Tag Archives: 2018 Patriots Draft

New England Patriots Training Camp Primer – Defensive Line

Steve Balestrieri
July 9, 2018 at 9:44 am ET

Health and New Faces Key

The Patriots 2018 training camp begins in less than three weeks which means that we’ll be in football mode from then until early February. The team is looking to return to the Super Bowl albeit with a different result this time around and where they have to make changes, begins with the defense and specifically the defensive line.

The team allowed 4.7 yards per rush attempt (31st in the NFL)in 2017 and while there were plenty of factors involved in that, they needed to get bigger and stronger inside. Which is why they brought in Danny Shelton from the Cleveland Browns. Getting big Vincent Valentine back from injury this season should help as well.

The Patriots have to do a much better and more consistent job of getting after the quarterback this season. Trey Flowers is their best overall defensive lineman and many expect him to turn in a Pro-Bowl season in 2018. They’ve added Adrian Clayborn from the Falcons and get back Derek Rivers from a season-ending injury suffered in preseason last year. Deatrich Wise had a good rookie season as well.  

So… who is locked into the roster and who is on the bubble for the defensive line?

Roster Locks: Trey Flowers, Danny Shelton, Malcom Brown, Adrian Clayborn, Deatrich Wise

Trey Flowers and Adrian Clayborn look (on paper) to be the starting defensive edge setters while newcomer Danny Shelton and Malcom Brown anchor the middle. Flowers can do everything, rush the passer off the edge, kick inside as an interior rusher and set the edge in the running game. Clayborn gives the Patriots a veteran presence on the edge, and a solid one. He’s been productive in his career and a solid player on the field and in the locker room. He’s been one of if the not the first players on the field all spring.

Shelton will be looked to provide that two-gap immovable presence inside against the run that they were lacking a year ago when Alan Branch got old quickly. He’s looking to get his career back on track and with the team turning down his fifth-year option, is in a contract year.

Ditto for Malcom Brown. The Patriots former first-round pick has been good but could be more consistent on the field. Brown has held up well against the run and is playing for a contract as well. The team will expect much better play on the interior as well.

Wise had a solid rookie season, after getting off to a very good start, he tailed off in the middle of the season before finishing well down the stretch. He’s got a long wingspan but isn’t the most athletic guy. With a year in the system and looking to get a little stronger, the strength and conditioning program should have helped him quite a bit.

Near Roster Locks: Lawrence Guy, Vincent Valentine, Derek Rivers

The health of Valentine and Rivers are the only things that could hold them back in 2018. Valentine played well as a rookie in 2016 and the team was pleased with his performance. But an injury caused him to miss the entire 2017 season.  It was thought he might be healthy enough to activate by the end of the regular season but it never took place. Now the team is hoping for him to not only be healthy again but to make the next leap forward in his development.

Rivers was the Patriots top draft choice a year ago coming from a smaller school at Youngstown State. He started slowly, getting used to the speed and physicality in the pro game. It seemed like the light was just coming on for him when he tore his ACL and was lost for the season. Now it is hoped that he’ll be fully recovered and ready to go once training camp begins. He’ll be on the players to watch on defense this summer.

Guy was signed to a 4-year deal last spring and the 6’4, 305 interior lineman away from the Baltimore Ravens during free agency. He played well during his first year in Foxboro appearing on the field for 54.91 percent of the snaps. If he appeared in just one more (55%) it would have immediately triggered in a $500,000 bonus. But the Patriots decided to pay it anyway which tells you something about they feel about Guy.

On the Bubble: Adam Butler, Keionta Davis, Geneo Grissom, Trent Harris, Eric Lee

The Patriots signed Butler, a UDFA last spring and he made the team out of training camp and immediately became part of the rotation in 2017 appearing in all 16 games. He showed the ability to get after the passer a bit and contributed 16 QB pressures and two sacks. He was inconsistent and needs to improve in the running game but will be a tough player to jettison after a promising start.

Davis was considered a later round edge rusher from Chattanooga last year and then a neck injury caused him to go undrafted. He certainly looks the part and appears chiseled in his upper body. We’ll see if it can translate onto the field. Grissom has been a key contributor on STs but has yet to make a dent in the defense.

Lee was picked up from Buffalo last fall and displayed an ability to rush the passer. However, he has troubles setting the edge and may be just a situational pass rusher. Harris, “Toolbox Trent” as he was called in Miami was a UDFA and isn’t the most athletic defensive end but his teammates marveled at his array of pass rush moves. Will it translate to the NFL? We’ll see.

Outside Looking in…. Longshots: John Atkins, Frank Herron,

The Patriots signed undrafted free agents John Atkins and Frank Herron this spring. Atkins was a key player in the Georgia Bulldogs defense, eating up two blocks while allowing Roquan Smith to clean up. He has good size at 6’3, 322 for a nose tackle and a great work ethic but has a long way to go to beat out any of the interior guys.

Herron is another interior defensive lineman with good size at 6’3, 311 and plays with a chip on his shoulder. Had a few scrapes with disciplinary issues at LSU but raised his stock a bit in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, displaying a quick first step, something he was lacking in during film study of his games. But he too is a longshot with a chance to possibly make the practice squad.

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

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

New England Patriots Training Camp Primer – Offensive Line

Steve Balestrieri
July 3, 2018 at 8:21 am ET

Health is the Biggest Question Mark

The Patriots head into training camp in just about three weeks now and as we’ve been saying, the competition this year at a number of positions will tell the tale on who goes and who remains. This has been a tumultuous offseason in many different ways. The Patriots lost a lot of key veteran players and all of the off-field hoopla surrounding Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski have been non-stop.

Soon that will all be behind us as the players get back on the field and we start talking about football again. In the next segment of our 2018 Patriots Training Camp primers is the Patriots Offensive Line.

The team lost left tackle Nate Solder this spring as he signed a big money contract with the Giants. He’s protected Tom Brady’s blind side for several years and done it well. Replacing a trusted veteran like Solder who was as good off the field for the team as well as on it.

So, with that in mind who are locked in and who’s on the bubble?

Roster Locks: Trent Brown, Isaiah Wynn, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon

The Patriots traded for Brown with the 49ers this spring, giving up a 3rd round draft pick in return. Although he’s played mostly right tackle in the NFL, he says he can play anywhere and the team may move him to left tackle.

Brown is a mammoth-sized human being. Listed at 6’8, 359 pounds, he’s every bit of that and possibly even bigger. But for a very large man, he has surprisingly good footwork. And he’s just 25 years old. Brown got some great kudos from Denver’s Von Miller who said this about the new Patriot:

“He’s the best right tackle in the National Football League,” Miller said of Brown. “And he may even be a top-five tackle, period, in the National Football League. There’s not another tackle who’s that tall, that big and can move the way he moves.”

The team used a 1st round draft pick (#23 overall) on Wynn and although he played left tackle for the Bulldogs, he projects to be a left guard in the NFL. Wynn is short for a tackle, 6’2, 302 but both he and Brown were competing for the left tackle spot but during the spring, they lined up next to one another with Wynn at left guard.

Andrews, Mason, and Cannon have been starters and remain solid pieces who have performed very well. The only questions with the locks revolve around health. Brown and Wynn are coming off of shoulder surgery, while Cannon was placed on IR late last season.

If this unit is the starting five on Week 1 and we believe that they will be, the team should be in a very good position for the offensive line play to start the season. Cannon’s availability physically is the only question. Will he be ready to go? Or will he begin camp on the PUP?

Near Roster Locks: Joe Thuney, LaAdrian Waddle

Thuney missed the spring minicamp with an injury and his spot was taken by Wynn. It will be interesting to note if Thuney is healthy for training camp, he may a fight on his hands to get back his starting left guard spot from the talented rookie from Georgia.

There is a possibility that Thuney will start training camp on the PUP if he’s still not ready to go. Health is the only possibility we’d see with him not making the 53-man roster.

Waddle is a valuable swing tackle who they brought back during free agency despite his getting feelers from other teams. He can play either side and has performed well when called upon. And with the long season that the team faces, he’ll be called on again this year.

On the Bubble: Cole Croston, Jason King, James Ferentz, Andrew Jelks, Ted Karras, Matt Tobin, Luke Bowanko, Ulrick John

The Patriots have several players vying for one or possibly two spots along the OL. Our feeling here is that Croston nails down one of those slots. We penciled him in for first 53-man roster projection. He’s versatile and can fill in at guard or tackle if needed.

But his spot will have to be earned so, the competition factor again will come into play. The team brought back King this spring, so that speaks highly for him. Karras has made the team as a backup and can play guard or center.

What may open the door for one or two more of these players is if Thuney or Cannon or maybe both are placed on PUP to start training camp. But with the demanding and outstanding OL coach Dante Scarnecchia back in the fold for another year, one thing is for certain. He’ll get the very best out of this group.

While as a whole, they have to improve but in pass blocking and in the running game, Coach Scar made it clear back in the spring, “I really like the guys we have here right now,” he said during the OTAs.

So physical questions aside, the Patriots offensive line may be very different, at least on the left side this year but they also have the potential to be very good and better than the 2017 unit as well.

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

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

New England Patriots News 7-1, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
July 1, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, Here is your Sunday’s Patriots news 7-1, & AFC East Notes … We’d like to wish all of our readers a happy and safe 4th of July holiday this week. And Happy Birthday America! We may have our issues, but there is still no better place to live in the world.

Quick Hitters:
Training Camp is now just a few weeks away. The Patriots have announced the following days and times for the first few practices, which will be open to the public. ***Please Note that all times are subject to change***. From the Patriots website:

July 26 | Practice Time – 9:15 AM

July 27 | Practice Time – 9:15 AM

July 28 | Practice Time – 9:15 AM

July 29 | Practice Time – 9:15 AM

*Gates will open at 8 AM each morning and the fan activities will remain open one (1) hour after practice ends.

No Joint Practices? For the first time in about a decade (there were none in 2011 during the lockout), it seems the Patriots will not be conducting joint practices with an opponent. Typically Bill Belichick lines up the opponent for the first or second preseason game (both last year) and works out a joint practice schedule. It doesn’t seem like that will happen this year barring any last minute changes.

Dwayne Allen’s status remains a hot topic for many fans as well as media members to discuss. Much like safety Jordan Richards, Allen remains a target for criticism considering his very small production in the passing game despite having a $5 million dollar cap hit in 2018, none of which is guaranteed.

But Bill Belichick likes Allen and was pleased with his blocking ability. They brought in competition this spring. Although tight ends Jacob Hollister, Will Tye and UDFA Shane Wimann are more in the mode of “move” tight ends, both Troy Niklas and Ryan Izzo are considered more of the blocking type of tight ends and could provide a younger, cheaper alternative. Of course, the team could always opt for re-doing Allen’s deal, which many predicted they’d do in the spring and didn’t.

Julian Edelman should be hearing back from the NFL regarding his appeal on his four-game suspension early in the week. If the suspension stands, the team will be without him for the first four games of the season. With that in mind…

Who Will Take the Slot Snaps in Case of #11 Suspension?

If indeed Julian Edelman is suspended for the first four games of the season, who will the Patriots go to in the slot for the majority of their snaps and production?  Well first off, they won’t (they learned that a year ago when he went on IR), be able to plug one player in that position, it is going to take multiple players to step up.

  • Malcolm Mitchell: In a perfect world that primary player would be Mitchell. He looked at the end of the 2016 season to be primed for big things down the road. But his knee woes are well-chronicled and with him missing most of the spring workouts just makes him a player with too many questions health-wise for the team to rely on him. At least for the first month of 2018.
  • Chris Hogan: The team looked like they were going to use Hogan in that type of role early in the 2017 season, but he ran into some injury issues of his own. However with Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola and Dion Lewis gone, they may opt to go with an experienced, trusted player here.
  • Phillip Dorsett: The former 1st round pick was underwhelming in his first season as a member of the Patriots as he had to learn on the fly. However, he looked better and more comfortable in the offense this spring. But Dorsett doesn’t have the skill set to play an Edelman role. Where could he fit better? In the Cooks role as the outside burner. And he has the quickness to work the underneath routes that Cooks struggled with. We’ll see how that works out in camp.
  • Braxton Berrios/Riley McCarron: The young slot players resemble former Patriot slot receiver Wes Welker and are quick and productive when they’ve had their numbers called in college. But would the Patriots entrust such a vital part of the offense to such untested players in the first month of the season? Doubtful.
  • Jordan Matthews: The former Eagle and Bill seems like he’d be an excellent fit for the slot role, although he is a much different player. Matthews is 6’3, 212 pounds and excelled in the slot role with Philly averaging about 70 catches a year before an injury-plagued campaign with the non-throwing Bills. But Matthews bet on himself, opting for a one-year, $1.0 million-dollar contract with New England this spring. He is the guy we’ll be watching if the Pats get some bad news on the Edelman front.

Flowers Contract Extension Going to be Difficult:

Trey Flowers is in the final year of his rookie contract and a new contract with him may be a much more difficult undertaking than it appears on the surface. Flowers has led the team in sacks the past two years, despite not having a big presence opposite him on the other side in 2017.

With the Minnesota Vikings signing DE Danielle Hunter to a 5-year, $72 million-dollar extension last week, with a $15 million signing bonus and $40 million guaranteed.  That will be the starting point for negotiations. The two players have had similar production with Hunter logging 8 sacks and Flowers 6.5. However, Hunter plays in a much more aggressive defense and has played with Everson Griffen on the opposite end.

Flowers isn’t flashy but does everything well, setting the edge, getting after the quarterback and kicking inside at times as an interior pass rusher. And with Adrian Clayborn on the team, signed in free agency, Derek Rivers back and Deatrich Wise looking to improve on a good rookie season, the chances for Flowers to cash in by producing in a contract year are very good.

Former Cowboys GM Gil Brandt predicts Flowers will make the Pro-Bowl this year. That would be great news for Flowers. For the Patriots? It will mean, he’ll be just that much harder to re-sign.

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills Need Stability, High Play at QB in 2018:
The Buffalo Bills opted for a possible future franchise QB with the #7 pick in the draft with the selection of Josh Allen. There is a lot to like, he has an absolute cannon for an arm and can deliver the ball in a manner that very few QBs can. However, as a rookie, the Bills are taking their time with him, very smartly and allowing him to learn the offense, work on his mechanics and find his way in the NFL before putting the pressure of being the franchise QB for the franchise.

They brought in A.J. McCarron from the Bengals and he appears to have the inside track over Nathan Peterman for the starting job out of the gate. While many in the Bills fan base are clamoring to sign a WR, they need to take a page out of New England’s book and not worry so much about WRs, but get solid QB play.

Wide receivers are successful because of QB play and not the other way around. Our friend Kerry Byrne of CHFF has labeled WRs, “shiny hood ornaments” and we tend to agree with that sentiment. Tom Brady won three Super Bowls with a pretty much no-name group of receivers.

With fans clamoring for a Dez Bryant signing, it is just another case of which we’re ultimately familiar with in New England of “gotta get the NAME” player. Head coach Sean McDermott is installing a passing game that stretches the field horizontally. That isn’t a Bryant specialty.

Dolphins Announce Training Camp Dates:
The Miami Dolphins will open their 2018 training camp on the same day as New England and several others and have published the dates and times for the first week of camp. According to their website, the Fins first few practice sessions are:

▪ Thursday, July 26: 8:30 a.m.

▪ Friday, July 27: 8:30 a.m.

▪ Saturday, July 28: 8:30 a.m.

▪ Sunday, July 29: 8:30 a.m.

▪ Monday, July 30: 8:30 a.m.

The caveat is that the Dolphins training facility at the Nova Southeastern University campus holds on 2000 people and fans must get tickets (which are free) by contacting the Dolphins website.

If there are any Dolphins fans here in New England or you’re just interested in keeping up with what Miami is up to, I recommend you follow our old friend Antwan Staley who is a Dolphins beat writer for the USA Today and his stuff can be found on the “Dolphins Wire” website. Twan is a great guy and a die-hard Red Sox fan.

Details Emerge on Jets’ TE DWI Arrest:
New York Jets rookie tight end Chris Herndon from the University of Miami was arrested for DWI on June 2 after getting into an accident at 4:45 a.m. on I-80 westbound in Rockaway Township, NJ.

His Nissan Altima crashed into a 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser driven by Albert Elliott of Manalapan, 76, who was towing a trailer and hauling a yellow rail car. Herndon initially claimed that Manalapan hit him which caused his vehicle, to flip over. Herndon claimed to be driving only 58 miles per hour but a witness at the scene told NJ State Police that Herndon passed him going over 100 miles per hour. After the crash, Herndon’s SUV slid on its roof for over 700 feet.

Officers detected a strong odor of alcohol on Herndon’s breath and he failed field sobriety tests. Once arrested and taken to the police station, he blew a 0.14 percent BAC on a breathalyzer. In NJ a person is guilty of DWI with a Blood Alcohol Concentration level of 0.08 percent or greater.

Besides any court costs, fines or court-imposed penalties, Herndon now faces possible NFL-imposed discipline, which could include a suspension. Luckily, no one was seriously injured.

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 2018 Training Camp Primer, Wide Receivers

Steve Balestrieri
June 27, 2018 at 11:06 am ET

Position is Loaded and Competition Will Tell the Tale

The Patriots head into training camp in just a month and the 90-man roster as it now stands is pretty stocked. Which means there will be a lot of players fighting for a very few spots on the 53-man roster.

Nowhere is that truer than at wide receiver. The Patriots (as of today 6/25) have 11 players vying for probably six roster spots. The team usually keeps around six WRs. That number could fluctuate if they feel they can’t part with a player or two.

Julian Edelman’s looming suspension may play a factor into that as well. If his suspension stands, then the team will have a full month of the regular season to carry an extra wide receiver and give them a longer look at some players. And of course, health will play a major role in the players that they keep, let go, place on PUP/IR.

The Patriots lost their two most productive wide receivers in Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola from 2017. Both left via free agency. Cooks the speedster that came over from New Orleans had a solid season with 65 catches for 1082 yards and 7 TDs. Amendola had 61 catches for 659 yards and 2 TDs. But in the playoffs, Amendola ratcheted up his game in a big way, hauling in 26 catches for 348 yards and 2 more TDs.

Replacing their production will be a big priority. But getting both Julian Edelman and Malcolm Mitchell back from IR, neither played in 2017 will be a huge boost. The team also drafted Braxton Berrios from Miami and has Kenny Britt and Phillip Dorsett back after each got to spend an entire offseason in New England.

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

Roster Locks: Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Matthew Slater

The Patriots get back a healthy Julian Edelman as well as a healthy Hogan this summer. Edelman missed the entire season with a torn ACL and Hogan was dinged up with a couple of injuries where he wasn’t a 100 percent for much of last season.

Julian Edelman looks healthy and ready to go. (SBalestrieri photo)

Edelman looked like the Julian Edelman we’ve always seen during the spring. We watched him closely during minicamp to see if there was any difference in his cutting to the left or right and his knee looks 100 percent. The real test will be once camp begins and the hitting starts.

The only question with him is if he will miss the first four games with a suspension due to PEDs where he was popped on a random drug test. If his suspension holds, it may end up being a better thing for him, giving him an extra month to fully recover from his surgery and rehab. But it will definitely hurt the team.

Hogan is an intriguing case as if the suspension does hold, will the team use him more in the slot or will they turn to a guy like Berrios or Jordan Matthews? It does give the team options.

Slater is a perennial Pro-Bowler and in speaking with NBC Sports Boston’s Phil Perry in a podcast today, he again mentioned the changes in the kickoff rules this season and believes Slater and other STs mavens to be even more valuable this season than in years before.

Near Roster Locks: Cordarrelle Patterson, Malcolm Mitchell

Patterson is (at least here) a near lock on our roster due to the changes to the rules governing kickoffs which will make him much more valuable this season. If Josh McDaniels and the coaches can figure out a way to get him involved in the offense, it will be a huge plus.

Cordarrelle Patterson looks to not only help in the kick return game but on offense as well. (SBalestrieri photo)

Mitchell had a really solid rookie season in 2016 and followed that up with a big Super Bowl in the win over the Falcons. But unfortunately, that was the last time he’s played in a meaningful game. His knee issues are chronic and he missed nearly all of the spring. The only thing that can hold him back is health. Will he be good to go or will he end up on PUP or IR?

On the Bubble: Jordan Matthews, Kenny Britt, Phillip Dorsett, Braxton Berrios, Riley McCarron

Matthews is a very intriguing signing. He was very productive in Philadelphia, averaging over 70 catches a year for three seasons. Last year he had a myriad of injuries and played on a non-passing team that derailed his season in Buffalo. I believe he’s going to be a big part of this offense in 2018. But he’ll have to prove it once the pads come on.

Ditto for Kenny Britt and Phillip Dorsett. Both came over last season, Dorsett just before the season opener and Britt later in the season. Dorsett, despite having blistering speed, never really caught on last year. Britt was having a very nice spring before tweaking a hamstring in minicamp and was held out as a precaution the last two days.

Berrios was a late round (6th round, 210th Overall) draft pick in the 2018 NFL Draft from Miami. He has the quickness and long speed to be a dynamic slot receiver. But he had a lingering medical issue that precluded him from taking part in any team drills in minicamp. He has some catching up to do.

McCarron spent all of 2017 on the Patriots practice squad and now knows the offense very well. With Berrios out during minicamp, he took advantage of some extra work. He looked okay but not great in the passing offense and got second-team snaps in both the punt and kick return games where he did a good job.

Outside Looking in…. Longshots: Cody Hollister

The Patriots signed undrafted free agent Cody Hollister last spring and he did enough to warrant the team to bring him back onto the practice squad last year. He had a good spring this year as well as last season. But with a top-heavy and loaded wide receiver roster, it is going to be difficult for him to get enough reps to earn a roster spot.

He, Berrios and McCarron may be looking at practice squad slots, at least to start the season. And then, depending on what transpires during the season as the inevitable injuries do occur, they may have an opportunity to get some reps in the regular season.

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

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

New England Patriots Training Camp Primer – Running Backs

Steve Balestrieri
June 25, 2018 at 8:30 am ET

 

Different Look, Better Production?

The Patriots head into training camp in just a few weeks and there should no shortage of competition at several spots, especially at the back end of the roster. 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 running backs.

The running back position will look very different in 2018. Dion Lewis is gone, He got a nice deal in free agency and will be in Tennessee this year. The team got back Rex Burkhead, James White returns but the big news is that the team invested a first-round draft pick to select Sony Michel (31st Overall) in the 2018 NFL Draft.

The team is deep, talented and have four good players battling for two roster spots.

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

Roster Locks: Rex Burkhead, Sony Michel, James Develin

The Patriots did the very unPatriot-like decision to draft a running back in the first round under Bill Belichick.  But the selection of Sony Michel proves to be a very intriguing choice. He split the carries at Georgia with Nick Chubb, so playing in a New England backfield by committee won’t be a big exercise in adapting to the way the Patriots play.

But what stands out about Michel is that he’s a big-time playmaker and should be able to step in and contribute in both the running and passing games right away. He’s a different type of player than Lewis but the chiseled 5’11, 215-pound back has a boatload of potential.

Sony Michel after practice. (SBalestrieri photo)

Burkhead had a very good season in 2017 but appeared in only 10 games due to injuries. He’s back and can contribute in the running game, the passing game and on special teams. He’s a guy who will get about 500-600 combined yards rushing and receiving while being a solid contributor.

James Develin was just resigned to a two-year extension worth about $3.8 million with a $600,000 signing bonus. Develin played in about 30 percent of the Patriots offensive snaps a year ago and his value lies in his blocking. Rewatch the AFC Championship Game and look at the hole Develin blew open for Dion Lewis in the 4th quarter. That kind of smash-mouth football is invaluable in the running game.  

Near Roster Locks: James White

White remains the Patriots go-to third-down running back, especially in the passing game. In 2017, White only had 43 carries but caught 56 passes for 429 yards with 3 touchdowns. His Super Bowl performance against the Falcons shows how hot he can get when getting the favored matchups (6 carries 29 yards 2 TDs, 14 catches 110 yards 1 TD and a 2PT conversion).

 

James White hauls in a pass during practice. (SBalestrieri photo)

On the Bubble: Jeremy Hill, Mike Gillislee, Brandon Bolden

The Patriots invested in Gillislee last year and he ran okay but his lack of production in the passing game made him predictable while on the field and he was a healthy scratch in seven games.

Jeremy Hill was brought in because a change of scenery seemed like was needed for the veteran. He was an extremely productive running back in his first three seasons in the league, tallying up 27 TDs and 2700 yards rushing. But he fell out of favor in Cincinnati and is trying to restart his career here.

The Patriots could use a big physical back to churn up short yardage and be the closer in games. Could he be that guy? Possibly, but he’ll have to have a good summer and show that he still has some tread left on the tires.

Every year it seems, everyone has Brandon Bolden getting cut and every year, he’s back on the team and contributes a tremendous amount on Special Teams where he is a force out there. As a running back, he is a .260 hitter, he can run a bit and catch the odd pass here or there but is an excellent pass blocker. He will be either the 53rd player on the roster or the last guy cut.

Outside Looking in…. Longshots: Ralph Webb

The Patriots signed undrafted free agent Ralph Webb out of Vanderbilt. Webb is a straight-ahead power back with a lack of speed but with excellent vision to see where openings are. Webb is a lunch pail guy who is extremely durable, tough and consistent.

He’s not the biggest guy or the fastest but won’t be outworked. He was productive with 23 touchdowns the past two seasons. With a good summer, Webb could be looking at a practice squad slot and a chance to carve out a role for himself in the case of an injury in 2018 or in 2019.  

He reminds one of a slightly smaller BenJarvus Green-Ellis. He won’t make a lot of people miss but his feet never stop and you’ll get 100 percent on every snap.

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 6-24, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
June 24, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, Here is your Sunday’s Patriots news 6-24, & AFC East Notes …

Quick Hitters:
Isaiah Wynn was signed to a contract by the Patriots, it was announced on Friday. Wynn was one of two Patriots 1st round draft picks in the 2018 NFL Draft, #23 overall. He and Sony Michel were taken by the team in the first round.

Wynn is a 6-foot-2, 302-pounder who played both guard and tackle during at Georgia. As a senior in 2017, he was named a team captain and started all 15 games that he played at left tackle. He was named to the 2017 Associated Press All-America Second Team.

2018 Training Camp will begin on Thursday, July 26, the Patriots have announced. The team will give further details once the dates get closer but expect large crowds and if you want to get a good vantage point, plan to arrive early.

In accordance with the NFL’s rules, here are some of the training camp ones to remember for the beginning of camp:

Day 1: Physicals, meetings, classroom work, running/conditioning

Day 2/3: On-field practices allowed without pads and without contact

Day 4 – UTC: Two-a-day practices authorized

  • No more than 4 hours per day
  • No more than 1 practice with pads per day; no more than 3 hours per day;
  • Padded practice defined as any practice with helmets and shoulder pads worn
  • Minimum 3 hours between practices if the team elects for two-a-day; second practice limited to “walk-through”
  • Quarterbacks, punters, kickers, and long snappers may elect to wear a helmet and/or shoulder pads during non-padded practices
  • Players with head injuries may be directed to wear a helmet by team medical staff as a precaution during non-padded practices
  • Quarterbacks and defensive player who receives signals from coaching staff may wear helmets to receive communications from sidelines
  • Teams are required to video all activities and retain film for at least 30 days after the start of the regular season; the NFLPA will be allowed to view the films of practice if a complaint is made about the team’s workouts

Players aren’t paid during training camp. Instead, receiving room and board from the team and are paid per diem for their time spent at camp.

Tom Brady and his wife Gisele attended the U2 concert recently and like everyone else, Brady sang along with the song (just like all of us do while driving). However, when it comes to singing along with Bono, Brady isn’t the GOAT, he is just as bad as the rest of us in the singing department. But hey, it never stopped me from singing….loudly in traffic or at concerts. Looks like fun was had by all… OOPS! There’s that pesky fun word again.

The video can be seen here:

Eric Decker, the free agent WR said on Sirius XM Radio that he’d be open to going to New England and reuniting with Josh McDaniels who drafted him in Denver in 2010.

“At this point in my career I want to go somewhere where I have a chance to compete for a Super Bowl, be in a good system, be with a quarterback that my skill set would be an addition to the team,” Decker said.

“I talked with New England actually last year when I was going through the free agency process, late there in June,” Decker said. “We’ll see once GMs and coaches have kind of regrouped after minicamp and we’ll see what the needs are going into training camp.”

Brandon Browner, who won back-to-back Super Bowls with the Patriots and Seahawks was sentenced to 60 days in jail after pleading no contest in a domestic battery case. He was released after just two days due to jail overcrowding.

Browner spent three years with the Seahawks and one with the Saints. In 2014, he played in nine regular-season games with the Patriots but played in a key role in their Super Bowl win over his former team the Seahawks.

Jameis Winston is looking at a three-game suspension and once again the league has leaked out the punishment before the player was even notified. And the case, much like the Edelman case, feels like the league has to delve much deeper before issuing a suspension on him.

So is the suspension for failure to report an incident, in which the player’s take is, that the incident in question never happened?

Bentley an Early Down Run Stuffer:
We post our early summer 53-Man Roster Projection 1.0 earlier this week and one of the early winners we projected which got some questions was with the rookie linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley over the incumbent, inside linebacker Elandon Roberts.

Roberts is a favorite of Bill Belichick and his game is built similar to that of Bentley, as an early-down run stuffer. However, Bentley has got a distinct size advantage being 6’2, 260 pounds while Roberts is listed at 6’0, 235 by the Patriots.

Both players’ strengths are playing downhill in the running game, neither is particular adept in coverage or running laterally. But Bentley also brings with him that coveted leadership mantle that he earned at Purdue.

The Patriots run defense was pretty leaky when defending the run last season allowing 4.7 yards per rush, tied with the Rams for the 2nd worst in the entire league. Although that was a combination of things, one of the things which must improve was the play of the linebackers, which included Roberts.

The feeling here is that the Patriots drafted Bentley is a bit of a statement saying they expected more from Roberts.

Two other selections that got a lot of comments were the keeping of RB Jeremy Hill over Brandon Bolden and the UDFA rookie punter Corey Bojorquez. One thing is for certain, it is still very early and nothing is written in stone. But competition is always a good thing and training camp should prove to be interesting.

Patriots Wide Receivers Will Be Fighting For Reps In Camp:
One of the key areas to watch during training camp will be the Pats wide receivers. After losing both Danny Amendola and Brandin Cooks from the 2017 team, the team gets back Julian Edelman, Malcolm Mitchell and has added Jordan Matthews, Cordarrelle Patterson as well as Braxton Berrios during the 2018 NFL Draft.

Edelman’s looming suspension and the health of Mitchell, Berrios who are coming off injuries and Kenny Britt who was dinged up in minicamp are the key things to watch for at the position this summer once camp begins. If Edelman’s suspension does not get reduced or removed during his appeal, it will at least give the team another four weeks to get a look at the WRs vying for a roster spot.

There are 11 WRs vying for about 6 spots on the roster. That makes for great competition especially when considering that only a few (Edelman and Hogan) are locks to make the roster. There will have to be some tough decisions made. Guys like Berrios and Mitchell, who are expected to make strong pushes for the roster both missed most of the spring workouts. July 26th can’t get here fast enough.

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills Legend Kelly Undergoes Another Cancer Surgery:
The Buffalo Bills’ former QB Jim Kelly and his wife Jill were in New York City for a follow up procedure from his recent cancer surgery. This one was planned far in advance for the former Bills’ great.

“The plan at this point is that he will have surgery in mid-June to lessen the “skin flap” bulk in his mouth, as well as put implants into his upper jaw,” wrote Jill Kelly. “And then there will be more healing and waiting and then another surgery and possibly upper teeth sometime in September.”

Jill Kelly jumped on Instagram to keep Bills’ fans appraised of the situation. “Out of surgery and in recovery,” she wrote. “Still in a lot of pain, but everything went well. Thank GOD! No teeth yet, but 5 implants were inserted into the new bone in Jim’s upper jaw. More technical than I can explain…”

Kelly will receive the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance at the 2018 ESPYs.

Dolphins Announce Training Camp Start Date:
The Miami Dolphins veterans will report to training camp on July 25. Under the NFL’s rules teams cannot have veterans report to training camp earlier than either July 15 or 15 days prior to their first preseason game, whichever is later.

With their first preseason game slated for August 9, Miami will have all 15 days to prepare for their first action of the 2018 season. Miami rookies will report on July 18.

The Dolphins are expecting big things out of Kenyan Drake in 2018, the 3rd year RB will be the featured back in the Dolphins offense. He started six of 16 games a year ago and really found a rhythm once he got into his groove. Patriots fans will remember his big night in the Fins win over NE where he ran for 114 yards and caught passes out of the backfield for 79 more.

I’d expect Adam Gase to use him a lot like the Patriots used Dion Lewis last year and with the ageless Frank Gore in the backfield, it should keep Drake fresh for the crunch time in games.

Jets Could Dangle Teddy Bridgewater For an Edge Rusher:
The New York Jets need an edge rusher and ESPN’s Rich Cimini laid out a couple of interesting options for Gang-Green to possibly pursue.

The two names he was writing about was the Broncos’ Shane Ray and the Jaguars Dante Fowler. While Ray is coming off of wrist surgery which may delay his start of the 2018 regular season, Fowler was a very impressive young player on a team that is stacked on defense.

Cimini states that Fowler may be in the position where the Jaguars won’t be able to pay him in 2019 and is coming off a very solid 2017 year where he notched eight sacks. He was originally picked by Jacksonville 3rd overall in the 2015 NFL Draft and won’t come cheap. He’s just 24 years old and while the Jags front office won’t be able to get what he’s worth, they won’t be giving him away either.

Cimini writes: “Teddy Bridgewater could be trade bait, but I don’t see that happening unless Darnold wins the starting job during the preseason. There’s also the matter of his surgically repaired knee. He looked fine in OTAs and minicamp, but there’s still skepticism around the league about his knee. He’d have to quiet the doubters in the preseason to get teams interested. He probably wouldn’t interest the Jaguars unless something happens to Blake Bortles. If there’s a quarterback-needy team out there willing to part with a pass rusher … now you’re talking.”

The Jets have made it clear, that Sam Darnold will be given every opportunity to win and become the starting QB by Week 1 of the 2018 season. The feeling here is that the Jets are making a mistake. The team has a solid veteran in Josh McCown who played very well in 2017 as well as Bridgewater who was playing very well before getting hurt.

Don’t risk damaging Darnold’s confidence, if he indeed is your QB of the future by throwing him to the wolves too soon.  The Jets fans and front office have been waiting for their franchise QB since Joe Namath left. We’ll see how it all works out once training camps and preseason games begin this summer.

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as 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.