Tag Archives: 2018 Patriots Training Camp

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.

What to Watch For, Patriots – Washington Preseason Opener

Steve Balestrieri
August 9, 2018 at 7:30 am ET

Football is back…finally. The Patriots begin the 2018 preseason with a home tilt against the Washington Redskins. The kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at Gillette Stadium and it is supposed to be hot and steamy around kickoff time.

The game will be broadcast on WBZ TV4 with the Patriots radio crew of Bob Socci, Scott Zolak holding down the play-by-play and color duties, with sideline reporters Rob Ninkovich and Steve Burton.  Andy Hart and Paul Perillo from Patriots Football Weekly will provide frequent commentary from the studio.

This will be the 22nd meeting between the two teams in the preseason. The Patriots and Philadelphia have met 22 times as well and have only played the Giants in the preseason (27 games) more.

However, this game will likely have little bearing on who starts the regular season for the Patriots or the Redskins. While both starting QBs, Tom Brady and newcomer Alex Smith for the Redskins may make a cameo appearance, one wouldn’t expect them to play more than a series, if at all.  

But there are a lot of players on both teams that need to perform well during the preseason as they hope to make each team. Right now the rosters are set at 90 players and each team can keep only 53. On the Patriots, there are probably 39-40 players who are locks to make the roster and another 3-4 more who are near locks. That leaves an awful lot of competition for the bottom half of the roster.

There are some spots were open competition will tell the tale, so the players, matchups etc. that we’ll be watching for from a Patriots perspective are:

Left Tackle Position: The Patriots traded for Trent Brown this spring and after losing long-time left tackle Nate Solder in free agency to the Giants. Brown is huge, 6’8, 380 pounds but moves well for a big man. He’s had a good training camp up to this point but tonight will be his first game action as a member of the Patriots.

The team invested a first-round draft pick on G/T Isaiah Wynn from Georgia just hours before trading for Brown. He’s played mostly tackle with a bit of guard thrown in this summer on the left side but he’ll get some work at both. Wynn is small for an NFL tackle at 6’2, 311 but he makes up for with being gifted athletically.

They seem to be taking the same approach with Wynn as they did with Solder, they’ll let him learn the ropes for a year under Dante Scarnecchia, while getting frequent reps to earn some experience.

While all signs point to the pair being just fine this season, until they get on the field and show some work against opponents, there will be questions. But with Scarnecchia being the tough love teacher, I would expect to see Wynn start at some point this season.

Cornerback: With Malcolm Butler now a Tennessee Titan, the Patriots had a hole at the CB spot opposite of Gilmore. Many of the national sites are calling Butler’s loss the Patriots top CB last year. But in reality, since about halfway thru the season, it was Gilmore who was the better of the two and down the stretch and into the playoffs there was no doubt about that.

Now there seems to be a two-way battle between veterans Jason McCourty and Eric Rowe. Both have had their good moments during training camp And each brings a little something different to the table but it may end up being more a case of who the opponent is, the coaches may decide to go with the better matchups.

However, waiting in the wings is unheralded rookie J.C. Jackson from Maryland. Jackson turned some heads during OTAs and minicamp and got some reps opposite Gilmore. He has since gotten more in training camp and looks like he belongs. He’s not overwhelmed at all  Second-year player Ryan Lewis has the prototypical size that teams are looking for and has turned in a solid training camp as well.

In the slot, rookie Duke Dawson has gotten a lot of reps and has played well. But Jonathan Jones just came off of PUP and will have something to say about that. It is doubtful, however, that Jones will play so soon.

Running Back: With 1st round draft pick Sony Michel on the shelf after getting fluid from his knee drained, it leaves a decent sized hole that two veterans will be fighting for a roster spot over. The Patriots brought in Mike Gillislee last year, but overall he’s been disappointing. He’s missed some playing time during camp this summer, which isn’t helping his cause.

The team signed former Bengals back Jeremy Hill this offseason and he’s had the upper hand so far during training camp. Hill brings an element in the passing game that Gillislee doesn’t have and has run the ball pretty well so far.

These two are probably fighting over one roster spot so these preseason games all become very important for each of them.

Edge Rushers: The Patriots defense was not good getting after the quarterback a year ago. Trey Flowers had a good year and the team got a decent rookie season from Deatrich Wise but had little else. They’ll have to be much better this year at getting pressure on opposing QBs.

During free agency, the team went out and got veteran Adrian Clayborn. They also got back last year’s top draft pick Derek Rivers as well as Dont’a Hightower on the defensive front seven. Rivers is starting to round back into form from his torn ACL from last preseason and it will be a test for him to get back into game action.

He should be part of a four-man rotation with Flowers, Clayborn, and Wise, who is having a terrific camp thus far this summer.

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

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

Patriots Release Wide Receiver Malcolm Mitchell

Steve Balestrieri
August 6, 2018 at 3:11 pm ET

The Patriots are releasing wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell, according to NFL insider Jason La Canfora.

Knee issues have dogged Mitchell since his playing days at Georgia and are the cause of his release. The Patriots tried unsuccessfully to shop Mitchell around this summer but his inability to get on the field had no interested parties.

Mitchell, who just turned 25, was a key contributor in the Patriots Super Bowl run in 2016. He caught 32 passes for 401 yards and four touchdowns as a rookie, nearly all of it in the second half of the season. He missed part of that season with an elbow injury but came back and earned the trust of Tom Brady. He steadily gained confidence and was a huge part of the 4th quarter comeback against the Falcons in the Super Bowl.

He caught five passes for 63 yards in the second half of the Super Bowl.

His future looked bright, however,  the very same knee issues robbed him of 2017. He never made it onto the field last season and his knee woes held him to just a couple of all-too-brief cameos this spring. That led to the Patriots shopping him unsuccessfully.

The team can either convert him to IR again with an injury settlement or outright release him, depending upon the health of his knee. It is a case of oh-so-close for the talented wide receiver.

So where does this leave the team? In the short term, it immediately opens up a roster spot, despite the fact he hadn’t been practicing. That will be filled quickly. But it was clear before training camp even began that Mitchell wasn’t going to be in the team’s plans for 2018.

With Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, Cordarrelle Patterson, Eric Decker, Kenny Britt, and younger players Riley McCarron, Braxton Berrios, Devin Lucien and Paul Turner, they have enough depth to carry them through the season. Although Britt too has missed some valuable time this camp. Julian Edelman will miss the first month of the season due to his suspension.

As we posted in our 53-man roster projection this morning, Mitchell wasn’t on the roster and youngsters Berrios and McCarron were still on the outside looking in for a roster spot.

It is a shame to see a player as talented as Mitchell lose his career on an injury. But the chances of another team taking a flyer on him at this point would remain pretty slim.

Patriots 53-man Roster Projection 2.0, Training Camp Opens

Steve Balestrieri
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.

 

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

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

New England Patriots News 8-05, AFC East Notes

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

Good morning, Here is your Sunday’s Patriots news 8-05, & AFC East Notes. The Patriots are getting the day off today from training camp, but we hope to see many of you down there in the coming days as the team gears up for their first preseason game.

Quick Hitters:

Sony Michel who left practice early on Wednesday with an injury to his already damaged knee, had a procedure done to drain the knee. He’s expected to be sidelined for at least 10 days but it could be that we won’t see Michel until the first game of the regular season. It is a waiting game at this point. But that was the drawback of drafting Michel, he’s had knee woes before. Hopefully this won’t be a long-term issue but regardless, it definitely sets back his progression in a big way

With the birthday of Tom Brady on Friday, the Patriots made enough birthday cake for Brady and 5000 of his fans. Shaped in a big #12, the cake consisted of 2000 eggs, 250 pounds of sugar, etc … all of which are usually strictly off-limits for Brady’s diet. He was surprised after practice by his wife and kids on the field. And was serenaded by both fans and teammates as he got a rare off-day in training camp.

Julian Edelman told the media on Friday that recovering from last year’s ACL tear has been a “grind” on the field. Edelman said that “I feel like I got to get my legs under me a lot more. I don’t have my camp legs, I don’t have football legs, and it’s evident out there.”

Training camp he added has been difficult,  “You get tired, you create bad habits, you don’t run your routes right and you get yelled at in meetings for it. I’m expecting to do that because I got to pick it up,” he said. “I wasn’t as good as I want to be today and feeling that’s because I’m not in the best shape right now.”

Riley McCarron is having a pretty good training camp thus far, the 2nd year practice squad player is vying for one of the Patriots WR spots on the roster. McCarron and Braxton Berrios are almost mirror images competing against one another for the slot/PR duties. Both are similarly built can return punts and good in the middle of the field. While there is a long way to go, McCarron may be slightly ahead of the rookie at this point, but this will bear very close watching once the preseason games begin.

Riley McCarron has had a good start to training camp. (SBalestrieri photo)

J.C. Jackson has been having a strong offseason, dating back to OTAs. The UDFA from Maryland has been getting some reps opposite Stephon Gilmore and has competed hard and showed nice flashes of potential. He shook off a rookie mistake against Chris Hogan, not locating the ball in time on a 50+-yard completion by breaking up a pass in the end zone and intercepting a two-point conversion try.

Kenny Britt, Matthew Slater, and Mike Gillislee returned to practice after missing time due to injuries. That is a good sign as injuries, most of the non-serious nature begin to pile up.

Hollister Seems Primed for a Big Year 2 Jump:

The Patriots signed UDFA  TE Jacob Hollister a year ago and he flashed enough athleticism, good hands and toughness to make the team. After playing sparingly in 2017, he set about to improve his all-around game starting with becoming a better blocker in the running game. He looks a tad more chiseled this season after a year in the strength and conditioning program but his pass catching looks right on schedule.

Hollister has made several standout plays during the first week of training camp. Showing good hands and the ability to find the open areas of coverage and attack the seams of the defense, Hollister is a much more fluid receiver than the current #2 Dwayne Allen, but Allen’s blocking skills remain his strong suit.

Bill Belichick was asked about Hollister this week and gave (for him) an almost glowing recommendation. “He’s still got a long way to go. He has a lot of football in front of him. He didn’t have a lot of experience–had some–but has gained a lot and will gain a lot more. I think he’s got a great future, Belichick said.  “He works hard, he’s a tough kid, he plays hard, practices hard and has become much better at his fundamentals and techniques at his position.”

While the highlighted text was my doing, this kind of praise is rare from Belichick. And he’s right, although he says this about everyone, Hollister still has a long way to go. But he’s definitely arcing in the right direction. With the uncertainty at the WR position as it sorts itself out, the Patriots offense could easily lean more on the running game and two tight end sets (12 personnel) in the first month of the season until Edelman returns.

Watching practice at training camp this week, Tom Brady usually throws a side session during Special Teams drills with his “Circle of Trust” receivers, normally Gronkowski, Hogan, and Edelman. Hollister was included in there this week a few times. That in itself is a very encouraging sign, we’ll see how the preseason plays out.

Jacob Hollister is looking much more comfortable in the passing offense in Year 2. (SBalestrieri photo)

Belichick Inserts Fun? Into Patriots Training Camp:

With the abundance of stories from players, some of whom have never stepped foot in the Patriots locker room that the team doesn’t have any fun, this week’s events should effectively put those to rest…well not really but you know what I mean.

On Monday Night, the in-stadium practice for the season ticket holders, Bill Belichick ended practice on an interesting note. He had rookie OL Isaiah Wynn back fielding a Ryan Allen punt. If Wynn catches the ball cleanly, the team was didn’t have night meetings on Monday night and could get a little extra rest.

With the team cheering him on, Wynn dropped the first attempt but caught the second, amid wild cheers from the players and fans and big smiles all around, even from Belichick.

Then on Thursday, Day 7 of camp, Belichick ended the practice by switching roles. The defense went on offense and vice versa. Watching Duron Harmon play QB and Tom Brady safety was, as Monty Python once said, “something completely different.”

The defense, especially QBs Harmon and Pat Chung struggled but the players loved it. Devin McCourty broke it down for the media as follows:

“We need a lot of practice,” McCourty said. “We need a little bit more rules. There was no running game. (The offense) dropped like nine into coverage and rushed two. They had a little bit of an advantage because they rushed (380-pound offensive tackle Trent Brown), so that’s like rushing three. It’s tough for us on offense, but hopefully, we do it again and we get another shot at those guys.”

It should be noted here that these are things that Belichick has done frequently in the past and it was not him reacting to the crap that is posted in social media, not that he would anyway. But for the team known as the buttoned-down all business Patriots, it is always good to see them lower the guard a bit.

Young Edge Rushers Look to Improve Pass Rush in 2018:
The front seven of the Patriots defense was beset by injuries in 2017 and that was the cause of many of their struggles. As much as people want to point at the lack of Malcolm Butler as the cause of Super Bowl failures, the absence of Dont’a Hightower was an even bigger factor in their struggles.

But initially, on paper, for now, things are changing for the better. The team added run stuffing DL Danny Shelton and he and returning from IR Vincent Valentine should really help the rotation inside. Hightower and Harvey Langi return from IR which should help the LB core play much better. But at the edge is where the team is looking to play much better in 2018.

 

The team went out and signed DE Adrian Clayborn during free agency. Clayborn isn’t a dynamic “hair on fire” pass rusher, but a very solid, big, veteran presence who should help solidify things. And the trio of young edge players, all just 24 years old should, with Clayborn be much better against the pass and the run.

Trey Flowers is the elder statesman of the DLine, having been there the longest but he’s still just reaching his peak where many predict an All-Pro season for him. Deatrich Wise is having an outstanding camp and is making a big jump in play so far this summer. And Derek Rivers, last year’s top draft choice who missed all of last year with an ACL injury is over that now and beginning to come on in the 2nd week of training camp. These players are the top 4 rotation that should help the defense be much improved in 2018.

Derek Rivers is getting his comfort level back after missing all of 2017 with a torn ACL. (SBalestrieri photo)

Eric Lee who played last year and the under-the-radar Keionta Davis who missed all of his 2017 rookie season with a neck injury and Trent Harris are all still in the mix. The front seven will bear considerable watching in the preseason but the edge players are the ones poised to look vastly different. We’ll keep you updated as camp rolls along.

Van Noy Trade Continues to Be a Steal For New England:

The Patriots traded just a 6th round draft choice for LB Kyle Van Noy in 2016, but the linebacker has worked his way into becoming a key contributor and leader in his second full season in New England.

With Dont’a Hightower injured last year, a lot was forced onto Van Noy’s plate including the mantle of leadership, something he’s embraced. Now with Hightower back, Van Noy can return to do the things he’s better suited for on the outside and is penciled in as a starter for 2018.

Bill Belichick was very complimentary about the level of play and the mentoring he’s shown with the younger players at one of his daily press conferences this week.

“Kyle’s done a really good job for us,” Belichick said. “He’s a player that didn’t start his career here but has come in and really has understood the way that we have tried to do things. He’s embraced it. He’s become very much of a leader in, A, doing his job and doing it the right way, but also helping other guys, particularly guys that transition onto the team as he did. He has a good perspective for that.”

The fact that the Patriots were able to snag the former 2nd round draft pick (40th overall) and a 7th rounder for just a 6th round pick has been an outright steal for Bill Belichick. They found a role for Van Noy and he’s met their expectations and has had more put on his plate. He should be much more effective with Hightower back in the fold this fall.

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills UDFA Phillips Impressive in First Week of Camp:
The Buffalo Bills signed Virginia Tech UDFA WR Cam Phillips to a deal this spring that paid him a signing bonus of just $600. Yep, that isn’t a typo, but the WR has used that slight to motivate him to earn the trust of his QBs and coaches. And the young WR is doing just that.

Phillips has shined in the first week of training camp that has many re-evaluating him as a long shot to make Buffalo’s 53-man roster to a player that now has a really good shot of doing so. Phillips has been making some big plays in practice every day, something that is getting the attention of the coaching staff.

With a WR position that is wide open, Phillips is making a spot for himself at the table. Now he’ll have the chance to do some work once the preseason games begin.

Dolphins Going With Three Safety Look This Season? Not yet says DC:
The Miami Dolphins already had a pair of talented safeties in Reshad Jones and T.J. McDonald before drafting the very talented Minkah Fitzpatrick, the glue from the National Champion Alabama defense with the 11th overall pick in this year’s draft.

Now the issue is getting all of the pieces gainfully employed. Dolphins defensive coordinator was asked this week when he “has to” get the three of them on the field together. Burke wasn’t having any of it. “I don’t have to,” he said.

“We’re mixing the groups. What you’re probably not seeing is we’re repping guys at different spots but maybe not all together. So, there may be times where there are only two safeties on the field but one of them is playing a spot that they’d be playing when there are three safeties on the field if we’re going to do something like that.”

The three will eventually see the field in practice at the same time to iron out any potential issues they may encounter with communication. The Patriots use a similar grouping with Duron Harmon joining Devin McCourty and Pat Chung.

For now, it is still early in training camp for the Dolphins and it is a good problem to have as they an abundance of talent at the position.

Jets Tight End Position a Possible Achilles Heel in 2018:
The New York Jets may have made a mistake in letting TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins walk in free agency this spring. As it looks right now, they may struggle at the position in 2018. Jenkins is now a member of the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Jets don’t have an answer at this early stage of training camp.

In a piece written by Luis Tirado for the JetPress, Tirado says the Jets haven’t had Jordan Leggett who is injured and thus far Chris Herndon, Eric Tomlinson, Neal Sterling, and Clive Walford haven’t done anything to stand out positively.

Any quarterback’s security blanket is usually their tight end, it may be especially so if the Jets top draft Sam Darnold wins the starting job this summer once the preseason games begin. Without having a credible target at tight end will hurt even an established veteran like Josh McCown, with a young QB like Darnold, it could prove even more so.

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.

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.

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.

Deatrich Wise Intent on Making a Big Year 2 Jump in Play

Steve Balestrieri
July 30, 2018 at 8:00 am ET

Last year we were amazed at how mature DE Deatrich Wise looked for a rookie. He carried himself and had the look of a player well beyond his 23 years. Now just 24 and beginning his second season, Wise is relentlessly pursuing his craft with a never-ending search to improve and become a better, all-around, more productive edge defender.

Wise had a decently productive season in 2017 for a rookie and notched five sacks. But there were many times, the rookie found himself on the bench because he wasn’t quite up to snuff on his complete game. The learning curve is steep for all rookies and he was no exception.

Wise isn’t built like most edge rushers, he’s big and powerfully built, listed at 6’5, 275 pounds. While he doesn’t have the athleticism of a Trey Flowers who can drop into short area coverage in the flat at times, Wise would be at a severe disadvantage in a spot like that. But with his size and strength, he’s excellent at setting the edge and can generate the power to bull rush past offensive linemen.

Bill Belichick frequently says players normally make the biggest jump in play between Year 1 and Year 2 of their development.  Wise made a big splash on Day 3 of training camp when the pads came on when he decleated Jeremy Hill on an inside running play and sent the veteran RB flat on his back.

Vincent Valentine and Deatrich Wise get pointers from Coach Bret Bielema. (SBalestrieri photo)

He’s been one of the standout players on the Patriots defense thus far in training camp and after Sunday’s practice session ended around 11 a.m. Wise, Flowers and Derek Rivers stayed on the field working on their pass rush moves.

Flowers, the veteran was showing the two younger players a move, then the younger pair would emulate and they went on and on for about 45 minutes. Flowers then left the two second-year players to work on their own for another 10-15 minutes. Rivers then stopped and enjoyed a few moments with his family. Wise continued on, working on a sled with his hand moves under the watchful eye of his ex-college coach Bret Bielema.

Finally, he came over to speak with the assembled media. As big and physical as he is on the field, he’s very polite and soft-spoken off of it. He tried to answer every question thrown his way and gave detailed answers.

Asked what was the big difference he could feel between Year 1 and Year 2, Wise said that during his first training camp he was feeling his way as he went. Now he says,
“It’s about paying attention to detail, the small things, my hand placement, my pad level is correct…stuff like that.”

Wise added, “we, as a group, are just trying to get better every day, work on the small things, like I just said to make us better as a unit. We want to build the chemistry so that the d-line can thrive.”

He was asked about the addition of Adrian Clayborn and what he’s helped the younger players on the roster with. Wise was quick to point out that the addition wasn’t just Clayborn but Danny Shelton as well and the two experienced veterans bring a lot to the table that the younger players may not have. “They bring another part, another integral of the game that we can get better on.”

Wise spoke DL coach Brandon Daly’s philosophy which isn’t just about sacks but about disrupting the offense’s flow. “The coach is always telling us to be disruptive, if its a sack, PBUs (passes broken up), closing the pocket, containing the QB, getting your hand in his face, anything to disrupt the QB.”

What part of his game is he specifically looking to improve? He was asked. All of it he replied. Wise considers himself a student of the game and is always learning and looking to get better.

On Sunday, after a fairly low-key practice, it was go-time. The best battles of the day took place along the goal line, where the offense had done well on Saturday, but Sunday was a different story. Four cracks at the end zone with different alignments and different backs, but the same results. No touchdowns.

For Wise, it is all part about constantly improving and getting better. “Very important on the aspect that we’re getting better,” he said of the unit’s success up front. “Getting better from yesterday and looking to improve from here on out.”

If the Patriots defense is going to be better than 2017, it will have to start up front. The defense was gashed for 4.7 yards per carry a year ago. With the addition of Danny Shelton upfront, the front line has to solidify. It also includes the edge players as well, everyone working in concert on the line will allow the linebackers to fly up and make plays.

Wise will have to be a big part of that. A big edge defender that can kick inside and bring pressure up the interior. From all looks that we’ve seen thus far, he’s looking prepared to do just that. “The 2017 defense was last year, we haven’t had the 2018 season yet. So we’re trying to always get better.”

Click on the link below to see the interview in its entirety.

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 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.

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