs.

The running back position will look very different in 2018. Dion Lewis is gone, He got a nice deal in free agency and will be in Tennessee this year. The team got back Rex Burkhead, James White returns but the big news is that the team invested a first-round draft pick to select Sony Michel (31st Overall) in the 2018 NFL Draft.

The team is deep, talented and have four good players battling for two roster spots.

So… who’s locked in and who’s on the bubble?

Roster Locks: Rex Burkhead, Sony Michel, James Develin

The Patriots did the very unPatriot-like decision to draft a running back in the first round under Bill Belichick.  But the selection of Sony Michel proves to be a very intriguing choice. He split the carries at Georgia with Nick Chubb, so playing in a New England backfield by committee won’t be a big exercise in adapting to the way the Patriots play.

But what stands out about Michel is that he’s a big-time playmaker and should be able to step in and contribute in both the running and passing games right away. He’s a different type of player than Lewis but the chiseled 5’11, 215-pound back has a boatload of potential.

Sony Michel after practice. (SBalestrieri photo)

Burkhead had a very good season in 2017 but appeared in only 10 games due to injuries. He’s back and can contribute in the running game, the passing game and on special teams. He’s a guy who will get about 500-600 combined yards rushing and receiving while being a solid contributor.

James Develin was just resigned to a two-year extension worth about $3.8 million with a $600,000 signing bonus. Develin played in about 30 percent of the Patriots offensive snaps a year ago and his value lies in his blocking. Rewatch the AFC Championship Game and look at the hole Develin blew open for Dion Lewis in the 4th quarter. That kind of smash-mouth football is invaluable in the running game.  

Near Roster Locks: James White

White remains the Patriots go-to third-down running back, especially in the passing game. In 2017, White only had 43 carries but caught 56 passes for 429 yards with 3 touchdowns. His Super Bowl performance against the Falcons shows how hot he can get when getting the favored matchups (6 carries 29 yards 2 TDs, 14 catches 110 yards 1 TD and a 2PT conversion).

 

James White hauls in a pass during practice. (SBalestrieri photo)

On the Bubble: Jeremy Hill, Mike Gillislee, Brandon Bolden

The Patriots invested in Gillislee last year and he ran okay but his lack of production in the passing game made him predictable while on the field and he was a healthy scratch in seven games.

Jeremy Hill was brought in because a change of scenery seemed like was needed for the veteran. He was an extremely productive running back in his first three seasons in the league, tallying up 27 TDs and 2700 yards rushing. But he fell out of favor in Cincinnati and is trying to restart his career here.

The Patriots could use a big physical back to churn up short yardage and be the closer in games. Could he be that guy? Possibly, but he’ll have to have a good summer and show that he still has some tread left on the tires.

Every year it seems, everyone has Brandon Bolden getting cut and every year, he’s back on the team and contributes a tremendous amount on Special Teams where he is a force out there. As a running back, he is a .260 hitter, he can run a bit and catch the odd pass here or there but is an excellent pass blocker. He will be either the 53rd player on the roster or the last guy cut.

Outside Looking in…. Longshots: Ralph Webb

The Patriots signed undrafted free agent Ralph Webb out of Vanderbilt. Webb is a straight-ahead power back with a lack of speed but with excellent vision to see where openings are. Webb is a lunch pail guy who is extremely durable, tough and consistent.

He’s not the biggest guy or the fastest but won’t be outworked. He was productive with 23 touchdowns the past two seasons. With a good summer, Webb could be looking at a practice squad slot and a chance to carve out a role for himself in the case of an injury in 2018 or in 2019.  

He reminds one of a slightly smaller BenJarvus Green-Ellis. He won’t make a lot of people miss but his feet never stop and you’ll get 100 percent on every snap.

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 Wednesdays at 12 noon.

2018 Patriots Training Camp Primer – Quarterbacks

Steve Balestrieri
June 21, 2018 at 1:44 pm ET

The Patriots head into training camp in just a few weeks, the OTAs and minicamp are over and the team has a 90-man roster ready to go. They’ll tweak this a bit as we go on but this group should remain pretty intact to start thru the beginning of training camp. As a lead-in to the beginning of camp, we’ll break down the positions and give our take on who is a lock, a near lock for the 53-man roster and who is on the bubble. So first up are the quarterbacks

Sorry to say, this column is strictly football, so if you’re looking for analysis of body language, the subliminal messages by Gisele or TB12 that may have been sent on social media or the butterfly effect that the Dalai Lama breaking wind in Tibet and the effect it will have on the Patriots this season, you can save yourself the time now.

So… who is locked in and who is on the bubble?

Roster Locks: Tom Brady
The Patriots are so fortunate that every year since early in the 2001 season, they know who their starting QB is and have the luxury of knowing that he is more than capable enough to take them to the promised land.

In 2017, the 40-year old quarterback had an MVP season, completing 385 of 581 passes, (66.3 %), for 32 TDs and just 8 INTs. He led the Patriots offense to 394.2 yards per game, #1 in the NFL and to 28.6 points per game, #2 in the league.

In the playoffs, Brady went 89 of 139 (64%) for 1132 yards with 8 TDs and 0 INTs. He brought the Patriots back in another big 4th quarter comeback in the AFC Championship Game against the Jacksonville Jaguars leading to a third Super Bowl appearance in four years. Against the Eagles, Brady went 28-48 (58.3%) for a Super Bowl record 505 yards with 3 TDs and 0 INTs.

However, every season we deal with the inevitable question of “when will Brady begin to show his age and slow down? Answer: It doesn’t look like it anytime soon. Which is why I have zero issues with Brady taking the OTAs off this season.

Consequently, lost in the all the “Hatfield – McCoy Feud” storyline is the fact that perhaps Brady feels at his age that he wants to limit the wear and tear on his arm and may have been feeling fatigued at the end of last season. That very possible scenario got little to no play this spring.  

If that is the case, I have zero problems with it and neither should anyone else. He’s more than earned that right. But for the record, would I rather see #12 QBing the team during the spring workouts? Of course, especially with the new faces here on the roster. So, we’ll see how all of this works out, but if you’re expecting (hoping) to see a significant drop off in Brady’s production, you may be disappointed.  

However, there are some legitimate questions to ask this year. How will Brady deal with the loss of

  • his top two wide receiver targets from last season, (Cooks, Amendola)
  • New England’s top running back option from last season (Dion Lewis), and finally
  • his starting left tackle of the past six years, (Nate Solder)

Unlike nearly every other quarterback in league history, Brady has shown an ability to adapt to change. 2018 will likely not be any different. On a positive side, the Patriots get back Julian Edelman (albeit after a possible 4-game suspension), picked by Jordan Matthews this spring and drafted the dynamic Sony Michel who should be a big factor in both the running and passing games. And the best tight end in the game Rob Gronkowski is healthy and ready to go.

I watched Brady at minicamp and saw no drop off in his game, nor any indications that he was “mailing it in”, (a familiar question this spring). He looked like the Tom Brady we’ve all come to expect and to see and he looked like Tom Brady….meaning excellent.

Near Roster Locks: Brian Hoyer, Danny Etling

Hoyer came back to New England in the fallout from the Jimmy Garoppolo trade with the 49ers last fall. He was released to make room for Jimmy G. and then quickly signed back with New England as Brady’s backup.

Hoyer is who he is at this point in his career. He’s not a great QB and is limited in the things that he can do. But he knows the offense very well and he has the confidence of the coaches that he can get the job done if the situation arises where he has to step in. .

Etling is a rookie who is still trying to learn the Patriots offense and find his rhythm with it. He has a long way to go. With his limited snap load in training camp, do we expect him to push Hoyer for the backup spot on the roster? Very doubtful.

But the Patriots made an investment in him this spring, albeit a 7th rounder (219th overall). His job this summer is to show enough progress to justify keeping him around this season and to learn the offense enough to push Hoyer out next summer as the backup. I think he’s already shown enough to justify that. He’ll probably get very acquainted with the clipboard this fall, but I think he’ll stick.

With Brady sitting out the majority of the spring workouts, Hoyer was getting a ton of reps and looked a bit arm fatigued by minicamp. With both he and Brady getting up there in age, having Etling around will help him learn the system and keep their workloads down to an acceptable amount.

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots 53-man Roster Projection 1.0 Post Minicamp Edition

Steve Balestrieri
June 18, 2018 at 9:39 am ET

With minicamp over, it is time to a very early look at a New England Patriots 53-man roster projection. We got a brief glimpse of what the players can do in the Bill Belichick system during the spring workouts and although no one was wearing pads, it was as close to actual football activities as the players will get prior to training camp beginning in about five weeks.

We’ll start posting training camp primers by position very soon to break down the current 90 man roster to a workable 53-man roster.

Offense –
Quarterbacks: (3)
Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Danny Etling

The Patriots will probably go with three QBs this year. Etling has shown enough in the spring to earn that much moving into camp. Will he push Hoyer for the backup job this summer? Very doubtful. Hoyer has a comfort level in the system and the confidence in the coaches that he can step up and play well in an emergency. Etling has a long way to go in that regard.

Running backs: (5)

Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, James White, Jeremy Hill, James Develin

Sony Michel looked like a rookie at times this spring, making mistakes, blowing assignments…all the things that rookies do in assimilating into a new system. That’s part of the learning process but shouldn’t affect his availability at all.

Sony Michel after practice. (SBalestrieri photo)

However, his upside was also there for all to see. He’s a threat to run or receive and showed a smoothness in the passing game with good hands. Along with Rex Burkhead and James White, the Patriots passing offense using their running backs should be very difficult to stop in 2018.

But that learning process may give the coaches pause enough to carry the veteran Hill to make the comeback attempt with the Patriots in the early going of the season. That may be bad news for Mike Gillislee and veteran ST presence, Brandon Bolden. I know, we cut Bolden every year and every year he’s out there making big plays on the special teams, which he’s known for.

Tight ends: (3)
Rob Gronkowski, Jacob Hollister, Dwayne Allen

The fact that Hollister had a great spring shouldn’t surprise anyone. He made the team a year ago as a UDFA and played, although sparingly during the season. He needed to bulk up and get stronger, and it appears he has. Allen has the firm backing of the head coach and is like an extra tackle out there as a blocker. If he can get anything going in the passing game, it is a bonus.

Jacob Hollister beefed up in the offseason and had an excellent spring. (SBalestrieri photo of 2017 training camp)


Wide Receivers: (6)
Chris Hogan, Jordan Matthews, Cordarrelle Patterson, Kenny Britt, Matthew Slater, Malcolm Mitchell (Suspended: Julian Edelman)

Edelman’s looming suspension, unless his appeal is successful will give one Patriots WR at least a month’s reprieve. In this case, it is Malcolm Mitchell. Mitchell’s status has zero to do with ability but everything to do with availability. He missed the majority of the spring but the good news was, the Patriots were taking a cautious approach with him.

Can he stay on the field this summer? If he does, he’s a lock, if he can’t then difficult decisions will have to be made by the coaches. There is a lot of competition to be had here at this position this summer, Philip Dorsett, Riley McCarron and Braxton Berrios will all be vying for spots. And other than Hogan, and Edelman, everything is on the table. And that includes Slater who is a WR in name only.

Offensive line: (8)
Trent Brown, Isaiah Wynn, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, Joe Thuney, Cole Croston, LaAdrian Waddle

The state of the offensive line, if everyone was healthy would be very bright. But injuries abound and because of that, there are plenty of questions right now. Thuney hasn’t made an appearance yet, Wynn and Brown are coming off of shoulder injuries, Cannon is still hurt after going on IR last year. This position will bear watching this summer.

Defense
Defensive line: (8)
Trey Flowers, Malcom Brown, Danny Shelton, Adrian Clayborn, Deatrich Wise, Lawrence Guy, Vincent Valentine, Derek Rivers

No big surprises here, the Patriots really liked Valentine in his rookie season and if he’s healthy (a big if), he noses out Butler who played well last year on the inside. If Valentine doesn’t have the same impact, Butler or one of the other edge players Eric Lee, Keionta Davis, Trent Harris may be able to step up and be noticed.

Linebacker: (7)

Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Christian Sam, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Marquis Flowers, Harvey Langi, Brandon King

Roberts got a lot of reps with the “starters” this spring, Bill Belichick hates the term 1st and 2nd team during OTAs but the fact they drafted Bentley speaks volumes. I’m going out on a limb here and say Langi beats him out for an inside LB spot. King is an ST maven but practices with the LBs.

Harvey Langi (SBalestrieri photo)


Cornerback: (6)
Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, Eric Rowe, Duke Dawson, J.C. Jackson, Keion Crosson (PUP: Jonathan Jones, Cyrus Jones)

Jackson, the UDFA got quite a few looks opposite Gilmore this spring and looked pretty solid. Eric Rowe didn’t have a great spring and McCourty was…unused. Neither is a worrisome development yet. But with Gilmore looking outstanding thus far and a young crop of corners entering the picture, this position looks in good shape.

Safety: (4)
Devin McCourty, Pat Chung, Duron Harmon, Nate Ebner

Once again I go to minicamp and watch Gronkowski and Hollister smoke Jordan Richards in coverage and say, “surely the coaches see this too….right?” But when the smoke clears, we’ll see what happens. Ebner and King are STs first and safety/hybrid LB second. So the depth could use a jolt. Two words:  Kenny Vaccaro.

Specialists: (3)
Kicker Stephen Gostkowski, punter Corey Bojorquez, long-snapper Joe Cardona

Jumping the gun here but UDFA rookie punter Corey Bojorquez can really put a charge into the ball. We watched him during minicamp and were thoroughly impressed with his leg strength and hang time. He has a long way to go to beat out Ryan Allen and needs work on his directional punting and pinning opponents deep, things that Allen is very good at. But for the simple fact of competition, we’ll give him the early edge. The other two will sleep well during camp as no one has been brought in to challenge them. That must feel nice.

 

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 Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Sunday New England Patriots News 6-10, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
June 10, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, Here is your Sunday’s Patriots news 6-10, & AFC East Notes … No AFC East notes this week, they’ll be back next Sunday as this week we’ll focus on the Patriots minicamp

Quick Hitters:
It was good to see some of the injured players from last year, back on the field, in varying amounts of work. But one player, Harvey Langi, who was injured in a car wreck while stopped at a light in Foxboro along with his wife in October. Langi was thankful to just survive and spoke about how blessed he was to just to see her okay. The two were sent to different hospitals in Rhode Island and Massachusetts on the night of the accident where the fire department had to use the “Jaws of Life” to cut them out. He’s never had a surgery in regards to football but ended up on IR after being rear-ended.

Langi after minicamp practice. (SBalestrieri photo)

The media asked all the players about the “fun” angle and most laughed it off. Running back Rex Burkhead, said he wasn’t even going there but having great fun at minicamp, as everyone in attendance laughed with him.

Chris Hogan is fully healthy after lingering shoulder issues cut back on his production last season. He spoke about the intensity ramping up a bit in minicamp and spoke about the team energy taking a step up with Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski being back.

RIP to the 49ers Dwight Clark who passed away this week after a long battle with ALS. Clark was famous for “The Catch” from Joe Montana in the NFC Championship Game against Dallas. By all accounts was as classy off the field as he was on it. We still remember that catch like it was yesterday and recall watching the game in a crowded dayroom on Ft. Bragg long ago.

For the third time since 2010, the Ravens and coach John Harbaugh have been fined by the league for excessive contact during OTAs/Minicamp. Harbaugh claimed that the league singled out Baltimore for what other teams all do. Baltimore had to forfeit their last two OTAs, while Harbaugh was fined $50,000 and the team assessed a $100,000 fine for the latest infraction.

Terrell Owens Snubs HOF Ceremony: Owens has decided to skip his own induction ceremony into the NFL Hall of Fame. Owens, the uber-talented and even more disruptive influence during his time in the NFL gives the NFL the petulant brush for not inducting him earlier. In a statement he wrote:

“I am so grateful for all of the support my family, friends, and certainly my fans, have shown me throughout my entire career in the National Football League. When it was announced that I was going to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the response received from my fans was overwhelming, and I am truly humbled. I am honored to be included among this group of fellow inducted individuals.

“While I am incredibly appreciative of this opportunity, I have made the decision to publicly decline my invitation to attend the induction ceremony in Canton. I have already shared this information with the Hall. After visiting Canton earlier this year, I came to the realization that I wish to celebrate what will be one of the most memorable days of my life, elsewhere. At a later date, I will announce where and when I will celebrate my induction.

“I would also like to thank the San Francisco 49ers, the Philadelphia Eagles, the Dallas Cowboys, the Buffalo Bills and the Cincinnati Bengals for the time I was granted with each organization. I am thankful for the relationships forged and the lessons learned while part of each team.

“I wish to congratulate all past, current and future inductees. It is quite an honor to be part of such elite company. This honor is something that I will cherish forever.”

This is unchartered territory, no living Hall of Fame member has ever declined his invitation for enshrinement. “We are disappointed by will respect Terrell’s decision not to participate in the Enshrinement,” Pro Football Hall of Fame president and CEO David Baker said in a statement.

“As we do not want to detract from this great honor being enjoyed by the seven other members of the Class of 2018 (Bobby Beathard, Robert Brazile, Brian Dawkins, Jerry Kramer, Ray Lewis, Randy Moss and Brian Urlacher), their family, friends, and fans; the Pro Football Hall of Fame will have no further comment on the decision made by Terrell Owens.”

Something tells me he’ll change his mind, being in the limelight is too big an opportunity to pass up.

Gronkowski Rumors Fuel Wild Friday:
How times have we said, the Patriots are many things but never boring. Rumors were swirling around the Patriots on Friday. Barstool Sports posted that Pats TE Rob Gronkowski was rumored to be on the trading block and they were writing a “pre-emptive blog post or what might be, if true, the most stunning move of the Bradichick Dynasty. Stay tuned” Which sent many fans overboard.

Several of the regular beat writers chimed in trying to read the tea leaves and glean any indication that the rumors could be true. Tom E. Curran posted about an hour later that the Patriots weren’t trading Gronkowski and fans could resume their weekend fun.

But about 5 p.m. former Herald Pats beat writer Adam Kurkjian posted that he had multiple sources that there were deals on the table but Robert Kraft nixed them.

That set off a firestorm of activity on social media, and Patriots Media VP Stacey James, normally one to stay off social media quickly tweeted out that “I would say with the utmost confidence that none of that is true. None of it.”

Others in the media quickly squashed it as well. Former Patriots QB and now the team color man on the radio broadcast Scott Zolak posted that someone high up in the organization was ashamed of the buzz on what was a false story.

Edelman Suspension A Big Blow to the NE Offense:
Julian Edelman is facing a four-game suspension for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs. In appealing the decision, Edelman released the following statement on his Instagram account.

“I am very sorry — I don’t know what happened,” Edelman posted on his Instagram page. “I’ve taken many, many tests obviously over the course of my career, and nothing like this has ever happened. I apologize to the Kraft family, my coaches, teammates, and fans. As this matter is being appealed, I can’t say anymore but no matter what, I will be ready to play and pursue another championship with our team and for Patriots fans around the world.”

Apparently, Edelman and the Patriots as they exited the practice fields for the final day of minicamp on Thursday, they were unaware of the ruling coming down from the league, where someone leaked it to Field Yates and Adam Schefter of ESPN. While no one knows on what grounds Edelman will base his appeal, those normally do not as a rule fare well.

Edelman would miss the first four games against the Texans at home, on the road at Jacksonville and Detroit and home against the Dolphins. He’d also forfeit over $400,000 in base salary alone during his suspension.

While many point out, and correctly so, that the Patriots went to the Super Bowl without  Edelman a year ago, they’re also dealing with the losses of Dion Lewis, Danny Amendola, Brandin Cooks as well as Nate Solder at left tackle from last year’s team.

While this season’s offense looks even better on paper than 2017,  with so many new faces on the team this season, it may take them some time to find their comfort level and their roles in the offense. And having no Edelman there for the first quarter of the season is definitely a big blow. Especially without Amendola there to take up his slack.

On the flip side, it will give one wide receiver an extra four weeks to make an impression and possibly carve out a role for himself. We shall see.

Punter Competition at Camp is a Good Thing:
Ryan Allen is most definitely facing some competition at punter this year during training camp and if Wednesday’s minicamp practice session is any indication, it should be quite a good one to watch. Solid camp competition is always a good thing for the team.

We were in attendance for minicamp and the first thing that jumped out to us was that UDFA rookie punter Corey Bojorquez from New Mexico has a tremendous leg. He was booming punts with tremendous height and hang time and had a distinct advantage over the veteran incumbent…for now. But it is all about consistency and whether he can do it all the time.

Allen is in the last year of his contract and beat out incumbent Zoltan Mesko who coincidentally was in the last year of his contract in 2013. Bojorquez, the left-footed punter not only have to continue his hot start punting but do the holding for Stephen Gostkowski’s extra points and field goals, something Allen has been very solid at.

Patterson Turns Heads Early in Camp:
Minicamp was also the first time we’ve gotten to see Cordarrelle Patterson up close and his speed is something that just leaps out. He showcased that during the return part of the session as he eats up yardage…fast.

With the new kickoff rules in effect, the Patriots ST coaches Joe Judge and Bret Bielema are working on new packages to get Patterson free to get to that next level. He already has averaged over 30 yards per return with 5 TDs in his career and he smiled when asked about the new rules.

Cordarrelle Patterson after minicamp practice on knowing his role. (SBalestrieri photo)

“If they kick it to me, we might get more yards,” Patterson said. “That’s the game. Every year, they stop trying to kick it to me. It doesn’t matter.”

One area where he’s struggled is finding a consistent role on offense. He’s known as a gadget-type of player, running reverses, screens and such. But thus far the Patriots seem intent on trying a number of different things with him and he’s open to whatever the coaches decide.

“It’s challenging, but you have to know your role and embrace it” Patterson said. “Every offense. New England, Oakland, Minnesota, no matter where you are, it’s going to be a challenging offense. … There’s always something you can learn.”

“I mean, my film don’t lie,” Patterson said. “I can do whatever I put my mind to. That’s something I’ve been blessed with from the man above since I was born.”

Asked about the difficulties in learning the Patriots playbook he said,“I feel like I know the playbook more than I did yesterday,” Patterson said. “Each day, I’m trying to improve to get better. Let all three quarterbacks out there trust me so I am in the right place where I need to be every time.”

Many had Patterson as a bubble player or as a cut going into the season. Forget that. He’s a lock, for his STs ability alone, and if he can work his way into the Patriots offense for just 10-15 snaps a game? That is a win-win for the Patriots.

Three Up and Three Down For the Pats Minicamp:
With the Patriots finished up until training camp begins in late July, we compiled a quick list of who helped themselves during the spring and who didn’t. After three pretty intense days (albeit without pads) of practice, the team looks in pretty good shape. Besides the usual stars (Brady, Gronkowski, Edelman, Stephon Gilmore) who all looked very good to outstanding during minicamp, we’ll focus on some of the lesser-known players for this segment.

Three Up:

Jacob Hollister: The second-year tight end added some muscle and still looks like he can threaten the seams against just about anyone on the field. He was already a pretty athletic tight end, but now he seems even more so.

Hollister was not only giving the second team guys fits but consistently got open against the likes of Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, and Pat Chung. That was most impressive. If his newfound muscle translates into improved play in the blocking game, then he’s way ahead of the pack to be the #2 tight end on the depth chart.

Training camp and preseason will be interesting to watch. Once the pads come on, if Hollister can still get open from the jams at the line, then he’ll be a key player to watch in the offense. He had an outstanding spring…now he needs to have a better summer.

J.C. Jackson:
The UDFA rookie out of Maryland had the potential to be a top-tier CB and prospect but had off-field issues in college that had him dropped from Florida. But he’s turned his life around and he certainly turned some heads this week.

The Patriots liked what they’ve seen with the rookie and gave him plenty of reps with the first team unit. While Bill Belichick pooh-poohs first or second team designations at this time of year, Jackson was out there often times facing the top WRs in the Patriots offense. And didn’t look at lost out there.

We wrote about him six weeks ago and it seems that he’s in a good spot to secure a roster spot heading into training camp. He’ll have to beat out CBs Keion Crossen and Cyrus Jones for a CB slot. He had a very good head start on things while the other two were relegated to the lower practice fields working back from injuries.

J.C. Jackson was impressive in his first minicamp. (SBalestrieri photo)

Sony Michel:
The Patriots have very high expectations from the first round draft pick and it is easy to see what they like. Michel has good size, is quick to the hole in the running game and is a smooth runner who looks really good in the passing game with very good hands.

The coaches are working on him with his route-running and ensuring he’s precise in that manner and they’re ensuring his work on STs is up to par, he drew the ire of the coaches when he whiffed on a block during a kickoff return by Patterson.

With an albeit limited look this spring, he looks dynamic in the Patriots offense. He and Rex Burkhead have the inside edge as being the two starters …right now.

Sony Michel looks to be a nice weapon in the Patriots offense. (SBalestrieri photo)

Honorable Mentions: P Corey Bojorquez, WR Riley McCarron, LB Dont’a Hightower

Three Down:
Malcolm Mitchell:
After missing all of 2017 with lingering knee issues, those appear to be chronic. Expectations were also high for Mitchell who had a very solid 2016 rookie season.

Mitchell missed all of the minicamp and most of the earlier OTAs although during Thursday’s minicamp session he was spotted on the lower field working out with the training staff with some of the other hurt players.

With a very crowded field at WR, it isn’t going to be easy for Mitchell to make the team unless he’s a healthy go for nearly all of the training camp this summer. Ditto for 6th round WR Braxton Berrios. He suffered an injury at the NFL Combine and is slowly working his way back.

Eric Rowe:
Rowe wasn’t sharp at any of the sessions this week and was beaten on occasion by every WR on the roster as the week wore on. During the Wednesday session, we watched Edelman get separation on him for a long gain, but he regularly does that to everyone he goes against.

But as the week wore on, Rowe was losing reps to the rookie Jackson with the starting unit. Hardly the spring Rowe was looking forward to. We’ll see once the pads come on if that helps his coverage as he can jam more at the line.

Jason McCourty:
The McCourty twins didn’t see the field much this week, in one of the more puzzling moves. Jason was barely on the field during team activities. He spent most of it as a spectator just watching from the sidelines.

We don’t believe it to be injury related as he didn’t go down to the lower fields to work with the training staff but stayed with the team on the upper field but as an observer. This will be an area to watch once camp begins.

It is really hard to judge any of the linemen, offensive or defensive during minicamp since the players don’t wear pads. Those big guys plus the big running backs, (Mike Gillislee, Jeremy Hill, and Ralph Webb) plus blocking tight ends Dwayne Allen and Troy Niklas will get closer looks then.

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 myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

New England Patriots News 5-27, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
May 27, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, Here is your Sunday’s Patriots news 5-27, & AFC East Notes

Quick Hitters:
Can’t say enough about the league’s “compromise” in regards to the national anthem. Compromise with who? The league and the owners, that’s who. The players, who are the ones most affected by this new policy, weren’t even consulted and involved in the discussions. Bad move NFL.

The NFL loves to throw around the word “partners” when discussing the players. So how in the world can they NOT involve them in the process? Baffling would be the politically correct answer. The Players Association should take note and remind the league about it when the new CBA comes around.

Bill Belichick loves to find new ways to build team cohesion…and to tweak the NFL. Belichick traditionally used the old Chuck Noll tactic of using numberless jerseys for OTAs and minicamp in have the players get to know one another and communicate better on the field.

But the massive uptick in media coverage in the modern game had the league force the Patriots and Belichick to ban that tactic. So, Belichick, this spring had the rookies wear non-traditional numbers for OTAs. Examples? RB Sony Michel wore #51, CB Duke Dawson wore #52, QB Danny Etling wore #58, Braxton Berrios wore #55.

One can expect the league to address this soon as well.

There have been rumors of a contract extension for Rob Gronkowski for awhile now, getting a new deal done will be relief no doubt for the team and the player to keep him around Foxboro a bit longer. Gronk released a shot of him swimming with sharks as part of a Discovery Channel special

All the amateur psychologists were out in force to try to decipher the meaning of Tom Brady’s Instagram post this week. Brady posted a picture of himself practicing and added the caption, “Dreamworks”. Brady was rumored to be working out at the TB12 clinic but that was quickly shot down by Scott Zolak and others.

This weekend we know that he and his wife are in Monaco at the invitation of the prince. It is good to be the King…er the Goat. As to when he’ll be on the field, look for mandatory minicamp June 5-7. I wouldn’t expect to see him out there on May 30-31.

So what about the players on the field?

Wide Receiver Will Be a Great Position to Watch This Summer:
This will be a prime position to watch at both minicamp and training camp this summer. Julian Edelman has been on the field for the OTAs and looks like he hasn’t lost a bit of his quickness. Coming off of a serious ACL injury that caused him to miss all of 2017, that is good news. He and Chris Hogan seemed to be locked into the top two spots on the depth chart.  There,  things get really interesting and that’s where the camp competition will be fun to watch.

Malcolm Mitchell who had such a promising end to his rookie season, also missed the entire season a year ago with knee woes that are looking chronic. He was at Monday’s session and then missed Tuesday’s on-field work. Whether it was injury related or the team just taking a cautious approach will bear watching.

Two guys the team brought in last year will be looking to assert themselves after a full offseason in the Patriots system. Phillip Dorsett was something of a disappointment last year as he didn’t contribute much. He has the advantage of being able to line up inside or outside and with his spot far from guaranteed, he’ll be going all out this spring and summer.

Kenny Britt is a sleeper here. Brought in at the tail end of last year after a miserable 2017 with the Browns, Britt had 1000 yards receiving with the Rams in 2016. He has good size, (6’3, 225) and still runs well. The Patriots need some size at the position and Britt could be a productive player in the system with a solid summer.

Jordan Matthews is a guy that I’m going to make an early prediction and say makes the team. We haven’t seen him play in the Patriots system yet, but he’s learned several different systems already in his career and despite an injury-riddled season in Buffalo, he’s been a very productive receiver in Philadelphia where he averaged 70+ catches over three years there. He too has good size  (6’3, 205) and can operate out of the slot.

Cordarrelle Patterson is probably the most intriguing guy in the group. Patterson has good size, (6’2, 220) and has tremendous speed. He’s the best kick returner in the business right now and a very effective gunner. That alone should make him a near roster lock. With the Patriots ability to insert him in the lineup for some specifically tailored plays designed for him, end-arounds, quick slants, screens, his ability to make something in the open field should be fun to watch.

Braxton Berrios arrives in New England with a ton of hype as the “next Wes Welker” in the Pats offense. He’s small with a very limited catch radius but he has the quickness and better top end speed than Welker did. Where he can secure a spot is in the punt return game. He was working with Julian Edelman on that this week, which is a good sign. He and Riley McCarron will no doubt be competing for a spot either on the roster or the practice squad. Don’t go to sleep on the second year McCarron. He offers much the same value as Berrios without the hype and spent all of last year on the practice squad. He can return punts and is built similar to recently departed Danny Amendola.

Cody Hollister is a super long shot to make the roster and would have to turn heads this summer to remain on the practice squad for another year. He has the versatility to play in different spots on the field as well as special teams.

Matthew Slater is a wide receiver truly in name only. He’s one of the best special teams players in the league, year in and year out. But with so many qualified wide receivers on the squad this year, the team will have to decide whether to keep an extra WR or make some difficult decisions in regards to who to release.

The wide receiver position will be a fun one to watch this summer. With Tom Brady not at OTAs, it gives the younger players an opportunity to gain some level of comfort and build some chemistry with Brian Hoyer and Danny Etling. Why is that important? Because they’ll be mostly getting reps with them once Brady gets to camp and is taking reps with the top WRs on the depth chart.

Helmet Maker with the NFL is Trying to Make Soldiers Helmets Safer:
Not Patriots-related news but on Memorial Day weekend, we salute anything that can make our troops a bit safer.

VICIS, the makers of the new Zero1 football helmet has partnered with the US Army to make the ballistic helmet safer for the men and women in the military. They plan on replacing the foam pads inside the existing helmets with technology from the Zero1 helmet.

While the primary purpose of the military’s helmet is ballistic protection, four out of five traumatic brain injuries occur from blunt impact during training and/or other events. The company believes it will take a year or two of research and testing to begin fielding a new military helmet that makes the troops safer.

Military ballistic helmet

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills: WR Zay Jones Knee Surgery Will Not Sideline Him During Season:
The Buffalo Bills appeared to have dodged a major bullet when WR Zay Jones was forced to have knee surgery last week, but although he’ll miss the remainder of the spring, head coach Sean McDermott said it will not force Jones to miss the season.

“At this point, we aren’t concerned this injury will jeopardize his season,” McDermott told the media. When pressed for return timetable McDermott deferred and , said it was “best for us to get this done now.”

Jones who had 27 catches for 316 yards and a pair of touchdowns in 2017 is expected to be a starter opposite Kelvin Benjamin in 2018. He also had a bizarre episode in Los Angeles this off-season where he appeared naked in an apartment corridor and argued with his brother before he broke a few glass doors and windows. He was not charged with a crime in that incident as the DA declined to pursue charges.

Dolphins Bolster OL Depth, Sign Center Mike Matthews:
The Miami Dolphins announced on Friday that they have signed center Mike Matthews.

Matthews spent the 2017 season with the Pittsburgh Steelers on Injured Reserve after suffering a season-ending injury during training camp. He tore his patella tendon with the Steelers and then spent the 2016 offseason and training camp with the Cleveland Browns after originally signing with them as an undrafted college free agent on May 5, 2016. Matthews was a three-year starter (2013-15) at Texas A&M, where he played in 40 games with 33 starts.

Matthews comes from a football family; he’s the son of Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce Matthews, brother of Atlanta Falcons 2014 6th-overall pick Jake Matthews, and cousin of six-time Pro Bowl Packers linebacker Clay Matthews.

Matthews isn’t expected to compete for a starting job but to provide depth along the offensive line.

Jets Owner Johnson Says He’ll Pay the Fines For Players in New Anthem Policy:
It isn’t often when you’ll read about us here complimenting the New York Jets on their actions off the field. But this one is the exception.

The NFL on Wednesday approved a new policy that could fine teams if players don’t stand for the national anthem, but the New York Jets chairman and CEO Christopher Johnson told the media that he would pay any fine handed down by the NFL, allowing players to freely kneel during the national anthem with no repercussions or backlash from the team.

“If somebody on the Jets takes a knee, that fine will be borne by the organization, by me, not the players,” Johnson said. “I never want to put restrictions on the speech of our players. Do I prefer that they stand? Of course. But I understand if they felt the need to protest. There are some big, complicated issues that we’re all struggling with, and our players are on the front lines. I don’t want to come down on them like a ton of bricks, and I won’t. There will be no club fines or suspensions or any sort of repercussions. If the team gets fined, that’s just something I’ll have to bear.”

Well done, Mr. Johnson.

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 myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

New England Patriots News 5-20, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
May 20, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, all the best to our friends at HMEA today and their annual “Walk/Run for Independence. This will be the first time in 10 years we can’t attend but a work trip beckons. Here is your Sunday’s Patriots news 5-20, & AFC East Notes

Andy Johnson Was a Gem and Would Fit Right in Today:
So sad this week to learn that former Patriots running back Andy Johnson passed away after a long fight with cancer. Growing up in the Chuck Fairbanks era, the Patriots had a stable of excellent running backs and were fun to watch. They had Johnson, Sam Cunningham, Don Calhoun, Horace Ivory, Mosi Tatupu and others. The 1976 and 1978 teams were true running back by committee teams and the Patriots set the NFL rushing record without a back gaining more than 768 yards.

The 1976 Patriots team was a juggernaut on the ground, averaging 5.0 yards per rush and an incredible 210 yards per game rushing. The ‘78 team set the record for team rushing (3165 yards) in a season, but the 1976 squad was even better. Johnson rushed for 699 yards and six scored and caught 29 passes for four more touchdowns that year.

Johnson was drafted in the 5th round, (112th overall) in the 1974 draft. Johnson was a quarterback at the University of Georgia and led the Bulldogs to an 11-1 record as a sophomore. The Patriots converted him to running back and he was a very good rusher, and excellent pass receiver (he was the leading receiver for the 1976 team) and could throw the ball on a trick play here or there as well as play special teams.

He was the type of player Bill Belichick would have loved today.

When hearing the news of his passing, I reached out to Patriots Hall of Fame Linebacker Steve Nelson as the two were teammates for several years in New England. Nelson though saddened, wasn’t shocked by the news.

“It was really sad to hear that Andy passed on so young (65) today,” Nelson said. “We’d heard that his cancer ( Esophageal) had progressed so bad that he had trouble eating solid food for the past year and had dropped an incredible amount of weight.”

“Andy and I were drafted the same year (1974) and we were roommates on the road for the first three years in the league together. After he played for the Patriots for about eight years he finished up his football career for the Boston Breakers in the USFL in 1983.”

“He was a great football player and teammate and an even better guy.”

Johnson leaves behind his wife Charlotte and three children.

Matt Light Honored as the Newest Member of the Hall:
Former Patriot LT Matt Light is the latest member of the Patriots to be elected into the team’s Hall of Fame. Light, in a fan vote, outdistanced former LB Mike Vrabel and DL Richard Seymour this spring and will be inducted on September 29 during the 10th anniversary of the Hall at Patriots Place.

Light played left tackle for 11 years and started 153 of the 155 games he appeared in during his Patriots career, including another 20 playoff games. Light was an integral member of three Super Bowl titles and garnered three Pro Bowl selections, and a first-team All-Pro selection.

Light was always approachable and affable with a quick wit and that no doubt played into his selection. He said all the right things after being selected, stating, “I was extremely fortunate not only to make it to the NFL but make it to an organization that took winning first. Right behind that were so many other things that made my experience extremely special, whether it was the community service side and giving back, and the people that I got to meet, and raising my family here in New England.”

As I stated on our Patriots 4th & 2 podcast this week, I had no issue with any of the three finalists as they are all worthy. But as for Seymour, he belongs in Canton and should be wearing two jackets, one gold, one red.

Patriots OL line up helmets after practice. (SBalestrieri photo)

Shelton, “it kinda sucked at first” 5th Year Option Denied, But Ready to Run:
New Patriots defensive lineman Danny Shelton was a bit disappointed that the Patriots turned down his fifth-year option just after trading for him but looks upon it as a chance to excel.

“Obviously, it sucked at first,” Shelton said. “At the same time, you’ve got to think of it as an opportunity. For me, I’m just grateful for the opportunity to be here for the year and to just try my best to dominate and put myself out there and see what happens after that.”

Shelton is trying to shed some extra weight and get to his playing weight of 335 and he’s been doing more running than ever before.

“I feel like my body is adjusted now to all the running, man. It’s pretty crazy,” he said. “But, I like it.”

He was asked about running the hill behind the Patriots practice facility and although he admitted he “waved at it”, hasn’t experienced it yet but knows the team places an extremely high premium on conditioning.

“That’s what I’m focusing on, and that’s why I like the change,” Shelton said, when asked about improving his endurance level. “I know my body will be more trained for endurance, and more trained for fourth quarter/overtime. I’m excited for the rest of the year.”

“I’m expecting to be at 335 and dominating at 335,” he added.

Patriots Football is back! (SBalestrieri photo)

Kraft, Latest Figurehead to be Deposed in Kaepernick Collusion Case:
Patriots owner Robert Kraft is the latest in a series of NFL owners and front office personnel to be deposed in the Colin Kaepernick vs the NFL collusion suit.

Lawyers have already spoken to John Elway of the Broncos, owner Bob McNair of the Houston Texans, Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider, Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh and GM Ozzie Newsome, as well as Dallas owner Jerry Jones and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

Kaepernick filed a grievance against the league claiming collusion last fall, and remains unsigned by any team. His suit claims the league is blackballing him for kneeling in protest during the national anthem while playing for the San Francisco 49ers.

And all of these owners, coaches, and GMs had quarterback openings on their team.

Patriots Sign OL King Cut WR Lacy:
The Patriots re-signed offensive linemen Jason King and in a corresponding move have released UDFA rookie WR Chris Lacy. King had been signed to a futures contract on Feb. 6, 2018 and was released on May 10.

King is a 6’4, 310 pound OL from Purdue who was signed by the Patriots as a UDFA in 2017. He bounced between the Patriots active roster and the practice squads of both New England and Baltimore last season.

Lacy was a UDFA 6’3, 205-pound wide receiver from Oklahoma State who caught 20 passes for 264 yards as a senior.

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills Set to Retire Thurman Thomas’ #34 Jersey:
The Buffalo Bills announced this week that Thurman Thomas’ # 34 jersey will become the third number retired in franchise history when the Bills host the Patriots on Monday Night Football Oct. 29. Thomas will join quarterback Jim Kelly and defensive end Bruce Smith to receive the honor.

Thomas, already a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Bills’ Ring of Honor spent 12 seasons in Buffalo and one season with the Miami Dolphins, amassing 12,074 yards rushing and 65 touchdowns on 2,877 career attempts. A true dual-threat running back, Thomas added 4,458 yards and 23 touchdowns on 472 catches.

Thomas led the league in yards from scrimmage for four straight years and was a key part of the Bills K-Gun attack that went to four straight Super Bowls.

Dolphins Offense Plans on Playing Faster More UpTempo in 2018:
The Miami Dolphins are planning on dusting off their early 2016 season offensive game plan on playing faster and more uptempo now that Ryan Tannehill is back under center. They tried it early in 2016 while the team was struggling and going 1-4 and then scrapped it for a more methodical approach.

But as a piece in the Palm Beach Post suggests, it was not without merit. The Dolphins trailed the Patriots 31-3 and then mounted a huge comeback that came up just short in the 31-24 loss.

“We get a lot of practice at a no-huddle offense,” Tannehill said after the game. “It’s kind of what we are. We have the ability to go huddle or no huddle and we kind of got the pressure on them. We kind of got them on their heels a little bit.”

The onus and all of the focus will be on Tannehill as this is it for him. He’ll have to prove he’s the franchise QB or the team will move on from him. He’ll have to get on the same page with several newcomers, including Danny Amendola, Albert Wilson, as well as rookies Mike Gesicki and Durham Smythe.

Prosecutors Drop Felony Case Against Jets Robby Anderson:
The New York Jets WR Robby Anderson may have dodged a bullet in a felony case in Florida where he was facing four felony counts after leading police officers on a high-speed chase thru Miami-Dade County. After being pulled over by police officers, Anderson reportedly threatened to sexually assault the officer’s wife in retaliation for pulling him over.

He was also arrested in another case where he assaulted a security officer and pushing a police officer in May of last year at a concert in Miami.

Anderson, who had career highs with the Jets had 63 receptions, 941 yards and seven TDs in 2017 and although rumors were swirling that he’d be cut loose, the Jets are standing by him with CEO Christopher Johnson stating at the league meeting this spring that he believes Anderson will turn over a new leaf.

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 myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Best and Most Important Off-season Additions for the Patriots Defense

Steve Balestrieri
May 16, 2018 at 2:48 pm ET

Sometimes it is unfair to base everything on the previous season on just one game but when that game is the Super Bowl, it is hard to erase those memories. And for the Patriots, the problems that were plain to see in the Super Bowl against Philadelphia were symptomatic of problems the team faced all season and was able to overcome.

But against a team with a hot quarterback and an offense that blew out the prevailing #1 defense in the NFL, perhaps we should not have been so surprised at the outcome. Specifically, the defense all season struggled to stop the run, especially inside, they struggled to get consistent pressure on the quarterback as well as setting the edge and the coverage by the linebackers was spotty at best.

So how did the team address these deficiencies? It is important to note that the Patriots consider free agency and the draft inexorably linked. They use their draft capital for veteran players as the feeling is, their quality is a more known value than a college player who has yet to play in the NFL. So when looking at the offseason and the draft, for New England, it is always important to use Free Agency when judging the merits of the General Manager’s prowess at team building. (clears throat)

So who is the most important off-season addition in 2018? Adrian Clayborn.

Clayborn checks the block for two of the most important areas that need to be addressed. Setting the edge and getting after the quarterback. The Patriots like their edge guys to be a bit bigger than the greyhounds that populate the NFL landscape today. Because the value setting the edge as a priority. And Clayborn is big, 6’5, 280 pounds of relentless

After an offseason of losing Jabaal Sheard and Chris Long to free agency, Rob Ninkovich to retirement and Dont’a Hightower, top 2017 draft choice Derek Rivers as well as rookie Harvey Langi on IR last year, they were notoriously thin at the position.

One bright spot was the play of rookie Deatrich Wise who chipped in 26 total tackles and five sacks. He added an additional four tackles and two sacks in three playoff games. Less impressive, however, was the play of Cassius Marsh, who wasn’t a fit in the Patriots system and Eric Lee, both of whom had issues setting the edge. That’s why they brought James Harrison late in the season. It put too much pressure on Trey Flowers and the defense suffered for it.

Hightower, Langi, and Rivers are back, which is huge. Wise will be better in Year 2 which helps but in getting Clayborn, the Patriots should have plenty of depth, and production…if everyone can stay healthy.

The Patriots and Bill Belichick have known Clayborn’s value for some time now. He played at Iowa under Belichick close friend Kirk Ferentz, they watched him in joint practices where he played for another Belichick close confidant in Greg Schiano.

“He’s had a good career,” head coach Bill Belichick told Patriots.com. “He’s been a very productive player in multiple positions. So, again, look forward to working with him. I know he’s a solid person, works hard, tough kid. I think he’ll be a good addition to our program. We’ll see how it all goes.”

He’s had injury issues over his career but was healthy for all of 2017 and had a career-high 9.5 sacks and two forced fumbles for the Falcons. He’s yet another former 1st round draft pick (#20 overall in 2011), that the Patriots have brought in later in their career.

With the addition of Danny Shelton inside with Malcom Brown, Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler and the return of Vincent Valentine, the interior of the defensive line should be much improved over 2017. They also double-dipped at linebacker in Rounds 5-6 in the 2018 NFL Draft with Ja’Whaun Bentley (#143) and Christian Sam (#178) which should also help the issues with the position.

Overall on paper, the unit they have now, with the additional players they’ve added in the secondary looks much, much better than the squad that took the field in the Super Bowl. So who is the most important addition to the defense?

He actually isn’t an addition at all, but his responsibilities are added on to. Brian Flores.

With Matt Patricia now a head coach in Detroit, Flores has the play-calling responsibilities as a defensive coordinator but not the title, which he doesn’t care for anyway. Flores himself, the Patriots linebacker coach/defensive coordinator has gotten consideration from the Arizona Cardinals for their head coaching position. Flores has been with the Pats since 2004 and will be watched closely in 2018 to see how he handles the pressure.

When he met with the media about a week ago, it is pretty obvious why so many speak so highly of him. He says all the right things and has his head screwed on straight. His main defensive philosophy is to help the players become the best version of themselves — on and off the field.

Belichick had to be smiling when he saw that Flores, after being asked many times about putting his own personal stamp on the defense, deferred. Instead, he mentioned making a “team imprint” on defense.

Flores said that he’s hard on the players but gets the best out of them. “I’m tough on the players. I think you need to be tough on them so they can be disciplined. You need the discipline to play this game.”

His goal he said, is “going to sound like a Bill Belichick-coached team.” Flores spoke about playing under pressure, being tough, smart and dependable. All of these things are exactly the right thing to say if you’re Flores. Now he’ll have to do it on the field and prove that he’s up to the task. Something about that leads one to believe that he will be just fine as the team’s new defensive coordinator.

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 Wednesdays at 12 noon.

New England Patriots News 5-13, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
May 13, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, and a very Happy Mother’s Day to all of the Moms out there. Here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 5-13, & AFC East Notes

Quick Hitters: One of the treats of the spring is getting to hear the assistant coaches speak, as in most of the NFL, that isn’t very often. Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia was on hand and asked about his newest acquisition in top draft pick Isaiah Wynn. Scarnecchia spoke highly on the rookie’s potential stating, “he was a really good player in the best conference in America…he played left tackle and guard so, that’s what I like about him. He’s smart, as tough as they come…we look at three traits, smart, tough and athletic for the position. We’re going to give him the opportunity to play left tackle, guard and we’ll see. That is what training camp and the preseason is for.

Ivan Fears, the Patriots running back coach was smiling too when talking about fellow first-round pick and fellow Georgia Bulldog Sony Michel.”They loved the kid down there at Georgia, all you could get was great accolades about him as a player and as a person. We’ve only had the one meeting this morning in the meeting room but it seems like we’re going to have some fun.”

Josh McDaniels made it clear that he’s very grateful to be back in New England for another season from a personal and professional standpoint. His family is heavily rooted here but he did make it clear, he’d like to be a head coach again. McDaniels was disappointed by not worried about having Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski at the voluntary workouts thus far in the spring.

Brian Flores, the team’s linebacker coach and the defensive coordinator without a title, who will be calling the defensive signals this season, isn’t worried about titles, just helping all of the players get better. “I try to think as a player. What’s the best way to teach this? What’s the best technique for this specific player?” And as for the style, the Patriots defense will play this year? “I’m passionate about this game, passionate about coaching this team. This is going to sound like a Bill Belichick-coached team: tough, smart, dependable, cool under pressure. That’s been a good formula. I’ll go with that one.”

Some good news to hear…Malcolm Mitchell who missed all of 2017 with knee issues after coming on late in his 2016 rookie season is expected to be a full participant for the OTAs beginning on May 21. Mitchell caught 32 passes for 402 yards and four scores, with the vast majority coming down the stretch. He added 6 catches for 70 yards (including five in the fourth quarter) of the Patriots Super Bowl comeback win over the Falcons.

Patriots Offensive linemen align their helmets after practice. (SBalestrieri photo)

Patriots Sign Six Rookie Draft Picks and Nine UDFAs:
The Patriots announced that they had signed all of their Day 3 Draft picks and nine rookie UDFAs.They inked fifth-round draft pick LB Ja’Whaun Bentley, sixth-round draft picks LB Christian Sam and WR Braxton Berrios and 2018 seventh-round picks QB Danny Etling, DB Keion Crossen, and TE Ryan Izzo. Terms of the contracts were not announced.

The UDFAs, who fans may not be read up on as much consisted of:
CB A.J. Moore: Moore is a slightly undersized corner for the boundary at 5’11 but played primarily nickel at Ole Miss and ran a 4:40 in the 40-yard dash. Interesting stat- in 39 games, Moore didn’t have an interception.

TE Shane Wimann: Wimann is a 6’3, 255-pound tight end from Northern Illinois. He had 30 receptions and seven touchdowns in 2017. He has average speed but shows nice hands extends his arms well showing a nice catch radius. Below average blocker.

DT John Atkins: Another Georgia Bulldog, the big man inside (6’3, 321) is primarily a run stuffer and was known as the man who helped keep Roquan Smith clean. Phone booth worker inside with very little pass rush ability.

CB J.C. Jackson: Jackson is solidly built and in our opinion is just realizing his potential. We wrote about him in detail here. He is an intriguing player that may fight for a roster spot and earn some reps at a very crowded position.

DE Trent Harris: Harris led the Miami Hurricanes with 8.5 sacks and 37 tackles in 2017. Nicknamed “Toolbox Trent” because of his array of moves. Smaller for a defensive end, he may move to LB with the Pats. Our analysis of him is here:

WR Chris Lacy: Lacy is a 6’3, 205-pound wide receiver from Oklahoma State. He has good size and decent top end speed but struggled in the underneath routes and didn’t have great production. Some experience as a returner.

RB Ralph Webb: Webb was a very productive player from Vanderbilt who reportedly got a decent signing bonus from the Pats, which usually means he may be a keeper. While a workhorse type of player who brings it every day in practice and the games, his play speed will be something to watch. He was considered too slow for the NFL by most draftniks.

DT Frank Herron: Herron, despite a standout performance at the East-West Shrine game didn’t come with high expectations into the NFL Draft. He had only so-so production at LSU with 21 tackles and a forced fumble. An early-season suspension may have been a red-flag which hurt his stock.

WR Darren Andrews: Andrews’ name was a surprise as no one had listed him as a Patriot target. Andrews was a shorter, stockier wide receiver who was a good slot receiver at UCLA. He is quick out of his breaks and finds the open spots on the field. Suffered a torn ACL at the end of the season, he may not be 100 percent yet.

From Mike Regalado on Fansided: “Andrews is not the quickest receiver, but if the Patriots need someone to go out and reel in short-yardage passes consistently, especially from one of the best signal callers in history, Tom Brady, then the former Bruin is their man. Andrews runs clean routes, has a solid position on defenders and can grind out yards after contact.”

Patriots Cut Garcia, Illness Takes Its Toll on Promising Tackle:
More bad news for Antonio Garcia, the Patriots third-round draft pick in 2017 (85th Overall) out of Troy. The team is releasing Garcia with a non-football-illness designation, ESPN’s Field Yates reported on Friday

His rookie season never got off the ground as the illness he suffered, blood clots in his lungs caused him to be placed on IR and the medication to combat those caused a loss of about 40 pounds.

After the Patriots moved up to take him in the 3rd round last year, he was considered the heir apparent to LT Nate Solder. He took part in the early portion of training camp including joint practices with the Jaguars. Then his illness sidelined him for the remainder of the season.

Earlier this spring, he posted on Instagram that he was cleared for football again by his doctors and his weight was again up to his college playing days. He had been taking part in the voluntary portion of the off-season workouts. This has to mean he’s had another setback. Very sad to see a young man’s dreams taken away so close to realizing them. We all hope he makes a full recovery.

Patriots Will be 4-Men Short During OTAs:
With OTAs starting next week, the Patriots will be short at least four players and all of them from the offensive line.

New additions Isaiah Wynn and Trent Brown are both coming off of shoulder surgery in the offseason and aren’t expected to be ready. Marcus Cannon went on IR late last season and isn’t expected to be ready until training camp and Joe Thuney just had foot surgery and likewise won’t be ready until training camp.

As Dante Scarnecchia said, he’s very excited to work with the group that they have. But he won’t see them on the field until camp starts in late July.

Patricia Story Makes an Appearance 22 Years Later:
Former Patriots defensive coordinator and current Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia is facing questions over a sexual assault case from 22 years ago when he was a college football player on spring break at South Padre Island.

The Lions’ standard background check came back clear because they checked only for criminal convictions. Patricia was arrested and charged but the charges were later dropped. The Patriots released a statement that they too had never heard of this incident which was eight years before Patricia was hired in New England.

According to the indictment, Patricia and his friend and former college teammate, Greg Dietrich at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, then 21, had sex with the woman without her consent through the use of “physical force and violence.”

The alleged victim was a 21-year-old Indiana college student on spring break who had met the football players on the beach. She told police that she was asleep in a friend’s room at the Radisson hotel at about 6 p.m. when Patricia and Dietrich burst into the room and took turns assaulting her, the newspaper reported.

The case was dropped because the woman told prosecutors that she couldn’t take the stress of a trial, which is very common in those cases. During a sexual assault trial, often times the victim is more vilified than the accused.

In these cases, it all comes down to whether or not there was consent. The sex act is usually not even a question. There is no way to know which side is telling the truth in this case, as there just isn’t enough information to make any kind of definitive statement on whether the case had merit. Perhaps more information will come to light in the coming weeks.

The South Padre Island area normally has about five sexual assault cases every spring break. Patricia is adamant he did no wrong on that night in question and the Lions are standing by him. If indeed he is innocent of those charges, then this was a very unnecessary blight on what has been a very stellar NFL career.

But make no mistake, the crime of sexual assault or rape is a vile act and has no place in our society. We’ll reserve judgment for now as there isn’t enough information to accurately sift through.  

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Josh Allen Lost for Words Meeting Bills Legend Kelly:
The Buffalo Bills quarterback of the future met the quarterback of the Bills glory years and he was more rattled meeting Jim Kelly than he was in his first NFL practice. Head coach Sean McDermott introduced the pair after the session and Allen was in awe.

“I’m still shaking from meeting him,” Allen admitted.

Allen is well aware of the Bills history with Kelly and the famed K-gun offense that went to four straight Super Bowls during his tenure.

“I can’t say anything else but he’s a special man. He’s been through a lot,” he said. “And to be in the spirits that he is and to come out here and show support for the Buffalo Bills, that just shows to me how much he means to Buffalo and Buffalo means to him. It’s awesome.”

Kelly who just had another bout with cancer in his jaw, walked slowly with the aid of a can and still has trouble speaking but appeared upbeat and smiled, giving a thumbs up for photos.

Allen has a long way to go in his development but forging a relationship with a Bills legend is definitely getting off on the right foot with the fanbase. Buffalo has been searching for a franchise QB since Kelly retired in 1996.

Dolphins Looking For Fitzpatrick to be the Game Changer on Defense:
The Miami Dolphins defense was generous to opposing quarterbacks in 2017. The Fins QB rating against their defense a year ago was 94.8, fifth worst in the NFL. They’re hoping that their first pick and 11th over Minkah Fitzpatrick is going to go a long way in changing things in that respect.

Miami’s corners are good, where they were leaky was at safety, especially free safety where tight ends and running backs routinely feasted. Fitzpatrick was the best defender on the national champion Alabama Crimson Tide defense.

The Dolphins may decide to run a version of a 4-2-5 defense which the Patriots call their “big nickel” where a safety takes the place of a linebacker. Fitzpatrick will no doubt be tasked with coverage in that role. It is a role he’s perfectly suited for.

On offense, the Dolphins are rolling the dice in 2018 and hoping that QB Ryan is ready to go and healed from his ACL injury and finally ready to assume the mantle of being “the guy” for Miami. Behind him is just Brock Osweiler, David Fales, and the recently signed Bryce Petty.

Jets Tight End Position Not Conducive to Helping a Young QB:
The New York Jets believe that they finally have their franchise QB in Sam Darnold and he’ll be watched closely if he takes the field in 2018 as many expect he will and take over the reins from Josh McCown.

But what nearly most successful quarterbacks have, and especially what a young one will need is a go-to guy, a tight end that can be used as an emergency valve when the pocket begins to collapse all around him.

A look at the Jets tight end situation isn’t going to make anyone quake in fear of shutting them down. Clive Walford has 70 career receptions, 768 yards, and 10 scores. Eric Tomlinson and Neal Sterling have 26 combined catches between them. Two second-year players, Bucky Hodges and Jordan Leggett are looking for their first NFL receptions.

The pressure will be on 4th round draft pick Chris Herndon to not only make the team but to put in quality reps and provide some meaningful production this season. Herndon is still a very raw prospect and while he didn’t have any great production at Miami, he is very athletic and could be a factor down the road with the right coaching and experience. But for Year 1, it could be a struggle for both the young TE and QB.

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 myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.