Tag Archives: 2016 NFL Combine

New England Patriots News 8-28, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
August 28, 2016 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are Sunday’s Patriots news 8-28, sorry no AFC East Notes today. Will make sure that those are back next week.

Patriots Evaluate Talent a bit Differently:
I got a couple of messages this week asking why the Patriots would be interested in a player (Barkevious Mingo), who was obviously a bust in Cleveland with the Browns.

They’re good, legitimate questions but let’s say this. The Patriots evaluate players just a little differently than other teams do. Most teams look at a player and ask “How will he fit in our system?” Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio look at the same player and ask, How can we take what he does best and make it work within the framework of our system?

Oct 26, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo (51) at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 26, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo (51) at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

They don’t care where a guy is drafted, once he walks in the door, he’ll get an equal shot at proving himself on the roster and they’ll experiment to find out what his strengths and weaknesses are and try to put him in a position to succeed.

The Patriots liked Mingo coming out of the draft in 2013 and it may have just been a case like Jabaal Sheard, also with Cleveland or with Akeem Ayers with Tennessee or even Akiem Hicks a year ago when he came over from the Saints. The team was using a different scheme and the player didn’t fit in with that.

Time will tell if they hit or miss with Mingo but Belichick’s average with these types of moves is pretty high.

Injuries Ultimately Derailed Stork’s Career in NE:
Former Patriots center Bryan Stork’s time in New England came to an untimely end when the Patriots traded the talented, tough but injury prone player to the Washington Redskins for a conditional 7th-round draft pick in 2017.

Stork and Jackson lead the way

Stork and Jackson lead the way

Stork was drafted in the 4th round of the 2014 NFL Draft and became a starter on the team that went to and won the Super Bowl over the Seattle Seahawks. Stork was a big part of that win and Tom Brady’s protection for that entire season.

But concussions beginning in his final college season of 2013 began to take their toll. He had one for four years in a row. Last season, his concussion caused him to begin the year on PUP. Another this season resulted in him missing a good chunk of training camp. During his absence, David Andrews took over as the starting center and played well, outplaying Stork just a bit when he returned.

While much has been made of his temper and losing control in Denver a year ago and twice this season, while I’m sure it was a factor, I believe it now to have been a minor one. If he’d been healthy and outplaying Andrews, it probably wouldn’t have been a topic of conversation.

Team Unlikely to Call Ridley, Rice:
Whenever another team jettisons or is close to releasing a player, many fans begin to immediately clamor for that player to be brought in by the Patriots. It has gotten to the point where even some national writers put the Patriots in the equation because the story is then guaranteed to generate hits.

Such was the case this week, with the team rumored to be adding a running back when former Patriots RB Stevan Ridley was released by the Lions, many fans were jumping on the bandwagon to bring him back. The 2012 version? Sure but Ridley has had a serious injury and has lost a step since and was ineffective behind a good Jets offensive line a year ago.

One player who keeps coming up is Ray Rice. Rice hasn’t played since the end of the 2013 season and even then was in the midst of the worst year of his career. He averaged only 3.1 yards per carry and there was talk then that he was on the downside of his career. And any thoughts that it would be New England that would give him a second chance were quickly put to rest by Patriots owner Robert Kraft who said the Patriots would never sign him…but the storylines refuse to die.

On a similar note, the Browns were rumored to putting the talented but troubled (and suspended) WR Josh Gordon on the trading block this week. Immediately social media exploded with New England trade scenarios and how the Patriots needed a “deep threat”… whistle if you’ve heard that before. Never mind that the Patriots invested a draft pick in Malcolm Mitchell who would play basically the same role or the cash for Chris Hogan who came over during free agency from the Bills.

Instead of splash Bill Belichick did what his M.O. always does, and got an under the radar deal for Mingo who strengthens the depth and will buy in to the Patriots system totally.

Belichick Takes the Team to the Movies with Wahlberg:
In a move that we’ve seen frequently over the past several years, Bill Belichick decided to do some team building by taking the team to the movies. In a story first reported by ESPN’s Mike Reiss, Belichick told the team that they’d spend last Sunday night doing some film work.

But the team walked over to the showcase Cinema next door in time to have big-time Patriots fan Mark Wahlberg waiting on the team. His latest film “Deepwater Horizon” won’t be released to the general public until Sept. 30, but Wahlberg gave the team an advanced screening.

It wasn’t just a night off however, the message of the film and to the team that teams have to pull together to survive resonated with many of the players. Deepwater Horizon was an offshore oil drilling platform that suffered a catastrophic explosion in 2010 that resulted in the worst oil spill in US history.

That is team building with a strong lesson learned there, a very Belichick type move.

Reiss’ piece and the quotes from some of the players can be found here:

Time Running Out For Knighton:
When the Patriots added Terrance Knighton this offseason, it looked like they added a player who could give their defense some bulk inside to improve a unit that struggled against the run last season. But so far Knighton hasn’t been much of a factor during the preseason and on Friday night he didn’t even see the field.

As a result, it doesn’t seem like things are going well for the former Washington player, and he voiced his displeasure about it to Boston Herald writer Jeff Howe, but said he’ll continue to try and earn a role.

“I prepared myself to play,” Knighton told Howe. “I just didn’t play. I don’t know. You’ve got to ask the coaches. I’m 100 percent healthy. I prepared myself to play a lot of football tonight. It didn’t happen. It is what it is. I’m not asking why or anything. I’m just going to show up to work tomorrow and take it a day at a time.”

We’ve already seen an interesting evolution defensively thanks to players who have emerged at several positions during this preseason and it’s no secret that the expectations of big name free agents that come in here don’t always pan out the way we expect (former Washington DT Albert Haynesworth comes to mind). For now it’s up to Knighton to prove he deserves to be a part of this team, but he’s running out of time to change their minds as the Patriots head into their final preseason game next Thursday night.

“It’s disappointing because I’ve played a lot of ball in this league, seen a lot of things, but I’m not going to make too much of it,” Knighton said. “It is what it is. Whatever happens, happens. If I’m here, I’m here. If I’m not, I’m not. I’m just taking it a day at a time really.”

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

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

New England Patriots Training Camp Observations 8-5

Steve Balestrieri
August 5, 2016 at 4:18 pm ET

Physical, Intense Competition During Team Scrimmage

The Patriots concluded their eighth training camp practice on Friday morning in full pads, Bill Belichick ratcheted up the intensity level by running an old fashioned blue vs white scrimmage. Tom Brady ran the blue team while Jimmy Garoppolo ran the white team offense.

Not Practicing: Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, Dion Lewis, Tre’ Jackson, Sebastian Vollmer, Nate Ebner (Olympic Games), Jonathan Cooper, Keshawn Martin, Donald Brown, Bryan Stork, Clay Harbor, D.J. Foster came out for warmups but left to work out with the training staff on what appears is a shoulder issue.

Nate Washington and Keshawn Martin were back at practice today. But they didn’t participate in the scrimmage.

Blue Team Rolls: The team tried to break up the starters as best as possible. Garoppolo had Gronk and the starting offensive line while Brady had Bennett and Hogan. Josh McDaniels called the offensive plays for the White Team. Brian Daboll in what could be a harbinger of things to come in 2017 if McDaniels gets another head coaching gig, called the plays for the Blue.

It wasn’t close, you’ll read wildly varying scores today depending upon the writers and they’ll all be correct. The teams didn’t always try for an extra point, and didn’t always kickoff but the blue team with Brady under center kicked the white team’s behind.

There were all kinds of exciting and intense play out there. We’re forbidden from mentioning everything we saw today as the Patriots Media policy prohibits certain reporting. Since we don’t always get media credentials like we did today we aren’t going to be the ones to break the rule.

But the blue team had a pair of interceptions, by Devin McCourty and on the final play by Jamie Collins that was returned for a pick-six. Jimmy G. only threw one. And Jacoby Brissett didn’t play. So you can draw your own conclusions.

The butt kicking began from the opening kickoff. V’Angelo Bentley was returning the kickoff for the white team from the left goal line and was absolutely tattooed by Geneo Grissom, who turned in a solid day all around on defense and STs. Grissom flew down the field and pushed his blocker, Elandon Roberts, back and the three players made contact at the same time. The audible pop was heard all over the field and drew oohs and aahs from the crowd.

Garoppolo didn’t have a great day. He was constantly besieged by the pass rush, Jabaal Sheard was having his way with Marcus Cannon, even when the tight ends chipped him on the way out. Sheard is quietly having another outstanding camp.

Garoppolo’s first pass was perhaps his best. He hit Gronk on a nicely thrown seam route with Brock Vereen in coverage. Four plays later he tried it again but Devin McCourty was able to block it away. On the next snap, he tried a deep fade to Aaron Dobson but Malcolm Butler who had a big day swatted it away.

Brady Has Big Day: Brady was “en fuego” for the entire day. His first pass was incomplete as Chris Long blew past Cameron Fleming and hurried the throw. But not many of Brady’s throws were hitting the ground on Friday morning. The only times he wasn’t picking them apart was when the white team got a pass rush on him.

He hit James Develin on an out pattern and could be clearly heard exhorting his teammate and being glad he’s back in the lineup for 2016.

Five plays later Brady spread Brandon Bolden out wide and had a mismatch on linebacker Kevin Snyder who was in single coverage. Bolden blew past him and Brady laid a perfect deep pass down the right sideline for the score.

Brady was fired up. He was talking a huge amount of trash after the score and he said after practice that “I push the other guys’ buttons and sometimes they push back against me.”

Hogan/Slater “Brady Fired up Team”: Both Chris Hogan and Matthew Slater marveled at how Brady’s competitive fire, livened up the practice.

Hogan who is a newcomer this spring, said, “Oh man, it’s contagious. Tom was fired up. The other guys were fired up and we were just there competing.”

Grissom again made the tackle on the kickoff, but a tad less as bone jarring as the first one. Jimmy G. made an initial first down and then facing a 3rd and 5, he was sacked by Ramon Humber who came on an “A-gap” blitz and they were forced to kick one of two field goals they mustered.

On the white team’s next possession, McCourty made an interception on a deep pass.

The blue team and Brady got Martellus Bennett involved in the next series, with the big man making three catches in the first four snaps. The third one, he was the emergency outlet with Long bearing down on Brady and kept the sticks moving. Three plays later Brady threw a really nice fade to Hogan in the right corner of the end zone with Logan Ryan in coverage.

Garoppolo was under siege again and was sacked by Vincent Valentine. He was nearly picked off by Rob Ninkovich with Sheard again bringing pressure. They again settled for a field goal by Gostkowski.

The white team squibbed kicked on the ensuing kickoff and Grissom made a heads up play fielding the ball and making a nice return to near midfield. Brady needed just one play to hit paydirt. He found Matthew Slater streaking down the left sideline, he juked Darryl Roberts and left him behind. Brady’s pass was on the money and Slater had an easy touchdown.

On the blue team’s ensuing possession Brady mixed it up to Hogan twice, Malcolm Mitchell and Bolden. Then the white team blew a coverage and Mitchell ran down the right sideline untouched and Brady hit him for what would have been another score. But they placed the ball at the spot of the catch. Brady was then sacked on successive plays by Long and a combined one from Shea McClellin and Rufus Johnson. This forced a field goal to make it 22-6.

The teams traded possessions with Sheard just abusing the right side, providing constant pressure on nearly every down. Blue kicked another field goal making it 25-6. The white team had one final chance but Garoppolo’s pass was picked off and returned for a pick six by Jamie Collins.

There wasn’t much running game to speak of… so the Pats offense is looking like the Pats offense. Blount did make a nice short 3rd and 1 with a lead block from Develin but there wasn’t much to judge by.


Players that stood out were Brady, Hogan, Mitchell, Sheard and Grissom during the scrimmage. Butler was also providing a steady blanket of coverage and was frustrating DeAndre Carter for most of the session.

Sunday’s practice has been moved to 2:30 p.m. Stay tuned to PatsFans.com for camp updates.

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

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

New England Patriots News 7-31, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
July 31, 2016 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are Sunday’s Patriots news 7-31 and notes on what’s happening around the AFC East.

Do you think that people in these parts … in other words Patriots fans, missed football? After having 12,393 fans show up for the opening day of training camp, the first padded practice of 2016 had the incredible number of 21,781 fans packing the Gillette practice fields, the hill on the side and the tiers of the stadium overlooking the entire process. Saturday was as packed a practice as I’ve ever seen in the past nine years.

Belichick Is Not one to Waste Time nor Words:
For those of us who have been fortunate enough to sit in on Bill Belichick’s press conferences the past few years, the one thing that stands out is that there is nothing wasted. And everything has a meaning. That means if you’re a member of the press, you better do your homework and come prepared.

Bill Belichick was in mid-season form during his Friday presser. (USA TODAY Images)

No one wants to be “that guy”. The one who asks a dumb question and gets the blank stare or the sarcastic, monotone of the coach when he’s annoyed. We’ve all seen it and it isn’t a pretty sight.

So when training camp began on Thursday, Belichick’s comments were straightforward and to the point. He said the team’s #1 focus was to prepare Jimmy Garoppolo to start the season. But more importantly, he stated that when he returned to the team during Week 5, Tom Brady was going to be the starting QB. Right there Belichick put out the QB controversy fires out with a quick statement. Regardless of how Jimmy G. plays in the first month, the position belongs to Brady.

Belichick has seen first-hand both in Cleveland and here how distracting a QB controversy can be. And if you’re a media member, you “shoulda” been paying attention.

A media member asked Belichick on Friday exactly what he unequivocally stated on Thursday. ““Look, I told you what’s going to happen,” growled Belichick.  The warning signs were there but the member persisted “So there’s no chance?”  and that when Belichick mumbled “Jesus Christ” under his breath but audible on the microphones.

Whether you love his ways or hate them, that is how he rolls. And his “four Super Bowl pelts on the wall” give him plenty of ammo. Sometimes it is better not to poke the bear.

Nate Solder’s Return to Action, Was Small News for the Tackle:
Patriots left tackle Nate Solder tore his biceps and was lost for the season after the Dallas game last October.  He’s healthy and is back to work this season which is very good news for the Patriots. But his return is just secondary on Solder’s mind.

His son Hudson is just a year old and was diagnosed with cancerous tumors on both his kidneys just after he was born last July. Solder himself battled testicular cancer just before his son was born. But now both of them are getting healthy and the two along with his wife Lexi were playing on the field after the Patriots first practice.

It put everything into perspective for the Pats starting left tackle. “Oh man, I’m so excited to be out here. Been a while since I’ve been able to play, so I’m so excited about that. My son is doing awesome. Treatment is going well and we’ve been getting so many prayers and messages from so many people that we just appreciate it so, so much”, he said in an interview with Fox 25’s Tom Leyden.

Training Camp Schedule:
Practices and parking are free during training camp but as a word to the wise. Arrive early. Parking is in the P6 or P8 parking lots. It is first-come, first served and the crowds get bigger every year. Saturday’s crowd was the largest I’ve witnessed in the past nine years.

Sunday, July 31: 9:15am – 11:45am — Morning Practice Session
10am – 2pm — Patriots Fan Zone

Monday, August 1: 4:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. Patriots Fan Zone
5:00 p.m. Hall of Fame Induction for Kevin Faulk (open to public)
7:00 – 9:00 p.m. In-stadium practice, open to Season Ticket Holders and Foxboro residents only.

Tuesday, August 2 is an off-day. With no practice

Remember the schedule is subject to change and that in the case of inclement weather, should the team move inside the practice bubble, fans are not allowed inside.

During the day while practice sessions are ongoing, the Patriots Pro Shop, the Hall, the team’s Hall of Fame and the Fan Zone will all be open. There are concessions open behind the bleachers during practice.

East Bound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Dolphins Sign Melvin, Release Stoneburner and activate McCain:
The Miami Dolphins were a busy lot on Saturday as they worked out a trio of cornerbacks and signed one of them, Rashaan Melvin, who spent a part of 2015 with the Patriots. The Fins need help at corner and Melvin played in eight games with the Pats a year ago.

In a corresponding move, Miami released tight end Jake Stoneburner. Stoneburner played in 11 games with one start and caught five passes for 47 yards, for a 9.4 avg. and two touchdowns for the Dolphins in 2015.

The also activated Bobby McCain from the Physically Unable to Perform List (PUP). A 5th Round Draft Pick (145th overall), in the 2015 NFL Draft, McCain played in all 16 games with four starts as a rookie for Miami in 2015. He recorded 22 tackles (19 solo) on defense and added six special teams stops (four solo).

Jets Finally (To No One’s Surprise), Sign Fitzpatrick:
File this one under, let’s quit acting like children and admit we need one another. Jets QB Ryan Fitzpatrick signed a one-year $12 million dollar contract this week, fully guaranteed and with another $3 million in incentives. So hey, what kept ya?

This one was a no-brainer from jump street, the two sides needed one another but neither would budge. But on the verge of training camp starting, the two sides finally struck a bargain.

Fitzy had a solid year for the Jets a year ago and had them on the verge of a playoff spot. With the two sides far apart, the Jets tried to leverage Fitz by publicly declaring their confidence in Geno Smith. Which probably impressed no one other than Smith.

Is Fitzpatrick a franchise QB? No. but he’s a helluva lot better QB than Smith and gives them a chance to play for a shot in the playoffs.

Bills Set Earlier Curfew for Health, Still Far apart with Gillmore:
The Buffalo Bills are hoping that getting more rest during training camp will help cut down on injuries and give the team a healthier outlook once the season begins. So head coach Rex Ryan instituted a 10 o’clock curfew this season.

“I think we’re also the only team in the league that had, like, a 10 o’clock curfew last night,” Ryan said to the media. “We’re trying to avoid some of the things we went through last year.”

In other news, the Bills and CB Stephon Gillmore are reportedly still far apart in contract negotiations. Gillmore will play out his contract and hit free agency next year and would be set to cash in, in a big way. Gillmore has stated he wants to remain in Buffalo but also sounded pragmatic this week. “I’ll let my agent do the job. If it gets done, it gets done.”
Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

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

Patriots Training Camp Primer – Safeties

Steve Balestrieri
July 26, 2016 at 6:00 am ET

Deepest Position of the Team, Tough Cuts Ahead

The Patriots head into training camp this week and there should be no shortage of competition at a number of spots. As a lead-in to the beginning of camp, we’ll break down the positions and give our take on who is a lock, a near lock for the 53-man roster and who is on the bubble. Next up are the Safeties.

Bill Belichick likes to say that the spring’s OTAs and Minicamp is a learning exercise and that the real competition begins in training camp. While that is true to an extent, with 89 players on the current roster, a minimum of 36 of these will be cut. That doesn’t take into consideration the tweaking that goes on during the season after the initial 53-man roster is completed.

So the next position to break down are the safeties. The backend of the Patriots secondary is set, starters Devin McCourty and Pat Chung return and each will turn 29 in training camp so their age isn’t an issue.  Duron Harmon is normally the first man on the field, but he missed all of the spring so 2nd-year player Jordan Richards was taking the majority of his reps. Richards is shorter and stockier than Harmon and is a bit stiff for the backup center field role, he’s better suited to the box or the hybrid safety/linebacker role. Nate Ebner will not be at camp, having been granted permission to play rugby in the Olympics.

Those five plus Brandon King were on last year’s roster. The team let Tavon Wilson walk in free agency but waiting in the wings is LB/S Kamu Grugier-Hill, Brock Vereen, Cedric Thompson and the recently signed Vinnie Sunseri.

The team is deep and talented at safety and they’re more than addressed the loss of Wilson who played very little the past two seasons.

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

Roster Locks: Devin McCourty, Pat Chung, Duron Harmon, Jordan Richards
McCourty is the quarterback of the secondary, a co-captain of the team and the glue that holds everything together on the backend. He still doesn’t get the credit he deserves for his center field play. With each passing year, he’s asserting his leadership more and more and still just 28 is one of the oldest established veterans of the unit.

Pat Chung has excelled in his second stint with the Pats. (USA TODAY Images)

Chung continues to enjoy a renaissance in his second go-around with the team. He plays up in the box and is extremely effective at stopping the run and covering the tight ends. It seems like Chung should be older than 28, but he still has several good years left in his career.

Harmon was considered a reach when he was drafted in 2013 but now he’s a very valuable member of the defense. In certain packages, the team will move McCourty around and bring in Harmon to play centerfield. He played in nearly 54 percent of the team’s defensive snaps and allowed just 4 of 11 passes for 69 yards and two touchdowns in 2015. He was also credited with three passes defended and three interceptions. His 58.5 passer rating against, was the best of the Patriots’ secondary men.

Richards was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2015 NFL Draft with the 64th overall pick. He has an outstanding football I.Q. and is a high character guy. As a rookie, most of his playing time (21% of the defensive snaps), came after McCourty and Chung suffered injuries late in the season. He’s best suited to the backup of Chung, being used down in the box and covering the tight ends.

On the Bubble: Nate Ebner, Brandon King,
King was a pleasant surprise a year ago, carving out a special team’s role and ending up with the second most tackles on the STs unit. He wasn’t given much of a chance of sticking but worked closely with Special Team’s Coach Joe Judge and had a solid rookie season.

Ebner was given a contract extension this spring and has been a valuable member of the STs unit. But he was granted a leave of absence to compete in the 2016 Summer Olympics as a member of the US National Men’s Rugby Team. He’s been a fixture here but his absence could open the door for another player who steps up in training camp.

Kamu Grugier-Hill could be one of those players. An undersized, athletic demon on special teams, he could easily carve out a role for himself on defense as well. He’s one of those LB/S hybrids that teams are filling their rosters with.

Brandon King had a solid rookie season competing on Special Teams. (SBalestrieri/PatsFans Images)

Outside Looking in…. Longshots: Vinnie Sunseri, Brock Vereen, Cedric Thompson

Sunseri is an intriguing player, someone I was hoping the Patriots would take a look at in 2014 when he was taken by the Saints in the NFL Draft. He’s the son of the Raiders’ coach Sal Sunseri and was lauded by his teammates at ‘Bama as being a coach on the field. An excellent special teams’ leader, he is also injury prone. He blew out an ACL in his senior season, had his rookie year cut short with a broken arm and missed all of 2015. This may be an audition of another kind. He may end up being a coach in the not too distant future, and maybe Belichick is building off of some first-hand knowledge of him.

Vereen was signed to the Patriots practice squad in November after being released by the Bears and then the Vikings. After the season was over, he signed a future’s contract for 2016. Vereen can play safety and has filled in at slot corner. He’s considered a core special teams’ player and served as a gunner for a bit this spring. He is a longshot to make the roster.

Thompson spent all of 2015 on the Dolphins’ practice squad after being drafted by Miami in the 5th Round of the 2015 NFL Draft out of Minnesota. He wasn’t resigned and the Pats signed him to a future’s contract. The 6’0, 212-pound safety is another longshot to make the roster given the depth.

Check out our earlier primers on the running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, offensive line, defensive line, linebackers and the cornerbacks.  And be sure to keep tuned into PatsFans.com during training camp as we’ll post daily updates from down in Gillette.

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

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

Patriots Training Camp Primer – Tight Ends

Steve Balestrieri
July 15, 2016 at 5:30 am ET

Gronk, Bennett Become Even More Valuable Now With the Brady News

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

Bill Belichick likes to say that the spring’s OTAs and Minicamp is a learning exercise and that the real competition begins in training camp. While that is true to an extent, with 89 players on the current roster, a minimum of 36 of these will be cut. That doesn’t take into consideration the tweaking that goes on during the season after the initial 53-man roster is completed.

So next up are the tight ends. The Patriots have six players vying for roster spots.

This position, (like the wide receivers) is one top heavy with roster locks and it will essentially come down to four players competing for one, maybe two roster spots. The question comes down to this: Do the Patriots keep just three tight ends or four?

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

Roster Locks: Rob Gronkowski, Martellus Bennett
Well Duh! No brainer here. Gronk is the gold standard among tight ends in the NFL. No one possesses the type of athleticism at the position where he can attack the field down the seams, move the chains, and be a huge physical target in the red zone. Oh and he’s an outstanding blocker in the running game.

Gronkowski is one of Tom Brady’s favorite two targets, along with Julian Edelman. He relies on both a great deal and Gronkowski gives him a tremendous target that can be used in any part of the game plan. He enters the season healthy and is poised to have a big, big year.

Bennett is a perfect Robin to Gronkowski’s Batman. Another huge target at 6’6, 273 pounds, he’s a big body who can threaten the seams down the field. He’s also another tremendous blocker who can help out in the running game.


Just two seasons ago Bennett caught 90 passes while a member of the Bears. He and Gronkowski are going to be a nightmare matchup for opposing defensive coordinators. The Patriots will most certainly use a lot of “12 personnel” in 2016 and with the suspension on Brady being upheld in federal court, the two tight ends become even more important in the Patriots offense during the first four weeks.

One can argue that the acquisition of Bennett was specifically targeted for just this scenario.  He will probably be here for just one year and his presence along with Gronkowski makes for a much more potent offense. But with Brady facing a month-long suspension, this move could have been made with Jimmy Garoppolo in mind.

Garoppolo will face a daunting task of replacing Brady for the first month of the season but having Gronk and Bennett will go a long way of making the transition smooth. The package of plays using the tight ends will be a much quicker, easier read for Jimmy G and they along with Edelman will give him a very nice trio of weapons to work with. Not to mention that both will help the team run the football much more effectively this season.

Near Roster Locks: None

On the Bubble: Clay Harbor, Bryce Williams, A.J. Derby
The Patriots usually like their third tight end to be more of a blocker. And Michael Williams was just that for the team. But unfortunately, Williams tore his ACL during the minicamp during June and was lost for the season. Neither Harbor, Bryce Williams, nor Derby fits that bill. But with both Gronk and Bennett being the blockers they are, perhaps the team will change things up, for 2016 anyway. And of course with the return of FB James Develin the Patriots have used him at times as an H-Back or blocking TE.

Harbor was signed as a free agent this spring and was given a modest contract with the only guaranteed money is his signing bonus of $400,000. His cap hit is just under $1.3 million dollars with a base salary of $900,000.

Harbor isn’t an in-line tight but more of a “move” tight end who can play H-back and occasionally fill in at fullback. During the 2013-2014 seasons, he was solid as the Jags’ #2 tight end and caught 51 passes for 581 yards and three scores. But last year he was replaced by former Bronco Julius Thomas and caught just 14 passes. His most productive day was against the Patriots in Week 3 where he caught three passes for 43 yards and a touchdown.

Bill Belichick raved about his versatility before the Week 3 contest, setting the tone for the eventual free agent signing this spring. The third tight end position is his to lose.

Williams is a big (6’6, 258 lbs), move tight end that converted from a fullback at ECU that the team signed as a UDFA this spring. With his size, one would assume he’d be more of an in-line tight end. But he’s more of a finesse blocker than a mauler like Gronk or Bennett.

He was productive as a senior catching 58 passes for 588 yards and four touchdowns. He still needs polish on his route running skills but has the straight-line speed to attack the seams. He’s got good athletic skills, running the 40-yard dash in 4.94 seconds and the three-cone drill in 7.19 seconds at the NFL Combine.

Derby was drafted by the Patriots in the 6th round of the 2015 NFL Draft and was placed on IR in early August, just days after training camp started. The 6’5, 255-pound former QB, and LB is another “move” tight end who is facing an uphill climb to make the roster.

He played only one season at TE in college so his route running was in need of polish and he wasn’t the greatest blocker, but he has upside as well. Ran a 4.69 in the 40-yard dash at his Pro Day and showed a willingness to run the tough routes over the middle.

Outside Looking in…. Longshots: Steven Scheu
Scheu was a three-year starter at Vanderbilt who suffered from poor QB play that limited his production. He finished his senior season with just 26 catches for 231 yards in 2015. Scheu (pronounced SHOY), is a 6’4, 245-pound move tight end that has soft hands and runs good routes as a receiver.

His issue is speed or the lack of it. Coming out in the draft this season, he was known as a plodder and doesn’t have the burst to attack the seams. It will be difficult for him to gain separation in the intermediate routes. He isn’t a good blocker in the running game. But as a short range target that can help in the short passing game, he could find a niche.

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5 Reasons the New England Patriots Defense Will Be Better in 2016

Steve Balestrieri
June 13, 2016 at 6:00 am ET

Unit is Deeper, More Athletic Than a Year Ago

The Patriots made some big changes on the defensive side of the ball this spring and parted ways with two of their younger players that were high draft picks. But despite trading former 1st round pick Chandler Jones to the Cardinals this spring and cutting ties to another former 1st round draft pick in Dominique Easley, as well as losing Akiem Hicks in FA, the Patriots are primed to have an even better defense than a year ago.

Much like last season when Bill Belichick and the team cut the three starting cornerbacks from the Super Bowl winning team and many saw disaster befalling the defense, this year’s squad is beginning fresh with new blood, better depth all over and a more athletic group that made it to the AFC Championship Game a year ago.

So here are our 5 Reasons why the Pats Defense will be better than a year ago.

The Core of the Defense is Still Young:
Most of the core members of the defense are young and still have plenty of productive years left. On the front seven, Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower are 26, Jabaal Sheard is 27 and Malcom Brown only 22. Young edge rushers Geneo Grissom and Trey Flowers are only 24 and 22 respectively.

The secondary is also young with Malcolm Butler on 27, Logan Ryan is only 26 with both starting safeties Pat Chung and Devin McCourty only 28. Top draft choice Cyrus Jones is only 22.

While Hightower, Collins, Butler, Sheard and Ryan will soon be in line for new contracts there is no reason why the Patriots can’t lock up the majority if not all of them. If they are able to do that, the defensive core can stay intact for the next several years.

CB Malcolm Butler

CB Malcolm Butler

Belichick will Rely on the Defense the First Four Games:
With all due respect to Jimmy Garoppolo, but if Tom Brady does indeed miss the first four games of the season, Bill Belichick will rely on the defense to get it done in the first month and try to take as much pressure off of Jimmy G.

You can already see that the message has been passed down to the players and the leaders of the defense are acting accordingly even during the spring OTAs and minicamps. There hasn’t been any of the half-stepping and lightheartedness one usually associates with spring workouts. It’s been all business.

And the veterans like Hightower, Collins, Ninkovich and McCourty are leading the way. Hustling on and off the field, they’re setting the example for the others to follow. With the defense having to step up in the first month, the veterans are taking the task at hand seriously and they’re preparing with September in mind right now.

Defensive Line will be better, deeper and have a better pass rush:
We are already hearing the rumblings that the defensive line will take a step back in 2016. We’re not buying that. While the team would have loved to have had Hicks back, I think they no plans on retaining Jones. While a very talented pass rusher, he was good but not great, and he was weak in setting the edge in the running game. Jones pass rushing production was like a Halloween mask, it disappeared after October 31.

With Jones gone, this elevated Jabaal Sheard to a starting position. Not only is he much better at setting the edge in the running game, but he registered eight sacks in about 400 fewer snaps than Jones. But the team wasn’t done.

They signed FA Chris Long who was an elite level DEs before injuries took their toll the past two seasons. Long is looking to resurrect his career here as a sub-package pass rusher, taking over Sheard’s position from a year ago.

The team also has second-year players Geneo Grissom and Trey Flowers who both made the team a year ago as rookies before injuries cut them down. They can play the edge or jump inside as interior pass rushers on obvious passing downs. Their depth on the edge is such that they can move Rob Ninkovich and Rufus Johnson to linebacker with Shea McClellin and provide extra rushers from the second level.


Easley’s selection in the draft was a gamble that failed. He ended up on IR both seasons and while flashed glimpses of his speed off the snap, it never really materialized consistently. Rumors of his refusal to rehab the way the team wanted compounded things and the team cut bait quickly.

They instead brought in big bodied defensive linemen who can stuff the run inside, allowing the edge rushers and linebackers to provide the quarterback pressure. Terrance Knighton is a huge man who will be called upon to stuff the middle and play over the nose. They also brought in veterans Markus Kuhn and Frank Kearse. During the draft, they selected big DL Vincent Valentine. All of them are over 300 pounds and will be looked to control the line allowing the linebackers to flow and make plays.

Secondary is much deeper than a year ago:
With all the injuries the team suffered in 2015, one area they were fortunate to avoid injuries was at cornerback where they were thin. While the safety position is as deep as any on the team, the real depth the team added was at corner.

With starters Butler, Ryan and Justin Coleman returning, the team’s top draft choice Cyrus Jones should immediately push for reps at the slot corner position. Darryl Roberts who had a big camp a year ago returns and he too will push for reps. The team also brought in some smaller but extremely athletic corners to compete for roster slots this season. Jonathan Jones, Cre’Von LeBlanc and V’Angelo Bentley are all very athletic. Veteran E. J. Biggers came over from the Eagles and will also compete for a spot.

The safety position is set with starters Pat Chung and Devin McCourty in place ably backed up by Duron Harmon and Jordan Richards. Chung has thrived in his second go-round with the team, playing down in the box and McCourty remains the QB for the backend of the defense. Look for the secondary to play much better with an improved pass rush in 2016.

Linebacker is the strength of the defense and they’ve improved:
Last season the team looked solid while Hightower and Collins, one of the better tandems in the league, were in the lineup. But then they lost them both for a time and the play, especially against the run suffered. They just didn’t have the depth needed to back those two up. Jonathan Freeny was mainly a ST player and while he performed well, they needed an upgrade.

In free agency the team landed McClellin who can play inside as well as give them a blitzer in passing downs. The team also added the very athletic if undersized Kamu Grugier-Hill who could prove to be an intriguing option in the future.

Grugier-Hill is an intriguing prospect

Grugier-Hill is an intriguing prospect

With the work in minicamp showing that they can slide edge rushers like Ninkovich (the Patriots current version of the Swiss Army Knife) and Rufus Johnson back to the linebacker position if needed shows the depth the defense, especially this front seven has.

Because they can drop different players into coverage or get them after the passer. With the versatility, opponents won’t have the luxury of knowing where the pass rushers will be coming from and the Pats have the men who can drop and cover.

This Patriots defense …on paper looks to be a much better unit than the one that was 10th in points allowed in 2015. Now they just have to go out on the field and prove it. Is it July 27th yet?

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New England Patriots News 6-12, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
June 12, 2016 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are Sunday’s Patriots news 6-12 notes and what’s happening around the AFC East.

Hogan quietly building trust factor/chemistry with Brady:
The talk this week during minicamp was mainly centered around the Patriots new …and big tight end Martellus Bennett. And while the colorful Bennett was indeed impressive, equally impressive was the work being done by new WR Chris Hogan.

Hogan came over as a FA from the Bills this spring and without Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola available thus far this spring, he is stepping into the void extremely quickly. Thus far he’s taken on more of the Edelman role in the offense and is proving a quick learner of the Pats complicated route tree.

He’s spent time off to the side with Brady during OTAs and minicamp, working one-on-one with the QB and building up their own chemistry and timing. While he doesn’t have the short-area quickness of Edelman, Hogan does possess the better size and more straight line speed. It looks so far that he could seamlessly step into Brandon LaFell’s “X”-wide receiver slot once everyone is back to practice. And being able to get in this much work with Brady this early bodes well for the start of the season which starts in Arizona.

Hogan comes back and makes a nice catch in front of Biggers

Hogan comes back and makes a nice catch in front of Biggers

Like Father, Like Son… Steve Belichick Seamlessly Stepping in:
One of the most interesting if, understated scenes that played out during minicamp was watching new safeties coach Steve Belichick interact with his players. And his first impressions was that unsurprisingly, he’s lot like his father.

After one series, the younger Belichick called over all of his charges and they had an impromptu discussion over what had just transpired. Veterans Pat Chung and Devin McCourty were also actively involved in the five-plus minute conversation as the group discussion went on oblivious to the rest of what the team was doing.

In keeping with what the elder Belichick stressed all week, that it was “a teaching camp” the younger Belichick gets high marks for setting the season off on the right foot.

Tight End Michael Williams Tears ACL, is released:
Backup tight end Michael Williams tore his ACL during Wednesday’s practice and will need surgery, effectively ending his 2016 season. In a corresponding move the Patriots released him and if he clears waivers, then he will revert to IR.

Williams, 25, was acquired by the Patriots with Detroit in August of last year. The 6-foot-6, 304-pounder, originally entered the NFL as a 7th round draft pick (211th overall) by the Lions in the 2013 NFL Draft out of Alabama.

He played in 15 games with nine starts for the Pats last year catching three passes for 26 yards. This spring the converted tackle appeared to slim down some and was being used more in the passing game and had a couple of nice catches down the seams during minicamp prior to his injury.

With Williams lost for the year, that leaves Clay Harbor, A.J. Derby, Steve Scheu, and Bryce Williams fighting for backup spots to Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett.

Brown/Foster are looking to carve out roles at RB:
Going into the spring, one of the areas that were deemed ready for an upgrade was the running back position. The Patriots finished 30th in rushing in 2015 and their top two backs Dion Lewis and LaGarrette Blount ended up on IR.

But the Patriots eschewed on the prospects in the draft, instead, signing veteran Donald Brown and UDFA D.J. Foster from Arizona State. They’ll compete with veterans James White, Brandon Bolden (mainly an STs standout), Tyler Gaffney, as well as fullbacks James Develin and Joey Iosefa.

While still very early, both Brown and Foster have made strong cases for themselves. Brown has been able to carry the ball in the running game, provide good pass protection and be a capable receiver out of the backfield in his career. This week, he looked smooth sliding out of the backfield catching passes and his versatility may be called upon, especially if Blount isn’t ready to go.

Foster is an intriguing player who has that instant burst of acceleration off the snap and has very, quick feet in being able to plant and go in an instant. He also has the added versatility of being a special teams’ capable player, returning kicks which is an added bonus. Both of these players will bear watching once training camp begins.

Grugier-Hill Taking a Similar Path as King a Year Ago:
When the Patriots drafted Kamu Grugier-Hill in the 6th round of the NFL draft this season, one of the things that immediately drew attention to the undersized LB/S hybrid player was his athleticism and speed. We knew that he’d have to make a spot for himself via STs, similar to how Brandon King did last season.

At the time, King was considered a long shot to make the roster, but every day we’d watch STs Coach Joe Judge work with King one-on-one on different drills and we stated then, that the team had plans for King. Now we’re seeing the same thing with Grugier-Hill.

During minicamp we watched Grugier-Hill and King work on the side with coaches and long snapper Christian Yount on punt blocking drills. Later in camp, he worked with Pro Bowler Matthew Slater as a gunner. During Thursday’s session he showcased his speed on defense by knocking a pass away on one snap and later, breaking on a Jacoby Brissett pass, Grugier-Hill was able to pick off the pass. With the Patriots it always helps your cause if you can do a lot of things, versatility being the key.  Grugier-Hill is a player that has a lot of potential.

Kamu Grugier-Hill and Brandon King get some one-on-one time in STs drills

Kamu Grugier-Hill and Brandon King get some one-on-one time in STs drills

Cornerback Competition Likely to Heat up in July:
The Patriots entered the 2015 season with nothing but questions at the cornerback position. A year later they appear, on paper to be deep and talented if still unproven there. And if minicamp is any indication, then training camp promises to be even more fun to watch.

With Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan and top draft choice Cyrus Jones all roster locks, that leaves last season’s slot corner Justin Coleman, Darryl Roberts, free agent E.J. Biggers, and UDFAs V’Angelo Bentley, Jonathan Jones, and Cre’Von LeBlac fighting it out for the final two roster spots.

We watched this group closely during minicamp and each of them was making plays. Once the pads come on in about six weeks, it promises to be very entertaining to watch. And with Ryan out during this week’s practices, it increased the reps for everyone else to make some headway…and they all did.

East Bound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Dolphins Plan on Running Up Tempo Offense:
New Dolphins Head Coach Adam Gase and Offensive Coordinator Clyde Christensen plan on having the Dolphins offense running an up-tempo attack this season, including some time in the no-huddle.

“Just keep pushing the pace. It gives our quarterback some time at the line so all of them don’t get snapped with 22 seconds left on the clock,” Christensen told the Miami Herald. That’s not necessarily the intention. … One of the reasons we’re at the line of scrimmage is the tempo, for the conditioning, and for the advantage-based part of it where it looks like it’s going to be fast and then all of a sudden we can get into a play we want to get into.”

The Dolphins are already practicing it during OTAs and as one would expect it requires a lot of conditioning on the part of the players. With some improved weapons for QB Ryan Tannehill, this will be an interesting development to watch.

Jets Counting on Henderson, Mauldin at LB:
The J-E-T-S, Jets are facing replacing some veterans this season and it just isn’t at the QB position where the Ryan Fitzpatrick watch has continued to drag on. The team is also having to contend with the loss of long-time veteran Calvin Pace as well as Demario Davis at the linebacker position in 2016.

The team did sign veteran free agent Bruce Carter this spring but they’ll really be leaning on two younger players in Erin Henderson and Lorenzo Mauldin. The team gave Henderson a one-year deal in 2015 and despite a slow start by the end of the season, he was sharing reps with Davis. Mauldin was a rookie in 2015 and used as a sub-package pass rusher. He’s expected to take on a bigger role in 2016.

The team also drafted two intriguing prospects at linebacker in Darron Lee in the 1st round and Jordan Jenkins in the 3rd round of the 2016 NFL Draft. So it will be a new look for the Jets linebackers but promises to be an exciting group.

Former Bills’ QB Says Ryan Will Be Fired with No Playoffs:
Well, that didn’t take long… Rex Ryan is officially on the hot seat with the Buffalo Bills. Former QB Jim Kelly on the Jim Rome Show this week said that if the Bills don’t make it to the postseason, “I think Rex will probably be looking for another job,” Kelly said on Thursday. “I think everybody knows that, including Rex.”

The Bills currently own the dubious distinction of holding the longest playoff drought in the NFL, at 16 years and it has been 20 since Buffalo’s last playoff win for the football-crazed fans in upstate NY.

Bills owner Terry Pagula was on record this year stating the both Ryan and GM Doug Whalley have to make the playoffs this year.

As for the ever bombastic Ryan? He says he’s not worried. “The media looks at it [like], ‘Well, we have to win this year'” Rex Ryan said earlier this month. “Or what? Oh, I am going to be fired? I don’t think so. I’m not going to worry about it because we are going to win anyway. But it’s like, that is an ultimatum? No.”


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New England Patriots News 5-22, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
May 22, 2016 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are Sunday’s Patriots news 5-22 notes and what’s happening around the AFC East.

Congratulations to former running back Kevin Faulk who was elected to the Patriots Hall of Fame this week. Well-deserved and with three quality candidates this year it was a tough decision.

Injuries/Surgery to Edelman and Amendola Highlight Attention to WRs:
The Patriots added four wide receivers this spring, Chris Hogan and Nate Washington during free agency and Malcolm Mitchell and Devin Lucien during the draft. Now we know why.

With the latest surgery for Julian Edelman to insert a screw in his injured foot and the offseason knee and ankle surgery for Danny Amendola, in a worst case scenario, the Patriots could begin training camp without either being ready to go.

But the team had this scenario well planned, however. The addition of Hogan who can play anywhere from the slot to the outside should address one of those issues and the veteran Washington, as well as Mitchell, will vie for the Brandon LaFell role outside.

One thing that will benefit the newcomers on the roster is that they’ll get more reps with Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo this spring with the two vets on the shelf. No better way to build their rapport and trust factor with the QBs.

Arian Foster a Fit for the Patriots?
Foster the free agent, running back for the Texans set the tongues wagging this week when he was spotted at Logan Airport in Boston at a rental car booth and then on Friday evening taking in the Red Sox game against the Indians.

Later it was explained that Foster was in town on personal business which lends itself to the truth since if the Patriots were bringing him in for a visit, they’d have picked him up at the airport and not have required him to rent his own car.

However, as we’ve done on this column in the past, we’ll ask the question, could he be a fit for the Patriots offense? And the answer is…absolutely if he’s healthy. Foster suffered an Achilles injury which has really affected running backs ability to move, cut and change direction in the past. Other players have returned as good as new, but the team will have to ensure he’s healthy and check him out thoroughly with the team doctor’s first. If healthy, (a big if), he’d be a nice upgrade to the NE running game.

Full Padded Rookie Camp, Where’s the Outrage?
Chalk this one up as another arbitrary ruling by the league…this week it was reported that the Baltimore Ravens conducted part of their rookie mini-camp in full pads. That is a direct violation of the CBA which coach John Harbaugh is “more probable than not” “generally aware” of.

Such a clear violation of the rules and integrity of the game surely would invite the league to step in and protest against such practice…By the way, this is the second time that Baltimore has been caught doing this and as such would be considered a repeat offender.

But so far from the league….nary a peep, nor a blip from the national press. One can only imagine the orgy of outrage that would be falling now if that had been in Foxboro.

Easley Lands with the Rams but at the minimum:
Former Patriots 1st round Dominique Easley’s unemployment time is at an end. After just five weeks, the Rams have signed the former Patriots defensive lineman.

The Rams, who have a very talented defensive front seven could strike oil giving Easley a fresh start to the gifted but injury-prone disruptor. Reportedly the Rams are giving Easley on a $600,000 salary with no guaranteed money, no bonuses, and no incentives.

That is a pretty steep fall for a player entering just his third year in the league. But comments supposedly made by Easley to a fellow player stating he didn’t care if the Patriots won or lost the Super Bowl before opting to go to Vegas instead of with the team may have a play in that.

Brown and the 2nd year Jump:
The Patriots top draft pick from a year ago, DT Malcom Brown is in a totally different category. The talented big man from Texas caught on slowly in his rookie season but got better and better as the season went on and ended up with a solid first campaign.

Now Brown will be looking to make what Bill Belichick terms the big second-year jump in player development. “There’s a lot on his plate as a rookie in the different situations that he plays in and the number of things that we do on the front,” Belichick said of Brown.

“So it’s not easy, but he’s improved his techniques, his fundamental play and he’s improved his communication and overall understanding of the multiples that are involved. It’s been good.” Brown shook off early struggles and finished 2015 as the 4th best run-stuffing DL according to Pro Football Focus.

Brown played in about 47 percent of the defensive snaps as a rookie. If his development follows that of fellow veterans who the Patriots brought in prior to his arrival, he should see a significant jump in time on the field. With Alan Branch, Terrance Knighton, Markus Kuhn, Anthony Johnson and rookies Vincent Valentine and Woodrow Hamilton, they should have quite a good rotation inside.

Steelers Experiment with a new MVP:
One way to minimize injuries in practice and still get in the practice of tackling is to do what the Pittsburgh Steelers are trying out is the Mobile Virtual Player (MVP).

Mobile Virtual Player, is a robotic tackling dummy on the cutting edge of technology that is operated by remote control. This was a program something designed and first implemented at Dartmouth College and is now being experimented with by the Steelers during their offseason workouts.

Dartmouth’s Thayer School of Engineering took up the reins of the issue when head coach Buddy Teevens banned live tackling from practice to minimize injuries. Hence, the MVP was born.

“I imagine it’s a great tool from a tackling tech standpoint,” said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. In today’s NFL, with player safety the focus that it is, I think it’s going to provide opportunities to improve in that area without the hand to hand or man to man combat associated with that teaching.”

The “MVP” has the ability to cut, weave, stop and start, and it has speed. The test version the Steelers are experimenting on in practice is a prototype with the goal is to have it available everywhere in 2017.

Check out another video with the Dartmouth players putting it through its paces.

East Bound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Dolphins, Jordan Play Waiting Game with the NFL on Reinstatement:
The Miami Dolphins are hoping that DE Dion Jordan can suit up for the team in 2016. The #8 overall pick of the 2014 draft was suspended for the entire 2015 NFL season due to numerous league infractions.

Eligible for reinstatement since April, Jordan and the Fins are forced to play the waiting game with Roger Goodell and the league. The team signed former Bills and Texans DE Mario Williams this spring and have Cameron Wake returning after tearing an Achilles tendon last year against New England.

The 6’6”, 280-pound Jordan would give Miami an added dose of youth and athleticism to the defense but for now, they are in a holding pattern.

Decker says Jets ready to Challenge Pats in AFC East:
New England has won the AFC East seven straight years and 13 of the past 15, but Eric Decker thinks this is the year that the Jets break thru and win the division for the first time since 2002.

In an interview with the NFL Network, Decker thinks the Tom Brady suspension will bring the Patriots back to the pack and open the door for the 10-6 Jets, who narrowly missed the postseason last year.

“I think we’re there, to be honest,” he said. “We’re set up with a tough schedule, a playoff team schedule. You’ve got to win your division games. With Brady being suspended four games, I think it makes the division up for grabs. I believe in this team and that we’re ready to make the run now.”

Bills Haven’t Heard from Archer:
The Bills a week ago, added one of the fastest players ever in the NFL when they claimed running back/return man Dri Archer off waivers from the New York Jets. Archer also spent time with the Steelers in 2015.

Then on Wednesday, the Bills placed Archer on the reserve/did not report list after he failed to show up. Not only that he won’t even return calls from the coach or the team.

“I never even talked to the kid, so we’ll see what happens,” Bills head coach Rex Ryan said.

“He won’t return a call. Is it him not wanting to be a Bill, or is it something else? I don’t know, but I guess there’s a reason Pittsburgh let him go [last November]. But when you find something out, let us know, because I’ve never even talked to him”.

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For the Patriots WRs, Opportunity Knocks With Edelman Out

Steve Balestrieri
May 16, 2016 at 6:03 am ET

With #11 out until mid-August, the time is now to build trust w/Brady

The Patriots got some not entirely unexpected news last week when it was announced that WR Julian Edelman had a second procedure on his injured foot and had a screw inserted. While for the fans and the team this is a worrisome development, if you are one of the many wide receivers vying for a roster spot or an increased role, this means something totally different…Opportunity.

While no one wants to see another man hurt or miss time, these players are professionals and they can recognize this for what it is. Injuries are a constant fact of life in the NFL and all of the other receivers (WR/TE/RB), not named Danny Amendola, or Rob Gronkowski have a unique opportunity to build their rapport with Tom Brady and gain the QB’s trust. With Dion Lewis rehabbing from a torn ACL, it is true for the backs as well. And the time to do that isn’t in Arizona Week 1, but now… in the spring OTAs, the minicamps and into training camp.

Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola have already built up their trust level with Tom Brady, now the new members of the offense have to step up. (USA TODAY Images)

As a former Special Forces operator, we looked at things in much the same manner that these young men will now. While the average man looks on events thrust upon him as a blessing or a curse, the warrior-minded individual looks upon every obstacle in front of him as a challenge. That was our Bushido and it undoubtedly is theirs as well.

The events playing out now with Edelman out and even Tom Brady possibly missing the first month of the season is a unique opportunity for the receivers on this team to carve out their roles and build trust with both Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo.

There are a lot of new faces in the Patriots offense this season. WRs Chris Hogan and Nate Washington came over in free agency while Malcolm Mitchell and Devin Lucien were added in the draft.  TEs Martellus Bennett and Clay Harbor were signed during free agency as was RB Donald Brown.

The Patriots also have WRs Aaron Dobson, Keshawn Martin, Chris Harper, DeAndre Carter who all will be looking to expand their snap counts this spring and summer as they fight and compete for roster spots.

Chris Hogan will be looking to carve out a role in the Patriots offense in 2016. (USA TODAY Images)

Without the Pats most favored target in camp, these players will have expanded opportunities to work with both Brady and Garoppolo to build up the timing, the comfort level and the trust needed to thrive in the Patriots offense. Gronkowski and Amendola already have found that trust level with Brady, the rest need to get working on it now.

Speaking of Amendola much has been written about how he was staring at being released if he didn’t agree to a huge salary slash. One has to wonder now if that was indeed true. The Patriots had to know, full well that Edelman was staring at another surgical procedure. Regardless of whether he’s “expected” to be good to go for training camp (which is still a big if), would the Patriots roll the dice and cut Amendola loose with the possibility that Edelman may not be ready for the season? Especially considering that both LeGarrette Blount and Lewis are coming off of serious injuries.

While everyone is expecting Hogan and Bennett to be very successful this season, for all intents and purposes they’re still unknown quantities in the New England scheme. That would leave Gronkowski as the only trusted weapon that could (looking at a worst case scenario) be available in Week 1. So perhaps it was really Amendola that held the power there. If so, then the Patriots made a slick maneuver. Regardless, Amendola decided that staying put was his priority over everything else and the point was moot. Still an interesting topic, however.

Watching the spring and early summer workouts it will be intriguing to see who thrives with Brady and who does so with Garoppolo. I think we’ll see Hogan initially step into an Edelman-esque mode while Mitchell will probably take on much of the workload that the now-departed Brandon LaFell handled.

It wouldn’t surprise me to see Jimmy G build up a big rapport with the new TEs, Bennett, and Harbor. But at this point, it is purely speculative. There will be a lot of moving parts this spring/summer and the veterans will be motivated to step into new roles on a new team quickly.

For the younger players especially the draft picks and UDFAs especially a guy like D.J. Foster, with some of the Patriots top weapons being on the shelf during the spring, the time is ripe for them to learn the playbook and gain some valuable experience working alongside Brady and Garoppolo and earning that all-important trust.

There is always the next Wally Pipp waiting to happen…

Carpe Diem

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New England Patriots News 5-15, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
May 15, 2016 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are Sunday’s Patriots news 5-15 notes and what’s happening around the AFC East.

Edelman Has Another Surgery on Injured Foot:
Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman had another surgical procedure on the foot that he broke against the Giants last season and this latest one was classified as a “cleanup procedure” but reportedly involved putting an additional screw in his foot.

Despite this latest surgery, the Patriots are stating that Edelman should be ready to go once training camp begins in late July…Don’t bet on that.

Edelman will probably start camp on the PUP list along with RB Dion Lewis who is recovering from ACL surgery. This will be an area to monitor not only this summer but as the season goes along. Many of these foot injuries tend to be on the chronic side.

Cardona May Play After All:
Patriots LS and Navy Ensign Joe Cardona may end up in a Patriots uniform after all in the 2016 season. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus a few days ago told Dan Patrick on his show that he has granted approval for both Cardona and 2016 Navy Academy graduate Keenan Reynolds permission to play in the NFL this season.

This came just a short time after Mabus said that the Patriots would probably have to play without Cardona in 2016 due to his naval commitments. Service academy graduates incur a minimum five-year service obligation after graduation.

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter will make the final call, balancing the needs of the service over these two players’ NFL careers and the resultant recruitment potential they would bring in their playing professional football.

Cardona Ebner

Rookies Got the Memo, Toting the Patriot Line Already:
The Patriots introduced the 2016 rookie class to the media this week and if there is a common theme that could be drawn from any of the comments from any of the newcomers is that they’re all already toting the party line.

Not much could have gleamed from any of the players comments but a healthy dose of “learning the system”, “wanting to work hard” and “fitting in” was the order of the day. Which must have been music to the ears of Bill Belichick who likes his players’ comments bland?

Perhaps the best comments came from the Patriots biggest questioned draft pick, Vincent Valentine the 6’3, 329-pound DT who answered questions about his work ethic and whether he was a reach at #96 when many had him projected as a late round pick or a UDFA.

“It’s their opinion, but they can’t stop me from putting in work every day and bettering myself,” Valentine said. “I kind of tune that out and not pay attention to that as much. I’m in the position I’m at right now for a reason — it didn’t just happen, it didn’t just fall out of the sky. But I’m just excited to be here.”

Valentine went on to state, “The past is the past. I’m going to use that as motivation. I’ve got a lot of things to do out here. But the past is the past. I’m trying to put the whole thing at Nebraska behind me and just become as good as I can here. I’m not really worried about how things went at Nebraska … I know things could have been better … but I’m in a good spot now and I think the coaches are ready to bring me along and I’m ready to be as good as I can.”

Nick Caserio’s comments didn’t exactly put the matter to rest when he stated, “(Valentine) is a massive guy. We’ll get him in here, try to get him going early, get him in shape (highlighted text is mine), and try to take advantage of the things he does well.”

Shouldn’t a 3rd round draft pick already be in shape? He will be interesting to watch, on one hand he squatted nearly 750 pounds but in the 225-pound bench press, he did fewer reps than 186-pound CB Jonathan Jones.

Iosefa Never Left Town, back on the team:
The Patriots waived RB/FB Joey Iosefa last Friday but he was informed that the team needed to juggle the roster some and that, if he cleared waivers, that the team would be looking to bring him back on the roster. This was first reported by Mike Reiss of ESPN.

Iosefa remained put in the area and turned down some offers to work out and sign elsewhere. His loyalty and trust were rewarded when the Patriots indeed signed him back on the 90-man roster following LB Tony Steward’s release.

The entire episode begs the question of why the team and Bill Belichick chose to release him in the first place if they were just going to release someone else a few days later and then bring back Iosefa. Why not keep in the first place?

The 6’0, 240-pound back played in only two games last year but was elevated to instant cult-like status when he bulldozed the Titans’ Coty Sensabaugh during a game in Foxboro in late December.

“Summer of Gronk” Begins, Big TE will grace cover of GQ, Madden 17:
Pats TE Rob Gronkowski has had a busy week. First were pictures of his cover shoot for GQ magazine where it showed the Patriots most visible player frolicking in the surf naked with a supermodel.

Then later in the week, it was announced that Gronkowski would be the first member of the Patriots and the first tight end to grace the cover of the video game Madden NFL 17.

Yesterday was Gronk’s 27th birthday and since he entered the league in 2010, no one has scored more touchdowns (66) than the big TE and he’s already #3 all-time on the TE touchdown list.

Gronk GQ cover

East Bound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Dolphins Set to Sign DE Jason Jones:
The Dolphins are reportedly flying in free agent DE Jason Jones today and announce his signing tomorrow on a one-year deal according to ESPN’s Josina Anderson.

Jones is a 29-year old run stuffing defensive end who will immediately add depth to a unit that struggled to stop the run in 2015. With Cameron Wake coming off of an Achilles injury and newcomer Mario Williams, Jones can be expected to play a significant role along with Andre Branch.

He had a very productive 2015 season for the Lions with 4.5 sacks and 31 tackles while starting 15 games. He also played one season in Seattle and four in Tennessee. Jones has notched 175 career tackles, with 28 sacks, 10 forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery.

Jets’ Decker in Fitz’s Corner, “Surprised they took a QB:
Jets WR Eric Decker has been vocal in his support for QB Ryan Fitzpatrick this offseason. And while accepting an honor in NYC this week, reiterated his support for the Jets 2015 starting QB and now a free agent.

“I was a little surprised, to be honest with you,” Decker said while being honored by the United Way of NYC. “But Mike [Maccagnan,Jets GM] and his scouts do their research and homework for a reason and they saw something special with him. I guess they wanted him earlier than later.”

With a veteran team built to win now, Decker is firmly on the side of Fitzpatrick in his contract negotiations with the Jets. ” I think he definitely is the right man for the type of team we have now,” Decker said.

“It’s a team that’s ready to win now, and we need someone with a veteran presence at the quarterback position. My job is to catch the ball, but obviously, I want what’s best for the team.”

Bills sign 5th Round Draft Pick, RB Jonathan Williams:
The Bills got a steal in the 5th round with running back Jonathan Williams out of Arkansas. The big, 5’11, 220-pound back dropped so low because he had surgery on his foot that caused him to miss the entire 2015 season.

But he was a productive big back for the Razorbacks, notching 22 touchdowns and rushing for more than 2,300 yards while averaging 5.7 yards per carry. He posted a single-season career high 1,190 rushing yards and forced 44 missed tackles in 2014.

He has light, quick feet for a big man and appears fully back to health, running a 4.59 time in the 40-yard dash with a Short shuttle time of 4.29 seconds, and a  3-cone time of 6.97 seconds

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