Tag Archives: Danny Amendola

What Does the Eric Decker Signing Mean for the Patriots?

Steve Balestrieri
August 3, 2018 at 7:30 am ET

With the surprising news that Jordan Matthews’ injury was severe enough for the Patriots to place him on IR, the Patriots lost out on one of the key free agent signings they made this spring. The team ended up releasing Matthews, I’m thinking, at his request as he probably believes that he’ll be ready to go a lot sooner this season.

But back to the situation at hand, with Matthews gone, the Patriots saw this coming and worked Decker out before he was signed on Thursday. After nearly missing all of 2016 with the Jets, Decker signed with Tennessee and put decent but career low numbers since becoming an every-down player. He caught 54 passes for 563 yards (career-low 10.4 yards per reception) with just one touchdown. But he remains reliable, his 65 percent catch percentage was the second highest of his career.

Can he revert to something akin to his last two years with the Broncos or the first two with the Jets or has he permanently lost a step. Part of his stats could stem from the struggles of the Titans offense. Last season they were just 28th in passing attempts and 23rd in yardage. Catching passes from Tom Brady should be more akin to better stats than Marcus Mariota.

The biggest asset Decker brings to the Patriots is versatility. He can play outside as the Z- receiver or in the slot. As a slot guy, he’s much like Matthews, a bigger (6’3, 215 pounds) who relies on his size to box out smaller defenders. So how will the Patriots use Decker?

Without seeing him run yet in practice, I see Decker as the Z-wide receiver, not the X. He will be used to attack the middle depth routes and work the perimeter and the middle of the field. They can move him around to create matchups in the slot where he logged about 50 percent of the Titans’ snaps last year when the opportunity avails itself. Phillip Dorsett has been seeing a lot of reps in the slot this summer and he’s been one for the more impressive players on offense.

Right now, the wide receiver depth has Chris Hogan, Dorsett, Cordarrelle Patterson, Decker along with rookies Braxton Berrios and Darren Andrews with 2nd-year player Riley McCarron, and Paul Turner. Veteran Matthew Slater is a wide receiver in name only, he’s a special teamer. Veterans Kenny Britt and Matthew Mitchell are not practicing yet and are considered day to day. Julian Edelman will return to the team Week 5 when his suspension is finished.

Decker isn’t a lock to even make the team but I believe he’ll have enough in the tank to beat out one of the younger slot guys (Berrios/McCarron) but time will tell. He had just a tad of experience with Josh McDaniels in Denver during his rookie season.

While the loss of Matthews is a blow, we thought he’d be an integral member of the offense in 2018, it certainly isn’t a death knell. Why? The Patriots still have plenty of talent at the wide receiver position. They like Britt and he’s only a year removed from a 1000-yard season. Dorsett appears primed to shake off his first season blues and be a bigger contributor. Patterson is the wild card, he’s never been able to produce like he was thought to be when he arrived in the NFL. But the Patriots are intent on finding him a role.

And this team has so many other talented pass catchers at other positions. Rob Gronkowski is the gold standard among NFL tight ends. Jacob Hollister seems poised to make a big jump in production from Year 1 to Year 2 and has caught more passes from Brady this summer than anyone. And the production from Rex Burkhead, James White and Sony Michel at running back shouldn’t have anyone pushing the panic button.

So while I’d temper expectations a bit for Eric Decker right now, I think he’ll be fine here. He’s at the age where his one-year deal comes at a good time for him. He’ll be very visible with the Patriots nationally and could parlay this into one more good payday. I expect him to be a model teammate (unlike the other guy fans were clamoring for) and be “all-in” immediately.

While I have never been a big fan of Decker’s, the timing may be just right for him to come to New England and carve out a nice role for himself. His versatility will be a key facet in him being able to pick up the offense on the fly. Without being here all spring, and the first week of training camp, he’s well behind the rest of the receivers. However, it isn’t anything that can’t be overcome with hard work.

Orchestrating all of this is Tom Brady, who has taken the Patriots deep in the playoffs and to a Super Bowl with far less talent than he has right now with this offense. The loss of Matthews and Edelman (for a month) is a blow but this team will be just fine. They always start off a bit slow anyway. No reason to panic and sound the alarm. In one aspect of this, they were fortunate that the injury happened in the first week of training camp rather than Week 9 or 10.

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 News, 7-29, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
July 29, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, Here is your Sunday’s Patriots news 7-29, & AFC East Notes. Training camp is in full swing and we hope to see many of you down at Foxboro in the next few days.

Quick Hitters:
With the start of training camp, one would have hoped that all of that drama hooey would have been left behind…yet on Day 1, that was not to be. It didn’t end there on Day 3 Tom Brady was asked about another player’s suspension and the connection between him, Alex Guerrero and that suspended player (Julian Edelman). Brady got incensed and cut the interview off, stating, ”This is ridiculous.”  And it is. Enough already with the constant search for a conspiracy behind every event.

It is time to talk football for the 2018 season.

Deatrich Wise had the hit of the summer so far when early in the session on Saturday, he slipped the block of rookie Isaiah Wynn and decleated RB Jeremy Hill, who flew backward and ended up flat on his back.

Bret Bielema works with Vincent Valentine and Deatrich Wise at practice. (SBalestrieri photo)

Troy Niklas was released after just two days of training camp, which is a bit of a surprise. The big tight end was in competition to get one of the backup slots. In his stead, the team signed WR Paul Turner who spent four games with the Eagles in 2016. In other moves this week, the team signed safety Eddie Pleasant, guard Nate Theaker and WR Devin Lucien while releasing safety David Jones.

Rob Gronkowski said he never considered holding out for a new contract this spring and has looked excellent in the early going. He and Brady were putting on a clinic in early red zone work in camp.

Sony Michel looks like he’s a veteran thus far in camp. He’s getting reps with Brady and the starters (yes we know Belichick hates using that term in camp). The Patriots put a premium on pass protection, and Michel will have to excel in that area. But thus far, he’s way ahead of schedule and it seems the Patriots are fully invested in him.

One area of concern thus far is ball security. Michel has put the ball on the ground in every day (first three) of training camp. That will have to change.

Dwayne Allen was a factor in the passing game during the practice sessions on Friday. The big blocking tight end was an afterthought in the passing game in 2017 and his performance in the heat was a welcome addition. Coincidentally after a strong spring and good first day, second-year tight end Jacob Hollister had a pair of drops on Friday.

Cordarrelle Patterson had a nice day on Friday, and while there is a long way to go, it looks like the team is trying to find a comfort level for the big, fast WR in the offense. And his one-handed TD grab over Stephon Gilmore on a pass from Tom Brady was the kind of good news that we hope to see continue. And he did with another nice catch from #12 on Saturday.

Cordarrelle Patterson has been a pleasant surprise so far. (SBalestrieri photo)

Jason McCourty also had a nice day on Friday, looking very competitive and breaking up some passes in the end zone. He continued his strong play on Saturday.

Dorsett Making the Most of His Opportunity:

The Patriots traded backup QB Jacoby Brissett to the Colts early last season for WR Phillip Dorsett and while he didn’t make a big dent in the passing game a year ago, that looks like it will change drastically in 2017. Dorsett was targeted just 18 times last year and caught just 12 but with a year in the system, he is looking like he’s ready for a much bigger piece of the pie.

With Julian Edelman out for the first four weeks of the season due to a PED suspension, there will be plenty of opportunities for a player to step up at the inside wide receiver. And Dorsett, this summer is getting in a lot of work inside. Both he and veteran Jordan Matthews are working in the slot as well as 2nd-year player Riley McCarron and rookie Brandon Berrios.

Dorsett besides possessing great straight-line speed, has excellent quickness, running a 6.70 3-Cone-Drill back when he went thru the NFL Combine. This will be an intriguing area to watch this summer.

Hightower Cites DC (in waiting) Flores With Easing the Learning Curve:

With the departure of Matt Patricia, this winter to take over the head coaching duties of the Detroit Lions, Brian Flores’ responsibilities have been expanded to become the signal caller for the Patriots defense. While he’s the Defensive Coordinator in everything but name, he has a lot more on his plate.

But for the veteran signal caller on the field, Dont’a Hightower, Flores is already receiving high marks for the job he’s doing teaching the Patriots system to the younger players, especially rookie linebacker Christian Sam.

“Coach is definitely different. I think guys are learning a lot faster, a lot easier. A lot of young guys are stepping up and able to pick up for some of the older guys. It definitely works in our favor.”
“Maybe it’s just the way that he teaches it,” Hightower said. “The way that the guys kind of absorb it a little bit different. We meet a little different, talk about things a little different. It’s just small quirky things that you can’t necessarily put a finger on, but it’s obvious whenever you can kind of have first-year guys come in or even guys who maybe got signed that can pick things up.”

Devin McCourty, however, pooh-poohed that assertion saying that nothing has changed under the Patriots defense and everything and everyone is on the same page.

During the spring, Hightower got the fan base a bit more excited by saying that under Flores, the Patriots defense will be much more aggressive this year. One area that the team struggled in during the 2017 season was the ability to consistently get to the QB.

With Trey Flowers, Deatrich Wise and 2nd-year player Adam Butler returning, the team signed Adrian Clayborn from the Falcons during free agency and now they’ll get a healthy return of Derek Rivers, their top draft pick from last year who missed the entire season with an ACL injury.

While the mantra of the Bill Belichick defensive philosophy has always been to play conservatively and keep the play in front of them, there are some ways that this team could still stick within the Belichick system and play a bit faster. I’d look for some 3-4 looks to go along with their 4-3 and 4-2-5 packages and see them getting a bit more game plan specific in 2018.  

Hightower’s Return, an Automatic Boost for the Defense:
Speaking of the defense, there was one person who we said all season was irreplaceable for the unit and that was Hightower. His loss was felt all last season and while everyone wants to talk about how the absence of Malcolm Butler hurt in the Super Bowl loss to the Eagles, a much bigger factor was not having Hightower in there against Philly.

And nothing has changed, on the Patriots defense, he’s the one player they can least afford to lose. After Patricia was forced to move him to the edge exclusively early last year, he back at the middle linebacker position, where he’s most effective. And the trickle-down effect begins. That allows Kyle Van Noy to move where he’s more effective on the outside. He took on much of Hightower’s role a year ago and they’re very different players.

Was it coincidence on Friday that Van Noy was having a big day breaking up passes? In the first two days of camp, he’s broken up four, as the Patriots are freer to move him around a bit more to take advantage of his athleticism.

It will be interesting to see how the position changes this season. Hightower and Harvey Langi return from IR, they added Ja’Whaun Bentley and Sam thru the draft and still have returning veterans Marquis Flowers, Elandon Roberts and Nicholas Grigsby in the mix. On paper at least, it is still the thinnest on the team and the one guy that they can still ill-afford to lose is Hightower.

Danny Etling’s Work on His Mechanics is Plain to See:

Etling, who was a 7th round draft choice (219th overall) this spring had mechanics issues to work thru. Watching him perform in the SEC the past two seasons, he frequently threw the ball flat-footed, rarely if ever setting his feet and relied on his arm strength to get the ball out, causing his passes to sail and diminished his velocity.

That won’t get it done in the NFL and give the rookie credit, he has put the extra work in. We read that he’s working with QB/MLB throwing guru Tom House. His mechanics look much improved and thus far ( it is still very early) he’s looked much better than what was expected of him.

Does this mean, he’ll push Hoyer for the backup job to Brady? Hardly. He has a long, long way to go and will have to learn all the nuances of the Patriots playbook and grasp the offense. But to see this first…albeit baby step is encouraging. Add in that he’s staying on the field for nearly 30 minutes after practice to work on his footwork, mechanics, and timing and route concepts, is another nice sign.

For a guy fighting for a roster spot, he is doing all the right things so far. Now we’ll see if he can keep progressing as camp unfolds and the preseason moves on.

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills QB Battle A Key Area to Watch in Training Camp:
The Buffalo Bills have three QBs vying for reps in training camp and into the preseason this summer and it’ll bear watching this summer. Top draft choice Josh Allen signed his contract and is in camp, the team traded for A.J. McCarron with the Bengals and have veteran Nathan Peterman who was thrown into a disastrous first start last year but bounced back nicely after that.

McCarron led Alabama to a national title but this is his first opportunity to start. He’ll try to hold off Peterman and the rookie Allen. Allen is their QB of the future, but Bills coach Sean McDermott has made it clear, that the team won’t push their future QB into game action before he’s ready. That’s why they brought in McCarron.

When it comes to arm strength, Allen is head and shoulders above the other two, but as we’ve seen, playing QB in the NFL is much more than that or else Jeff George would be in the Hall of Fame.

Dolphins’ QB Tannehill Trying to Get Chemistry With Amendola:
The Miami Dolphins are trying to work Danny Amendola in the slot where he was so valuable for the Patriots the past few years. And QB Ryan Tannehill, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL is working hard to build his chemistry with the tough but diminutive wide receiver.

But not everyone is happy with the work being turned in by the Dolphins QB. Dolphins beat writer, Omar Kelly who is known for his over the top tweets was writing that Tannehill is leading Amendola into a huge collision.

“Every single media member has CRINGED watching some of the passes Tannehill throws Amendola. If the action were live Reshad Jones and T.J. McDonald would break his ribs, or give him a concussion. Ball placement is a very important trait a QB needs, ask Dustin Keller.”

Kelly added, “And for the record, I predict Reshad Jones and T.J. McDonald will be head hunters (sic) in this defense….if the refs allow it. Both make great jumps on plays and bring the sledge hammer. Problem is, the NFL doesn’t want those hits in the game anymore. We’ll see.”

Jets’ QB Darnold Unsigned At the Outset of Camp:
The New York Jets have started their 2018 training camp and have done so without the services of QB Sam Darnold. The talented USC signal caller was the #3 overall pick in this spring’s NFL Draft and his contract was thought to be an after-thought. But that hasn’t worked out and his early absence may hurt his chances to start in his rookie season.

Darnold is expected to push long-time veteran Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater for the starting job this summer, but this unexpected snafu is throwing a monkey wrench into the works. According to ESPN’s Rich Cimini, the two sides have sharp differences on certain clauses and language in what will be a four-year, $30.2 million deal, fully guaranteed.

Coach Todd Bowles however, isn’t worried. “It’s just another day in the office. There’s no animosity. It’s just the business part. When he comes in, we’ll get him caught up to speed and get him ready to go, Bowles said.

“I’m not frustrated,” Bowles added. “I’m a coach.” He said that as soon as the two sides agree on the deal, that the Jets would quickly bring Darnold up to speed.

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 News 7-22, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
July 22, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, Here is your Sunday’s Patriots news 7-22, & AFC East Notes. This is our last Sunday before football is back among us until 2019. It seems like a long time has passed since the Super Bowl. Three days and a wake up until football returns.

Quick Hitters:
Tom Brady has made it clear that he’ll not only be on time but report early for training camp. Brady is expected to arrive at Foxboro today for the beginning of the 2018 season. Brady missed all of the voluntary spring workouts but did attend minicamp.

Darrelle Revis has now voted himself off the island. The veteran cornerback has decided to call it a career and retire. The future Hall of Famer was on another plane for many years with the Jets and came to the Patriots for the Super Bowl season of 2014. He returned to the Jets before ending up with the Chiefs last year. He was one of the very best to ever play cornerback. And his countdown to Canton has already begun.

Patriots owner Robert Kraft was among those who went to pay respects to the family of fallen Weymouth police officer Michael Chesna at his wake this week. Chesna was killed in the line of duty by a man who then killed an old woman. He leaves behind a wife and two young children.

Smart move. Julian Edelman announced that he will not take his appeal of his PED suspension to Federal Court. As we all saw in the Tom Brady case, the league and the commissioner have the ability to hand out punishment as they see fit.

Andrew Jelks is stepping away from football and announced his retirement on Friday. He hasn’t played since his sophomore year at college and has had ACL injuries. The Patriots took a flyer on him in 2017 and it appears that his knees will not allow him to play again. Sadly we’ll never get to see what they valued so highly.

Things you just shake your head at… just a few hours after the Miami Dolphins announced that they would take discipline on players protesting the national anthem, the NFL and NFLPA issue a joint statement regarding the new rules. Sadly, they’ll never get it.

You know it is summer time when Jimmy Garoppolo’s date with a porn star is top news.  

Veterans Who Will Be Fighting For Their Jobs in Camp:

Every summer, we always take stock of the 90-man roster and try to make sense of the comings and goings without the benefit of sitting in the coach’s offices. We report on what we see on the field, but what they see may differ radically.

But, the one constant in the Patriots roster thru the Belichick years is change, the roster is always changing and evolving and this summer will be no different. Several veterans are looking at fighting for their jobs this summer. They include:

Dwayne Allen: Allen was hoped to replace the blocking and production in the passing game of Martellus Bennett. And he only was successful in the former, not the latter. Allen was a complete afterthought in the passing game, something the Patriots really needed considering Rob Gronkowski has had injury problems in his career.

Allen this summer will have to show much more in the passing game. With the seeming emergence of Jacob Hollister in the passing game this summer, the 2nd year TE seems poised for a much bigger role and if he shows he’s better in the blocking game this year, Allen’s days in a Patriots uniform may be numbered, despite Belichick being in his corner.

His salary for 2018 is $5 million dollars which is very steep for a blocking tight end. Consider this, the Patriots balked at paying Danny Amendola $6 million and think about all of the clutch plays he produced in his time in New England.

If Gronkowski gets a new deal during training camp, Allen’s salary cap situation will bear even closer watching. The Patriots brought in blocking tight ends Troy Niklas from the Cardinals, Ryan Izzo in the NFL Draft (7th Round) and small school Shane Wimann as a UDFA. Those three will bear close watching as well.

Elandon Roberts: Roberts, the undersized but downhill thumper at linebacker was thrust into a starting role for much of 2017. And a lot of it didn’t go well. Several times Roberts burst into the wrong hole in the running game or was caught up in the wash at the second level.

While he’s showed effectiveness as a blitzer up the A-gaps, he’s also a liability in coverage. The Patriots drafted two linebackers this spring, one of them, Ja’Whaun Bentley is a bigger more physical presence on the inside. His drafting doesn’t show great confidence in Roberts’ ability to get the job done.

The battle in the middle will also include Harvey Langi and Dont’a Hightower as well and bear close watching this summer.

Mike Gillislee: Gillislee was signed last year and promptly scored three TDs against KC in the blowout loss in the opener. But his star quickly lost its shine as he was a healthy scratch more often than not down the later stretches of the season.

Gillislee ran fairly well when he was in the game, however, his lack of production in the passing game became an issue. Because when he was in the game, the Patriots offense became what they hated to be: predictable.

Dion Lewis took over Gillislee’s role and the offense took off. This year, with Lewis gone, the team used a 1st round draft pick for Sony Michel and he has the versatility in the running and passing games to easily become a threat like Lewis was.

Gillislee and Jeremy Hill, who is looking to resurrect his career in New England are probably fighting for one roster spot. Hill, in the past, has been more productive in the passing game while with the Bengals. This battle will bear watching, as another player in the backfield.

Brandon Bolden: Every summer it seems Brandon Bolden is put on the list of those to get cut…even here. But then every fall, he’s on the roster, giving very valuable reps as a Special Teams standout, a core member of all four units.

That’s because Bolden has a hard-nosed, goes all out when he’s on the field, is an outstanding teammate who is very popular in the locker and has the versatility to do many things.

As a runner and pass receiver, he’s a .260 hitter, not bad, not great but will fill in as the fourth option when his number is called. He has Tom Brady’s trust as a blocker, runner, and receiver.

So yes, he’s in a roster battle to keep his job. It is nothing new for him. He’ll approach this as he does every summer. And with the new rules on special teams, guys like Bolden, Matthew Slater, and Cordarrelle Patterson may be even more valuable. Don’t be surprised if he’s around for one more season. And we’ll revisit it again next summer.

Jordan Richards: Everyone’s favorite whipping boy, Richards finds himself annually on this list as well. Like Bolden, he’s a standout special teams player, but unlike the running back when he’s asked to play defense, he’s a disaster.

Every summer in preseason we watch him take poor angles in the secondary and turn small plays into big ones. That carries over into the regular season. Replay the end of the Pittsburgh game and Richards takes a brutal angle which turned a 3-yard Roethlisberger slant into nearly a 79-yard touchdown (tackled at the 10). That carried over into the Super Bowl where when he was on the field, Nick Foles and the Eagles went right after him.

So, will this summer be any different? I liked what I saw from David Jones last year but he was cut, brought back to the practice squad for the entire season. He was the Patriots practice player of the week six times in 2017, so perhaps the bigger and more athletic (also a punt returner) will push Richards.

Cyrus Jones: Jones is in a make or break season for the Patriots. After a disastrous rookie campaign in 2016 after being the team’s top draft pick, he was lost to a torn ACL and meniscus in the preseason of 2017.

He looked better (after forgetting how to cleanly field a punt in 2016) before his injury last summer and in the secondary as well. We’ll see how that transpires this summer. With Julian Edelman’s looming suspension, the punt returner slot is an instant roster spot ripe for the taking. There may be several punt returners vying for the position this summer and should be a lot of fun to watch.

But he wasn’t all the way back this spring, and that may force him to begin camp on the PUP. This will bear watching.

James Harrison Talks Belichick/Tomlin and Tom Brady:

Harrison who spent just a brief amount of time in New England after being released by Pittsburgh before Week 17, got the Western Pennsylvania population riled up this week when asked about the differences between Bill Belichick and Mike Tomlin on the Fox show “Undisputed”.

Asked if Belichick is a better coach “by far”, he answered, “to me, yes.” He stressed Belichick’s discipline and the coaching staff which takes a page out of his book.

“The big thing with Belichick is he’s very regimented,” Harrison said. “He’s disciplined, everyone is going to be on the same page, there’s not going to be anything as far as someone doing their own thing. And I think over there [in New England] their whole coaching staff is like that.”

Harrison then added the kicker, “Man, I’ve seen Tom Brady run into a meeting scared to be late. I don’t even know what happens if you’re late to a meeting over there.”

On the subject of Brady, Harrison told the hosts, he at first wanted to hate him but added that he was “the ultimate teammate and person.”

“Tom is a great QB — the best ever. I’ve never seen anyone with his study habits, his preparation. He’s filling up a whole notebook of notes with each game.”

Patriots Preseason Broadcast Team Changes:

The radio duo of Bob Socci and Scott Zolak who do the Patriots’ games on the flagship radio station of 98.5 are moving to the television broadcast booth for the four preseason games. Joining the popular duo as always is Steve Burton who does the sidelines reporting and interviews while Andy Hart and Paul Perillo will provide commentary again from in the studio. Former Patriot Rob Ninkovich joins the broadcast team as the veteran sideline reporter.

The radio duties will fall to Dan Roche who called the games for the past several years on television and former SB champion Matt Chatham who moves from the sidelines to the color position for the preseason.  

Training Camp 2018, Dates and Times:

The Patriots training camp sessions begin this coming week and as a reminder:

Practices are free of charge and will be open to the public. Entrances will open about one hour before practice begins.

The schedule as of right now (and subject to change) is as follows:

Thursday, July 26: Practice Time – 9:15 a.m.

Friday, July 27: Practice Time – 9:15 a.m.

Saturday, July 28: Practice Time – 9:15 a.m.

Sunday, July 29: Practice Time – 9:15 a.m.

Check in periodically on the Patriots website for any changes on the scheduling of practices and fan events.

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes: No AFC East Notes this week, we’ll be back with those next Sunday.

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

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

Podcast: Patriots Training Camp Approaches

Russ Goldman
July 16, 2018 at 12:13 pm ET

In this episode, with Patriots Training Camp approaching, we talked about several subjects that are on our minds. We discussed in detail the latest Sunday Notes Column by Steve Balestrieri. He first highlighted Free Agents still out there that the Patriots can target, and we talked about them. After that we discussed, the Patriots players that need to step up as we enter Training Camp. We talked about the players mentioned in his column.

If you are looking for actual football talk on the Pats, this episode should do the trick.

New England Patriots News 7-15, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
July 15, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, Here is your Sunday’s Patriots news 7-15, & AFC East Notes.

Quick Hitters:
Something you can file under either a slow news week or not very surprising news, Mark Wahlberg has placed “a hefty bet” on the Patriots winning the Super Bowl. The Boston-born and Pats diehard fan who played Vince Papale of the Eagles in a film has long been a good friend of Tom Brady. Oh and he placed a bet on the Eagles as well.

Tony Romo jumped into the Tom Brady – Bill Belichick ongoing discussion on how their relationship is, in his opinion just fine. “I just think when you work together for 15-20 years, whatever it is, I think that whenever you have the success that they have, people have to come up with stuff,” Romo said. “I’ve been upset with my coaches before, and then you come back and you’re fine.

Romo added, “I don’t really think that there’s a whole lot to it. I think they probably squabble just like any married couple for 20 years, and then they also love each other. So that’s my take there.”

Romo also made his early Super Bowl call of the Packers-Jaguars for this season.

Free Agents Still Out There That New England Can Target:

With training camp now right around the corner, the Patriots roster is right around 90 players but there are several guys still out there that may be able to help the team in 2018. The team has always targeted veterans that can step in contribute.

And these players would, in our opinion help out with some positions that could use the depth and while some were positions of need a year ago, others, while not a particular position of need per se, could benefit from the depth.

Kenny Vaccaro: The Patriots have three starting caliber safeties in Devin McCourty, Pat Chung, and Duron Harmon and frequently use all three on the field at the same time. Behind them is Jordan Richards and we’ve all seen what happens on defense when he plays a key role. With both McCourty and Chung starting to get up there in years, it may be time to bring in an eventual replacement in case of either a dropoff in play or injury.

Vaccaro is still just 27 and had a very solid 2017 until wrist and groin injuries landed him on IR. He made 60 tackles, had three Interceptions and broke up 12 more in 12 games. The former 2013 first round pick has had some issues staying on the field. The market for safeties didn’t play out the way he hoped it would and he’s still out there.

But Vaccaro is versatile and can be moved around, much like Bill Belichick likes to do with his safeties. Is a one-year flyer on a player of his caliber out of the question? Of course not and he’s a huge step up from Richards in the secondary.

NaVorro Bowman: Bowman is a 30-year old free agent middle linebacker who can help with the lack of depth inside. Is the team planning on moving Dont’a Hightower back inside after playing him on the edge a year ago? And given his injury history, it has been rare for him to play an entire season.

With Bowman returning to play strong for the Raiders in 2017 after being released by the 49ers last year, he still has plenty of gas left in the tank. The Raiders made him an offer during the spring but he’s still out there in free agency and hasn’t signed with anyone although rumors suggest that he’ll return to Oakland.

Bowman could be brought in on a relatively cheap short-term deal and with Elandon Roberts and rookie Ja’Whaun Bentley inside, Bowman would be an upgrade.

Connor Barwin: Barwin is a 31-year old edge rusher who has been remarkably durable over his career starting in 109 of 112 games for Houston, Philadelphia and Los Angeles (Rams). And while he’s still effective at rushing the quarterback and getting some offers, he has his sights set on goals other than money.

Barwin is in search of a team that is in contention for a Super Bowl and of course one that could use his skill set. Right now, he looks like he may be leaning towards a return to the Rams but as he’s still unsigned, he’s a player that could help the Pats.

We wrote about him in the spring, the Patriots lacked a consistent pass rusher to complement Trey Flowers in 2017. The team has brought in Adrian Clayborn and has high hopes for 2nd-year players Deatrich Wise and Derek Rivers. Rivers missed all of last season after tearing an ACL. Barwin is a savvy veteran who has always had good production getting after the passer and with the Patriots lack of depth and experience there, I still think it would be a good move to bring in a proven veteran edge rusher.

Robert Ayers: Another defensive end who is as good setting the edge as he is getting after the passer. Ayers will be 33 when the season rolls around and may be losing a step. He had just two sacks last season although he was providing some good pressure on the quarterback.

Ayers could be one of those one-year rentals who extends his career for one more season by coming in as part of the defensive end rotation and giving some good quality reps along with a veteran presence. With a chance to play for a winner in the twilight of his career could be a nice enticement where Belichick and Nick Caserio won’t have to break the bank for him.

Training Camp 2018, Who Needs to Step Up:

It doesn’t seem like football is right around the corner but a week from Thursday morning the Patriots will begin their 2018 training camp and then right around the corner the regular season will begin. So we’re looking at some players on the roster and thinking for the Patriots to make it back to the Super Bowl this season, these are the guys who’ll have to step up.

Adrian Clayborn: The Patriots are putting a lot of eggs in his basket and while they’re not an attacking style of defense where their edge rushers are pinning their ears back on every down, they still expect a lot from their edge players, especially from the veterans. And for Clayborn, a guy they brought in during FA, the pressure to produce will be there in 2018.

Clayborn, is thus far, doing all the right things. He’s always among the first to arrive on the field. He’s leading by example and playing hard during the spring workouts, which albeit are tougher for the big guys since there are no pads allowed.

Camp will be the beginning of a very interesting year for the veteran. A lot of eyes will be watching him all year and he’ll be expected to make a difference in the Patriots pass rush and overall defense.

Chris Hogan/Jordan Matthews: These two wide receivers will be especially looked to early in the season to provide the offense and QB Tom Brady with the confidence to replace the production of Danny Amendola, Brandin Cooks and Edelman (for the first four weeks) of 2018. Hogan has been a productive receiver for the Patriots and last year had some nagging injuries that cut into his season. But he’s healthy this summer and in a contract year should be primed for a good season.

I look for Hogan’s looks from Tom Brady to get a huge uptick this season, especially in the red zone where he was flourishing before his shoulder injury in 2017. Hogan isn’t a #1 WR but in the Patriots system, it is all about the matchups and Brady can move his WRs and TEs around to find them and Hogan should benefit from that big time in the first month of the season.

Matthews is a newcomer to the Patriots offense but expectations are already quite high for him (here too),  to not only to assimilate into the offense but be a key contributor as well. Matthews has the size that most slot receivers don’t have but has been a very productive receiver in several different schemes. This season, we’ll be watching him closely beginning on the 26th.

Derek Rivers: While he’ll only be part of the rotation and has yet to play an NFL game, the 2nd year edge rusher/linebacker already has high expectations following him. The team’s top draft choice of 2017, Rivers missed all of last year with a knee injury so expectations should be a bit tempered.

But much was expected from him a year ago and that hasn’t changed this season. In fact, there may be a bit more pressure on him to produce this fall. With the pass rush needing a boost in 2018, and the majority coming from Flowers and Clayborn, the next players in the rotation will be second-year players River and Deatrich Wise providing the QB pressure, setting the edge and occasionally dropping into the flat.

Rivers appeared healthy this spring and now will have to show even more once the pads come on. He started slowly last summer, but that was to be expected coming from a small school at Youngstown State. Things seemed to be just falling into place when he tore his ACL. Now with a year in the system, albeit not playing, he’s expected to provide the type of jump a typical second-year jump in play that Wise will be showing as well.

Trent Brown: Brown is a massive tackle who is listed at 6’8, 359 pounds but after seeing him this spring, he looks much larger. He’s one of the biggest players I’ve seen in the flesh that plays for the Patriots with a wingspan that rivaled Tommy Kelly. The Patriots picked him up from the 49ers this spring and that move got some raves from Von Miller who called him “the best right tackle in the NFL and one of the best tackles period.”

Brown will have big shoes to fill and will be tasked with protecting Tom Brady’s blindside. Brady has had Nate Solder and Matt Light during his career and now the job will fall to Brown. Not to put any undue pressure on him but ultimately he’ll have a lot to say about effective the Patriots passing game will be.

We’ll be watching him closely this summer as will everyone else as his every move will be dissected this summer. Welcome to Foxboro, Mr. Brown.

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills McCoy Accused by ex-Girlfriend of Being Behind Home Invasion, Beating:
The Buffalo Bills LeSean McCoy’s ex-girlfriend was the victim of a home invasion and a vicious beating at her home in Atlanta this week. And she’s pulling no punches of her own and claiming that McCoy was behind the entire thing. The local police redacted her name from reports, however, attorneys for Delicia Cordon, McCoy’s former girlfriend, have previously identified her as the victim of the home invasion.

“I’m telling you, I’m telling you, that guy is [redacted],” the caller said in the 911 audio. “He must have known the camera system. LeSean must have told him. There’s no camera in the front.”

The armed intruder beat Cordon in the face with a firearm in trying to remove her bracelets, of interest to police since they were among items McCoy has been trying to recover from her in addition to other jewelry.

McCoy has denied any wrongdoing in the case and has hired prominent Atlanta attorney Don Samuel who has not commented on the case publicly. It may turn out that McCoy does indeed have nothing to do with the home invasion, but regardless, after seeing Cordon’s face and hearing the accusations, it is a bad, bad look for McCoy, the Bills and the NFL. 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 myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Edelman Suspension Creates Huge Hole, Opportunity

Steve Balestrieri
July 5, 2018 at 8:30 am ET

Well by now, as everyone heard, the NFL denied the appeal for Julian Edelman and he’ll be lost to the team for the first four games of the season. He was suspended for the first four games of the season for testing positive for an unknown substance which violated the league rules against PEDs. Edelman missed all of the 2017 season after tearing his ACL in a non-contact play during the preseason. He’s been trying to work his way all the way back.

During the spring, the team at times kept him out of some drills, but it seemed more precaution than anything else. In the limited amount of time we were able to watch him, he looked like….Julian Edelman. Quick, able to cut on a dime and nearly impossible to cover in the short passing game.

But now the team will miss him the first four games against Houston, Jacksonville, Miami and Detroit and make no mistake, despite being able to hum along without him last season, this is a big loss for the first quarter of the season.

The offense lost three of its biggest playmakers as Danny Amendola and Dion Lewis left in free agency and the team traded Brandin Cooks to the Rams. So at wide receiver, the depth chart consists of Chris Hogan and a lot of question marks. While there is no denying the talent level is there with players such as Jordan Matthews, Kenny Britt, Phillip Dorsett, Cordarrelle Patterson, rookie Braxton Berrios, as well as the battle-tested but oft-injured Malcolm Mitchell, they haven’t worked for long in the system and the unknown element persists with all of them.

The suspension now may change how they look at training camp and the preseason. Edelman will be gone for the first month of the season, they’ll have to juggle, getting him all the way back with a balance of limiting his workload initially.

This suspension will no doubt put more pressure on tight end Rob Gronkowski and the running backs to produce more in the passing game. With Rex Burkhead and James White back in the fold, the team will look to Sony Michel to add that level of playmaking ability to both the passing and running games in 2018.

The loss of Edelman for that first month of the season, where the Patriots are normally slow starters is a big loss, there is no getting around that. But it opens a window of opportunity for the other players to step up and for at least one of them, it may lead to a four-week reprieve that could lead to him becoming a regular part of the offense.

We wrote on Sunday that the snaps in the slot are now wide open and up for grabs. Mitchell would be the first choice to snag them up but his health is a big question mark right now. Berrios and 2nd-year practice squad player Riley McCarron seem cut from the prototypical Patriots slot receiver mold, and they’ll have plenty of opportunities both in practice and in four preseason games to turn the coaches heads and carve out a role for themselves.

Our money here is on Jordan Matthews who has been able to thrive in many different offenses so he’s able to learn a new one and become productive right away. He brings a different element to the mix, he’s 6’3, so he presents a much larger target especially in the red zone.

Of course, this puts more pressure on Tom Brady and the soon-to-be 41-year-old QB has always been equal to the task. He’ll be operating without two of his best friends and most trusted receivers in Amendola and Edelman but something tells me he’ll be able to weather the storm until Edelman returns in  Week 5 and the newer players find their rhythm in the Patriots offense.

It won’t be a walk in the park and at times they may struggle, as they always do early in the season. That’s what makes every year so different, so compelling and ultimately so much fun to watch.

But nobody circles the wagons better than the Patriots under Bill Belichick and are able to block out the noise and get all 53 men pulling in one direction. Is the loss of Edelman for four games a huge loss? Absolutely. Is it a crisis that will bear close scrutiny? Yes again. But this is where the wheat is separated from the chaff and this is where the great step up to the forefront. JFK once wrote:  

“When written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity.”

I’d place your bets on #12 getting it done this year even without Edelman for the first month of the 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 News 7-1, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
July 1, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, Here is your Sunday’s Patriots news 7-1, & AFC East Notes … We’d like to wish all of our readers a happy and safe 4th of July holiday this week. And Happy Birthday America! We may have our issues, but there is still no better place to live in the world.

Quick Hitters:
Training Camp is now just a few weeks away. The Patriots have announced the following days and times for the first few practices, which will be open to the public. ***Please Note that all times are subject to change***. From the Patriots website:

July 26 | Practice Time – 9:15 AM

July 27 | Practice Time – 9:15 AM

July 28 | Practice Time – 9:15 AM

July 29 | Practice Time – 9:15 AM

*Gates will open at 8 AM each morning and the fan activities will remain open one (1) hour after practice ends.

No Joint Practices? For the first time in about a decade (there were none in 2011 during the lockout), it seems the Patriots will not be conducting joint practices with an opponent. Typically Bill Belichick lines up the opponent for the first or second preseason game (both last year) and works out a joint practice schedule. It doesn’t seem like that will happen this year barring any last minute changes.

Dwayne Allen’s status remains a hot topic for many fans as well as media members to discuss. Much like safety Jordan Richards, Allen remains a target for criticism considering his very small production in the passing game despite having a $5 million dollar cap hit in 2018, none of which is guaranteed.

But Bill Belichick likes Allen and was pleased with his blocking ability. They brought in competition this spring. Although tight ends Jacob Hollister, Will Tye and UDFA Shane Wimann are more in the mode of “move” tight ends, both Troy Niklas and Ryan Izzo are considered more of the blocking type of tight ends and could provide a younger, cheaper alternative. Of course, the team could always opt for re-doing Allen’s deal, which many predicted they’d do in the spring and didn’t.

Julian Edelman should be hearing back from the NFL regarding his appeal on his four-game suspension early in the week. If the suspension stands, the team will be without him for the first four games of the season. With that in mind…

Who Will Take the Slot Snaps in Case of #11 Suspension?

If indeed Julian Edelman is suspended for the first four games of the season, who will the Patriots go to in the slot for the majority of their snaps and production?  Well first off, they won’t (they learned that a year ago when he went on IR), be able to plug one player in that position, it is going to take multiple players to step up.

  • Malcolm Mitchell: In a perfect world that primary player would be Mitchell. He looked at the end of the 2016 season to be primed for big things down the road. But his knee woes are well-chronicled and with him missing most of the spring workouts just makes him a player with too many questions health-wise for the team to rely on him. At least for the first month of 2018.
  • Chris Hogan: The team looked like they were going to use Hogan in that type of role early in the 2017 season, but he ran into some injury issues of his own. However with Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola and Dion Lewis gone, they may opt to go with an experienced, trusted player here.
  • Phillip Dorsett: The former 1st round pick was underwhelming in his first season as a member of the Patriots as he had to learn on the fly. However, he looked better and more comfortable in the offense this spring. But Dorsett doesn’t have the skill set to play an Edelman role. Where could he fit better? In the Cooks role as the outside burner. And he has the quickness to work the underneath routes that Cooks struggled with. We’ll see how that works out in camp.
  • Braxton Berrios/Riley McCarron: The young slot players resemble former Patriot slot receiver Wes Welker and are quick and productive when they’ve had their numbers called in college. But would the Patriots entrust such a vital part of the offense to such untested players in the first month of the season? Doubtful.
  • Jordan Matthews: The former Eagle and Bill seems like he’d be an excellent fit for the slot role, although he is a much different player. Matthews is 6’3, 212 pounds and excelled in the slot role with Philly averaging about 70 catches a year before an injury-plagued campaign with the non-throwing Bills. But Matthews bet on himself, opting for a one-year, $1.0 million-dollar contract with New England this spring. He is the guy we’ll be watching if the Pats get some bad news on the Edelman front.

Flowers Contract Extension Going to be Difficult:

Trey Flowers is in the final year of his rookie contract and a new contract with him may be a much more difficult undertaking than it appears on the surface. Flowers has led the team in sacks the past two years, despite not having a big presence opposite him on the other side in 2017.

With the Minnesota Vikings signing DE Danielle Hunter to a 5-year, $72 million-dollar extension last week, with a $15 million signing bonus and $40 million guaranteed.  That will be the starting point for negotiations. The two players have had similar production with Hunter logging 8 sacks and Flowers 6.5. However, Hunter plays in a much more aggressive defense and has played with Everson Griffen on the opposite end.

Flowers isn’t flashy but does everything well, setting the edge, getting after the quarterback and kicking inside at times as an interior pass rusher. And with Adrian Clayborn on the team, signed in free agency, Derek Rivers back and Deatrich Wise looking to improve on a good rookie season, the chances for Flowers to cash in by producing in a contract year are very good.

Former Cowboys GM Gil Brandt predicts Flowers will make the Pro-Bowl this year. That would be great news for Flowers. For the Patriots? It will mean, he’ll be just that much harder to re-sign.

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills Need Stability, High Play at QB in 2018:
The Buffalo Bills opted for a possible future franchise QB with the #7 pick in the draft with the selection of Josh Allen. There is a lot to like, he has an absolute cannon for an arm and can deliver the ball in a manner that very few QBs can. However, as a rookie, the Bills are taking their time with him, very smartly and allowing him to learn the offense, work on his mechanics and find his way in the NFL before putting the pressure of being the franchise QB for the franchise.

They brought in A.J. McCarron from the Bengals and he appears to have the inside track over Nathan Peterman for the starting job out of the gate. While many in the Bills fan base are clamoring to sign a WR, they need to take a page out of New England’s book and not worry so much about WRs, but get solid QB play.

Wide receivers are successful because of QB play and not the other way around. Our friend Kerry Byrne of CHFF has labeled WRs, “shiny hood ornaments” and we tend to agree with that sentiment. Tom Brady won three Super Bowls with a pretty much no-name group of receivers.

With fans clamoring for a Dez Bryant signing, it is just another case of which we’re ultimately familiar with in New England of “gotta get the NAME” player. Head coach Sean McDermott is installing a passing game that stretches the field horizontally. That isn’t a Bryant specialty.

Dolphins Announce Training Camp Dates:
The Miami Dolphins will open their 2018 training camp on the same day as New England and several others and have published the dates and times for the first week of camp. According to their website, the Fins first few practice sessions are:

▪ Thursday, July 26: 8:30 a.m.

▪ Friday, July 27: 8:30 a.m.

▪ Saturday, July 28: 8:30 a.m.

▪ Sunday, July 29: 8:30 a.m.

▪ Monday, July 30: 8:30 a.m.

The caveat is that the Dolphins training facility at the Nova Southeastern University campus holds on 2000 people and fans must get tickets (which are free) by contacting the Dolphins website.

If there are any Dolphins fans here in New England or you’re just interested in keeping up with what Miami is up to, I recommend you follow our old friend Antwan Staley who is a Dolphins beat writer for the USA Today and his stuff can be found on the “Dolphins Wire” website. Twan is a great guy and a die-hard Red Sox fan.

Details Emerge on Jets’ TE DWI Arrest:
New York Jets rookie tight end Chris Herndon from the University of Miami was arrested for DWI on June 2 after getting into an accident at 4:45 a.m. on I-80 westbound in Rockaway Township, NJ.

His Nissan Altima crashed into a 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser driven by Albert Elliott of Manalapan, 76, who was towing a trailer and hauling a yellow rail car. Herndon initially claimed that Manalapan hit him which caused his vehicle, to flip over. Herndon claimed to be driving only 58 miles per hour but a witness at the scene told NJ State Police that Herndon passed him going over 100 miles per hour. After the crash, Herndon’s SUV slid on its roof for over 700 feet.

Officers detected a strong odor of alcohol on Herndon’s breath and he failed field sobriety tests. Once arrested and taken to the police station, he blew a 0.14 percent BAC on a breathalyzer. In NJ a person is guilty of DWI with a Blood Alcohol Concentration level of 0.08 percent or greater.

Besides any court costs, fines or court-imposed penalties, Herndon now faces possible NFL-imposed discipline, which could include a suspension. Luckily, no one was seriously injured.

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.

Patriots 2018 Training Camp Primer, Wide Receivers

Steve Balestrieri
June 27, 2018 at 11:06 am ET

Position is Loaded and Competition Will Tell the Tale

The Patriots head into training camp in just a month and the 90-man roster as it now stands is pretty stocked. Which means there will be a lot of players fighting for a very few spots on the 53-man roster.

Nowhere is that truer than at wide receiver. The Patriots (as of today 6/25) have 11 players vying for probably six roster spots. The team usually keeps around six WRs. That number could fluctuate if they feel they can’t part with a player or two.

Julian Edelman’s looming suspension may play a factor into that as well. If his suspension stands, then the team will have a full month of the regular season to carry an extra wide receiver and give them a longer look at some players. And of course, health will play a major role in the players that they keep, let go, place on PUP/IR.

The Patriots lost their two most productive wide receivers in Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola from 2017. Both left via free agency. Cooks the speedster that came over from New Orleans had a solid season with 65 catches for 1082 yards and 7 TDs. Amendola had 61 catches for 659 yards and 2 TDs. But in the playoffs, Amendola ratcheted up his game in a big way, hauling in 26 catches for 348 yards and 2 more TDs.

Replacing their production will be a big priority. But getting both Julian Edelman and Malcolm Mitchell back from IR, neither played in 2017 will be a huge boost. The team also drafted Braxton Berrios from Miami and has Kenny Britt and Phillip Dorsett back after each got to spend an entire offseason in New England.

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

Roster Locks: Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Matthew Slater

The Patriots get back a healthy Julian Edelman as well as a healthy Hogan this summer. Edelman missed the entire season with a torn ACL and Hogan was dinged up with a couple of injuries where he wasn’t a 100 percent for much of last season.

Julian Edelman looks healthy and ready to go. (SBalestrieri photo)

Edelman looked like the Julian Edelman we’ve always seen during the spring. We watched him closely during minicamp to see if there was any difference in his cutting to the left or right and his knee looks 100 percent. The real test will be once camp begins and the hitting starts.

The only question with him is if he will miss the first four games with a suspension due to PEDs where he was popped on a random drug test. If his suspension holds, it may end up being a better thing for him, giving him an extra month to fully recover from his surgery and rehab. But it will definitely hurt the team.

Hogan is an intriguing case as if the suspension does hold, will the team use him more in the slot or will they turn to a guy like Berrios or Jordan Matthews? It does give the team options.

Slater is a perennial Pro-Bowler and in speaking with NBC Sports Boston’s Phil Perry in a podcast today, he again mentioned the changes in the kickoff rules this season and believes Slater and other STs mavens to be even more valuable this season than in years before.

Near Roster Locks: Cordarrelle Patterson, Malcolm Mitchell

Patterson is (at least here) a near lock on our roster due to the changes to the rules governing kickoffs which will make him much more valuable this season. If Josh McDaniels and the coaches can figure out a way to get him involved in the offense, it will be a huge plus.

Cordarrelle Patterson looks to not only help in the kick return game but on offense as well. (SBalestrieri photo)

Mitchell had a really solid rookie season in 2016 and followed that up with a big Super Bowl in the win over the Falcons. But unfortunately, that was the last time he’s played in a meaningful game. His knee issues are chronic and he missed nearly all of the spring. The only thing that can hold him back is health. Will he be good to go or will he end up on PUP or IR?

On the Bubble: Jordan Matthews, Kenny Britt, Phillip Dorsett, Braxton Berrios, Riley McCarron

Matthews is a very intriguing signing. He was very productive in Philadelphia, averaging over 70 catches a year for three seasons. Last year he had a myriad of injuries and played on a non-passing team that derailed his season in Buffalo. I believe he’s going to be a big part of this offense in 2018. But he’ll have to prove it once the pads come on.

Ditto for Kenny Britt and Phillip Dorsett. Both came over last season, Dorsett just before the season opener and Britt later in the season. Dorsett, despite having blistering speed, never really caught on last year. Britt was having a very nice spring before tweaking a hamstring in minicamp and was held out as a precaution the last two days.

Berrios was a late round (6th round, 210th Overall) draft pick in the 2018 NFL Draft from Miami. He has the quickness and long speed to be a dynamic slot receiver. But he had a lingering medical issue that precluded him from taking part in any team drills in minicamp. He has some catching up to do.

McCarron spent all of 2017 on the Patriots practice squad and now knows the offense very well. With Berrios out during minicamp, he took advantage of some extra work. He looked okay but not great in the passing offense and got second-team snaps in both the punt and kick return games where he did a good job.

Outside Looking in…. Longshots: Cody Hollister

The Patriots signed undrafted free agent Cody Hollister last spring and he did enough to warrant the team to bring him back onto the practice squad last year. He had a good spring this year as well as last season. But with a top-heavy and loaded wide receiver roster, it is going to be difficult for him to get enough reps to earn a roster spot.

He, Berrios and McCarron may be looking at practice squad slots, at least to start the season. And then, depending on what transpires during the season as the inevitable injuries do occur, they may have an opportunity to get some reps in the regular 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.

2018 Patriots Training Camp Primer – Quarterbacks

Steve Balestrieri
June 21, 2018 at 1:44 pm ET

The Patriots head into training camp in just a few weeks, the OTAs and minicamp are over and the team has a 90-man roster ready to go. They’ll tweak this a bit as we go on but this group should remain pretty intact to start thru the beginning of training camp. 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. So first up are the quarterbacks

Sorry to say, this column is strictly football, so if you’re looking for analysis of body language, the subliminal messages by Gisele or TB12 that may have been sent on social media or the butterfly effect that the Dalai Lama breaking wind in Tibet and the effect it will have on the Patriots this season, you can save yourself the time now.

So… who is locked in and who is on the bubble?

Roster Locks: Tom Brady
The Patriots are so fortunate that every year since early in the 2001 season, they know who their starting QB is and have the luxury of knowing that he is more than capable enough to take them to the promised land.

In 2017, the 40-year old quarterback had an MVP season, completing 385 of 581 passes, (66.3 %), for 32 TDs and just 8 INTs. He led the Patriots offense to 394.2 yards per game, #1 in the NFL and to 28.6 points per game, #2 in the league.

In the playoffs, Brady went 89 of 139 (64%) for 1132 yards with 8 TDs and 0 INTs. He brought the Patriots back in another big 4th quarter comeback in the AFC Championship Game against the Jacksonville Jaguars leading to a third Super Bowl appearance in four years. Against the Eagles, Brady went 28-48 (58.3%) for a Super Bowl record 505 yards with 3 TDs and 0 INTs.

However, every season we deal with the inevitable question of “when will Brady begin to show his age and slow down? Answer: It doesn’t look like it anytime soon. Which is why I have zero issues with Brady taking the OTAs off this season.

Consequently, lost in the all the “Hatfield – McCoy Feud” storyline is the fact that perhaps Brady feels at his age that he wants to limit the wear and tear on his arm and may have been feeling fatigued at the end of last season. That very possible scenario got little to no play this spring.  

If that is the case, I have zero problems with it and neither should anyone else. He’s more than earned that right. But for the record, would I rather see #12 QBing the team during the spring workouts? Of course, especially with the new faces here on the roster. So, we’ll see how all of this works out, but if you’re expecting (hoping) to see a significant drop off in Brady’s production, you may be disappointed.  

However, there are some legitimate questions to ask this year. How will Brady deal with the loss of

  • his top two wide receiver targets from last season, (Cooks, Amendola)
  • New England’s top running back option from last season (Dion Lewis), and finally
  • his starting left tackle of the past six years, (Nate Solder)

Unlike nearly every other quarterback in league history, Brady has shown an ability to adapt to change. 2018 will likely not be any different. On a positive side, the Patriots get back Julian Edelman (albeit after a possible 4-game suspension), picked by Jordan Matthews this spring and drafted the dynamic Sony Michel who should be a big factor in both the running and passing games. And the best tight end in the game Rob Gronkowski is healthy and ready to go.

I watched Brady at minicamp and saw no drop off in his game, nor any indications that he was “mailing it in”, (a familiar question this spring). He looked like the Tom Brady we’ve all come to expect and to see and he looked like Tom Brady….meaning excellent.

Near Roster Locks: Brian Hoyer, Danny Etling

Hoyer came back to New England in the fallout from the Jimmy Garoppolo trade with the 49ers last fall. He was released to make room for Jimmy G. and then quickly signed back with New England as Brady’s backup.

Hoyer is who he is at this point in his career. He’s not a great QB and is limited in the things that he can do. But he knows the offense very well and he has the confidence of the coaches that he can get the job done if the situation arises where he has to step in. .

Etling is a rookie who is still trying to learn the Patriots offense and find his rhythm with it. He has a long way to go. With his limited snap load in training camp, do we expect him to push Hoyer for the backup spot on the roster? Very doubtful.

But the Patriots made an investment in him this spring, albeit a 7th rounder (219th overall). His job this summer is to show enough progress to justify keeping him around this season and to learn the offense enough to push Hoyer out next summer as the backup. I think he’s already shown enough to justify that. He’ll probably get very acquainted with the clipboard this fall, but I think he’ll stick.

With Brady sitting out the majority of the spring workouts, Hoyer was getting a ton of reps and looked a bit arm fatigued by minicamp. With both he and Brady getting up there in age, having Etling around will help him learn the system and keep their workloads down to an acceptable amount.

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast 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 6-17, & AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
June 17, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, Here is your Sunday’s Patriots news 6-17, & AFC East Notes … Happy Fathers Day to all the great dads who make a difference in their kid’s lives. While many will point to football and the NFL as being part of what has been labeled “toxic masculinity”, we prefer the idea that a strong father figure in children’s raising is a sign for a good, stable upbringing.

Quick Hitters:
Robert Kraft showed why Patriots Nation is a special group of people. A fan posted on Twitter and asked for Patriots Nation to reach out to their Dad who unfortunately is very ill and not expected to live long. Not only did her request get re-tweeted numerous times but it reached the ears of Robert Kraft and he spoke to the man and the fans in general with a very nice video message. Well done…

Tom Brady, in an interview with Oprah Winfrey, said that he respected his teammates who chose to kneel during the national anthem and the reasons that they were doing it.

“I’ve been playing sports long enough, everyone comes from something different, and I think showing respect for everybody, in a locker room, with a team of guys trying to go in the same direction … you better have that empathy for everybody. That’s what sports are about,” Brady said.  

The entire interview can be seen on Winfrey’s OWN Network.

Brady’s better half, his wife Gisele Bundchen did an interview with Vogue magazine and was asked about the most romantic thing Brady ever did for her. The quick-hitting “73 Questions” video segment was filmed at the couple’s home in Massachusetts while the QB was practicing his golf swing. So what was the most romantic deed by Brady? The way he proposed.

“He made up this whole story (about) how my apartment was flooding and I ran over there to try to fix the situation when I got there. The whole apartment had candles and rose petals everywhere,” Bundchen said.

And then he went down on his knees to propose. And I’m like “GET UP!” because he just had surgery and had three staph infections. I’m like, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”

“I gotta go on my knees,” (he said). I’m like, “No no! Get up, please!”

James Develin was given a two-year contract extension this week. (SBalestrieri photo)

The team signed fullback James Develin to a two-year extension worth $3.8 million with a $600,000 signing bonus. The tough, hard-nosed and versatile Develin was named to his first Pro-Bowl last season. While he’s only had a handful of carries and catches in his five-year career, his STs ability as well as his opening holes as a lead blocker in the running game can’t be overlooked.

Bill Belichick was effusive in his praise for him when he was announced on the Pro-Bowl roster last December.

“Nobody has worked hard than James has,” Belichick said. [He] has the last couple of years fallen into a very consistent and productive role in the kicking game and offensively. His play time has increased. His production has increased.

“As hard as he works in the weight room, on the field, off the field, preparation. I mean, whenever you see James, you see him working. He’s got a role. He’s very good at it. It’s a very important role and so it’s great to see him recognized for it. I’m happy for him.”

James Harrison was interviewed on CBS and was asked how he enjoyed  (everything revolves around fun lately) his short time with New England at the end of the season and his opinion on why the Patriots are so successful.

“Discipline. That’s the big thing,” Harrison said. “They’re not going to ask you to do anything that is outside of what they feel you are capable of doing. You learn the system and you go out there and you play it and like I said, very regimented. So if you’re a guy that’s not used to regimented discipline, you’re not going to like it there.”

“I didn’t have a problem with it. I enjoyed my time there. I thanked them for the opportunity they gave me to play there.”

The Patriots hosted free agent QB Christian Hackenberg on Thursday. The former Jets draft pick who was traded to the Raiders this offseason and then released by Oakland recently never really got a chance for reps in either place.

While this move for Bill Belichick raised eyebrows around Patriots Nation, it shouldn’t. This is nothing more than the Patriots doing their due diligence and kicking the tires on a player. Sometimes it results in a player being signed, others it is just compiling of a list for players who would fit in the event of injuries. And for many others, it is simply keeping a book on potential opponents down the road.  

Very disturbing news of former NFL tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. is charged with rape and kidnapping of several women in the Southern California area. Winslow was charged with two counts of kidnapping with the intent to commit rape, two counts of forcible rape, one count of forcible sodomy, one count of forcible oral copulation, two counts of residential burglary and one count of indecent exposure.

Winslow spent four seasons in Cleveland, three in Tampa Bay and one with the Jets. He played one game with the Patriots in 2012 after being signed in mid-September and then asked for and was given his release. But many of the headlines read…what? “Former Patriots TE….

Standard Operating Procedure – Belichick Cancels Final Two OTAs:
The Patriots last week during “voluntary” OTAs ended with a team-bonding trip to Fenway Park and the cancellation of the final two sessions to wrap up the spring on a low-key note. For those who are trying to read something into this….don’t.

This move by Bill Belichick is SOP (standing operating procedure) for the team under his watch. Belichick has always said the spring was a time for teaching and the summer during training camp was a time for competition and evaluation of the roster.

If Belichick is pleased with the way the spring practice sessions have gone, he’ll give the players some free time to get on with their summer break before training camp and the 2018 preseason begins in earnest.

The Patriots always have special guests visit the team during the spring, this year was Kobe Bryant, the team bonding trips are also SOP as well. Don’t read too much into the way events played out this week with the end of the spring workouts. There is nothing new or different in the way that the Patriots or Bill Belichick does business.

Patriots Taking Cautious Approach With Malcolm Mitchell:
One of the things that stood out during OTAs and minicamp was the absence of Malcolm Mitchell on the field for the vast majority of it.

Mitchell missed all of 2017 after a promising 2016 rookie season where he heated up down the stretch. He caught 32 passes for 406 yards as a rookie with most of them coming in the second half of the season. He hauled in 5 passes for 70 yards in the Patriots big comeback win in the Super Bowl over the Falcons.

However, Mitchell’s absence this spring, obviously a big one for the 3rd-year WR may not be as disconcerting as originally thought. Mark Daniels from the Providence Journal said sources inside the team relayed that the team is opting for a cautious approach with Mitchell and that the team is going to bring him along slowly so that he’s ready for training camp and beyond.

With Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola gone this season, the turnover in the WR position will be something to monitor as newer players to the system try to carve out a role and find a comfort level with QB Tom Brady that Mitchell already has.

If he’s ready to go once training camp opens in late July, it will be a big plus not only for Mitchell but for the offense as well. With the looming suspension for WR Julian Edelman (depending upon his appeal) it will also open up another roster spot for the first month of the season. It will bear close watching this summer.

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

McCarron Quietly Turning Heads at Bills Minicamp:
The Buffalo Bills have three QBs competing for reps this spring and that will continue into training camp and while normally that is viewed as a negative, that isn’t the case for the Bills this spring.

The Bills moved up to draft the talented but still raw Josh Allen with the 7th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. He’s the QB of the future but not necessarily the one of the present. Most NFL pundits believe Allen will need time to fully develop into the QB the Bills believe that they have in the rookie from Wyoming. Bills head coach Sean McDermott is taking the correct approach in taking their time with Allen, leaving him as firmly in the #3 on the depth chart, allowing him to learn the NFL game.

But the emergence of veteran QB A.J. McCarron, acquired from the Bengals this spring has impressed the Bills coaches. While McCarron and Nathan Peterman have both had very strong springs, McDermott has been impressed the most by McCarron’s demeanor calling him “a heck of a teammate”.

The former Alabama QB looks like the starting gig at Buffalo is his to lose. Peterman is going to push him this summer, but competition is always a good thing.

Tannehill Finishes Strong Spring and is in Control of the Dolphins Offense:
The Miami Dolphins quarterback of 2018 is definitely Ryan Tannehill. Whether he is in 2019 and beyond remains to be seen. But after missing all of 2017 with a torn ACL, Tannehill had a strong spring and seems poised to enter training camp and the 2018 season with high hopes.

He was impressive at the end of the spring sessions, including firing a bullet to Danny Amendola for a 30-yard touchdown pass down the middle of the field. Tannehill has always had the potential but has never been able to string everything together, being the QB he was being paid to be.

This is a huge season for him, but he’ll also need much, much better play from his tackles, Laremy Tunsil had an awful 2017 and his teammate, RT Ja’waun James is now the top paid right tackle in the NFL. If Tannehill is going to have success in 2018, he’s going to need his tackles keeping him upright. Of course, having a safety blanket like Amendola helps loads in running the hot routes.

Jets Sign DL Courtney Upshaw. Waive Former Patriot Chris Jones:
The New York Jets have signed veteran free agent defensive lineman Courtney Upshaw and have waived defensive lineman Chris Jones.

Upshaw, 6’2, 272-pounds was originally drafted by the Baltimore Ravens with the 35th overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. He spent four years in Baltimore (2012-2015) before signing as a free agent with the Atlanta Falcons in 2016. Upshaw played the past two seasons with Atlanta and was invited to the Jets’ spring sessions on a try-out basis.

In his six-year career, Upshaw has played in 90 regular-season games (56 starts) with 7.0 sacks, five forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries, and 215 tackles. He played in two Super Bowls, XLVII where Baltimore defeated San Francisco and LI with the Falcons as Atlanta dropped the first overtime loss in Super Bowl history to New England. He registered a sack of Tom Brady in that game.

Jones had signed with the Jets as a sixth-year veteran free agent on June 5. He was drafted by Houston in the sixth round in 2013 and spent time with the Buccaneers, Patriots, Dolphins and 49ers. Most of his career was spent (28 games, 22 starts) as a DE, DT and special teamer with New England in 2013-14.

Jones had the key field goal block of a last second 58-yard game-winning attempt for the Patriots against the Jets in October 2014 getting his hand up and blocking Nick Folk’s attempt.

Jones was also the recipient of a never-before-called rule which cost the Patriots an overtime victory, also against the Jets in 2013.

Jones was called for “pushing” one of his teammates into the line on Nick Folk’s 56-yard field goal attempt in overtime, which Folk shanked wide to the left. The penalty, a 15-yarder incorrectly called for unsportsmanlike conduct, gave the Jets another game-winning possession and this time Folk hit a 42-yarder for the 30-27 overtime victory minutes later.

Incidentally, the pushing call has never been called since. That call cost New England home field advantage in the playoffs.

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.