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.
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 Flowersis 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: TheBuffalo 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.
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.
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: TheBuffalo 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.
The Patriots head into training camp in just a few weeks, the OTAs and minicamp are over and the team has a 90-man roster ready to go. They’ll tweak this a bit as we go on but this group should remain pretty intact to start thru the beginning of training camp. 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. So first up are the quarterbacks
Sorry to say, this column is strictly football, so if you’re looking for analysis of body language, the subliminal messages by Gisele or TB12 that may have been sent on social media or the butterfly effect that the Dalai Lama breaking wind in Tibet and the effect it will have on the Patriots this season, you can save yourself the time now.
So… who is locked in and who is on the bubble?
Roster Locks: Tom Brady The Patriots are so fortunate that every year since early in the 2001 season, they know who their starting QB is and have the luxury of knowing that he is more than capable enough to take them to the promised land.
In 2017, the 40-year old quarterback had an MVP season, completing 385 of 581 passes, (66.3 %), for 32 TDs and just 8 INTs. He led the Patriots offense to 394.2 yards per game, #1 in the NFL and to 28.6 points per game, #2 in the league.
In the playoffs, Brady went 89 of 139 (64%) for 1132 yards with 8 TDs and 0 INTs. He brought the Patriots back in another big 4th quarter comeback in the AFC Championship Game against the Jacksonville Jaguars leading to a third Super Bowl appearance in four years. Against the Eagles, Brady went 28-48 (58.3%) for a Super Bowl record 505 yards with 3 TDs and 0 INTs.
However, every season we deal with the inevitable question of “when will Brady begin to show his age and slow down? Answer: It doesn’t look like it anytime soon. Which is why I have zero issues with Brady taking the OTAs off this season.
Consequently, lost in the all the “Hatfield – McCoy Feud” storyline is the fact that perhaps Brady feels at his age that he wants to limit the wear and tear on his arm and may have been feeling fatigued at the end of last season. That very possible scenario got little to no play this spring.
If that is the case, I have zero problems with it and neither should anyone else. He’s more than earned that right. But for the record, would I rather see #12 QBing the team during the spring workouts? Of course, especially with the new faces here on the roster. So, we’ll see how all of this works out, but if you’re expecting (hoping) to see a significant drop off in Brady’s production, you may be disappointed.
However, there are some legitimate questions to ask this year. How will Brady deal with the loss of
his top two wide receiver targets from last season, (Cooks, Amendola)
New England’s top running back option from last season (Dion Lewis), and finally
his starting left tackle of the past six years, (Nate Solder)
Unlike nearly every other quarterback in league history, Brady has shown an ability to adapt to change. 2018 will likely not be any different. On a positive side, the Patriots get back Julian Edelman (albeit after a possible 4-game suspension), picked by Jordan Matthews this spring and drafted the dynamic Sony Michel who should be a big factor in both the running and passing games. And the best tight end in the game Rob Gronkowski is healthy and ready to go.
I watched Brady at minicamp and saw no drop off in his game, nor any indications that he was “mailing it in”, (a familiar question this spring). He looked like the Tom Brady we’ve all come to expect and to see and he looked like Tom Brady….meaning excellent.
Near Roster Locks: Brian Hoyer, Danny Etling
Hoyer came back to New England in the fallout from the Jimmy Garoppolo trade with the 49ers last fall. He was released to make room for Jimmy G. and then quickly signed back with New England as Brady’s backup.
Hoyer is who he is at this point in his career. He’s not a great QB and is limited in the things that he can do. But he knows the offense very well and he has the confidence of the coaches that he can get the job done if the situation arises where he has to step in. .
Etling is a rookie who is still trying to learn the Patriots offense and find his rhythm with it. He has a long way to go. With his limited snap load in training camp, do we expect him to push Hoyer for the backup spot on the roster? Very doubtful.
But the Patriots made an investment in him this spring, albeit a 7th rounder (219th overall). His job this summer is to show enough progress to justify keeping him around this season and to learn the offense enough to push Hoyer out next summer as the backup. I think he’s already shown enough to justify that. He’ll probably get very acquainted with the clipboard this fall, but I think he’ll stick.
With Brady sitting out the majority of the spring workouts, Hoyer was getting a ton of reps and looked a bit arm fatigued by minicamp. With both he and Brady getting up there in age, having Etling around will help him learn the system and keep their workloads down to an acceptable amount.
With minicamp over, it is time to a very early look at a New England Patriots 53-man roster projection. We got a brief glimpse of what the players can do in the Bill Belichick system during the spring workouts and although no one was wearing pads, it was as close to actual football activities as the players will get prior to training camp beginning in about five weeks.
We’ll start posting training camp primers by position very soon to break down the current 90 man roster to a workable 53-man roster. Offense – Quarterbacks: (3) Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Danny Etling The Patriots will probably go with three QBs this year. Etling has shown enough in the spring to earn that much moving into camp. Will he push Hoyer for the backup job this summer? Very doubtful. Hoyer has a comfort level in the system and the confidence in the coaches that he can step up and play well in an emergency. Etling has a long way to go in that regard. Running backs: (5) Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, James White, Jeremy Hill, James Develin Sony Michel looked like a rookie at times this spring, making mistakes, blowing assignments…all the things that rookies do in assimilating into a new system. That’s part of the learning process but shouldn’t affect his availability at all.
Sony Michel after practice. (SBalestrieri photo)
However, his upside was also there for all to see. He’s a threat to run or receive and showed a smoothness in the passing game with good hands. Along with Rex Burkhead and James White, the Patriots passing offense using their running backs should be very difficult to stop in 2018.
But that learning process may give the coaches pause enough to carry the veteran Hill to make the comeback attempt with the Patriots in the early going of the season. That may be bad news for Mike Gillislee and veteran ST presence, Brandon Bolden. I know, we cut Bolden every year and every year he’s out there making big plays on the special teams, which he’s known for. Tight ends: (3) Rob Gronkowski, Jacob Hollister, Dwayne Allen The fact that Hollister had a great spring shouldn’t surprise anyone. He made the team a year ago as a UDFA and played, although sparingly during the season. He needed to bulk up and get stronger, and it appears he has. Allen has the firm backing of the head coach and is like an extra tackle out there as a blocker. If he can get anything going in the passing game, it is a bonus.
Jacob Hollister beefed up in the offseason and had an excellent spring. (SBalestrieri photo of 2017 training camp)
Wide Receivers: (6) Chris Hogan, Jordan Matthews, Cordarrelle Patterson, Kenny Britt, Matthew Slater, Malcolm Mitchell (Suspended: Julian Edelman) Edelman’s looming suspension, unless his appeal is successful will give one Patriots WR at least a month’s reprieve. In this case, it is Malcolm Mitchell. Mitchell’s status has zero to do with ability but everything to do with availability. He missed the majority of the spring but the good news was, the Patriots were taking a cautious approach with him.
Can he stay on the field this summer? If he does, he’s a lock, if he can’t then difficult decisions will have to be made by the coaches. There is a lot of competition to be had here at this position this summer, Philip Dorsett, Riley McCarron and Braxton Berrios will all be vying for spots. And other than Hogan, and Edelman, everything is on the table. And that includes Slater who is a WR in name only. Offensive line: (8) Trent Brown, Isaiah Wynn, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, Joe Thuney, Cole Croston, LaAdrian Waddle The state of the offensive line, if everyone was healthy would be very bright. But injuries abound and because of that, there are plenty of questions right now. Thuney hasn’t made an appearance yet, Wynn and Brown are coming off of shoulder injuries, Cannon is still hurt after going on IR last year. This position will bear watching this summer.
Defense Defensive line: (8) Trey Flowers, Malcom Brown, Danny Shelton, Adrian Clayborn, Deatrich Wise, Lawrence Guy, Vincent Valentine, Derek Rivers No big surprises here, the Patriots really liked Valentine in his rookie season and if he’s healthy (a big if), he noses out Butler who played well last year on the inside. If Valentine doesn’t have the same impact, Butler or one of the other edge players Eric Lee, Keionta Davis, Trent Harris may be able to step up and be noticed. Linebacker: (7) Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Christian Sam, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Marquis Flowers, Harvey Langi, Brandon King Roberts got a lot of reps with the “starters” this spring, Bill Belichick hates the term 1st and 2nd team during OTAs but the fact they drafted Bentley speaks volumes. I’m going out on a limb here and say Langi beats him out for an inside LB spot. King is an ST maven but practices with the LBs.
Harvey Langi (SBalestrieri photo)
Cornerback: (6) Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, Eric Rowe, Duke Dawson, J.C. Jackson, Keion Crosson (PUP: Jonathan Jones, Cyrus Jones) Jackson, the UDFA got quite a few looks opposite Gilmore this spring and looked pretty solid. Eric Rowe didn’t have a great spring and McCourty was…unused. Neither is a worrisome development yet. But with Gilmore looking outstanding thus far and a young crop of corners entering the picture, this position looks in good shape. Safety: (4) Devin McCourty, Pat Chung, Duron Harmon, Nate Ebner
Once again I go to minicamp and watch Gronkowski and Hollister smoke Jordan Richards in coverage and say, “surely the coaches see this too….right?” But when the smoke clears, we’ll see what happens. Ebner and King are STs first and safety/hybrid LB second. So the depth could use a jolt. Two words: Kenny Vaccaro. Specialists: (3) Kicker Stephen Gostkowski, punter Corey Bojorquez, long-snapper Joe Cardona Jumping the gun here but UDFA rookie punter Corey Bojorquez can really put a charge into the ball. We watched him during minicamp and were thoroughly impressed with his leg strength and hang time. He has a long way to go to beat out Ryan Allen and needs work on his directional punting and pinning opponents deep, things that Allen is very good at. But for the simple fact of competition, we’ll give him the early edge. The other two will sleep well during camp as no one has been brought in to challenge them. That must feel nice.
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…
Thank you again to EVERYONE. To everyone who RTd and made this happen. To the entire Patriots organization. To Mr. Robert Kraft. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. pic.twitter.com/7UR4TTP8Vv
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: TheBuffalo 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.
Good morning, Here is your Sunday’s Patriots news 6-10, & AFC East Notes … No AFC East notes this week, they’ll be back next Sunday as this week we’ll focus on the Patriots minicamp
Quick Hitters: It was good to see some of the injured players from last year, back on the field, in varying amounts of work. But one player, Harvey Langi, who was injured in a car wreck while stopped at a light in Foxboro along with his wife in October. Langi was thankful to just survive and spoke about how blessed he was to just to see her okay. The two were sent to different hospitals in Rhode Island and Massachusetts on the night of the accident where the fire department had to use the “Jaws of Life” to cut them out. He’s never had a surgery in regards to football but ended up on IR after being rear-ended.
Langi after minicamp practice. (SBalestrieri photo)
The media asked all the players about the “fun” angle and most laughed it off. Running back Rex Burkhead, said he wasn’t even going there but having great fun at minicamp, as everyone in attendance laughed with him.
Chris Hogan is fully healthy after lingering shoulder issues cut back on his production last season. He spoke about the intensity ramping up a bit in minicamp and spoke about the team energy taking a step up with Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski being back.
RIP to the 49ers Dwight Clark who passed away this week after a long battle with ALS. Clark was famous for “The Catch” from Joe Montana in the NFC Championship Game against Dallas. By all accounts was as classy off the field as he was on it. We still remember that catch like it was yesterday and recall watching the game in a crowded dayroom on Ft. Bragg long ago.
For the third time since 2010, the Ravens and coach John Harbaugh have been fined by the league for excessive contact during OTAs/Minicamp. Harbaugh claimed that the league singled out Baltimore for what other teams all do. Baltimore had to forfeit their last two OTAs, while Harbaugh was fined $50,000 and the team assessed a $100,000 fine for the latest infraction.
Terrell Owens Snubs HOF Ceremony: Owens has decided to skip his own induction ceremony into the NFL Hall of Fame. Owens, the uber-talented and even more disruptive influence during his time in the NFL gives the NFL the petulant brush for not inducting him earlier. In a statement he wrote:
“I am so grateful for all of the support my family, friends, and certainly my fans, have shown me throughout my entire career in the National Football League. When it was announced that I was going to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the response received from my fans was overwhelming, and I am truly humbled. I am honored to be included among this group of fellow inducted individuals. “While I am incredibly appreciative of this opportunity, I have made the decision to publicly decline my invitation to attend the induction ceremony in Canton. I have already shared this information with the Hall. After visiting Canton earlier this year, I came to the realization that I wish to celebrate what will be one of the most memorable days of my life, elsewhere. At a later date, I will announce where and when I will celebrate my induction. “I would also like to thank the San Francisco 49ers, the Philadelphia Eagles, the Dallas Cowboys, the Buffalo Bills and the Cincinnati Bengals for the time I was granted with each organization. I am thankful for the relationships forged and the lessons learned while part of each team. “I wish to congratulate all past, current and future inductees. It is quite an honor to be part of such elite company. This honor is something that I will cherish forever.”
This is unchartered territory, no living Hall of Fame member has ever declined his invitation for enshrinement. “We are disappointed by will respect Terrell’s decision not to participate in the Enshrinement,” Pro Football Hall of Fame president and CEO David Baker said in a statement.
“As we do not want to detract from this great honor being enjoyed by the seven other members of the Class of 2018 (Bobby Beathard, Robert Brazile, Brian Dawkins, Jerry Kramer, Ray Lewis, Randy Moss and Brian Urlacher), their family, friends, and fans; the Pro Football Hall of Fame will have no further comment on the decision made by Terrell Owens.”
Something tells me he’ll change his mind, being in the limelight is too big an opportunity to pass up.
Gronkowski Rumors Fuel Wild Friday: How times have we said, the Patriots are many things but never boring. Rumors were swirling around the Patriots on Friday. Barstool Sports posted that Pats TE Rob Gronkowski was rumored to be on the trading block and they were writing a “pre-emptive blog post or what might be, if true, the most stunning move of the Bradichick Dynasty. Stay tuned” Which sent many fans overboard.
Several of the regular beat writers chimed in trying to read the tea leaves and glean any indication that the rumors could be true. Tom E. Curran posted about an hour later that the Patriots weren’t trading Gronkowski and fans could resume their weekend fun.
But about 5 p.m. former Herald Pats beat writer Adam Kurkjian posted that he had multiple sources that there were deals on the table but Robert Kraft nixed them.
That set off a firestorm of activity on social media, and Patriots Media VP Stacey James, normally one to stay off social media quickly tweeted out that “I would say with the utmost confidence that none of that is true. None of it.”
Others in the media quickly squashed it as well. Former Patriots QB and now the team color man on the radio broadcast Scott Zolak posted that someone high up in the organization was ashamed of the buzz on what was a false story.
Edelman Suspension A Big Blow to the NE Offense: Julian Edelman is facing a four-game suspension for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs. In appealing the decision, Edelman released the following statement on his Instagram account.
“I am very sorry — I don’t know what happened,” Edelman posted on his Instagram page. “I’ve taken many, many tests obviously over the course of my career, and nothing like this has ever happened. I apologize to the Kraft family, my coaches, teammates, and fans. As this matter is being appealed, I can’t say anymore but no matter what, I will be ready to play and pursue another championship with our team and for Patriots fans around the world.”
Apparently, Edelman and the Patriots as they exited the practice fields for the final day of minicamp on Thursday, they were unaware of the ruling coming down from the league, where someone leaked it to Field Yates and Adam Schefter of ESPN. While no one knows on what grounds Edelman will base his appeal, those normally do not as a rule fare well.
Edelman would miss the first four games against the Texans at home, on the road at Jacksonville and Detroit and home against the Dolphins. He’d also forfeit over $400,000 in base salary alone during his suspension.
While many point out, and correctly so, that the Patriots went to the Super Bowl without Edelman a year ago, they’re also dealing with the losses of Dion Lewis, Danny Amendola, Brandin Cooks as well as Nate Solder at left tackle from last year’s team.
While this season’s offense looks even better on paper than 2017, with so many new faces on the team this season, it may take them some time to find their comfort level and their roles in the offense. And having no Edelman there for the first quarter of the season is definitely a big blow. Especially without Amendola there to take up his slack.
On the flip side, it will give one wide receiver an extra four weeks to make an impression and possibly carve out a role for himself. We shall see.
Punter Competition at Camp is a Good Thing: Ryan Allen is most definitely facing some competition at punter this year during training camp and if Wednesday’s minicamp practice session is any indication, it should be quite a good one to watch. Solid camp competition is always a good thing for the team.
We were in attendance for minicamp and the first thing that jumped out to us was that UDFA rookie punter Corey Bojorquez from New Mexico has a tremendous leg. He was booming punts with tremendous height and hang time and had a distinct advantage over the veteran incumbent…for now. But it is all about consistency and whether he can do it all the time.
Allen is in the last year of his contract and beat out incumbent Zoltan Mesko who coincidentally was in the last year of his contract in 2013. Bojorquez, the left-footed punter not only have to continue his hot start punting but do the holding for Stephen Gostkowski’s extra points and field goals, something Allen has been very solid at.
Patterson Turns Heads Early in Camp: Minicamp was also the first time we’ve gotten to see Cordarrelle Patterson up close and his speed is something that just leaps out. He showcased that during the return part of the session as he eats up yardage…fast.
With the new kickoff rules in effect, the Patriots ST coaches Joe Judge and Bret Bielema are working on new packages to get Patterson free to get to that next level. He already has averaged over 30 yards per return with 5 TDs in his career and he smiled when asked about the new rules.
Cordarrelle Patterson after minicamp practice on knowing his role. (SBalestrieri photo)
“If they kick it to me, we might get more yards,” Patterson said. “That’s the game. Every year, they stop trying to kick it to me. It doesn’t matter.”
One area where he’s struggled is finding a consistent role on offense. He’s known as a gadget-type of player, running reverses, screens and such. But thus far the Patriots seem intent on trying a number of different things with him and he’s open to whatever the coaches decide.
“It’s challenging, but you have to know your role and embrace it” Patterson said. “Every offense. New England, Oakland, Minnesota, no matter where you are, it’s going to be a challenging offense. … There’s always something you can learn.”
“I mean, my film don’t lie,” Patterson said. “I can do whatever I put my mind to. That’s something I’ve been blessed with from the man above since I was born.”
Asked about the difficulties in learning the Patriots playbook he said,“I feel like I know the playbook more than I did yesterday,” Patterson said. “Each day, I’m trying to improve to get better. Let all three quarterbacks out there trust me so I am in the right place where I need to be every time.”
Many had Patterson as a bubble player or as a cut going into the season. Forget that. He’s a lock, for his STs ability alone, and if he can work his way into the Patriots offense for just 10-15 snaps a game? That is a win-win for the Patriots.
Three Up and Three Down For the Pats Minicamp: With the Patriots finished up until training camp begins in late July, we compiled a quick list of who helped themselves during the spring and who didn’t. After three pretty intense days (albeit without pads) of practice, the team looks in pretty good shape. Besides the usual stars (Brady, Gronkowski, Edelman, Stephon Gilmore) who all looked very good to outstanding during minicamp, we’ll focus on some of the lesser-known players for this segment.
Jacob Hollister: The second-year tight end added some muscle and still looks like he can threaten the seams against just about anyone on the field. He was already a pretty athletic tight end, but now he seems even more so.
Hollister was not only giving the second team guys fits but consistently got open against the likes of Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, and Pat Chung. That was most impressive. If his newfound muscle translates into improved play in the blocking game, then he’s way ahead of the pack to be the #2 tight end on the depth chart.
Training camp and preseason will be interesting to watch. Once the pads come on, if Hollister can still get open from the jams at the line, then he’ll be a key player to watch in the offense. He had an outstanding spring…now he needs to have a better summer.
J.C. Jackson: The UDFA rookie out of Maryland had the potential to be a top-tier CB and prospect but had off-field issues in college that had him dropped from Florida. But he’s turned his life around and he certainly turned some heads this week.
The Patriots liked what they’ve seen with the rookie and gave him plenty of reps with the first team unit. While Bill Belichick pooh-poohs first or second team designations at this time of year, Jackson was out there often times facing the top WRs in the Patriots offense. And didn’t look at lost out there.
We wrote about him six weeks ago and it seems that he’s in a good spot to secure a roster spot heading into training camp. He’ll have to beat out CBs Keion Crossen and Cyrus Jones for a CB slot. He had a very good head start on things while the other two were relegated to the lower practice fields working back from injuries.
J.C. Jackson was impressive in his first minicamp. (SBalestrieri photo)
Sony Michel: The Patriots have very high expectations from the first round draft pick and it is easy to see what they like. Michel has good size, is quick to the hole in the running game and is a smooth runner who looks really good in the passing game with very good hands.
The coaches are working on him with his route-running and ensuring he’s precise in that manner and they’re ensuring his work on STs is up to par, he drew the ire of the coaches when he whiffed on a block during a kickoff return by Patterson.
With an albeit limited look this spring, he looks dynamic in the Patriots offense. He and Rex Burkhead have the inside edge as being the two starters …right now.
Sony Michel looks to be a nice weapon in the Patriots offense. (SBalestrieri photo)
Three Down: Malcolm Mitchell: After missing all of 2017 with lingering knee issues, those appear to be chronic. Expectations were also high for Mitchell who had a very solid 2016 rookie season.
Mitchell missed all of the minicamp and most of the earlier OTAs although during Thursday’s minicamp session he was spotted on the lower field working out with the training staff with some of the other hurt players.
With a very crowded field at WR, it isn’t going to be easy for Mitchell to make the team unless he’s a healthy go for nearly all of the training camp this summer. Ditto for 6th round WR Braxton Berrios. He suffered an injury at the NFL Combine and is slowly working his way back.
Eric Rowe: Rowe wasn’t sharp at any of the sessions this week and was beaten on occasion by every WR on the roster as the week wore on. During the Wednesday session, we watched Edelman get separation on him for a long gain, but he regularly does that to everyone he goes against.
But as the week wore on, Rowe was losing reps to the rookie Jackson with the starting unit. Hardly the spring Rowe was looking forward to. We’ll see once the pads come on if that helps his coverage as he can jam more at the line.
Jason McCourty: The McCourty twins didn’t see the field much this week, in one of the more puzzling moves. Jason was barely on the field during team activities. He spent most of it as a spectator just watching from the sidelines.
We don’t believe it to be injury related as he didn’t go down to the lower fields to work with the training staff but stayed with the team on the upper field but as an observer. This will be an area to watch once camp begins.
It is really hard to judge any of the linemen, offensive or defensive during minicamp since the players don’t wear pads. Those big guys plus the big running backs, (Mike Gillislee, Jeremy Hill, and Ralph Webb) plus blocking tight ends Dwayne Allen and Troy Niklas will get closer looks then.
Day 2 of the Patriots minicamp is in the books and the pace was quick with the team moving from different drills at a good clip. We got the chance to go today to see the 2018 team firsthand for the first time on the field.
While the players are practicing without pads, one must take things with a grain of salt, however, this is as close as we’ll get to actual football until training camp begins. Most people describe minicamp and the OTAs as “passing camps” as the teams spend a lot of time working on their timing in the passing game, today’s session was no different.
Here are our observations from camp today:
Here’s a name to circle and remember…. Corey Bojorquez. The UDFA rookie punter from New Mexico has a big leg. He was right down in front of us and was consistently hitting 45-55 yard punts with incredible height and hang time. Training camp is going to be an interesting battle between him and veteran Ryan Allen. The rookie looked really good today.
The tight ends seemed to have a really good day in the passing camp. Rob Gronkowski was as animated as in the regular season. With limited to no contact, it was no contest as Gronk dominated whenever he was on the field.
He looked fit and fast and was moving very well. He ran an out pattern and Tom Brady’s pass was low. Gronk had to dive to pick it up. Afterward, he came up to one knee and was animatedly signaling first down. Later he smoked Jordan Richards on a deep ball and did the Gronk high step into the end zone. Troy Niklas is a much bigger target in the passing game than I thought previously. He looked good in positional drills but I thought disappeared a bit in 7-7s and full team drills..Something to watch.
Speaking of looking like himself, Julian Edelman was very sharp today. He looks like the Julian Edelman we’re accustomed to. I watched him closely when he cut to the left and right seeing if there was any semblance of difference and there was none. That’s a big hurdle passed. Contact will be next.
Jacob Hollister had a nice day, he was consistently making things happen down the seam and had a beautiful catch over Duron Harmon where they were both fighting for position on the ball. He had another nice catch on a deep cross down the middle.
Will Tye made a nice grab on perhaps the best ball thrown by Brian Hoyer on the day. Hoyer displayed nice touch and lofted it just over the hands of Pat Chung and Tye was able to bring it down.
Tom Brady got a bit animated after hooking up on a deep fly to James White down the right sideline. The team attempted those often and Rex Burkhead had a very good day catching the ball out of the backfield.
Seeing him up close for the first time, Cordarrelle Patterson is really fast. Like really, really fast. If he gets a crack in the return game, he’s gone. He eats up yardage really fast.
Patterson, it seems is going to be given every opportunity to be more than a “gadget player” in the Patriots offense. I expected to see him run some slants and bubble screens and he didn’t. He was running some deep outs, deep slants and being used to stretch the top of the defense.
He spoke with the assembled media after the session and he’s totally bought in to the Patriots way of doing things. He must have said several times that a player, “has to know his role” and “strive to get better in all facets of his game.” He was asked if he does everything fast, even going to the bathroom. Patterson laughed and said, that is one time he likes to go really slow. Everyone cracked up.
Stephon Gilmore had a really strong day; everyone he covered he smothered in blanket coverage. The QBs were staying away from him. Brady tested the waters once on a deep post to Hogan and Gilmore at the last moment reached in and broke it up.
Wide receiver is going to be a really interesting position to watch. With Kenny Britt and Malcolm Mitchell out today and Braxton Berrios limited, Riley McCarron was looking pretty good. The 2nd year PS player was getting plenty of looks in the passing game and was getting second-team reps at both kick and punt returner.
Chris Hogan had a good day and was running routes and getting open all over the field.
Jordan Richards got burned a few times but then made an interception on a deep Hoyer pass where he overthrew McCarron deep down the field. Richards moved over and easily picked it off.
Sony Michel looks like he will fit in seamlessly into the passing game with the offense. He looks smooth with good hands coming out of the backfield. But the rookie drew the ire of running back coach Ivan Fears after he whiffed on a block during kickoff return drills.
Harvey Langi spoke with the media after the session and talked about good it felt to be back on the field. He spoke about the transition for both he and his wife after their terrible accident last fall after the couple was rear-ended at a stop light.
Former Arkansas coach Bret Bielema continues to work with the coaching staff on Special Teams along with Joe Judge.