Tag Archives: 2018 Patriots offseason

Patriots – Giants Preseason Finale, What to Watch For

Steve Balestrieri
August 30, 2018 at 7:00 am ET

After all of the draft preparation, OTAs, mini-camps, training camps and three preseason games, it all comes down to the final preseason game for the fringe players on the rosters for both the New England Patriots and the New York Giants. Most of the players who will see action tonight won’t make either team. And many will be playing in the final game of their NFL careers.

For many others, they’ll be trying to create as much good tape as they can as a demo for the 31 other teams in the league to garner a practice squad invitation and a chance to further their NFL dreams.

The starters, especially the quarterbacks, Tom Brady and Eli Manning will not see the field and watch from the sidelines until the games are for real beginning next week. In last year’s finale, also against the Giants, the Patriots used 38 players.

Other than the long snapper Joe Cardona, punter Ryan Allen, and kicker Stephen Gostkowski, who had no competition in camp, only seven of those players made the 53-man roster. Only one of the fifteen players on defense in last season’s finale against the Giants made the roster, DE Geneo Grissom.

However, for those few players that are trending up as the preseason winds down, this final audition can make a big difference. Bill Belichick spoke about that earlier this week.

“We evaluate everything, but if there’s a rising trend, that carries a lot of weight,” Belichick said on Tuesday. “So, this is the last opportunity. If guys that have been improving the last couple weeks can add onto that, it will absolutely help them. It could help them a lot.”

The game will be broadcast locally on WBZ-TV in Boston with Bob Socci, doing the play-by-play, Scott Zolak handling the color commentary and Rob Ninkovich and Steve Burton handling the sideline reporter duties. Andy Hart and Paul Perillo from PFW will be live in the studio offering instant analysis as well.

So from a New England perspective, here’s what to watch for when the Giants and Patriots meet again to end the preseason.

Who’s Starting on Offense, Defense: There will be plenty of decisions to be made at the bottom end of the roster. Most of these players will be left out of the final roster cuts but a few may be looking to get at least practice squad consideration. Among them are:

RB Ralph Webb – Webb was a dark horse candidate to make the squad given the depth that the team had at the position when training camp began. But Webb worked hard and in his limited snaps in practice played well. He had a very impressive debut against the Redskins in the first preseason game. Since then, he’s been nearly invisible. It could mean that the team will likely try to hide him on the practice squad.

The Patriots added RBs Kenneth Farrow and Khalfani Muhammad this week. Look for them to get a lot of work in the game as an audition for other teams. Webb? Not so much tonight.

RB Mike Gillislee – The veteran back who was a starter at the beginning of 2017 is likely gone. Jeremy Hill has (in our opinion) clearly outplayed him and is a bigger factor in the passing game, something the Patriots value highly in their backs.

He still has a shot at making the roster if the injuries to Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead are deemed long-term, although both returned, albeit limited, to practice this week. He’s auditioning for another team.

QB Danny Etling – The Patriots late-round draft choice is another player who hasn’t seen much of the field since the opener. Has he shown enough development in practice to warrant a practice squad spot? The feeling here is yes. He may go wire to wire tonight at QB, with a chance to show what he can do.

WR Devin Lucien – Lucien has made the rounds in the last year. He was with the Patriots in camp and then bounced around with several team’s practice squad a year ago before making his way back to New England this summer.

He’ll probably be the most targeted receiver in tonight’s game, but his chances of cracking the 53-man roster are pretty low.

On defense, there are plenty of decisions that likely have to be made and many of the players still in competition for roster spots may get a final look. Among them are:

DB Jason McCourty –  The move to safety was an intriguing one, was it a good or bad sign? Opinions seem to be mixed on that subject. I think if we see a lot of him on the field it will not be a good sign for the veteran to make the team.

DE Trent Harris – “Toolbox Trent” from Miami has had a difficult time getting thru the deep group of edge players to get significant snaps this summer. But when he’s been on the field, he’s been productive. He’s someone who may get snapped up by another team after the cutdowns are made.

LB Christian Sam – The “other” linebacker taken in the draft is athletic but hasn’t had nearly the impact that fellow rookie Ja’Whaun Bentley has had this summer. He’ll be looking for a performance that will convince the coaches that he’s worth developing long-term and may end up on the practice squad.

DE Keionta Davis – The first-year player has turned some heads with his play this summer. He’s far from a finished product but certainly has shown potential. The feeling here is he’s close to making the 53-man roster, so he may be one of those players who the coaches want a final look at.

Crowded secondary – The Patriots have a few difficult decisions to make in the secondary. Both Jonathan and Cyrus Jones have returned to full duty and Jonathan, I believe is a lock to make the roster. Cyrus however, is a different story.

With the uncertainty in the return game, his special teams’ versatility may be the difference in him getting a roster spot.

The team also has rookies J.C. Jackson, Keion Crossen and practice squad player Ryan Lewis in the mix. All of these players have a legitimate shot at making the roster and tonight’s game may be the difference in who stays and who goes.

Corey Bojorquez – The UDFA rookie punter hasn’t seen the field in one preseason game yet. Bill Belichick and ST’s coach Joe Judge kind of danced around the subject of “Bojo” but the feeling is that they don’t want any tape on him to risk losing him to another team.

New England Patriots News 8-26, Getting Back on Track

Steve Balestrieri
August 26, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, Here is your Sunday Patriots news 8-26, & AFC East Notes.

No AFC East Notes this week as we’ve been putting the finishing touches on our 53-man Roster Projection after the last two preseason games. Check that out tomorrow on PatsFans.com

Quick Hitters:  

Things that Make you go hmm: Alex Guerrero, after all of the hoopla surrounding him, Tom Brady, Bill Belichick all offseason, was on the team plane heading to Carolina. Guerrero won’t be on the sidelines during the game but will travel with and treat the players (Brady, Gronkowski, Edelman) that utilize his skills prior to the games.

Bill Belichick didn’t let the preseason game go without a teaching point. With the team being outplayed by a wide margin and down by multiple scores, several of the young players went overboard celebrating a stopped two-point conversion. Belichick lit into them and no doubt pointed out what the score was, it is no time to celebrate, one will remember the Derrick Mason bit with the Ravens several years ago.

Belichick’s assessment after the game left no doubt that the team has a long way to go. “The Panthers obviously did a good job,” Belichick said. “Coach Rivera, his staff, their team played well in all three phases of the game and outplayed us across the board for four quarters. So we’ve got a lot of work to do. There really wasn’t any part of the game that was very competitive. So we’ll just have to go back to work and see if we can find a way to do a few things better than we did them tonight. That’s really about all there is to say.”

The offensive and defensive lines were pretty much dominated by the units of the Panthers of Friday night. After last week’s performance against Philadelphia, that has to be a major disappointment for the coaching staff.

Eric Decker didn’t do much to justify a roster spot with another poor performance on Friday night in Charlotte. Targeted five times, he caught just two passes for 12 yards and didn’t play a snap with Tom Brady and the starting unit. His best hope to stick is that Julian Edelman’s suspension gives him a reprieve for a couple of weeks to get it sorted out. Even with depleted depth at WR, his chances of sticking at this point have to be getting slimmer each day.

Mike Gillislee likewise isn’t looking like he’s going to stick to the 53-man roster. Jeremy Hill looks quicker and more decisive in getting to the hole and his inability to be a factor in the passing game hurts his chances. Hill seems (at least from here) to have clearly won the battle for the bigger back duties. Like Decker, his chances of sticking now appear to center around uncertainty. With both Rex Burkhead and Sony Michel hurt, he may make the roster out of default. Burkhead looks to be much closer to return at this point and if Michel gets put on IR, then he too may work his way on the roster.

Red Zone Defense was one of the few bright spots on what was a pretty dismal first half for the Patriots overall. The Panthers marched down the field three times and while the defense didn’t play well, they did stiffen up in the red area and hold Carolina to just three field goals.

Stephon Gilmore had a nice pass breakup in the end zone after the initial ten-minute opening drive, forcing the Panthers to settle for three.

Keionta Davis played over Derek Rivers in the first half and saw a considerable amount of snaps with the first unit. It is a positive sign for the 1st year player that the coaches want to see what he can do against the top opposition. The staff obviously likes what they see in him.

Jordan Richards appears locked again on the 53-man roster, the much-maligned safety played on all four special teams units with the starters in the first half.  His main competition, Eddie Pleasant, played zero snaps with the starters.

Only one player hasn’t appeared in any of the three preseason games, rookie punter Corey Bojorquez has yet to make an appearance this summer. The strong-legged punter from New Mexico now has zero chance of unseating veteran Ryan Allen.

Jason McCourty will be a curious decision for the coaching staff at cut down time. The veteran corner was placed at safety and was very late getting over on Panthers’ touchdown pass in the second half. But then made a great play on the next red zone sequence, reading the play and shooting into the backfield to hit the runner for a loss. Playing a variety of positions may help his case with the coaching staff.

Wide Receiver Position Still in Flux:

We mentioned the struggles continuing with Eric Decker, with just two weeks remaining before the season opener, things are still unsettled there. Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett and Cordarrelle Patterson are locks, that is only three for the first month of the season. It leaves plenty to be done in a short amount of time.

Dorsett helped his own cause in a nice game Friday night, catching all four passes thrown his way for 36 yards. Included in that was a key fourth down pass to keep the chains moving, a sign of trust from Brady that was encouraging.

Patterson played nearly the entire game which left many scratching their heads, but the belief here is that he is still working his way into the offense and the coaches just want to see the different ways they can possibly utilize his talents.

It looks right now like Riley McCarron may earn at least an early roster spot. He was on the field early last night and has punt return ability. He still catches the ball with his body too much but he got the opportunity over Decker in four WR sets in the first half. But his two drops late, didn’t help his chances.

Braxton Berrios is hurt and hasn’t played, a rookie isn’t going to make the team that way. Devin Lucien is a hard worker but appears as a very long shot to make the team at this point. Despite this, the passing game should be fine, especially after Edelman returns. With Rob Gronkowski and Jacob Hollister at tight end, James White, Burkhead and Michel out of the backfield, there are plenty of targets for Brady to throw to. But some added depth would be on the coaches to-do list when the cut downs begin elsewhere around the league.

Bentley Continues Strong Preseason:

Rookie linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley has been having a very solid summer. That continued on Friday night in Carolina. Although Elandon Roberts got the start, Bentley played a significant amount of snaps with the first unit in the first half and accounted for himself in another positive performance.

In the second half, with the backups, Bentley was calling the signals and acting like the leader of the defense, something that shouldn’t be lost on the coaches. Bentley has continually been improving his game since Day 1 of camp and should be in line to see significant snaps once the regular season begins.

Despite Roberts getting the start on Friday, we’d put Bentley on equal or better footing than the veteran and it shouldn’t be long before the big Purdue linebacker is getting the start on this defense.

Cyrus Jones Returns:

Less than a year from his ACL surgery, Patriots third-year cornerback Cyrus Jones returned to the playing field getting some work in with the secondary as well as in the return game.

That in itself was a very positive sign for the Alabama alum and he looked fast with some sharp cuts in the return game. His first kickoff return was his best a 27-yarder where he showed good vision and cut-back ability before it was wiped out by a penalty.

Jones has been the forgotten man after a nightmarish rookie season and his sophomore year wiped out by an ACL injury in the final preseason game. His speed and change of direction ability seem back to where they were and he fielded all of his attempts cleanly. His status for next week will bear watching.

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 – Panthers Preseason Week 3, What to Watch For

Steve Balestrieri
August 23, 2018 at 7:30 am ET

The Patriots and Panthers meet in the preseason Week 3 matchup and a very important one in more than one aspect this week. This is the final tuneup for the starting units for both teams, what has normally been deemed a dress rehearsal for the regular season. The starters will mostly sit next week as the players on the bubble will get one more chance to show what they have before the final cut downs to the 53-man roster begin.

Last season, Cam Newton and the Panthers shredded the Patriots in Foxboro and Newton afterward didn’t even consider New England a playoff team, calling their game against the Eagles, “the first playoff team we’ve faced.” If this were a regular season game, that would get a bit of play with Bill Belichick and the coaches but this won’t be the case. However, he’ll be sure to remind them of what the Panthers did to them that day.

So, from a Patriots perspective, here are the things to watch for this week as the Pats try to prepare themselves for the regular season.

Newton Presents First Test Against a Mobile QB: The Patriots are going to face a mobile quarterback for the first time this summer and will be facing one against DeShaun Watson and the Texans to start the season. With no joint practices, the Patriots defense has had to face only Tom Brady and Brian Hoyer, for the most part, this summer, other than their two preseason tilts, neither against a mobile QB.

In the game last year, won by Carolina on an FG by Graham Gano as time ran out, Newton sliced and diced the Patriots defense, going 22-29 for 316 yards with three TDs and one Interception. He also ran eight times for 44 yards and a touchdown. The designed runs and QB draws the Panthers ran last year will be a big focus of the defense this week. The Pats were sliced and diced on those last year, as well as the defensive backfield breakdowns where Carolina hit big play after big play.

Newton should play well into the second half of this one and this will be a big test for the young defenders and prepare them for Watson, although he may not taking off and running as much, at least early in the season after tearing his ACL last season.

With this first matchup in mind…

Carolina TEs, RBs Against the NE LBs in Space: This is a very big test for the linebackers this week who looked suspect against the Redskins but much better against the Eagles a week ago. With Newton’s legs, he will stress the second level of the defense as he is a threat to take off and run at any time. But he also has great targets in the passing game at the tight end position with Greg Olsen and RB Christian McCaffrey.

Both are a tough assignment in any scenario, McCaffrey caught 80 passes out of the backfield in 2017 and Olsen who missed nine games due to injury in 2017 is a huge target for Newton and will be looking to set the tone for the season with a strong game this week.

The Panthers looked to upgrade their backfield this spring and brought in former Broncos RB C.J. Anderson who is a dual threat to run or catch a pass out of the backfield. He had 28 catches a year ago.

This week’s test will be a big barometer for the Pats LBs, considered a weak spot a year ago. Dont’a Hightower should see the field extensively in the first half, but we also expect to see what rookie LB Ja’Whaun Bentley can do against this talented group. Kyle Van Noy and Marquis Flowers should also see plenty of snaps against Newton.

Time For Decker, and Dorsett to Show Up: Time is running short for Eric Decker and Phillip Dorsett if they want to make the 53-man roster. Kenny Britt had a very impressive spring until, in the last minicamp drill, hurt his hamstring. It was deemed at the time minor. He’s been invisible ever since and hasn’t practiced all summer. He was released on Wednesday.  

Decker was signed after Jordan Matthews hurt his hamstring and was released. To say that he hasn’t stood out is an understatement. He’s yet to catch a pass in two preseason games and has shown a tendency for drops, both in practice and in the game. Both of these players could use at least a couple of receptions to show up on the scoresheet to give the coaches some confidence heading into September.  

Decker was signed to a very team-friendly contract and his only guaranteed cash was his $75,000 signing bonus. There is no dead money involved with him. He can be cut loose with no salary cap hit if the coaches decide to release him.

The other missing WR has been Phillip Dorsett. He was regularly one of the best receivers on the field during the early days of training camp. He’s cooled way off since then and you never hear his name called. He’s been virtually invisible in the preseason as well.

Carolina’s defense looks to be very solid in the front seven but there are questions for the unit in the secondary. They’ll be looking to solidify things back there while the Patriots and Brady are looking to find out who’s going to be ready to go Week 1.

These two guys have to build some chemistry with QB Tom Brady heading into the regular season. Neither of them are filling anyone with confidence that they’re ready to do so, once the games are for real. Friday night is a big game for both and the clock is ticking.

Patriots Running Game vs Panthers Defense: The New England running game has looked good thus far this preseason with Jeremy Hill and James White leading the way. Rookie Ralph Webb, and veterans Mike Gillislee and Brandon Bolden have also been productive in spurts thus far this summer.

However, Sony Michel, the Pats first-round draft pick has been absent since August 1 when he left practice early after injuring his knee. Later, it was reported that he had fluid drained from it and he’d be out “about 10 days”. We really don’t expect to see Michel until the regular season. Rex Burkhead has been out with what has been termed a slight tear in his knee. He returned to practice Sunday and has been limited in practice since then. It seems doubtful that he’ll play on Friday.

Missing two of their key pieces at the running back position really limits the offense, because we’ve yet to see what they can do with all of their weapons present. The Panthers run defense was stout last year allowing only about 80 yards per game which was 11th best in the NFL last year.

I’d look for Hill and White to get the majority of the early work with Gillislee and Webb, both fighting for roster spots to go all out when they’re in the game. Carolina’s front seven, led by Luke Kuechly is very stout and will be a good barometer for the ground game this week. They were mostly solid last week but did give up a few big runs.

Young Players Get a Big Game to Step Up: The bottom end of the 53-man roster is still wide open for the Patriots and there are still plenty of roster spots that are far from settled. For some of the younger players, playing the Panthers in a dress rehearsal is a huge opportunity to show what they can do.

On offense, the aforementioned Webb at running back is a long-shot to make the roster. However, if Michel or Burkhead isn’t ready to start the season, that may open the door a crack for him to work his way into a roster spot  Wide receivers Braxton Berrios and Riley McCarron are definitely on the bubble right now. Neither has shown much in the passing game while both have punt return capabilities, they haven’t stood out as a positive there either. Berrios has been banged up and is now back at practice and this will be a big game for both to showcase their talents.

On defense, Bentley has already solidified a roster spot. Now he’s playing to earn reps with the starting unit. But some other young players have plenty to play for. Keionta Davis, the productive edge rusher from Chattanooga who missed all of his rookie season with a bulging disc in his neck, has shown up and fighting for a roster spot. He’s still on the outside looking in, but he and Vincent Valentine are looking to turn some heads.  

In the secondary, Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe and Duke Dawson, by virtue of his draft status are locked for the roster. Veterans Jonathan Jones, and Cyrus Jones have just returned to practice after off-season surgeries cut their 2017 short. They’re fighting it out with newcomer Jason McCourty and rookies J.C. Jackson, Keion Crossen as well as Ryan Lewis, Jomal Wiltz and Ryan Lewis. Those eight are probably fighting it out for three slots. It will be intriguing to watch.

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

Patriots Ground Game Provides Comeback in 26-17 Win Over Washington

Steve Balestrieri
August 10, 2018 at 7:07 am ET

After the offense looked lost until the final minute and a half of the first half and trailing 17-0, the Patriots offense finally got it going. After Brian Hoyer and Devin Lucien got the air attack going to kick a field goal just before the half, in the second half we saw what the coaches had been having the team practice for most of training camp thus far.

Jeremy Hill and UDFA rookie Ralph Webb keyed a Patriots ground game that pounded the ball relentlessly against the Redskins front seven. There was nothing fancy about it, they just lined up in a two-tight end set and drove the ball down their throat.

With Hoyer under center, the Pats took the second half kick off and ate up over 10 minutes of the clock on an 18-play drive before Hill pushed it in from the one-yard line to make it 17-10. Webb added a pair of touchdowns and two 2-pt conversions as the Pats scored 26 unanswered points to come away with the preseason win.

With Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Rex Burkhead, Sony Michel not playing in the first preseason tilt, Brian Hoyer started and played into the fourth quarter. He finished with 16 completions in 23 passes for 144 yards. Danny Etling came on in the fourth quarter.

The Patriots defense looked shaky in the first half and Washington and Colt McCoy were gashing them time and again as they were moving seemingly at will. McCoy finished 13-18 for 189 yards with two TDs and 259 yards of offense against a group of ostensibly the Patriots starters.

McCoy found a mismatch with RB Byron Marshall on LB Kyle Van Noy and they converted a third and seven for a 25-yard touchdown that had all of New England having flashbacks to the 2017 season and the Super Bowl.

The timing of the New England offense was really off in the first couple of drives. But give Washington credit. They provided really solid coverage early in the game. Hoyer on several occasions had time to throw but nowhere to throw to.

Hoyer finally got them going late in the half and connected with Lucien to move into Redskins territory where Stephen Gostkowski booted a 52-yard field goal just before the half to get the Pats on the board.

In the second half, it was the running game with Hill and Webb and a chance to see some of the backup defensive players show what they can do. UDFA DE “Tool Box” Trent Harris showed some nice moves getting a tackle for a loss in the backfield and a strip sack. Geneo Grissom alertly picked up the ball and was racing for what appeared to be a touchdown. CB Ryan Lewis began celebrating early and allowed a Redskin player to tackle Grissom at the one-yard line rather than block for him. The film room won’t be kind to Lewis today.

It is their first preseason game so I wouldn’t put too much stock in this one. But here are the Ups and Downs for Week 1.

Players Up:

Jeremy Hill – Hill showed nice burst, vision, and cut-back ability against the grain. Something an established veteran should. He made a nice catch and run in the passing game to convert a third and long. He finished with 51 yards on 11 carries and was impressive in his first outing. Player of the game for New England

Ralph Webb – The rookie running back didn’t do a thing to hurt his chances of sticking with his performance. He ran hard and decisively and made a nice grab of a low throw from Hoyer on the 2-pt try. Two TDs and a pair of 2-pt conversions…good debut.

Devin Lucien – With the Patriots offense looking offensive in the first half, he got them going just before halftime with a couple of catches to put them in position to get some points on the board. Finished with 71 yards on five catches and was easily the best WR on the field for the Pats.

Derek Rivers – Just a year removed from an ACL tear, he started the game at left DE and was moving well. A very encouraging sign. Showed good strength on the edge.

Trent Harris/Keionta Davis – The young players who are longshots to make the roster were playing against the third stringers in the second half, but the important thing was, they were productive. In their first NFL action, each flashed a bit, which is something to build on.

Run blocking OL – The Patriots offensive line in the second half had to have Dante Scarnecchia smiling. They lined up showing run and did just that. When you have a 41-year old QB, a pounding ground game doesn’t hurt.

Ja’Whaun Bentley – The rookie MLB flashed some potential inside to be a guy who could contribute this season. And if he can play, it would free up Dont’a Hightower to move around.

Players Down:

Stephon Gilmore – After an outstanding spring/summer, Gilmore wasn’t the same person on the field Thursday night. He was targeted three times and gave up all three completions.

Mike Gillislee – Slow to the hole, tentative and not productive. In a fight to keep his roster spot with Hill, Gillislee took a big step back tonight. Was stuffed on a couple of 3rd and short runs (sounds familiar?) although he converted a pair of 4th down runs right after.

Riley McCarron – With Etling in the game in the 4th quarter, he felt the pressure from the outside and stepped up in the pocket and delivered a bullet down the seam to McCarron. He let the ball come into his body and the pass bounced off his pads incomplete. Those are drive killers.

Phillip Dorsett – Was the opposite of what we’ve seen thru two weeks of training camp. Was a total non-factor and ran a sloppy route on third down. Not a good start.

Jordan Richards – Out of position (how many times do we say this?) and missed tackles. Was later knocked out with an injury.

Patriots 53-man Roster Projection 2.0, Training Camp Opens

Steve Balestrieri
August 6, 2018 at 7:30 am ET

With the first week-plus of the Patriots 2018 training camp in the books, it is time to do another look at our New England Patriots 53-man roster projection. So far, without the benefit of an actual game situation of a preseason game, we’ll have to go with what we’ve seen in the practice sessions thus far.

This week’s first tilt against the Redskins ought to be very interesting of how things begin to play out, especially with some players being hurt already.

Offense –
Quarterbacks: (2)
Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer

In our first roster projection, we had them going with three QBs and Etling making the 53 man roster. In this one, he’s going to the practice squad as they’ll need that slot elsewhere. Is there a chance someone swoops in and takes him away? Not really at this point. So he should be safe

Sony Michel is currently on the shelf with a knee injury. (SBalestrieri photo)


Running backs: (6)

Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, James White, Jeremy Hill, Brandon Bolden, James Develin

Sony Michel suffered a knee injury on Wednesday that will have him out for a while after having his knee drained of fluid. It is a big setback for his development. But Burkhead, White, and Hill seem poised to be fine for now. Hill could lose his spot if Michel is given a clean bill of health early.  Bolden makes the cut this time for his STs ability. Develin is the fullback and isn’t going anywhere.

Tight ends: (3)
Rob Gronkowski, Jacob Hollister, Dwayne Allen

No changes here. Hollister is having a very solid summer and is working his way into Tom Brady’s “Circle of Trust” which is a very good sign. No one is stepping up to challenge Allen for his blocking TE prowess and he’s looking better in the passing game. Gronkowski looks to be on a pitch count and has been very sharp.

Patterson is working his way into the offense. (SBalestrieri photo)


Wide Receivers: (6)
Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, Eric Decker, Cordarrelle Patterson, Kenny Britt, Matthew Slater, (Suspended: Julian Edelman)

Edelman’s suspension is a big loss for the first month but may prove to be a blessing. He was complaining this week, that he’s not feeling in shape yet, or as he termed it, “football shape.” Jordan Matthews’ injury was also a blow and then the team signed Decker, who isn’t a lock yet and has only practiced once. But he’ll have to show he fits in. For now, he’s in.

Dorsett is having a good summer (Ditto for Patterson),  and his move inside is looking like a smart one. Britt is just getting back on the field but has plenty of time to get caught up now. Both Riley McCarron and Braxton Berrios go to the practice squad but are just a step away from active roster because of punt return duties, however, if anyone else gets hurt or stumbles, they could move up. Slater who is a WR in name only makes the cut too.

Offensive line: (8)
Trent Brown, Isaiah Wynn, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, Joe Thuney, Brian Schwenke, LaAdrian Waddle

The state of the offensive line is still a bit in flux, but Trent Brown is looking like the left tackle for now. Isaiah Wynn has struggled with his consistency right now, not surprising for a rookie but he’s going to challenge for either the LT or LG position soon. I could see Cole Croston or Ted Karras easily slipping up here as well.

Defense
Defensive line: (8)
Trey Flowers, Malcom Brown, Danny Shelton, Adrian Clayborn, Deatrich Wise, Lawrence Guy, Vincent Valentine, Derek Rivers

No changes here, Adam Butler could easily step into a spot here. Wise has looked outstanding thus far. Flowers and Clayborn have been ok, but are probably pacing themselves. Rivers is coming on again and will be really intriguing to watch. I like what I’ve seen from 2nd-year edge player Keionta Davis in very limited views. He may rate a practice squad role.

Dont’a Hightower’s return is a big key for the Pats defense. (SBalestrieri photo)

Linebacker: (7)

Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Harvey Langi, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Marquis Flowers, Elandon Roberts, Brandon King

Christian Sam has been invisible so far and goes to the practice squad. Both Roberts and Bentley make the roster and each has had good moments. Having a healthy Hightower back this fall is a must. Van Noy and Flowers are having good camps thus far.  King is an ST ace but practices with the LBs.

Cornerback: (6)
Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, Eric Rowe, Duke Dawson, J.C. Jackson, Ryan Lewis (PUP: Jonathan Jones, Cyrus Jones)

Gilmore is having a tremendous offseason. McCourty and Rowe and rounding into form. Dawson has looked mostly good in the slot. But Jackson, who shined in minicamp continues solid play. Lewis, the 2nd year corner from the practice squad, has the size and has played very well this summer. His rise bumps 7th rounder Crossen off the roster as the rookie has had trouble staying on the field with back spasms.

Cyrus Jones could still be the team’s punt returner but he hasn’t been seen on the field yet, still recovering from ACL surgery and begins the year (with Jonathan Jones) on PUP.

Stephon Gilmore, seen here breaking up a pass to Hogan has had a terrific offseason. (SBalestrieri photo)

Safety: (4)
Devin McCourty, Pat Chung, Duron Harmon, Nate Ebner

Once again I’m leaving Jordan Richards off the roster but Bill will prove me wrong again. He actually has made some good plays so far in camp but has also been roasted fairly regularly. Eddie Pleasant could easily change the coaches’ minds about his status and has been okay. The position is solid with the top three…but I am still stinging over the Titans signing Kenny Vaccaro this week.

Specialists: (3)
Kicker Stephen Gostkowski, punter Ryan Allen, long-snapper Joe Cardona

Allen now noses just above Corey Bojorquez, who has the much stronger leg but still struggles with his consistency. But this battle will go back and forth right until the final roster cuts. Gostkowski and Cardona have no competition in camp and are locks.

 

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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.

What Does the Eric Decker Signing Mean for the Patriots?

Steve Balestrieri
August 3, 2018 at 7:30 am ET

With the surprising news that Jordan Matthews’ injury was severe enough for the Patriots to place him on IR, the Patriots lost out on one of the key free agent signings they made this spring. The team ended up releasing Matthews, I’m thinking, at his request as he probably believes that he’ll be ready to go a lot sooner this season.

But back to the situation at hand, with Matthews gone, the Patriots saw this coming and worked Decker out before he was signed on Thursday. After nearly missing all of 2016 with the Jets, Decker signed with Tennessee and put decent but career low numbers since becoming an every-down player. He caught 54 passes for 563 yards (career-low 10.4 yards per reception) with just one touchdown. But he remains reliable, his 65 percent catch percentage was the second highest of his career.

Can he revert to something akin to his last two years with the Broncos or the first two with the Jets or has he permanently lost a step. Part of his stats could stem from the struggles of the Titans offense. Last season they were just 28th in passing attempts and 23rd in yardage. Catching passes from Tom Brady should be more akin to better stats than Marcus Mariota.

The biggest asset Decker brings to the Patriots is versatility. He can play outside as the Z- receiver or in the slot. As a slot guy, he’s much like Matthews, a bigger (6’3, 215 pounds) who relies on his size to box out smaller defenders. So how will the Patriots use Decker?

Without seeing him run yet in practice, I see Decker as the Z-wide receiver, not the X. He will be used to attack the middle depth routes and work the perimeter and the middle of the field. They can move him around to create matchups in the slot where he logged about 50 percent of the Titans’ snaps last year when the opportunity avails itself. Phillip Dorsett has been seeing a lot of reps in the slot this summer and he’s been one for the more impressive players on offense.

Right now, the wide receiver depth has Chris Hogan, Dorsett, Cordarrelle Patterson, Decker along with rookies Braxton Berrios and Darren Andrews with 2nd-year player Riley McCarron, and Paul Turner. Veteran Matthew Slater is a wide receiver in name only, he’s a special teamer. Veterans Kenny Britt and Matthew Mitchell are not practicing yet and are considered day to day. Julian Edelman will return to the team Week 5 when his suspension is finished.

Decker isn’t a lock to even make the team but I believe he’ll have enough in the tank to beat out one of the younger slot guys (Berrios/McCarron) but time will tell. He had just a tad of experience with Josh McDaniels in Denver during his rookie season.

While the loss of Matthews is a blow, we thought he’d be an integral member of the offense in 2018, it certainly isn’t a death knell. Why? The Patriots still have plenty of talent at the wide receiver position. They like Britt and he’s only a year removed from a 1000-yard season. Dorsett appears primed to shake off his first season blues and be a bigger contributor. Patterson is the wild card, he’s never been able to produce like he was thought to be when he arrived in the NFL. But the Patriots are intent on finding him a role.

And this team has so many other talented pass catchers at other positions. Rob Gronkowski is the gold standard among NFL tight ends. Jacob Hollister seems poised to make a big jump in production from Year 1 to Year 2 and has caught more passes from Brady this summer than anyone. And the production from Rex Burkhead, James White and Sony Michel at running back shouldn’t have anyone pushing the panic button.

So while I’d temper expectations a bit for Eric Decker right now, I think he’ll be fine here. He’s at the age where his one-year deal comes at a good time for him. He’ll be very visible with the Patriots nationally and could parlay this into one more good payday. I expect him to be a model teammate (unlike the other guy fans were clamoring for) and be “all-in” immediately.

While I have never been a big fan of Decker’s, the timing may be just right for him to come to New England and carve out a nice role for himself. His versatility will be a key facet in him being able to pick up the offense on the fly. Without being here all spring, and the first week of training camp, he’s well behind the rest of the receivers. However, it isn’t anything that can’t be overcome with hard work.

Orchestrating all of this is Tom Brady, who has taken the Patriots deep in the playoffs and to a Super Bowl with far less talent than he has right now with this offense. The loss of Matthews and Edelman (for a month) is a blow but this team will be just fine. They always start off a bit slow anyway. No reason to panic and sound the alarm. In one aspect of this, they were fortunate that the injury happened in the first week of training camp rather than Week 9 or 10.

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Patriots Defense Dominates Again: Sunday Practice Observations

Steve Balestrieri
July 29, 2018 at 3:13 pm ET

Sunday’s Patriots practice session began shortly after 9 a.m. with sunny and clear conditions. The heat and humidity were dialed back a bit this morning and so was the tempo and intensity of practice.

The majority of the fully padded session was conducted in a slower, methodical manner and the hitting was not noteworthy until the end of practice when the Patriots defense absolutely stoned the offense four straight times in goalline.

The same players on PUP were missing, of note today was the absence of both RB Mike Gillislee and CB Keion Crossen, who reportedly has been having back spasms. The offense took another hit when Jordan Matthews tweaked a hamstring and left practice. Trey Flowers returned today after leaving the session yesterday with a towel on his forehead. Flowers had a big bandage in the middle of his forehead so he obviously had a pretty good gash there.

Play of the Day: At the end of practice, the defense stopped the offense three straight times from the goal line. On the fourth attempt, running back Brandon Bolden had nowhere to go and tried to bounce it outside. Elandon Roberts flew over and popped Bolden good, knocking him backward for a loss. It was a superb way to end the practice.

Play of the Day ***Honorable Mention***: Cordarrelle Patterson made a fantastic catch with Eric Rowe draped all over him.  Patterson ran a 12-yard pattern where Brady hit him with a back shoulder throw. Rowe read it perfectly and was in perfect position to knock it away. Patterson used his long reach to get his hands on the ball and as he fell to the ground was able to haul it in.

Patterson continues his strong summer. SBalestrieri photo)

He’s been good thru the first four days of camp. And plays like this and the others he’s doing during the first few days of camp will get him the trust of the quarterback. And building that trust is key for the new guys.

Other observations include:

  • Stephon Gilmore continues his outstanding offseason. During individual drills, he knocked away a pair of passes. He was ignored during the 11-on-11 drills. Not one pass came his way.
  • Nicholas Grigsby was rocking a hooded sweatshirt under his uniform today at practice. While it wasn’t as hot as some days last week, it wasn’t sweatshirt weather. He must like to sweat.
  • Jordan Matthews gave a nice effort, going horizontal and diving for a deep pass from Tom Brady and coming up just short of the ball.
  • Will Tye ran a nice corner route in the end zone and Brady showed a deft touch and lobbed it right in the bucket for a quick score. Tye had a nice day.
  • The Patriots were working on the screen and running games a lot in the session today. During 11-on-11 Brady only attempted seven passes, completing five.
  • Brady attempted two deep passes in a row, the first to Chris Hogan, where the WR was open but Jomal Wiltz got there a second before the ball arrived and the second, Julian Edelman ran a deep cross and was wide open down the right side of the field.
  • Riley McCarron was wide open on a deep pattern but Brian Hoyer was late in seeing it and then getting the ball to him. Recognizing it, Jordan Richards raced over and knocked it away.
  • Hogan got shaken up after running a quick slant and getting into a big collision with Rowe but he shook it off and remained out there on the field.
  • Sony Michel caught a screen pass from Brady and took it to the house. The crowd roared. Something tells me we haven’t seen the last of yet, however.
  • Jacob Hollister continues to impress, he ran a seam route into the end zone where he caught a nice back shoulder throw from Hoyer.
  • Loved what I saw in goalline from Danny Shelton. He’s a load in the middle. It allows the linebackers to fill and make plays. He and Lawrence Guy were really strong, especially late.
  • During a special teams segment, Brady threw on the side with Rob Gronkowski, James White, Hogan, Dorsett, and Hollister. Things that make you go hmm.
  • Tiquan Underwood was present for the third straight day of practice. You can’t mistake that hair anywhere.

After the session, Sony Michel, Hollister and Deatrich Wise were among the players over speaking with the media. We’ll have more on Wise later…check back on PatsFans.com.

***NOTE*** Tomorrow’s practice session will be a night practice in Gillette Stadium open to Patriots season ticket holders and Foxboro residents.

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, 7-29, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, Here is your Sunday’s Patriots news 7-29, & AFC East Notes. Training camp is in full swing and we hope to see many of you down at Foxboro in the next few days.

Quick Hitters:
With the start of training camp, one would have hoped that all of that drama hooey would have been left behind…yet on Day 1, that was not to be. It didn’t end there on Day 3 Tom Brady was asked about another player’s suspension and the connection between him, Alex Guerrero and that suspended player (Julian Edelman). Brady got incensed and cut the interview off, stating, ”This is ridiculous.”  And it is. Enough already with the constant search for a conspiracy behind every event.

It is time to talk football for the 2018 season.

Deatrich Wise had the hit of the summer so far when early in the session on Saturday, he slipped the block of rookie Isaiah Wynn and decleated RB Jeremy Hill, who flew backward and ended up flat on his back.

Bret Bielema works with Vincent Valentine and Deatrich Wise at practice. (SBalestrieri photo)

Troy Niklas was released after just two days of training camp, which is a bit of a surprise. The big tight end was in competition to get one of the backup slots. In his stead, the team signed WR Paul Turner who spent four games with the Eagles in 2016. In other moves this week, the team signed safety Eddie Pleasant, guard Nate Theaker and WR Devin Lucien while releasing safety David Jones.

Rob Gronkowski said he never considered holding out for a new contract this spring and has looked excellent in the early going. He and Brady were putting on a clinic in early red zone work in camp.

Sony Michel looks like he’s a veteran thus far in camp. He’s getting reps with Brady and the starters (yes we know Belichick hates using that term in camp). The Patriots put a premium on pass protection, and Michel will have to excel in that area. But thus far, he’s way ahead of schedule and it seems the Patriots are fully invested in him.

One area of concern thus far is ball security. Michel has put the ball on the ground in every day (first three) of training camp. That will have to change.

Dwayne Allen was a factor in the passing game during the practice sessions on Friday. The big blocking tight end was an afterthought in the passing game in 2017 and his performance in the heat was a welcome addition. Coincidentally after a strong spring and good first day, second-year tight end Jacob Hollister had a pair of drops on Friday.

Cordarrelle Patterson had a nice day on Friday, and while there is a long way to go, it looks like the team is trying to find a comfort level for the big, fast WR in the offense. And his one-handed TD grab over Stephon Gilmore on a pass from Tom Brady was the kind of good news that we hope to see continue. And he did with another nice catch from #12 on Saturday.

Cordarrelle Patterson has been a pleasant surprise so far. (SBalestrieri photo)

Jason McCourty also had a nice day on Friday, looking very competitive and breaking up some passes in the end zone. He continued his strong play on Saturday.

Dorsett Making the Most of His Opportunity:

The Patriots traded backup QB Jacoby Brissett to the Colts early last season for WR Phillip Dorsett and while he didn’t make a big dent in the passing game a year ago, that looks like it will change drastically in 2017. Dorsett was targeted just 18 times last year and caught just 12 but with a year in the system, he is looking like he’s ready for a much bigger piece of the pie.

With Julian Edelman out for the first four weeks of the season due to a PED suspension, there will be plenty of opportunities for a player to step up at the inside wide receiver. And Dorsett, this summer is getting in a lot of work inside. Both he and veteran Jordan Matthews are working in the slot as well as 2nd-year player Riley McCarron and rookie Brandon Berrios.

Dorsett besides possessing great straight-line speed, has excellent quickness, running a 6.70 3-Cone-Drill back when he went thru the NFL Combine. This will be an intriguing area to watch this summer.

Hightower Cites DC (in waiting) Flores With Easing the Learning Curve:

With the departure of Matt Patricia, this winter to take over the head coaching duties of the Detroit Lions, Brian Flores’ responsibilities have been expanded to become the signal caller for the Patriots defense. While he’s the Defensive Coordinator in everything but name, he has a lot more on his plate.

But for the veteran signal caller on the field, Dont’a Hightower, Flores is already receiving high marks for the job he’s doing teaching the Patriots system to the younger players, especially rookie linebacker Christian Sam.

“Coach is definitely different. I think guys are learning a lot faster, a lot easier. A lot of young guys are stepping up and able to pick up for some of the older guys. It definitely works in our favor.”
“Maybe it’s just the way that he teaches it,” Hightower said. “The way that the guys kind of absorb it a little bit different. We meet a little different, talk about things a little different. It’s just small quirky things that you can’t necessarily put a finger on, but it’s obvious whenever you can kind of have first-year guys come in or even guys who maybe got signed that can pick things up.”

Devin McCourty, however, pooh-poohed that assertion saying that nothing has changed under the Patriots defense and everything and everyone is on the same page.

During the spring, Hightower got the fan base a bit more excited by saying that under Flores, the Patriots defense will be much more aggressive this year. One area that the team struggled in during the 2017 season was the ability to consistently get to the QB.

With Trey Flowers, Deatrich Wise and 2nd-year player Adam Butler returning, the team signed Adrian Clayborn from the Falcons during free agency and now they’ll get a healthy return of Derek Rivers, their top draft pick from last year who missed the entire season with an ACL injury.

While the mantra of the Bill Belichick defensive philosophy has always been to play conservatively and keep the play in front of them, there are some ways that this team could still stick within the Belichick system and play a bit faster. I’d look for some 3-4 looks to go along with their 4-3 and 4-2-5 packages and see them getting a bit more game plan specific in 2018.  

Hightower’s Return, an Automatic Boost for the Defense:
Speaking of the defense, there was one person who we said all season was irreplaceable for the unit and that was Hightower. His loss was felt all last season and while everyone wants to talk about how the absence of Malcolm Butler hurt in the Super Bowl loss to the Eagles, a much bigger factor was not having Hightower in there against Philly.

And nothing has changed, on the Patriots defense, he’s the one player they can least afford to lose. After Patricia was forced to move him to the edge exclusively early last year, he back at the middle linebacker position, where he’s most effective. And the trickle-down effect begins. That allows Kyle Van Noy to move where he’s more effective on the outside. He took on much of Hightower’s role a year ago and they’re very different players.

Was it coincidence on Friday that Van Noy was having a big day breaking up passes? In the first two days of camp, he’s broken up four, as the Patriots are freer to move him around a bit more to take advantage of his athleticism.

It will be interesting to see how the position changes this season. Hightower and Harvey Langi return from IR, they added Ja’Whaun Bentley and Sam thru the draft and still have returning veterans Marquis Flowers, Elandon Roberts and Nicholas Grigsby in the mix. On paper at least, it is still the thinnest on the team and the one guy that they can still ill-afford to lose is Hightower.

Danny Etling’s Work on His Mechanics is Plain to See:

Etling, who was a 7th round draft choice (219th overall) this spring had mechanics issues to work thru. Watching him perform in the SEC the past two seasons, he frequently threw the ball flat-footed, rarely if ever setting his feet and relied on his arm strength to get the ball out, causing his passes to sail and diminished his velocity.

That won’t get it done in the NFL and give the rookie credit, he has put the extra work in. We read that he’s working with QB/MLB throwing guru Tom House. His mechanics look much improved and thus far ( it is still very early) he’s looked much better than what was expected of him.

Does this mean, he’ll push Hoyer for the backup job to Brady? Hardly. He has a long, long way to go and will have to learn all the nuances of the Patriots playbook and grasp the offense. But to see this first…albeit baby step is encouraging. Add in that he’s staying on the field for nearly 30 minutes after practice to work on his footwork, mechanics, and timing and route concepts, is another nice sign.

For a guy fighting for a roster spot, he is doing all the right things so far. Now we’ll see if he can keep progressing as camp unfolds and the preseason moves on.

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills QB Battle A Key Area to Watch in Training Camp:
The Buffalo Bills have three QBs vying for reps in training camp and into the preseason this summer and it’ll bear watching this summer. Top draft choice Josh Allen signed his contract and is in camp, the team traded for A.J. McCarron with the Bengals and have veteran Nathan Peterman who was thrown into a disastrous first start last year but bounced back nicely after that.

McCarron led Alabama to a national title but this is his first opportunity to start. He’ll try to hold off Peterman and the rookie Allen. Allen is their QB of the future, but Bills coach Sean McDermott has made it clear, that the team won’t push their future QB into game action before he’s ready. That’s why they brought in McCarron.

When it comes to arm strength, Allen is head and shoulders above the other two, but as we’ve seen, playing QB in the NFL is much more than that or else Jeff George would be in the Hall of Fame.

Dolphins’ QB Tannehill Trying to Get Chemistry With Amendola:
The Miami Dolphins are trying to work Danny Amendola in the slot where he was so valuable for the Patriots the past few years. And QB Ryan Tannehill, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL is working hard to build his chemistry with the tough but diminutive wide receiver.

But not everyone is happy with the work being turned in by the Dolphins QB. Dolphins beat writer, Omar Kelly who is known for his over the top tweets was writing that Tannehill is leading Amendola into a huge collision.

“Every single media member has CRINGED watching some of the passes Tannehill throws Amendola. If the action were live Reshad Jones and T.J. McDonald would break his ribs, or give him a concussion. Ball placement is a very important trait a QB needs, ask Dustin Keller.”

Kelly added, “And for the record, I predict Reshad Jones and T.J. McDonald will be head hunters (sic) in this defense….if the refs allow it. Both make great jumps on plays and bring the sledge hammer. Problem is, the NFL doesn’t want those hits in the game anymore. We’ll see.”

Jets’ QB Darnold Unsigned At the Outset of Camp:
The New York Jets have started their 2018 training camp and have done so without the services of QB Sam Darnold. The talented USC signal caller was the #3 overall pick in this spring’s NFL Draft and his contract was thought to be an after-thought. But that hasn’t worked out and his early absence may hurt his chances to start in his rookie season.

Darnold is expected to push long-time veteran Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater for the starting job this summer, but this unexpected snafu is throwing a monkey wrench into the works. According to ESPN’s Rich Cimini, the two sides have sharp differences on certain clauses and language in what will be a four-year, $30.2 million deal, fully guaranteed.

Coach Todd Bowles however, isn’t worried. “It’s just another day in the office. There’s no animosity. It’s just the business part. When he comes in, we’ll get him caught up to speed and get him ready to go, Bowles said.

“I’m not frustrated,” Bowles added. “I’m a coach.” He said that as soon as the two sides agree on the deal, that the Jets would quickly bring Darnold up to speed.

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 7-22, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
July 22, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, Here is your Sunday’s Patriots news 7-22, & AFC East Notes. This is our last Sunday before football is back among us until 2019. It seems like a long time has passed since the Super Bowl. Three days and a wake up until football returns.

Quick Hitters:
Tom Brady has made it clear that he’ll not only be on time but report early for training camp. Brady is expected to arrive at Foxboro today for the beginning of the 2018 season. Brady missed all of the voluntary spring workouts but did attend minicamp.

Darrelle Revis has now voted himself off the island. The veteran cornerback has decided to call it a career and retire. The future Hall of Famer was on another plane for many years with the Jets and came to the Patriots for the Super Bowl season of 2014. He returned to the Jets before ending up with the Chiefs last year. He was one of the very best to ever play cornerback. And his countdown to Canton has already begun.

Patriots owner Robert Kraft was among those who went to pay respects to the family of fallen Weymouth police officer Michael Chesna at his wake this week. Chesna was killed in the line of duty by a man who then killed an old woman. He leaves behind a wife and two young children.

Smart move. Julian Edelman announced that he will not take his appeal of his PED suspension to Federal Court. As we all saw in the Tom Brady case, the league and the commissioner have the ability to hand out punishment as they see fit.

Andrew Jelks is stepping away from football and announced his retirement on Friday. He hasn’t played since his sophomore year at college and has had ACL injuries. The Patriots took a flyer on him in 2017 and it appears that his knees will not allow him to play again. Sadly we’ll never get to see what they valued so highly.

Things you just shake your head at… just a few hours after the Miami Dolphins announced that they would take discipline on players protesting the national anthem, the NFL and NFLPA issue a joint statement regarding the new rules. Sadly, they’ll never get it.

You know it is summer time when Jimmy Garoppolo’s date with a porn star is top news.  

Veterans Who Will Be Fighting For Their Jobs in Camp:

Every summer, we always take stock of the 90-man roster and try to make sense of the comings and goings without the benefit of sitting in the coach’s offices. We report on what we see on the field, but what they see may differ radically.

But, the one constant in the Patriots roster thru the Belichick years is change, the roster is always changing and evolving and this summer will be no different. Several veterans are looking at fighting for their jobs this summer. They include:

Dwayne Allen: Allen was hoped to replace the blocking and production in the passing game of Martellus Bennett. And he only was successful in the former, not the latter. Allen was a complete afterthought in the passing game, something the Patriots really needed considering Rob Gronkowski has had injury problems in his career.

Allen this summer will have to show much more in the passing game. With the seeming emergence of Jacob Hollister in the passing game this summer, the 2nd year TE seems poised for a much bigger role and if he shows he’s better in the blocking game this year, Allen’s days in a Patriots uniform may be numbered, despite Belichick being in his corner.

His salary for 2018 is $5 million dollars which is very steep for a blocking tight end. Consider this, the Patriots balked at paying Danny Amendola $6 million and think about all of the clutch plays he produced in his time in New England.

If Gronkowski gets a new deal during training camp, Allen’s salary cap situation will bear even closer watching. The Patriots brought in blocking tight ends Troy Niklas from the Cardinals, Ryan Izzo in the NFL Draft (7th Round) and small school Shane Wimann as a UDFA. Those three will bear close watching as well.

Elandon Roberts: Roberts, the undersized but downhill thumper at linebacker was thrust into a starting role for much of 2017. And a lot of it didn’t go well. Several times Roberts burst into the wrong hole in the running game or was caught up in the wash at the second level.

While he’s showed effectiveness as a blitzer up the A-gaps, he’s also a liability in coverage. The Patriots drafted two linebackers this spring, one of them, Ja’Whaun Bentley is a bigger more physical presence on the inside. His drafting doesn’t show great confidence in Roberts’ ability to get the job done.

The battle in the middle will also include Harvey Langi and Dont’a Hightower as well and bear close watching this summer.

Mike Gillislee: Gillislee was signed last year and promptly scored three TDs against KC in the blowout loss in the opener. But his star quickly lost its shine as he was a healthy scratch more often than not down the later stretches of the season.

Gillislee ran fairly well when he was in the game, however, his lack of production in the passing game became an issue. Because when he was in the game, the Patriots offense became what they hated to be: predictable.

Dion Lewis took over Gillislee’s role and the offense took off. This year, with Lewis gone, the team used a 1st round draft pick for Sony Michel and he has the versatility in the running and passing games to easily become a threat like Lewis was.

Gillislee and Jeremy Hill, who is looking to resurrect his career in New England are probably fighting for one roster spot. Hill, in the past, has been more productive in the passing game while with the Bengals. This battle will bear watching, as another player in the backfield.

Brandon Bolden: Every summer it seems Brandon Bolden is put on the list of those to get cut…even here. But then every fall, he’s on the roster, giving very valuable reps as a Special Teams standout, a core member of all four units.

That’s because Bolden has a hard-nosed, goes all out when he’s on the field, is an outstanding teammate who is very popular in the locker and has the versatility to do many things.

As a runner and pass receiver, he’s a .260 hitter, not bad, not great but will fill in as the fourth option when his number is called. He has Tom Brady’s trust as a blocker, runner, and receiver.

So yes, he’s in a roster battle to keep his job. It is nothing new for him. He’ll approach this as he does every summer. And with the new rules on special teams, guys like Bolden, Matthew Slater, and Cordarrelle Patterson may be even more valuable. Don’t be surprised if he’s around for one more season. And we’ll revisit it again next summer.

Jordan Richards: Everyone’s favorite whipping boy, Richards finds himself annually on this list as well. Like Bolden, he’s a standout special teams player, but unlike the running back when he’s asked to play defense, he’s a disaster.

Every summer in preseason we watch him take poor angles in the secondary and turn small plays into big ones. That carries over into the regular season. Replay the end of the Pittsburgh game and Richards takes a brutal angle which turned a 3-yard Roethlisberger slant into nearly a 79-yard touchdown (tackled at the 10). That carried over into the Super Bowl where when he was on the field, Nick Foles and the Eagles went right after him.

So, will this summer be any different? I liked what I saw from David Jones last year but he was cut, brought back to the practice squad for the entire season. He was the Patriots practice player of the week six times in 2017, so perhaps the bigger and more athletic (also a punt returner) will push Richards.

Cyrus Jones: Jones is in a make or break season for the Patriots. After a disastrous rookie campaign in 2016 after being the team’s top draft pick, he was lost to a torn ACL and meniscus in the preseason of 2017.

He looked better (after forgetting how to cleanly field a punt in 2016) before his injury last summer and in the secondary as well. We’ll see how that transpires this summer. With Julian Edelman’s looming suspension, the punt returner slot is an instant roster spot ripe for the taking. There may be several punt returners vying for the position this summer and should be a lot of fun to watch.

But he wasn’t all the way back this spring, and that may force him to begin camp on the PUP. This will bear watching.

James Harrison Talks Belichick/Tomlin and Tom Brady:

Harrison who spent just a brief amount of time in New England after being released by Pittsburgh before Week 17, got the Western Pennsylvania population riled up this week when asked about the differences between Bill Belichick and Mike Tomlin on the Fox show “Undisputed”.

Asked if Belichick is a better coach “by far”, he answered, “to me, yes.” He stressed Belichick’s discipline and the coaching staff which takes a page out of his book.

“The big thing with Belichick is he’s very regimented,” Harrison said. “He’s disciplined, everyone is going to be on the same page, there’s not going to be anything as far as someone doing their own thing. And I think over there [in New England] their whole coaching staff is like that.”

Harrison then added the kicker, “Man, I’ve seen Tom Brady run into a meeting scared to be late. I don’t even know what happens if you’re late to a meeting over there.”

On the subject of Brady, Harrison told the hosts, he at first wanted to hate him but added that he was “the ultimate teammate and person.”

“Tom is a great QB — the best ever. I’ve never seen anyone with his study habits, his preparation. He’s filling up a whole notebook of notes with each game.”

Patriots Preseason Broadcast Team Changes:

The radio duo of Bob Socci and Scott Zolak who do the Patriots’ games on the flagship radio station of 98.5 are moving to the television broadcast booth for the four preseason games. Joining the popular duo as always is Steve Burton who does the sidelines reporting and interviews while Andy Hart and Paul Perillo will provide commentary again from in the studio. Former Patriot Rob Ninkovich joins the broadcast team as the veteran sideline reporter.

The radio duties will fall to Dan Roche who called the games for the past several years on television and former SB champion Matt Chatham who moves from the sidelines to the color position for the preseason.  

Training Camp 2018, Dates and Times:

The Patriots training camp sessions begin this coming week and as a reminder:

Practices are free of charge and will be open to the public. Entrances will open about one hour before practice begins.

The schedule as of right now (and subject to change) is as follows:

Thursday, July 26: Practice Time – 9:15 a.m.

Friday, July 27: Practice Time – 9:15 a.m.

Saturday, July 28: Practice Time – 9:15 a.m.

Sunday, July 29: Practice Time – 9:15 a.m.

Check in periodically on the Patriots website for any changes on the scheduling of practices and fan events.

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes: No AFC East Notes this week, we’ll be back with those next Sunday.

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 7-15, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
July 15, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, Here is your Sunday’s Patriots news 7-15, & AFC East Notes.

Quick Hitters:
Something you can file under either a slow news week or not very surprising news, Mark Wahlberg has placed “a hefty bet” on the Patriots winning the Super Bowl. The Boston-born and Pats diehard fan who played Vince Papale of the Eagles in a film has long been a good friend of Tom Brady. Oh and he placed a bet on the Eagles as well.

Tony Romo jumped into the Tom Brady – Bill Belichick ongoing discussion on how their relationship is, in his opinion just fine. “I just think when you work together for 15-20 years, whatever it is, I think that whenever you have the success that they have, people have to come up with stuff,” Romo said. “I’ve been upset with my coaches before, and then you come back and you’re fine.

Romo added, “I don’t really think that there’s a whole lot to it. I think they probably squabble just like any married couple for 20 years, and then they also love each other. So that’s my take there.”

Romo also made his early Super Bowl call of the Packers-Jaguars for this season.

Free Agents Still Out There That New England Can Target:

With training camp now right around the corner, the Patriots roster is right around 90 players but there are several guys still out there that may be able to help the team in 2018. The team has always targeted veterans that can step in contribute.

And these players would, in our opinion help out with some positions that could use the depth and while some were positions of need a year ago, others, while not a particular position of need per se, could benefit from the depth.

Kenny Vaccaro: The Patriots have three starting caliber safeties in Devin McCourty, Pat Chung, and Duron Harmon and frequently use all three on the field at the same time. Behind them is Jordan Richards and we’ve all seen what happens on defense when he plays a key role. With both McCourty and Chung starting to get up there in years, it may be time to bring in an eventual replacement in case of either a dropoff in play or injury.

Vaccaro is still just 27 and had a very solid 2017 until wrist and groin injuries landed him on IR. He made 60 tackles, had three Interceptions and broke up 12 more in 12 games. The former 2013 first round pick has had some issues staying on the field. The market for safeties didn’t play out the way he hoped it would and he’s still out there.

But Vaccaro is versatile and can be moved around, much like Bill Belichick likes to do with his safeties. Is a one-year flyer on a player of his caliber out of the question? Of course not and he’s a huge step up from Richards in the secondary.

NaVorro Bowman: Bowman is a 30-year old free agent middle linebacker who can help with the lack of depth inside. Is the team planning on moving Dont’a Hightower back inside after playing him on the edge a year ago? And given his injury history, it has been rare for him to play an entire season.

With Bowman returning to play strong for the Raiders in 2017 after being released by the 49ers last year, he still has plenty of gas left in the tank. The Raiders made him an offer during the spring but he’s still out there in free agency and hasn’t signed with anyone although rumors suggest that he’ll return to Oakland.

Bowman could be brought in on a relatively cheap short-term deal and with Elandon Roberts and rookie Ja’Whaun Bentley inside, Bowman would be an upgrade.

Connor Barwin: Barwin is a 31-year old edge rusher who has been remarkably durable over his career starting in 109 of 112 games for Houston, Philadelphia and Los Angeles (Rams). And while he’s still effective at rushing the quarterback and getting some offers, he has his sights set on goals other than money.

Barwin is in search of a team that is in contention for a Super Bowl and of course one that could use his skill set. Right now, he looks like he may be leaning towards a return to the Rams but as he’s still unsigned, he’s a player that could help the Pats.

We wrote about him in the spring, the Patriots lacked a consistent pass rusher to complement Trey Flowers in 2017. The team has brought in Adrian Clayborn and has high hopes for 2nd-year players Deatrich Wise and Derek Rivers. Rivers missed all of last season after tearing an ACL. Barwin is a savvy veteran who has always had good production getting after the passer and with the Patriots lack of depth and experience there, I still think it would be a good move to bring in a proven veteran edge rusher.

Robert Ayers: Another defensive end who is as good setting the edge as he is getting after the passer. Ayers will be 33 when the season rolls around and may be losing a step. He had just two sacks last season although he was providing some good pressure on the quarterback.

Ayers could be one of those one-year rentals who extends his career for one more season by coming in as part of the defensive end rotation and giving some good quality reps along with a veteran presence. With a chance to play for a winner in the twilight of his career could be a nice enticement where Belichick and Nick Caserio won’t have to break the bank for him.

Training Camp 2018, Who Needs to Step Up:

It doesn’t seem like football is right around the corner but a week from Thursday morning the Patriots will begin their 2018 training camp and then right around the corner the regular season will begin. So we’re looking at some players on the roster and thinking for the Patriots to make it back to the Super Bowl this season, these are the guys who’ll have to step up.

Adrian Clayborn: The Patriots are putting a lot of eggs in his basket and while they’re not an attacking style of defense where their edge rushers are pinning their ears back on every down, they still expect a lot from their edge players, especially from the veterans. And for Clayborn, a guy they brought in during FA, the pressure to produce will be there in 2018.

Clayborn, is thus far, doing all the right things. He’s always among the first to arrive on the field. He’s leading by example and playing hard during the spring workouts, which albeit are tougher for the big guys since there are no pads allowed.

Camp will be the beginning of a very interesting year for the veteran. A lot of eyes will be watching him all year and he’ll be expected to make a difference in the Patriots pass rush and overall defense.

Chris Hogan/Jordan Matthews: These two wide receivers will be especially looked to early in the season to provide the offense and QB Tom Brady with the confidence to replace the production of Danny Amendola, Brandin Cooks and Edelman (for the first four weeks) of 2018. Hogan has been a productive receiver for the Patriots and last year had some nagging injuries that cut into his season. But he’s healthy this summer and in a contract year should be primed for a good season.

I look for Hogan’s looks from Tom Brady to get a huge uptick this season, especially in the red zone where he was flourishing before his shoulder injury in 2017. Hogan isn’t a #1 WR but in the Patriots system, it is all about the matchups and Brady can move his WRs and TEs around to find them and Hogan should benefit from that big time in the first month of the season.

Matthews is a newcomer to the Patriots offense but expectations are already quite high for him (here too),  to not only to assimilate into the offense but be a key contributor as well. Matthews has the size that most slot receivers don’t have but has been a very productive receiver in several different schemes. This season, we’ll be watching him closely beginning on the 26th.

Derek Rivers: While he’ll only be part of the rotation and has yet to play an NFL game, the 2nd year edge rusher/linebacker already has high expectations following him. The team’s top draft choice of 2017, Rivers missed all of last year with a knee injury so expectations should be a bit tempered.

But much was expected from him a year ago and that hasn’t changed this season. In fact, there may be a bit more pressure on him to produce this fall. With the pass rush needing a boost in 2018, and the majority coming from Flowers and Clayborn, the next players in the rotation will be second-year players River and Deatrich Wise providing the QB pressure, setting the edge and occasionally dropping into the flat.

Rivers appeared healthy this spring and now will have to show even more once the pads come on. He started slowly last summer, but that was to be expected coming from a small school at Youngstown State. Things seemed to be just falling into place when he tore his ACL. Now with a year in the system, albeit not playing, he’s expected to provide the type of jump a typical second-year jump in play that Wise will be showing as well.

Trent Brown: Brown is a massive tackle who is listed at 6’8, 359 pounds but after seeing him this spring, he looks much larger. He’s one of the biggest players I’ve seen in the flesh that plays for the Patriots with a wingspan that rivaled Tommy Kelly. The Patriots picked him up from the 49ers this spring and that move got some raves from Von Miller who called him “the best right tackle in the NFL and one of the best tackles period.”

Brown will have big shoes to fill and will be tasked with protecting Tom Brady’s blindside. Brady has had Nate Solder and Matt Light during his career and now the job will fall to Brown. Not to put any undue pressure on him but ultimately he’ll have a lot to say about effective the Patriots passing game will be.

We’ll be watching him closely this summer as will everyone else as his every move will be dissected this summer. Welcome to Foxboro, Mr. Brown.

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills McCoy Accused by ex-Girlfriend of Being Behind Home Invasion, Beating:
The Buffalo Bills LeSean McCoy’s ex-girlfriend was the victim of a home invasion and a vicious beating at her home in Atlanta this week. And she’s pulling no punches of her own and claiming that McCoy was behind the entire thing. The local police redacted her name from reports, however, attorneys for Delicia Cordon, McCoy’s former girlfriend, have previously identified her as the victim of the home invasion.

“I’m telling you, I’m telling you, that guy is [redacted],” the caller said in the 911 audio. “He must have known the camera system. LeSean must have told him. There’s no camera in the front.”

The armed intruder beat Cordon in the face with a firearm in trying to remove her bracelets, of interest to police since they were among items McCoy has been trying to recover from her in addition to other jewelry.

McCoy has denied any wrongdoing in the case and has hired prominent Atlanta attorney Don Samuel who has not commented on the case publicly. It may turn out that McCoy does indeed have nothing to do with the home invasion, but regardless, after seeing Cordon’s face and hearing the accusations, it is a bad, bad look for McCoy, the Bills and the NFL. Stay tuned.

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.