Tag Archives: 2018 NFL Draft

New England Patriots News 6-17, & AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
June 17, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, Here is your Sunday’s Patriots news 6-17, & AFC East Notes … Happy Fathers Day to all the great dads who make a difference in their kid’s lives. While many will point to football and the NFL as being part of what has been labeled “toxic masculinity”, we prefer the idea that a strong father figure in children’s raising is a sign for a good, stable upbringing.

Quick Hitters:
Robert Kraft showed why Patriots Nation is a special group of people. A fan posted on Twitter and asked for Patriots Nation to reach out to their Dad who unfortunately is very ill and not expected to live long. Not only did her request get re-tweeted numerous times but it reached the ears of Robert Kraft and he spoke to the man and the fans in general with a very nice video message. Well done…

Tom Brady, in an interview with Oprah Winfrey, said that he respected his teammates who chose to kneel during the national anthem and the reasons that they were doing it.

“I’ve been playing sports long enough, everyone comes from something different, and I think showing respect for everybody, in a locker room, with a team of guys trying to go in the same direction … you better have that empathy for everybody. That’s what sports are about,” Brady said.  

The entire interview can be seen on Winfrey’s OWN Network.

Brady’s better half, his wife Gisele Bundchen did an interview with Vogue magazine and was asked about the most romantic thing Brady ever did for her. The quick-hitting “73 Questions” video segment was filmed at the couple’s home in Massachusetts while the QB was practicing his golf swing. So what was the most romantic deed by Brady? The way he proposed.

“He made up this whole story (about) how my apartment was flooding and I ran over there to try to fix the situation when I got there. The whole apartment had candles and rose petals everywhere,” Bundchen said.

And then he went down on his knees to propose. And I’m like “GET UP!” because he just had surgery and had three staph infections. I’m like, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”

“I gotta go on my knees,” (he said). I’m like, “No no! Get up, please!”

James Develin was given a two-year contract extension this week. (SBalestrieri photo)

The team signed fullback James Develin to a two-year extension worth $3.8 million with a $600,000 signing bonus. The tough, hard-nosed and versatile Develin was named to his first Pro-Bowl last season. While he’s only had a handful of carries and catches in his five-year career, his STs ability as well as his opening holes as a lead blocker in the running game can’t be overlooked.

Bill Belichick was effusive in his praise for him when he was announced on the Pro-Bowl roster last December.

“Nobody has worked hard than James has,” Belichick said. [He] has the last couple of years fallen into a very consistent and productive role in the kicking game and offensively. His play time has increased. His production has increased.

“As hard as he works in the weight room, on the field, off the field, preparation. I mean, whenever you see James, you see him working. He’s got a role. He’s very good at it. It’s a very important role and so it’s great to see him recognized for it. I’m happy for him.”

James Harrison was interviewed on CBS and was asked how he enjoyed  (everything revolves around fun lately) his short time with New England at the end of the season and his opinion on why the Patriots are so successful.

“Discipline. That’s the big thing,” Harrison said. “They’re not going to ask you to do anything that is outside of what they feel you are capable of doing. You learn the system and you go out there and you play it and like I said, very regimented. So if you’re a guy that’s not used to regimented discipline, you’re not going to like it there.”

“I didn’t have a problem with it. I enjoyed my time there. I thanked them for the opportunity they gave me to play there.”

The Patriots hosted free agent QB Christian Hackenberg on Thursday. The former Jets draft pick who was traded to the Raiders this offseason and then released by Oakland recently never really got a chance for reps in either place.

While this move for Bill Belichick raised eyebrows around Patriots Nation, it shouldn’t. This is nothing more than the Patriots doing their due diligence and kicking the tires on a player. Sometimes it results in a player being signed, others it is just compiling of a list for players who would fit in the event of injuries. And for many others, it is simply keeping a book on potential opponents down the road.  

Very disturbing news of former NFL tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. is charged with rape and kidnapping of several women in the Southern California area. Winslow was charged with two counts of kidnapping with the intent to commit rape, two counts of forcible rape, one count of forcible sodomy, one count of forcible oral copulation, two counts of residential burglary and one count of indecent exposure.

Winslow spent four seasons in Cleveland, three in Tampa Bay and one with the Jets. He played one game with the Patriots in 2012 after being signed in mid-September and then asked for and was given his release. But many of the headlines read…what? “Former Patriots TE….

Standard Operating Procedure – Belichick Cancels Final Two OTAs:
The Patriots last week during “voluntary” OTAs ended with a team-bonding trip to Fenway Park and the cancellation of the final two sessions to wrap up the spring on a low-key note. For those who are trying to read something into this….don’t.

This move by Bill Belichick is SOP (standing operating procedure) for the team under his watch. Belichick has always said the spring was a time for teaching and the summer during training camp was a time for competition and evaluation of the roster.

If Belichick is pleased with the way the spring practice sessions have gone, he’ll give the players some free time to get on with their summer break before training camp and the 2018 preseason begins in earnest.

The Patriots always have special guests visit the team during the spring, this year was Kobe Bryant, the team bonding trips are also SOP as well. Don’t read too much into the way events played out this week with the end of the spring workouts. There is nothing new or different in the way that the Patriots or Bill Belichick does business.

Patriots Taking Cautious Approach With Malcolm Mitchell:
One of the things that stood out during OTAs and minicamp was the absence of Malcolm Mitchell on the field for the vast majority of it.

Mitchell missed all of 2017 after a promising 2016 rookie season where he heated up down the stretch. He caught 32 passes for 406 yards as a rookie with most of them coming in the second half of the season. He hauled in 5 passes for 70 yards in the Patriots big comeback win in the Super Bowl over the Falcons.

However, Mitchell’s absence this spring, obviously a big one for the 3rd-year WR may not be as disconcerting as originally thought. Mark Daniels from the Providence Journal said sources inside the team relayed that the team is opting for a cautious approach with Mitchell and that the team is going to bring him along slowly so that he’s ready for training camp and beyond.

With Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola gone this season, the turnover in the WR position will be something to monitor as newer players to the system try to carve out a role and find a comfort level with QB Tom Brady that Mitchell already has.

If he’s ready to go once training camp opens in late July, it will be a big plus not only for Mitchell but for the offense as well. With the looming suspension for WR Julian Edelman (depending upon his appeal) it will also open up another roster spot for the first month of the season. It will bear close watching this summer.

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

McCarron Quietly Turning Heads at Bills Minicamp:
The Buffalo Bills have three QBs competing for reps this spring and that will continue into training camp and while normally that is viewed as a negative, that isn’t the case for the Bills this spring.

The Bills moved up to draft the talented but still raw Josh Allen with the 7th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. He’s the QB of the future but not necessarily the one of the present. Most NFL pundits believe Allen will need time to fully develop into the QB the Bills believe that they have in the rookie from Wyoming. Bills head coach Sean McDermott is taking the correct approach in taking their time with Allen, leaving him as firmly in the #3 on the depth chart, allowing him to learn the NFL game.

But the emergence of veteran QB A.J. McCarron, acquired from the Bengals this spring has impressed the Bills coaches. While McCarron and Nathan Peterman have both had very strong springs, McDermott has been impressed the most by McCarron’s demeanor calling him “a heck of a teammate”.

The former Alabama QB looks like the starting gig at Buffalo is his to lose. Peterman is going to push him this summer, but competition is always a good thing.

Tannehill Finishes Strong Spring and is in Control of the Dolphins Offense:
The Miami Dolphins quarterback of 2018 is definitely Ryan Tannehill. Whether he is in 2019 and beyond remains to be seen. But after missing all of 2017 with a torn ACL, Tannehill had a strong spring and seems poised to enter training camp and the 2018 season with high hopes.

He was impressive at the end of the spring sessions, including firing a bullet to Danny Amendola for a 30-yard touchdown pass down the middle of the field. Tannehill has always had the potential but has never been able to string everything together, being the QB he was being paid to be.

This is a huge season for him, but he’ll also need much, much better play from his tackles, Laremy Tunsil had an awful 2017 and his teammate, RT Ja’waun James is now the top paid right tackle in the NFL. If Tannehill is going to have success in 2018, he’s going to need his tackles keeping him upright. Of course, having a safety blanket like Amendola helps loads in running the hot routes.

Jets Sign DL Courtney Upshaw. Waive Former Patriot Chris Jones:
The New York Jets have signed veteran free agent defensive lineman Courtney Upshaw and have waived defensive lineman Chris Jones.

Upshaw, 6’2, 272-pounds was originally drafted by the Baltimore Ravens with the 35th overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. He spent four years in Baltimore (2012-2015) before signing as a free agent with the Atlanta Falcons in 2016. Upshaw played the past two seasons with Atlanta and was invited to the Jets’ spring sessions on a try-out basis.

In his six-year career, Upshaw has played in 90 regular-season games (56 starts) with 7.0 sacks, five forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries, and 215 tackles. He played in two Super Bowls, XLVII where Baltimore defeated San Francisco and LI with the Falcons as Atlanta dropped the first overtime loss in Super Bowl history to New England. He registered a sack of Tom Brady in that game.

Jones had signed with the Jets as a sixth-year veteran free agent on June 5. He was drafted by Houston in the sixth round in 2013 and spent time with the Buccaneers, Patriots, Dolphins and 49ers. Most of his career was spent (28 games, 22 starts) as a DE, DT and special teamer with New England in 2013-14.

Jones had the key field goal block of a last second 58-yard game-winning attempt for the Patriots against the Jets in October 2014 getting his hand up and blocking Nick Folk’s attempt.

Jones was also the recipient of a never-before-called rule which cost the Patriots an overtime victory, also against the Jets in 2013.

Jones was called for “pushing” one of his teammates into the line on Nick Folk’s 56-yard field goal attempt in overtime, which Folk shanked wide to the left. The penalty, a 15-yarder incorrectly called for unsportsmanlike conduct, gave the Jets another game-winning possession and this time Folk hit a 42-yarder for the 30-27 overtime victory minutes later.

Incidentally, the pushing call has never been called since. That call cost New England home field advantage in the playoffs.

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

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

New England Patriots News 6-03, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
June 3, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, Here is your Sunday’s Patriots news 6-03, & AFC East Notes and congratulations to the high school classes of 2018, many of whom held their graduations this weekend. Go out and make your mark in the world.

Quick Hitters:
Many of the national sports sites have been completely silent following the news that Al Jazeera released information that stated that Peyton Manning’s attorneys backed up the video made with Charlie Sly, who says in the Al Jazeera documentary he worked for an anti-aging clinic in Indianapolis and sent HGH to Manning’s house under his wife’s name.

The Hollywood Reporter first published the story of the release of court documents stating this, as they related to a defamation suit brought by baseball players Ryan Howard and Ryan Zimmerman. From the Reporter story:

Sly created a short, homemade video in which he recanted every word he had ever said to Al Jazeera’s undercover reporter,” states Al Jazeera’s court brief. “Sly’s recantation rang hollow. As explained in Defendants’ Motion to Compel against Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP, Sly’s last-minute denials followed a visit to his family’s home by investigators hired by lawyers for National Football League player Peyton Manning … which prompted Sly’s sister to call 911. On the video, Sly appeared to be reading a statement that was prepared for him while sweating profusely, and his statements about Liam Collins’ character were clearly based on information that had been supplied to Sly.

But since this came to light, not a peep from the NFL, nor the “network” or several other national sites. Does one have to ask… why is that?

Kobe Bryant was a guest at the Patriots OTAs this week and he spent some time talking with the players in the meeting room as well as on the field. Bill Belichick has always been an admirer of Bryant as is Tom Brady, but the QB has been a no-show thus far in the offseason workouts.

“I have a ton of respect for Kobe. Obviously, a great player, had a great career,” said Belichick. “Spent the day with him yesterday. He had a lot of great observations and things we could learn from. He’s a tremendous guy.”

On a good note for OTAs, has to be the news that Dont’a Hightower has been out there and by all reports moving very well. Some media members feel that he’s slimmed down a bit and it is showing in his ability to fly around the field. Something else of note, unlike last spring/summer, Hightower seems to be taking most of his reps back in the middle linebacker position rather than the edge.

The not-so-good news? Malcolm Mitchell continues to be a no-show after an early appearance at OTAs. Mitchell was at only the first OTA session and hasn’t been seen on the field since. After missing all of 2017, Mitchell himself proclaimed just after the Super Bowl that this offseason will be a very important one for him.

We don’t know whether his absence is just the case of the team taking a cautious approach with him or the fact that his injury woes continue to pile up. It will be an area to watch closely for minicamp this week and once training camp begins in July. Ditto for fellow third-year player Cyrus Jones.

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work”:
That quote by Thomas Edison is an apt one this week because the Patriots, not the league are now the poster children for the “No Fun Zone”. Cassius Marsh made some comments and said that he considered quitting the NFL because of his lack of fun playing under the Bill Belichick system.

And the Philadelphia Eagles, perhaps the sorest winners in Super Bowl history, have now had two players, linemen Brandon Booker and Lane Johnson, neither of whom spent a day with the Patriots, say how the Patriots don’t have fun. Oh, my.

The essence of fun is subjective. What is fun for you may not seem fun to me and vice versa. I used to think it was fun to launch myself out of an aircraft in flight with a parachute and over 100 pounds of “lightweight” gear with weapons strapped to my body. Others may find that less “fun”. And experiences will definitely temper those feelings.

Marsh was traded for because he showed an ability to rush the passer. Fine. But in the Patriots system, as we well know, an edge player has to first set that edge and will be asked to drop into the flats and cover running backs on occasion as well. Marsh struggled at those things. He’s hardly the first and will definitely not be the last. It certainly doesn’t make Marsh either a bad person or a bad player. It was simply a bad fit. Not everyone will fit in any system around the NFL.

Marsh’s comments were born from frustration. No one likes to fail at anything. Had he taken to the added responsibilities like a duck to water, do you think we’d be hearing about his lack of “fun” playing the game today? Doubtful.

Nothing worth accomplishing comes easily. It takes hard work and gallons of sweat to accomplish great things. It is the finished product, the winning of championships or achieving a goal that is the ultimate prize. And when everyone on board pulls in the same direction, the camaraderie, the closeness of the unit as a whole is the “fun” part of things.

You know what two things AREN’T fun? Losing and playing against the Patriots.

Brady Back on the Field Friday Night For Best Buddies:
While it wasn’t the appearance everyone was wanting to see this week, QB Tom Brady was back on the field for his “Best Buddies” charity touch football game on Friday night at Harvard Stadium.

Brady has been erroneously reported (in some circles) as having been throwing to Julian Edelman in the Foxboro practice bubble, having worked out regularly at the TB12 clinic with Alex Guerrero, and acting like a diva by staying away from OTAs as the rift between him and Bill Belichick remains real. Did we miss anything?

But Friday night was all about fun and touchdowns. Brady was flinging scores for both teams as his charity game ended in a “defensive struggle” in a 112-112 tie. Included in these was an 80-yard strike to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Schefter also was the recipient of a 40-yard TD and looked gassed upon arriving in the end zone. He’s sure to hear some smack talk from Rich Eisen about that.

This week we’ll expect to see Brady throwing the ball to Patriots wide receivers in Foxboro during the minicamp rather than in Harvard or Monaco. Then maybe some of this craziness will subside…then again, maybe it won’t.

Wide Receiver Jordan Matthews Making the Most of Early Opportunities:
This will be an interesting summer for veteran wide receiver Jordan Matthews. One area we’ll be watching once training camp begins is seeing how the newer members of the team on offense learn the Patriots offense and create some chemistry with Tom Brady. Obviously, the second part of that will have to wait. But one player we feel is going to make an impact here is off to a good start.

Jordan Matthews has been a productive receiver when he’s been healthy on the field in the NFL. With a crowded positional field at WR this summer, it is imperative that the receivers, especially the new guys learn the offense and have a good feel for it.

Andy Hart of Patriots Football Weekly wrote on Thursday how Matthews made a good play in the back of the end zone on a spot throw by Brian Hoyer. It is small right now, but the fact that he’s catching on to the offense is a great sign.

Brian Flores has the Pieces to Make the Patriots Defense Solid Again:
With the aforementioned Dont’a Hightower back in the fold, along with top 2017 draft choice Derek Rivers and Harvey Langi back from injuries, the addition of Adrian Clayborn in free agency and some additions via the draft and UDFAs the Patriots defense should be already better than the unit that took the field in the Super Bowl.

It will be up to Brian Flores to put the right pieces on the field and assure that the unit is ready for the task. It won’t be an easy transition taking over the defensive coordinator’s duties without actually having the title. However, if we’ve seen anything out of Flores thus far, the title means little, the job is more important to him.

He’s learned his lessons well under Belichick. Leadership is not about a title or a designation. It’s about having an impact on the players and the game plan. Influencing those players and putting the players in the best possible position to succeed. His impact will ultimately be judged by his results. It should be quite a ride, although I believe he’ll not be long for the job. Another team will probably quickly give him a chance to be a head coach.
Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills Love What They See in Edwards, Wood is Released:
The Buffalo Bills lost Preston Brown during free agency but have seemed to have filled that hole nicely with the 10th overall pick Tremaine Edwards in the NFL Draft. Edwards entered the draft heavily favored to be a top half of the 1st round talent and that is exactly what he was.

Defensive Coordinator Leslie Frazier has been enamored with what he’s seen so far in the young 20-year old MLB. He’s a tremendous talent and should be the face of their defense for the next decade-plus.

The Bills also released Center Eric Wood after nine years after it was revealed in January, that Wood’s injured neck had a disk dangerously close to his spinal cord. Wood is expected to retire now that he’s been released. By releasing Wood before June 1 means the remaining guaranteed portion of his contract, which was extended through 2019, would count against Buffalo’s salary cap this season.

Dolphins Make McCain NFL’s Richest Nickel Back, Sign Four Draft Picks:
The Miami Dolphins have signed slot corner Bobby McCain to a four-year extension worth $27 million with $13 million guaranteed, making him the highest paid slot or nickel corner in the NFL.

McCain was originally a 5th Round Draft choice in 2015 and has quickly earned the trust of his coaches. The plan in 2018 is to play him both inside or outside. Head Coach Adam Gase has been a fan of McCain’s since his arrival. “The spot that he plays, there’s so much nickel personnel that’s being played that he probably played 600-plus snaps last year,” Gase said to the Palm Beach Post. “That’s just the way the game is. If he had to play outside, then slot inside and do things like that, it’s a lot of plays.”

Miami also announced that they have signed four of their 2018 draft picks: safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, cornerback Cornell Armstrong, linebacker Quentin Poling and kicker Jason Sanders. Fitzpatrick was Miami’s first-round pick, being drafted at # 11 overall. He played in 42 games with 38 starts as a three-year starter (2015-17) at Alabama. As a junior in 2017, Fitzpatrick won the Chuck Bednarik Award as the nation’s top defensive player and the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back.

Jets Adams Taking A Page out of Lebron, and Brady’s Books Is Serious About Healthy Living:
The New York Jets safety Jamal Adams had a very solid rookie season and is looking to get better in his sophomore season. And a big part of it he believes is taking better care of his body now as he’s learned from Lebron James and Tom Brady.

Rich Cimini of ESPN spoke with Adams last week and the safety hired a chef to make him healthy food, which meant cutting out all kinds of fried food and eating more fish and everything grilled now. After seeing an interview with James he decided to make the switch. His weight is now down to 208 from 2014 and Adams is already feeling the benefits of it. But is he ready to go to the extreme of a Tom Brady diet? Not just yet.

“His diet is on another level,” Adams said. “I just wanted to help myself. Anything I can to help myself get better on the field, to help this team out, is what I wanted to do.”

“I’m taking care of my body a little more,” he added. “It’s those little things that, hopefully, help me get that edge on my competitors. I’m just trying to do the little things the right way at all times.”

File this one under Brady and Alex Guerrero having more and more influence over not just New England Patriots but over more NFL players now.

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

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

New England Patriots News 5-27, AFC East Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what about the players on the field?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Military ballistic helmet

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well done, Mr. Johnson.

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

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

New England Patriots News 5-20, AFC East Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Johnson leaves behind his wife Charlotte and three children.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patriots Football is back! (SBalestrieri photo)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New England Patriots News 5-13, AFC East Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trent Harris, “Toolbox Trent” Fits the Mold, For a Patriots UDFA

Steve Balestrieri
May 8, 2018 at 8:40 am ET

Raise your hand if you’ve heard this before. This guy is too small, too slow, is easily blocked in the running game too often and has little chance to make the team. Except that all he does is make plays and keeps showing up on the highlight reel tape.

“That guy”, in this case, is former Miami Hurricane DE Trent Harris, a UDFA defensive end who wasn’t invited to the 2018 NFL Combine and went undrafted in last month’s 2018 NFL Draft, despite leading the Canes in sacks in 2017.

Harris logged 8.5 sacks, six QB hurries, 37 tackles with 10.5 for a loss. He finished his UM career with 126 tackles (26.5 for loss) and 15 sacks.

Standing at 6’2, 250 pounds, Harris doesn’t have the length that the Patriots and most teams are looking for and he’s light, especially in a Patriots system that requires the defensive end to set the edge first and then rush the passer.

But despite those limitations, he’s been amazingly adept at rushing the passer. At the “U” his teammates nicknamed him “Toolbox Trent” because he had a vast array of moves and used his smarts and football savvy to beat defenders rather than just raw speed and athleticism.

He was also versatile for Miami. During one possession sequence, he lined up as a defensive end, middle linebacker (Mike), and a strong-side linebacker (SAM). Those are the kind of small things that will get you noticed and may keep you around during the dog days of training camp. He has played all three linebacker positions as well as a rush end. Plus he’d immediately play on Special Teams.

“I love defensive end, hand in the dirt, getting to the quarterback,” he said. “Who doesn’t love getting to the quarterback? But I’m pretty versatile, so wherever the coach needs me, that’s where I’m happy to play.”

Often you’ll the term, “his tape doesn’t measure his timed speed.” Which means although a player may run well in the 40-yard dash but his playing speed is much slower. For Harris, the opposite may well be true. He ran a slow 5.02 time in the 40 at his Pro Day. But watching his tape, while he’s not a burner by any stretch, he’s quick off the ball and relentless. He uses his hands well and has a nice closing burst.

His former defensive line coach at Miami Craig Kuligowski, now with Alabama, told the media back before the draft that Harris will play in the NFL.


“He’s got special pass-rushing skills,” Kuligowski said. “He’s a guy that can play on every special teams. He’s very smart. If Trent gets drafted late, he’ll be a steal.”

How the Patriots envision Harris will be interesting to see. He could be sub-package defensive end who gets after the quarterback or they could envision him as a linebacker that is able to blitz off the edge or up the interior gaps.

The patriotic Harris (already a perfect fit) honored his brother by saluting every time he sacked an opposing QB. His brother is a paratrooper in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division at Ft. Bragg, NC.

Harris is a longshot to make the roster right now, but as we’ve seen before, UDFAs have a way of getting a chance to show what they’ve got with the Patriots. Every year at least one seems to make the roster and many provide significant snaps. Will Harris be that guy? Time will tell.

For the kid who is too small, and too slow, this may be the perfect place to get noticed. All he does is make plays. We’ll be watching him this spring and summer and watch him empty the “toolbox” in an attempt to make the roster.

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

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

New England Patriots News 5-6 & AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
May 6, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 5-6, & AFC East Notes

Quick Hitters: One of the nicer stories to see this week was about a woman in the Philadelphia area who is a huge Philadelphia Eagles fan needed a kidney transplant. She found a matched donor from the New Haven, CT area who, you guessed it is a life-long Patriots fan.

The woman, Patricia Pizzimenti,  recognized the irony of all of it, just after their transplant on March 8 and after meeting her donor, Michael Houlihan made up t-shirts that captured the humanity of the moment and the humor in it all. Well done all around.

Bill Belichick was named to the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition by Donald Trump as was former Yankee great Mariano Rivera, Herschel Walker, Misty May-Treanor, Natalie Gulbis and Dr. Oz.

This is a tradition that has been going on since probably the late 1950s and of course set off quick hot takes that seek to politicize everything between “the Donald” and the Patriots ever since that “MAGA” hat was seen in a locker in Foxboro a couple of years ago. Does this mean that the Yankees have a “Trump Problem” like a well-known media outlet decried about the Patriots? How did Bill react?

“The physical fitness of children in our country is an apolitical issue that is extremely important to our future. … I was humbled to be asked and honored to accept, as I would have done for any administration.”

Belichick’s statement attempted to depoliticize this but, I guarantee this will be raised in his next press conference, not as an honor but about his political connection with #45.

Robert Kraft was courtside at the Celtics Game 2 against the 76ers with recently freed rapper Meek Mill, and Gucci Mane (Mane is a C’s Fan and a friend of Jaylen Brown) and the three were seen having an animated discussion. Chalk that one up to something you would have never dreamed as a possible scenario a few months ago.

So, on to the news this week, but first …

The Culture of Winning, the Biggest Cause of Tension in the Patriots Locker Room:
After hearing ad nauseum the latest daily dose of the “tension in the Patriots” between the coach and two of his star players as everyone becomes an amateur profiler from watching “Criminal Minds” and are psychoanalyzing Gronk’s tweets, and Brady’s body language and piecing together the subliminal messages that may have passed between all three…please.

Is there tension in Foxboro? You betcha there is. Is it new or anything more so than they’ve ever had before? No. So why is there so much tension there?

It is called a culture of winning. Bill Belichick knows and has witnessed, in his 35+ years in the NFL, the first thing that will destroy a great football team is being self-satisfied and complacent. The “we’re the best” and we’ve earned it” smug attitude will get a team knocked off their perch faster than a speeding bullet.

And this isn’t anything new or unique, as I pointed out in a recent Patriots 4th and 2 podcast, while I was never a professional athlete, I spent more than a dozen years as a Green Beret in the U.S. Army Special Forces. If there is a bigger testosterone-driven, Type A personality atmosphere bigger than a professional sports team, that is it.

After everything we did, we’d do an After-Action Review, (Hot washes, we’d call them) and they were very critical of every minutia of the operation. If you had a thin skin, you wouldn’t last long. There was tension every day. That is what made us so close to one another. It is also what made the unit so great.  

So, how does Belichick stop the Patriots from falling into this trap, and has succeeded far beyond any of his contemporaries? He doesn’t allow any complacency or self-satisfaction. As Brady said in the Jim Gray interview, if anyone bothered to watch the entire thing, besides the “I PLEAD THE FIFTH,” comment, Brady explained how Belichick would constantly harp in film studies on the things the team did wrong to keep them sharp, even during an 18-0 run during the 2007 season.

Brady did a pretty good Belichick impression and then followed it up with saying, “Humble pie was served,” adding “it was a very grounding force for all of us.” And this isn’t anything new, the Patriots and Belichick have always been known as the never satisfied bunch because Belichick is always working on keeping the players moving forward.

Because once a player or a team is satisfied, they stop growing and will start losing. Is it a difficult environment to play in, feeling like you’re constantly on the cusp of being cut and having to prove yourself day after day. Of course, it is. Do players, even great ones like Brady and Gronkowski chafe at that treatment? No doubt. But while they’ll chafe at it, they know, they won’t reach their full potential without it.

The Patriots have won at least 10 games for 15 years in a row. No one else in this era can come close to touching that. Russ Goldman, our host of the “4th and 2” podcast did a soccer show recently where he interviewed one of the top goaltenders of the English premier league, Asmir Begovic who won a championship and is coincidentally a die-hard Patriots fan. He asked Begovic if he’s had tension in a locker room in the EPL (English Premier League) and he laughed. He told him every day there is tension and it comes from trying to win championships.

Hopefully, Russ will schedule Begovic on our podcast again soon and we can revisit that conversation for our listeners. Much rather do that than to respond to quotes from the ultracrepidarianism that seem to be rampant on certain sports talk radio shows.

Matt Ryan’s Contract Is Testament on How Difficult it is to Find a Franchise QB:
The Falcons have given QB Matt Ryan a mammoth five-year, $100 million dollar deal with $94.5 million of it fully guaranteed. The other $5.5million is guaranteed for injury only. Ryan’s contract will pay him $30 million dollars this season. He is now the highest paid QB in the NFL. For comparison purposes, Tom Brady will make $20.5 million in 2018.

Ryan has always been a good but not great quarterback in his 10-year NFL career since coming out of Boston College. That changed in 2016 when he had a career year and led the Falcons to the Super Bowl where they narrowly lost to the Patriots in the first overtime game in NFL history.

But it is telling on how hard it is to find…and keep franchise QBs in the league. Of the top five paid NFL QBs in 2018, (Ryan, Kirk Cousins, Jimmy Garoppolo, Matthew Stafford and Derek Carr) only Ryan has a playoff win (4-6 career record in the postseason). Carr and Garoppolo have yet to appear in the postseason and the other two are 0-4.

Aaron Rodgers has to be looking at this and smiling as he’s soon due for a new contract and will most certainly command more money than any of those five. Brady at $20.5 million? Is an absolute bargain

Patriots Decline Options on Shelton, Brown, Dorsett for 2019:
More than a few eyebrows were raised this week when the Patriots declined their fifth-year options on defensive tackles, Danny Shelton, Malcolm Brown, and Phillip Dorsett.

On the Wednesday deadline, the Patriots are betting on the market for the defensive tackles being less than the $7.1 million that would be their financial boon in the final year of their rookie deals. And call it what it is. This is a financial decision, not one based on performance.

Brown has been generally good for the Patriots on the field and Shelton hasn’t played a down yet. The team still has the option of signing one or both with extensions during the regular season. Dorsett, on the other hand, is more of an open and shut case. He’s hardly a lock for even making the roster at this point with a crowded field during the upcoming training camp. Dorsett had trouble getting in tune with Tom Brady and the offense in 2017. He had only 12 catches on the season.

Reps are going to be hard to come by in the Patriots offense next season. With Julian Edelman and Malcolm Mitchell back, Chris Hogan healthy, and Rob Gronkowski back in the fold, reps will be earned. My player to watch is Jordan Matthews for the wide receivers, but we shall see who earns the looks this summer.

Spring Reps at Tackle Will Be Interesting to Chart:
Right now, on paper, the Patriots have a ton of depth at tackle. Tackles like cornerbacks is something you can never have too many of. But when the OTAs and minicamp begins, don’t expect to hear of too many of them being on the field.

Although Tony Garcia was supposedly given a clean bill of health after his blood clot issues in his lungs, expect the Patriots to be particularly cautious with him in the spring and allow him to acclimate back into playing shape.

Ditto for top draft pick Isaiah Wynn and Trent Brown who the team recently drafted in the 1st round and then traded for soon after. Both had shoulder surgery in the winter and while they both claim to be healthy, the team will probably take things slow with both. And Marcus Cannon, the team’s starting right tackle from 2017?

He was placed on IR due to a foot/ankle injury late last season and isn’t expected to be ready until June, which probably puts everything thru the team’s minicamp out of the question.

The first time we’ll probably see all of these players on the field at the same time will be training camp. That will give them time to carve out roles for themselves. But at the same time, the other players on the roster, who will be fighting for reps/roster spots will get a leg up on the competition.

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills Hire Dan Morgan as Director of Player Personnel:
The Buffalo Bills have made a solid hire with the signing of Dan Morgan who will head up Buffalo’s scouting department.  Morgan was an All-Pro linebacker for the Carolina Panthers during his seven-year playing career.

He became a scouting intern for the Seattle Seahawks and worked his way up through the ranks as a pro scout and was eventually promoted to Assistant Director of Pro Personnel in 2013, and the Director of Pro Personnel in 2015.

He takes the place of Brian Gaine who left to become the Houston Texans General Manager. Bills GM Brandon Beane spoke to the media about Morgan and believes he is prepared for the job.

“The great thing about Seattle is they allowed him to get out on the road some. So even though he was doing pro, he was on the road doing college stuff. His main background is on the pro side, but he’s touched college as well and that makes him a good fit for the role.”

Dolphins Claim QB Bryce Petty Off Waivers From the Jets:
The Miami Dolphins didn’t wait long to snag QB Bryce Petty after he was released by the New York Jets. Petty was without a team less than 24 hours when he was scooped up by Miami.

Many had the Dolphins targeting a QB early in the 2018 NFL, but they eschewed that and didn’t even take a developmental one. Instead, turning their picks in the first two rounds into DB Minkah Fitzpatrick and TE Mike Gesicki

Petty has started in seven career games while with the Jets going 1-6 and completing just 53 percent of his passes. With Ryan Tannehill expected to be fully healthy this summer after missing all of 2017, Petty will be battling Brock Osweiler and David Fales for backup QB duties.

Todd Bowles Cracks Up Media After First Jets Rookie Practice:
The New York Jets head coach Todd Bowles is usually a quiet, presence on the podium during the Jets press conferences. After Sam Darnold’s first rookie practice on the Jets, the media rushed to ask Bowles his first impressions of the Jets rookie QB.

Bowles, having fun with the moment, came out of character for a bit and in mock enthusiasm, slammed his open hand on the podium and shouted, “He was great! I want him to play right now!”

That cracked up the media members who have to ask these questions but it also diffused the questions for a bit…at least. As Bowles was saying, Darnold has a long way to go to learn the Jets offense and it is going to take time. But they won’t hold him back, they want him to progress at his own rate.

Darnold said all the right things, calling himself a naive rookie just trying to fit in, but in truth he’s anything but. Expectations are thru the roof with him, whether he wants it or is ready. The team will have patience but Darnold knows all eyes will be on him all summer.

“It’s just really cool how excited they are about me being here,” he said. “It’s really awesome to have that feeling, that you feel wanted. Whether I’m wanted or not, I’m going to come in here and do my thing.”

For now, Josh McCown is the starter and Darnold, Teddy Bridgewater and Christian Hackenberg will be all in the mix, but once he’s deemed ready, the job will be his to lose. Jets fans, hungry for a franchise QB since the days of Joe Namath, are expecting much, much more.  

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

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

Patriots UDFA Class Is Good, But Jackson May Be a Keeper

Steve Balestrieri
May 3, 2018 at 7:46 am ET

Every year, like clockwork, the Patriots bring on a bevy of undrafted free agents and it seems at least one sticks on the roster, many times carving out a nice role for themselves. Malcolm Butler just left and signed a big contract with the Tennessee Titans but a few years ago he was an undrafted free agent like this latest crop and no one gave him much of a chance to make the roster.

We remember early in his first year after a training camp practice, he came over to the media area on the side of the practice field and was hardly spoken to until about midway thru training camp. No one believed he’d make the cut. He soon changed a lot of minds and was, after that, a popular player to interview. This year’s crop of free agents? Several look very intriguing but the best of the group may be former Maryland Terrapin cornerback J.C. Jackson.

Jackson started his college football career in Florida and almost ended up in prison. He was arrested for a felony, an armed home invasion but was later found not guilty. But that was the end of his career as a Gator. He went to a junior college and played his last two seasons at Maryland for head coach D.J. Durkin, who was the defensive coordinator at Florida during Jackson’s first college season

Durkin believed enough in Jackson to give him a fresh start and he made the most of it. Jackson himself believes that he’s a different person now and knew he was not on the right track. He’s straightened his life out and has made quite a turnaround.

He started in 23 of 24 games for Maryland and in 2017 made 40 tackles, three interceptions, with seven passes defensed. The Terps had a terrible season last year, but it had more to do with their rash of QB injuries as much as anything else. Because of this, Jackson largely flew under the radar.

But that is just scratching the surface. Jackson is a tough physical, if slightly undersized corner who is solid in run support, tackles well and provides very good man coverage.

Jackson has good athleticism and he will fight for the ball at the high point. While he isn’t a burner and doesn’t possess great top end speed, he’s quick off the line and at the snap he can lock up with a receiver and is very physical.

His first step quickness may lend itself to the slot if that is where the team decides to move him, something he’s already said that he isn’t averse to. He’s done a really good job of disrupting the timing of receivers, which is essential at the next level.

He’s solidly built and wants to get in on every tackle. Some of the things that he’ll have to work on with the Patriots, like many college corners, he tends to get grabby if he misses his jam at the line of scrimmage. While he’s shown good recovery, he is a bit stiff in the hips at times when a receiver is coming out of his breaks.

Jackson would immediately challenge for a role on the Patriots Special Teams, which everyone knows is the first step to making the team. But with his physicality, and ability to play either outside or in the slot, he has as good a chance at any at sticking on the roster.

The odds-on favorite to win the slot battle rest now with Jonathan Jones who played well there before ending up on IR with a foot injury, or recently drafted Florida corner Duke Dawson. But if he’s not completely ready to go when the Patriots on-field OTA work begins, it may open the door for some solid competition

The Patriots right now have Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Jason McCourty, Jonathan Jones, Cyrus Jones, Jomal Wiltz, Ryan Lewis, as well as draft picks Duke Dawson and Keion Crossen with Jackson makes a pretty crowded roster at the position but there will be some opportunities to turn some heads this spring.

I like his compete level, the ability to play either man coverage or zone and his willingness to fire up inside on run support. He’ shown the ability to undercut routes and has the ability to get better in all phases of his game.

Jackson is a guy whose best football may be in front of him. He’ll be a guy we’ll watch closely as minicamps and training camp is just around the corner.

His highlight film from 2017 courtesy of Sky Designs:

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

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

Post Draft Reactions: But What About the Patriots Defense?

Steve Balestrieri
May 1, 2018 at 8:30 am ET

With the 2018 NFL Draft in the books, when it comes to the Patriots, the more things change, the more they remain the same. Bill Belichick is the master at doing the opposite of what people expect him to do and once again he remained true to his principles.

Belichick has made it abundantly clear that he will not draft according to need if he doesn’t feel the value was there for the team in terms of fit or ability. He made it very clear his feelings on that just prior to the draft.

“The whole draft-need thing is… I don’t really understand that. You put a card up on the board. That doesn’t mean the guy is a good player. I think it’s important to acquire good players wherever they are. If you take a player at a position that you might so-called ‘need’ but he’s not good enough to fill that need, then it’s a wasted pick. So I don’t understand the whole need thing. I understand player value, and that’s what we try to go by.”

Down the stretch and into the playoffs the Patriots defense, specifically, the front seven didn’t strike fear into the hearts of anyone. They had a pronounced lack of depth at edge rushers and a dearth of speed and athleticism at linebacker. The prevailing thought was (and not just here) that the Patriots would address these needs early in the draft. They didn’t.

Once a few of the top edge rushers and linebackers went early in the draft, including Alabama’s Rashaan Evans who the team reportedly wanted, the Patriots didn’t look for any in the first four rounds, not believing the ability was there. In fact, their first three draft picks were a tackle, running back and a cornerback. Coincidentally, and despite what Belichick said about drafting for need, their biggest free agent losses? You guessed it, a tackle, running back and cornerback.

While we thought here that were plenty of players that could help the defense, Belichick and Nick Caserio balked. The took a linebacker in the 5th Round at #143 but he is hardly the speedy, athletic type we all clamored for. Ja’Whaun Bentley is a throwback to the 2003 era. He’s a big, 6’2, 260-pound sledgehammer. A two-down run stuffer but hardly a coverage guy. Christian Sam taken at #178 is more in line with that type of player. So what is the plan for the defense?

Belichick obviously feels the defense will be best served by getting back its own players. First of all, the team will be looking from within this year. They get Dont’a Hightower, Derek Rivers, Harvey Langi and Vincent Valentine back from injuries. Hightower and Langi could be asked to move back to the linebacker position. Rivers is seen here as a hybrid edge rusher/outside linebacker. The team picked up Adrian Clayborn and DT Danny Shelton during free agency and corner Jason McCourty will definitely help the depth of the unit.

Derek Rivers will be looked to for big things in Year 2 but his first after going on IR in training camp last year. (SBalestrieri photo)

With these added pieces, the defense, and specifically the front seven will look vastly different. Factor in that both Deatrich Wise and Adam Butler will each have a second season to further their development. Belichick always says the biggest development for players is between Years 1-2.

And of course, the team could still try to swing a deal with another team to make a trade for a veteran player early this summer or sign a free agent. Now that the draft is over, any veterans can scan the rosters and see where their best fit may be.

With everyone returning healthy, Rivers may probably be the most watched guy on the defensive side of the ball this summer.  The light was just starting to come on for the rookie when he went down with an injury that forced him onto IR. The defense could look vastly different than the one they fielded at the Super Bowl if the Patriots put Hightower back at the Mike with Rivers and Kyle Van Noy as outside backers, Adrian Clayborn and Trey Flowers at defensive end and Danny Shelton and Malcom Brown inside.

Some of the other guys can be used for depth and Rivers and Hightower can be moved around and play either upright or down as edge rushers. A few of the UDFAs may make a splash. A couple of the intriguing names for front seven include DTs Frank Herron and John Atkins and DE Trent Harris. Harris is a bit undersized but displayed a lightning quick first step while playing for Miami.

While the draft didn’t play out as some envisioned, (raises hand) the team obviously didn’t value the players available. While I certainly believed that a lot of guys between #56 and #143 were capable of helping the defense, Belichick did not and he’s got a little more experience building defenses. Is it time for minicamp yet?

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

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