Tag Archives: 53 Man Roster Projection

If Sony Michel Is Out For An Extended Period, Devontae Booker Fits

Steve Balestrieri
October 23, 2018 at 4:14 pm ET

According to several sources, first reported by NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport, it appears Patriots rookie running back Sony Michel may have dodged a bullet and his injury may not be as serious as first thought. Michel went down awkwardly and his leg twisted under him. At first glance, it appeared to be a very serious, perhaps season-ending injury. But now Michel may be only out for a short while.

Regardless, Michel will be out at least this week and quite possibly several more, no one really knows for sure. If he is a week-to-week decision, that may change how the Patriots view the running back position and may opt to possibly promote someone like Kenneth Farrow from the practice squad if it is just for a very short period.

Farrow played with the Chargers during the 2016 season. Appearing in 13 games, he rushed 60 times for 192 yards and caught 13 passes for 70 yards. Farrow is built slightly larger than James White or Michel, while only 5’9, he tops out at 219 pounds. While not the prototypical “big back”, he offers enough for the Patriots to maybe get some production from.

The other two options are signing a street free agent or make a trade. One possible trade option could involve the Broncos Devontae Booker. Booker was drafted by the Broncos in the 4th Round of the 2016 NFL Draft out of Utah. He’s 5’11, 219 pounds and has been dropped on the Broncos depth chart due to the emergence of running backs Royce Freeman and Phillip Lindsay.

Running back Devontae Booker #23 of the Denver Broncos rushes for a touchdown against the San Diego Chargers (USA Today)

He has been dropped down to third on the Broncos running back depth chart behind those two and is barely seeing the field. Against the Cardinals, on Thursday night he got zero carries and just one catch in the passing game. Two weeks ago against the Rams, Booker had just two carries and caught two passes. A change of scenery could be just the thing that he needs to energize his career.

Booker would be a nice fit in the Patriots offense because he’s a versatile kind of guy that they like. He can run the ball between the tackles and is a good receiver out of the backfield, something the Patriots like.

Booker has the quickness to the hole and makes good sharp cuts at the point of attack. He has very good vision and is a great fit in a zone blocking scheme. The Patriots offense is a bit multi-dimensional, however, they utilize mainly zone blocking schemes in the running game. Sony Michel came from a zone blocking scheme in Georgia and it is easy to see how well he fits as well.

Booker doesn’t have great, breakaway speed but has been a productive pass catcher out of the backfield. He caught 31 passes as a rookie for Denver and caught 30 more last season for 275 yards on just 38 targets.

He’s just 26 and his contract for the balance of the season would be just $354,375. He is due just $720,000 in 2019.

If Michel is indeed going to be out for several weeks, the Patriots will need to address the position and give James White some breaks. Booker is a decent runner and good pass receiver who would fit well within the Patriots system. He can probably be traded for from the Broncos to New England for a fairly cheap asking price.

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

 

Podcast: Texans vs. Patriots Preview

Russ Goldman
September 6, 2018 at 11:36 am ET

This episode, is our preview of the home opener for the Patriots against the Texans. However, we started the show by looking at the 53 man roster. After that, we made several season predictions. At the end of the show, we previewed the game.

Patriots 2018 Opponents, First Impressions of the Texans

Steve Balestrieri
September 4, 2018 at 7:30 am ET

The 2018 NFL season is finally upon us. And not a moment too soon. To say the offseason was overly long and contentious would be an understatement. But for a few hours on Sunday, we get to forget all of that and revel in the fact that the football season, with the games that count, is back amongst us.

The Patriots 2018 season begins with a very familiar foe coming to Foxboro. While the Houston Texans play in the AFC South, they’ve been a familiar foe for the Patriots who it seems, play the Texans every season, including a couple of playoff games in Foxboro.

Last year, the teams had a barn-burner with Tom Brady engineering a late drive with a perfect throw to Brandon Cooks for a game-winning touchdown with just seconds left. The 36-33 win by NE overshadowed the excellent game by Deshaun Watson who looked phenomenal for Houston in the 36-33 loss. Watson only played in seven games before tearing an ACL, but is now healthy and will start on Sunday.

So, here are our first impressions of the Texans of 2018…

Front Seven One of the Best in the NFL: The strength of the Texans is their defense and when they’re healthy, (they are right now), they are one of the best front sevens in the entire league. Led by J.J. Watt, this unit can really get after the passer. Watt is healthy after a two-year slew of injuries forced him onto the shelf. Watt, Whitney Merciless, Jadeveon Clowney and newcomer Duke Ejiofor from Duke gives them a ridiculous embarrassment of riches in the front seven.

Benardrick McKinney is the Mike linebacker and Zach Cunningham is the sideline to sideline linebacker on a front seven that has no weaknesses. Romeo Crennel will move these pieces around to where they feel they have the most advantageous matchups.

In the game, last season, the Texans, sacked Brady five times for 41 yards. Bill Belichick minced no words on how good the front seven is for Houston on Monday.

“They have a group of outstanding players. I mean, they’re among the very best in the league,” said Belichick. “So, very challenging and they have good depth, so they rotate some players through there that are maybe not quite as good as some of the other ones, but they’re still really good players.”

“They’re front four or front seven – however you want to look at it because some of those players are a little bit interchangeable – are very good, and one of the things that the Texans do a good job of is they don’t always line up in the same place. So, sometimes finding them or identifying where they are is a little bit of a problem – not that you can’t find a guy, but depending on what you have called and where he’s located, then that might change what your anticipated matchup on the play is and then what it really is could be two different things, and they do a good job of creating problems on that.”

Watson Ready to Turn It Back On: One of the better stories of the early part of the 2017 season was the play of rookie QB Deshaun Watson. He was positively electric in the early going before tearing an ACL in Week 7 that ended his and the Texans season.

Houston’s QB play was terrible after that and the injuries along the defense decimated what many thought would be a playoff team. But Watson is healthy now and despite a very limited preseason, he’s deemed ready to go for 2018.

Last season in Foxboro in Week 3, Watson threw for 301 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions and rushed eight times for 41 more yards. He had one play on a second and 22 where he looked like he was about to sacked twice, by Trey Flowers and Lawrence Guy, but spun out and left each holding air before delivering a strike downfield for 31 yards.

Whenever they face a mobile QB, the Patriots preach containment, which means the edge players must set the edge and not allow the QB to get outside of their rush lanes. If Watson does it again, like he did a year ago, he’ll put up big numbers again and has his favorite target, De’Andre Hopkins who caught 96 passes for 1378 yards and 13 touchdowns while dealing with awful quarterback play after Watson went down.

The Patriots defense will have their hands full on Sunday.

Big Turnover in Texans Roster: Things are constantly changing in the NFL landscape and the Texans roster is no stranger to that. Not only does Houston have the 7th youngest roster in the NFL at 25.6 years of age as the average, they’ve had a massive turnover in personnel.

Of the 53 players on the roster for the final regular season game of 2017, 31 of those players are gone. Of course, Houston had a rash of injuries last year with 24 players placed on IR. That, among other things, is why the team finished 4-12 and out of the playoffs. But this year’s team is expected to be much improved.

Still, it is different to see a Houston roster without so many mainstays including inside linebacker Brian Cushing, punter Shane Lechler, guard David Quessenberry and tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz and others gone.

Safety Will Be an Area to Watch on Sunday:

Houston has some uncertainty with the defense and it centers around the safety play. Kareem Jackson is making the transition from corner to safety after the 8-year veteran has played in 116 games as a cornerback. The Texans safeties struggled mightily and it is hoped that Jackson will be a stabilizing force there.

The team signed the “Honey Badger” Tyrann Mathieu as a free agent this year after he’s been bitten by the injury bug the past few seasons. When he was healthy, Mathieu was one of the more dynamic players in the league.

The team drafted rookie Justin Reid in the 3rd round of the 2018 NFL Draft this spring and it is expected that he’ll be a starter and soon but for now, he’ll back up the other two. Being the first game of the season, there may be some communication issues back there once the game planning takes place. Especially with two new faces there.

Foreman Begins Season on PUP: The Texans talented second-year running back D’Onta Foreman will begin the season on PUP after it appeared that he may be ready to start the season after tearing his Achilles tendon last year.

The big 6’1, 235 bruising running back from Texas played a big part in the Texans offense a year ago in Foxboro. Although he rushed for just 25 yards on eight carries, he had two huge receptions out of the backfield for 65 yards, one for 34 and one for 31.

“Honestly, it was a little tough, but it wasn’t that tough,” Foreman said about being placed on PUP. “We’re looking out for my best interests and the team’s best interests. I don’t want to be put out there (when) I’m not 100 percent and not at my best. That would be hindering the team (and) hindering myself. It was the best decision to make.”

With Foreman on the shelf until Week 7 against the Jaguars, look for Alfred Blue to get the majority of the snaps behind starter Lamar Miller.

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 Add Depth With Two Bigger Wide Receivers, Quick Analysis

Steve Balestrieri
September 3, 2018 at 8:17 am ET

With the reduction of the NFL’s rosters down to the 53-man league-mandated maximum, the Patriots were left on Saturday afternoon with just four wide receivers, one of whom, Matthew Slater, is a special team’s ace. They plucked two intriguing players off the waiver wire, Amarah Darboh from the Seattle Seahawks and Chad Hansen from the New York Jets. Both were rookies in 2017 and had scant production from their respective teams.

But both enter New England with a clean slate and the opportunity to learn on the job. Learning on the fly is never easy, the Patriots offense and route tree for the WRs is complicated and not an easy one to learn. We’ve seen several productive veteran wide receivers come here and fail. So temper any expectations at the outset and let the process play out. At first glance, however, both players would be the type to fit in with what the Patriots offense likes to do. Will the Patriots make another move for a more veteran wide receiver? We still believe they will, but we’ll just have to wait and see.

Hansen is just 23 and spent last year with the Jets after being drafted by the Jets in the 4th round, 141st overall in the 2017 NFL Draft. In his only season with the Jets, he played in 15 games and caught nine passes for 94 yards, including one for 15 against the Patriots in the regular season finale in Foxboro. He had a very strong spring with the Jets before tailing off during training camp.

While at Cal, he posted outstanding numbers in his final season in 2016, with 92 catches, 1249 receiving yards, and 11 touchdowns. He brings good size at 6’2, 202 pounds, he ran a 4.53 in the 40 at the Combine, but showed excellent quickness in the 3-Cone Drill with a time of 6.74.

Hansen is the kind of chain mover that the Patriots like and can be used in a couple of ways. He can work inside and is good at coming back to the ball on dig routes, was a reliable man in the screen game, adept at making the first man miss, was very good at working the boundaries and had great awareness of the sidelines. He has really good hands and is able to occasionally fool a defender and blow past them to stretch the field.

His highlight film work reminds one a lot of Chris Hogan. He plays a bit faster than his timed speed. However, he struggled to gain separation from defenders which is probably why the Jets gave up on him after just one season.

Darboh had an unusual path to the NFL as his family fled war-torn Sierra Leone and came to the United States (Iowa) when he was just seven years old. He attended Michigan where he was the team’s leading receiver his last two years, catching passes in 33 straight games. He finished his senior season with 52 catches for 826 yards and seven touchdowns.

Darboh has the size/speed combination that most teams look for. He is 6’2, 215 pounds and ran a 4.45 in the 40 at the NFL combine, with a 36-inch vertical leap and 17 reps on the bench press. He was drafted in the 3rd round, 106th overall in the 2017 NFL Draft by the Seahawks. In his only season with Seattle, he caught eight passes for 71 yards. He primarily played on Special Teams and was a valuable asset on the Hawks coverage units.

Darboh can play in the slot or outside although at times he seems to play slower than his timed speed. But once he gets his hands on the ball in the open field can turn on the jets where his speed is apparent. He struggles against tight press man coverage and isn’t the quickest guy out of his breaks. He’s a good, tough willing blocker in the running game. His hands are great and suffers a lot of concentration drops.

Neither one is a punt returner, although Darboh returned three while at Michigan and could conceivably see some practice work there. It is interesting to note and see how tough the inexact science of the NFL draft is when the Patriots can pick up 3rd and 4th round draft picks from just a year ago off the waiver wire.

Ultimately, the onus will be on these players and WR’s coach Chad O’Shea to get these players worked into the system and learn the playbook. Then O’Shea and Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels will have to find a way for these players to learn to get a little separation at the line of scrimmage.

One of the things McDaniels and the Patriots as a whole are good at is, adapting a player and playing to his strengths rather than trying to force him to adapt to a rigid system. If they can find ways to do that, then these players will have good production here. Don’t expect big numbers from either, however, there is no reason why, if they put the time and effort in and find a bit of chemistry with Tom Brady, that they can’t carve out a role within the Patriots offense as the 4th or 5th options in the passing game.

File both of these signings under the “Work in Progress” folder.

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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.

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.

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

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

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

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

Quick Hitters:  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wide Receiver Position Still in Flux:

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

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

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

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

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

Bentley Continues Strong Preseason:

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

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

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

Cyrus Jones Returns:

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

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

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

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

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

Podcast: The Patriots Fourth And Two Interview With Adam Jones From 98.5 The Sports Hub

Russ Goldman
August 25, 2018 at 6:47 am ET

This episode is an interview with Adam Jones from 98.5 The Sports Hub. During this interview, you will learn about Adam’s radio history, and his approach to covering Boston Sports Teams. After that, you will hear us debate several Patriots topics that you should find interesting, as it is clear he looks at the Patriots differently than host Russ Goldman sees the team.