Tag Archives: 2018 Patriots preseason

New England Patriots News, 9-02, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
September 2, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, Here is your Sunday Patriots news 9-02, & AFC East Notes.

It never fails that whenever the cut down to the 53-man roster occurs, some players who played significant snaps the year before finds themselves on the outside looking in. Eric Lee and Jordan Richards both played quite a bit in the Super Bowl and were cut on Saturday. That’s a good sign for the defense improving this year.

Of course, we are always reminded of the team’s and Bill Belichick misses in the earlier rounds of the draft. In essence, the Patriots are no worse nor better than everyone else with the ratio of hits to misses on the roster.

Of course, when speaking of Belichick, his misses don’t seem as glaring when one takes into consideration WHERE the team drafts every year.

Patriots Set Initial *52-Man Roster* After Cutdown:

The Patriots only kept 52 players on their initial roster cutdown on Saturday. We say initial because there will probably be plenty of changes in the next few days and also set the 10-man practice squad, with their initial group set to become official later today.

Why 52? Without knowing what is in the works, it would appear that a trade…or two is on the horizon and they are keeping a spot open once a deal is finished or a physical taken. We shall see. Right now, the team is very light at WR and along the OL. It should also be noted that Ryan Izzo, the rookie tight end is supposed to go on IR tomorrow which will open up another slot.

The Patriots obviously like what they have in Izzo who will be available to come off of IR during the season, but it appears they are looking at him with 2019 in mind. A minor surprise with Geneo Grissom making the roster. Grissom has always been a standout special teams player but has turned up his play defensively a notch. He had a pair of sacks in the Divisional Playoff win over Tennessee last year and has been fairly productive this summer.

And for the 15th year in a row, the Patriots will have an undrafted player make the initial 53-man roster as corner J.C. Jackson has made the team. Another surprise was 3rd-year cornerback/kick returner Cyrus Jones was cut. After a tough rookie season, the light seemed to have come on a bit last summer when he tore his ACL. After fighting to get back on the field, he once again seemed to get it figured out but it wasn’t enough.

Here is what the initial roster looks like, remember there are only 52 players.

Quarterbacks (2) –

Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer

Running Backs (5)

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

Wide Receiver (3)

Chris Hogan, Cordarrelle Patterson, Phillip Dorsett

Tight End (4)

Rob Gronkowski, Jacob Hollister, Dwayne Allen, Ryan Izzo

Offensive Line (7)

Trent Brown, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, LaAdrian Waddle, Ted Karras

Defensive End (6)

Trey Flowers, Adrian Clayborn, Derek Rivers, Deatrich Wise, Keionta Davis, Geneo Grissom

Defensive Tackle (4)

Danny Shelton, Lawrence Guy, Malcom Brown, Adam Butler

Linebacker (5)

Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Elandon Roberts, Nicholas Grigsby

Cornerback (6)

Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Jonathan Jones, Duke Dawson, Keion Crossen, J.C. Jackson

Safety (5)

Devin McCourty, Pat Chung, Duron Harmon, Nate Ebner, Jason McCourty

Special Teams (5)

Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen, Joe Cardona, Brandon King, Matthew Slater

Pepper Johnson Interview Reveals an End to Another Belichick Myth:

The Pepper Johnson interview with Deadspin provided some fascinating insight into the former Giant great and longtime Patriots assistant coach. Johnson spent 30 years as a player and coach in the NFL and served nearly all of it with Bill Belichick as a player and then later as a defensive line coach. He knows him as well as anyone. Which is why the interview was a fascinating look at not just Johnson but of Belichick.

One of the many myths that have surrounded Bill Belichick in his long and ridiculously successful stint with the Patriots is that Belichick surrounds himself with only his own people and there is a shortage of coaches who will have their say or disagree with the coach. We’ve always heard the oft-repeated phrase, “Bill doesn’t have anyone around him that will say no.”

Johnson sunk that myth right off when he spoke about the exact thing on other teams, he experienced that in both Buffalo and with the Jets but not in New England. Johnson related in the interview that Belichick relies heavily on his staff.

“I’ve had a lot of experience with winning. One of the things that I enjoyed so much when I first started coaching in New England was we had the roundtable, so to speak. It was more of a rectangle but we had the knights at the table,” he said.

“And everybody’s opinion was worthy. We knew at the end of the day whatever coach Belichick said was what we were going to do. But your voice was heard. Your voice was heard. Your opinions were taken [seriously], and it made you feel so good when either the next day or that week, or when you saw something that was your view was being used.”

This leadership principle is no news to anyone who ever served in the military, especially in the realm of Special Operations and can be directly traced to his roots at the Naval Academy. In Special Forces, everyone had a say in the plan, but once the commander made his choice, everyone had to be onboard with it 100 percent.

As we’ve seen in the Johnson interview, not all other coaches welcome that kind of input from their assistants. In Buffalo, Johnson’s input was not welcomed.

“When I first left New England and went to Buffalo, I was told to stay in my lane. Never heard that philosophy or statement or whatever before.”

“And I’m like ‘What does stay in your lane mean?’ ‘Ah, well, you’re going to learn it.’ Some things happen, and I learned it fast. One of the reasons why I bring up that is that this is something else that I felt like I was learning outside of that New England Patriot experience of how I started coaching. Okay. So stay in your lane. But it’s tough every time when I would ask someone about that statement, I couldn’t really get a clear answer.”

So when it came to Bill Belichick, the one thing that stood out to Johnson, was that Belichick allowed him to solve his own problems, he just gave him a mission and let him accomplish it as he saw fit.

“One of my attractions to him was he was the first coach that, granted, it was my first experience in the NFL, that didn’t try to tell me how to do something. He told me what he wanted done, and then he allowed me the freedom to get it done,” Johnson said. “However I had to get it done, and if I if I couldn’t find a way, then I would ask him—I was big enough I would ask him, and he would tell me.”

Once again it is a military maxim of leadership that Belichick is following. General George Patton once said, Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their ingenuity.”

Jordan Richards Trade a Small Surprise:

The Patriots trade of the much-maligned safety Jordan Richards bore unexpected fruit as the Atlanta Falcons traded a conditional 7th round draft pick for the special teamer who is expected to be the Falcons new personal protector for the punting unit.

Richards was a very good player on the Patriots special teams units, but really struggled whenever he was asked to play defense. His penchant for taking bad angles and missing tackles was the antithesis of his play on special teams. Part of the bile Pats fans had for him centered around that, last season, his play in the Pittsburgh game and in the Super Bowl, had the fan base howling.

Another part of the bad feelings against Richards was the round in which he was drafted. The Patriots liked him and took him in the second round. If he’d been a 5th or 6th round draft pick, there probably wouldn’t have been as much of the vitriol leveled at him.

Richards by all accounts is a great locker room guy and a nice guy at that. We’ve had the opportunity to see that first hand and maybe like another 2nd round safety that bombed in New England (Tavon Wilson), a change of scenery is all that is needed.

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Allen’s 5 Sacks Should Be  Warning for the Bills Not to Start the Rookie:

The Buffalo Bills invested heavily in the QB position in the draft this spring, picking up rookie Josh Allen. They gave him the start in their third preseason game, normally considered a “dress rehearsal” for the regular season opener. If the game against the Bengals was any indication, they should sit Allen for the foreseeable future until he’s quite ready to take on the starting QB duties.

Allen was sacked five times, and although he took the high road, and blamed himself for holding the ball too long, the Bills offensive line is a mess. The fact that all of the sacks of him occurred in the first half was telling of the state of that unit. Mercifully, Allen was removed because of the concussion protocol before he was seriously injured.

There is going to be a lot of pressure on the Bills to push Allen into the starting role, especially if they get off to a slow start. But after investing a lot of capital into finding what they hope is a franchise QB for the next decade, playing him behind the OL as it currently exists, risks shaking the young man’s confidence. They should start Nathan Peterman or McCarron.  

Dolphins Look To Change Culture, Identity in 2018:

The Miami Dolphins stumbled badly to a 6-10 season in 2017 after making the playoffs the year before. Now in Adam Gase’s third season, the Dolphins are coming in with a lot of new faces, veterans who they feel will set a different tone after cutting loose several veteran familiar faces this spring.

It will need to start on offense where Miami averaged just 17.6 points per game a year ago, which isn’t going to cut it in today’s NFL. QB Ryan Tannehill is back and healthy and he has several new weapons to use. Wide receivers Danny Amendola and Albert Wilson, as well as the ageless RB Frank Gore, will be looked to, to keep the chains moving and make big-time plays at crunch time in games.

Another area is the turnover margin where Miami was -14 or 29th in the league. Tannehill will have to really cut down on the picks thrown by Jay Cutler a year ago. But with the opener against an opponent who made the playoffs last season in the Titans, it will be a good test. A September 30th trip to Foxboro, where Julian Edelman will still be on suspension will also be a big measuring stick for the Fins.

Jets Trade Bridgewater, Darnold Will Start the Opener:

The New York Jets made big waves this week when they traded QB Teddy Bridgewater and a 6th round draft pick to the New Orleans Saints for a 3rd round draft in the 2019 NFL Draft. The Jets signed him this spring for $6 million, of which, they are on the hook for just his $1 million dollar bonus, the remaining $5 million will be paid by the Saints.

While the deal definitely worked out in the Jets favor, we appear to be in the minority here. I wouldn’t have moved Bridgewater this season at all. Darnold is a rookie and with a very questionable OL, he may struggle early in the process. The question of whether or not to start him right away, given that OL is now moot.

But while the Jets did indeed get the Saints’ 3rd rounder, if they had just let Bridgewater walk at the end of the year in free agency, they’d have gotten a 3rd rounder in compensation. But with a QB class that isn’t considered strong, his price may have been higher and he gives the Jets a much better chance to win now if he’s pressed into service.

For at least this season, he’ll back up Drew Brees in New Orleans, and then will be a free agent unless the Saints work out a new deal with him during the season. I wouldn’t have traded him this year, but we’ll see how it shakes out.

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.

Patriots Down Giants 17-12 in Preseason Finale, Quick Observations

Steve Balestrieri
August 31, 2018 at 7:06 am ET

The preseason is over, and the Patriots ended it in the Meadowlands as their backups downed the Giants’ backups 17-12 to finish off the preseason 3-1, not that it matters. The starters for both teams took a seat and let the backups get their playing time in, as many were putting together an audition tape for the 31 other teams in the league.

Rookie quarterback Danny Etling went wire to wire under center tonight, we’ll have more on him below, as both Tom Brady and Brian Hoyer got the night off. The team may have suffered one significant injury as OL Ulrick John who is considered one of the players definitely in the mix for a backup lineman’s spot on the 53-man roster, left with a foot injury and didn’t return. He was seen after the game in a walking boot.

Marquis Flowers and J.C. Jackson also left via injury during the game, but neither was considered serious. Flowers was evaluated for a concussion but did return to the game, while Jackson was treated for dehydration.

Bill Belichick was upbeat and smiling after the game in his post-game press conference and stated that the team only played about three dozen players tonight, similar to last season’s finale as well.

“Really proud of our team tonight. The guys played hard,” Belichick said. “Those guys really did a good job. It was a good warm night. I thought they showed up well. We’ll see on film but I think I learned a lot about these guys. I like the way they competed. We’ll see.

“It was a good competitive football game.”

So, now the coaches will go about the business of paring down the roster to the initial 53-man limit by Saturday at 4:00 p.m. and then announce a practice squad on Sunday by 1:00 p.m. We say initially because you can expect the bottom of the roster to be a fluid place for the first week or so of the regular season, right up to when the team plays the Houston Texans to begin the regular season.

So here is our quick observations from tonight’s game and how certain players may fare in the roster cutdown.

J.C. Jackson: The undrafted rookie from Maryland had a big night, intercepting two passes and defending three others. He showed very good ball skills on both picks, high pointing the ball and snagging both.

But he had his not-so-great moments as well. He totally whiffed on Amba Etta-Tawo’s 41-yard touchdown play and looked awful there. He was also beaten several times in the game as well. But his compete level is very high and he had the production you’re looking for in a game like this. Belichick said he had a long way to go, but they like his skills. He may have earned a roster spot, but at least a practice squad slot.

Cyrus Jones: Jones had a disappointing night, he didn’t flash much in the return game, not being able to make the first man miss and break tackles which is his specialty. He played significant snaps both on the edge and at slot corner and didn’t stand out. He could lose his spot if the team feels McCarron or Berrios can handle punt return duties.

Danny Etling: The rookie quarterback didn’t have a great night, his first half was particularly bad, but he played a little better in the second half and was seeing the field for really the first time for any sustained action. He had the highlight play of the preseason when he took a naked bootleg 86 yards for a touchdown with just under four minutes to go in the game. Belichick smiled and cracked, “When’s the last time a quarterback has run more than 85 yards for the New England Patriots,” he joked. “At least 20 years.”

Etling completed 18-32 passes for 157 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. He rushed for 113 yards on seven carries. He still struggles with accuracy and consistency, which isn’t a shock considering his limited snaps this summer. His footwork suffered while he was under pressure, but these are correctable.

He showed enough to warrant a practice squad slot and the team can see how much he can develop this season. He is more athletic than perhaps he was given credit for, throws a good tight spiral and has very good arm strength.

Mike Gillislee/Riley McCarron: Two players seemingly on the bubble before the game, didn’t play and are probably safe…for now on the roster. With the shortage of wide receivers on the roster, McCarron probably gets a spot initially on the 53-man roster. While fans on social media are clamoring for Braxton Berrios, he missed nearly as many practices as he attended this summer. And he didn’t stand out anymore so than McCarron either offensively or as a returner. But we’ll see.

Gillislee, we wrote on Monday, may get a reprieve if either or both Rex Burkhead and Sony Michel aren’t ready for the regular season. It appears that way after the Giants game. Speaking of backs…

Ralph Webb: The rookie from Vandy had another solid performance in the finale. He rushed 12 times for 41 yards and found the end zone again when Etling’s pass at the goal line was behind him and he made a nice catch, reaching behind himself and hauling it in. He definitely rates a practice squad look and we wrote here, that he may rate a higher ceiling than Gillislee at this point, but the coaches may opt to go with a veteran back early this season.

Derek Rivers/ Vincent Valentine: The pair of players who both missed all of 2017 played a significant amount of snaps, well into the second half but seemingly for different reasons. Valentine seems firmly on the bubble. The rotation of big men inside has him on the outside looking in right now, unless a trade of someone else is made this week. We wrote about that as well earlier on Monday.

Rivers doesn’t seem to be in danger of losing a roster spot, but after missing all of his rookie season due to injury, the team clearly wants him to get in as much action as possible. He should be a member of the edge rotation this fall.

Keionta Davis: The big, 6’4, 280-pound 1st-year player had a disappointing finale on Thursday night. It started off well when he showed good power and split a double team coming off the left edge and pressured Giants QB Kyle Lauletta and forced an incompletion.

However, he lost containment on an end around, crashing down inside and allowing the runner to get to the edge with speed and the result was a 19-yard gain. Going against the twos and threes, we expected Davis to flash more than he did. But he should still be in consideration for a practice squad spot.

Jason McCourty: The 10-year veteran started at safety and played the entire first half. When an injury occurred in the third quarter, he returned to the field before being replaced by Jordan Richards. That can’t be a good sign for him moving forward.

On the broadcast, it was said that the coaches may just want him to get as much work as possible at safety before the regular season begins. That is possible, but we’re putting him squarely on the bubble here.

Big time props have to go to WR K.J. Maye, and RBs Kenneth Farrow and Khalfani Muhammad. The three were signed to the team just this week and had very limited time to prepare and practice before playing the Giants. They all knew they had a snowball’s chance in hell of making the roster but all were intent on maximizing an opportunity to audition for a slot in the league. All acquitted themselves well.

Maye led all Patriots receivers with five catches for 71 yards. Farrow had five carries for 24 yards. Muhammad had four for 21 yards. Excellent work

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 53-Man Roster Projection 3.0, Tough Cuts Loom

Steve Balestrieri
August 27, 2018 at 7:30 am ET

With the first three preseason games in the books, it is time to take another look at pinning the Patriots 53-man roster. We’ve gotten to see everyone on the playing field with the exception of punter Corey Bojorquez in game action.

The team has one more game left at the Giants before the cut down takes place and the coaches have a lot of decisions to make on the bottom third of the roster. With some injuries, the team has already made some changes and rest assured, the 53-man roster on cut down day will no doubt look much different around mid-November.

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

No changes here, the team goes with two QBs and Danny Etling goes to the practice squad where he can learn and try to usurp Hoyer or someone else for the backup job in 2019.

Running backs: (6)

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

No changes here either, however with both Michel and Burkhead hurt, if either is deemed long-term and placed on IR, it will open the door for another back to make the roster. Most believe that to be Mike Gillislee, I believe it would be Ralph Webb who didn’t play last night and they’ll be looking to stash on the practice squad.

Hill looks good this summer, he got dinged up against the Panthers but after the game said he was good to go. This group of running backs should be heavily involved in the passing game this year with Burkhead, White and Michel all bringing very good ability there. The backs and the tight ends will make up for the lack of depth at WR.

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

Hollister is banged up now and missed the Carolina game. He’s projected to be a much bigger part of the offense this season. Allen was reportedly much more in tune with the passing game this year, but we’ve seen no evidence of that in the preseason. The blocking tight end Ryan Izzo is hurt but a candidate for the practice squad. I still find it amazing that Allen is going to still be paid $5 million this year, or half a million per each reception from last year.

Gronkowski is fine and was kept in bubble wrap all summer, but he’ll be a big part of the offense once the games are for real. With he and Hollister and the good options of the running backs in the passing game, we should see plenty of two back, two tight end sets this season, especially in the first month of the season.

Wide Receivers: (5)
Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, Cordarrelle Patterson, Riley McCarron, Matthew Slater, (Suspended: Julian Edelman)

There are really only four wide receivers on the roster for the first week of the season due to Edelman’s suspension and Slater being an STs ace only. That lack of depth is of a concern due to the threat of injury and Eric Decker’s inability to morph into the offense, where he’s struggled to pick things up and then abruptly retired on Sunday afternoon.

Riley McCarron is on mighty thin ice here, he may only survive a few weeks until Edelman returns from suspension.  Braxton Berrios is a practice squad candidate. McCarron I believe was going to get the nod over Decker anyway since he actually got in some work with top offensive unit against the Panthers.

WIth the three releases, earlier this summer of Malcolm Mitchell, Jordan Matthews and Kenny Britt, this unit’s depth took a big hit and they may opt to scan the waiver wire or make a trade here and now. Malcom Brown is trade bait IMO.  And they may opt to move him and others in a package. Mike Reiss mentioned Detroit and Golden Tate… Makes more sense than Dez Whatshisname. 

Offensive line: (8)
Trent Brown, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, Joe Thuney, LaAdrian Waddle, Ted Karras, Matt Tobin

The state of the offensive line took a hit when their top draft choice, tackle Isaiah Wynn tore his Achilles against the Eagles. Marcus Cannon has been out for a while now too. But once LaAdrian Waddle picked up that 15-yard penalty against Carolina, the coaches inserted Tobin at right tackle. He gets the nod over Cole Croston and Ulrick John right now although it is far from a certainty. Karras is tough and can play center or guard.

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

Keionta Davis is the tough cut here, the team obviously likes what they see in him, he got extended plays with the starters in Carolina. He’ll be a practice squad candidate. Another tough cut is Vincent Valentine who came back from an injury last year and has looked okay out there at times this summer.

The addition of Danny Shelton should really help solidify the run defense in the middle. He and Lawrence Guy look from here to be the starting duo. Malcom Brown on the final year of his rookie contract is relegated to the top backup and possible trade bait, which if they make a move before September 1, could be good news for Valentine.

Linebacker: (7)

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

Christian Sam is a practice squad candidate, Grigsby and King make it on Special Teams ability. Bentley has had a terrific summer and is primed to earn significant snaps on defense this year. Harvey Langi’s injury cuts short his comeback bid. They may opt to place him on IR or try to sneak him on the practice squad.

Having Hightower back and healthy is a big boost for the defense as a whole. It also allows Van Noy to move back to play to his own strengths. Flowers is a speedy linebacker who can help against mobile QBs and is another strong STs player.

Cornerback: (6)
Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Duke Dawson, Jonathan Jones, Cyrus Jones, J.C. Jackson

Gilmore, Rowe, and Dawson are locked. The two Joneses are now healthy and Jonathan will take over the duties in the slot with Dawson backing him up. Tough cuts loom with rookies Keion Crossen, Ryan Lewis, and Jason McCourty. Cyrus Jones edges out them because of his kick return ability on special teams. I could easily see them opting for one of these final cuts here and this last preseason game may make a difference. McCourty could still make the squad, but was the move in Carolina, putting him in at safety a positive or a negative? His status has been a tough one to read all spring and summer.

Safety: (5)
Devin McCourty, Pat Chung, Duron Harmon, Nate Ebner, Jordan Richards

The top three are locks and playing very well. Ebner is healthy now and is a special teams’ ace. The much-maligned Richards will make the squad (sigh) due to special teams ability over Eddie Pleasant who was vying for his spot and was released Sunday night, much to the chagrin of thousands of Patriots fans.

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

It turns out the roster battle between Allen and rookie Corey Bojorquez wasn’t a battle after all. Bojorquez is the only player on the 90 man roster that didn’t play this preseason, other than injuries. Some are theorizing that Bojorquez wasn’t played for a reason so that the Patriots can stash him on the practice squad because they’ll be no game tape of him.

Gostkowski and Cardona had no competition at their respective positions this summer and probably slept better than anyone.

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

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

PHOTO: Tom Brady “One Step Closer”

Robert Alvarez
August 25, 2018 at 7:51 pm ET

Dissatisfied with his teams offensive performance on Friday night, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady quickly turned the page Saturday.

On Instagram, Brady shared a reminder to fans that the regular season opener against the Houston Texans is an appropriate 12 days away.

“One Step Closer. #12Days” Brady said in a caption.

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bm6WrcgBegG/?taken-by=tombrady

Brady completed 12 of 18 passes for 102 yards against the Carolina Panthers but couldn’t find the end zone for any touchdowns in the half he played, coming away with three total points off a Stephen Gostkowski field goal.

After the game, Brady expressed his frustrations with the offense.

“I think any time you go on the road and play a good team you’ve got to make the plays. I think tonight’s a great example when you don’t and they do,” Brady told the media. “We didn’t do much in the first quarter and got behind. Then you fight uphill all night against a good team it’s tough to win.”

“We’re not out there to go out and punt or kick field goals. We’re out there to score points and hopefully score touchdowns. Our execution needs to be better. I mean you look back at a lot of the things I thought about in the second half, all the things that we could do: it’s a lot of us. It’s not so much what the other team is doing, although it’s a very good defense, our base execution needs to be better.”

The Patriots head to MetLife Stadium to play the New York Giants next Friday in the preseason finale, but Brady in all likelihood won’t be seen taking snaps again until the home opener September 9th.

We’re onto Houston.

PHOTO: Julian Edelman “Grip It and Rip It”

Robert Alvarez
August 21, 2018 at 12:00 pm ET

Although his impact has remained limited through two preseason games, New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman continues to work his way back to full strength.

Edelman, who caught just four passes for 26 yards against the Philadelphia Eagles last week, continues to remain focused on the ultimate goal of a Week 5 return following his suspension.

On Instagram Monday, Edelman continued to provide his fans with motivational messages helping him get there, stating in a caption, “Eyes on the prize. Grip it & rip it.”

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bmt3nSmBPU-/?hl=en&taken-by=edelman11

Pass Rush, Brady Shine in Patriots Preseason Win Over Philly

Steve Balestrieri
August 17, 2018 at 7:07 am ET

The Patriots wanted to get off to a much better start than last week’s moribund beginning against the Redskins and they did exactly that with a very impressive first quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles en route to a 37-20 win on Thursday night. It was the second preseason game for both teams.

Tom Brady quelled the critics for a night at least with a performance that showed he is as sharp as ever. Brady completed 19 of 26 for 172 yards with two touchdown passes and no interceptions. This was his first game action since the Super Bowl and despite all the hand-wringing about him missing OTAs this spring, he looked like Tom Brady which is cool, calm and collected.

Despite wearing the new-style helmet which looks particularly odd on him Brady  started off hot completing his first five passes on the opening drive and culminating it with him sliding in the pocket to buy time, which allowed Chris Hogan to break free and run along the back of the end zone against the flow where Brady hit him for an easy touchdown.

And with no Rob Gronkowski, Rex Burkhead, Sony Michel and Kenny Britt, the offense hummed along pretty well in the early going. On the flip side, Nick Foles looked rusty and was off-target on many of his throws. But unlike the game in February where Foles had all day to throw, the Patriots pass rush had an outstanding game.

They logged eight sacks on the night but the key was, they were getting consistent pressure from the edge and the interior rushers were pushing the pocket enough where the Philly QBs weren’t able to step up into the pocket. Adrian Clayborn had an outstanding game. Although he was credited with just one sack, he was providing pressure and helped set up others to clean up. Derek Rivers was also very impressive, showing very good burst around the edge.

On the Eagles first drive, pressure by Clayborn forced Foles to be inaccurate on a deep sideline pass to a running back isolated on linebacker Ju’Whaun Bentley. This was followed by a six-yard loss on a running play and more pressure on third down where Devin McCourty nearly intercepted a tipped Foles pass.

On the Eagles next possession, Clayborn, and Rivers pressured Foles which allowed Pat Chung to come in and pick up a sack. Ditto for a sack by Adam Butler. Clayborn then had a strip sack of Foles where the ball bounced right into Bentley’s arms and the rookie raced 53 yards for a touchdown.

The Patriots had a nice two-minute drill at the end of the half where Brady appeared in vintage form where he led the team down the field in just 59 seconds where James White finished it off with a 20-yard screen pass from Brady for a touchdown. The blocking on which was outstanding where White wasn’t touched.

Other observations include:

Isaiah Wynn had a nice start to the game at right tackle and then came up hopping on a non-contact injury, was brought to the medical tent and then was carted off the field. From the looks of the way he was hopping, it may have been an Achilles injury. We’ll have to wait for an update, but it doesn’t look promising.

James White appeared in mid-season form. He caught six passes in six targets for 61 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed four times for 31 yards, a 7.8-yard average. He got the offense going in the early going and was very impressive.

Clayborn and Rivers looked very strong on the edges along with Deatrich Wise but late in the game, Trent Harris, a longshot to make the roster, looked very good in limited action. Ditto for the big edge player Keionta Davis who has been kicked inside and did a very good job of pushing the interior of the pocket.

With Rob Gronkowski sitting out the second preseason game, Jacob Hollister got extended playing time. He showed some improved blocking skills in the running game, not close to the Gronk level but better than a year ago.  He also made a nice catch down the seam in the two-minute drill, a 22-yarder where he was drilled but hung on for a key catch. Building a little chemistry and trust factor with #12 is always a positive.

Rough first half, almost a nightmarish one for rookie Keion Crossen, the Patriots slot corner who got the start. He actually got off to a promising start, flying up on a running play and dumping it for a six-yard loss. But then two awful pass interference penalties, (he’d add a third) set the Eagles up for an easy touchdown.

Overall rough night for the young Patriots corners, Crossen, J.C. Jackson and A.J. Moore who were picked on all night by Eagles QBs.

Speaking of which, Eagles third-string QB Nate Sudfeld was very impressive. He throws a beautiful deep ball and hit on a couple of those with perfect throws into coverage. He finished 22-39 for 312 yards with three touchdowns and one interception.

Dallas Goedert for the Eagles is also impressive. We really liked him in the lead up to the draft this year. And after a strong game in Week 1 against the Steelers, he topped it off with a good effort against the Pats. He caught three passes for 57 yards.  

Strong bounceback game for Stephon Gilmore, the Pats’ top corner blanketed Eagles receivers all night and the only pass attempted his way was defended well by him for an incompletion.

I absolutely hate this new rule about the leading with the helmet. The Eagles were victimized by it with a ticky tack call and then the Pats Jordan Richards got hit with it. After giving up a 28-yarder to Goedert, in trying to tackle him, an extra 15 was tacked on making it a 43-yard pass play. This rule sucks, plain and simple and will be the cause of much controversy this fall, you watch.

Patriots – Eagles Preseason Week 2, What to Watch For

Steve Balestrieri
August 16, 2018 at 8:30 am ET

The Patriots hit the field on Gillette for their last home preseason game tonight as they’ll take on the World Champion Philadelphia Eagles in Week 2 of the preseason. The game will be televised on WBZ-TV 4 with Bob Socci on the play-by-play, Scott Zolak doing color commentary with Rob Ninkovich the sideline reporter and Andy Hart and Paul Perillo providing commentary from the studio.

The stakes are much lower for both teams since they last met in February for the Super Bowl where the Eagles won 41-33 for their first Lombardi Trophy. But although it is just preseason and the score ultimately doesn’t mean anything at the end of the day, each team is looking to accomplish several things and solidify their rosters. WIth the limit at 90 players right now (the Patriots have 89), the teams will have to get down to 53 in just a couple of weeks now. Each team has several spots up for grabs.

Neither Tom Brady, Carson Wentz or Nick Foles played in their team’s preseason opener but all three should see some playing time this week as it is time for the QBs now to work off the rust.

There have been some interesting newsworthy stories this week, especially so since this is a preseason game. Lane Johnson continues to talk smack about and to the Patriots as well as Patriots fans. His “look at me” schtick will no doubt continue after the game as regardless if he plays a down, as he’s a self-styled expert on all things about the Patriots locker room although he’s never played here.

And Philadelphia fans have purchased a billboard on Route 1 leading into the stadium in a hilarious dig at the Patriots similar to the 28-3 trolling New England did to Atlanta. Crazy to see these things before a preseason game.

So from a Patriots perspective, as there is a football game to be played here is our list of things we’ll be looking for this week as the Patriots play the next preseason game against a very good Eagles team.

How Long Will Tom Brady Play? Brady after having his snaps reduced in training camp for about a week has been right back at it this week, looking like he got a typical workload for training camp.

Jim McBride from the Globe reported that Brady was suffering from a sore back last week, although Brady probably could have played if it had been a regular season game, he sat out the 1st preseason contest. He typically doesn’t play in the first one anyway so he was a cheerleader on the sidelines for Brian Hoyer and Danny Etling.

I would expect Brady to play about midway thru the first quarter and try to get some chemistry going with his wide receivers, several of whom are banged up right now. But it is important that Brady gets his own work in before the regular season. This week and next are his two games to knock off the rust. The final preseason game is usually a final look at guys on the bubble and one he normally doesn’t play in. We expect to see him hook up with Rob Gronkowski a bit this week as Gronk sat last week as well.

Wide Receiver Reps Time For Stepping Up: Kenny Britt hasn’t been a full participant all summer and at the end of practices both Phillip Dorsett and Julian Edelman came up limping a bit. So the WR position has yet to look like the coaches have envisioned it for the regular season thus far. It is imperative that all of the wide receivers get some work in with Brady and build up their chemistry, timing and trust factor with the starting QB. Britt probably won’t play again and it will be interesting to see if Edelman and Dorsett make it on the field this week.

Of course, it is also an opportunity for everyone to showcase their talents, especially those players who are on the bubble. And in the case of Eric Decker, whom the team brought in just a couple of weeks ago, it should be a very important week. Decker is a player who has been very productive in the league but after a couple of serious injuries and at an age where it is fair to wonder if his best days are behind him, Decker is far from a lock at this point. Especially considering that he was just brought in. He doesn’t know the offense well yet and was plagued earlier in the week with several drops. Tonight’s game and next week will be a big measuring stick for him.

Cordarrelle Patterson is another guy who has had a strong camp but hasn’t had a ton of reps with or catches from Brady during the practice sessions. Tonight would be a prime opportunity for him to build some of the trust factor with #12 and work into an integral role in the offense. Ditto for young guns Devin Lucien, Braxton Berrios and Riley McCarron.

Will To See See More From Ju’Whaun Bentley and J.C. Jackson: The two rookies both had strong outings in the first professional, albeit, preseason games. Both got off to impressive starts last week against the Redskins and this week, we’ll see if they can continue to build off of that against a much better football team in the Eagles.

Bentley showed the type of physicality on the goal line that the coaches love, where he read the play, and then flew up into the hole and blew up the play for no gain that we expect from Dont’a Hightower. But for a rookie, he showed a surprising level of comfort within the defense to call the plays and wear the green dot communication device. That shows a level of trust from the coaches and also that his development is coming along quickly, something Hightower alluded to early in training camp.

Jackson began turning heads at OTAs this spring and has carried it thru minicamp, training camp and the first preseason game. The UDFA rookie from Maryland has been impressive with his technique and compete level from Day 1 and was thrust early in the process opposite of Stephon Gilmore to show what he could do. The results have been very impressive thus far. He’s definitely in line to earn himself a roster spot on this year’s team and he’ll be a player to watch tonight.

And we could say the same thing about young RB Ralph Webb who looked strong in his professional debut last week. He still has a long way to go, can he parlay a strong performance into added reps and production two weeks in a row.

Jason McCourty’s Time to Shine is Now: Speaking of cornerbacks, the case of Jason McCourty has been a strange one thus far of his time in New England. He has been a regular member of the second rotation at the corner so far during training camp but didn’t play a snap against the Redskins. If the absence was injury related, McCourty didn’t say anything to the media about it.

Of course, Bill Belichick isn’t going to say much on the subject. He waxed mid-season form Bill when approached on McCourty’s lack of playing time last week.

“The guys we play, we play. The guys who didn’t play… didn’t play,” Belichick said on Monday. “We’ll play other guys this week, and we’ll see how it goes.

“We all know I’m not talking about anybody’s injuries, so there’s no point in bringing that up or going through that. Can’t look at everybody every week. There’s just too many guys. Some guys will play one week, some guys will play more the other week.”

We expect to see a lot more of McCourty this week against Philadelphia and perhaps get an extended amount of reps. He did practice with the first team unit on Monday so perhaps it was just a case of Belichick knowing what he has in some players and letting them sit to that he has an opportunity to gauge other players. Tonight will be an interesting one to see what McCourty brings to the table.

Eddie Pleasant or Jordan Richards: Most Patriots fans every summer have Richards circled on the cut list but he’s now in his fourth year with the team. He has been a good STs performer but has struggled mightily when asked to play defense. Last year, because of injuries, he played an extended role defensively and things didn’t go well at all for him, most notably in the Super Bowl. That carried over to the first preseason game against the Redskins where he missed several tackles due to taking a poor angle, something we’ve mentioned time and again here.

Pleasant is an established veteran who played for several years with the Texans as a player who fits the same mold. He’s been a solid STs presence who can fill in defensively when needed. Pleasant has looked better than Richards defensively so far, although that is almost like damning with faint praise. If he can pick up the STs role as well as Richards, he may supplant the veteran from the roster.

Both may see the intriguing rookie tight end Dallas Goedert on the field tonight. We really liked Goedert during the draft process, the rookie from S. Dakota St. had a very impressive debut of his own against the Steelers last week, he caught 4 passes on five targets for 66 yards and a touchdown.

Strong Play on the Edge From Wise/Rivers: The two second-year players on the edge had very solid games a week ago against Washington and we are looking to see more from them as they continue to progress this summer. With Trey Flowers and Adrian Clayborn, the Pats are looking to build a solid rotation on the edge, something that was woefully missing last season.

Wise has looked very solid in his second season and appears stronger with a better array of moves in rushing the passer this season. He had a good rookie campaign in 2017 and it was expected that he’d make a big jump in production with a year in the system and getting bigger and stronger in the strength and conditioning program.

Rivers seems completely recovered from his ACL surgery and looks bigger and stronger than he did a year ago after being the team’s top draft choice after coming from a small school in the NFL Draft. He showed good explosion off the line and good speed to power, pushing the offensive tackle backward on roller skates. It was a very encouraging sign that he’s all the way back.

If the team can keep getting similar production from their two 2nd year edge players, one of the bigger worries about the defense, their pass rush should be significantly better in 2018.

New England Patriots News 8-12, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
August 12, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, Here is your Sunday’s Patriots news 8-12, & AFC East Notes. The Patriots are getting to back work this afternoon after their first preseason game on Thursday night. Bill Belichick has been taking a slower approach to training camp, having given the players several days off already. Belichick did say that the long 2017 season and the increased workload on the players definitely have an effect on how they approach the workload for the current training camp.

And lost in all the Malcolm Butler hoopla was this. On the Packers first drive of their preseason game against Tennessee, Brett Hundley completed a 48-yard bomb to Davante Adams who blew by Butler, giving the Packers a first and goal at the two. Maybe it is the conspiracy theorist in me, but if Butler had picked it off and went to the house, what would you think the odds would be that the play would have been all over the sports talk radio world?

Quick Hitters:  
With many missed tackles in the first preseason game and some general sloppy tackling all around, one reason (other than rust) could be the lack of live tackling and physicality in practice. It will be interesting to watch if that ramps up a bit now.

Ralph Webb had a really nice night in his professional debut scoring a pair of touchdowns and two, 2-pt conversions.  The former Vanderbilt running back was called up by Bill Belichick for congratulations after the team’s win and in his post-game press conference, Belichick had several compliments for the rookie. Washington lost very promising rookie RB Derrius Guice to a torn ACL for the season in the game. They stated that for the time being, they were going to stay with the players they have. However, Webb is still a longshot to make the 53-man roster. If the Patriots try to sneak him onto the practice squad in a few weeks, don’t be shocked if the Redskins make a move to bring him to their squad after his game this week.

Tom Brady’s $5 million dollar incentive clause into his contract was a head scratcher earlier this week. If earned, that $5 million will vault Brady up into the Top 10 of QB salaries, tied with Blake Bortles but less than Sam Darnold, who has yet to throw a pass in the NFL yet. Tom E. Curran of NBC Sports Boston called it a band-aid fix and we’re inclined to agree here. A look at the list of QBs making more money than Brady, other than Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers is a Who’s Who? Of QBs having never accomplished a smidgen of what Brady’s done. So his contract, even at 41 is still a bargain. But tying the $5 million to incentives? Really? I don’t get that one.

Terrible setback for Pats LB Harvey Langi who made the roster in 2017 and then was in an awful car wreck last fall while stopped at a red light. Langi returned this year and had been having a good camp thus far until he took a hit to his side and suffered an internal laceration according to Jeff Howe of the Athletic. Because of concerns to his kidney, he will be out 4-5 weeks.

Very sad news about former Patriots LB Jerod Mayo and his 5-year old Bulldog who went missing after supposedly going for a walk with the dog’s trainer. The family and police searched for the dog and after two months the dog’s body was found in plastic bags inside a closet in the trainer’s house outside of Cranston, RI. The trainer, Amelia Ferreira told Wrentham, MA police the dog Knox, disappeared after slipping his leash at a conservation area in Wrentham. Charges are pending. And hopefully will be severe.

Derek Rivers Looks Strong in First Game Back From ACL Tear:
Less than a year removed from his torn ACL surgery, not only was DE Derek Rivers back on the field, he played at a high level showing good physicality and exceptional strength. The 2nd year player got the start at defensive end and had several good plays.

Derek Rivers during 2016 training camp. (SBalestrieri photo)

Perhaps his best was when he bull rushed Redskins tackle, John Kling. Rivers exploded off the snap and had Kling on roller skates. He then gave Kling a big shove pushing him into QB Colt McCoy and getting his hand up trying to knock down the pass attempt. The move against Kling is a total body type of movement from Rivers who when asked about his ACL and repaired knee from Henry McKenna of USA Today said, “It felt awesome,” Rivers said. “No complaints. Praise God.”

Make no mistake, the mental part of getting over an ACL injury is the biggest hurdle. This summer I spoke with UMass Medical Center Dr. Brian Busconi, who has performed hundreds of ACL surgeries on MLB and NFL as well as college and high school athletes. It was rumored he performed the surgery on Julian Edelman. Busconi would neither confirm or deny it, however, a signed picture of Edelman hangs in the office and a source of ours passed Edelman in the office earlier this summer. So take it for what it is worth.

Busconi said the surgery was only 30 percent of the fix for the athlete. The other 70 percent was doing the rehab work, strengthening the muscles that will atrophy because of the injury and the resultant layoff and most importantly, the mental hurdle to test the joint once it is ready. Edelman admitted last week he “doesn’t have his football legs” back under him yet. He looks to be in terrific shape, it is probably more a mental block more than anything.

That’s why it was so important for Rivers (and Edelman) to get out on the field and run and cut and do all the things they did without thinking prior to their injury. Rivers looked good for the most part, he also had his not-so-good moments as well. On one play, he ducked his head and lost the running back, who zipped past his gap for a big gain.

However, for the first preseason game and after a year layoff from the field, Rivers took a great big leap back to being part of the edge player rotation. With Trey Flowers and Adrian Clayborn expected to be the starters, he and Deatrich Wise could combine and form a much better group at getting after the QB in 2018.

He leaped over the first hurdle. We’ll be watching him next week closely to see if he can continue to improve and produce when the Patriots play the Eagles in Week 2 of the preseason.

Hightower on the Block? Troy Brown Thinks It Could be a Possibility:

The Patriots welcomed back linebacker Dont’a Hightower in his first game action since October after the big man went on IR last season. Hightower played extensively, into the second quarter. At the time, we thought it nothing more than the coaching staff wanting to shake off the rust after not playing for about 10 months. But after the game, former Patriots WR Troy Brown thought the Patriots may be shopping the big LB.

Dont’a Hightower is back and played into the second quarter against Washington. (SBalestrieri photo)

Brown on NBC Sports Boston said, “Sometimes you gotta put people on the market and let people see what they can do.” At first glance, that stance would appear to be ludicrous, no one was more instrumental to the Patriots defense, Hightower was the one player on defense that they could ill afford to lose. While the talk centered around Malcolm Butler after the Super Bowl loss to Philadelphia, the absence of Hightower was a far greater loss overall.

Brown doubled down on his thought by adding, “You have to ask yourself…why is he still out there so long?” Assuming his take is correct, who would they trade Hightower to and what could they get in return that would help the team? Unless they’re making a push to the Raiders with Hightower a piece of a package for Khalil Mack, then it wouldn’t make sense.

From our view, we’re sticking with the “knocking the rust off”  scenario, but we’ve seen stranger things in Foxboro in the past.  

Bentley Makes a Strong Debut at Linebacker:
Ja’Whaun Bentley, the Patriots fifth-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft wasn’t highly thought of when he was going thru the draft process, in fact, was considered to be a UDFA and wasn’t even invited to the NFL Combine. But the Patriots liked what they saw from the big Purdue linebacker in his first NFL preseason action.

Bentley had six tackles, two for a loss and QB hit and should have been credited with a forced fumble that the officials ruled forward progress had been stopped. A play Bill Belichick tried to challenge and when told he couldn’t, said it was “F***ing BS.”

Bentley was considered a Brandon Spikes throwback, a two-down run stuffer who couldn’t cover on passing downs. So far, he’s proving the critics wrong. He has had a strong training camp and followed it up with good performance in the opening PS game.

Rookie LB Ja’Whaun Bentley has been impressive thus far thru camp, especially in coverage. (SBalestrieri photo)

“I just wanted to come out and put my best foot forward to do the best I could as far as assignments and just make sure all my guys were ready to go,” Bentley said. “And I feel like we did a good job of that. Of course, we got some kinks to work out, but we did a very good job.”

Bentley also had some time calling the signals with the green dot communication device which is a great learning step for a rookie on the defense to be able to learn his responsibilities but also everyone else’s to call out the signals is a testament to his learning the system quickly.

His best play came in the first half. With the Redskins inside the three-yard line, they tried to pound the ball in the middle for a touchdown. Bentley, at his MLB position, read the play, waited for the right time until the RB committed and flew into the hole, dropping him for no gain.

He still has a long way to go but for now, he’s looking very good and appears to be almost a lock for the 53-man roster.

Jeremy Hill Buys In, And Shows Impressive Burst in Opener:
After a disappointing 2017 from Mike Gillislee, the Patriots drafted Sony Michel this spring and then added veteran Jeremy Hill who had lost his starting gig with the Bengals. Hill is bigger (6’1, 230 pounds) than most of the Patriots running backs, but it is something they need for certain situations, (goal line and short-yardage) with the offense.

Hill, whose snaps and numbers have steadily gone down in Cincinnati, at first glance didn’t seem like a good fit. But Hill had surgery to remove some bone spurs in his ankles. He also bought into the Patriots offseason conditioning system and lost weight in an attempt to add a bit of quickness to his step.

Jeremy Hill had a big game on Thursday night and is looking to turn that into a roster spot. (SBalestrieri photo)

He certainly appeared that way on Thursday night, hitting the holes with authority and showing nice vision cutting back against the grain. He appeared much quicker than Gillislee with the ability to convert those short-yardage situations.

His ability to flash in the passing game helped. Facing a 3rd and 8 from the 30-yard line midway thru the third quarter, Hill caught a short pass from QB Brian Hoyer and then made the first tackler miss and was able to convert the first down by stiff-arming a linebacker and then lowering his head and getting past the sticks.

The Patriots insist all of their running backs pass block as well and Hill had a highlight reel play when he planted LB Shaun Dion Hamilton, giving Hoyer time to hit FB Henry Poggi on a check down out of the backfield.

Again, there is a long way to go, but Hill with his performance didn’t do a thing to hurt his chances to not only make the team but earn some significant snaps. Especially with Sony Michel on the shelf for the time being.

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills Allen Has Buffalo Abuzz After Preseason Debut:
The Buffalo Bills played the Carolina Panthers in their Week 1 preseason opener but it was strictly the Josh Allen show for the fans, and who can blame them? The Bills fans have been waiting for that next franchise QB since Jim Kelly retired. And after moving up to take him in the first round of the NFL Draft this spring, fans are excited.

Head coach Sean McDermott wasted little time in letting Allen uncork his arm which is his strongest asset. He lasered a 60-yard pass downfield on his first snap which was caught by WR Robert Foster but just out of bounds.

Yes, his footwork is inconsistent and his decision making can still be suspect but Allen possesses a cannon for an arm and it as well as his playmaking ability were on full display. He completed 9 of 19 for 119 yards and a touchdown while rushing three times for 29 yards, twice converting third downs with his feet.

For now, he’ll remain the 3rd QB on the depth chart and be the future. But Buffalo fans caught a glimpse of that and can’t wait for him to be the present.

Dolphins Tannehill Aces First Test:
The Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill played his first football since the 2016 season in an albeit short but impressive stint against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Tannehill played a series and took the Dolphins into field goal range but the most important feature was that he looked comfortable, cool in the pocket and in control of the offense. The offensive line gave him plenty of time to throw, coach Adam Gase said Tannehill was “back there peeling an orange.” to push home the point.

One thing that the Dolphins seem intent on doing is getting Mike Gesicki the ball in the end zone and that combination with the big rookie TE and Tannehill looks intriguing. We’ll expect to see more of it next week against Carolina.

Jets QBs Shine In Preseason Win Over Atlanta:
The New York Jets unleashed rookie QB Sam Darnold in their preseason opener and the rookie taken with the #3 pick in the draft didn’t disappoint. Darnold shined, completing 13-18 passes for 96 yards and a touchdown in a little over two-quarters worth of work. He received thunderous applause from the Jets fans and didn’t disappoint, hitting on eight of his first 9 throws.

Teddy Bridgewater on his first action of the season after returning from an injury was also very sharp hitting on 7-9 for 85 yards including a 16-yard touchdown. Coach Todd Bowles said Darnold looked poised out there and it is clear that the Jets organization is going to give Darnold every opportunity to win the starting job over veterans Josh McCown and Bridgewater.

McCown started the game but played only one series and completed the only pass he attempted for four yards. It will be interesting to see how the Jets decide to play this out. While the temptation is there to get Darnold on the field, with two good veterans, there should no attempt to rush him into the starting lineup until he’s ready for it.

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.

PHOTOS: New England Patriots Unveil Refurbished Team Locker Room

Robert Alvarez
August 9, 2018 at 6:05 pm ET

As the New England Patriots get set for their first preseason game of 2018 tonight, the players will also be treated to a remodeled locker room inside Gillette Stadium.

Over the Patriots social media accounts Thursday, photographs were shared of the updated locker room improvements made this offseason.

A notable upgrade was the removal of physical nameplates with an electronic board that will be useful for the numerous roster changes throughout the season.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BmRSy4pA__0/?taken-by=patriots

Back on July 27th, head coach Bill Belichick was asked about the upgrades on WBZ-TV’s Patriots All Access. 

“It’s always nice to get something new…Whatever it is — new car, new locker room, new clothes, new gadget, new iPhone. It’s always good to get something new.”