Tag Archives: Anthony Johnson

Patriots Sign DT John Hughes, Cut Anthony Johnson

Steve Balestrieri
September 26, 2016 at 3:54 pm ET

The Patriots are rapidly becoming the home of former Cleveland Browns.

ESPN’s Field Yates has reported that the Patriots are signing former Cleveland defensive tackle John Hughes. Hughes was a 3rd -round 2012 NFL Draft pick out of Cincinnati. He was released by the Browns last week after signing a 4-year, $14.4 million-dollar contract extension just a year ago.

He was supposed to be one of the anchors of the Browns defensive line but missed significant time during training camp due to a personal issue. He was used sparingly in the first two games and was shown the gate by Hue Jackson. With the emergence of rookie Carl Nassib, Hughes became expendable for Cleveland.

The 6’4, 320-pound Hughes played in 53 games, starting 10 and notched 109 combined tackles to go with 5.5 sacks and a forced fumble in his time for the Browns.

With the Patriots releasing undersized DT Anthony Johnson, today, this may be a move considering the Patriots next opponent, the Buffalo Bills who have a potent rushing attack that gained 208 yards against Arizona yesterday.

I asked Yates about him minutes ago and he said, that he’s a hard man to miss in person and that he’s a big run stuffing body inside and that he could provide insurance for both Alan Branch and Malcom Brown.

Hughes the Patriots roster that includes three other former Browns in linebacker Barkevious Mingo, defensive end Jabaal Sheard and running back Dion Lewis.

 

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.

Friday Daily Patriots Rundown 9/16: New England Patriots News and Notes

Ian Logue
September 16, 2016 at 5:00 am ET

Here’s a quick rundown of this morning’s top stories:

Johnson Looking to Surprise Old Team – There’s been quite a change in defensive tackle Anthony Johnson, who now that he’s with the Patriots is looking forward to going up against his former team this weekend when the Dolphins come into Gillette Stadium.

When Johnson played in Miami back in 2014, he was a bigger player, with the veteran hitting as high as 325 pounds while he worked on moving inside to nose tackle, which isn’t far off from the 330 he weighed as a freshman at LSU.

Now he’s down to 280 and he’s been much quicker and more effective thus far here in New England and he expects his former teammates to be surprised when they see him.

“It’s gonna mess them up,” Johnson said via NESN. “It’s going to mess them up. You better believe it. I’m looking forward to it. I think I’m going to be a mismatch for a lot of teams. These coaches are going to put us in the best position to make plays. I’m just ready to help this team go out and win the best way we can.”

Johnson has fit in well so far in the Patriots’ defense, finishing with a tackle in Week 1 but was disruptive las Sunday as he made Carson Palmer miserable on a night where played in 20 snaps on defense in his first regular season game with his new team.

This week he’ll be playing with a bit of a chip on his shoulder as he gets ready to face the team that cut him last year, and he told NESN he’s been spending extra time working hard to make sure he plays well this weekend.

“You want to go out and have a good game against your former team,” Johnson said. “That’s why I’m working hard at practice. I’m going in, putting in the extra work day in and day out, not changing anything from my routine, but I’m ready to play.”

Gronkowski a Football Mastermind – Andy Benoit of Sports Illustrated had a terrific article on Rob Gronkowski, where he really went deep with the tight end as Gronkowski discussed a variety of nuances and scenarios he faces on a week-to-week basis on the field, while offering up some pretty incredible insight for a player who sometimes doesn’t get much credit for his football I.Q.

The veteran has put a lot of time in since coming to the NFL learning the nuances of the game, which he explained has helped make him a better player.  Gronkowski told Benoit that figuring out little things, like being able to read the safeties and adjusting his routes based on where they’re lined up, has made him more productive.

“There are a lot of routes, about five or six in the playbook, where if it’s split-high , I have to run one certain route, and if it’s single-high [one safety deep], I have another route,” Gronkowski said. My rookie year I always got it wrong. But just learning the game, studying film, listening to my coaches, figuring out the techniques of the team I’m playing that week, to know if it’s split safety or post high, was hugely helpful. Eventually you know it in a second. You won’t even have to think about it.”

Another area that Gronkowski discussed was how he learned to improve his route running, learning how to show the same look in the beginning and being able to break it off to catch defenders off guard.  A lot of players rely on just their athleticism to beat opponents, while Gronkowski has also learned to outsmart them.

“Having defenders think you’re going somewhere else, and always remembering to run what looks like the same route as before, but boom: At the top you stick it off one way or you stick it off the other,” explained Gronkowski. ” But all the way to the top of the route, it looks the same. I’ve worked on that a lot throughout my career.”

Bill Belichick told Benoit that Gronkowski’s athletic versatility really also extends to his intelligence, which has been the difference why he’s been able to figure out what many other players who have come into this system haven’t been able to do.  It’s helped turn him into one of the best of the game, and also why he remains such an important part of their offense.

“Rob is a versatile athlete, but he’s also a versatile guy mentally,” said Belichick.  “He can handle a lot of different assignments. Some guys can’t. Either they mentally can’t do it, or it’s just too much and their game slows down. They don’t play to the same skill set you see athletically because they’re thinking too much. That’s not the case with Rob.”

There you go.  Gronkowski is just as incredible with his mind as he is in pads, and it’s definitely a story you’ll want to take some time and check out if you haven’t already.

Former BC Guard Hits the Practice Squad – The Patriots continued shuffling their practice squad on Thursday, releasing Clay DeBoard while adding offensive guard Ian Silberman.

Silberman played football for both Florida and Boston College and was a sixth round pick for the 49ers in last year’s draft.  He’s originally from Florida, growing up as a native of Orange Park and having played for Fleming Island High School.

He played three years at the University of Florida and then after graduating in 2013, he transferred to Boston College where he used his final year of eligibility to play a season with the Eagles, playing at right tackle.  He had been previously released by the 49ers back on August 27th.

Amendola Became Inspired By Tillman’s Story – There’s been a lot of controversy about players not standing during the national anthem, but Danny Amendola has his reasons for why he took part in the opening ceremonies when he held the flag during the pregame ceremony last Sunday and for what the Spar Spangled Banner means to him.

Amendola told NESN that one of the things that inspired him was reading Pat Tillman’s story, who was a former NFL player who joined the Army following the 9/11 attacks and was killed in a friendly-fire incident back in 2004.

Tillman’s sacrifice touched Amendola, who explained that it played a part in his actions during pregame Sunday night in Arizona.

“I can only speak for myself,” Amendola told NESN. “I read a Pat Tillman story before I went on the field the other day. What he did for the flag and what he did for the country is pretty remarkable. That was inspirational to me.”

Edelman Hit With $26k Fine, Plans on Appeal – Julian Edelman played with a chip on his shoulder on Sunday night, and one play he made saw him lay a big hit linebacker Deone Bucannon.

Bucannon, who is 6’1″, 216lbs got drilled on a blindside block by the smaller and nearly 20-pound lighter Edelman Sunday night.

According to Mike Reiss, Edelman was fined $26,000 for the hit “on a defenseless player”, which you can see in the Tweet above from NESN’s Zack Cox.

Reiss also reports Edelman plans to appeal the fine.

Reiss was the first to report the news, as was someone Fox Sports’ Brett Pollakoff quoted named ‘Mike Rice” (with Reiss’ Tweet and his name embedded right below it).  Hard to fault Pollakoff as mistakes happen, and clearly he doesn’t understand what a key player Reiss is here in this market as it’s a name that’s obviously well-known in New England.

Meanwhile, no fine on Edelman for another hit he put on the Cardinals’ ball boy, where he didn’t help him up and stared him down before turning and walking back to the huddle.

The receiver is definitely playing with an edge and a little bit of anger, which should make him pretty dangerous for opponents in the weeks ahead.

Hightower Absent From Practice Again – Meanwhile, on the other side of the football the Patriots appear like they could be without linebacker Dont’a Hightower this weekend, who missed practice for the second straight day.

Hightower suffered a reported knee injury during the season opener out in Arizona and the fact he hasn’t been out there for two days likely doesn’t bode well for his chances for playing this weekend.

Give the veteran credit, he gutted out Sunday night’s game following the injury, missing just three snaps out of their 61 defensive plays.  But as important as beating the Dolphins obviously is, like Gronkowski, having him in January far outweighs risking further injury if he’s not yet ready to return.

Solder Excited for the Game on Sunday – Veteran tackle Nate Solder missed Week 1 as he continues battling a hamstring injury, but after two straight days of being limited in practice, he sounded relatively optimistic about his chances of playing this weekend.

Having Solder back healthy would certainly give the Patriots’ offensive line a boost, especially against what will likely be a tough group up front by the Dolphins.  Everyone knows the threat Ndamukong Suh presents up front and how dangerous a player he is, as well as the Dolphins’ pass rush as a whole.  As a result, New England will need as much help as possible as they try and get Jimmy Garoppolo through another start this weekend.

Suh has already said his plan for Sunday is to try and rattle Garoppolo.

“Very poised young man,” Suh told ESPN of Garoppolo. “Obviously he has had a lot of work underneath that system and he understands what he needs to get done. In my opinion, he doesn’t want to go out there and make any mistakes, and he went out there and accomplished that.”

With Suh gunning for him as well as his teammates, Garoppolo needs as many healthy bodies as he can for this weekend.  For now Solder is looking forward to hopefully being out there.

“I’m really excited [for the game], it’s going to be awesome,” said Solder on Sunday’s home opener. “It’s going to be a tough opponent and I’m excited to get the opportunity to play out there.”

Patriots Drop Preseason Finale to the Giants 17-9, Quick Observations

Steve Balestrieri
September 1, 2016 at 10:04 pm ET

Mingo Looks to be a Difference Maker on Defense

In a strange ending to a strange summer saw Tom Brady play the entire first half for the Patriots as they dropped their final preseason game 17-9 to the New York Giants. Brady and the Patriots got off to a slow start offensively once again but he finished strong and thankfully came away unscathed. Now he begins a four-week hiatus before we’ll see him again Week 5 in Cleveland.

Brady finished 16 of 26 for 166 yards with a TD and an interception.

Not everyone did, however, Tyler Gaffney, Devin Lucien, and Keshawn Martin all left with injuries. Gaffney looked like he rolled his ankle after picking up some nice yardage on a run. Lucien took a nasty hit in the back as he was going to the ground. Nate Solder looked to tweak his hamstring early in the game. He got some treatment and appears ok, but that will bear watching in the coming days.

Mingo Impresses in his first action: But the story of this game was Barkevious Mingo. The uber-athletic player was all over the field, showing tremendous explosion off the snap. The Patriots moved him around a lot showing different looks and he played most of the game as the coaches were trying to get him as acclimated as much as possible in a short window.

Mingo forced a fumble and had a strip sack negated by a penalty. He was making plays in the backfield, setting the edge well for a guy who is built like he is. Mingo IS a linebacker with the Patriots and the possibilities are endless for this guy when he’s teamed with the likes of Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower. He flew thru the A-gap and flattened Ryan Nassib on one play.

He’s going to be an intriguing piece of the puzzle once this defense gets up to 100 percent strength. And yes…he was playing like a guy who was delighted to be out of Cleveland tonight.

Foster Shows Impressive Burst: Rookie running back D.J. Foster saw a ton of reps early tonight with Tom Brady and the top offensive unit and for the most part was very good. He has excellent hands and speed and he put those to the test when he blew by his coverage on a perfectly executed wheel route that went for 30 yards.

He mixed in a couple of nice runs on the night and on a screen from Brady, jumped up and made a really nice one-handed grab to snatch the ball out of the air. But he then made a rookie mistake and didn’t protect it, allowing the Giants to force a fumble inside the red zone which took away points.

But did he do enough to make the roster? With nine catches on 10 targets for 110 yards and 22 more yards on the ground, I’d say yes he’ll be there.

The Patriots defense looked really fast and was playing outstanding tonight. They were getting very good pressure on the QB, had solid coverage and were keeping the Giants at bay. Nassib and the Giants wide receivers kept testing the Patriots corners deep down the right side but the secondary was doing a good job of sticking with their assignments.

They ended up getting burned on a 59-yard scoring play when Nassib hit Tavares King on a short slant where he juked rookie Cyrus Jones at the line. Safety Vinnie Sunseri was late coming over to help and King blew past him in an impressive play.

Aaron Dobson had a big play with a nice adjustment on a deep ball by Brady that he was able to haul in for a 38-yard gain. He ran a route on the team’s first drive where he appeared to stop short. The Giants defender, Trevin Wade appeared to arrive a split second before the ball did. There was no flag and Wade wrestled the ball away for an interception, one of three Patriots turnovers in the half.

Charles Johnson also had another nice night. He’s showing a very quick explosion off the snap and has been disrupting plays all over the field. He was a constant thorn in the Giants side with several QB pressures. He and Geneo Grissom combined for a sack in the second half. He helped his chances of making the roster with his performance.

So the Patriots finish the preseason at 3-1, and now they have to cut the roster down to 53 men by Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m. Then on Sunday, they’ll start to fill their practice squad. That’s when the preparation for the Arizona Cardinals begins and they live without Brady on the roster for the next 37 days.

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 – Giants, Preseason Week 4, Five Areas to Watch

Steve Balestrieri
at 9:00 am ET

 

All About the Bottom of the Roster Players Tonight

First and foremost, the Patriots (and Giants), biggest goal for tonight’s game is to come out healthy. But there are five things to watch for from a Patriots perspective. Saturday comes to the cut-down to the 53-man roster and there are still some intense positional battles going on.

Tonight isn’t about the starters, although players like Tom Brady and Julian Edelman made the trip. Although they may possibly see some action, tonight is about the players on the bubble. The Patriots are going to cut 22 players currently on the roster, and several will be difficult choices. These players are getting a final opportunity to make this team or to show a potential new team what they can do. Here are our five positional areas to watch for tonight:

Running Back Battle Comes Down to Two: Looking at the game tonight, the battle comes down to Tyler Gaffney and D.J. Foster. Who will the Patriots keep? Will either make the roster or will they cut loose both in the hopes of landing both back on the practice squad and pick up another running back not on the roster?

Foster-taking-a-handoff-in-

With LeGarrette Blount, James White, Brandon Bolden and FB/TE James Develin seemingly safe, that leaves a single roster slot open. Gaffney had a nice game against the Saints and ran well against the Panthers a week ago. He’s the prototypical big back who can carry the ball between the tackles and catch the odd pass out of the backfield.

Foster is still a largely unknown quantity but with a ton of upside, especially catching the ball out of the backfield. He’s an extremely intriguing player who was both a running back and wide receiver at Arizona State and showed lightning quickness out of the backfield in the spring. But then he pulled a hamstring and missed nearly all of training camp.

I expect we’ll see a ton of these two tonight as the other players with the exception of Joey Iosefa probably won’t see much playing time. The one issue is, will Foster clear waivers and be available to be brought back onto the practice squad if he’s let go? I don’t think so.

Interior Offensive Line Still Up for Grabs: Specifically, the right side is still a question mark. Shaq Mason broke his hand and is on the shelf for the time being. Josh Kline is dealing with a shoulder issue although he will probably play some against the Giants. With those two guys hurting right now, who steps up?

The most obvious choice this spring was Jonathan Cooper. The Patriots brought him over in the Chandler Jones trade and throughout the spring he was getting all of the first-team reps. But he’s suffering from plantar fasciitis and went down in the very first padded practice on July 30. He just returned to the field this week and is a bigger unknown to the Patriots than perhaps even Foster. If he’s able to go this week, then he’ll be the guy to watch.

Ted Karras has been out there and battling all summer, something Bill Belichick always seems to remark upon in his press conferences, players available and working out daily. Karras isn’t the most athletically gifted offensive lineman but he’s more than made up for that in the physicality department. He’s tough, plays to the whistle and brings the Logan Mankins type of mean streak to his play. He’s been versatile too, not only has he played guard but taken some snaps at center as well.

With Belichick, the more you can do sometimes, the more valuable you are and Karras will be one of those tough guys to part with. The rest of the offensive line starters seem set. The only other question is, do they keep four tackles and does Cameron Fleming make the 53? He’ll get plenty of looks tonight at both right tackle and as the extra blocking tight end…the more you do.

Cornerback Choice Will Be Tough: The Patriots seem set with their top three corners with starters Malcolm Butler, and Logan Ryan returning. Rookie Cyrus Jones seems to have passed Justin Coleman for the third or slot corner position. Coleman still looks in good shape to make the team, so the three players vying for one final spot have a final chance to impress the coaches.

Jonathan Jones

Jonathan Jones

Cre’Von LeBlanc has probably impressed more than the other two and has gotten plenty of reps earlier in games. He’s shown good cover skills and physicality and the ability to make plays while the ball is in the air. Belichick spoke on Tuesday about why this skill is important and some players seem to have it ingrained. But he’s been dealing with a hip issue. Will he play this week? And if not, has he done enough to stick?

Jonathan Jones and Darryl Roberts are just behind LeBlanc in terms of cornerback play. Both have had good and bad moments this summer, but each brings a special teams’ element to the table that LeBlanc doesn’t have. Keep your eyes on each. The more you do (Pt.3).

Wide Receivers Try to Make Final Push: The Patriots seem to have their wide receiver positions set, but some questions still remain. Danny Amendola is still on the PUP. Will he stay on it for the first six weeks of the season or will he be able to start the season on time? Rookie Malcolm Mitchell was quickly becoming a part of the passing offense when he dislocated his elbow during the game against the Saints. He’s now back to practicing with the team in positional drills but may not be ready to go in Arizona.

It comes down to Keshawn Martin, Aaron Dobson, and DeAndre Carter. Martin has the most upside, he was a small but key part of the offense a year ago and also helped the team by returning punts and kicks. He was given a contract extension in January with a $600,000-dollar bonus. He’s missed some valuable time this summer but if he can show the coaches that he’s able to knock off the rust, his status should be secure on the roster.

Dobson, Ryan 2-3

Dobson, Ryan 2-3

Is Dobson reportedly on the trading block? So with that said, he’ll probably turn in the game of the week against the Giants right? He’s been an enigma in his time in New England. Just when you’re ready to write him off, he turns it around and makes you see what they saw in him. Amendola’s status will directly tie into Dobson’s. If Amendola goes on PUP to start the year, I think Dobson may have the edge over Carter.

Carter has played well this summer and has flashed numerous times. With him, it comes down to a numbers crunch but he could turn few heads with a standout performance against the Giants.

Interior Defensive Line: The Patriots cut ties to veteran and free agent signee Terrance Knighton, who most of us had as a lock earlier this summer. But he struggled in learning the Pats’ two-gap system and it opened the door for a couple of guys who are playing really well. With Malcom Brown, Vincent Valentine and Alan Branch roster locks, there is still room on the roster for one more. Markus Kuhn and Anthony Johnson have both played well, albeit in different roles.

Kuhn came over in free agency from the Giants and wasn’t given much of a shot to make the roster. Well, with injuries and such to start the spring and summer workouts, he got a lot of solid, first-team reps and has been another big, run-stuffing presence inside. He’s been a pleasant surprise after arriving with a not-so-stellar reputation.

Johnson, on the other hand, is an undersized, penetrating defensive tackle who has really come on lately. He’s played well all summer but didn’t get a ton of reps to really show what he can do. He’s built more along the lines of a Dominique Easley. I would expect both to play a ton of snaps tonight. If each plays well, then the coaches will have to decide on another big body inside or a slightly smaller more athletic pass rusher.

Stay tuned to PatsFans.com as we’ll have some post-game critique and analysis.

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.

 

10 Patriots Players Who Stepped Up Against the Bears

Ian Logue
August 20, 2016 at 6:30 am ET

Thursday night’s win over the Bears helped improve the Patriots to 2-0 on the exhibition season and there were once again plenty of bright spots as they continue getting ready for 2016.

After a 23-22 victory over Chicago, here’s a quick look at 10 players who stepped up during the Patriots final home game of the exhibition season.

1) CB Cyrus Jones – Thursday night was a good one for the rookie out of Alabama, who picked off Brian Hoyer’s first pass of the night with just under four minutes to go and helped set up the Patriots at the Bears’ 15-yard line.  What made the play more impressive was how well he read the route and anticipated where the football would be, stepping in front of receiver James Bellamy to force the turnover. Three plays later, LeGarrette Blount was in the end zone and the Patriots were back in the game at 11-9.  Jones also had a decent night returning kicks and is starting to look comfortable early on here in New England.

2) RB LeGarrette Blount – Blount looked like a different running back Thursday night, showing a nice burst and an ability to cut and change direction that we haven’t seen in a long time from the veteran.  Part of his success stemmed from better play by the offensive line, which gave him a little more time to work than they had in last week’s game.  He finished with 11 carries for 69-yards and a touchdown, and hopefully this improvement is the sign of things to come for Blount, who right now once again remains the lead candidate to join Dion Lewis for the primary running back duties.

3) TE A.J. Derby – Derby has been impressive to watch this preseason and he’s quickly establishing himself as the player to beat at the number three tight end position.  Derby finished the night with 6 receptions on 7 targets for 71-yards including a touchdown, and made several impressive catches in traffic despite opposing defenders getting a couple of good shots in on him.  Through two games Derby leads all receivers by nearly double the amount of catches, with Thursday night’s game seeing him increase his total to 9 receptions on the preseason along with putting him over the 100-yard mark with 118-yards total receiving yards.

4) TE Martellus Bennett – Bennett finished with a quiet night while catching just two passes for 26-yards, but he looked much more comfortable in the offense than he did last week.  His first reception of the night was a big 3rd-down grab to move the chains, and overall he played well and was spotted smiling and laughing with Jimmy Garoppolo, which is a good sign as the two continue working on getting on the same page.

5) DE Trey Flowers – Flowers again looked terrific, getting into the backfield on numerous occasions while joining Johnson on his 0.5 sack.  The Patriots should be pretty happy with the state of their guys up front heading into this season, and seem to have a premium on players who appear to be relatively formidable in terms of helping make their pass rush that much better in 2016.  Flowers is certainly a great example of that, and he’s definitely been impressive through the first two weeks of the preseason.


Johnson Had a Solid Outing Thursday Night. (USA TODAY Images)

6) DT Anthony Johnson – One of the areas of need has been the Patriots getting consistent inside pressure from their defensive line, and Johnson certainly did that throughout the evening, including batting down a 3rd down pass by the Bears to force a 36-yard field goal attempt.  He finished with a pretty impressive stat line, with a quarterback hit, a tackle for a loss, a 0.5 sack, and that’s not even counting the number of times he made opposing quarterbacks run for their lives.  It was a nice glimpse of what will hopefully be more to come from the former undrafted free agent, who seems like a man on a mission in his third NFL season.

7) WR Chris Hogan – Hogan had a solid outing Thursday night, finishing  the evening with 4 receptions on 5 targets for 53-yards, including a two point conversion grab.  Hogan had a 20-yard reception during the team’s no-huddle drive at the end of the half that helped set up Derby’s touchdown and seemed to have great chemistry with Garoppolo and ran a great route on the two-point try.  Hogan has done a good job so far this preseason and seems to be settling in.

8) QB Jacoby Brissett – Brissett put together a pretty good performance Thursday night, missing just four passes during his 13 attempts.  Overall he finished 9-of-13 for 87 yards but some of the things that stood out were his strong hands on pump fakes and his overall execution during play-action.  One play that stood out was a play action fake he made inside where he stepped and faked the handoff before turning and then spinning back outside, completely fooling the defender before rolling back out and hitting Steven Scheu on a 14-yard pass.  He’s already improved quite a bit over two weeks, and looked like he’s starting to feel more comfortable.  That’s good news considering he’s going to be the go-to guy should anything happen to Garoppolo and hopefully we’ll see more of that over the final two exhibition games.

9) LB Jamie Collins – Collins again was his usual brilliant self this week, although he finished the game without forcing any turnovers.  He finished with 4 total tackles on the evening and watching him, if the preseason remains any indication, he’s going to be in for a big year.  Through two games it’s just amazing to see how quick and athletic he is and how much better the defense looks as a whole with him out there.  Getting him under contract is something that the Patriots certainly know they need to get done, and after seeing what they were like without him out there last season, hopefully the two sides are able to strike a deal on an extension.

10) QB Jimmy Garoppolo – Finally, it’s only one game, but Garoppolo has definitely come a long way in just one week’s time, which was great to see given the fact he’ll obviously be the starter heading into week one of the regular season.  One word to describe what we saw from the 3rd-year quarterback was “smooth”, which is what he was nearly every time he dropped back to pass.  He went through his progressions with ease and nearly every one of his throws hit his receivers in stride, and the best part of the night was his performance at the end of the half when he lead the team down the field in the hurry-up offense before firing a touchdown pass to A.J. Derby, which was a terrific throw between two defenders.

The most ironic part of the night was the fact Brian Hoyer was in the house as a back-up with the Bears, which was a stark reminder of the difference in terms of the quarterback the Patriots finally have playing behind Tom Brady.  Hoyer started the game off with an interception by Jones that immediately put the Patriots in business, and finished with a paltry 4-of-14 (29%) and a QB rating of 22.6, which is not going to get him back into the starting line-up with any NFL team.  Meanwhile, Garoppolo was calm, cool, and even when he was under pressure or had guys in his face, moved around incredibly well while keeping his eyes downfield and remained poised throughout the contest.

Garoppolo looked like a player who is gaining a lot of confidence, and watching his footwork in both his throws and evading pressure was really just impressive to see for such a young player, as he never looked rattled at all despite the fact Chicago continually came after him.  Meanwhile, seeing Hoyer panic and have difficulty making decisions was just a reminder of how much better Garoppolo is at this point in his career that the former Patriots back-up.

However, it also further reinforces how much better off New England currently is given how things played out with the departure of both Hoyer and Ryan Mallett.  Thursday night was definitely encouraging, and hopefully Garoppolo can put together a strong finish as he continues working on preparing to play far more meaningful games in the month ahead.

Three Up and Three Down in the Patriots Win Over Chicago

Steve Balestrieri
August 19, 2016 at 9:00 am ET

During the Patriots win over the Bears tonight, here are some of the other players who stood out. Despite another slow start, the Patriots overall played well, Bill Belichick will have plenty of good and not-so-good film to show the players as they prepare to head to Carolina.

The team won’t play again in Foxboro until Week 2 of the regular season. After they visit the Panthers next Friday night, they’ll visit the Giants in what has become an annual finish to the preseason.

The team has ended the public version of training camp. Now they’ll move to a more regular season schedule during the final two weeks as they gear up to prepare for the season opener in Arizona.

Three Up:

In our recap of the game here, we already posted about the solid work done by Jimmy Garoppolo, LeGarrette Blount, and Anthony Johnson. Those were arguably the top three performers on the night for New England.  So who else stood out?

A.J. Derby: Derby, in competition with Clay Harbor for the third TE spot on the roster, looked really impressive on Thursday night. Showing good athleticism and speed, he was finding windows to get open and caught six passes for 71 yards and a touchdown. His 16-yard scoring play and a 26-yard sideline grab from Jacoby Brissett were highlight worthy. With Harbor struggling to stay healthy and on the field, Derby has made the most of his chances.

AJ-Derby

Darryl Roberts: The 2nd year corner has been quiet this summer and for the most part outplayed by rookies Cre’Von LeBlanc and Jonathan Jones. But he put together his best work this summer, providing tight, blanket coverage in the second half. He made a nice pass breakup on a similar comeback route that Jones picked off, reaching in and knocking the ball away. He got flagged on a ticky-tack penalty late in the game but showed that he’s still very much in the mix for that final cornerback spot.

Chris Hogan: The WR has ditched the red non-contact jersey and showed some nice route running and speed at wide receiver. Hogan is the guy who is in the mix to take over Brandon LaFell’s job as the outside or “X”- wide receiver. He caught four passes for 53 yards including a two-point conversion.

Honorable Mention: James Develin, Cyrus Jones, Geneo Grissom, Joe Thuney

Three Down:

Brandon Bolden: The 5th year veteran should know better than to leave the ball exposed like that, allowing Tracy Porter to strip it away. That killed a very impressive drive that looked like was going to put the Patriots right back in the game.

Justin Coleman: The second-year corner has been impressive this summer, outplaying rookie Cyrus Jones overall and was arguably the Patriots best player on the field for the first joint practice with the Bears. But on Tuesday and again tonight, the Bears picked on him early. Subbing for Logan Ryan (still not cleared for contact) The Bears’ Jay Cutler went after him with back-to-back 29 yard and 12-yard pass plays. That set them up in great scoring position.

On the next series, he committed a costly penalty on third down where the Patriots had stopped the Bears which ultimately led to a Chicago touchdown. Coleman may be feeling the heat a little bit of rookie CB Cyrus Jones who is pushing him for the third cornerback slot.

Martin burns Coleman deep

Martin burns Coleman deep

Aaron Dobson: Much was made of the Patriots needing to get off to a faster start on Thursday night. It was imperative to get the offense in gear earlier than the slow start a week ago. Indeed, we said the same thing about Dobson. After being arguably the best WR in camp during the first week to 10 days, he’s fallen off and was barely targeted during the joint Bears – Patriots practices.

We thought he needed to step up and the time was right with Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, Keshawn Martin and Malcolm Mitchell out against the Bears. But on the Patriots first possession facing a very makeable third and two, Dobson dropped a Jimmy Garoppolo pass to force a three and out.

To be fair, the pass was far from perfect. It was behind him and wasn’t in stride where it should have been. But it was a very makeable catch and one that the 4th year WR has to make. With Dobson running out of time and chances to make the team, that wasn’t the start that he or the team was looking for.

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 Training Camp Primer – Defensive Line

Steve Balestrieri
July 20, 2016 at 6:00 am ET

Deep, Talented Group Preps for a Big Year

The Patriots head into training camp next week and there should be no shortage of competition at a number of spots. As a lead-in to the beginning of camp, we’ll break down the positions and give our take on who is a lock, a near lock for the 53-man roster and who is on the bubble. Next up is the Defensive Line.

Bill Belichick likes to say that the spring’s OTAs and Minicamp is a learning exercise and that the real competition begins in training camp. While that is true to an extent, with 89 players on the current roster, a minimum of 36 of these will be cut. That doesn’t take into consideration the tweaking that goes on during the season after the initial 53-man roster is completed.

So next on deck are the defensive linemen. The Patriots lost three of their linemen from a year ago. They traded Chandler Jones to Arizona, lost Akiem Hicks in free agency and released former first-round pick Dominique Easley. But the team is poised to be very good and is deep along the front four.

After years of trying to search for an undersized penetrator in the interior to beef up the pass rush, the Patriots and Belichick made a shift in their approach in 2016. The interior players that they brought in via free agency and the draft are all big men that are space eaters and run stuffers first. It is clear that the pass rush will come from the edge guys who are versatile and can slide inside on obvious passing downs.

They added Terrance Knighton, Frank Kearse and Markus Kuhn in free agency. Picking up Vincent Valentine in the draft and Woodrow Hamilton as a UDFA adds a lot of beef to the interior of the line.

On the edge, the team brought in Chris Long who has the last two seasons end in injury but is healthy in 2016 and is this season’s reclamation project. Jabaal Sheard will take Chandler Jones’ previous starting spot opposite Rob Ninkovich.

So who’s locked in and who’s on the bubble?

Roster Locks: Jabaal Sheard, Rob Ninkovich, Malcom Brown, Terrance Knighton, Alan Branch, Chris Long, Trey Flowers, Vincent Valentine
Sheard and Ninkovich, who played LB in the spring are the starters on the edge. They are both productive and set the edge in the running game extremely well, (something Jones’ game lacked in his time here). Long will be the dedicated pass rush specialist, something that should keep him fresh this season. He and Flowers provide the depth.

Malcom Brown Malcom Brown had a solid rookie campaign and should be a key cog of the defense for years to come. (SBalestrieri Images)

The interior will feature a mixture of Brown who in his second season is primed for a big year, Branch and Knighton. Branch has played some of his best football as a member of the Patriots and provides that veteran leadership. Valentine by virtue of his draft position is a lock. Pot Roast came over from Washington and gives the Patriots that big (6’3, 354-pounds), immovable object inside, like Vince Wilfork.

One of the things the Patriots liked to do in Big Vince’s time was to play a hybrid scheme that Knighton should fit well in. Knighton will line up on the center and two gap his area on either side of the center. The strong side defensive end, (Ninkovich) will two-gap his area. The other side with Brown and Sheard will be a traditional 4-3 one-gap attacking style. It will also open up opportunities for the linebackers to blitz in openings on the outside as well. Lots of versatility and flexibility with this group as well as a nice mix of youth and experience.

On the Bubble: Geneo Grissom, Frank Kearse, Markus Kuhn
These three are competing for one or possibly two spots if the Patriots opt to keep 10 linemen on the defensive side. Grissom is a big guy who seems larger in person than his listed 6’4, 265 pounds. He brings the element of versatility and athleticism to the table. He can play special teams, something that always resonates with Belichick.

2-Grissom Geneo Grissom made the team out of training camp as a rookie but the team will have to find a niche for his talents. (SBalestrieri Images)

Both Kuhn and Kearse are big guys who will be looking to add some depth inside. Kuhn saw a lot of reps this spring and that may bode well for him this summer. He came over from the Giants and was considered a favorite of coach Tom Coughlin although his numbers didn’t translate on the field. Kearse is a 6’5, 310-pound defensive end who projects to move inside here with the Patriots. He’s spent time with the Panthers, Cowboys, and Redskins (2014-15) and will look to latch on as a backup.

The competition here should prove to be spirited. All of these players are worthy of a roster spot but it may come down to a simple numbers crunch unless the inevitable injury or two occurs in training camp.

Outside Looking in…. Longshots: Woodrow Hamilton, Anthony Johnson, Joe Vellano
Odds are long for Joe Vellano this season to make the cut. He’s one of those guys that you can’t help but root for. After being signed as a UDFA from Maryland in 2013, he made the team out of training camp and played in all 16 games with eight starts. But in 2014 he played in just four games with a single start and one playoff game. He was hurt early in training camp last season and will have a tough time to garner the reps this summer.

Johnson was signed by Miami as a UDFA in 2014 and appeared in seven games. He was cut by the Dolphins and spent part of 2015 as a practice squad player for the Redskins. The Patriots signed him to a free-agent contract in May.

Woodrow Hamilton is a big interior lineman from Mississippi. The 6’3, 319-pound tackle faces long odds. He and Bryan Stork were tossed from practice during minicamp for throwing punches at one another. That may set up something to watch this summer.

Check out our earlier primers on the running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, and the offensive line. And be sure to keep tuned into PatsFans.com during training camp as we’ll post daily updates from down in Gillette.

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.