Tag Archives: Braxton Berrios

Cliffs, Turnover, Age… Tom Brady Remains Resolute

Steve Balestrieri
August 1, 2019 at 10:07 am ET

The Patriots training camp is seven days and six practices [the seventh practice will begin as this posts] into the 2019 campaign. And the Patriots are blessed to have the same coach and quarterback combination on hand for the 20th consecutive year.  Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have been a constant in the league that every year suffers a huge amount of turnover. 

Brady’s first training camp stands in stark contrast with this one. Back then he was an unheralded, late 6th round draft choice from Michigan who many believed had no shot at a long career in the NFL. But he had an incredible work ethic, a huge chip on his shoulder because of his draft position [which remains], and absolute faith in himself. He introduced himself to Robert Kraft that summer and Kraft recalled, “he looked at me with laser-focus and said, ‘I’m best decision this organization ever made.’”

After 18 years as a starter, Brady has led the Patriots to nine Super Bowl appearances and six wins. He stands in rarified air, no one in the Super Bowl era can come close to those numbers. And every year since his knee injury in 2008, Brady has faced the same questions it seems every summer. Is this the year where he shows his age? Where Brady and the Patriots fall from the heights and re-join the pack of Super Bowl afterthoughts instead of front-runners? Will Brady… fall off a cliff? “Tom Brady is going to be a bum in short order,” Max Kellerman pronounced early in 2016. In the past three years, the Patriots have been to three straight Super Bowls, winning two. But still, the questions remain. 

While he claims to ignore the noise… and the trolls on the national beat, we know better. He uses them for an incentive to work harder than his already famous work ethic. He approaches every day and every practice as if he’s that late 6th rounder trying to make the team, instead of a six-time Super Bowl champion. 

Tom Brady speaks to the media after practice on 7/31

On Wednesday, he wasn’t scheduled to speak with the media but felt like he should after the offense had a very sloppy, unproductive session. He walked over and told the horde of media that quickly surrounded him to “Fire Away.”

He was quickly asked about his contract status. He’s entering the final year of his deal and was questioned as to he’s comfortable working on a one-year deal. He answered as that 6th round rookie would. 

 “We’re all day-to-day if you think about it,” he answered. “None of us are really promised anything. So, I’m trying to do the best I can today and just let those [contracts] things sort themselves out… so, we’ll see how it goes.”

Asked about if he’s still having fun out there, even in the stifling heat and humidity yesterday he said, “ Yeah, absolutely. I have a great time, I mean football is – I love the sport. I’ve loved playing it since I was a kid. You know, it’s hard for me to imagine doing anything else in life. I love playing ball, so to still be out here at 41 – soon to be 42 – it’s a pretty great thing for me.”

Brady also addressed the balancing of family time with his preparation and commitment to football, giving a tremendous amount of credit to his wife, Gisele.

“The last couple of years, it’s been great for me to spend the off-seasons with them, and really fill up that bucket and give them the time, support, and love that they need. When I’m here doing my thing, my wife’s got to hold down the fort and she has put a lot on hold over the years to support my dreams. I feel like it’s my responsibility as a husband to do the same for her. She’s happy when I get back to football because she knows how happy I am. It was a great off-season, but now it’s time for football, and I think everyone in our family is prepared for that.”

Brady addressed the turnover of players and coaches and said that it takes a total team effort to get everyone pulling together. 

“Well, there’s a lot of turnover every year and you deal with the turnover, and there’s a lot of new guys trying to assimilate into what we’ve done here for a long time. It’s really up to them to get up to speed, and everyone here has got to help them get there. Between the coaches, the veteran players, the leaders – it’s our responsibility to get everyone on the same page, doing the right thing and trying to help us in whatever way they can help us move the ball down the field and score some points.”

Asked about a contract extension and if he’s earned one, Brady poked fun at NBC Sports Boston with all of the polls they’ve conducted during the offseason. 

“I don’t know. That’s up for talk show debate. What do you guys think? Should we take a poll? Talk to Mr. Kraft, come on.” Chuckling, he added, “No, like I said, we’ve got a great relationship so we’ll see how it goes.”

So, while the hot-take artists continue to predict the demise of the Patriots and Brady, he remains steadfast in his preparation, commitment to the game and his extremely competitive nature on the field. 

Having been at nearly every training camp practice for the past decade, every year I watch him go thru his progressions and throwing motion with my binos looking for the cracks that every hot-take artist claims to be there [and never steps foot in Foxboro] and I don’t see it. If anything, his throwing mechanics are even better than they were a decade ago. He may be in even better shape physically than he was then. 

The Patriots offense may struggle early in the 2019 season with the turnover at wide receiver and tight end, but as long as Brady is under center, there is no doubt that they’ll find a way to figure it out. Those national hot take artists will continue the drivel every summer ad nauseam and when he finally does retire or fall off, they’ll celebrate like they had it right all along. Brady has made them all look foolish for a long time. He’s the classic man in the arena that a former President wrote about 67 years before he was born. 

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt

The Patriots get back to practice this morning and look for Brady to be looking to get the offense moving forward right off the bat… It’s inevitable.

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.

Patriots Training Camp Day 6 Observations

Steve Balestrieri
July 31, 2019 at 5:25 pm ET

Sloppy Affair For the Offense

The Patriots conducted their sixth practice of training camp and their third in full pads on the fields behind Gillette Stadium on a very hot, humid Wednesday morning. It was perhaps the worst showing of the summer by the offense who were plagued by dropped passes. Between the heat, humidity and the Patriots defense, the offense had a rough session. They never looked in sync and had a hard time stringing any plays together.  

Not Practicing – Julian Edelman and Yodny Cajuste remain on NFI, Demaryius Thomas is still on PUP along with Nate Ebner and Ken Webster.

Byron Cowart and Dontrelle Inman returned after missing three practices and two respectively. Cowart worked on conditioning while Inman jumped right back into team drills. After warmups and stretching, Rex Burkhead retreated to the lower practice fields for work with the training staff. About halfway thru practice, Lance Kendricks left with a member of the training staff, which could have been a heat issue. 

Ben Watson speaks after practice on 7-31. (SBalestrieri)

The practice was conducted in full pads. Our observations included:

  • Once again a big part of the focus on Wednesday was the running game. Early in the session, James White was leading the way 
  • N’Keal Harry had a rough go of it, the worst of his career with four (4) drops one of which irritated Brady and he let the rookie know it. 
  • Braxton Berrios didn’t have a great session either, he had a drop from Brady and another from Hoyer. 

On the subject of Berrios, with Edelman out, he was expected to really compete and get work with the top unit on offense. After a really solid spring, things haven’t worked out. He hasn’t stood out at all. And worse yet, he isn’t getting any separation from the corners and he’s been mainly going against the second-tier guys. 

Maybe in the preseason, they’ll scheme up something to get him open more. Right now, I thought he’d be rapidly becoming the Amendola option to this offense. Although there is still a long, long way to go, right now, I’d put him on the outside looking in. 

Back to observations…

  • Jakobi Meyers is having a pretty impressive camp along with Maurice Harris. While he isn’t getting the reps that Harris is, whenever he’s being called, he is producing. He used his height to outleap Keion Crosson and brought down a pass from Stidham. I’d put him over Berrios…right now.
  • During the first 7-on-7 period, the offense struggled with drops on three plays. Berrios dropped a pass from Stidham, then he dropped one from Brady as the ball sailed right thru his hands. 
  • Harry dropped one on a quick drag route close to the line of scrimmage. 
  • Harry then ran a nice comeback route as Brady gunned the ball to his back shoulder. The rookie made the nice difficult catch on that one. 
  • During 11-on-11, Harry dropped a quick slant where Brady put the ball right in his hands. 
  • Brady just missed hitting Ben Watson with Devin McCourty providing tight coverage. The window was tight and he just missed him.
  • When Brian Hoyer came in, he tried to hook up with Phillip Dorsett but Jason McCourty did a nice job of breaking up the pass.
  • Stidham hit Damoun Patterson on a drag route close to the line of scrimmage. Then he threw behind Patterson on the next snap. 
  • During the final 11-on-11 which looked to be a hurry-up offensive series Brady laid out a deep seam pass for Harry but he dropped it. This was one of the only plays of the summer where Gilmore was beaten clearly.
  • Jonathan Jones made a really nice play of breaking up a pass intended for Berrios. Jones is having an outstanding camp thus far. Perhaps only Gilmore is playing better in the secondary right now.
  • Hoyer attempted to split double coverage with a deep seam pass to Watson. Terrence Brooks got a piece of it and Duron Harmon picked it off. 
  • Joejuan Williams had his best day of camp and broke up another pass to Watson. He had a couple on nice breakups today. 
  • Dan Skipper was getting the majority of first-team reps at left tackle but in the 1-on-1 drills he was beaten cleanly by Shalique Calhoun, who quietly is having a good camp and later was pancaked by Ufomba Kamalu. Not a good sign.
  • David Andrews and Joe Thuney held their own in the drills with good, solid stops. 
  • Backup defensive lineman Nick Thurman looked impressive in his individual 1-on-1 against Tyree St. Louis. 
  • New offensive lineman Martez Ivey was in uniform and has a long, long way to go with his conditioning.  Forced to run a penalty lap, he was so slow that the trainers came out to check on him….time to hit the hills. 
  • Punt returners today were Chung, Berrios, Olszewski, and Dorsett. 
  • Jake Bailey did a good job both on hanging his punts high in the air and on holding for Stephen Gostkowski’s field goals….hmmm.

The next practice session is slated for Thursday morning at 9:15 a.m.

Brady speaks to the media after practice. (SBalestrieri)

Brady, Watson, James White, and Dont’a Hightower all spoke with the media after practice. Brady spoke about the difficulties working against this defense and getting the new players up to speed.

“They’re all new players, so we’ve got to figure out how to get them up to speed to what our expectations are, the level of competition on a daily basis,” Brady said after practice. “We have a very good defense this year. Those guys are challenging us on every day. It’s hard to complete passes on our secondary. That’s just the reality. So, it’s actually great work for our offense to see how we measure up against a very good defense.

“Days like today are frustrating for us and we’ve got to learn from the corrections and try to come out and have a better day tomorrow.”

Play of the Day:

Okay, now that we got Harry’s struggles covered, he also had the play of the day, so that his day wasn’t a total loss. One play after dropping an easy catch, Harry made the very difficult one. He attacked the seam and was facing tight coverage from Jason McCourty . He went up and made an incredible leaping catch where he came down hard on his back. He was shaken up for a few seconds but quickly returned to the huddle and continued. 

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.

Taking Stock of the First Week of Patriots Training Camp

Steve Balestrieri
July 29, 2019 at 8:18 am ET

A shortened week is now complete with two padded and two unpadded practices for the Patriots as they began their 2019 training camp. This week, they’ll begin by enshrining Rodney Harrison and Leon Gray into the team’s Hall of Fame and then conduct their in-stadium practice on Monday night. Unlike the other training camp practices, this one is open only to season ticket holders and I believe Foxboro residents.

So let’s take a look at the first practices and get some of the highlights of the camp thus far and how the team is shaping up in the early going. 

Health Still a Concern In Some Areas:

Julian Edelman and Yodny Cajuste are still on the NFI. Cole Croston, Demaryius Thomas, Nate Ebner, and Ken Webster are on PUP. Sony Michel, Isaiah Wynn, and David Andrews have returned to practice in a limited way while Dontrelle Inman and Bryon Cowart missed the last sessions. 

With Cajuste and Croston out and Wynn limited, it has been pushing the depth at tackle, especially left tackle…more to that below. 

Defense Looking Very Strong in Early Going:

The Patriots defense thus far in the camp has been very impressive. As is the norm in training camp, the defense begins usually slightly ahead of the offense. And this year is no exception. They look better (at this point) than the team that took the field for the Super Bowl in February. 

Deep, Talented Secondary – We’ve been writing that all spring long and they’ve been giving the receivers a tough time. Stephon Gilmore has continued right where he left off in the Super Bowl. He’s only been targeted twice that we’ve seen in team drills and hasn’t given up a reception. J.C. Jackson is steadily improving over his very solid rookie season and will push to be the starter opposite Gilmore. Jonathan Jones is quietly having a very good camp, something he’s used to, he’s rarely if ever mentioned as one of the better slot corners in the league, but he is and appears entrenched as a starter thus far. 

The safeties are deep with Devin McCourty, Pat Chung, and Duron Harmon all returning and on the field, although Chung is still wearing a red no-contact jersey. But the competition behind them is getting intriguing to watch. Terrence Brooks is the next man on the depth chart, he was given a nice contract with $1.3 million guaranteed, he’s a special teams ace who can fill in on defense. He’s battling with Obi Melifonwu who has stood out in limited action with three interceptions thus far. With Ebner on PUP, Melifonwu got some extended looks with the STs units. Something to monitor. 

Linebackers Are Stacked – The Patriots return Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, and Elandon Roberts from their playoff run, but they added Jamie Collins and got back impressive 2nd-year player Ja’Whaun Bentley from IR and appear even better heading into 2019. 

The depth allows them to move Collins, Hightower, and Van Noy around to attack favorable matchups and be more aggressive. How they plan on utilizing Collins should be a fun thing to watch. Unheralded Calvin Munson, a long-shot to make the roster is quietly having a good camp in the early going. 

D-Line Much Better Suited to Stopping the Run – When free agency rolled around, we were touting that the Patriots needed to sign Mike Pennel, the run-stuffing nose tackle from the Jets. That met with a lot of “who?”, even from our own podcast. But Pennel and Lawrence Guy appear to be a solid tandem in the middle. During goal-line drills on Sunday, Pennel blew up one play, pushing into the backfield and stopping Brandon Bolden for a loss. 

The edge players got a boost from the arrival of Michael Bennett on Sunday, who flew straight from Hawaii to Boston and came straight to practice to dominate, jet-lagged and all on the field. Deatrich Wise is still not 100 percent but veterans Derek Rivers, John Simon, and rookie Chase Winovich have all looked good thus far.

Wide Receiver Competition Heating Up: 

With Julian Edelman on NFI, this opened the door for some of the other wide receivers to get more playing time with Tom Brady and carve out a role. Rookie N’Keal Harry has been getting outstanding tutelage from former Patriot Troy Brown as well as the daily side sessions with Brady and McDaniels. 

Maurice Harris has been the best, most consistent player on the field, he catches just about everything thrown his way and would appear to be well on his way to earning not just a roster spot but a nice role in the offense as well. Phillip Dorsett still appears to be an enigma. He has all the tools, and when called on, usually produces. But one would think he’d be a bigger go-to guy by now. 

Braxton Berrios is still with the second tier of receivers in the early going. After a nice spring, there was hope that he’d use the Edelman downtime more to his advantage. Two undrafted rookie WRs to monitor are Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski. Meyers is a big, (6,2, 200) slot receiver who is a converted QB. Because he knows the responsibilities of the players on the field, he knows where the soft spots are in the coverages. His number hasn’t been called a lot, but he’s producing when it is and could be that next undrafted free agent to make the team. Plus, he’s been a frequent participant in the side sessions with Brady and McDaniels.

Olszewski is the undersized, underdog who is scrapping his way into work every day. He competes hard in drills and returns kicks and punts and is giving the coaches a reason every day to keep him around. 

Biggest disappointment thus far is Dontrelle Inman. He had a very quiet spring followed by some forgettable practices in camp and then on Sunday was a no-show. He hasn’t improved his bubble position and may find himself in a weaker position now.

But the one constant is the deep running back position, even with Sony Michel just getting back to work and Tom Brady. The backs, especially Brandon Bolden and impressive rookie Damien Harris are getting a lot of reps in the running game.

Brady looks … like Brady. Forget about the age talk and the endless “cliff” nonsense. He looks as good, if not better than he did a decade ago. Nuff said. Brian Hoyer and Jarrett Stidham are getting the back up work while Danny Etling is being transitioned to wide receiver.

Bennett Puts Retirement Rumors to Rest, Dominates: 

Michael Bennett was excused from the Patriots first three practices due to a family situation. Bennett said, he saw the retirement rumors at home and laughed at those. He said he’s never quit at anything, even checkers with his daughter.

Bill Belichick allowed him the time to take care of his situation. After practice on Sunday, Bennett was effusive in his praise of Belichick for allowing that time.

“It’s nice when you have a coach that sees you as a human, sees you as a human being, not just a number and you’re able to go talk to him, tell him what’s going on, and you’re able to go take care of it,” Bennett said to the media. “That just makes you want to play harder for a coach. When he believes in you, and lets you take care of your family first.”

Belichick had to love Bennett’s comments about training camp, not as a necessary evil but as an opportunity to learn and show his teammates what he can bring to the table. 

“I think it’s important,” he said. “Training camp is always fun. It’s another time to get a chance to work with young guys, and you get a chance to work on your skills and prove yourself every day.”

Bennett cracked a joke and said that he told linebackers coach (and defensive signal-caller) Jerod Mayo that he wasn’t going to listen to him, “because we’re the same age.” The two have known each other for some time and worked out together in the offseason in the past. 

“It’s nice to have a young guy who knows the plays, who lived the defense, and he just knows,” Bennett said. “You trust the way that he plays because he played in the game and you know he knows the call. He was the leader before, so to have him in the huddle every single time, you can’t let him down because he’s been in the game.”

Bennett acted like a guy who has been here all along and was a dominant force in one-on-one battles and in team drills. Like his predecessor Trey Flowers, the Patriots plan on using him inside and outside and Sunday was just the tip of the iceberg.

Tight End Still a Work in Progress:

The Patriots have totally revamped the tight end position, with Gronk retired, Dwayne Allen and Jacob Hollister no longer with the team. Matt LaCosse had a strong spring and is trying to parlay that into getting some meaningful reps come September. So far, that looks like the case.

Ben Watson, doesn’t look like a 38-year old guy who contemplated retirement this spring. He’s moving like someone ten years younger. But with his upcoming 4-game suspension looming, that opens the door for other players to carve out their own roles in the offense. Watson has been a frequent side session participant with Brady and McDaniels. They were working on red zone opportunities on Saturday.   

Move tight end Stephen Anderson, Ryan Izzo, and UDFA Andrew Beck are all in the mix for a roster spot. It is pretty much a wide-open competition right now with no one having firm control over anything. Just before camp began the Patriots signed Lance Kendricks, the former Packer tight end was an afterthought in the Green Bay offense the past two years but may see an uptick in looks if everything works out. 

“This is a special place, obviously,” Kendricks said after Day 3. “This is a championship team. They know how to play football. They know how to win games. They know how to do it the right way, so it’s a no-brainer.”

So far, he’s gotten some work in but despite his veteran pedigree, he’s in no better position than anyone else right now, he’ll have to earn his spot. 

Tackle Still a Concern For Now:

With Trent Brown now a Raider (and an extremely well-paid one), the depth at tackle is concerning. The Patriots are set at right tackle with Marcus Cannon but the left and swing tackle positions are still areas of concern with depth and availability issues. 

Isaiah Wynn is still being eased into the mix after recovering from last year’s Achilles surgery. Third round draft pick Yodny Cajuste is on NFI recovering from offseason quad surgery and has yet to appear. Jared Veldheer retired before training camp. Cole Croston is on PUP.

With these issues, the Patriots have moved Joe Thuney over to left tackle throughout the spring and early camp practice sessions. That put Ted Karras at left guard. On Sunday, the Patriots gave 6’9 tackle Dan Skipper and Cedric Lang reps with the first team. Neither fared well. Skipper, despite his size, failed to generate any push in the running game and both struggled with pass protection. 

This will bear watching as we move forward. However, if history is any indication, and it is… Dante Scarnecchia will get things sorted out. 

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

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

2019 Patriots Training Camp Day 1 Rundown: 11 Players Who Stood Out

Ian Logue
July 26, 2019 at 8:40 am ET

After a long offseason here in New England where it seemingly dragged on forever, the defending World Champs were finally back on the field for their first public practice of the 2019 Patriots Training Camp.

It was a busy day at Gillette Stadium as fans and media were on hand to get their first glimpse as the team took the practice field Thursday and here’s a full rundown of what we learned from the session.

Did Not Participate:
Nate Ebner (PUP), Michael Bennett (Personal Absence), Deatrich Wise, David Andrews, Julian Edelman (NFI – thumb), Sony Michel (PUP), Ken Webster (PUP), Cole Croston (PUP), Demaryius Thomas (PUP), Yodni Cajuste (NFI).

Red non-contact jersey: Patrick Chung

PLAYERS WHO STOOD OUT:

N’Keal Harry – The rookie wide receiver made his presence known on Thursday, making a terrific touchdown grab close to the goal line from veteran quarterback, Tom Brady.  One of the things that seems to stand out is his athleticism, with Harry showing terrific quickness and good body control.  He went up after the football, leaping into the air and high-pointing several of Brady’s throws. He’s also a big player, with some saying that he has the build of a linebacker, which should make him a tough match-up for smaller defensive backs.  Coincidentally enough, the rookie, for now, is currently wearing #50.

Danny Etling – Etling caught the eye of fans and media primarily because of the fact the quarterback was no longer donning a red jersey and was instead working at receiver.  Etling is a pretty athletic player, but all reports seem to indicate that he’s got a lot of work to do as he looks to establish himself at a new position.  It’s not out of the realm of possibility that he could someday contribute and if he’s willing to put in the work, given the speed he showed on his 86-yard touchdown last preseason, it could be fun to see how this develops.

Isaiah Wynn – He took reps at left tackle with the first team, but reportedly came off the field during the 11-of-11 portion of the workout as the team appears to be taking their time working him back in.  It was the first action he’s seen since rupturing his Achilles’ last preseason, with Wynn taking his first steps toward trying to hopefully restablish himself on the offensive line.  In Wynn’s absence, teammate Joe Thuney got the reps, along with Dan Skipper.  Obviously, knowing how critical that position is, this will be one of the more interesting positions to keep an eye on this preseason.

J.C. Jackson – Flashed again on Thursday, breaking up several passes and really doing a great job of blanketing each of the receivers he was covering.  After a strong finish last season, it appears he’s off to a good start here in 2019.

Stephon Gilmore – He was so good on Thursday that, according to multiple reporters, none of New England’s quarterbacks attempted a throw his way.  Gilmore remains a key component of the Patriots defense and so far, he looks like he’s in terrific form early in this training camp.

Ben Watson – For a player who is 38-years old, Watson certainly didn’t show it.  He showed terrific speed, including a nice grab up the seam for a big gain.  For a player who had seemed ready to walk away, all indications seem to point to the fact he still has something left as the Patriots try and move on from Rob Gronkowski.  Watson got a fair amount of work in Thursday, including some red zone work on goal line throws with Brady on the adjacent field.

Tom Brady – For anyone looking for a drop-off in play, Brady hit the field with the same intensity he’s always had.   The veteran quarterback looked just as sharp as ever as he gets set to begin another season, picking apart the defense and spreading the football around to quite a few players.  While the defense did pick him off twice, Brady won the rest of the time and looks like a player ready to make another championship run.

Braxton Berrios – Berrios had a nice day on Thursday, showing off his speed and quickness but also saw himself lose a battle against defensive back Jonathan Jones, who out-leaped Berrios to pick off a pass attempt from Brady, and also had another pass broken up.  Berrios was also among players who also saw work returning kickoffs.

Ryan Davis – The undrafted rookie wideout had a few nice moments on Thursday, including a fantastic reception in the back corner of the end zone where he caught a perfect throw from Brady on a fade route for a touchdown.  It’s always fun to see undrafted players succeed and earn a role for themselves and while it’s still early, Davis appears to be off to a nice start.

Jonathan Jones – Jones made his presence known on Thursday, finishing the day with several pass break-ups on a day where he was blanketing his opponents and making their lives difficult.  Jones also finished the day with an interception against Brady, which came during his aforementioned match-up against Berrios.

Jakobi Meyers – Made some nice grabs during Thursday’s session, seemingly picking up where he left off back in minicamp.  Like Davis, Meyers seems poised to try and compete for a role and it will be fun to see if he can maintain this level of play over the next month.

According to the team’s website, the Patriots will hold their next session Friday morning at 9:15am.

Patriots Training Camp Day 1 Observations, “Knockin’ on Seven’s Door”

Steve Balestrieri
July 25, 2019 at 2:53 pm ET

Football is back, and with near-perfect weather conditions, the Patriots hit the field for the first time. The crowds were huge and boisterous, cheering everything that was completed by Tom Brady. 

Like minicamp, however, there were no pads and no contact, as per the CBA, that won’t happen until Saturday. OC David Andrews, DE Michael Bennett, OT Yodny Cajuste (NFI) were not spotted on the field

Six other players were in attendance but did not participate: WR Julian Edelman (NFI), WR Demaryius Thomas (PUP), RB Sony Michel (PUP), OT Cole Croston (PUP), DE Deatrich Wise Jr. (PUP), CB Ken Webster (PUP), SS Nate Ebner (PUP).

They were all visible, working out on the lower practice fields with the training staff, shortly after practice began. 

Pat Chung was practicing but wearing a red no-contact jersey while Danny Etling was wearing a white practice jersey, not a red no-contact jersey that we are used to seeing with the QBs. For anyone keeping score, he didn’t practice with the QBs, but with the WRs.

Our practice observations included: 

  • Brandon Bolden was getting first reps with the kickoff return unit and… once the team began kicking off for real and not using the JUGGS Machine, it was Jake Bailey kicking off. Braxton Berrios, Phillip Dorsett, and Gunner Olszewski were back to return kicks during special teams’ work.
  • Isaiah Wynn was being eased into full-team drills, despite it being a glorified minicamp session, seeing him out there is a very positive sign. 
  • Joe Thuney was getting a lot of reps at LT. Ted Karras was filling in at LG while James Ferentz was taking the snaps at center.
  • In early individual drills, Tom Brady was throwing to the backs while Brian Hoyer threw to the WRs.
  • N’Keal Harry and Braxton Berrios both got extended reps with the top unit
  • Harry and Ben Watson were the players selected for a side session with Brady, Hoyer, and OC Josh McDaniels. Harry was working with McDaniels on getting a quick release off the line. 
  • Harry and Brady were working on their timing and chemistry, adjusting his breaks and high-pointing the ball at its apex. They already look better than in the spring, but this is very early in the process
  • Brady’s first pass in 2-on-2 drills was picked off on a really nice play by Jonathan Jones. Brady tried to hit Berrios on a fade and Jones undercut it and made a nice play on the ball. 
  • Brady could be heard yelling, “Get the refs out here!” when he felt Pat Chung was holding Berrios later in the drills.
  • Ryan Davis made a really nice catch on a fade from Brian Hoyer, going up for the ball and going to the ground, but held on. 
  • Berrios went all out for a quick out pass from Brady, diving for the ball, which got a fist-bump from the QB when they got back to the huddle.
  • J.C. Jackson nearly had a pick on Brady as well. He tried to hit Maurice Harris on a shallow cross and Jackson dove, breaking it up and nearly picking it off.
  • Stephen Anderson made a nice catch, snatching the ball out of the air from Jarrett Stidham. 
  • Stidham looked like a rookie QB for much of the session, taking too long to process things and holding the ball too long. That is expected for a rookie’s first real practice. But he throws a nice ball and has time to develop.
  • In very early going, Jonathan Jones was looking better than Duke Dawson in the slot. Jackson was the best corner not name Stephon Gilmore (not targeted during team drills). 
  • As is common at this stage the defense looked a bit better. The linebackers look deep and versatile. Even Brady was forced to hold the ball longer than normal. That is a testament to how deep and talented this secondary is
  • As a result, Brady hit Rex Burkhead more than anyone in full team drills.

Play of the Day:

Harry made a leaping catch from Brady in the back of the end zone. The crowd roared. Speaking of which, the crowd was so loud at one point, Brady had to cover his ears to hear Josh McDaniels call in the play. Jerod Mayo was making the defensive calls in 11s work…if anyone is keeping the score at home.

Two undrafted WRs to keep an eye on are Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski. Both made several plays this morning whenever their numbers were called. 

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What to Watch For At Patriots Training Camp

Steve Balestrieri
at 7:00 am ET

The 2019 Patriots training camp sessions begin this morning and football is finally back. Well maybe not the games that count yet, but we’ll have the Patriots and the NFL with us until Super Bowl LIV plays out in February. Hopefully, we’ll be looking at another Patriots appearance in the big game. 

But… as Bill Belichick likes to say, “we have a long way to go.” The spring is a teaching camp and in actuality, the first two days of training camp will be a continuation of that. No pads, no hitting and there is really no way to gauge the play of the interior linemen or the running game yet.  

We won’t be able to really gauge any of that stuff until Saturday when the pads come on for the first time. However, there are some things we are excited about watching this summer at training camp. 

Isaiah Wynn and the LT Position: Wynn was the Patriots top draft pick a year ago and before we really got a sense of knowing how he could handle himself as a left tackle in the NFL, he was hurt. Trent Brown had taken over the position, pretty much from Day 1 and there was never that feeling that they were competing for the top spot. 

Now Brown is gone, after signing a big-money deal with the Raiders. Wynn is coming off of that Achilles injury and missed all of the spring. Third-round pick Yodny Cajuste, someone we’re really high on here, is beginning camp on PUP after offseason quad surgery. Cole Croston is also on PUP, so I would expect to see more of Joe Thuney at left tackle this summer. 

But make no mistake about it, this is Wynn’s position to win or lose. It is going to be a must-watch area when he takes part in the one-on-one battles with the edge players. Unfortunately, those are always as far away from the crowd as humanly possible. 

With Sony Michel Out, Watch Damien Harris: I thought getting Harris in the third round of the draft was an absolute steal. At the time, I chalked it up to the Patriots just recognizing a good player who was too good to pass up. Now, that move looks brilliant.

Michel had a knee scope in the spring and it was supposed to be a minor thing. He missed all of minicamp and is now starting on PUP. Harris got a lot of reps in the spring and looked as good as advertised. 

Harris is a good runner between the tackles, gets yards after contact, is an outstanding pass blocker and is an underrated pass receiver with very soft hands. Even with a healthy Michel, I expect Harris to see a lot of action this season. With Michel out, at least for now, look for him to accelerate that learning curve. 

No Julian Edelman is Good News For the Other WRs: Edelman is Tom Brady’s best friend and most trusted receiver on the team. That brace on his thumb looks to be a minor issue and not something that should linger long. But him not being there just elevates everyone behind him on the depth chart to get reps with #12. And you know what? That is a good thing. 

N’Keal Harry had a good spring, some solid moments mixed in with typical rookie moments. That is expected…from anyone. Harry has a reputation as a very hard worker and since the minicamp ended, I wouldn’t be surprised if he looks like a different guy this week. I would go all-in that he spent that off time getting deep into the playbook. 

Braxton Berrios is another guy who could really benefit from Edelman’s absence. Berrios has never caught a pass from Brady in team drills, one can expect that dubious distinction to end very soon. Berrios has to stay healthy and on the field this summer. He had a pretty impressive spring and everything is falling in place for him to carve out a nice niche for himself in the offense. He could fit in the Danny Amendola role in 2019. 

Jakobi Meyers is my dark-horse to make the 53-man roster at wide receiver. With Josh Gordon suspended for who knows how long and Demaryius Thomas on PUP, Meyers may be able to carve out a role in the offense. He’s a former QB and a big (6’2, 204) slot receiver. One thing that stood out during minicamp was that Meyers was invited to the side session with Brady, Hoyer, Josh McDaniels, and Harry. While it may not mean much, we believe that anything that goes down in Foxboro has a motive. It’ll be up to him to show us right or wrong. 

Front Seven Play and How the Reps are Divided: The Patriots run defense was awful early in the season. It was especially bad along the defensive line. Eventually, the Patriots tightened that up and the run defense was a strength in the postseason. The Patriots lost former 1st round pick Malcom Brown in free agency. But they brought in Mike Pennel, someone we were lobbying for when free agency started. He and Lawrence Guy should be a very stout early run-stuffing pair. 

But the players on the edge are an intriguing bunch. Michael Bennett still has gas left in the tank …and plays with arguably the smallest shoulder pads on the team. Deatrich Wise starts on PUP which opens the door for more reps for John Simon, rookie Chase Winovich and some guys who are on the bubble. Derek Rivers, Keionta Davis, Trent Harris are all guys who are looking to carve out a roster spot. Another guy to watch is Shalique Calhoun. 

At linebacker, the Patriots have plenty of depth and a slimmed-down Dont’a Hightower, the return of Jamie Collins and the playmaking ability of Kyle Van Noy lends itself to the idea that the defense will continue to postseason trend of being very aggressive. 

J.C. Jackson and Duke Dawson Have Big Year 2 Expectations: Jackson had a meteoric rise in 2018. But Bill Belichick tried to possibly send a message to him by giving most of the first-team reps to Jason McCourty this spring. Many people expect Jackson to be an even better player than Stephon Gilmore somewhere down the line. So, a lot of people will be watching him closely. 

Dawson didn’t play at all in 2018 after coming off IR late in the year. Jonathan Jones cemented the slot role down and he and Dawson will be vying for that starting slot corner role. Rookie Joejuan Williams is a big corner in the Brandon Browner mold and is hoped to be a matchup piece in a ridiculously deep cornerback grouping. 

Training camp is always chalked full of action with 90 players competing all over the field. One area we neglected to mention was the punting battle between Ryan Allen and Jake Bailey. This promises to be another intriguing positional battle.

Don’t expect too much in those first two days which are like minicamp with the lack of hitting and pads, But come Saturday morning, the fun should really begin. 

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Patriots 2019 Training Camp Guide – Wide Receivers

Steve Balestrieri
July 16, 2019 at 8:00 am ET

The Patriots have many questions heading into the 2019 season at wide receiver. Julian Edelman returns, the Super Bowl LIII MVP is still at the top of his game but at 33, one has to wonder how much longer he can perform at a high level. 

After him, the situation gets murkier. Phillip Dorsett has been fine whenever his number has been called but his production really could use an increase. Demaryius Thomas’s numbers have been steadily going down the past several years and now he’s coming off of an Achilles injury. Josh Gordon is suspended indefinitely and no one knows if he’ll be allowed to play this year. 

The Patriots drafted N’Keal Harry in the first round of the draft this spring and expectations with him are high. But rookie wide receivers have struggled to make an impact here in the past. Braxton Berrios had a very strong spring but spent his entire rookie season on IR. Maurice Harris and Dontrelle Inman are coming on to try to carve out roles for themselves after playing for the Redskins and Colts respectively. 

So, the opportunities are there for several players to carve out roles for themselves once training camp opens. There are 12 players that should be vying for reps, and possibly 13 if Thomas is ready to go. Gordon is forbidden to enter the facility or work out with the team during his suspension. Let’s take a look at who is in good shape and who has a lot of work to do at the wide receiver position

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 – Julian Edelman, Phillip Dorsett, N’Keal Harry, Matthew Slater, Demaryius Thomas, Braxton Berrios, Maurice Harris, Dontrelle Inman, Damoun Patterson, Jakobi Meyers, Ryan Davis, Gunner Olszewski, Josh Gordon (suspended)

Locks – Edelman, Dorsett, Harry, Slater

Bubble – Berrios, Thomas, Harris, Inman, Meyers

Long Shot – Patterson, Davis, Olszewski, Gordon 

Discussion – Edelman, Dorsett, Slater, and Harry are all locks. Obviously, the conversation starts with Julian Edelman. Yes, Edelman is 33 but if you watched him in the Super Bowl he was uncoverable. The Rams threw several different defensive backs on him and nobody could lock him down. I watched him thru all three days of minicamp and he looks ready to go again. 

Dorsett was getting plenty of reps early last year but lost those after Gordon was brought in. The hope here is that he’ll be able to replicate what he did last year, and with an additional year in the system, be able to add to it. 

Slater is a WR in name only but is a Special Teams’ captain and one of the best at what he does both on and off the field. Harry is a first-round draft pick who has incredible upside but is just a rookie. With a first-round draft pedigree, he’s automatically on the 53-man roster. 

This is where it gets interesting. Berrios had a very strong spring but is in no way a lock at this point. He has a long way to go but is definitely trending in the right direction. The smaller but quick slot receiver recognizes the opportunity in front of him. Mike Reiss of ESPN has written that Berrios has already reported into camp. The hope is that he could fit into that Danny Amendola role in the Patriots offense.

Harris likewise had a very strong spring, catching nearly everything thrown his way with a few nice highlight-reel catches during minicamp. Can he do it again when the secondary players are allowed contact? Inman, on the other hand, didn’t have a good week at minicamp. He didn’t catch a single pass in team drills during the three sessions. He has a lot of ground to make up. 

Meyers is an interesting addition. A former QB turned WR, Meyers has good size for the position, (6’2, 203) with very good hands, tight route-running and the willingness to go into contested areas. He doesn’t have great top-end speed but could be an oversized slot receiver. What was intriguing about him was that during a side session with Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, and Josh McDaniels, during minicamp, Meyers was brought in with Harry to work on route selection. May end being nothing, but it could mean they have a plan in mind for him.

Patterson was on the practice squad a year ago but along with Davis, and Olszewski are all facing long odds of making the roster. 

In a perfect world, Gordon would get reinstated and Thomas would come back better than new. But we don’t live in a perfect world and the fact is, the Patriots can’t rely on Gordon being reinstated any time soon, if at all. And Thomas may end up on PUP to begin the season. That means other players will have to step up….Questions, questions. This will make training camp and the preseason so compelling this summer.

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Patriots Players on the Bubble Prior to 2019 Training Camp

Steve Balestrieri
July 9, 2019 at 8:49 am ET

When you win a Super Bowl, there generally isn’t a lot of available roster spots to go around. The 2019 New England Patriots currently sit at 90 players and they are no exception. There promises to be a ton of competition this summer for the back end of the team’s 53-man roster. 

The Patriots were picked earlier this summer for having the deepest roster in the NFL. Whether or not you subscribe to that is immaterial.  A look at the roster and there really isn’t a lot of wiggle room for players to come in and carve out a role for themselves.

So, that brings us to the purpose of this piece, several well-known players will be firmly on the bubble when training camp begins. Others, due to injury or subpar play could be added as camp practices progress and some of these players could cement themselves with solid play. Here are some but not all of the players on the bubble. There is a long way to go. 

Danny Etling – Some people are surprised that Etling is still on the roster. During minicamp, the 2nd year QB was clearly displaced as the #3 signal caller by Jarrett Stidham. Etling was playing STs as the personal punt protector. The Patriots just used a 4th round pick on Stidham, while that isn’t in itself a guarantee, they clearly were giving him plenty of opportunities, to the detriment of Etling this spring. 

The team isn’t going to keep 4 QBs, so Etling is the odd man out. Could he push Hoyer for a slot? Doubtful. And it is also doubtful that the Patriots cut their ties to Hoyer with Stidham so green…at least for 2019.

Braxton Berrios – The 2nd year WR was injured and missed the entire 2018 season and appeared in just one preseason game last summer. Now healthy, Berrios has turned some heads during OTAs and was arguably the best player on the field during Day 1 of the mandatory minicamp. 

He hasn’t locked down anything yet however. Once training camp hits, he’ll need to continue that solid play catching passes, returning kicks and more importantly, stay on the field. This will be a big camp for him as he could either carve out a decent role for himself or fall completely off the radar. 

Dontrelle Inman – Inman was signed by the Patriots in May after the Colts decided to let him walk in free agency. Inman was picked up by the Colts in midstream of the 2018 season and worked himself into a key role. Indy moved him around as a big (6’3, 205) slot receiver and occasionally as the “X”. He had good production down the stretch and in the playoffs. 

But a very subpar minicamp dropped Inman far down the depth chart. He didn’t catch a single pass in team drills in all three days of the mandatory sessions. That doesn’t mean he’s out yet… but it does put him in a precarious position to begin camp, far down the depth chart. 

Ted Karras – The tough, versatile Karras was picked up by the Patriots in 2016 and has been a valuable depth piece on the offensive line ever since. He can play anywhere on the interior offensive line. But the team invested a 4th rounder on Hjalte Froholdt. And the Arkansas alum can do the same things that Karras can do. 

The feeling is that with Joe Thuney a free agent after this season, the team is grooming Froholdt to be the starter. He and Karras will be battling for the backup position this summer and it should be a great battle. 

Derek Rivers after TC practice. SBalestrieri photo

Derek Rivers – The Patriots top pick from two seasons ago is facing a huge training camp this summer. He lost his rookie season to a torn ACL during the preseason and never stepped on the field. He returned, albeit not 100 percent physically last summer and played sparingly. In his two seasons, he’s logged 78 snaps, two tackles, and one sack. 

The Patriots know his potential and his NFL Combine performance and his production in college were the things that attracted them. But this summer is the beginning of Year 3 and projections are no longer in the cards. It is make or break time for Rivers this summer.

Keion Crossen/Duke Dawson – The Patriots are loaded at cornerback. It is arguably their deepest position. With Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, Jason McCourty, Jonathan Jones, Crossen, and Duke Dawson who missed all of his rookie season, the team added more. They drafted Joejuan Williams in the 2nd round and Ken Webster in the 7th. They also added D’Angelo Ross later.  They can’t keep all of them. 

Gilmore, Jackson, and Williams (by reason of his draft position) are locks for the roster. McCourty and Jones are near locks themselves. That makes the competition between Crossen and Dawson for the sixth spot one to watch. The feeling here is that they’ll keep six but could opt for more, at least initially.  

Crossen is a special teams standout with the athleticism to play cover corner, much like Jones, who began the same way. The team invested a second rounder in Dawson last year, but he was lost to injury. With the players they added this spring, Dawson is far from safe. He and Crossen may be fighting it out for the final corner slot.

Nate Ebner/Obi Melifonwu – The Patriots are also very deep but aging at safety. While they have ostensibly three starters in Devin McCourty, Pat Chung and Duron Harmon, the first two are on the wrong side of 30 and McCourty hinted at retirement this spring. 

The team normally keeps five safeties/STs but this spring they signed former Jets S/ST ace Terrence Brooks. Brooks got a two-year, $4 million dollar deal with a $500,000 signing bonus and $1.3 million of that guaranteed. That puts him in the lock category. 

Brooks is known primarily as a STs ace who can fill in and play some safety when needed. Nate Ebner is another STs standout and a Belichick favorite. However, he rarely if ever plays on defense. Obi Melifonwu was brought in at midstream last season and now has a full offseason under his belt. The team’s idea was for the uber-athletic and big Obi to cover big WRs and TEs in the slot. But with the addition of Williams in Round 2, that makes him potentially expendable. 

Melifonwu offers much more upside than Ebner defensively and got some first-team reps this spring with Chung missing but he doesn’t have the ST’s acumen of the latter. These two may be battling it out for the 53rd and final roster spot on the team.

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PatsFans.com Patriots 53-man Roster Projection 1.0

Steve Balestrieri
June 11, 2019 at 6:00 am ET

With the Patriots mandatory mini-camp over, it is time to a very early look at a New England Patriots 53-man roster projection. We were fortunate enough to be there for the entire three days this season. While there was no contact and no pads, it gave a good if albeit premature look at how the 2019 roster could play out.

Later this summer, we’ll post primers for each position but here is our first crack at a  workable 53-man roster.

Offense –
Quarterbacks: (3)

Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Jarrett Stidham

The Patriots will once again go with three quarterbacks this summer. Hoyer is entrenched as the #2 for now and in minicamp the rookie Stidham was taking all of the #3 reps, at times on the final day, he even got #2 reps before Hoyer so the coaches could get a look at what he can do in the offense. He has a long way to go, but he’s clearly got the coaches intrigued with his down-the-road potential.

Bad news for Danny Etling who was working as the personal protector during minicamp. Oh and that Brady kid from Michigan? He’ll be okay and should stick….

Running backs: (6)

Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, James White, Damien Harris, Brandon Bolden, James Develin

Sony Michel missed all of mini-camp which raises the question if he’s hurt. With the drafting of the impressive rookie Harris, he and Burkhead can spell Michel if he’s out for a while. James White isn’t going anywhere and the team brought back Bolden for STs and to fill in if needed. Develin is invaluable as the fullback who can block and catch the odd pass here or there.

Tight ends: (3)
Matt Lacosse, Ryan Izzo, Stephen Anderson **Ben Watson Suspended**

The Patriots have Lacosse as the clear #1 heading into the season with Watson suspended for the first month of the season unless they make a trade. Izzo is the blocking (read Dwayne Allen) tight end who nudges out Andrew Beck while Anderson is the “move” tight end who may be on the block once Watson is eligible to return.

The position has been totally revamped since last season and it may take some time to gel once the regular season starts. Training camp will be invaluable for this group

Wide Receivers: (5)
Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, Phillip Dorsett, Maurice Harris, Jakobi Meyers
**Josh Gordon Suspended** ***Demaryius Thomas PUP***

Edelman, Harry, and Dorsett are roster locks…barring injury. Meyers with his size and hands makes it yet another year with a UDFA making the roster out of training camp.

Thomas and Gordon (if reinstated), give the team some intriguing options. Berrios had a good spring and looks the part in the slot, he and Meyers will battle it out for the spot. Dontrelle Inman has a lot of ground to make up. He didn’t catch a single pass in team drills during mini-camp. Ryan Davis and Gunner Olszewski are practice squad candidates.

Offensive line: (8)
Isaiah Wynn, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, Joe Thuney, Yodny Cajuste, Ted Karras, Hjalte Froholdt

The state of the offensive line centers around health. Wynn missed all of last year with an Achilles injury. He was at mini-camp but was held out of team drills. Cajuste who they drafted this spring had off-season surgery and it is hoped he’ll be ready to go by September.

In the meantime, Joe Thuney played left tackle this spring. Expect him to get some work there this summer, even if Wynn is a full go for training camp. Left tackle and swing tackle are the two question marks. Cole Croston heads to the practice squad. After that, the offensive line is solid.

Defense –

Edge Players: (4)
Michael Bennett, Deatrich Wise, John Simon, Chase Winovich

After losing Trey Flowers, the Patriots brought in Bennett. Wise is a solid if unspectacular veteran now and Simon played very well for them last season. They’re hoping Winovich can step in and play as advertised. I like his motor and relentlessness. This could be the end of the line for Derek Rivers this summer. He is going to be given an opportunity to show what he can do. He got reps with the 1st personnel grouping last week. Keionta Davis and Trent Harris may still be able to step up in case of an injury.  

Interior Defensive Line: (4)

Lawrence Guy, Mike Pennel, Danny Shelton, Adam Butler

Guy and Pennel should be the Week 1 starting combination inside. Shelton returns, as the backup big man inside. Butler is the best pass rusher of the group. David Parry and Byron Cowart are on the outside but will have to turn some heads in August.

Linebacker: (6)

Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Elandon Roberts, Brandon King

Linebacker is a position of strength heading into training camp this summer. Hightower has slimmed down, gotten more pliable, and is moving well. Van Noy has been a jack of all trades, but the biggest surprise (pleasant) of the spring has been the play of Collins. He has been all over the field disrupting plays at the line and playing solid coverage

Roberts, coming off of a solid postseason and Bentley who shined early in 2018 before ending on IR, gives the group really good depth.

Cornerback: (6)
Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, Jason McCourty, Joejuan Williams, Jonathan Jones, Duke Dawson

Gilmore and Jackson are the starters for Week 1. But this group is really deep and very talented. Jones and Dawson (who beats out Crossen) can play in the slot and McCourty can play safety, outside or inside. Williams is a big corner (6’4) that allows him to play against the bigger WRs or even tight ends. The versatility of this group provides them with the matchups they can roll against nearly every opponent.

Safety: (4)
Devin McCourty, Pat Chung, Duron Harmon, Nate Ebner

Ebner beats out Terrence Brooks …on paper for now. Brooks has superior defensive skills but Ebner is a Belichick favorite on Special Teams. Obi Melifonwu played STs and has the size and athleticism but seems far back on the depth chart right now. He’ll need a big summer to push Ebner and Brooks off the roster. Malik Grant is a candidate for the practice squad.

Specialists: (4)
Kicker Stephen Gostkowski, punter Jake Bailey, long-snapper Joe Cardona, Gunner Matthew Slater

Gostkowski returns and has no camp competition. He and long snapper Joe Cardona are both locks for the 53-man roster. The big competition is at punter. The team brought back the steady Ryan Allen on a one-year deal but they moved up to draft Jake Bailey, the big-legged punter and kick off specialist from Stanford. By now you’ve no doubt heard about the charge he puts into the ball. If he gets his consistency down, he’ll make the roster.

Slater isn’t going anywhere. Watching him race up and down the field this spring, practicing his moves on his own shows the fire still burns very bright for him.

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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:

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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]

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Photos: Author