Category Archives: 2019 Patriots Draft

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 Add TE Depth, Sign Veteran Lance Kendricks

Steve Balestrieri
July 24, 2019 at 2:35 pm ET

The Patriots’ 2019 training camp practices begin tomorrow, and they continue to tinker with the roster, adding a veteran tight end. First reported by Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network and his sources, the Patriots have signed tight end Lance Kendricks to a one-year deal. This was confirmed by the player’s agent David Canter.

Kendricks, 31, tips the scales at 6’3, 250 pounds, is an eight-year NFL veteran. Kendricks was originally a second-round pick  (47th overall) of the St. Louis Rams in 2011. He played his first six NFL seasons with the Rams. In his rookie season, Kendricks would have played for Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels. He also played for current Patriots DLine coach Bret Bielema at Wisconsin.

Kendricks notched a career-high 50 receptions back in 2016. Last season, he played in 16 games with 3 starts for the Green Bay Packers where he caught 19 passes for 170 yards and one touchdown. Kendricks has totaled 241 catches for 2,505 yards and 19 touchdowns over his career

With the retirement of Rob Gronkowski, the trade of Jacob Hollister and the leaving of free agent Dwayne Allen, the Patriots are totally revamping at the TE position. This spring Matt LaCosse was the go-to guy during minicamp. Ben Watson was also brought on board this spring but he’s suspended for the first four games of the season. 

The Patriots plan seems to be throwing different combos at the wall and seeing what sticks. Kendricks is expected to compete for a spot on the Patriots 53-man roster, along with LaCosse, Watson, Stephen Anderson, Ryan Izzo, and Andrew Beck. He is no lock for the roster and will have to produce this summer.

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 2019 Training Camp Guide – Specialists

Steve Balestrieri
at 8:30 am ET

The Patriots’ 2019 training camp begins tomorrow, and it should prove to be a very interesting one once again. With approximately 65-75 percent of the roster entrenched on the top end, there should be plenty of competition for the few spots available at the back end of the 53-man roster. 

As always, injuries can play a key role, as we saw the other day with the Atlanta Falcons, players can get hurt and be lost for the season really quickly. That opens the door for guys who are on the bubble to work their way on to and carve out roles. 

Of course, for the past 15 years, an undrafted free agent has made his way to the Patriots’ roster. And frequently those players have not just made the team but ended up playing a significant amount of snaps.

Which brings us to the final positional group of our training camp guide, the specialists. Only one position, for now, has any competition. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski and Long Snapper Joe Cardona are unopposed in camp and those two should sleep pretty soundly this summer. The punter position will be one to watch closely as veteran Ryan Allen will be battling with rookie Jake Bailey to keep his job this year.

Check back with PatsFans.com as we’ll go thru the entire roster as our primers for training camp continue before the heavy lifting starts on July 25. And be sure to keep up with our coverage from training camp. 

So, let’s take a look at the position as it unfolds as training camp begins this summer.

Current roster – Stephen Gostkowski, Joe Cardona, Ryan Allen, Jake Bailey

Locks – Gostkowski, Cardona

Near Locks –  none

Bubble – Allen, Bailey

Long Shot – none

Discussion – With kicker and long snapper both locked on the roster as neither Gostkowski nor Cardona have any competition this summer, the focus turns to the punting game between Allen and Bailey.

Ryan Allen faced a bit of competition last year in training camp when the team brought in Corey Bojorquez last year. But the Patriots had no intention on making it a full competition and didn’t allow Bojorquez to punt in any of the preseason games in a hope to stash him on the practice squad. But he was scooped up quickly by Buffalo. Allen had an inconsistent regular season but turned it on when the games counted. In Super Bowl LIII, he was arguably the game’s MVP, where he pinned the Rams back time and again with outstanding directional punting. He outshone the Rams Johnny Hekker who is considered by many to be the best punter in the NFL. 

Bailey was picked by the Patriots in the 5th round of this spring’s NFL Draft. The team actually moved up to pick him which one doesn’t normally hear about a punter. The scouting report on Bailey is that he has a tremendous leg and sails the ball very high with outstanding hang time. The only knock on him was consistency at putting the ball closer to the sidelines.

Bailey’s strong leg was on display during the Senior Bowl week and then again this spring. We watched him put some balls high into the flight pattern of Logan airport with tremendous range. But we also saw some of those inconsistencies of not getting the ball close to a sideline where the returner would have a narrow lane, an important factor in Special Teams coordinator Joe Judge’s book.

Bailey is versatile and was the primary kick off specialist for Stanford, something he could relieve Stephen Gostkowski from doing as he gets a bit older and can fill in for Gostkowski on field goals and extra points if he were to get hurt.  Versatility goes a long way on a Bill Belichick team. Bailey has a big advantage of range and hang time while Allen gets the nod on directional punting and consistency. 

Bailey is also a smart kid (Stanford graduate speaks for itself), he worked for Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, who was herself a Stanford graduate for a time and is working on getting his private pilot’s license. He’s pretty athletic, so if the Patriots ever decided to use him with a fake punt, it is something he could handle. 

Bailey at this point would seem to have the edge over the incumbent veteran Allen at this stage of the game, but keep in mind there is a very long way to go. But if you make it down to training camp in the coming days, keep your eye on him. 

The Patriots are in very good shape heading into the season. Gostkowski remains one of the better kickers in the NFL and is as reliable as they come. Cardona’s name is never called, which is exactly what you want out of a long-snapper. And whoever wins the punting competition should do really well. And it is safe to say, that both will be punting in the NFL this season. The only question is, which one will be punting 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.

Patriots 2019 Training Camp Guide – Cornerbacks

Steve Balestrieri
July 22, 2019 at 8:30 am ET

The Patriots begin training camp later this week and like most people, I can’t wait as it seems like football has been missing for a long time. The weather is supposed to be much more manageable than the past few days, which makes the experience for the people in attendance and the players more enjoyable.

Today, we’re looking at the cornerbacks and the Patriots are loaded at this position. This is easily the deepest position on the team. There will be some players not making the roster (or traded), that are NFL quality corners. The old saying that “you can never have enough cornerbacks”? It seems the Patriots and Bill Belichick have taken that to heart.

This year’s roster is deeper and more talented than the group who held the Rams to just three points in the Super Bowl. Stephon Gilmore returns from an outstanding season and is joined by veterans Jason McCourty, Jonathan Jones, and Keion Crossen. At this time last year, J.C. Jackson was an undrafted free agent and considered a long-shot to make the 53-man roster. Not only did he make the team, as the year went on, but he also contributed and was a starter. Duke Dawson was a 2nd round draft pick a year ago but was injured and on IR, but was activated near the end of the season. However, he didn’t dress for any of the games being an inactive scratch.  

The team added Joejuan Williams in the 2nd round this spring, he’s a very big (6’4) corner who will provide some matchup possibilities with bigger WRs and TEs. They also added corners Ken Webster and D’Angelo Ross. 

With nine corners, not all of them are going to make the 53-man roster, so the back end of the depth chart will have four players competing for two, possibly three roster spots. 

Check back with PatsFans.com as we’ll go thru the entire roster as our primers for training camp continue before the heavy lifting starts on July 25. And be sure to keep up with our coverage from training camp. 

So, let’s take a look at the position as it unfolds as training camp begins this summer.

Current roster – Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, Jason McCourty, Jonathan Jones, Duke Dawson, Keion Crossen, Joejuan Williams, D’Angelo Ross, Ken Webster

Locks –Gilmore, Jackson, Williams

Near Locks –  McCourty, Jones

Bubble – Crossen, Dawson

Long Shot – Ross, Webster

Discussion – With the return of their four main starters (Gilmore, Jackson, McCourty, Jones) from the Super Bowl team, this team is set up for continued success in 2019. In fact, this may just be the deepest set of cornerbacks the Patriots have had… ever.  Five of their corners played significant roles last year (Crossen on Special Teams) and getting a 2nd round pick back from an injury that didn’t play at all in 2018 and adding another intriguing 2nd rounder gives them an embarrassment of riches. 

Gilmore cemented himself as one of the best corners in the league with a fantastic 2018 season. He played in all 16 games, notched 2 interceptions along with 20 passes defended. Opposing QBs targeting him had just a 56.3 passer rating. Pro Football Focus had him as the top corner in the league last year. And btw, the All-Pro sealed the Super Bowl with an interception deep in Patriots territory. 

Jackson made the team after a very impressive training camp where it seemed like he was making highlight-reel plays daily. He made the team and played in 13 games, garnering more and more playing time as the season wore on with 5 starts. In the final five regular-season games and the playoffs, he played in nearly 80 percent of the defensive snaps.  Jackson notched three interceptions and opposing QBs had just a 42.0 passer rating when targeting him. Some NFL insiders believe that Jackson has the potential to be an All-Pro and could even surpass Gilmore as the top Patriots corner at some point in the future. 

McCourty came to the Patriots last season coming from a winless Browns team to winning a Super Bowl. He’s versatile and can line up as a corner or safety. He played very well last year and logged 80 percent of the defensive snaps. He’s nearly a lock this year but will still have to show he can produce on the wrong side of 30. However, his veteran savvy and leadership, as well as his versatility, bode well for him sticking around for the 2019 season. 

Williams is a lock just by virtue of his draft status but his potential is very intriguing. Many people questioned why Belichick would take a corner with their second pick, #45 overall. And the answer is matchups and versatility. Williams is a very big corner (6’4, 211 lbs) who is a big, physical presence. Some people compared him to the Patriots 2014 team’s Brandon Browner and after watching him at minicamp it is easy to see why. He won’t be lining up on small, shifty slot receivers but against the bigger WRs and TEs, Williams gives them matchups that they can roll out depending on the opponent. 

Jonathan Jones was a former UDFA who has gradually worked his way into being a very solid and dependable slot corner. He began working on special teams (Crossen) and gradually worked his way up and has improved every year. The Patriots drafted Dawson last year with the possibility of replacing Jones in the slot. But his injury and Jones’ play made Dawson inactive down the stretch. 

Dawson has a long way to go if he wants to supplant Jones in the slot, however, Jones is also in a contract year, becoming a free agent in 2020 at the age of just 26. This will be a battle to watch. If the Patriots decide to keep Jones for the long-term, this could put them in a position to possibly trade Dawson rather than risk losing him on the waiver wire. But with camp and preseason ahead, there is a long way to go. 

Crossen was a 7th round draft pick (243rd overall) in the 2018 NFL Draft. He’s got speed and athleticism and carved out a role as a special teams’ gunner, with nine tackles. He saw the field very sparingly on defense where he was picked on a bit, not uncommon for a rookie. 

However, with the addition of the very athletic but very raw Webster, his role on STs may be pushed. Webster is one of those intriguing 7th round picks (252nd overall), where he has the athleticism and potential to be a viable corner at some point, it may not be right away on this roster. He may battle Crossen for that coveted STs gunner/backup corner role. This will be another battle to monitor as camp progresses. 

Ross has a tough road in front of him. It is simply a numbers game. The small (5’9) but fast corner from New Mexico ran a 4:32 at his Pro Day in the 40-yard dash. In other years he may have been a potential player to crack the 53-man roster as a UDFA. But with the limited amount of snaps he may see this summer, he is a candidate for the practice squad heading into camp. 

The Patriots are stacked at corner heading into training camp. One potential boon of this is that the wide receivers will all be going against some excellent competition this summer, which should prove to help them when the games begin in earnest.

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 2019 Training Camp Guide – Linebackers

Steve Balestrieri
July 20, 2019 at 8:00 am ET

The Patriots begin training camp in just a few days and once that starts we’ll have football back with us until the winter and snow return with a vengeance. Hard to picture that right now with the heat index pushing 110.

Last year at this time, there were a lot of questions at the linebacker position. This season it is considered a position of strength heading into the 2019 season. The three main starters return, Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, and Elandon Roberts. The team also gets back last year’s promising rookie Ja’Whaun Bentley who played very well all summer and began the season getting a lot of quality reps before getting injured and ending up on IR. 

Another rookie from last season, Christian Sam, who spent the entire season on IR returns. Brandon King is listed as a linebacker on the depth chart but is essentially a special teams player only. 

But the big surprise was in bringing back former Patriot Jamie Collins. It seemed like those bridges were burned when he was traded to Cleveland but the team added him back this spring. Collins was one of the better players on the field for the Patriots during OTAs and the mandatory June minicamp. Shilique Calhoun, Calvin Munson, and Terez Hall round out the players at the position.

Check back with PatsFans.com as we’ll go thru the entire roster as our primers for training camp continue before the heavy lifting starts on July 25. And be sure to keep up with our coverage from training camp. 

So, let’s take a look at the position as it unfolds as training camp begins this summer.

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

Locks – Hightower, Van Noy, Bentley, Collins

Near Locks –  Roberts, King

Bubble – Sam, Calhoun

Long Shot – Munson, Hall

Discussion – With the return of their three main starters from the Super Bowl, the team is going to be looking very similar in 2019. Hightower, Van Noy, Bentley, and Collins are all locks for the roster in 2019.

Hightower stayed healthy last year and played very well. What is a factor to be especially optimistic about is that it always seems Hightower saves his best plays and his best games for times when the games matter most and in the playoffs. He’s a fixture on this defense and what we’ve stated here many times rings true about him. Is he a perennial league All-Pro? No, but in the Patriots defense, he is.

Van Noy has blossomed in New England and is arguably one of their bigger chess pieces on the defensive side. He was even better than Hightower during the playoffs and despite what some talk-radio folks would have you believe, he’s a playmaker and one of the leaders of this defense. 

Bentley had a fantastic summer followed by a pretty impressive start to his career before getting injured early last season and ended up on IR. It is interesting to wonder how his development would have played out last year if he hadn’t gotten hurt. But he’s healthy now and should vie for plenty of work. 

Collins is the wild card here. With an already solid cast around him, it will be interesting to see how the team decides to use him once the season starts. Collins was all over the field this spring, if the Patriots can find a way to showcase his talents with the cast already in place, he could be in line for a very solid season. 

Roberts has been up and down in his career but had a very solid 2018. Consistency is the key for him. In mentioning the defensive line yesterday, we said that they may be better suited for a 3-4 than the 4-3. Roberts and Bentley could definitely benefit from that as well. Being an ILB in a 3-4, it would lend itself well to Roberts, downhill, run-thumping style. It would also create plenty of opportunities to move Hightower and Van Noy around, inside and outside and give them more chances to make plays. 

King is technically (by the depth chart) a linebacker, but to my knowledge hasn’t played any time there. He is, however, a very solid, dependable special teams’ player. While maybe not a lock for the 53 per se, knocking him out of there will take a very big effort from someone beneath him on the team’s overall roster. Or him having an awful camp. Other than that, we’d expect to see him come September. 

Christian Sam is a 2nd-year outside linebacker who never got to show what he can do last year, ending up on IR out of training camp. His value is a total unknown and he’ll have some work to do this summer. He’ll have to show he can contribute on special teams right away and then flash some ability on defense. Calhoun is a newcomer to New England but has been in the league for a while. Can the journeyman find himself a home and a role in New England? It has been done before, so he’s not a write off by any means but also has a lot of work to do. 

Munson spent last year on the Patriots practice squad, so they like what they’ve seen from him. Hall is a real long shot and will have to flash big time on STs in order to stick. He and Munson are candidates for the practice squad. 

So, entering 2019, the linebacker position, which was one full of questions a year ago, enters this year as a position of strength. There should be no movement at the top unless of injury, so there may be only one or two spots that are open for competition. But watching to see how the Patriots and new linebacker coach Jerod Mayo plans on using his troops this year will make camp another must-see event daily.

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 2019 Training Camp Guide – Defensive Line

Steve Balestrieri
July 19, 2019 at 8:30 am ET

Less Than a Week Before the Patriots are “Knockin’ on Seven’s Door” 

The Patriots lost a couple of their key starters on the defensive line from last year’s Super Bowl team. Trey Flowers was their biggest loss, he was versatile, and could play on the edge as well as kick inside as an interior pass rusher. The team also lost former 1st round pick Malcom Brown who signed with the Saints in free agency. Adrian Clayborn left in free agency as well.

But the team didn’t stand pat and signed former Jets DL Mike Pennel, the big nose tackle is a space-eater and can two-gap over the ball and take on double teams. Pennel’s signing is one of the most under-the-radar and underrated signings of the spring. The team also re-signed Danny Shelton for the interior of the line. David Parry and rookie Byron Cowart will be fighting for a roster spot. 

Pennel after minicamp session. SBalestrieri photo

Bill Belichick also swung a trade with Philadelphia, just a few hours after Flowers signed with Detroit. The Patriots gave up a 5th round draft pick for Michael Bennett and a 7th. While Bennett’s best days are behind him, he’s still a very viable pass rusher. He notched nine sacks for the Eagles last year, which would have led the Patriots. They also addressed the pass rush by drafting Michigan’s Chase Winovich in the third round. 

The very good and underrated Lawrence Guy returns as does Deatrich Wise, and Adam Butler on the interior line. This is a big year for former top draft pick Derek Rivers. He’ll be fighting for a roster spot with Keionta Davis, Trent Harris, Ufomba Kamalu, and Nick Thurman on the edge. 

With the breakdown of personnel that the team has this year, we could see more multiple looks and the team switching between a 4-3 and 3-4 defensive fronts. We’ll get more to that below. 

Check back with PatsFans.com as we’ll go thru the entire roster as our primers for training camp continue before the heavy lifting starts on July 25. And be sure to keep up with our coverage from training camp. 

Current roster – 

Interior DL – Lawrence Guy, Mike Pennel, Danny Shelton, Adam Butler, David Parry, Byron Cowart

Locks – Guy, Pennel, Butler

Near Locks –  none

Bubble – Shelton, Parry, Cowart

Long Shot – none

Edge Players – Michael Bennett, Deatrich Wise, Chase Winovich, John Simon, Derek Rivers, Keionta Davis, Trent Harris, Ufomba Kamalu, Nick Thurman

Locks – Bennett, Wise, Winovich, Simon

Near Locks –  none

Bubble – Rivers, Davis, Harris, Kamalu, Thurman

Long Shot – none

Discussion – We’ll start with the interior big men. Pennel, Guy, and Butler are all locks for the roster. Pennel is a perfect fit with what the Patriots ask for their big men over the nose. Standing at 6’4, 332 pounds, Pennel is a very thick, powerful man with a huge lower body that is built for eating up two gaps. Guy has been a very nice addition to the Patriots since he arrived from Baltimore. Butler is a 300-pound penetrator who provides the team a nice interior pass rush on passing downs. 

Vying for the fourth spot on the interior DL is Danny Shelton, the former 1st round pick who the Patriots brought over from Cleveland last year. He suffered thru a lapse of poor play where he sat and was a healthy scratch a few times. But he elevated his game down the stretch and played better in the playoffs. David Parry is a four-year veteran who played for the Colts, Saints, and Vikings. Byron Cowart is a rookie out of Maryland who flashed a bit in his senior season and is a dark horse to make the roster. However, some analysts believe that he’s just coming into his own and could make some noise this summer. 

Essentially, the trio of Shelton, Parry, and Cowart may very well be vying for one roster spot unless they decide to keep five interior players, which is doubtful. Cowart has practice squad eligibility, which could come into play. 

On the edge, the Patriots have Bennett, Wise, Winovich (by virtue of his draft stock), and Simon as locks. Bennett is still a very good pass rusher and should continue to be very productive in the Patriots system. Wise is coming off a decent if a slightly inconsistent year with 4.5 sacks. Simon was cut loose by the Colts last year and the Patriots wasted little time in signing him. His role increased down the stretch and showed he could get after the QB, set the edge and drop into coverage a bit. The Patriots gave him a two-year deal worth $4 million with $1.65 million guaranteed. 

Winovich is a wild card here this season. The Patriots drafted him with a third-round pick and he’s a guy who plays with his hair on fire, going all out on every snap. His non-stop motor and excellent hands should see him logging some significant snaps. 

With possibly two more roster spots remaining,  the competition gets fierce here. Derek Rivers is in a make-or-break season. He’ll be competing with Keionta Davis, Ufomba Kamalu, Nick Thurman, and Trent Harris for the remaining edge roster spots. Another guy who could factor into the edge is a fourth-year linebacker, Shilique Calhoun.

Looking at this defensive line and the way it is constructed, it would lend itself to being more of a 3-4 unit than a 4-3. Pennel and Shelton are prototypical nose tackles. Lawrence Guy was a 3-4 DE with Baltimore and guys like Deatrich Wise, Kamalu, and Thurman are best suited for a 5-technique role. 

Bennett, Winovich, and Simon would then revert to edge-rushing OLBs. We know Bill Belichick hates to categorize it one way or the other. And they’ll stay multiple and mix and match their personnel depending upon the opponent. Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, and Jamie Collins could all see some work along the edge as well, depending on the opponent and the front in which they line up. 

With a lot of the talk this spring and early summer being that the defensive line will be weaker this season, I wouldn’t be so sure about that. While losing Flowers will definitely be a blow, gaining Bennett and Winovich is a nice way to address it. Pennel, in my opinion, will more than makeup for the loss of Brown. But we’ll have to see. That’s what makes the watching of training camp and preseason so intriguing.

With training camp starting next week, the competition among the defensive linemen should be extremely fun to watch. 

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 2019 Training Camp Guide – Offensive Line

Steve Balestrieri
July 18, 2019 at 8:00 am ET

The Patriots return four of their five starters from an offensive line that was just outstanding in 2018 enroute to the team’s sixth Super Bowl title. The one very big piece both figuratively and literally is left tackle Trent Brown. Brown came to the Patriots last year with questions if he could be a viable left tackle in the NFL. He not only answered those but parlayed them into a massive 4-year contract worth $66 million dollars with the Raiders this spring.

The Patriots drafted Isaiah Wynn in the first round of the draft last year with the expectation that he would be the left tackle of the future. However, Wynn tore his Achilles in the preseason last summer and spent the entire year on IR. 

The strength of the offensive line is with their guard tandem of Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason which is one of the best in the NFL. Scrappy, tough and steady David Andrews is the center and Marcus Cannon is the right tackle. 

The Patriots are hoping that Wynn is ready for a full load this season and is ready to be a left tackle in the NFL. Backing him up is the underrated rookie T Yodny Cajuste from West Virginia. Cajuste is coming off quad surgery this offseason and missed all of the spring. But he is the swing tackle of the immediate future. 

The team signed veteran Jared Veldheer this spring but he decided to retire when he said his body wasn’t going to withstand the rigors of another season. 

With a 4th round draft pick, the Patriots selected Hjalte Froholdt, he should immediately challenge Ted Karras for the top interior backup role. The biggest question after Wynn’s status will be who will be the 4th tackle on the depth chart? Cole Croston, Cedrick Lang, Dan Skipper, Tyree St. Louis, and Calvin Anderson will be all vying for that position.

As long as Dante Scarnecchia is patrolling the Patriots sideline as the team’s offensive line coach, the Patriots can pretty much weather any storm that creeps up with the offensive line. So, with training camp just around the corner, let’s take a look at the position. 

Check back with PatsFans.com as we’ll go thru the entire roster as our primers for training camp continue before the heavy lifting starts on July 25.

Current roster – Isaiah Wynn, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, Ted Karras, Yodny Cajuste, Hjalte Froholdt, Cole Croston, James Ferentz, Brian Schwenke, Jake Eldrenkamp, Cedrick Lang, Ryker Matthews, Dan Skipper, Calvin Anderson, Tyree St. Louis, Tyler Gauthier

Locks – Wynn, Thuney, Andrews, Mason, Cannon, Cajuste

Near Locks –  Froholdt, Karras

Bubble – Croston, Ferentz, Schwenke

Long Shot – Eldrencamp, Lang, Matthews, Skipper, Anderson, St. Louis, Gauthier 

Discussion – We expect that Wynn will be ready to go for training camp. I watched him take part in individual drills during minicamp, he was held out of team drills, I believe as a precaution. He looked to me that he was moving without any issues and looked ready to go. Regardless, Wynn, Thuney, Andrews, Mason, Cannon, and Cajuste are all locks for the roster. 

Froholdt and Karras are both near locks. I personally believe that the team is looking at Froholdt as starter material for next season. Joe Thuney is in a contract year and could be in the market for a big payday. He played nearly all of the starter snaps during minicamp with Wynn and Cajuste absent. If he does leave, Froholdt may be getting groomed for the next guard under Scarnecchia. 

Karras has been a very good depth player and has the ability to fill in at guard and center. He’s tough, physical and versatile. Only an awful summer should stop him from earning a roster spot in 2019. 

Cole Croston would be the next in line for the 4th tackle position. He’s been kept around the past few years but is in no way considered a lock for the roster. He’s a very good practice squad candidate. The Patriots could still be in the market for another tackle.

Overall, the offensive line is in very good shape overall. Even though Wynn hasn’t played a snap in the NFL, the Patriots spent the 23rd overall pick on him for a reason. And although I may be overplaying things a bit, as long as Scarnecchia is coaching up the O-line, I have no doubt that they’ll figure things out. 

With training camp starting next week, the competition among the linemen should be extremely fun to watch. 

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 2019 Training Camp Guide – Tight Ends

Steve Balestrieri
July 17, 2019 at 8:30 am ET

The Patriots have been forced to totally revamp their tight end position this season as all three players on the roster from last year are gone. Rob Gronkowski retired and although rumors are that he’s coming back later this year, he’s not walking thru that door anytime soon…if at all. Dwayne Allen left via free agency and Jacob Hollister was traded. 

The team was beginning with a clean slate. And there were/are questions all around. Old friend Ben Watson was brought back to the team after briefly flirting with retirement, the team also picked up Matt LaCosse with a two-year, $2.8 million dollar deal during free agency. 

The team also signed Austin Seferian-Jenkins during the spring, but he had some personal issues to be worked out and was given his release. Would he be welcomed back if those issues are behind him? No one really knows, but I wouldn’t bank on his return this year.

Watson is suspended for the first four games of the season due to testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. LaCosse has appeared in 22 games in his career and had 24 catches for 250 yards and a touchdown for the Broncos last year in 15 games.

The only holdover was practice squad player Stephen Anderson who was called up to the active roster at the end of the season. The team also has Ryan Izzo who spent the year on IR and UDFA Andrew Beck.

With the state of the position, everyone had the Patriots dipping into the 2019 NFL draft early for one of the premier tight ends that were coming out. And true to form, Bill Belichick did the opposite, eschewing all of them. Many of the journalists who cover the NFL had the Patriots trying to swing a deal for a tight end, with Viking Kyle Rudolph at the top of the list. There have also been persistent rumors about them trying to make a deal for the Tampa Bay Bucs, Cameron Brate. But as of now, that’s all it has been, being rumors

So with training camp just around the corner, let’s take a quick look at the tight ends on the roster and see how they stack up. 

Check back with PatsFans.com as we’ll go thru the entire roster as our primers for training camp continue before the heavy lifting starts on July 25.

Current roster – Ben Watson, Matt LaCosse, Stephen Anderson, Ryan Izzo, Andrew Beck

Locks – Watson, LaCosse

Bubble – Anderson, Izzo, Beck

Long Shot – None 

Discussion – If there is a position the Patriots could swing a deal for during the summer, this would be it. That being said, they can probably piece together the production they received at tight end last season with who they have right now. With Gronkowski hobbling for much of last year and Hollister/Allen not producing, the total production from the tight end position was 54 catches, 761 yards, and 3 TDs. 

What they won’t be able to replicate is the amount of coverage that Gronkowski would consistently draw away from the other receivers while he was on the field. Watson, while 38 years old, can still move well, but he won’t be available for the first month.

That means, for now, everything is going to go thru LaCosse for better or worse. After watching him at minicamp, he moves better than I had originally believed and shows good hands for hauling in the ball. Anderson is more of flex or a “move” tight end while Izzo was well thought of by the coaching staff, but is more of a blocking tight end. He’ll have to show he is capable of more. 

LaCosse spoke to the media after minicamp practice last month and talked about coming to New England

Beck was given the most guaranteed money by the Patriots of any of their UDFAs ($115,000), so he has that going for him. Beck was used mostly as a blocker at Texas but did contribute with 28 catches for 281 yards and two touchdowns for the Longhorns. He was an First Team, All-Big 12 all-star in 2018. 

So, barring a trade either during camp or into the season, this is who the Patriots will enter the season with at the tight end position. After a decade of dominance there, things are going to change. 

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 2019 Training Camp Guide – Wide Receivers

Steve Balestrieri
July 16, 2019 at 8:00 am ET

The Patriots have many questions heading into the 2019 season at wide receiver. Julian Edelman returns, the Super Bowl LIII MVP is still at the top of his game but at 33, one has to wonder how much longer he can perform at a high level. 

After him, the situation gets murkier. Phillip Dorsett has been fine whenever his number has been called but his production really could use an increase. Demaryius Thomas’s numbers have been steadily going down the past several years and now he’s coming off of an Achilles injury. Josh Gordon is suspended indefinitely and no one knows if he’ll be allowed to play this year. 

The Patriots drafted N’Keal Harry in the first round of the draft this spring and expectations with him are high. But rookie wide receivers have struggled to make an impact here in the past. Braxton Berrios had a very strong spring but spent his entire rookie season on IR. Maurice Harris and Dontrelle Inman are coming on to try to carve out roles for themselves after playing for the Redskins and Colts respectively. 

So, the opportunities are there for several players to carve out roles for themselves once training camp opens. There are 12 players that should be vying for reps, and possibly 13 if Thomas is ready to go. Gordon is forbidden to enter the facility or work out with the team during his suspension. Let’s take a look at who is in good shape and who has a lot of work to do at the wide receiver position

Check back with PatsFans.com as we’ll go thru the entire roster as our primers for training camp continue before the heavy lifting starts on July 25.

Current roster – Julian Edelman, Phillip Dorsett, N’Keal Harry, Matthew Slater, Demaryius Thomas, Braxton Berrios, Maurice Harris, Dontrelle Inman, Damoun Patterson, Jakobi Meyers, Ryan Davis, Gunner Olszewski, Josh Gordon (suspended)

Locks – Edelman, Dorsett, Harry, Slater

Bubble – Berrios, Thomas, Harris, Inman, Meyers

Long Shot – Patterson, Davis, Olszewski, Gordon 

Discussion – Edelman, Dorsett, Slater, and Harry are all locks. Obviously, the conversation starts with Julian Edelman. Yes, Edelman is 33 but if you watched him in the Super Bowl he was uncoverable. The Rams threw several different defensive backs on him and nobody could lock him down. I watched him thru all three days of minicamp and he looks ready to go again. 

Dorsett was getting plenty of reps early last year but lost those after Gordon was brought in. The hope here is that he’ll be able to replicate what he did last year, and with an additional year in the system, be able to add to it. 

Slater is a WR in name only but is a Special Teams’ captain and one of the best at what he does both on and off the field. Harry is a first-round draft pick who has incredible upside but is just a rookie. With a first-round draft pedigree, he’s automatically on the 53-man roster. 

This is where it gets interesting. Berrios had a very strong spring but is in no way a lock at this point. He has a long way to go but is definitely trending in the right direction. The smaller but quick slot receiver recognizes the opportunity in front of him. Mike Reiss of ESPN has written that Berrios has already reported into camp. The hope is that he could fit into that Danny Amendola role in the Patriots offense.

Harris likewise had a very strong spring, catching nearly everything thrown his way with a few nice highlight-reel catches during minicamp. Can he do it again when the secondary players are allowed contact? Inman, on the other hand, didn’t have a good week at minicamp. He didn’t catch a single pass in team drills during the three sessions. He has a lot of ground to make up. 

Meyers is an interesting addition. A former QB turned WR, Meyers has good size for the position, (6’2, 203) with very good hands, tight route-running and the willingness to go into contested areas. He doesn’t have great top-end speed but could be an oversized slot receiver. What was intriguing about him was that during a side session with Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, and Josh McDaniels, during minicamp, Meyers was brought in with Harry to work on route selection. May end being nothing, but it could mean they have a plan in mind for him.

Patterson was on the practice squad a year ago but along with Davis, and Olszewski are all facing long odds of making the roster. 

In a perfect world, Gordon would get reinstated and Thomas would come back better than new. But we don’t live in a perfect world and the fact is, the Patriots can’t rely on Gordon being reinstated any time soon, if at all. And Thomas may end up on PUP to begin the season. That means other players will have to step up….Questions, questions. This will make training camp and the preseason so compelling this summer.

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 2019 Training Camp Guide – Quarterbacks

Steve Balestrieri
July 11, 2019 at 7:52 am ET

The Patriots have been blessed to have the same quarterback under center since Week 3 of the 2001 NFL season. Tom Brady has been remarkably durable and productive, in the 19 seasons he’s been with the Patriots, they’ve made the Super Bowl nine times and won six of them.

At a time where so many teams are searching for a franchise QB, the Patriots have had theirs under center every year. But what about his backups in 2019?

So, let’s take a brief snapshot of the position and see who stays, who goes and who is on the bubble as the team begins training camp in 2019.

Check back with PatsFans.com as we’ll go thru the entire roster as our primers for training camp continue before the heavy lifting starts on July 25.

Current roster – Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Jarrett Stidham, Danny Etling

Locks – Brady, Stidham

Near Lock – Hoyer

Long Shot – Etling

Discussion – Well it comes as no surprise that Brady is a lock, as he has been every year since 2002. As we mentioned above, Brady has been remarkably durable and productive in his career. Other than 2008, when a low hit blew out his ACL, he hasn’t missed a game due to injury. (Note: He did miss four games due to weather conditions as they related to football air pressure) 

The Patriots have been to the last three Super Bowls with the team winning two of them. Brady has started 267 regular-season games for the Patriots and won 207 of them. He’s won 30 of 40 playoff games. Last year he threw for 4355 yards and 29 TDs.

Every year since his injury in 2008 the hot-take artists tell you “this is the year Brady falls back” and every year the Patriots either make it to the conference championship game or the Super Bowl. 

Stidham by nature of his draft status is a lock for the 2019 season. There is a lot to like in his game, and there is also a long way to go for him as a rookie QB. He throws a very nice, tight spiral and has a nice blend of size, arm strength, and athleticism. He blends well with a quick read offense, which should help him in New England.

His issues in college centered around the Auburn offense which makes for a horrible transition to the pro game. They ran a one-read only offense which stifles a QB’s development. In the spring Stidham got a lot of snaps and looked alternately good and awful at times, which is expected for a rookie QB trying to learn a new system and language. He’s a developmental prospect.

Hoyer should be safe this summer. He’s a long-time veteran with a veteran’s savvy and knowledge of the opponents around the league. So he’s a good sounding board for Brady on the sidelines as well as help the team prepare the week before games. 

He can be counted on to come on in the case of emergency and it is doubtful, at least at this point that Stidham will progress enough to push him this summer for the backup role. If everything falls into place for Stidham, he’ll push Hoyer for the backup role next summer. But for now, Hoyer should be considered a near-lock. 

Etling is the odd man out. With the drafting of Stidham, the writing was on the wall for the 2nd year QB. He wasn’t getting any team’s 11-on-11 work in mini-camp. And he was acting as the personal punt protector in his only work in full-team drills. So, with the exception of an injury to someone, Etling is a real long shot to stick around. 

Frankly, we were a little surprised that he wasn’t released after mini-camp, so perhaps he can still work his way onto the practice squad this summer. But for a 53-man roster slot? The chances of that appear mighty slim.

The 2019 Patriots are set at quarterback with Brady once again at the helm. Will they commit to him beyond this season? That is something we heard…and reported as a done deal back in the spring. But it has not happened; perhaps they’ll get it done once camp gets underway.

However, after Brady the Patriots choices at quarterback, at least for now are uninspiring. That will be up to Mr. Stidham to change. 

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.