Tag Archives: 2016 NFL Draft

Patriots Spotlight is Now On Cannon, Scarnecchia

Steve Balestrieri
August 23, 2016 at 7:27 am ET

Marcus Cannon has been a lightning rod for criticism the past few years from Patriots fans and members of the media. The 2016 season won’t be any different. Whether you’re talking about his contract or that awful AFC Championship Game in Denver, folks tend to expect the worst when it comes to the 6th year tackle from TCU. And one of the things the team should have addressed this spring was finding a right tackle of the future. But they didn’t.

With the news that Sebastian Vollmer is going to go on IR for a myriad of shoulder and hip issues, shouldn’t be surprising. Vollmer is a good, tough right tackle who has been banged up with a variety of back and knee woes for quite a while now. And at age 32, those don’t get better with big interior linemen. The writing was on the wall with Seabass and now with him being a free agent in 2017, he’s probably going to be moving on next year regardless if he’s able to come back this season or not.

Marcus-Cannon

We’re not going to go overboard and jump on Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio the way some do around the Boston area and with good reason. Show me another team that consistently fields a team that wins double-digit games every season in the NFL and every season takes a team deep into the playoffs.

It doesn’t exist outside of Foxboro and the two guys at the helm always seem to find a great mix of players that buy in, work hard, and invariably get the job done. It is always easy to sit up in the cheap seats and point out flaws in what went wrong after the fact.

However, this is one of those times that they should have perhaps taken a look at where they’ve addressed their offensive line in the past few years and perhaps moved their focus to the outside. In the past three years, the team added centers, Bryan Stork and David Andrews. At guard, a year ago, they drafted Shaq Mason and Tre’ Jackson. This season, the Patriots traded for guard Jonathan Cooper then drafted guards Joe Thuney and Ted Karras.

So we get that the offensive line was beaten up last year and that former coach Dave DeGuglielmo may not have been able to reach the players that Dante Scarnecchia had. That’s why Scar was brought back into the fold and was tasked with re-energizing this unit in 2016 so that we don’t witness a retake of the debacle that Tom Brady’s protection was down the stretch a year ago.

Scarnecchia and Belichick have always loved Cannon, seeing the potential that many of us don’t see on a day-to-day basis. Belichick in his Monday press conference went into detail praising Cannon’s work in the Chicago preseason game. To his credit, Cannon has been good this summer. Especially in the running game where he’s been able to get a consistent push up front and has pancaked quite a few would-be tacklers.

He’s moved better as well in pass protection, part of it Cannon credits to slimming down, eating right and working on his quickness. When he was drafted by the team in the 5th round of the 2011 draft, he tipped the scales at 358 pounds. He’s now listed at 335. Also a year ago, he was dealing with a toe issue which definitely would affect his mobility. But given the injury situation to the team a year ago, anyone that could walk was going to play.

Cannon’s biggest knock has been consistency. He’s played well in stretches but hasn’t been able to put anything together for any length of time. Scarnecchia, who has always been in his corner will go about trying to change that aspect of his game. With Vollmer out, for perhaps the entire season, the job is his now as it has been since Day 1 of spring OTAs and minicamp.

Scarnecchia can bring out the best on anyone, that’s why he’s been in the league for so long. He’ll bring out the good in Cannon. Because Cannon can be a good tackle in the NFL. But the Patriots, who have been on top of the heap for more than a decade don’t deal in “good” when protecting the best QB in the game.

They should have been looking for better than good this spring. Ultimately, we’ll learn how they fare once the games begin in earnest. Because the real tests for the offensive line and Cannon will be not in the preseason but once the team hits the desert of Arizona.

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 Roster at 90 With Halapio, Pascoe Signings

Steve Balestrieri
July 28, 2016 at 6:25 am ET

Ebner Exemption Overshadows Health in the Interior OL

The Patriots will conduct their first practice of training camp later this morning and we’ll get our first look at the 2016 version of the team. The Pats signed two more players on Wednesday, guard Jon Halapio and TE Bear Pascoe bringing the roster to the 90 player limit. The team received a roster exemption for safety Nate Ebner who is with the US Olympic Rugby Team in Rio.

Considering all the new blood the team brought in for the interior of the offensive line this offseason, the addition of Halapio who was a Patriots 6th round draft choice back in 2014, can’t be considered encouraging news for the short-term availability of Tre’ Jackson, Josh Kline and Shaq Mason who were missing from spring workouts due to injuries.  They begin the season on the Physically Unable to Perform List (PUP). All three however, can come off of PUP at any time.

Halapio was one of the final cuts of the Patriots training camp in 2014 and spent time on the Broncos practice squad and the Cardinals last summer. He also played in the Fall Experimental Football League with teams in Boston and New York.

Halapio

 

The health along the interior of the offensive line will bear some watching. Kline was arguably the Patriots best guard in 2015. Jackson started nine games and Mason 10 as rookies a year ago. All three are expected to compete for the starting guard positions this season. They’ll be battling Jonathan Cooper who came over from the Cardinals in the Chandler Jones trade as well as 3rd round draft pick Joe Thuney.

Pascoe the 8th-year TE that played for three games a year ago with Detroit will be trying to win the job as the Patriots third tight end. Clay Harbor begins camp on the PUP list. Pascoe was originally drafted by the 49ers in 2009 and has spent time with the Giants, Falcons and the Bears before landing with the Lions in 2015. He has 40 career catches for 336 yards and two touchdowns. The 6’5, 257-pound veteran is known primarily as a blocking tight end.

pascoe

Bill Belichick spoke about Ebner realizing his Olympic dreams during his first training camp press conference on Wednesday. “I’ve talked to Nate several times,” Belichick said. “Wish him well in his endeavor. It’s a great opportunity for him to follow his passion, participate in the Olympic Games. We’re pulling for him to bring back something around his neck.”

Teammate and team captain Matthew Slater also mentioned Ebner, stating he was pulling for him to bring home the gold. “I know this means a great deal to him and we’re all excited for him. I’m just trying to figure out where I can get my Ebner rugby jersey. I’ll be supporting him and watching him along the way.”

Check out our earlier primers on the running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, offensive line, defensive line, linebackers, cornerbacks and the safeties.  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.

 

Four Things To Watch For At Patriots Training Camp

Steve Balestrieri
July 27, 2016 at 12:03 pm ET

Lots of positions/players will demand attention this summer

The Patriots headed into training camp this morning. The veterans had to report in and join the rookies who have been at it since Sunday. Now the dog days of summer begin as the team begins to come together on the field and the competition begins in earnest for roster spots in 2016. Here are four things that you need to be watching for.

It can be a daunting task, with 90 players running around on two separate practice fields, it can be a blur at times. While most fans that make the trek down to Gillette watch Brady and the wide receivers do their thing, there are lots of other activities going on that will also bear watching very closely this year. So let’s start with the elephant in the room.

How Will the Reps Break Out Between Brady and Garoppolo?
Normally this one is a no-brainer. Brady loves the work, the competition and tries to protect his snaps like a miser would a pile of gold dust. But with #12’s suspension, this year the coaches face an intriguing dilemma. How will the QB reps with the 1st team offense play itself out?

There is no more “if” Brady is suspended. It’s happening and he’s going to sit the first month of the season. Now Jimmy Garoppolo is no longer facing a possible scenario where he may be forced to play the first quarter of the season, he is.

Brady and Josh McDaniels share a moment

Brady and Josh McDaniels share a moment

Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniel will have to walk a fine line here. Garoppolo must be prepared to take the field on September 11 against the Cardinals and run the offense smoothly. Brady, on the other hand, has a lot of new weapons in the arsenal that he has to get comfortable with. Martellus Bennett, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell are all new faces who will be counted upon in 2016. And Brady WILL be the starting QB from Weeks 5 to 17 and beyond once the playoffs begin.

Brady can’t just skip training camp, then the first month of the season and be expected to be sharp against the Browns in Week 5. And Jimmy G. will also need time to work in a comfort level with the same players. There is no right or wrong answer here. The coaches will have to find a happy medium. I would expect Brady to get just a hair over the 50 percent mark in practice with Jimmy G, getting the lion’s share of preseason game work.

Who Steps Up at Running Back?
This was one of those positions we thought the team would address this offseason. But they mostly decided to stand pat. The only additions were veteran Donald Brown and UDFA D.J. Foster. As a result, this position is truly wide open.

With Dion Lewis coming off of an ACL injury in November and beginning camp on PUP, coupled with LeGarrette Blount coming off of a serious hip injury, the positions are there for the taking.

Foster takes a handoff inside the "triangle" from Tom Brady

Foster takes a handoff inside the “triangle” from Tom Brady

Blount has been a favorite of Bill Belichick and he did have a decent season before he was injured. He’s that punisher that the team likes when they get ahead on opponents and Blount has proved that when he can get to that second level, he’s very effective.

But if he can’t move effectively? The team is in a rough spot. For the big backs that can pound the ball, that would leave them with either Tyler Gaffney or Joey Iosefa.  Gaffney is entering Year 3 and still hasn’t taken the field and Iosefa had one big play on his resume from a year ago. Brandon Bolden is just there for STs and as an emergency fill-in.

The team will clearly err on the side of caution with Lewis which opens up camp and preseason for the third down passing back role. James White was very good out of the backfield but the team showed zero confidence in him as a runner. Donald Brown is a vet who may be getting a little long in the tooth. He can do a bit of running and is a good receiver as well as an excellent blocker. Foster is an intriguing guy who looks dynamic out of the backfield. If he can prove he can run with the ball, he’ll be the guy to watch.

Cornerback Depth, Who’s #2 and #3?
Malcolm Butler is the Patriots top cornerback. That isn’t going to change unless he gets hurt this summer. But here is where things get interesting. While both Logan Ryan and Justin Coleman return after starting as the right and slot corners respectively, competition is wide open.

Top draft choice Cyrus Jones is going to push Coleman at a minimum for the starters job at slot corner. He may even push Ryan for the right corner spot and force him into the slot. But the competition doesn’t end there.

2-Roberts,-Coleman

Also competing for a roster spot is 2nd-year player Darryl Roberts, veteran E.J. Biggers and UDFAs Jonathan Jones, Cre’Von LeBlanc and V’Angelo Bentley. The young players are all on the smaller side but very athletic and have return ability.

Jones and LeBlanc stood out this spring, the final slot may come down to STs ability. Roberts made an outstanding play as a gunner in minicamp, something that had to catch the coaches eye. This will be a fun position to watch this summer.

Interior Offensive Line, crowded with New Faces:
While we thought the team would address tackle this spring, the team again threw us a curve and stood pat. But they added several new faces in the interior offensive line and how it plays out will bear watching.

The Pats brought in former 1st round pick Jonathan Cooper in the Chandler Jones trade. Injuries and inconsistent play have marked his career to date. Now he’s looking to reignite his career under Dante Scarnecchia. The team also drafted Joe Thuney and Ted Karras.

With Josh Kline, Tre’ Jackson and Shaq Mason missing the spring workouts, it opens up some intriguing possibilities inside. Most assume Bryan Stork and David Andrews are locked in a positional battle for the center job. But Thuney took some snaps there as well this spring.  Health and performance on the field will be the final decision makers here but we could be conceivably looking at a completely different interior of the line in September.

Check out our earlier primers on the running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, offensive line, defensive line, linebackers, cornerbacks and the safeties.  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 – 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 – Cornerbacks

Steve Balestrieri
July 25, 2016 at 6:00 am ET

Talented but young group looks to take next step

The Patriots head into training camp next 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 Cornerbacks.

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 88 players on the current roster, a minimum of 35 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 corners. Given the epidemic of injuries suffered by the Patriots last season, they were fortunate that both starters Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan remained healthy. Entering last season, there were nothing but questions about the corner position after jettisoning all three starters from the Super Bowl winning team.

Rather than being a weakness, corner became a position of strength in 2015. Butler parlayed his SB heroics into a very solid first season of starting. Ryan came on strong in his third season and played solid. Justin Coleman surprised some people and played well as the slot corner. But depth was an issue. The team brought in veteran Tarell Brown to add that veteran presence and he played very well in small glimpses until he went on IR.

CB Malcolm Butler

CB Malcolm Butler -photo by SBalestrieri/PatsFans.com

This season the team brought in Cyrus Jones with their top draft pick and a trio of smaller, but very athletic corners in Jonathan Jones, Cre’Von LeBlanc and V’Angelo Bentley as UDFAs. They’ll be competing with veteran E.J. Biggers and 2nd-year player Darryl Roberts who turned some heads in training camp before suffering a wrist injury and landing on IR in preseason a year ago.

If there is an issue with the corners this season other than overall experience it is size. Only Biggers and Roberts are 6’0 tall and neither are locks to make the roster. In a league dominated by the big men at WR, this could be an issue but the team made a concerted effort to get more athletic and all of the new corners have Special Teams capability as well.

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

Roster Locks: Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, Cyrus Jones
No big shocks here, and there is a big difference from a year ago. Butler was able to go from a walk-on, tryout basis to Super Bowl hero and now is a Pro Bowl cornerback. The funny thing is, he’d be the first to say that he still has a long way to go. So if he can continue to progress, he should be an extremely valuable piece for years to come.

Right now he is a bargain at his current cap hit. The Patriots can either decide to pay him with an extension quickly or hit him with a franchise tag to buy them more time with Hightower, Collins, and Sheard also on deck.

Ryan rebounded very well from an awful 2014 to play very solidly a year ago. His consistency could still stand to be better but it is safe to say that he far outperformed expectations in 2015. Ryan may get pushed this season by Jones who will at the very least compete for the slot corner duties. But I wouldn’t be shocked to see the rookie from Alabama in the starting lineup sooner rather than later.

Patriots top draft pick Cyrus Jones has gotten plenty of reps

Patriots top draft pick Cyrus Jones -photo by SBalestrieri/PatsFans.com

Jones has some of those qualities that teams covet in their corners. He’s physical and tough, and can play press man. He’s very confident and feisty and is an outstanding returner in the kicking game, returning four kicks for touchdowns in 2015.

He was also a good teammate who was highly thought of inside the locker room. The team is in very good shape with their top three corners. The only thing lacking is once again the size aspect.

On the Bubble: Justin Coleman, Darryl Roberts, E.J. Biggers, Jonathan Jones
Here is where the competition really begins to get interesting. The remaining six players are essentially fighting for two, possibly three roster spots. And the race is essentially wide open.

Coleman bounced around between Minnesota, Seattle, and the Patriots before winning a job a year ago. He appeared in 10 games and had six starts in 2015, playing solidly in the slot. Now he’s looking to take the next step in his second season with New England.

Roberts was a very athletic late 7th round draft pick a year ago. He ran a 4.38 time in the 40-yard dash, a 6.66 time in the 3-Cone Drill, a 39-inch Vertical Jump, an 11’1” leap in the Broad Jump and benched pressed 225 pounds 23 times. He impressed in the early going at training camp and earned the start in the 1st preseason game. He injured his wrist in that game and was lost for the season on IR.

Biggers is the elder statesman in terms of age at just 29. He’s spent time with the Redskins, Bucs and Eagles where he was a serviceable corner in 2015. He also can be a gunner on the STs. The Pats wanted to see what he could do early this spring and he saw lots of reps during OTAs and minicamp.

Jonathan Jones is an intriguing case because, although he’s listed at 5’10, that is being generous. He lacks the size that teams are looking for but he more than makes up for with his tenacity. Another exceptional athlete, Jones was once the National Hurdles champion. Of the undrafted corners, he looked very solid this spring and was arguably the best on the field. But once the pads come on, can he continue his solid play? He will bear close watching this summer. He’s a dark horse to make the roster but don’t write him off just yet.

Outside Looking in…. Longshots: Cre’Von LeBlanc, V’Angelo Bentley
LeBlanc and Bentley played well in the spring but are facing a numbers crunch more than anything else. They face an uphill battle to make the roster but will probably find their way onto the practice squad if they falter.

CB Cre'Von LeBlanc

CB Cre’Von LeBlanc- photo by SBalestrieri/PatsFans.com

LeBlanc impressed in the limited window that I watched him during minicamp. A smaller (5’9) corner but with an impressive build, he showed some nice footwork as he was able to mirror the larger WRs he was matched up against. He’s aggressive and physical and plays with an air of a young player who isn’t intimidated by the stage. He has kick return ability and was known as an effective blitzer in college.

Bentley comes from a military background, his mother served in Afghanistan which will resonate well with Bill Belichick. Something else that will reverberate is the Illinois grad is another STs return man, scoring on a kickoff, punt return, interception and fumble in college.

Check out our earlier primers on the running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, offensive line, defensive line, and the linebackers  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.

New England Patriots News 7-24, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
July 24, 2016 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are Sunday’s Patriots news 7-24 and notes on what’s happening around the AFC East.

Be sure to keep checking PatsFans.com as training camp begins. We are doing primers by position and we’ve already posted ones on the running backs, tight ends, wide receivers, offensive line, defensive line and linebackers. Tomorrow we’ll get to the cornerbacks, followed by the safeties.

Be sure to check out our podcast “Patriots 4th and 2”. On Friday we conducted our own training camp preview with the emphasis on Jimmy Garoppolo and what to look for from the QB this summer and into the beginning of the season. So onto the news…

Pats Sign OL Kerbyson, Still Have Two Open Roster Spots:
The Patriots on Friday signed rookie free agent Kyler Kerbyson bringing the roster number to 88 which still leaves two open slots for the beginning of training camp.

Kerbyson started 13 games in 2015 for Tennessee at left tackle and has played some guard as well. During the pre-draft process, he was projected more as a guard in the NFL. His signing may not bode well for the health of either Josh Kline or Tre’ Jackson who each missed the entire spring OTAs and minicamp.

It will be interesting to see how the team fills the other two open roster slots. There is room for possibly a veteran running back or corner and depending upon the health of Shaq Mason, another offensive lineman. Mason missed all of the spring before appearing in the last workout of minicamp.

Going to Training Camp? Read on…
With training camp opening this week, the summer vacation for the players is over and they will begin their work for the entire season with a brief respite during the bye week. But for the fans, and many will be planning vacation weeks around training camp dates, many questions remain. We’ll try to answer as many as possible.

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 a first come, first served operation and the crowds get bigger every year. With a pair of joint practices against the Saints and then the Bears before their respective preseason games, the crowds will probably be much, much larger.

Nice grab by Edelman on a fade

The veterans must report by July 27 the rookies report today. The first scheduled practice is July 28 and here is the tentative schedule.

Thursday, July 28: 9:15am – 11:45am — Morning Practice Session
10am – 2pm — Patriots Fan Zone

Friday, July 29: 9:15am – 11:45am — Morning Practice Session
10am – 2pm — Patriots Fan Zone

Saturday, July 30: 9:15am – 11:45am — Morning Practice Session
10am – 2pm — Patriots Fan Zone

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.

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.

After every practice session, a certain amount of players will be made available for giving autographs and taking pictures with the fans. According to the Patriots site, no video cameras, GoPro cameras or drones are allowed.

The schedule past August 1 hasn’t been released yet, but the joint practices with New Orleans are slated for August 9-10, and the Bears on August 15-16.

Edelman’s Health Questions Seems Settled After He Blasts Homers at Fenway:
On Wednesday afternoon before the Boston Red Sox took on the San Francisco Giants, Pats WR Julian Edelman took batting practice with the Sox.

With many of the Sox on-hand to include skipper John Farrell, Edelman put on quite the show, blasting several homers over the Green Monster. Edelman who is becoming quite the social media presence these days looked to be having himself a great time.

The better news is Edelman was planting his foot pretty solidly to get his bombs to fly over the “Monstah”. If there was still some concern over his foot, I doubt that this would have happened. And since there never are any kind of coincidences with the Patriots and the fact that the RS just happened to have their photographer on hand. Maybe it was a subtle message that …yes Edelman will be ready for September 11.

Edelman tweaks ankle

“Summer of Gronk” Continues, First Pitch and Playing Guitar with McCartney:
Speaking of social media butterflies, Pats TE Rob Gronkowski continues to be everywhere this summer. There are no off days during the “Summer of Gronk” tour.

The big man’s latest escapades had him also at Fenway Park as he joined Beatles’ legend Paul McCartney onstage to try his hand at a little air guitar. He also joined Sir Paul in singing “Helter Skelter”.  He then appeared with Seahawks QB Russell Wilson and his new bride Ciara on the Nickelodeon show, The Kids Choice Sports Awards.

On Wednesday, he threw out the first pitch at Fenway, joining his buddy David Ortiz on the field. If that wasn’t enough Gronk, Malcolm Butler, and LeGarrette Blount appeared in Boston at Downtown Crossing on Friday and were dressed as Good Humor Men.

They delighted fans by chatting, signing autographs and of course, handing out ice cream. And what better way to top it off than having Gronk break out into a dance and spiking an ice cream cone.

East Bound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Dolphins Sign Arian Foster, Low Risk, High Reward:
The Miami Dolphins signed free agent running back Arian Foster this week. The move to bolster and push RB Jay Ajayi is one that could bear fruit for Miami this season. Foster is 30, the age when running backs start to break down and he’s already suffered thru some injuries in his seven-year career.

But if healthy, Foster is a player that can catch the ball out of the backfield and is very good in pass protection, something Ajayi has struggled with. The team drafted Kenyan Drake in the 2016 NFL Draft and Ajayi has only 187 career rushing yards, so Foster could be that veteran presence that helps out the younger guys.

There are some that believe that the Foster signing is showing the Fins don’t believe in Ajayi. They are pointing at the offer sheet to C.J. Anderson that Denver ultimately matched as proof that the coaches don’t trust him. This will bear watching as camp plays out.

Jets Hear from Carson Palmer on the Fitz Impasse:
Arizona Cardinals QB had just three words for the New York Jets, embroiled in a contract dispute with QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. “Pay the Man”.

Palmer and Fitzpatrick were golfing together in a celebrity tournament in Lake Tahoe when Palmer who is close to Fitzy, chimed in on the impasse.

“He’s a good friend of mine, he’s an ex-teammate of mine, and I know what he means to a locker room. I know what he means on the field.

“He’s been a great player for them,” Palmer added. “I hope they take care of him the way they should because he means so much to that team. That team wants him there, and they have a legit shot with him at quarterback.”

The two sides have spoken since Fitzpatrick turned down a three-year, $24 million-dollar offer from the Jets this spring.

Bills, Gilmore Contract Talks Stall:
NFL.com’s Ian Rappoport reported this week that talks between the Bills and CB Stephon Gillmore have stalled and it appears that he’ll play out the final year of his rookie contract.

Buffalo picked up the fifth-year option on Gillmore’s rookie deal and he’s due a cool $11.082 million dollars in 2015. But Gillmore is looking for a long-term extension and wants to be paid among the top cornerbacks in the NFL.

Gillmore has become an integral part of the Bills’ defense and is an excellent, complete cornerback. But the Bills, at least at this point are digging in their heels and hold the leverage. If Gillmore were to hold out the entire preseason, the fines and money lost would total nearly $3 million dollars according to Mike Rodak from ESPN.

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Patriots Training Camp Primer – Linebackers

Steve Balestrieri
July 22, 2016 at 6:00 am ET

Top End Talent, But Depth Needed in 2016

The Patriots head into training camp next 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 Linebackers.

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 linebackers. The Patriots have two of the best LBs in the business with Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower. But they each missed time in 2015 and the depth behind them was a problem. The run defense really suffered when Hightower was injured in the Denver game in November.

Jamie-Collins,-Chandler

Both are free agents at the end of this season, something the Patriots should try to rectify this summer. Jonathan Freeny played some meaningful snaps on defense but struggled with his consistency.

The team signed former Bears LB Shea McClellin this spring and the former first round pick gives them some versatility. He can play DE, OLB, and ILB. During the spring, McClellin was seen mostly at DE but I’d expect him to revert to linebacker once the pads come on.

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

Roster Locks: Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower, Shea McClellin
Collins and Hightower are a fantastic duo at linebacker. One of the reasons I don’t care for those Top 10 Lists or in this case the NFL’s Top 100 is how can Collins be left off of that?

The freakishly athletic 6’3, 250-pound linebacker led the team in tackles with 89, had 5.5 sacks and forced five fumbles despite playing in only 12 games. He missed four games due to an illness. He’s also outstanding in coverage and can make plays all over the field. Pro Football Focus (PFF), had Collins rated as the AFC’s top linebacker in 2015.

While Collins and for that matter Hightower didn’t make the Top 100 player list, should they hit free agency they’ll get paid like one.

Hightower is the perfect complement to Collins. Big at 6’3, 265-pounds, he is a fantastic run stuffer in the box with his size and instinctive play. Smart, he calls the plays for the defense and ensures everyone is lined correctly pre-snap. He logged 61 tackles and 3.5 sacks in 12 games last season. Hightower is the glue that holds the front seven together and provides the solid run protection while Collins is the athletic playmaker.

McClellin came over from the Bears during free agency and the biggest question about his signing is, where will he fit?  New England was interested in him during the draft process in 2012 but the Bears selected him in the first round with the 19th overall pick.

Chicago initially had him as a sub-package edge rusher, a full-time defensive end, then two years ago they moved to linebacker where he lined up outside and then in the Mike position. While the Patriots worked him as a defensive end during the spring, look for him to revert to his best fit and that would be as a linebacker. McClellin will initially back up Collins and Hightower and go on the field when they play their base defense.

On the Bubble: Jonathan Freeny, Rufus Johnson, Kamu Grugier-Hill, Ramon Humber
Freeny came over from the Dolphins a year ago with the reputation as a solid special team performer. He did that but was pressed into service much more on defense after both Collins and Hightower were lost for periods of time during the year.

He logged the third most snaps at linebacker for the Patriots behind Collins and Hightower and notched 50 tackles, one sack, two QB pressures, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. But although he was serviceable against the run, Freeny struggled in coverage, allowing 19 of 21 passes to be completed. That must improve.

Johnson made the team out of training camp in 2015 only to end up on IR with an illness in October. The 6’5, the 280-pound backer is athletic and turned heads as a pass rusher in camp. His size and versatility (he can also play DE), may give him a leg up on Freeny if it comes down to a numbers crunch.

With defenses around the NFL getting smaller and more athletic, a player’s versatility can sometimes mean a world of difference between a roster spot and that dreaded call from the “Turk”. That’s where Kamu Grugier-Hill comes in. He is built like a safety, can run like a slot corner and plays linebacker.

The 6’2, 215-pound hybrid S/LB was drafted in the 6th round of this year’s draft with the 208th overall pick. He’s certainly athletic; he ran a 4.45 in the 40-yard dash with a 1.52 10-yard split. Coupled with a 6 .89-second time in the 3-Cone Drill, a 38.5-inch vertical leap, and a 10-foot, 9-inch broad jump, he’s intriguing, to say the least. He was getting a lot of 1-on-1 work with Special Teams Coach Joe Judge this spring and he should fit well in a gunner role as well as a punt blocker. But he could also see some time as hybrid “money” LB/S role that Pat Chung plays as well.

Grugier-Hill,-King-STs

Humber was the first player signed by the Patriots during free agency on March 9. He’s a standout special teams’ performer but with a limited ceiling on defense. He did have 13 starts at middle linebacker in the past three years as an injury replacement.

Originally signed in 2009 by the Colts as a UDFA out of North Dakota State, Humber moved over to the Saints in 2010 and played there until being released this spring. He may find himself pushed hard by Grugier-Hill.
Outside Looking in…. Longshots: Kevin Snyder, Elandon Roberts, C.J. Johnson
Snyder was signed to the Patriots practice squad in December after being released by the Lions who signed him as a rookie free agent in May. He was active for but didn’t play in the AFC Championship Game in Denver.

The 6’2, 240-pound Snyder is a Rutgers product and also has good athleticism, running a 4.54 time in the 40, with a 35-inch vertical leap at his school’s Pro Day.

Roberts was another 6th round draft pick by the Patriots and like Grugier-Hill is undersized at 6’0, 235 pounds. But he’s very productive and plays a down-hill style, run thumping Mike linebacker that belies his lack of size. He shows a tremendous explosion in the running game and when blitzing but struggles in pass coverage.

C.J. Johnson is a 6’2, 235-pound rookie linebacker from Mississippi. He’s had injury concerns while in college and was moved from defensive end to middle linebacker in his senior season. His work ethic and attitude were lauded by the coaches and he was elected to be a team captain. However, he’ll face a steep uphill climb to make the roster.

Check out our earlier primers on the running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, offensive line and the defensive line.  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 – Offensive Line

Steve Balestrieri
July 18, 2016 at 6:00 am ET

Return of Scarnecchia and Health Two Biggest Issues

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 Offensive Line.

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 on deck are the big bodies on the Offensive Line. The team is banking heavily on the return of positional coach Dante Scarnecchia who was retired for two years. He’s a tough taskmaster who demands the most from his charges. The health of this group is a big question mark; injuries ravaged them and the protection of QB Tom Brady steadily got worse as the season progressed.

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


Dante Scarnecchia returns to be the Pats OL coach after he retired two years ago. (USA TODAY Images)

Roster Locks: Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, Joe Thuney, Shaq Mason, David Andrews, Jonathan Cooper
Health is the key here, Solder was lost in Dallas Week 5 for the season with a torn bicep. Vollmer battled injuries throughout the campaign and has knee and back issues. But if both are healthy they’ll be your starting tackles. One would have thought that the tackle position would have been addressed in either free agency and the draft but it was not. We’ll see how that turns out later this year.

The Pats didn’t draft Thuney to sit on the pine, and with Mason, Jackson and Kline MIA this spring, he took the starting reps at left guard whenever Brady or Garoppolo was on the field. He even took a few at center. Mason finally appeared in the last spring workout and had 10 starts as a rookie. Coming from the running game of Georgia Tech, he’s an excellent drive blocker but as one would expect, had issues with his pass blocking.  Andrews, who started all the games early last season and played fairly well is undersized but tough. In a surprise move, he was getting the starting reps over Bryan Stork this spring…something to keep an eye on.

Cooper was a top draft pick for the Cardinals before injuries derailed his career there. With the aforementioned players out this spring, he got the starter’s reps at right guard. The Pats are hoping that Scarnecchia can rekindle his professional career.


Nate Solder returns after going on IR after Week 5 in 2015. (USA TODAY Images)

Near Roster Locks: Bryan Stork, Marcus Cannon, LaAdrian Waddle
Stork, who played so well as a rookie at center, missed the first six weeks of the season on IR-Designated to Return and struggled as he had health issues of his own last year. Stork even played at right tackle against the Giants as Cameron Fleming and Marcus Cannon struggled. It will be interesting to watch the competition between Stork and Andrews this summer. With Thuney providing added insurance, the pivot position should be in good shape.

Cannon, is the ultimate head scratcher for this team, but Bill Belichick and Scarnecchia love this kid.  He was ineffective last season when pressed into starting duty and was just abused in the AFC Championship Game in Denver. As the saying goes, we’ll see how it plays out on the field.

Waddle has the opportunity to seize the swing tackle position. He too was hurt against the Cowboys and his shoulder injury sidelined him. But the Patriots gave him a two-year contract this offseason and he also has the capability to be an extra blocking tight end in short yardage.

On the Bubble: Tre’ Jackson, Josh Kline, Cameron Fleming, Ted Karras
Jackson was a rookie draft pick (4th Rd, 111th overall), a year ago and had nine starts while appearing in 13 games. Prior to coming out in the 2015 NFL Draft, he had knee issues and he missed time with those during the season as well as missing both playoff games. If he’s healthy he’ll compete for the right guard spot, where he saw all of his action a year ago. But he missed all of the spring, so his status will bear watching once training camp begins.

Kline is a guy who the Patriots traditionally love, an undersized but tough player. He too missed all of the spring. With the additions of Thuney and Cooper along the interior of the line, he may find himself on the outside looking in.

Fleming flopped as a swing tackle a year ago, like Cannon was ineffective when pressed into service. But the last offseason, the Patriots fiddled with the idea of moving him to guard. He was training to do just that, cutting down on his weight a bit and improving his quickness. We saw the video of his workouts last spring and it seemed he was destined to move inside.

But the team drafted Mason and Jackson last spring and Fleming went back outside. The results were not good. Perhaps with a full offseason with Scarnecchia, Fleming can get his game back together. The swing tackle position will again go thru Cannon, Waddle and Fleming.

Karras is a tough kid that has a lot of upper body strength, completing 32 reps on the bench press at his Pro Day this spring. The 6th round draft pick has an NFL pedigree and is a good pass protector but isn’t very athletic and may find himself a practice squad candidate unless he can shine in limited opportunities.

Outside Looking in…. Longshots: Chris Barker, Keavon Milton
Both of these players have been let go in the past and face long odds of making the roster out of training camp.

Barker was originally claimed off of waivers from the Miami Dolphins in the 2013 season and appeared in four games. During the 2014 season, he split time between the practice squad and the active roster and appeared in two games. Last season he was signed to the active roster for the Week 10 game against the Giants before being released and signed back to the practice squad.

Milton was a UDFA in 2013 and was signed by the New Orleans Saints. He was among the final cuts of the Saints and was signed by the Browns and appeared in eight games with no starts that season. He then was released by the Browns at the end of training camp in 2014 and signed to Seattle’s practice squad. Released in September 2015 he was signed by the Patriots to their practice squad in November. The 6’4, 320-pound Milton was a blocking tight end at Louisiana-Monroe who made the transition to tackle

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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.

MBennett3

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.

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

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

Patriots Training Camp Primer – Wide Receivers

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

Health, New Blood Are Important Factors

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 Wide Receiver 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 wide receivers. The Patriots have no less than 11 players vying for roster spots although Matthew Slater is truly a special teams’ specialist first and a WR second. For our purposes, we’ll list Slater later with our STs primer.

This is a position that is top heavy with roster locks and it will be hard for some of the players trying to either break into the NFL or established veterans to carve out a roster spot. So the competition here, especially for the last slot will be intense. Another question to be answered is, will the Patriots carry five WRs or six?

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

Roster Locks: Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell
Edelman is recovering from another procedure related to his surgery where he had another pin placed in his broken foot. That the team will no doubt opt to go slowly with him will help the other players vying for spots get more reps.

Among the cognoscenti of national NFL writers, Edelman is widely considered a “system player”. While we differ with that assessment, no one can argue his worth with Tom Brady and the Pats. He’s one of  Brady’s favorite two targets in the passing game and his toughness and willingness to do the dirty work is unquestioned. A healthy Edelman in September means big things for this offense, so we may not see much of him in camp.

Amendola has worked himself in Brady’s “Circle of Trust” and become a key member of the wide receiver core. He has a knack for making the tough catches at critical times and is another guy who, while not the biggest guy, has plenty of toughness. He worked his contract again to stay in NE.

Hogan was signed as a free agent from the Buffalo Bills this spring and is another guy that isn’t highly valued elsewhere. But he’s a perfect fit for this New England offense. He can play inside in the slot or slide outside into the “X” position that Brandon LaFell played in the past two seasons. While he doesn’t have the short-area quickness of Edelman, he’s bigger (6’1, 220 lbs) with better top end speed.  He’ll be an intriguing guy to watch as the season unfolds.

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

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

Mitchell is a lock due to his draft position. The rookie wide receiver from Georgia has decent size at 6’1, 195 pounds and played in a pro-style offense in college. He runs good crisp routes, has excellent hands and has outstanding athleticism. He probably would’ve gone higher in the draft but he had some injuries and played in a run-heavy offense. Mitchell injects some much-needed youth into the wide receiver position.

Near Roster Locks: Keshawn Martin
Martin came over in a trade last year with the Houston Texans and showed he was a quick study, learning the Patriots offense swiftly upon his arrival. Now with a full offseason under his belt, Martin is looking to carve out a role with the team.

The speedy, if undersized wide receiver has the versatility that the coaches love. He can play inside in the slot (are we seeing a pattern here?), outside in the “X”, as well as play special teams. Martin was given a contract extension with some decent guaranteed money last year, so the team liked what they saw from him a year ago.

On the Bubble: Nate Washington, Aaron Dobson, Chris Harper
Washington, another Texans’ WR, signed with the Patriots as a free agent in March. The 32-year old veteran was a member of two Super Bowl winning teams earlier in his career and now is looking to add another to his resume.

He’ll be an outside the numbers kind of receiver here. Washington has always been a deep threat kind of player with a 15.2-yard career average per reception. How will he fit in with the Patriots short to medium passing game? He struggled to find a rhythm with Brady in the spring, but there is plenty of time left to get it going.

The clock is running out for Aaron Dobson. When the Patriots drafted him in 2013 NFL Draft he came with a rep of having the size and hands to be a #1 type receiver for the Patriots. But injuries, inconsistent play and a lack of confidence in him place him squarely on the bubble in 2016. He had a strong spring, but will need much more to stick around this year. He’ll have to stay on the field for the entire training camp and preseason and turn some heads.

Chris Harper signed with the Patriots as a UDFA out of Cal last spring. Facing an uphill battle in training camp, he had an impressive summer and preseason and made the 53-man roster in September. But he couldn’t break into the offense last season and unfortunately for him, he’s best remembered by the gaffe he made. He muffed a punt in Denver last November which led to a Denver comeback OT victory. Harper faces much the same odds this season again and will need a strong summer to make the team.

Harper had a catch that looked eerily familiar to a certain SB catch

Harper had a catch that looked eerily familiar to a certain SB catch

Outside Looking in…. Longshots: Devin Lucien, DeAndre Carter
While these next two players are longshots, don’t go to sleep on either.

Devin Lucien is an intriguing player because he’s bigger receiver at 6’2 and is the kind of guy who traditionally comes out of nowhere to make the team. He played three seasons at UCLA and had just 58 catches before transferring for his senior season at Arizona State.

Playing in the “X” role, he had a solid 2015 with 66 catches for 1072 yards and eight touchdowns. But it was his finish that got the Patriots attention. He snagged 26 catches for 534 yards with five touchdowns in his final three games. Once he got familiar with the offense, his play took off. He was one of Pro Football Focus’ UDFA sleepers to watch.

He’s got very good athleticism, running a 4.49-second 40-yard dash at his Pro Day with a 6.93 time in the 3-cone drill and a 34.5-inch vertical leap. With the logjam ahead of him at WR, it will be a tough hill to climb for the 7th rounder, but we’ve seen this happen before. He may be a good Practice Squad candidate.

DeAndre Carter signed with the Ravens as a UDFA in the spring of 2015. He spent training camp with Baltimore before being picked up by Oakland and finally the Patriots last year. He signed a futures contract with New England and is facing an uphill climb to make the roster.

While diminutive at just 5’8, 188 pounds, Carter is very athletic, running a 4.44 time in the 40-yard dash with a 1.45 10-yard split, a 38.5-inch vertical leap and a very impressive 6.64 time in the 3 Cone Drill. Carter is fast, makes quick cuts and had a pretty impressive spring.

But again, with the logjam at WR especially players that can play the slot, he’ll have to really have an impressive summer to stick. But if Edelman and Amendola aren’t ready to go at the outset of training camp, Carter could turn enough heads to make a push for a roster spot. He too, like Lucien could end up on the Practice Squad this fall.

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

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