Category Archives: NFL Commentary

Patriots 2019 Training Camp Guide – Safeties

Steve Balestrieri
July 23, 2019 at 8:00 am ET

The Patriots’ training camp starts in just two days, it is one of our favorite times of the year. All 32 teams are beginning with a clean slate and are trying to build the best version of themselves as possible. 

Today, we’re looking at the safeties and there promises to be virtually no movement at the top of the depth chart. The Patriots have been fielding the same top three safeties at the top of their depth chart for several years now. 

Devin McCourty, Pat Chung, and Duron Harmon are all considered starters and all three are frequently on the field at the same time. However, after those three, competition is wide open for one, possibly two, with an outside chance of three roster spots. (In our initial 53-man roster projection, we had them keeping only four safeties.)

Special teamer Nate Ebner, Terrence Brooks, Obi Melifonwu, A.J. Howard, and rookie UDFA Malik Grant round out 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 – Devin McCourty, Pat Chung, Duron Harmon, Nate Ebner, Terrence Brooks, Obi Melifonwu, A.J. Howard, Malik Gant

Locks – McCourty, Chung, Harmon, Brooks

Near Locks –  none

Bubble – Ebner,  Melifonwu, Howard

Long Shot – Gant

Discussion – With the top three players returning, one can expect the position on Week 1 against the Steelers to look exactly the same as it has for a long time. McCourty, Chung, and Harmon are all locks for the roster and the only way we can see them not being on the field against Pittsburgh is because of injury. 

However, both McCourty and Chung are on the wrong side of 30 and despite very solid play from both, it is time the team begins grooming their eventual replacements. McCourty flirted with retirement after the Super Bowl. It wouldn’t surprise me if he called it a career after the 2019 season. Chung is coming off of offseason surgery for his arm which was injured in the Super Bowl. Harmon is essentially a starter and should be around for the next couple of years. And that is where the team now stands. 

Are there replacements for Chung and McCourty currently on the roster as it now is constructed? Time will tell. Here is where the competition proves to get fierce this summer. 

The Patriots gave Brooks a two-year, $4 million dollar contract with a $500,000 signing bonus and $1.3 million guaranteed. So, because of his deal in 2019, it is really hard to see the Patriots letting go of the 27-year-old backup safety. Brooks led the Jets in special teams snaps in 2018 and he should a core mainstay on the Patriots ST units. 

Melifonwu is perhaps the most intriguing member of the group. Easily the most athletic of the group, Melifonwu has tremendous size (6’4, 224) with elite athleticism. The Patriots picked him up in midseason last year and with a full offseason under his belt, he now knows the defense. It is unclear if the team views him as a deep safety who will compete with Harmon or an in-the-box safety behind Chung. With Chung missing minicamp, Melifonwu got a lot of reps with the top unit. He will bear watching in what could be a make-or-break season for him. 

Every year we put Ebner on the bubble, you’d think by now, we’d have learned our lesson and recognize the fact that Bill Belichick loves what he’s got in the backup safety and special teams standout. But the fact that Brooks was brought in strictly for his special teams’ acumen, could be a omen that Ebner’s time is waning with the team. He is starting the year on PUP. But then I remember Belichick wearing Ebner’s rugby jersey at TC while Ebner was away representing the USA. 

Howard had an impressive career at Appalachian State but went undrafted. He spent time with the Cardinals and Giants before the Patriots picked him up in early January. He’s a strong safety who will try to carve out a spot for himself this summer or try to land on the Patriots practice squad. 

Gant is a strong safety who plays with a chip on his shoulder. He’s a thumper in the running game and offers good size (6’2, 200) for the position. Right now, he’s a long shot to make the roster but is a great candidate for the team to develop on the practice squad.  One thing to keep in mind is that with Joejuan Williams at a corner, he may be able to help cover some of the tight ends traditionally covered by the safeties.

The Patriots enter the season in very good shape at the safety position but it is time to begin developing and making plans for the eventual replacements for McCourty and Chung. There should be great competition here but again as with the cornerback position, it will take place at the back end of the depth chart. 

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.

New England Patriots News, 7-21, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
July 21, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 07-21 and AFC East notes this week. 

Just 4 more days until the hard work begins for “Knockin’ on Seven’s Door.”

 Quick Hitters:

Tony Romo- was effusive in his praise of Bill Belichick this week while doing an interview on 105.3 the Fan in Dallas. Romo called the Patriots Super Bowl LIII game plan as “one of the greatest defensive performances I have ever seen in football.”

“He genuinely is not scared to go outside the box,” Romo said. “And I find in the NFL very few teams vary from what they do. So what he does then, is he drafts people that he believes can adapt from week-to-week.”

Patriots Cheerleaders – were doing their annual calendar shoot in St. Lucia this week, catch up on that on Patriots.com

Tom Brady – was cliff diving with his daughter in Costa Rica, then went horseback riding with his wife Gisele in his last family getaway before training camp starts next week. But his shot at Max Kellerman was the stuff of gold…

Mike Lombardi – Former Patriots front office person and friend of Bill Belichick was a guest on VSIN’s “A Number’s Game” and said he believes the Patriots defense will be better than the 2018 version.

“I think they are better on defense,” Lombardi said. “I think New England is better on defense this year. I think Jamie Collins wanted to come back to New England. He wanted to play. I think he will make them a better team and allow (Dont’a) Hightower to play more on the edge, which is what he’s more suited for than playing in the base. Then, there’s Kyle Van Noy. I think Michael Bennett still has some gas left in the tank, so I do think they will be better on defense. I think the guy that is coaching the defense is a Hall of Fame defensive coach — forget the fact that he’s a Hall of Fame head coach. I do think they will be better.”

Gordon Not In Patriots Plans, But Would Be Welcomed Back:

Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network and NFL.com was on WEEI this week and addressed the Josh Gordon situation with the Patriots. He stated that the team would most certainly welcome the troubled but very talented wide receiver back, but that they were not counting on him in 2019 and have no idea when or if he’ll even be reinstated. 

“Josh Gordon, I don’t know,” Rapoport said. “It’s not a guy who’s in their plans right now. I think that they would certainly welcome him back if he showed that he’s going to be a better version — as a person, I’m talking about — a better version of the one they got last year. I just don’t know that he’s actually going to get reinstated, prove to the Patriots that he has turned the corner, that he’s a different person, show that he’s in the right frame of mind.”

“As always with Josh Gordon, the talent is incredible. We’ve seen probably one-tenth of it, honestly,” Rapoport added. “But there’s always so much that goes into it. I think the Patriots know better than to say this is a guy we’re counting on for next season.”

Hill Situation Highlights Lack of Consistency with NFL:

The NFL decided that Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill will not be disciplined under the league’s personal conduct policy. Whenever an NFL player is accused of off-field wrongdoing, the conduct policy is detailed in Article 46 of the league’s collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and the National Football League Players’ Association is brought into play. 

Back in March Hill’s son who is just three years old suffered a broken arm and was removed from the home of Hill and fiancee Crystal Espinal by the Kansas Department for Children and Families (DCF). 

The District Attorney declined to press charges against either which prompted Hill’s attorneys to write the NFL that it was an accident and that he played no role in his son’s injuries.

After doing an investigation, Park Avenue decided not to punish Hill saying it “cannot conclude” that Hill, whom the Chiefs ordered to stay away from the team pending the NFL’s investigation, violated the personal conduct policy. 

This is the same Hill who still proclaims his innocence of beating Espinal while she was pregnant four years ago. He pleaded guilty to domestic assault and battery charges that he hit Espinal in the face and stomach while she was eight weeks pregnant. He also strangled her. Despite his repeated claims of innocence of those charges, he admitted to them in court. 

Then there is the taped phone conversation. In it, Espinal says their son is terrified of his father, Hill responds with a threat.

“A 3-year-old is not going to lie about what happened to his arm,” Crystal Espinal tells Hill in the recording, adding, “He is terrified of you.”

Hill responds, “You need to be terrified of me, too, dumb bitch.”

So while the NFL says that the child’s safety is their priority, it rings with insincerity. 

It cannot conclude Hill caused the child’s injuries…Really? The same man who punched his pregnant girlfriend in the face and stomach, strangled her and threatens her on the phone. Someone broke the child’s arm. So, they have to consider that Espinal is guilty?

The utter lack of consistency is plain to see. Less than a year ago, the NFL suspended Ravens CB Jimmy Smith for threatening and abusive behavior. 

New England fans began to harp on this latest fiasco from Park Ave. Of course, this entailed some people stating it doesn’t apply. to this case. To that, we reply… respectfully, “Bull excrement”. 

The NFL in the Wells report, (Pg 228) it stated that the league couldn’t conclude with certainty that anyone did or did not tamper with a football, but their analysis is “dependent on assumptions and information that is not certain.”  There was a total lack of evidence that anyone even attempted to deflate a football, when in fact a reasonable scientific explanation was right at hand.

But in this case, a player with a history of abuse suddenly has a child with a broken arm and threatens his fiancee openly. And … nada. “There isn’t evidence?” It never stopped them before. One has to conclude that the child’s safety takes a backseat to the fantasy points that will be generated by Hill in the highest-scoring offense in the league. 

“You do not have to be convicted or even charged of a crime to be able to demonstrate that you’ve violated a personal conduct policy, and reflect poorly not only on themselves, but all of their teammates, every NFL player in the league, and everyone associated with the NFL.” Roger Goodell

Joe Thuney Enters Pivotal Contract Year:

Joe Thuney 62) during minicamp a few summers ago SBalestrieri photo

With training camp set to begin later this week, one player who will be garnering a lot of attention this season will be guard Joe Thuney. Thuney is entering a contract year and is part of arguably the best guard tandem in the league with Shaq Mason. 

He is slotted to make about $2 million dollars in 2019 in the final year of his rookie contract and is in line to make much more in 2020. Will it be with the Patriots? Time will tell, but if he plays it out until free agency, the chances of him making significantly more cash will be available to him. The Patriots locked up center David Andrews this spring with a three-year $9 million dollar deal. Last summer, Mason signed a five-year contract worth a total of $50 million with $23.5 million of it guaranteed. Will the Patriots make Thuney as big an offer as he’ll get on the open market? Doubtful. 

Thuney’s versatility, he can play anywhere along the offensive line was apparent this spring. With both Isaiah Wynn and Yodny Cajuste out of minicamp due to offseason surgery, Thuney was taking all of the first-team reps at left tackle. If for any reason Wynn and Cajuste aren’t ready for training camp, look for Thuney to continue to fill in. That will further drive up his already considerable …and growing value. 

He has been remarkably durable, not only playing in all 48 games of his NFL career but in every one of the Patriots 1119 offensive snaps in 2018. Since entering the league, he’s been constantly improving under the tutelage of Dante Scarnecchia. Last year he was the NFL’s 7th rated guard by Pro Football Focus (PFF). 

If you make it down to training camp this week, be sure to check out big #63. It may just be his last season in a Patriots uniform. And he’s been one of their better performers. 

Patriots Players Needing to Rebound in 2019:

Training camp is the time for the young players to show what they can do to earn a roster spot. It is also time for some of the veterans to show that they can still perform at a high level. Here are a couple of players who will be looking to ignite their production in 2019 on the eve of training camp.

Demaryius Thomas – The former Broncos and Texans wide receiver was once one of the most productive WRs in the game but his game has been in steady decline for several years. He’s gone from 1619, 1304,1083, 949 to 677 in the past five years. Then he tore his Achilles with the Texans late last season. 

Thomas may not even be ready for training camp, having not taken part in any activities this spring. He may begin camp (and we suspect he will) on the PUP list. While no one expects him to return to his glory years with Denver, there is some hope that he can still be a viable target in the Patriots offense…time will tell. 

Derek Rivers – We already identified 2019 as a make or break season for the Patriots top draft pick in 2017. He tore his ACL in preseason of his rookie season but was still not looking 100 percent last year. While he did make the team in 2018, he played very sparingly in six games and registered just two tackles and one sack. That isn’t the kind of production the team was looking for out of him. 

He’ll get the opportunity to show what he’s got this summer and he’ll have to shine. With a much more crowded front seven this year, we currently have Rivers on the outside looking in. He’ll have to leapfrog some players and show he can produce at the NFL level. 

Ryan Allen – If it seems strange to you for a player who could’ve been named the MVP of the Super Bowl to need “to rebound” in 2019, you’re not alone. Unfortunately, it is true. The 2018 season wasn’t the most consistent of Allen’s career. But he did turn it on for the playoffs and in the Super Bowl, he was outstanding, out-punting the Rams Johnny Hekker who is among the best in the game.

But for the second year in a row, the Patriots have brought in competition for Allen. This year they moved up in the draft to take Jake Bailey from Stanford. The reports about the strength of Bailey’s leg are well-founded. After watching him at minicamp he puts an absolute charge into the ball. Plus he’s more versatile and can kickoff as well as fill in as a field goal kicker in an emergency. His issue has been consistency as well. 

But with the Patriots possibly relying more on the running game this year, especially early in the year, they may be looking for a punter with more range and hang time in the event they’re punting more from their own side of the field and deeper than in year’s past. Allen will be on watch this summer. 

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Cole Beasley Looks to Be the Top Target in Bills Passing Game: 

When the Buffalo Bills throw the ball this season, they will have a new and revamped passing attack. When we wrote about the changes forthcoming here a while back, we mentioned that Brian Daboll who used to be on the Patriots staff could be looking to replicate a lot of what the Patriots do with Julian Edelman. And that player on Buffalo would be Cole Beasley.

Beasley left Dallas and complained that he wasn’t getting enough looks in the passing game. And he’d have a point. In 2016, he led the Cowboys with 75 catches, 833 yards, and 5 TDs. The Cowboys went 13-3. In 2017, Dallas’ offense went away from Beasley, in 15 games he had just 36 catches for 314 yards and 4TDs. Dallas went 9-7. Last year, he was second on the team with 65 catches for 672 yards and 3 TDs, with Dallas going 10-6. But once Amari Cooper came onboard, Beasley’s numbers and targets went down. In the playoff loss to the Rams in the Divisional Round, he was targeted just twice.

With Buffalo and Daboll as the Offensive Coordinator, he has a chance to be the safety blanket, the chains mover and 2nd-year QB Josh Allen’s favorite target. Like Edelman, he excels in the short-area quickness part of the field. Buffalo threw the ball down the field too often in 2018. Look for them to utilize the short areas of the field more this year. And with the sure-handed Beasley in the mix, he should be the boon of his QB’s throws, especially on a team that had more than their share of drops.

Rosen or Fitzpatrick? The Dolphins TC Will Answer That:

The Miami Dolphins have (finally) moved away from QB Ryan Tannehill, who got more than a fair shake as their team’s QB. Now with a new coach and staff, new QBs and a fresh attitude, they’re going to attempt to turn things around.

With a full rebuild going on, no one is expecting Miami to be very competitive this season for a playoff spot. But with new coach Brian Flores and new signal callers under center, the Fins will be intriguing to watch. 

After signing Ryan Fitzpatrick as their bridge QB, Miami swooped after the Arizona Cardinals simply had to have QB Kyler Murray after drafting Josh Rosen with a Top 10 pick just a year ago. This could prove to be highway robbery. 

While no one knows how this will play out, Flores is going to let the players decide on who starts and who sits. But at some point, he’ll have to let Rosen show what he can do so that they can either stick with him as a potential franchise quarterback or that they have to address the situation next year in the NFL Draft. 

Our money here is on Rosen; he was awful last year, but he was a rookie saddled with an even more awful team. It was a total lose-lose situation. The games in the AFC East this year within the division are much more compelling with all of the new quarterbacks in place. 

Jets Williams Still Unsigned, May Miss the Beginning of Training Camp:

The New York Jets rookie players were scheduled to report for training camp on Friday. Quinnen Williams was not to be one of them. Williams still hasn’t signed his contract, making it the second year in a row that the team has had its top draft pick not show up on time for training camp. Last year, Sam Darnold missed the first three days of training camp while getting his deal finalized. 

Williams took part in all of the Jets’ spring workouts and the hold on his contract isn’t about his salary, which is mandated by the league. The Jets took Williams with the #3 pick in the NFL Draft this spring. What the holdup is, probably centers around offsets and cash flow. 

Is it a big worry? No, but the team never likes having their top draft pick miss any time during his first training camp. This is something that should be worked out fairly quickly and then Williams, who is considered one of the top picks in the draft, should be ready to go. 

________________

“I no longer listen to what people say, I just watch what they do. Behavior never lies” Winston Churchill

“So, how was your week?”

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

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

Patriots 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 – 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 – Running Backs

Steve Balestrieri
July 15, 2019 at 6:30 am ET

The Patriots have one of the deepest and varied sets of running backs in the NFL. It became a position of strength down the stretch and the team rode it to a Super Bowl title. 

The Patriots had the league’s fifth-best running attack in 2018 and averaged 4.3 yards per rushing attempt. However, early in the year, injuries to Jeremy Hill, Sony Michel, and Rex Burkhead thinned out their depth considerably. That forced the team to use Cordarrelle Patterson as a running back for a time. 

While Hill ended up on IR, Michel and Burkhead returned and the running game got better as the year progressed. Michel, in particular, was immense in the postseason rushing for 336 yards, averaging 4.7 yards per rushing attempt with six touchdowns in three postseason games. 

With Michel, James White, and Burkhead all returning, the team drafted the versatile Damien Harris from Alabama and brought back former Patriot special teams’ ace Brandon Bolden after a year’s hiatus in Miami. Outstanding fullback James Develin also returns.  

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 – Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead, Brandon Bolden, Damien Harris, Nick Brossette, Fullbacks James Develin, Jakob Johnson*

Locks – Michel, White, Harris, Develin

Near Lock – Burkhead, Bolden

Long Shot – Brossette, Johnson* 

Discussion – When it comes to the running back position, the Patriots are in great shape entering training camp before the 2019 season. There are, however, some question marks. Michel has had knee woes dating back to college, he missed some time last season and missed the mandatory minicamp in June after having another procedure.  Burkhead has also had injury concerns in his career. 

Having both a full-go for training camp will go a long way to alleviate those concerns. Adding Harris is a huge step in that direction. Harris is an excellent between the tackles runner, he is quick to the hole and runs with his pad level low. He’s outstanding after contact and is used to working in a running back by committee approach at Alabama. He’s very good in pass protection and underrated as a pass-catcher with soft hands.

With Michel, Burkhead, and Harris the Patriots have three running backs who can all run the ball well between the tackles where they like to run. Burkhead is also a good receiver out of the backfield, something they are hoping to see more of from Michel this year as well as Harris, who got a lot of reps in minicamp. 

James White is outstanding in his third-down receiving back role and can handle a few carries of his own during any given game. This gives the team outstanding versatility and unpredictability. They can go with a two-back set (21 Personnel) and then split the backs out wide if the defense stacks the box, forcing linebackers into coverage.

Michel, White, Develin, and Harris due to his draft status are absolute locks. Burkhead and Bolden are as close to locks as one can get. Bolden is a super-sub who can contribute offensively when his number is called but is most valuable on special teams where he was missed last year. By the way, the Patriots never emptied his locker.

It is going to be difficult for Brossette, the rookie from LSU to crack the 53-man roster unless there are some injuries there. Brossette is a typical LSU running back. Compact, with a solid build, runs low to the ground with power. He’s not overly athletic and with such a crowded backfield He’s a candidate for the practice squad. 

Jakob Johnson is a former University of Tennessee tight end and German football league player who is part of the International Player Pathway Program which was instituted in 2017 and whose goal is to provide international athletes the opportunity to compete at the NFL level, and ultimately earn a spot on an NFL roster. 

If Johnson doesn’t make the Patriots 53-man roster out of training camp, (doubtful), he will automatically be placed on the practice squad. And as an international player, that will automatically give the Patriots an exception, an 11th player allowed on the practice squad. However, that will render him ineligible for an active roster spot in 2019. 

The Patriots are in terrific shape at the running back position with training camp…just 10 days away as we go to publication here. They will lean heavily on their running game and running backs for production in the passing game 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 Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

New England Patriots News 7-14, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
July 14, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 07-14 and AFC East notes this week. 

Just 11 more days until the hard work begins for “Knockin’ on Seven’s Door.”

Patriots Football is back in 11 days

 Quick Hitters:

Devin & Jason McCourty- continue their work in the community. The twins spent time with both We Belong and the Peace Unit, which are initiatives dedicated to helping the youth and young adults of the area.

Rob Gronkowski – was honored at the ESPYs in LA this week and spoke about being a good teammate. “When I look back on my career, what I look back on, what I’m most proud of was the teammate I am,” he said. “My teammates knew I would do anything for them, and I knew they’d do anything for me. I know the relationships we formed will stay with us for the rest of our lives, so thank you to all the guys I played with and thank you for making the ride so much more fun and so much more memorable.”

Melvin Gordon – the Chargers running back will be the latest RB to test market for RB value. Gordon has informed the team that he wants a new contract or be traded. Gordon is scheduled to make $5.605 million this year but is looking for much more or he won’t report to training camp. His agent said it could sit into the regular season 

Allen Bailey – Former NFL GM Gil Brandt wrote on the NFL.com site that the Patriots are still the best landing spot for the free-agent DL. Bailey, 30, visited the Patriots on March 14 and reportedly had contract discussions. But he left without signing anything. The former Chiefs’ DL also visited with the Panthers, Falcons, and Seahawks.

Nick Caserio – was back in the news for the wrong reason. The Texans, who have been pursuing him for their GM job for two years, announced they aren’t going to have a GM for the 2019 season. The plan is to share the responsibilities between several men including Jack Easterby, who is now on the outs with the Krafts. All signs point to them coming hard after Caserio again in 2020 when his current deal expires. It may be time to give the man a title and pay him to keep him around…if he wants to remain.

Brady NFL Best at Throws 10+ Yards Downfield:

Pro Football Focus (PFF) Steve Palazzolo put out some startling stats on Friday which got social media aflame, especially those who consider Tom Brady a “dink and dunk” QB. According to the stats that Palazzolo posted, not only did Brady have the best percentage of passes completed of 10+ yards downfield, he attempted the most in the past three seasons. 

Of course, this ignited the troll population who then wanted to know who led the league in short passes. Well, Palazzolo’s stats showed that Brady wasn’t even in the Top 10 of passes thrown at or behind the line of scrimmage. 


This won’t stop the Brady-haters who were already flooding Palazzolo’s mentions about his data being biased, but it was funny to watch the questions spew forth and answered. Well, it isn’t “dink and dunk”, it must be that dreaded Patriots “system”…

18 Game Schedule? This is a Ridiculous Scenario:

We were thinking that this was a satire piece when we first saw it but unfortunately that was not the case and someone at the NFL front office actually believes this to be a good idea. The NFL has been pushing an 18-game schedule for quite some time now, that isn’t new, but what they’re proposing is…

The league is proposing that there will be only two exhibition games and expand the regular season slate to 18 games. But the kicker is, that the league knowing the NFLPA (NFL Players Association) will certain dig their heels in over this, wants to limit each player can only dress for 16 of those games. 

I have no idea what is on the menu at Park Avenue, but please feel free to share some. 

Fans will not be happy, imagine a fan from another city knowing that say the Patriots or Chiefs are coming to town, shelling out big money for tickets only to find out that Tom Brady or Patrick Mahomes is sitting this week? 

This one doesn’t even sound good on paper, it will never pass with the NFLPA but just shows two things. The owners aren’t going to stop pushing for an 18-game schedule and the bargaining agreement with the league and NFLPA is not going to be pretty.

Gronk and Brady Play Catch While Social Media Melts Down :

Slow your roll folks, there is no reason to lose your mind over a game of catch between Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski. And no, it does not point to Gronkowski coming back in mid-season this year. 

Gronkowski was in LA for the Monster Energy $50K Charity Challenge Celebrity Basketball Game Monday night at UCLA. So, once he found out Brady was doing a private workout at UCLA with his personal trainer Alex Guererro it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the two would link up. 

“He saw I was in town for this basketball game,” Gronkowski said in an interview on Monday. “He was like, ‘Yo, Gronk, man, yo, Gronk, come throw with me in the morning.’ So I was like, ‘No problem. It’ll give me a warm-up to this basketball game tonight.’”

Getting together in shorts and tossing the football around is hardly proof he’s returning. It had more to do with good friends taking advantage of being in close proximity to one another when each has a busy, demanding schedule. 

This week I went to a shooting range with an old Special Forces buddy to catch up. It doesn’t mean Mrs. Balestrieri’s bouncing baby boy is heading to Afghanistan anytime this century. 

Elandon Roberts Traffic Stop Wasn’t About Race, Sheriff Says:

Patriots linebacker Elandon Roberts was pulled over by Sheriff’s Deputies back on March 10 in the Pecan Grove neighborhood of Richmond, Texas outside of Houston. Roberts has charged that the deputy in question acted unprofessionally because of Roberts’ race. 

The sheriff’s deputy, Adam Watkins tried to pull over Roberts for doing 59 mph in a 35 mph zone, but things went south from there. Roberts assertation that he was harassed “because he is a big black guy” (Deputy’s words), was frightening and unprofessional. 

Roberts tried to exit his vehicle with his hands up and was ordered back into the vehicle. Roberts tried to tell the deputy that he lived there. The deputy called for backup because he had “ a large black guy who wouldn’t obey his commands.” 

Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls said that the stop wasn’t based on race but that his deputy didn’t act as professionally as he should and received a verbal reprimand. Roberts received citations for speeding and not having proof of insurance (Roberts couldn’t find it during the stop).

The sheriff’s comments and the entire traffic stop video can be seen here:

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Hoping Kroft Is Ready For Camp: 

When the Buffalo Bills were looking to revamp their tight end position during free agency, they gambled that Tyler Kroft was destined for big things in their offense in 2019. They paid Kroft handsomely, with a three-year, $18.75 million dollar deal. Outside of 2017, when he filled in for the oft-injured Tyler Eifert, Kroft has just 25 catches over three seasons. It was in 2017, that Bills are hoping for when he caught 42 passes. In 2018, he played only five games before breaking his foot.

But in the first practices this spring Kroft broke his foot and that leaves them with questions. They drafted Dawson Knox in the third round of the draft and Tommy Sweeney in the 7th round. Knox has good size and is athletic but has suspect hands. The knock on him in college was he was always double catching passes. Sweeney is a very physical presence and a good blocker but limited athletically and in the passing game.

Jason Croom was the lone holdover from the 2018 Bills, catching 22 passes for 259 yards and one touchdown. Which was more than starter Charles Clay who was let go. Croom isn’t a lock for the roster but if Kroft is out for the beginning of camp he will get a chance to carve out a nice role for himself. 

Lee Smith who spent the first four years of his career in Buffalo was also brought back this spring.

Dolphins Norton Cited For Crash That Cost Him His Arm:

The Miami Dolphins Kendrick Norton was cited for the accident last week that caused emergency personnel to amputate his left arm at the scene, police officials said this week.

Norton, according to the Florida Highway Patrol, made an improper lane change prior to the two-car crash on State Road 836 near Miami in the early morning hours of July 4. Police officials said his black 2017 Ford F250 cut off a gray 2015 Maserati Quattroporte, driven by Jessie Pena and sideswiped the vehicle.

Neither Norton, nor his passenger, identified as Shakira Williams were wearing seatbelts. Williams wasn’t hurt. Norton however, was focusing on the positive rather than what he has lost.

“I am alive,” he said. “To be here, I am alive. One thing keeps me going and that is that I am still able to be here. Seeing my family is so important. It is very good that I have this support system. It keeps me strong and it keeps me tall.

“But I realize that I will not be able to play for anyone. We are working past that, you know. That reality is sinking in. I am alive and I am grateful. Now I want to organize a blood drive.”

Jets Herndon Suspended for First Four Games of 2019:

The New York Jets TE Chris Herndon will be suspended for the first four games of their 2019 season in the aftermath of a DUI arrest. The Jets first four games are at home against the Bills and the Browns; on the road at New England against the Patriots and Week 5 in Philadelphia against the Eagles. The Jets have a bye week early in Week 4 this season. 

Herndon developed very good chemistry with QB Sam Darnold in 2018 and was second on the team with 39 catches for 502 yards and four touchdowns. He is expected to be an even more important piece of the offense in 2019.

With Herndon out, the Jets have journeymen Daniel Brown, Eric Tomlinson, and rookie Trevon Wesco on the roster.

________________

“There is an old saying about the strength of the wolf is the pack, and I think there is a lot of truth to that. On a football team, it’s not the strength of the individual players, but it is the strength of the unit and how they all function together.” Bill Belichick

“So, how was your week?”

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

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

Patriots 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. 

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