Tag Archives: Ben Watson

Patriots 2019 Training Camp Guide – Tight Ends

Steve Balestrieri
July 17, 2019 at 8:30 am ET

The Patriots have been forced to totally revamp their tight end position this season as all three players on the roster from last year are gone. Rob Gronkowski retired and although rumors are that he’s coming back later this year, he’s not walking thru that door anytime soon…if at all. Dwayne Allen left via free agency and Jacob Hollister was traded. 

The team was beginning with a clean slate. And there were/are questions all around. Old friend Ben Watson was brought back to the team after briefly flirting with retirement, the team also picked up Matt LaCosse with a two-year, $2.8 million dollar deal during free agency. 

The team also signed Austin Seferian-Jenkins during the spring, but he had some personal issues to be worked out and was given his release. Would he be welcomed back if those issues are behind him? No one really knows, but I wouldn’t bank on his return this year.

Watson is suspended for the first four games of the season due to testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. LaCosse has appeared in 22 games in his career and had 24 catches for 250 yards and a touchdown for the Broncos last year in 15 games.

The only holdover was practice squad player Stephen Anderson who was called up to the active roster at the end of the season. The team also has Ryan Izzo who spent the year on IR and UDFA Andrew Beck.

With the state of the position, everyone had the Patriots dipping into the 2019 NFL draft early for one of the premier tight ends that were coming out. And true to form, Bill Belichick did the opposite, eschewing all of them. Many of the journalists who cover the NFL had the Patriots trying to swing a deal for a tight end, with Viking Kyle Rudolph at the top of the list. There have also been persistent rumors about them trying to make a deal for the Tampa Bay Bucs, Cameron Brate. But as of now, that’s all it has been, being rumors

So with training camp just around the corner, let’s take a quick look at the tight ends on the roster and see how they stack up. 

Check back with PatsFans.com as we’ll go thru the entire roster as our primers for training camp continue before the heavy lifting starts on July 25.

Current roster – Ben Watson, Matt LaCosse, Stephen Anderson, Ryan Izzo, Andrew Beck

Locks – Watson, LaCosse

Bubble – Anderson, Izzo, Beck

Long Shot – None 

Discussion – If there is a position the Patriots could swing a deal for during the summer, this would be it. That being said, they can probably piece together the production they received at tight end last season with who they have right now. With Gronkowski hobbling for much of last year and Hollister/Allen not producing, the total production from the tight end position was 54 catches, 761 yards, and 3 TDs. 

What they won’t be able to replicate is the amount of coverage that Gronkowski would consistently draw away from the other receivers while he was on the field. Watson, while 38 years old, can still move well, but he won’t be available for the first month.

That means, for now, everything is going to go thru LaCosse for better or worse. After watching him at minicamp, he moves better than I had originally believed and shows good hands for hauling in the ball. Anderson is more of flex or a “move” tight end while Izzo was well thought of by the coaching staff, but is more of a blocking tight end. He’ll have to show he is capable of more. 

LaCosse spoke to the media after minicamp practice last month and talked about coming to New England

Beck was given the most guaranteed money by the Patriots of any of their UDFAs ($115,000), so he has that going for him. Beck was used mostly as a blocker at Texas but did contribute with 28 catches for 281 yards and two touchdowns for the Longhorns. He was an First Team, All-Big 12 all-star in 2018. 

So, barring a trade either during camp or into the season, this is who the Patriots will enter the season with at the tight end position. After a decade of dominance there, things are going to change. 

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

New England Patriots News 6-09, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
June 9, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

Football is a great deal like life in that it teaches that work, sacrifice, perseverance, competitive drive, selflessness and respect for authority is the price that each and every one of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile.
Vince Lombardi

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 06-09 and AFC East notes this week.

The Patriots mandatory three-day minicamp is in the books and there was plenty of interesting things to see and take note of during the practices. Bill Belichick commented on how he believed that they accomplished a lot during the three days. With the teaching camp in the books, the evaluation will commence once training camp begins.

Quick Hitters:

The 2018 Patriots – got together for the final time at Robert Kraft’s house, and in a celebration with pomp and ceremony, the team received their Super Bowl rings. The sheer size of them now lends itself to question the term “ring” and despite the over-the-top gaudiness of them, there are 31 other teams that wished that was them on Thursday night. Very impressive pieces of jewelry.

The Patriots put up a big photo gallery of the night here:

Joe Cardona – the Patriots long-snapper was promoted inside Gillette Stadium on Thursday morning to Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Reserve prior to the minicamp practice. Tom Brady spoke about how Cardona epitomizes “commitment to our team and to our country” later in the day. And it happened on the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy. A very cool moment

Tom Brady – Looked in mid-season form for the three days of minicamp. His mechanics are always flawless. Every year I take pics of him throwing and compare them to the years before and you could lay them on top of one another and couldn’t tell the difference.

Brady “deuxième partie” – Brady and Josh McDaniels conducted a side session with rookies Jakobi Meyers and N’Keal Harry on Thursday. They were trying to get their timing and chemistry down, in terms of how they want routes run, where the breaks should happen, the angle of the cuts and ball placement. Fascinating stuff to watch. The work they do in June and July pays dividends in January and February.

Ivan Fears – The Patriots running back coach is beginning his 21st consecutive year with the Patriots, he also had an earlier stint with the team. Fears is one of our favorite guys to watch and listen to during the practices. We got a chance to chat with him before practice briefly on Thursday. After mentioning that the running backs looked good so far but that we’re sure he’d find areas to critique them, Fears got a big grin and said, “Oh I’ll always find ways to critique them.” Asked about Brandon Bolden’s return, he said how Bolden brings energy to the field and his teammates every day.

Troy Brown/Deion Branch – Excellent seeing the two of them work so closely with Joe Judge the Patriots STs Coordinator/WRs Coach and the players this week. Both of them know what it takes to be successful in the Patriots passing game and the two former players lending themselves to teaching the young players was intriguing to watch.

Mini-camp Wrap, Final Thoughts:

In their quest for “Knockin on Seven’s Door” that begins in September, the Patriots started the process with OTAs and their mandatory minicamp. Watching it all for three days, albeit without pads or contact was interesting as the coaches try to mold the 2019 version of the team. Here are some of the things that were intriguing to watch and will bear further consideration moving forward.

Left Tackle Status – Without Isaiah Wynn and Yodny Cajuste taking part in team drills this week, the Patriots moved left guard Joe Thuney into the left tackle position. He was getting nearly all of the first personnel grouping’s reps. And he was practicing with the tackles as well.

The good news, however, is that Wynn was on the field and taking part in individual drills and exhibits no sign of being limited at all after his Achilles surgery. Which lends itself to believe that he should be ready to go by training camp.

Tight End Production – With the release of Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Ben Watson suspended for the first four games of the season, it puts the ball squarely in the corner of Matt Lacosse. Lacosse looked good in the workouts this week, moving well and displaying nice hands, catching everything thrown his way.

We were on hand when Lacosse spoke to the media after Wednesday’s practice session. Which can be seen here:

Ryan Izzo, Andrew Beck seem to be both competing for the blocking tight end role while Stephen Anderson is looking to carve out a role as the “move” tight end.

Brady nixed suggestions that the Patriots are going to diminish the tight end role in the offense. “That has to be a position of strength, even if it’s not one player but multiple players doing different roles,” Brady said. “There were times in my career before that where we’ve had similar approaches.” He finished his thoughts on an upbeat note.

“The tight end position is a big part of our offense and those guys are going to have to do a great job for us.”

Jamie Collins Return, Seems Like a Bigger Development…for Now – We were against the addition of Collins this spring on these pages, remembering the reasons why they jettisoned him in the first place. However, if minicamp is any indication, the Patriots coaches, especially LBs coach Jerod Mayo have bigger plans for Collins.

This week, at least Collins wearing #8, for now, was playing a big role for the defense in their alignments. And, again without pads on, he was asserting his will against the offense during team drills.

Even Mike Reiss was on-board with this train of thought calling Collins “active and looking like key cog” in the defense. Surprising. Another thing to watch for in training camp when that kicks off in about 5-6 weeks.

Maurice Harris Looking Good – Another mild surprise here. Harris was given little chance to make the roster when he was picked up this spring. Well…after the three-day mini-camp, Harris did nothing to hurt his chances of not only making the roster but carving out a role for himself.

We’ve gotten DMs, phone calls, and e-mails about Harris, “He’s a JAG!”, “He’s not going to make the rostah!” Well…you have to report on what you see. And for three days, Harris caught everything thrown his way. On the flip side, I didn’t see Dontrelle Inman catch a single pass in team drills…maybe I missed some or even one. But we’ve seen this film before. One is trending up, the other down.

Cornerbacks are Looking Deep and Talented – The Patriots have a plethora of corners on this team and every one of them can play. That isn’t hype or hyperbole but a fact. This is arguably the team’s biggest strength heading into training camp.

Stephon Gilmore blanketed everyone thrown at him all week. J.C. Jackson looked very solid for the first two days before missing Thursday’s practice session. Those two are the two starters, that we expect to see in Week 1. Some people feel Jackson may someday supplant Gilmore as the #1 corner on the team…

However,  behind them are several more talented players. Jonathan Jones has already been a starting slot corner. Jason McCourty has started both outside and in the slot. Rounding out this talented group is Duke Dawson, Joejuan Williams, Ken Webster, and D’Angelo Ross. The cornerback group can mix and match with just about everyone and it is going to be intriguing to see how the defense aligns this year depending on the opponent.

The Punting Competition Will Be a Key One to Watch – Once again this summer, Ryan Allen will be battling for his job. Last year, he bested Corey Bojorquez and then was arguably one of the players that could have won the MVP of the Super Bowl with the way he pinned the Rams deep all game long.

This year, Allen will take on rookie Jake Bailey from Stanford who possesses a massive leg. Bailey was putting the ball into the ozone all week, getting some tremendous height and hang time on his punts.

It will be a battle of consistency over strength. Allen was his usual consistent self all week, while Bailey, even when booming most of his punts all week, had a few that were off the mark. Stay tuned.

Edelman Turns In Solid Week Performance-wise and Mentoring:

The Patriots drafted N’Keal Harry with the #32 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft and he’s sure to feel the heat of fans and the media’s expectations this fall. The Patriots drafted Braxton Berrios in the 6th round in 2018. But he didn’t see the field in 2018. Two different players with different backgrounds. But they have a constant voice that is always there for them.

Julian Edelman was the Super Bowl MVP last year who came to the Patriots via Kent State and was a college QB who made the transition to NFL WR who, after Tom Brady is arguably the most valuable Patriot on the offense. In his 11th season, Edelman is not only Brady’s most trusted receiver, but he’s also now taking on the role as a mentor for these younger players on the roster. It is something he feels strongly about.  

Julian Edelman, wearing a Bruins jersey and Jamie Collins before practice on Weds

“I had teammates that help you, and then you had teammates that didn’t,” Edelman said after practice on Wednesday. “I like to be known as a guy that helped you. I like to give little pointers here and there, because the better we all are, the better the team is going to be. I like going out and trying to give information if they want information from me and go from there. It’s part of my job, I guess.”

Edelman recalled Fred Taylor in his rookie season as a veteran who helped him out immensely and he said that he would try to do the same with Harry. Berrios, also after practice on Tuesday, mentioned that Edelman has been a constant source of mentoring for him. He’s looked quick and skilled thus far in minicamp.

Edelman will be looked to for a lot of production this season in the Patriots offense. If the contributions of Harry and Berrios this season are any indication, then Edelman can chalk up mentoring among his accomplishments this year as well.

Gunner Olszewski Is a Player to Watch For This Summer:

The Patriots brought in the undrafted cornerback from tiny Division II Bemidji State and are trying to convert him to a wide receiver. That alone should put him in the long-shot category for making the roster. But not so fast…Julian Edelman, who knows a thing or two about converting to wide receiver at the pro level is high on the youngster.

“I love that guy,” Edelman said. “If he’s got a question, I’m here to help try to answer it to the best of my ability. I feel that’s part of my role on the team, being here so long. He’s working hard. He’s definitely a tough kid. I love the chip on his shoulder, and I like working with him, that’s for sure. He definitely works his tail off, and I like having him around.”

One of the things going for Olszewski, who is generously listed as 6’0, 170, is the fact that he can return kicks and punts. But make no mistake, he doesn’t appear lost out there or like a duck out of water. While the path won’t be an easy one, he can do it.

The Patriots always seem to have undrafted free agents make the roster. With a name like Gunner Olszewski, you can’t help but root for him.

No AFC East Notes This Week:

________________

With the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion this week, it is important that we remember the American, British, Canadian and Free French soldiers who stormed the beaches of Normandy not to conquer but to free the world of Nazism.

“At the core, the American citizen soldiers knew the difference between right and wrong, and they didn’t want to live in a world in which wrong prevailed. So they fought, and won, and we all of us, living and yet to be born, must be forever profoundly grateful.”

–Author Stephen Ambrose

Can’t end the piece without another look at the entire ring ceremony once more.

“So, how was your week?”

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

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

Photos: Author

Brady Sharp In Patriots First Mini-camp Workout – Observations

Steve Balestrieri
June 5, 2019 at 6:30 am ET

Tuesday morning was the Patriots first mandatory mini-camp practice. And the weather gods smiled on the team as there was plenty of sunshine with temps around 70 degrees.

Players Missing:

Sony Michel was the most notable absence. It was reported that he was there on Monday for the individual photo day but we don’t know the reason he was missing. Pat Chung, Nate Ebner, Demaryius Thomas, Deatrich Wise, Yodny Cajuste and Nick Brosette were also missing.

Austin Seferian-Jenkins was released today. It has been widely reported that he’s been suffering thru some personal issues. It isn’t known whether the door will be open for him if he decides to return at a later date.

Kyle Van Noy worked out on the lower practice field and returned to the main field later in practice. Isaiah Wynn was present for the warmups and then retreated to the lower fields for work with the training staff.

Brady Looks Sharp:

It is funny how at times Tom Brady, who always looks focused and sharp is questioned. I received several DM’s on Twitter asking “How does Tom look?” As soon as he bounded up the steps to the practice field, walking with James Develin, there was a air of anticipation. He looked over at the assembled media and smiled. “How’s it going guys…and gals,” he said.

Wearing a blue hoodie under his uniform, Brady was sharp, mid-season sharp and was putting some zip on the passes. His mechanics are always flawless. Both he and Brian Hoyer seemed to be trying to get the ball to N’Keal Harry on some short crossers and some out routes.

Brady connected twice on deep balls down the field to Maurice Harris. On the second one, however, backup safety Terrance Brooks could have had a play on the ball in a game situation. At a minimum, he’d have laid a big hit on Harris.

After practice, Bill Belichick was asked: “How did Tom look?” In typical Belichick deadpan, he answered, “there were 90 guys out here, I can’t watch them all.”

During a Special Teams period, Brady worked on the side with James White, Ben Watson, and N’Keal Harry… Interesting stuff there.

Jarrett Stidman is the clear #3, or at least was on the first day of minicamp. We’ll see what Wednesday’s practice brings. Stidman and David Andrews botched a snap on a miscommunication and both had to run a penalty lap.

Danny Etling got very little play with 11-on-11. Stidman’s release needs to get worked on. He has a longer, looping release, but much like he was advertised, he throws a nice tight spiral. Brian Hoyer had an okay day. He had a few passes batted at the line, including one by Van Noy that was picked off by Ja’Whaun Bentley. But he also zipped a few nice passes into tight coverage during the 11-on-11 drills. That being said…

Play of the Day:

Hoyer connected with Braxton Berrios on a deep pass down the right sideline on the far practice field. Berrios had to dive for it and came up with a fantastic catch. The players on the field roared and Berrios just beat rookie corner Joejuan Williams to the pylon. He then spiked the ball.

Other offensive impressions included:

  • Berrios had an impressive day. While it is hard to get a true read on performances like these in shorts and shirts with no hitting, contact or jamming at the line. He didn’t hurt his chances moving forward. He exhibited quickness off the line and out of his breaks. He got snaps with both Brady and Hoyer, although Brady never targeted him. He made another nice touchdown catch from Hoyer when he cut across the back of the end zone and Hoyer zipped a laser (I can’t believe I just wrote that) in tight coverage.
  • Maurice Harris had a nice practice, hauling in some contested catches. I like his length, route running, and hands. He’ll be a guy to watch more of as camp wears on. Julian Edelman and Phillip Dorsett were the first guys in every WR and team drill. Edelman looks like vintage #11.
  • N’Keal Harry had plenty of good moments but struggled at times. He lined up wrong once and had a drop along the sideline. But he also went up against Stephon Gilmore too, which will only make him better moving forward.
  • With Michel out, Brandon Bolden got quite a few snaps during the running back drills and 11-on-11s. It is good to see him back, and he’s a popular teammate.
  • Damien Harris had a nice day. I like the way he hits the hole quickly in the running game and runs low. He’s a solid looking back and looks quick. He got some reps in the passing game and did well.
  • Ben Watson still moves well for a 38-year old tight end. He was working on his chemistry and timing with Brady. But I was pretty impressed with Matt LaCosse. He moves well and has very good hands. I’d say he was the best TE of the group on the day. Stephen Anderson was active with both Brady and Hoyer.
  • Joe Thuney was taking the majority of left tackle reps with Cole Croston getting some work, Ted Karras took Thuney’s slot at left guard.

Secondary Looks Strong:

The Patriots have a plethora of cornerbacks, very good cornerbacks and all of these guys can play. They are a fun group to watch.

Defensive observations included:  

  • Gilmore is an All-Pro, J.C. Jackson has the look of a guy who is going to start…and excel. He broke up a pass. Although Jason McCourty got a lot of reps with the first group. Duke Dawson and Keion Crossen also broke up passes.
  • With Chung missing, Duron Harmon was filling in but Terrance Brooks was getting more reps than Obi Melifonwu and looked better in coverage on the day.
  • With no pads, it is tough to gauge the offensive and defensive line play. But it does matter how they match up and Michael Bennett, Lawrence Guy, Mike Pennel, and John Simon got first reps… Chase Winovich, as advertised went all out on every rep.
  • Jamie Collins was getting a lot of first reps with the defense (wearing #8)
  • Jerod Mayo was calling the defensive signals again.

Special Teams:

Jake Bailey can put a charge into the ball. He launched a few punts into the ozone. He just needs to be more consistent. However, Ryan Allen had a few excellent punts as well. It will be an interesting competition this summer.

Punt returners included Berrios, Harry, Edelman, Harris, Dorsett, and Gunner Olszewski. No kickoffs were conducted, no field goals or extra points either.

Robert Kraft was there for nearly the entire practice. Troy Brown and Deion Branch were again helping out at practice again.

Wednesday’s practice again kicks off at 11:15 a.m. We’ll be there again. On a personal note, I was asked to be an in-studio guest on the Patriots Unfiltered Podcast as soon as practice was over. Fred Kirsch, Paul Perillo, Megan O’Brien from Patriots.com and I spoke about our observations from practice. It can be heard here:

New England Patriots News 5-19, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
May 19, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 05-19 and AFC East notes this week.

Quick Hitters:

Patriots Plane Makeover – The Patriots team plane got a makeover recently and the results were pretty impressive. The tail now has six Lombardi trophies on it while the fuselage sports the “6X Champions” lettering.

Hardly subtle, but the fans of the team will love the new look for the “AirKraft 767”. At this rate, the painters for the Patriots plane and Bill Belichick’s boat are going to get put on a full-time basis. See the pics below, courtesy of the Patriots.

Brandon King was the recipient of a 2-year contract extension this week. Although he practices with the linebackers, King hasn’t played a snap of defense in his career. The Special Teams stalwart should be pretty much a lock for the roster now. King has had the most STs snaps beside Nate Ebner

Scott Pioli, the former Patriot front-office exec and the assistant GM in Atlanta, resigned his position “to pursue other opportunities”. One potential suitor could be the Jets now that their GM position is semi-open. Adam Gase was named the interim GM as well as holding down the head coach position….more below.

N’Keal Harry and Damien Harris, are representing the Patriots at the NFLPA Rookie Premiere this weekend. According to the NFLPA press release, the rookie premiere is the first major business and marketing event featuring NFL players since becoming professionals. The 40 rookies that are there can get a jump start on their endorsement careers by meeting and signing on with some big-name brands for marketing purposes.

Speaking of N’Keal Harry, he signed his first professional contract this week. Harry is been signed to a 4-year, $10,098,348 deal that includes a $5,364,252 signing bonus, per Adam Schefter

After the NBA Draft Lottery situation played out, many people are now clamoring for an NFL Draft Lottery. Count me totally out on that. Don’t need it, don’t want it. The NFL has already turned everything into an event. Now we’ll have non-stop coverage of the pre-Draft Lottery? No thanks, the current system works just fine.

Jamie Collins Contract Low-Risk Move By the Patriots:

The Patriots have brought linebacker, Jamie Collins, back in the fold, but they hardly threw down the gauntlet of a ton of money to bring the former 2nd round draft pick back. The actual guaranteed money amount is rather small. The team-friendly deal was reported by NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.

The total amount of guaranteed money is just $250,000 and a base salary of only $1.05 million dollars. Collins has bonuses tied up with incentives and he’d receive $500,000 for making either the Pro Bowl or an All-Pro. He can also earn $100,000 in workout bonuses and $850,000 in roster bonuses.

Collins can make an additional $250,000 for playing 50 percent of the team’s defensive snaps, another $250,000 for playing 60 percent, another $250,000 for playing 70 percent, and another $250,000 for playing 80 percent of the team’s defensive snaps. He can make another $500,000 by playing 91 percent, and then another $500,000 by playing 95 percent of the Patriots defensive snaps.

Last season, as a member of the Cleveland Browns, Collins was on the field for nearly 91 percent of the Browns defensive snaps. He registered 104 total tackles, four sacks, seven quarterback hits, one interception, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery.

Collins cap number is $3,000,000 with a maximum possible cap number of $5 million. It is a low-risk, possibly high reward scenario by the Patriots who also have Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts, and Ja’Whaun Bentley at linebacker from last year. Christian Sam was on IR, and they also have Terez Hall and Calvin Munson. John Simon and 3rd round draft pick Chase Winovich can play both DE or OLB. So the depth is very high at the position. Which makes competition at training camp something to watch.

Running Back Position is Strong and Will Play A Bigger Role:

In typical fashion, while we were all lamenting the lack of depth at wide receiver and tight end this spring, Bill Belichick went out and found another running back. The Patriots selected Alabama running back Damien Harris in the 3rd round. A classic case of zigging while the rest of us were zagging.

Now, the team did go out and draft WR N’Keal Harry in the first round and signed Demaryius Thomas, and Dominique Inman at wide receiver and Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Ben Watson at tight end but the selection of Harris was a very intriguing one.

Harris and second-year back Sony Michel are both very good at running the ball between the tackles. And the Patriots at the end of the 2018 season made a decision to put an emphasis on running the ball. In the Patriots’ three playoff games they rushed for 485 yards or an average of 161.6 yards per game against the Chargers, Chiefs, and Rams. It was after the Pittsburgh game that the team made their choice to lean more on the running game and if you add in those two games, in the team’s final five games of the season, they averaged 177.8 yards per game.

With Shaq Mason, David Andrews, and Joe Thuney inside, the Patriots running game has thrived. Add in the devastating blocking of fullback James Devlin and they are set up well for success again. They will miss the outstanding blocking of Rob Gronkowski who retired, however.

When Michel ran the ball between the tackles in 2018, he averaged more yards per carry than both Ezekial Elliot and Todd Gurley. Harris will certainly add to that. He and Michel can be a very effective 1-2 punch in the running game. Harris is also an underrated pass catcher with good hands and is a very good pass blocker.

But the backfield also has James White and Rex Burkhead who can run as well but are both very good out of the backfield in the passing game. With Gronkowski retired, look for the offense to place White and Burkhead out wide more often to put pressure on the linebackers with mismatches.

The NFL and the Patriots are still pass-first offensively. However, look for the team to be even more balanced between pass and run in 2019.

The Decision to Remain With the Patriots, A No-Brainer for Gostkowski:

For Stephen Gostkowski, the decision to remain with the Patriots in free agency wasn’t that hard.  The 13-year vet was brought in when Adam Vinatieri left in 2006 and has spent his entire career with the Patriots. He re-signed with New England this spring on a two-year deal worth a reported $8.5 million dollars, numbers he could have probably bettered by going elsewhere. But to hear the 35-year old tell it, he’s quite content here.

“To be able to have a chance to do it on one of the most high-pressure teams in the history of sports and have a chance to continue to do it — I think it would be tough to go somewhere else,” Gostkowski said. “The grass might seem greener on the other side, but it’s not always that way. I kind of like the challenge of being here, the bad weather, the pressure of the big games.”

Gostkowski has converted on better than 87 percent of his field goals in his career, third-best in NFL history. He’s also appeared in six Super Bowls, the most for any kicker in league history. After Justin Tucker, it is easy to make the argument that Gostkowski is the best kicker in the league. Last year he converted 49 of 50 extra point attempts and 27 of 32 field goal attempts.

He has been named to four Pro Bowls and twice been named All-Pro.

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Gaining Momentum With Pundits for a Playoff Berth:

The Buffalo Bills, as we wrote here earlier weren’t getting a lot of love from ESPN in their preseason rankings, putting the over/under for wins at 6.5, which is pretty low. However, the same piece put the Patriots win total over/under at 10.5 and some of the media are looking at them in a much more positive light.

Adam Schein said he’d take the over for the Bills at 8.5 if it were that high. NFL.com’s senior analyst and former scout and VP of player personnel Gil Brandt thinks that Buffalo had the 3rd best offseason in the league this spring. Brandt wrote:

All of Buffalo’s moves, combined with rebuilding projects going on with the Dolphins and Jets, mean anything less than a playoff appearance will count as a disappointment.

Also at NFL.com Michael Robinson puts the Bills at 11-5 and slotted as a Wildcard participant in the 2019 season. Pete Prisco from CBS said on the Pick Six podcast that the Bills will earn a Wildcard berth this year with better things happening in 2020.

“They’re not gonna win the division this year,” said Prisco. “They’re gonna push for a Wild Card spot (this season), but in 2020 the Buffalo Bills will finally take over and win that division. How about that?”

Prisco was then asked if he believed that Tom Brady would still be playing?

“Yeah, but the Bills are gonna take the division next year.”

Dolphins Have to go With Rosen This Year:

The Miami Dolphins made a huge splash by trading for QB Josh Rosen for a 2nd round draft pick (#62 overall) during this year’s NFL Draft. Rosen was selected with the #10 overall pick in the 2018 draft by the Cardinals.

It was a shrewd move by Miami where nearly all of Rosen’s guaranteed cash was already paid and they can see what they have in Rosen before deciding to move on or put their trust in him as their franchise QB. But he needs to be the man starting in Week 1. Miami signed journeyman QB Ryan Fitzpatrick as a stop-gap measure after trading Ryan Tannehill earlier this spring. Fitzpatrick is a known commodity, he’s fully capable of lighting it up for a number of games but then being dreadful right behind it. The time to evaluate Rosen should begin right away.

Head coach Brian Flores is saying all the right things, stating before the recent rookie minicamp that the QB position is an open competition, a may-the-best-man-win scenario. But that isn’t really what’s in the best interest for the team in the short or long term. They need to see if Rosen is going to be the man for Miami and if they decide that he is not, then they’ll have plenty of opportunities to move on from him next spring.

With Miami in a complete makeover with a new regime in Flores this year, handing the keys to Fitzpatrick doesn’t really make any sense. They have to know if Rosen can indeed be their franchise QB and the best way to see that is on the field.

The worst-case scenario for Miami is to sit Rosen while going with Fitzpatrick and then having Fitzy go on one of his hot streaks garnering enough wins to knock the Dolphins out of a prime drafting spot. Then they’ll still not know what they have.

Jets – What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been:

The New York Jets have had a coup in the palace and the new head coach Adam Gase has won. GM Mike Maccagnan is out. Just months after hiring the new head coach, the inner workings of the Jets showed that they are a disjointed, hot mess. Right from ownership on down, this is truly the gang green that can’t shoot straight.

After hiring Gase, Maccagnan didn’t want Gase’s input on players that the scouting department was looking at. According to reports from Jets media, Gase wanted (and rightfully so) to give his take on players that he feels will fit his philosophy for playing on the field.

Not having the scouts on the same page with the head coach is a ludicrous exercise in futility for the scouting department. That is the fault with the GM, but Chris Johnson, the head of football operations was ready to fire Maccagnan in January but didn’t feel he or his staff could handle finding a new coach and GM. Wow.

So, Gase distanced himself from the draft process by moving his chair from next to the owner in the draft room to the corner where he was out of camera sight. Gase was apparently PO’d that ownership overpaid for Le’Veon Bell, in essence bidding against themselves.

So after the draft, Gase put a word in the owners’ ear and Maccagnan is out. Gase and Johnson will work on bringing in a GM (Pioli?) who they’ll both agree is a better fit for Gase’s philosophies. After the upheaval at the palace, the pressure, already and always high in New York will be magnified x 10.

And later reports (made up?) began surfacing that the Jets are pursuing Peyton Manning for the vacant GM job. Of course, it may all be a bunch of hooey but nothing would ignite the Jets fan base and some of the more hysterical media members than throwing another Manning in NY.

“Sometimes the lights are shining on me….other times I can barely see.”

________________

The Patriots roster looks really loaded so training camp competition should be excellent this summer before the Patriots begin “Knockin’ on Seven’s Door”. Can’t wait.

“So, how was your week?”

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

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

New England Patriots News 5-12, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
May 12, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 05-12 and AFC East notes this week. And a very Happy Mothers Day to all those great Moms out there, not only in Patriots Nation but worldwide as well.

Quick Hitters:

Rodney Harrison was the 2019 fans’ choice for induction into the Patriots Hall of Fame, he’ll join the veteran selection Leon Gray in being inducted this summer. That is scheduled for Monday, July 29, which should coincide with the first weekend of training camp. Circle the date folks, this ought to be a good one to attend.

Julian Edelman is finishing off his college degree this weekend at Kent State, something he began in 2006 and after nearly a decade in the NFL, he’s going to graduate. Edelman said on social media that he wanted to be a positive role model for his daughter and to finish something he started. Congrats.

Jarvis Green, the former Patriot defensive end is now a CEO of a shrimp company, Oceans 97, a salute to his uniform number. Green learned about the shrimping business from a friend and now his gourmet line is available all across New England and features easy-to-cook meals of shrimp packaged in bags with four sauce flavors to choose from, New Orleans Style BBQ, Cajun Curry, Chimichurri, and Garlic Butter.

Rookie Mini-camp for the Patriots begins tomorrow. The most recent draft picks and UDFAs will report to Foxboro, get physical examinations, meet the coaching staff, get down the daily routine and be introduced to the Patriots’ schemes that they’ll be expected to learn and quickly. These on-field sessions are not padded and no contact is allowed. For the 21 newest Patriots it is their first day of work in the NFL.

OBJ – caught a lot of flak last week for saying “I plan on being there for the next five years and trying to bring as many championships there as possible. Turning (the Browns) into the new Patriots,” There is nothing wrong with that at all. That SHOULD be the team’s goal, not just his.

I did poke some fun at him on Twitter for saying “I” instead of “we”, for failing to get the entire team thing mantra that is New England, but honestly, no one should have any problem with it. Tempering expectations, a least early? Sure, but as the old saying goes, “fortune favors the bold.” The Browns have a legitimate reason to be excited this year. When was the last time that happened.

White House Visit upcoming? The Patriots didn’t get a chance to visit the White House as is the tradition because of conflicts with dates, usually, it is done right after the NFL Draft. But there should be a date coming soon for the team to visit the White House and be recognized by the President soon.

Some Big Changes in the Coaching Staff, Joe Judge Gets Added Responsibility:

The Patriots have had a lot of turnover in the coaching ranks this offseason. Brian Flores is now the head coach of the Miami Dolphins, taking with him WR coach Chad O’Shea, CB coach Josh Boyer, and assistant QB coach Jerry Schuplinksi. DL coach Brendan Daly went to Kansas City in a lateral move.

With a smaller staff in 2019, the Patriots always have one of the smaller staffs in the NFL, the Patriots coaching staff now consists of the following:

Head coach: Bill Belichick
Offensive coordinator/Quarterbacks coach: Josh McDaniels
Special teams coordinator/wide receivers coach: Joe Judge
Running backs coach: Ivan Fears
Tight ends coach: Nick Caley
Offensive line coach: Dante Scarnecchia
Defensive line coach: Bret Bielema
Inside linebackers coach: Jerod Mayo
Outside linebackers coach: DeMarcus Covington
Safeties coach: Steve Belichick
Defensive backs coach: Mike Pellegrino
Assistant special teams coordinator: Cameron Achord

The biggest changes occur on the defensive side of the ball. Bielema was primarily working with the defense last year and he takes over the DL and will probably inherit the job of making the calls. He’s been a defensive coordinator and head coach in the college ranks. Jerod Mayo has been brought in to coach the inside linebackers while Demarcus Covington takes over the outside linebackers. Mike Pellegrino is listed as a “defensive backs” coach but will probably coach the cornerbacks only. The only returning defensive coach is Steve Belichick who remains the safeties coach.

Joe Judge gets more on his plate as he retains his Special Teams coordinator position but also picks up the new title of WR coach as well. But with OC Josh McDaniels, OL coach Dante Scarnecchia, and RB coach Ivan Fears to return, the offense should be in really good shape.

Patriots Welcome N’Keal Harry Finally to New England:

The Patriots brought in N’Keal Harry to meet with the media on Friday and he was finally officially introduced as the Patriots first draft pick of 2019, (32nd overall in the first round). He posed for pictures with Robert and Jonathan Kraft and spoke with the press. Some of the highlights included:

On being drafted by the Patriots: “It means the world to me. This is a great organization. I feel like I couldn’t have been put in a better situation. I’m learning from the best of the best and I’m just excited to get to work and soak in as much information as possible.”

Asked about Tom Brady being hard on his WRs, Harry embraced the challenge. “That’s something I’m looking forward to. I’m the type of player that wants to get better, I want to get coached hard, so I’m looking forward to that.”

Harry spoke about giving back to his home on Saint Vincent and how much of an influence his grandmother was in his life. “She’s been everything. There’s no way I would have been in this position if my grandmother wasn’t a part of my life. She’s been a great role model. That’s where I get my work ethic from, just seeing how hard she works, seeing her come from a different country and having to start over. I really do know there’s no way I would be in this position without that woman.”

And asked what’s he’s been doing since being drafted, how he answered should be music to Patriots’ fans ears. “These past couple of weeks, my biggest things have been making sure I stay in shape and just making sure I’m studying a lot, watching a lot of film. I want to be the type of player that comes in and can be accountable from day one… with this transition, it’s all the work you put in, the time you put in, the effort you put in. So that’s what I’ve been doing the past couple of weeks and that’s what I’m going to continue to do.”

Patriots Sign Watson and Several Draft Picks:

Ben Watson is returning to the place where his NFL career began with the Patriots. The team announced the signing of the 15-year NFL veteran who spent the first six seasons in the NFL with the Patriots before signing with Cleveland. He also played for the Ravens and Saints. Watson has played in 195 games with 135 starts and has 530 catches, for 5885 yards and 44 TDs.

The Patriots also announced the signings of second-round draft pick DB JoeJuan Williams, third-round draft pick OL Yodny Cajuste, fourth-round draft pick OL Hjalte Froholdt, fourth-round draft pick QB Jarrett Stidham, fifth-round draft pick DL Byron Cowart, fifth-round draft pick P Jake Bailey and seventh-round draft pick DB Ken Webster.

Only three draft picks remain unsigned, top draft pick N’Keal Harry, and third-round picks Chase Winovich and Damien Harris. Those shouldn’t be too long in coming

Adjustments Are Just a Walk in the Park for the Patriots:

For the past couple of months, the fans and media have been discussing how the team will handle so many losses thru free agency, coach-poaching, and retirement.

“No Josh Gordon, Hogan, Patterson at WR…Who will Brady throw to?”
“RobGronkowski retired and the top three tight ends from last year are gone…how will the team adjust?”
“The team lost Trent Brown and LaAdrian Waddle at tackle…who’s going to protect Brady?”
“All of these changes at the coaching staff, does the rest of the AFC catchup in 2019?”

These are just a few of some of the questions we’ve all been hearing, or asking ourselves this spring. But as always, if there is one thing the Patriots do better than anyone is to adjust. No team has been better than adjusting to changing personnel, coaches, situations …whatever. They always figure it out. It has been a hallmark of this team for the past two decades is that they always figure it out.

So, while we’re all lamenting the loss of Gronk and openly wondering (as I did here) if they’re going to put an emphasis elsewhere, Belichick, McDaniels and don’t forget Brady will figure out a way to get this done. And until they don’t figure it out, I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt.

I found it intriguing this week that the Patriots were omitted from the NFL.com’s predicted “Top 10” offenses of 2019. I can think of nothing that will motivate Brady more. The Patriots love to play the role of the underdog and something tells me, the same people who omitted them from the list will be ridiculing New England for playing the underdog role next winter.   

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Get No Love from ESPN, Network Predicts a Losing Season:

The Buffalo Bills had a strong offseason in free agency and followed that up with a strong 2019 NFL Draft.  There they landed DL Ed Oliver, OT Cody Ford, RB Devin Singletary, and TE Dawson Knox in the first three rounds but are picked by the experts at ESPN to win just six games.

Buffalo fans are used to the media pundits taking shots at their team but from a perspective standpoint, the same experts had the Kansas City Chiefs as the best in the league with a probability of just 10.3 wins.

While much of how the season unfolds will depend on the 2nd year jump by QB Josh Allen, at first glance this doesn’t look like a six-win team.

Dolphins Defense Looking For a Hybrid Identity:

The Miami Dolphins are trying to build a defense that looks at times like a 4-3. At other times a 3-4. The base defense may have five defensive backs on the field. Their plan is to run a hybrid defense that morphs into whatever their opponents struggle against.   I

If that sounds vaguely familiar, it should. That is the kind of defense Brian Flores ran with the Patriots and he and Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham plan on running with the Dolphins.

But both Graham and Flores know that if the defense is going to be successful, then they’ll have to improve a woeful 2018 run defense. Miami allowed a whopping 2325 yards on the ground and 4.8 yards per rush. And in playing in a hybrid front, the players will have to set the edge, something that Graham is well aware of.

“There will be a bunch of guys who will learn to set the edge,” Graham said to the Sun Sentinel this week. “The edge comes down to this. You’ve got to get a feel for it. The traditional edge we grew up knowing, where [the offense] lines up with two tight ends and they are going to run outside, that doesn’t happen that often (anymore).

“Setting the edge is really getting a feel for it, and being physical at the point, using proper angles with our body. We’re teaching a bunch of guys to learn how to do it. It can be a safety. It can be a defensive end and outside linebacker…

Polite Getting a Fresh Start with the Jets:

The New York Jets picked up Jachai Polite in the 3rd Round of the 2019 NFL Draft after the very talented edge player from Florida began to fall in the draft.  Polite seemed like a sure-fire 1st rounder after a 2018 season that saw him produce 17.5 tackles for a loss, 11 sacks and six forced fumbles.

But he tested poorly at the NFL Combine and again at Florida’s Pro Day, prior to the draft. This, coupled with what was perceived as several poor interviews caused his draft stock to plummet.

But Jets coach Adam Gase isn’t worried about any of that. He said, “Well right now, we have a guy with pretty much a fresh start. What happened in the past is irrelevant to me.”

Gase added, “Moving forward it’s going to be about doing the right things, worrying about what he can control which is showing up every day, being on time, practice hard. If he does that, it’ll be smooth sailing for him.”

________________

“So, how was your week?”

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

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

Ben Watson Returning to New England Proves You Can Go Home Again

Steve Balestrieri
May 10, 2019 at 6:30 am ET

BThe Patriots are turning the clocks back to 2004 a bit as they’re coming to an agreement with veteran tight end Ben Watson who they’re signing to a one-year deal worth $3 million dollars.

Watson began his career in New England as a first-round draft pick (#32) out of Georgia in 2004. He played the first six years of his career with the Patriots before moving on to Cleveland, Baltimore, and two stints with the New Orleans Saints.

Watson never really lived up to his first-round expectations with the Patriots but a couple of his most memorable moments were his two late touchdowns on the first Monday Night Football game of 2009 as Tom Brady was just returning from his ACL injury to pull out an improbable comeback win. And his uber-athletic chasing down of Champ Bailey in the playoffs of 2005 where he ran 100 yards from the opposite side of the field and knocked Bailey out of bounds after he intercepted Brady and returned the ball all the way down the field.

He led the Ravens in receptions in 2017 with 61 and had his best season with the Saints in 2015 with 74 catches for 825 yards and six touchdowns.

The 38-year old Watson considered retirement this winter but after the birth of his twins recently had a change of heart. Now his career has come full circle and he’s returning to the team that drafted him.

The tight end position will be vastly different in 2019 as the top three players from 2018 (Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, Jacob Hollister) are all gone. Now the tight end roster will look like this:

Ben Watson
Austin Seferian-Jenkins
Matt LaCosse
Stephen Anderson
Ryan Izzo
Andrew Beck

Anderson was brought in at midseason in 2018 but didn’t catch a pass. Izzo spent the season on IR. The team brought in free agents Watson, Seferian-Jenkins, and Lacosse this spring as well as the UDFA Beck.

The learning curve for Watson should be very short, after spending six seasons in Foxboro with Brady, re-learning the offense should be fairly easy for him despite his being gone for so many years.

Obviously, the hope is Watson can give them veteran leadership and together with Seferian-Jenkins provide them with enough production to at least replicate what they had a year ago and hopefully more.

Watson is a solid run blocker and together he and Seferian-Jenkins with Lacosse should provide the offense with enough targets to go around. Other than the missed season of 2016 with an injury, Watson has been durable and has always been on the field. The knock on Seferian-Jenkins is that he’s hurt all too frequently, but has never played with a QB like Brady.

In his career, Watson has played in 195 games with 135 starts. He has 530 career catches for 5885 yards and 44 touchdowns.

Adding Watson should give a nice short-term boost to the tight end position. And perhaps, like Patrick Chung proved a few years ago, you can go home again.

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

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

Veldheer Could be the Patriots’ First of a Secondary Slate of FA Signings

Steve Balestrieri
May 8, 2019 at 6:30 am ET

At the stroke of midnight, all remaining free agents will no longer count against the compensatory pick formula for the 2020 season. So one can expect a minor flurry of free agent signings to occur.

The Patriots are reportedly going to sign OT Jared Veldheer according to the NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport. The one-year deal is said to be worth up to $6.5 million dollars and will add the needed depth the Patriots lack at the tackle position.

The 6-foot-8, 321-pound Veldheer who turns 32 in June has played in 118 career games with 113 starts. His nine-year career has been spent with the Oakland Raiders (2010-13), Arizona Cardinals (2014-17) and Denver Broncos (2018). He brings along a ton of versatility as well; Veldheer can play either tackle position, center or guard.

After losing LT Trent Brown and swing tackle LaAdrian Waddle in free agency, the team is expected to get back last year’s top draft pick Isaiah Wynn who missed the season due to injury as well as this year’s draft pick Yodny Cajuste. Marcus Cannon remains at right tackle. With the tackle position now seemingly in good shape entering OTAs, where else would the Patriots like to shore up their depth in free agency?

Defensive Tackle:

There are a couple of names still out there that could be intriguing to the team, depending on the amount of money that they’re looking for.

Allen Bailey – Bailey is an eight-year veteran with the Chiefs and was a defensive end in their 3-4 defense. With the Patriots he could bring that inside/outside versatility that Bill Belichick likes where he can play on the edge or kick inside as an interior pass rusher.

Bailey, 30, is listed at 6’3, 288 but was up to as much as 300 pounds at times last season according to media reports. With the Chiefs last year, he posted a career high 6.0 sacks along with 38 tackles and 2 forced fumbles.

Corey Liuget – Liuget spent the first eight years of his career with the Chargers and has been a very solid player. He missed the first four games of the 2018 season with a PED suspension. And only played in six games during the season after tearing a quariceps during a game against Denver in November. He was limited to just 14 tackles and 1.5 sacks.

In case anyone was keeping score at home former Patriots Ricky Jean-Francois, Danny Shelton and Dominque Easley are still available as well. But the biggest name out there is DT Ndamukong Suh. I just don’t think the Patriots are interested in Suh, despite his talent. He doesn’t seem like a Belichick-type player.He’s never played for less than $10 million APY according to SI, so he won’t come cheap. But never say never.

Tight End:

The Patriots have Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Matt Lacosse, Stephen Anderson, Ryan Izzo, Jakob Johnson and the recently signed UDFA Andrew Beck on the roster. Potential trade candidates are Kyle Rudolph from the Vikings and the Bucs Cameron Brate if they cut their ties with him.

Ben Watson – The aging but still viable 38-year old retired in January but after the birth of his twins recently has said that he’d like to return to the NFL for one last season. Watson began his career with the Patriots as a first round draft pick in the 2004 season. ESPN’s Adam Schefter believes Watson may end up his career back in Foxboro.

Other free agents include Lance Kendrick and Jermaine Gresham.

Wide Receiver:

The Patriots aren’t as needy depth wise after drafting N’Keal Harry in the 1st round and signing three UDFAs but adding another veteran wide receiver may not be the worst decision they ever make.

Michael Crabtree – Crabtree is being linked to the Packers by CBS Sports so we’ll have to see how this development plays out. However, Crabtree had decent production with a Ravens team that wasn’t great at throwing the football in 2018.

Crabtree caught 54 passes for 607 yards 3 TDs with Baltimore and has been very durable, missing just two games total in the past five years.

Other notable players include Pierre Garcon, Seth Roberts, Jermaine Kearse, and Rishard Matthews.

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

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