Tag Archives: Bill Belichick

New England Patriots News 7-26, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
July 23, 2017 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 7-23, & AFC East Notes.

Wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell got a pretty impressive tattoo on his lower leg that shows the Lombardi Trophy after the Patriots Super Bowl win in Feb. The 2nd year wideout didn’t go the subtle route as he opted for a huge tattoo that covers his lower leg which he showed in a video as it unfolded.

So Bill Belichick’s relatives fought in the Pequot War and helped found the towns of Burlington, Woburn etc. and the coach is a distant relation to both Clint Eastwood and the famous abolitionist John Brown who led a raid on the armory at Harper’s Ferry.

Thanks to the digging by the Boston Globe, we know all of these cool but ultimately unnecessary facts about the coach’s genealogy. But after the recent attempts to find dirt on the Patriots and Tom Brady, one has to question, what exactly were they looking for when starting this? Certainly not that Belichick is a distant relative of President William Howard Taft… right? Maybe not; perhaps we’re looking for the negativity where there isn’t any and it was just that…. a simple case of genealogy.

Did you get a chance to check out our Patriots Training Camp Primers from last week? It is a good way to learn a lot of the new faces that the team has brought in this offseason. Training camp begins on Thursday, hope to see a lot of you there. Our earlier evaluations looked at the:

Running Backs

Wide Receivers

Tight Ends

Offensive Line

Defensive Line

Linebackers

Cornerbacks

Safeties

Special Teams

Edelman Shares Apology Letter from Doubting Teacher:
Pats wide receiver Julian Edelman has had plenty of doubters in his time, (even here once upon a time) but he’s never flinched from believing in himself.

Edelman recently shared on his social media page a letter of apology he recently received from a freshman English teacher at the College of San Mateo. Edelman made it clear that he planned on making it to the NFL or as he put it, “going to the league.” His teacher dismissed him and made a remark about “setting realistic goals.”

Julian Edelman received a letter from a college professor apologizing for telling him to set “realistic goals” in his freshman year. (SBalestrieri photo)

Edelman transferred to Kent State and went on to play three years as an option QB before getting drafted by the Patriots as a wide receiver. And we all know…the rest of the story as Paul Harvey would put it.

This little vignette shows that you can’t ever discount the size of a man’s heart. We’ve seen it with Tom Brady, Edelman and others. But the other thing is that this particular teacher is a keeper. Rare is it these days that anyone admits a mistake or an error. And for this person to pen a letter of apology means that San Mateo made a good choice there. Did he/she act a bit too quickly pooh-poohing Edelman’s dreams? Yes, but it was a lesson learned and the teacher was big enough to admit it. That’s a teacher I’d want for my kids.

Something Must Be in the Water 2…:
I’ll be so glad for training camp to start….but not for the usual reasons. Oh yes, a return to football which will be with us all from this Thursday until the Super Bowl in February is my favorite time of the year. But it seems every offseason is another time for the bored, delusional Brady haters to come out of the woodwork.

My emails, tweets, and DM mentions this week were filled with the latest carryings on by some individuals with their collective heads up their fourth point of contact. (That’s a paratrooper term that you can look up) And all of this while the players in the NFL voted him the #1 player in the league. Go figure.

I’ll be the first to admit that I was foolish enough to respond to a couple of these ridiculous rantings by the people who have nothing better to do than spend all of the days of the summer trying to make an excuse why Tom Brady isn’t this or that….yada, yada.

Then I took and I encourage you to take Bill Belichick’s advice, “Ignore the noise.” Brady’s brought his team to seven Super Bowls and won five of them and the team is primed with a deep roster for another one. So, this is the only way to quiet the haters. (Strong language)

The Juice is Loose:
It seems that O.J. Simpson is getting parole after serving nine years of a 33-year sentence. Simpson will be forced to live on his pension, $108,000 a year from the NFL as well as money he paid into the Screen Actor’s Guild, rumored to be more than $5 million and Social Security, which in his case would total out to be around $42,000 a year.

One of the more bizarre moments of his parole hearing was O.J. telling the judge that he’s always led a “conflict free life.”

Pacman Jones Suspended For Opener:
In another not-so-surprising turn of events, Adam “Pacman” Jones of the Bengals was suspended for the season opener against Baltimore after he was arrested for kicking and headbutting a hotel employee that led to his arrest earlier this year.

Jones also had an altercation with the police during his arrest and told the arresting officer, SGT Jarrod Cotton, “ hope you die tomorrow.” This incident was the latest in a long string of off-field problems associated with the veteran cornerback who was suspended for violation of the league’s Personal Conduct Policy.

East Bound and Down…AFC East Notes:
Bills to Host Anquan Boldin on Monday:

The Buffalo Bills are bringing in WR Anquan Boldin for a visit on Monday according to ESPN’s Dan Graziano. The 37-year old Boldin is long past the age where most wide receivers are retired and out of the league but Boldin continues to defy Father Time.

Last season he caught 67 passes for 584 yards and eight touchdowns for the Detroit Lions. Those are very solid numbers, for a player of his age, they are incredible. In his career Boldin has caught 1076 passes for 13,779 yards and 82 touchdowns in a very solid, long career with the Lions, Ravens, 49ers and the Arizona Cardinals.

Boldin would become an excellent possession receiver for Buffalo and can always be counted on to move the chains and excel in the red zone.

Dolphins to Fund Base-line Concussion Testing for Area High Schools:
The Miami Dolphins will pay to have approximately 15,000 Miami-Dade public high school athletes undergo baseline concussion tests in 2017.

Miami beat writer Armando Salguero is reporting that the Dolphins’ sponsorship, which will be announced sometime next week, will also help pay for counseling, education and a workshop on concussions through a program run by the University of Miami Sports Medicine Institute and KiDZ Neuroscience Center at the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis. “It’s amazing and so proactive and intelligent of [the Dolphins],” said Dr. Gillian Hotz, the director of the University of Miami Sports Medicine Institute’s concussion program. “They’re loving their community like the community loves them. It’s a great partnership with the university, and it shows other teams around the country what they can do in their communities.”

This is a great move by the Dolphins organization to help the high schoolers of the Miami area, especially at a time where the increasing focus is on concussions in the sports world…even at the high school level.

Pressure is on the Jets’ Enunwa to Produce:
The New York Jets got a very productive season out of wide receiver Quincy Enunwa in 2016. He began his second season as the #3 WR on the depth chart but after the season ending injury to Eric Decker, he moved up to the #2 slot.

The Jets used him in a variety of ways last season, outside, in the slot and even on a few occasions as an H-back. He responded with a solid outing catching 58 passes for 857 yards and four touchdowns. And this was with the shaky play of the Jets QBs a year ago.

The one knock on his play has been his drops which he’ll look to cut down on in season #3 for Gang Green. But with Decker and top receiver Brandon Marshall gone this season, Enunwa will begin training camp as the Jets top wide receiver. He will be facing a lot different set of challenges this season because of that.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]
Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

New England Patriots Training Camp Primer – Special Teams

Steve Balestrieri
July 21, 2017 at 6:30 am ET

Locked, Stocked and Plenty of Depth

The Patriots head into training camp at the end of 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. And now, finally, we’re on to the Special Teams.

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. With a roster of 90 players and no cuts needed before the final 53-man roster cut down, there will be plenty of time for evaluation. And some serious decisions will have to be made to get to the 53-man limit at the end of camp this summer.

Our earlier evaluations looked at the:
Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends
Offensive Line
Defensive Line
Linebackers
Cornerbacks
Safeties

So next up is the Patriots’ Special Teams. Without any serious challengers for the three players involved in the kicking game (kicker, punter, long-snapper), it would be hard to say they’re not locked. Where things get interesting is in the specialists and we’ll cover that below.

So, with that in mind who is locked in and who is on the bubble?

Roster Locks: Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen, Joe Cardona, Matthew Slater
The team brought in no competition for the three players most involved in the kicking game this summer. That tells you a lot about the confidence that they have in each of these players.

Gostkowski had a downer of a season for him making only 84.4 percent of his field goals (27 of 32) and missing three extra points (46 of 49) which had always been automatic with him. He missed two more extra points in the playoffs which could have resulted in a disaster had the Patriots not made a pair of two-point conversions in the Super Bowl comeback.

But one area of his game that is outstanding is his kickoffs. The Patriots were very good at pinning opponents back inside their 25-yard line or better during the season with the changes to the touchback rule. And Gostkowski had that developed into an art form, angling his kicks on one side of the field near the corner of the end zone.  But although the team didn’t bring in competition (surprising as it is), he’ll have to be more accurate this season.

Ryan Allen and Joe Cardona go over snap placement in training camp. (SBalestrieri photo)

Ryan Allen is coming off his career best in terms of net yardage (41.4), the fifth-year veteran has been very dependable and steady on holding for Gostkowski and his directional punting has gotten steadily better.

He was at his best during a 27-0 whitewashing of Houston. That night Allen put six punts inside the 20-yard line pinning the Texans deep all night. His seventh punt? Downed right at the 20. He was awarded and deservedly so the AFC’s Special Team’s Player of the Week for that.

Cardona has been juggling his duties with the Navy while being a long-snapper with the Patriots for the past two seasons. He’s been very accurate with his snaps and very few have been off-target, especially with the field goals and extra points. With his position, the only time we really notice him is when he makes a mistake. And he’s made very few during his tenure.

Matthew Slater is a team captain, a perennial All-Pro gunner on the Special Teams and one of those indispensable character guys every successful team has. He’s frequently mentioned a tremendous locker room presence.

Mike Reiss from ESPN recently highlighted how when the rookies arrived, the coaches told them that Slater was a good example to follow. UDFA Austin Carr sought him out and Slater has taken him under his wing. One of the highlights of last season was a very emotional Slater talking with Bart Starr’s wife when he found out he’d been named the recipient of the award in Starr’s name.  Slater enters his 10th year in the league and is locked.

Near Roster Locks: Nate Ebner, Brandon King
Two of the safeties that the Patriots carry make their bones on special teams. Ebner was allowed to chase his dream of an Olympic gold medal in Rugby last training camp and the coaches wore Ebner shirts to practice in support. That speaks volumes.

Ebner played a mere 18 snaps at strong safety in 2016. But he remains a core special teams’ player and his role isn’t changing anytime soon. He played on all four core STs and was on the field for approximately 80 percent of the snaps in 2016. He serves as Allen’s punt protector….and they haven’t had any blocked.

Brandon King getting feedback from STs Coach Joe Judge. (SBalestrieri photo)

King didn’t play a single snap on defense in 2016 but is nearly a lock for the roster due to his superb play on Special Teams. The Patriots signed the UDFA in 2015 and we saw right away that the team was intrigued. STs coach Joe Judge spent an incredible amount of one-on-one time with the rookie and he’s been a fixture on the STs since.

He was on the field for about 70 percent of the special teams’ snaps in 2016 and was on all four core special teams units.

On the Bubble: None

Very little looks to change with the Patriots special teams in 2017. They have a really solid base with two very good kickers, a reliable long snapper, and three impressive special teams’ mavens. The kicker, punter, and long-snapper don’t have any competition this summer so they’ll not be sweating training camp wondering if they’ll make the roster.

And the three specialists really have little to fear this year as well. Any newcomer will have to really step up to the plate to unseat one of these three. If a new player is to make the team, they’ll probably have to bump one of the positional players.

Barring injuries, this unit is solid and ready to go for the 2017 season.

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

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

New England Patriots Training Camp Primer: Safety

Steve Balestrieri
July 20, 2017 at 6:30 am ET

Proven Veteran Leadership, Solid Depth

The Patriots head into training camp at the end of 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. And we’re on to the Safeties.

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. With a roster of 90 players and no cuts needed before the final 53-man roster cut down, there will be plenty of time for evaluation. And some serious decisions will have to be made to get to the 53-man limit at the end of camp this summer.

Our earlier evaluations looked at the:
Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends
Offensive Line
Defensive Line
Linebackers
Cornerbacks

So next up is the Patriots’ safety position. This spring the team had the good fortune and smarts to bring back safety Duron Harmon during free agency. The re-signing of, in essence, the third starter because he plays so many snaps was a win/win. Harmon has been the team’s third safety in their big nickel package and he’d fill in as the team’s center fielder and many times they’d move McCourty, who used to be a cornerback into the slot.

McCourty and Chung return and are a savvy pair of veterans. They both should be around for at least 2017 and possibly beyond. The team normally carries a few safeties as special teamers and this year will be no exception.

So, with that in mind who is locked in and who is on the bubble?

Roster Locks: Devin McCourty, Pat Chung, Duron Harmon
The team is in very good shape at safety to start the season as they have all three starters returning for 2017. McCourty is an excellent free safety and makes all the calls for the secondary as the quarterback back there. He’s a team captain and a leader, on and off the field.

Not only is he always in the right position but he ensures everyone else is too on the field. He’s like having an extra coach on the field. He’s not a big rah-rah guy but leads by example and makes himself and everyone else accountable.


Pat Chung has been very solid in his second stint in New England. (USA TODAY Images)

Chung has been enjoying a career rejuvenation in his second stint with the Patriots. The coaches use him close to the line of scrimmage in the box where he’s much more effective. He terrific in run support, and like everyone else in the secondary, is a good tackler and is rarely out of position.

He’s physical and does a pretty good job of covering backs out of the backfield and tight ends close to the line of scrimmage. He’s a solid locker room guy and seems to be a popular teammate while being another quiet leader.

Bringing back Harmon on what is a pretty team-friendly deal was a great move. He was already essentially a starter with the number of snaps he’s played and he has a tremendous nose for the football. Harmon allows the Patriots to move McCourty around in the big nickel defense. He’s always making big plays at key times and is a very trusted player on the defense.

If McCourty were to miss any time with an injury, Harmon can be relied on to step in and do the job. Would he be able to make all the calls? That’s a question that we don’t know yet, but he’s another valuable piece of the defense.

Near Roster Locks: None

On the Bubble: David Jones, Jordan Richards
The Patriots signed UDFA safety Jones from Richmond this spring and he may be a player for fans to keep an eye on this summer. He’s got very good size for a strong safety at 6’3, 210 pounds to be a backup and eventual replacement for Pat Chung. Playing a very physical position takes a toll and the Patriots need a reliable backup.

Keep an eye on David Jones (#34) this summer, here with the Patriots safeties and coach Steve Belichick. (SBalestrieri photo)

Jones is athletic for a big man and returned kicks and punts in college and got some work in the return game during the spring. The more you can do, the more valuable you are to the coaches. Watching him in our limited window this spring, he impressed in coverage against the backup receivers. Now when the pads come on Thursday, will be a big test.

Richards’ career is at a crossroads in just his third season. After being a high draft pick (2nd Round, 64th overall) in the 2015 NFL Draft, he hasn’t made an impact and was buried on the depth chart in his second season, when Bill Belichick says most players make a big jump in their development.

He’s looked stiff in the hips and hasn’t been able to stick with receivers. He played just 18 defensive snaps in 2016 and just a third of the special teams’ snaps a year ago. He’s going to have to earn his way on the roster this summer. Right now, and it is very early with a limited view, but I’d put Jones ahead of Richards, especially given his ability to be an impact STs player. This will be a positional battle to watch.

Outside Looking In… Long Shots: Damarius Travis, Jason Thompson
The Patriots signed Travis as a UDFA and he’s an in-the-box safety. He has decent size at 6’2, 210 but he too is a bit stiff in the hips and may be a liability in coverage at the NFL level. He does a very good job against the run and is considered a high character player and person. He has excellent special teams’ ability and led Minnesota with 17 special teams’ tackles.

Thompson is a long shot to make the roster but if he shows enough of special teams, he could stick or make the Patriots practice squad. He wasn’t a starter in college and switched from QB to safety. He’s got decent size at 6’2, 210, and ran a 4.44 in the 40-Yard Dash and logged a very impressive 6.57 time in the 3-Cone Drill which would have been second in the Combine.

So, before we have everyone reaching for cell phones and keyboards for our snubbing of Nate Ebner and Brandon King…you’ll just have to wait until tomorrow we post our Special Teams primer…

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.

Patscap Podcast: Do I Care About The Patriots Possibly Going 19-0 This Season?

Russ Goldman
July 19, 2017 at 10:45 am ET

In this episode, Miguel discussed if he cared about a possible 19-0 season for the Patriots. He also updated the current state of the cap for the Pats. Later on, he compared the Patriots 2007 team to this current team heading into Training Camp.

New England Patriots Training Camp Primer – Cornerback

Steve Balestrieri
at 6:30 am ET

The Rich Got Richer

The Patriots head into training camp at the end of 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. And we’re on to the Secondary and specifically the corners.

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. With a roster of 90 players and no cuts needed before the final 53-man roster cut down, there will be plenty of time for evaluation. And some serious decisions will have to be made to get to the 53-man limit at the end of camp this summer.

Our earlier evaluations looked at the
Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends
Offensive Line
Defensive Line
Linebackers

 

So next up is the Patriots’ cornerback position. This spring the Patriots lost CB Logan Ryan who was a very valuable player for them. But the sting of his loss was more than made up for with the signing of Gilmore who came over from the Bills. All spring long the rumor had Malcolm Butler being traded but the deadline passed and he’s still here. That gives the team, embarrassingly deep riches at corner. Which means that they’ll be able to mix and match at the third or slot corner position depending on the opponent.

So, with that in mind who is locked in and who is on the bubble?

Roster Locks- Cornerback: Malcolm Butler, Stephon Gilmore
The team laid out some healthy dough for Gilmore who is a bigger, physical corner and immediately upgrades the position. The Bills had him playing too much off-coverage which wasn’t his strength. And a look at the opposing schedule this season and the wide receivers that they’ll be facing shows that they selected Gilmore specifically with this in mind.

Stephon Gilmore will be a big piece of the NE secondary in 2017. (SBalestrieri photo)

He looks to be exactly what they’re looking for and thru the spring workouts, he was trying to glue himself tightly with the wide receivers in practice. They’ll be no off-coverage with him this year. The only question with him is how well he learns the defense and picks everything up.

Butler was the subject of countless trade rumors going to the Saints this spring. But being a restricted free agent, New Orleans balked at paying the Patriots asking price of a 1st round pick. The end result was that no one else was going to pay the price either. Next spring? That may be a different story when Butler can hit free agency. But the other 31 teams’ loss is the Patriots gain.

Butler has shown the ability to stick with opponent’s top receivers, be physical and stay on the field. He’s rarely banged up and never misses any practices or games. His biggest asset is his short memory.  Butler can get beat on one play and unlike other corners who will dwell on that, he puts it right behind him and is back competing hard again. Together the duo of Butler and Gilmore on paper looks to be a very good one.

Near Roster Locks: Eric Rowe, Jonathan Jones, Cyrus Jones
The Patriots brought in Eric Rowe last season and the young, third-year corner bounced between the slot and outside at times. Whether that was dependent on matchups and moving Ryan into the slot or Rowe’s inability to is a subject for debate. But he’s another big (6’1) corner who showed he can cover bigger wide receivers on the outside.

Jonathan Jones certainly turned some heads this spring. One of the fast players on the team, Jones impressed enough last summer to earn a roster spot. This spring he was getting a lot of work in the slot where his speed and short area quickness can be brought to bear. He’s generously listed at 5’10 but seems to be a bit shorter than that. But if he can continue to stick to the slot receivers, he’ll see plenty of work in the secondary this season. Plus, his work on special teams makes him almost a lock.

Jonathan Jones battles with Edelman in minicamp. (SBalestrieri photo)

Cyrus Jones had a rookie season he’d probably like to block from his memory. Having superb return skill and experience, he was thought to provide the team with an immediate upgrade in the return game while competing for slot corner duties. Neither happened. Starting in minicamp, Jones treated kicks like kryptonite and he never made an impression on defense. To make matters worse he was ejected from one game for fighting. He’ll look to make a huge jump in play this summer but his leash will be much shorter. Still, by virtue of his draft position, he’ll probably be safe…for now.

On the Bubble: Justin Coleman, D.J. Killings
The Patriots got a good return from UDFA Justin Coleman who played some valuable snaps for them in 2015. The 24-year old probably thought his role would increase with the leaving of Logan Ryan and the Butler trade rumors. Now he’s going to have to fight and produce really well just to stick.

Killings is one of those UDFAs that the Patriots seem to find every year and who carves out a roster spot. He didn’t get invited to the NFL Combine but had a very impressive Pro Day at Central Florida, running a 4.48 in the 40-Yard Dash, 6.97 in the 3-Cone Drill, leaping 37.5 inches on the vertical and doing 22 reps on the Bench Press which would have been tied for most by a defensive back.

He’s feisty, competitive, and versatile. He’s lined up all over the field and is an intriguing guy. The Patriots liked him enough to guarantee him $31,000 this spring. Don’t go to sleep on him this summer. He’ll be a guy to watch.

Outside Looking In… Long Shots: William Likely, Kenny Moore, Dwayne Thomas
Without any of the top five guys getting injured, I don’t see much of a chance for any of these three guys to make a big enough impression to make the roster. These three are really fighting for practice squad eligibility.

Likely is an undersized (5’7 but listed at 5’9 ½) corner who is very versatile and can play both offense and defense. He lined up as both a corner and a WR in the same game for Maryland in 2015. His size will make things difficult for him at the NFL level.

Thomas shows good coverage in the slot during minicamp. (SBalestrieri photo)

Moore is another smaller (5’9) but very athletic slot corner from Valdosta State. He played both safety and in the slot but would have to make it with the Pats as a corner.

Thomas is a versatile guy and has played strong safety, slot, and perimeter corner in his college career at LSU. He’s got good size at 6’0, 200-pounds for a corner but may be undersized at strong safety. He’ll have the time to make an impression but faces a pretty steep uphill climb.

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

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

New England Patriots Training Camp Primer – Linebackers

Steve Balestrieri
July 18, 2017 at 6:30 am ET

Healthy Hightower and Depth Are Key for 2017

The Patriots head into training camp at the end of 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. We’re on to the linebackers

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. With a roster of 90 players and no cuts needed before the final 53-man roster cut down, there will be plenty of time for evaluation. And some serious decisions will have to be made to get to the 53-man limit at the end of camp this summer.

Our earlier evaluations looked at the Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends
Offensive Line
Defensive Line

So next up is the Patriots Linebackers. This spring the Patriots lost LB/ST Barkevious Mingo during free agency but he barely made a dent in the playing time on defense last season. There were hopes that the Patriots could find a spot for the athletic Mingo to thrive but it didn’t pan out. However, the big news was that they brought back Dont’a Hightower after they let the veteran test free agency. Hightower’s re-signing with the team was huge. But then two weeks after he was released by the Jets, the Patriots signed the 33-year old David Harris who should make a nice impact with the team and add to the depth.

So, with that in mind who are locked in and who’s on the bubble?

Roster Locks: Dont’a Hightower, David Harris
The resigning of Hightower was a priority this spring, the Patriots best (only?) three down linebacker has a skill set that they just couldn’t replace with anyone that was on the roster at the time. Hightower is a run-stuffer inside who has shown the knack for being a good disruptor and blitzer on the edge as well as up the A-gaps.

Signing Dont’a Hightower back to the team after allowing him to test free agency was a great move for the team. (SBalestrieri photo)

Having Hightower back and healthy this summer was a huge plus for the team. I’d look for the Patriots to limit his reps this summer and in preseason to preserve him for the season, especially the end of the season stretch and into January.

Harris was a no-brainer signing as he still has plenty left in the tank and he can still be a very effective two-down linebacker. He’s a very smart, instinctive football player who Bill Belichick has always had a lot of respect for. He can easily spell Hightower on early downs, play beside him in a 3-4 type situation and be a tremendous role model for the younger players.

I equated his signing with that of Junior Seau a few years ago. He’s not quite the player he was a few seasons ago, but with the system him limiting his playing time and putting him in situations that he’s in the best to position to succeed should prolong his career.

Near Roster Locks: Kyle Van Noy, Shea McClellin
The Patriots brought these two players in last season and each were former high draft picks that didn’t work out and needed a fresh start. The team used them mainly as sub-package linebackers and they each carved out good roles.

Shea McClellin was a versatile performer for the team in 2016. (SBalestrieri photo)

Van Noy was a third down specialist who displayed the ability to blitz from the edge and cover the running backs in the flat. He’s got good athleticism and seemed to pick up the defense quickly.  With a full offseason in the system this summer, he should be ready to be more effective this season.

McClellin is a versatile guy and has done whatever the team has asked him to do. He’s been a third down edge rusher, a coverage linebacker, played in the middle and has filled in as a defensive end with his hand in the dirt. He is a good special teams’ player and will be hard to unseat.

On the Bubble: Elandon Roberts, Harvey Langi, Jonathan Freeny
The Patriots loved what they saw in Roberts at times last season. Although slightly undersized, he’s a downhill thumper in run support and showed great instinctive play and explosion.  But he’s also shown that he can be a liability in coverage. That’s something that he’ll have to work on and improve this season.

Langi is a very intriguing prospect. If you want to see what the Patriots saw in him ignore his 2016 tape when his college coaches moved him to DE as an edge rusher. Watch the 2015 tape with him as a linebacker. The Patriots paid him a guaranteed $115,000, the most paid to a UDFA this spring. He has the kind of athleticism that can be impactful on Day 1 as a special teams’ guy. That may be his ticket to the roster.

Freeny is another Belichick favorite who was worked his way from being a STs standout to a Week 1 starter last season before an injury landed him on IR. Freeny counts only $1.7 million against the cap this season but could find himself replaced by one or both of the younger guys. Something is going to have to give here. All three and probably two will not make the cut. This will be one of those “tough decisions” that Belichick and the staff will have to make.

Outside Looking in… Long Shots: Trevor Bates, Brooks Ellis
Bates is a guy who may be just done in by numbers. The Colts drafted him in the 7th round of the 2016 NFL Draft but was cut loose before the Patriots signed him to the practice squad on November 7. He’s got very good athleticism to be a standout STs performer and the team liked him enough to give him a raise on the PS from $6900 a week to $18,000. He was a Practice Player of the Week for NE four times.

Ellis is a long shot but had one of the best 3-Cone Drill times at the NFL Scouting Combine this spring. The very athletic 6’2, 247-pound linebacker was a captain and a finalist for the Campbell Trophy as an Academic All-American. He’s versatile and can play all three linebacker positions as well as be a standout STs player. And he’s studying to be an Orthopedic Surgeon. I see a nickname of “Bones” for this kid…

Next up our training camp primer on the secondary…stay tuned.

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

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

New England Patriots Training Camp Primer: Defensive Line

Steve Balestrieri
July 17, 2017 at 6:30 am ET

Versatility and Physicality Mark The Pats DL

The Patriots head into training camp in ten days 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 on our primers is the Defensive Line position.

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. With a roster of 90 players and no cuts needed before the final 53-man roster cut down, there will be plenty of time for evaluation.

So, we’re going to look at the Patriots Defensive Line and how they shake out. There is much versatility here and that what makes the Patriots defense so effective. In a sack driven league, they’re rather pedestrian at them despite leading the league in points against in 2016.

DL Malcom Brown will be expected to be more consistent in 2017. (SBalestrieri photo)

It wasn’t smoke and mirrors, the team uses a variety of different looks and squeezes offenses from running the ball and then with their pass rushers, do not let opponents out of the pocket where big plays tend to happen. They demand their edge players set the edge first, they’re not and have never been a “sell-out” pass rush team.

The team lost defensive ends, Jabaal Sheard and Chris Long, this spring but drafted two younger guys in Derek Rivers and Deatrich Wise while picking up Kony Ealy from the Panthers in a steal of a trade, during the NFL Draft. The team also picked up the versatile and underrated Lawrence Guy from Baltimore. Trey Flowers was arguably their best DL down the stretch and into the playoffs and Alan Branch was outstanding all season.

Roster Locks: Trey Flowers, Kony Ealy, Rob Ninkovich, Derek Rivers, Deatrich Wise, Alan Branch, Malcom Brown
Everything starts with the big men in the middle and Branch and Brown were very good in 2016. Branch frequently plays over the center and is outstanding at stuffing the run. Brown is as well. Their job is to force everything outside where the defensive ends and linebackers are supposed to clean it up. They each got a little bit of push in the passing game but that is something that Brown could do a bit more of as well as be more consistent in 2017.

Patriots rookie DE Deatrich Wise in action at minicamp in June. (SBalestrieri photo)

Ealy will be an intriguing guy to watch this year. He’s in a contract year and has been given a clean slate by the coaches in New England.  The biggest knock against him was that he didn’t buy in when he was in Carolina. He seems to be doing that right off the bat here, which is a good sign. When he’s on, he’s a difficult man to block. Just rewind to Super Bowl L and watch him against the Broncos.

Big things are expected of Flowers this season, and after the way he finished 2016, he seems to be the go-to guy in the pass rush. Flowers, like many others in the Pats defense, is versatile and can rush from the edge or push inside as an interior pass rusher.

Ninkovich is a guy who is always at his best in clutch situations. He may be losing a step but he’s another versatile guy who can line up as a defensive end or drop as an outside linebacker.

Rob Ninkovich has been a clutch performer for the Patriots defense. (SBalestrieri photo)

Rivers and Wise by virtue of their draft stock are untouchable this season. Rivers is another guy who can play DE or OLB and was the Patriots top draft choice this season. Wise is another big DE in the Patriots mold that is an edge setter first and a pass rusher second. He was hurt in his senior season in college but had a very impressive 2015.

With the depth listed above, these rookie edge players, they won’t have a ton of pressure put on them to produce much this season. They will be able to learn the defense, get used to the speed of the pro game and get some reps here and there.

Near Roster Locks: Lawrence Guy, Vincent Valentine
Valentine showed some nice flashes last year in his rookie campaign. He’s another big body who can stuff the run on the inside. Guy is a versatile, movable piece and plays the 1-technique or out to the 5-technique. He seems like he’s going to be a nice fit in the Patriots defense. We’ll have to see if he can translate that to the field.

It is going to take some hard work from the guys below to unseat either of these two players. But stranger things have happened. Unless someone gets hurt or a case of the Foxboro Flu.

On the Bubble: Geneo Grissom, Woodrow Hamilton, Darius Kilgo, Josh Augusta, Adam Butler
The clock is running out on Geneo Grissom. He’s a guy that was drafted ahead of Flowers and was thought to have all kinds of versatility. But it hasn’t happened for him, he’s been unable to make a dent in the defense. Hamilton made the team a year ago but with the addition of Guy from the Ravens, he’s going to have to turn it up… a lot.

Augusta is a big-body, run stuffer in the Vince Wilfork mold, he’s listed at 6’0, 335-pounds…which may be wishful thinking. Passing the conditioning test on Day 1 will be a tough task for the big man, who failed to complete a lap during minicamp…twice.

Butler is a definite under the radar guy. Signed as a UDFA from Vanderbilt, the 6’4, 305-pound DL can be a run-stuffing tackle or a penetrator from the interior on passing downs. He played OL in college before switching over. He’ll be a guy to watch to see if he can turn some heads.

Kilgo was drafted by Denver and appeared in 18 games in two seasons before being released last November. The Pats signed the big 6’3, 320 DL to the practice squad where he spent the remaining part of the season.

Our next primer will have the Patriots Linebackers… stay tuned.

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

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

New England Patriots Training Camp Primer Offensive Line

Steve Balestrieri
July 16, 2017 at 12:00 pm ET

Continuity and Preparing for 2018 are Keys

The Patriots head into training camp in less than two weeks 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 Offensive Line position.

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. With a roster of 90 players and no cuts needed before the final 53-man roster cut down, there will be plenty of time for evaluation.

So we’re going to take a look at the Patriots Offensive Line. One of the keys to the 2016 success and part of the struggle down the stretch in 2015 had to do with continuity. The Patriots five starters played together nearly wire-to-wire last year and their performance showed. In 2015 injuries decimated the unit and the team couldn’t get any kind of cohesiveness going.

The good news is that five starters return as well as some of their top backups. But the team didn’t neglect their offensive line this offseason. With an eye to the future, they drafted two tackles in the 2017 NFL Draft, Tony Garcia, and Connor McDermott. Garcia in particular looks to have been drafted with 2018 and beyond in mind.

Although the team lost RT Sebastian Vollmer to retirement this spring, he missed the entire 2016 season with an injury and with the ascendance of Marcus Cannon, the team looks to be in good shape there.
So, with that in mind who is locked in and who’s on the bubble?

Roster Locks: Nate Solder, Marcus Cannon, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Tony Garcia
The starting five returns, seem to be healthy and are locked on the roster this summer. Solder returned from IR in 2015 to play very solidly last year. He’s in the last year of his contract and with that in mind, the team has drafted two possible replacements.

Moving up and using multiple picks to draft Garcia, he’s obviously someone who Dante Scarnecchia feels can be a left tackle of the future. With Solder in place for at least 2017, there is no pressure on Garcia to produce early. This will be a red-shirt type of year for him to learn the system and develop under the tutelage of Coach Scar.

Cannon came out of the doghouse to play very well in 2016. Guards Mason and Thuney are young and physical and should only improve. Andrews is an undersized but smart center and he’s not going anywhere.

Unless there is an injury somewhere, I see no changes happening along the starting lineup for the Patriots offensive line in 2017.

Near Roster Locks: Cameron Fleming, Ted Karras
Last season both Fleming and Karras were the top backups for the tackles and the interior line last year. They both have the inside track for the top backup positions again as well. Karras has the versatility to play either guard or back-up the center David Andrews. He’s not the most athletic guy but he’s physical and tough.

Fleming was the swing tackle last year and will be trying to hold off the rookies Garcia and McDermott from taking that job away from him. He’s versatile and can fill in at either left or right tackle, something that is easier said than done.

On the Bubble: LaAdrian Waddle, Conor McDermott, Cole Croston, Andrew Jelks, Max Rich, Jamil Douglas, Chase Farris, Jason King, James Ferentz
The Patriots have plenty of depth at the backup positions and these players are likely to be fighting for reps in training camp and a most likely only one or two slots.

Waddle has been a backup tackle and a blocking tight end but with the depth, at that position, he’ll be pushed hard for a roster spot. McDermott is another intriguing prospect. He’s a guy that the Patriots used a pair of picks to get, albeit in the sixth round of the draft. Would he pass thru waivers if the team tries to stash him on the practice squad? That would seem to be his best bet to make the roster, at least this summer, unless the inevitable injuries occur.

With a lot of bodies in camp, this will be an intriguing group to watch. They’ll have the entire preseason to make a case for sticking, so staying healthy and on the field, will be of primary importance.

Our next primer will have the Patriots defensive line… stay tuned.

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

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

New England Patriots News 7-16, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 7-16, & AFC East Notes.

Did you get a chance to check out our Patriots Training Camp Primers from last week? It is a good way to learn a lot of the new faces that the team has brought in this offseason. Training camp is less than two weeks away, and the excitement is building to see the 2017 version of the team on the field.

Sorry to hear that former Patriots QB Vito “Babe Parilli passed away on Saturday at the age of 87. He was a three-time AFL All-Star quarterback (1963-64, 1966) and an AFL Comeback Player of the Year in 1966. He was on the AFL’s 10-Year Anniversary Team in 1971. His 31 TD passes in 1964 were a team record until 2007.

Julian Edelman put the stop on any 19-0 talk on Saturday. (SBalestrieri photo)

Edelman Douses Talk of 19-0 as “Stupid”:
Julian Edelman doesn’t want to hear any talk about the Patriots going 19-0 in 2017.  “You can’t worry about what other people say, honestly,” Edelman said to Adam Kurkjian of the Boston Herald in an interview at a camp on Saturday in Danvers.

“When you go out and play in the National Football League, it’s one of those things where it is stupid to even think about that. It’s never been done. You don’t really want to talk about it. My focus is more on trying to get ready for the season, trying to learn your teammates, form your identity. [The 19-0 talk] is stupid. That’s it.”

It is often said, teams take on the identity of their coach….any questions?

ESPYs Show Manning’s Funny Side:
Although I didn’t watch the live show, the clips on social media with Peyton Manning, taking a good-natured jab at himself a few times in regard to Tom Brady was some funny moments. Wearing a Falcons’ shirt while watching the Super Bowl and the old folk’s home skits were very good.

Manning has always a good comedic flair, and his ESPY’s performance confirmed that. But nothing will ever beat his Saturday Night Live Faux United Way commercial. That one was an instant classic.

Belichick’s Navy Seal Shirt Causes a Stir:
When the news week is slow, look to the Pats for some quick fodder. When a fan ran into Bill Belichick in Nantucket this week, he posed (smiling even) with a youngster for a quick picture for the child’s parents, who quickly posted it on social media, in a “Look who we just ran into” type of post.

But the shirt Belichick was wearing is what caused the uproar and it wasn’t from the fans who snapped the pic. In a play on the “Life is Good” line of shirts and stores, a former Navy SEAL and LA County Sheriff, Jim Amann is selling shirts to aid a charity (Navy SEALS Foundation) and depicts a man wearing a turban (Osama bin Laden) being attacked by a military dog while a military Special Operations soldier with a rifle runs with a smile. Under the picture is the caption “Life is Great”.

The blowback on social media has been high with some hand-wringing about Belichick glorifying violence in the Middle East (insert eye roll).

Belichick, who is a well-known supporter of anything Navy has helped spark sales of the shirt over 500 percent this week. Amann told the press that he didn’t know where Belichick got the shirt from but was glad that he was helping sales and the profits going to the Foundation which helps America’s warriors.

Amann’s site which sells police and police canine equipment is currently sold out of the shirts. But if you’d like one…click here:

Belichick’s Longevity Means Continuity Continues for the Patriots:
While on the subject of Belichick, he’s the longest tenured coach in the NFL and his ability to change with the game and not only keep up but stay ahead of the trends is a huge reason for his continued success. But there are a couple of other coaches who aren’t on so much solid footing and are considered on the hot seat.

One guy who should be feeling the heat is Marvin Lewis. Lewis missed the playoffs in 2016 as the Bengals limped to a 6-9-1 record last year. We still find the fact that he’s on the job with Cincinnati as a head scratcher. Despite always having a deep roster that is annually considered to be one of the best in football, Lewis has won zero playoff games with the Bengals.

The Patriots suffered those lean years as well which makes the current unprecedented run of success something to savor.

Amendola Signs Modeling Contract with Ford:
With an eye to the future, after football Pats, WR Danny Amendola has signed a modeling contract with one of the most prestigious firms in the business, Ford Models. Ford has pushed the careers of many famous models including Christie Brinkley, Chrissie Teagan, and Cheryl Tiegs among others. Amendola becomes the first NFL player to sign with Ford.

“We are thrilled to represent Danny Amendola, not only one of the top athletes in his field but also a man of great character,” Ford Models Men’s Director Sam Doerfler said in a press release. “Danny’s work ethic, drive, and track record of success help make him the perfect fit to partner with some of the best brands and creative teams in the fashion industry, and we look forward to bringing him those opportunities.”

Amendola, like his best buds Julian Edelman and Tom Brady, is always dressed to the nines and is seeing a model and actress, former Miss Rhode Island, Miss USA and Miss Universe 2012, Olivia Culpo. He also made it clear that football is still #1 with him and that this opportunity comes second. But he’s preparing for his post-NFL career which is a smart move.

Something Must Be in the Water…:
Another week, another player throwing shade on the Patriots and Tom Brady. Free agent running back DeAngelo Williams, who has never been one to shy away from a microphone or to make bold statements was at it again last week.

He listed a group of teams that he WOULDN’T play for (surprisingly New England wasn’t on the list) and then he took a couple of shots across the bow of Tom Brady. What did he say? Well, he broke out that time worn myth of calling Brady a “system QB” (gag) and then said that he benefitted from playing in a “weak division.”

Well let’s take a look at Brady’s record against all the divisions in the NFL. Brady’s record vs the AFC East? As one can imagine given the Patriots dominance here, it is a stellar 71-19 with a winning percentage of .789. So, does Williams’ theory hold water? If you consider Brady’s record vs the AFC East is only his fifth best against the eight different divisions, then no it sure doesn’t. Brady’s record and winning pct. is listed here:

AFC East      71-19   .789
AFC North   24-5     .828
AFC South   23-5     .821
AFC West    18-11   .620

NFC East      13-3    .813
NFC North   14-2    .875
NFC South     9-3    .750
NFC West     10-5    .667

The bold statement by Williams which was quickly lapped up by the press just doesn’t hold water. Of course, the other part of equation, the tired “system QB” myth persists among the Brady detractors even after five Super Bowl wins…. Kook er… Kool Aid line is to the left.

On the flip side of the coin was Cardinals’ coach Bruce Arians who was trying to give the Patriots defense some props and saying it wasn’t all on the NE offense as to why they win, but Twitter, being Twitter had Patriots fans jumping all over him. The joys of social media.

East Bound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Peyton Manning Likes Bills’ Die-Hard Fans:
The Buffalo Bills fanbase got some props from Peyton Manning. Appearing on the Jimmy Kimmel Show, Manning talked about the fervor of the Buffalo fans.

After a game in Buffalo, Manning, as was his ritual, would throw his hat and sweatbands to young fans in attendance. He tossed his sweat band to a kid wearing a Bills jersey and the kid wasn’t having any. “He threw it right back in my face,” Manning said to a roar from the crowd.

Manning wasn’t upset, he said to Kimmel. He added, “I like that kid. … I like the die-hards.”  You can see the entire piece here:

Gase Says the Dolphins Playing the Patriots is Good:
The Miami Dolphins have been in the news lately with comments from Jarvis Landry and a couple by Ndamukong Suh about the New England Patriots. So naturally when 2nd year coach Adam Gase does an interview with Mike Florio on his podcast, he’s going to get asked about New England.

But Gase, rather than shy away from comparisons or make inane comments like Suh gave what is the perfect answer.

“I think this is good for us because we get to go against the best twice a year and you know exactly where you stand in the NFL,” Gase said. “Last year they beat us twice and they beat us pretty handily both times. We really put ourselves in a hole and they let us know that we have a long way to go.”

Due to the crazy NFL schedule in 2017, the Dolphins and Patriots will meet twice in just a 15-day time span. Miami reached the postseason with a 10-6 record in 2016 but played a last place schedule. This year they’re looking to improve on that mark, albeit against a much tougher schedule. One thing is looking to be certain however, Miami hired the right coach in Gase to take over the reins in South Beach.

Jets Hope That Davis Can Fill Harris’ Shoes:
The New York Jets have gone thru nearly a total house cleaning this offseason, jettisoning many veteran players. Now they’re hoping a player that they let go and have brought back will pay dividends for them.

Demario Davis walked away in free agency in 2015 and now he’s back. And he has really big shoes to fill. Davis, who played on the weak side in his first stint with the Jets is now projected to be one of the starters at the inside linebacker position.  Davis and 2nd year player Darron Lee will anchor the inside. This will the first year in over a decade that the Jets will be without David Harris inside. Harris was let go and signed with New England last month.

The Jets project to have one of the youngest linebacking corps in the league in 2017 with an average age of just 24.3. After a 10-win first season, Coach Todd Bowles is saddled with a very young, inexperienced team without a clear #1 QB.

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

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

New England Patriots Training Camp Primer – Tight Ends

Steve Balestrieri
July 12, 2017 at 6:29 am ET

Gronkowski’s Health Always A Key Concern

The Patriots head into training camp in just 15 days 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 Tight End position.

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. With a roster of 90 players and no cuts needed before the final 53-man roster cut down, there will be plenty of time for evaluation.

So next up are the tight ends. The Patriots have six players vying for roster spots.

This position will ultimately be judged on how healthy Rob Gronkowski can stay in 2017. When he’s good to go and on the field, he’s the most dangerous tight end in the game and an absolute game changer.

The team knows that just by the nature of his game and how he plays, he’s apt to get dinged up. That’s why the second tight end spot is very important and Allen will have to be a guy who can be relied upon.

So, with that in mind who is locked in and who’s on the bubble?

Roster Locks: Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen
Gronkowski is still the gold standard among tight ends in the NFL. No one possesses the entire package that he brings to the table. He has the type of athleticism at the position where he can attack the field down the seams, move the chains, and be a huge physical target in the red zone. And he’s an outstanding blocker in the running game.

He’s one of those players that opposing teams must game plan around. He creates mismatches, as linebackers can’t run with him and safeties, aren’t big enough to stand up to his physicality.

Gronkowski, along with Julian Edelman are two of Tom Brady’s most favorite targets. Both have tremendous football I.Q.s and can read the defense pre-snap and understand and see exactly what Brady is seeing. This frequently means that no audible has to be called. QB and receiver are in tune and the play is changed silently as the two have worked on their reads and chemistry after long hours on the practice field.

Gronkowski in minicamp appeared 100 percent healthy with no restrictions, which is great news for 2017. It will be interesting to see how the Patriots manage his snaps in preseason and training camp as they have plenty of players to use. They want him healthy for a stretch run, not necessarily an early September matchup.

Allen was brought in to replace the departed Martellus Bennett who was a big addition in 2016 and had much to do with the team’s success during the Super Bowl run. Allen is known as a tremendous run blocker, just like Bennett and that will be how the coaches judge him first. Once the pads come on in camp, is when Allen’s fit can be judged.

We saw the commentary on his struggles during the first day of minicamp, his drops and Bill Belichick’s acerbic comments to him about “this isn’t Indy” on that rainy day. We watched Allen closely the next day and I thought he did fine.

Dwayne Allen catches a pass during Patriots minicamp in June. (SBalestrieri photo)

Obviously, if he struggles during training camp it will be a concern moving forward but I’m not buying into much of the talk that he’s on the bubble. He’s had good but not great numbers in the passing game but has been very productive in the red zone.

That could have a significant impact as teams usually pay close attention to Gronkowski in the red area. If Allen’s performance holds true to form, he could have some very good production in 2017.

Near Roster Locks: None

On the Bubble: James O’Shaughnessy, Matt Lengel, Jacob Hollister, Sam Cotton
The Patriots usually like their third tight end to be more of a blocker but in the case of O’Shaughnessy, that may change. The Patriots spent some time looking at him prior to the 2015 NFL Draft and when the opportunity availed itself, they swung a deal with the Chiefs to trade for him. He could be looked at as a move tight end as opposed to the traditional in-line role as well as a special teams’ performer.

Matt Lengel was on the team a year ago and is a big (6’7, 265-pound) blocking tight end who the team snatched off the Bengals’ practice squad. He chipped in with a couple of catches, including an 18-yard touchdown against the Jets, but he’s a blocker first and foremost.

Jacob Hollister is an intriguing UDFA tight end out of Wyoming. (SBalestrieri photo)

Hollister comes to the Patriots via the UDFA route from Wyoming where he had a standout senior season with 32 catches for 515 yards and seven touchdowns. He is more of a move tight end (6’4, 240-pounds) than an inline blocker. He’s still a bit raw and needs to work on his blocking, but he turned our heads a bit during minicamp so he’ll bear watching in training camp.

Cotton is an intriguing guy, the 6’4, 250 tight end had pretty pedestrian numbers at Nebraska but the Cornhuskers are very much a running team first. For a good sized tight end, Cotton showed some nice athleticism during his Pro Day. He ran a very respectable 4.80 but his time in the 3-Cone Drill, a Patriots staple was what turned heads. Cotton ran that in 6.87 which would have been second among tight ends at the Combine in Indianapolis. He also turned in an impressive performance with a 127-inch broad jump and his 35.5-inch vertical leap which would’ve been sixth in Indy. He’s a longshot to make the team but he’s got the Bo Pelini connection that Belichick likes.

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.