Tag Archives: Darryl Roberts

Patriots – Giants, Preseason Week 4, Five Areas to Watch

Steve Balestrieri
September 1, 2016 at 9:00 am ET

 

All About the Bottom of the Roster Players Tonight

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

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

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

Foster-taking-a-handoff-in-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jonathan Jones

Jonathan Jones

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

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

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

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

Dobson, Ryan 2-3

Dobson, Ryan 2-3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Patriots Roster Cutdown to 75 Players Looming for Tuesday

Steve Balestrieri
August 29, 2016 at 6:42 am ET

Few Easy Decisions for the Coaching Staff

The Patriots roster currently has 82 players listed, by tomorrow afternoon at 4 p.m. that number will be slashed as seven players will be released. The team has to be at the league mandated 75 player limit Tuesday. An additional 22 players will be released just a few days after that on Sept. 3 as all NFL teams must be at the 53-man roster limit. With the depth of the current roster, there will be few easy decisions for the coaching staff and for the players on the roster bubble, this will be the uneasy time of wondering if they did enough to warrant sticking around.

One area to monitor will be the cornerback position. With Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan and Cyrus Jones roster locks and Justin Coleman a near roster certainty, that leaves one spot open for three deserving players.

“It’s tough,” Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan said. “It’s always a tough time. These are your friends on and off the field. You get to know the people’s families. It’s what drives me so hard personally, and I think other guys too. Because this job is so hard, and it’s a business, and this is the hardest part of it every year.”

Cre’Von LeBlanc was given the most opportunity to shine this week against Carolina and he has responded in my opinion in a big way. He’s very competitive and like all good corners has a short memory. He won’t let a play where an opposing receiver makes a play effect his next snap. The least athletic (numbers wise) of the three, he’s allowed the most receptions but has faced the best competition frequently seeing the opposition’s starters.

LeBlanc extends for the ball

LeBlanc extends for the ball

Jonathan Jones and Darryl Roberts have each acquitted themselves well this summer. Both are extremely athletic and have produced on the field.  Roberts, while playing albeit later in games has allowed only 1 pass completion in 11 attempts and has three passes defensed. Jones has allowed a few more receptions but he too has been solid. What could turn the table in regards to those players are special teams contributions. Both Jones and Roberts have made plays on STs this summer and that can’t be discounted when the cut-down takes place.

Another area to watch is the defensive line. On the interior, veteran Terrance Knighton has to be feeling the heat right now. He’s struggled to pick up the Patriots two-gap system and has been being outplayed by Markus Kuhn and Anthony Johnson. With Malcom Brown and rookie Vincent Valentine (by virtue of his draft position) locked, it leaves two additional spots. Kuhn and Johnson, as well as Knighton, are vying for one while veteran Alan Branch should lock down the other.

Branch was suspended a week ago by the team but if they didn’t have plans for him, they’d have just released him then. With three slots seemingly locked down, three players are vying for the final spot. Johnson is an intriguing case. The undersized DT has shown nice explosion and disruption inside but could his size work against him? The team has shown that they like to move the bigger edge rushers inside in a sort of NASCAR package on passing downs. They may deem Johnson’s talent can be covered by another player and opt for another bigger body inside.

Grissom,-Blount

Edge rushers Geneo Grissom and Rufus Johnson will be interesting cases. Now with the addition of Barkevious Mingo, that will obviously impact not only the entire roster but specifically the defensive side of the ball. One or both of them could be looking at the axe in the coming days.

“It makes you appreciate… this is my ninth year, and I’ve seen people come and go,” defensive end Chris Long told the media on Sunday. “It just makes you appreciate things. And any time you come to work, you come into the building, you should cherish that.”

At wide receiver, the decision whether to activate Danny Amendola from the PUP list or let him start the season there will impact the decision on who gets cut or kept. Aaron Dobson and Keshawn Martin are vying for the fifth and final WR spot on the roster. With Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell roster locks, Amendola’s status will either open up another spot or create an opening.

If Amendola starts the year on PUP, then both Martin and Dobson should be safe and DeAndre Carter, Chris Harper, and Devin Lucien will be looking at practice squad positions. It will be a difficult balance for the coaches this week, trying to decide on how it is best to proceed.

The same is true at the running back position. With LeGarrette Blount, James White and STs ace Brandon Bolden being essentially locked in, who stays and who goes? Tyler Gaffney fills the big back role and has shown he can carry the ball and be effective between the tackles. Rookie D.J. Foster has electric speed and athleticism out of the backfield but missed nearly all summer with a hamstring injury.

Photo-Tyler-Gaffney-zsW7z-250x250 Can either one of these players crack the roster or will the team opt to bring in a veteran who may find himself on the outs elsewhere? One thing is for sure, the Patriots will be scouring the waiver wire, not only tomorrow but in the coming days. That’s why the 53-man roster on September 3, is seldom the one you’ll see later in the season.

The sad part of the business side of the NFL is that about 30 players on the Patriots roster will be out of work in the next week. Many of them have earned a place at the table but it comes down to a simple numbers crunch.

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.

Three Up and Three Down in the Patriots Win Over Chicago

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

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

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

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

Three Up:

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

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

AJ-Derby

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

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

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

Three Down:

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

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

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

Martin burns Coleman deep

Martin burns Coleman deep

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

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

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

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

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

 

Patriots Training Camp Primer – Cornerbacks

Steve Balestrieri
July 25, 2016 at 6:00 am ET

Talented but young group looks to take next step

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

Bill Belichick likes to say that the spring’s OTAs and Minicamp is a learning exercise and that the real competition begins in training camp. While that is true to an extent, with 88 players on the current roster, a minimum of 35 of these will be cut. That doesn’t take into consideration the tweaking that goes on during the season after the initial 53-man roster is completed.

So the next position to break down are the corners. Given the epidemic of injuries suffered by the Patriots last season, they were fortunate that both starters Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan remained healthy. Entering last season, there were nothing but questions about the corner position after jettisoning all three starters from the Super Bowl winning team.

Rather than being a weakness, corner became a position of strength in 2015. Butler parlayed his SB heroics into a very solid first season of starting. Ryan came on strong in his third season and played solid. Justin Coleman surprised some people and played well as the slot corner. But depth was an issue. The team brought in veteran Tarell Brown to add that veteran presence and he played very well in small glimpses until he went on IR.

CB Malcolm Butler

CB Malcolm Butler -photo by SBalestrieri/PatsFans.com

This season the team brought in Cyrus Jones with their top draft pick and a trio of smaller, but very athletic corners in Jonathan Jones, Cre’Von LeBlanc and V’Angelo Bentley as UDFAs. They’ll be competing with veteran E.J. Biggers and 2nd-year player Darryl Roberts who turned some heads in training camp before suffering a wrist injury and landing on IR in preseason a year ago.

If there is an issue with the corners this season other than overall experience it is size. Only Biggers and Roberts are 6’0 tall and neither are locks to make the roster. In a league dominated by the big men at WR, this could be an issue but the team made a concerted effort to get more athletic and all of the new corners have Special Teams capability as well.

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

Roster Locks: Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, Cyrus Jones
No big shocks here, and there is a big difference from a year ago. Butler was able to go from a walk-on, tryout basis to Super Bowl hero and now is a Pro Bowl cornerback. The funny thing is, he’d be the first to say that he still has a long way to go. So if he can continue to progress, he should be an extremely valuable piece for years to come.

Right now he is a bargain at his current cap hit. The Patriots can either decide to pay him with an extension quickly or hit him with a franchise tag to buy them more time with Hightower, Collins, and Sheard also on deck.

Ryan rebounded very well from an awful 2014 to play very solidly a year ago. His consistency could still stand to be better but it is safe to say that he far outperformed expectations in 2015. Ryan may get pushed this season by Jones who will at the very least compete for the slot corner duties. But I wouldn’t be shocked to see the rookie from Alabama in the starting lineup sooner rather than later.

Patriots top draft pick Cyrus Jones has gotten plenty of reps

Patriots top draft pick Cyrus Jones -photo by SBalestrieri/PatsFans.com

Jones has some of those qualities that teams covet in their corners. He’s physical and tough, and can play press man. He’s very confident and feisty and is an outstanding returner in the kicking game, returning four kicks for touchdowns in 2015.

He was also a good teammate who was highly thought of inside the locker room. The team is in very good shape with their top three corners. The only thing lacking is once again the size aspect.

On the Bubble: Justin Coleman, Darryl Roberts, E.J. Biggers, Jonathan Jones
Here is where the competition really begins to get interesting. The remaining six players are essentially fighting for two, possibly three roster spots. And the race is essentially wide open.

Coleman bounced around between Minnesota, Seattle, and the Patriots before winning a job a year ago. He appeared in 10 games and had six starts in 2015, playing solidly in the slot. Now he’s looking to take the next step in his second season with New England.

Roberts was a very athletic late 7th round draft pick a year ago. He ran a 4.38 time in the 40-yard dash, a 6.66 time in the 3-Cone Drill, a 39-inch Vertical Jump, an 11’1” leap in the Broad Jump and benched pressed 225 pounds 23 times. He impressed in the early going at training camp and earned the start in the 1st preseason game. He injured his wrist in that game and was lost for the season on IR.

Biggers is the elder statesman in terms of age at just 29. He’s spent time with the Redskins, Bucs and Eagles where he was a serviceable corner in 2015. He also can be a gunner on the STs. The Pats wanted to see what he could do early this spring and he saw lots of reps during OTAs and minicamp.

Jonathan Jones is an intriguing case because, although he’s listed at 5’10, that is being generous. He lacks the size that teams are looking for but he more than makes up for with his tenacity. Another exceptional athlete, Jones was once the National Hurdles champion. Of the undrafted corners, he looked very solid this spring and was arguably the best on the field. But once the pads come on, can he continue his solid play? He will bear close watching this summer. He’s a dark horse to make the roster but don’t write him off just yet.

Outside Looking in…. Longshots: Cre’Von LeBlanc, V’Angelo Bentley
LeBlanc and Bentley played well in the spring but are facing a numbers crunch more than anything else. They face an uphill battle to make the roster but will probably find their way onto the practice squad if they falter.

CB Cre'Von LeBlanc

CB Cre’Von LeBlanc- photo by SBalestrieri/PatsFans.com

LeBlanc impressed in the limited window that I watched him during minicamp. A smaller (5’9) corner but with an impressive build, he showed some nice footwork as he was able to mirror the larger WRs he was matched up against. He’s aggressive and physical and plays with an air of a young player who isn’t intimidated by the stage. He has kick return ability and was known as an effective blitzer in college.

Bentley comes from a military background, his mother served in Afghanistan which will resonate well with Bill Belichick. Something else that will reverberate is the Illinois grad is another STs return man, scoring on a kickoff, punt return, interception and fumble in college.

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

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

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

New England Patriots News 6-12, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
June 12, 2016 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are Sunday’s Patriots news 6-12 notes and what’s happening around the AFC East.

Hogan quietly building trust factor/chemistry with Brady:
The talk this week during minicamp was mainly centered around the Patriots new …and big tight end Martellus Bennett. And while the colorful Bennett was indeed impressive, equally impressive was the work being done by new WR Chris Hogan.

Hogan came over as a FA from the Bills this spring and without Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola available thus far this spring, he is stepping into the void extremely quickly. Thus far he’s taken on more of the Edelman role in the offense and is proving a quick learner of the Pats complicated route tree.

He’s spent time off to the side with Brady during OTAs and minicamp, working one-on-one with the QB and building up their own chemistry and timing. While he doesn’t have the short-area quickness of Edelman, Hogan does possess the better size and more straight line speed. It looks so far that he could seamlessly step into Brandon LaFell’s “X”-wide receiver slot once everyone is back to practice. And being able to get in this much work with Brady this early bodes well for the start of the season which starts in Arizona.

Hogan comes back and makes a nice catch in front of Biggers

Hogan comes back and makes a nice catch in front of Biggers

Like Father, Like Son… Steve Belichick Seamlessly Stepping in:
One of the most interesting if, understated scenes that played out during minicamp was watching new safeties coach Steve Belichick interact with his players. And his first impressions was that unsurprisingly, he’s lot like his father.

After one series, the younger Belichick called over all of his charges and they had an impromptu discussion over what had just transpired. Veterans Pat Chung and Devin McCourty were also actively involved in the five-plus minute conversation as the group discussion went on oblivious to the rest of what the team was doing.

In keeping with what the elder Belichick stressed all week, that it was “a teaching camp” the younger Belichick gets high marks for setting the season off on the right foot.

Tight End Michael Williams Tears ACL, is released:
Backup tight end Michael Williams tore his ACL during Wednesday’s practice and will need surgery, effectively ending his 2016 season. In a corresponding move the Patriots released him and if he clears waivers, then he will revert to IR.

Williams, 25, was acquired by the Patriots with Detroit in August of last year. The 6-foot-6, 304-pounder, originally entered the NFL as a 7th round draft pick (211th overall) by the Lions in the 2013 NFL Draft out of Alabama.

He played in 15 games with nine starts for the Pats last year catching three passes for 26 yards. This spring the converted tackle appeared to slim down some and was being used more in the passing game and had a couple of nice catches down the seams during minicamp prior to his injury.

With Williams lost for the year, that leaves Clay Harbor, A.J. Derby, Steve Scheu, and Bryce Williams fighting for backup spots to Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett.

Brown/Foster are looking to carve out roles at RB:
Going into the spring, one of the areas that were deemed ready for an upgrade was the running back position. The Patriots finished 30th in rushing in 2015 and their top two backs Dion Lewis and LaGarrette Blount ended up on IR.

But the Patriots eschewed on the prospects in the draft, instead, signing veteran Donald Brown and UDFA D.J. Foster from Arizona State. They’ll compete with veterans James White, Brandon Bolden (mainly an STs standout), Tyler Gaffney, as well as fullbacks James Develin and Joey Iosefa.

While still very early, both Brown and Foster have made strong cases for themselves. Brown has been able to carry the ball in the running game, provide good pass protection and be a capable receiver out of the backfield in his career. This week, he looked smooth sliding out of the backfield catching passes and his versatility may be called upon, especially if Blount isn’t ready to go.

Foster is an intriguing player who has that instant burst of acceleration off the snap and has very, quick feet in being able to plant and go in an instant. He also has the added versatility of being a special teams’ capable player, returning kicks which is an added bonus. Both of these players will bear watching once training camp begins.

Grugier-Hill Taking a Similar Path as King a Year Ago:
When the Patriots drafted Kamu Grugier-Hill in the 6th round of the NFL draft this season, one of the things that immediately drew attention to the undersized LB/S hybrid player was his athleticism and speed. We knew that he’d have to make a spot for himself via STs, similar to how Brandon King did last season.

At the time, King was considered a long shot to make the roster, but every day we’d watch STs Coach Joe Judge work with King one-on-one on different drills and we stated then, that the team had plans for King. Now we’re seeing the same thing with Grugier-Hill.

During minicamp we watched Grugier-Hill and King work on the side with coaches and long snapper Christian Yount on punt blocking drills. Later in camp, he worked with Pro Bowler Matthew Slater as a gunner. During Thursday’s session he showcased his speed on defense by knocking a pass away on one snap and later, breaking on a Jacoby Brissett pass, Grugier-Hill was able to pick off the pass. With the Patriots it always helps your cause if you can do a lot of things, versatility being the key.  Grugier-Hill is a player that has a lot of potential.

Kamu Grugier-Hill and Brandon King get some one-on-one time in STs drills

Kamu Grugier-Hill and Brandon King get some one-on-one time in STs drills

Cornerback Competition Likely to Heat up in July:
The Patriots entered the 2015 season with nothing but questions at the cornerback position. A year later they appear, on paper to be deep and talented if still unproven there. And if minicamp is any indication, then training camp promises to be even more fun to watch.

With Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan and top draft choice Cyrus Jones all roster locks, that leaves last season’s slot corner Justin Coleman, Darryl Roberts, free agent E.J. Biggers, and UDFAs V’Angelo Bentley, Jonathan Jones, and Cre’Von LeBlac fighting it out for the final two roster spots.

We watched this group closely during minicamp and each of them was making plays. Once the pads come on in about six weeks, it promises to be very entertaining to watch. And with Ryan out during this week’s practices, it increased the reps for everyone else to make some headway…and they all did.

East Bound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Dolphins Plan on Running Up Tempo Offense:
New Dolphins Head Coach Adam Gase and Offensive Coordinator Clyde Christensen plan on having the Dolphins offense running an up-tempo attack this season, including some time in the no-huddle.

“Just keep pushing the pace. It gives our quarterback some time at the line so all of them don’t get snapped with 22 seconds left on the clock,” Christensen told the Miami Herald. That’s not necessarily the intention. … One of the reasons we’re at the line of scrimmage is the tempo, for the conditioning, and for the advantage-based part of it where it looks like it’s going to be fast and then all of a sudden we can get into a play we want to get into.”

The Dolphins are already practicing it during OTAs and as one would expect it requires a lot of conditioning on the part of the players. With some improved weapons for QB Ryan Tannehill, this will be an interesting development to watch.

Jets Counting on Henderson, Mauldin at LB:
The J-E-T-S, Jets are facing replacing some veterans this season and it just isn’t at the QB position where the Ryan Fitzpatrick watch has continued to drag on. The team is also having to contend with the loss of long-time veteran Calvin Pace as well as Demario Davis at the linebacker position in 2016.

The team did sign veteran free agent Bruce Carter this spring but they’ll really be leaning on two younger players in Erin Henderson and Lorenzo Mauldin. The team gave Henderson a one-year deal in 2015 and despite a slow start by the end of the season, he was sharing reps with Davis. Mauldin was a rookie in 2015 and used as a sub-package pass rusher. He’s expected to take on a bigger role in 2016.

The team also drafted two intriguing prospects at linebacker in Darron Lee in the 1st round and Jordan Jenkins in the 3rd round of the 2016 NFL Draft. So it will be a new look for the Jets linebackers but promises to be an exciting group.

Former Bills’ QB Says Ryan Will Be Fired with No Playoffs:
Well, that didn’t take long… Rex Ryan is officially on the hot seat with the Buffalo Bills. Former QB Jim Kelly on the Jim Rome Show this week said that if the Bills don’t make it to the postseason, “I think Rex will probably be looking for another job,” Kelly said on Thursday. “I think everybody knows that, including Rex.”

The Bills currently own the dubious distinction of holding the longest playoff drought in the NFL, at 16 years and it has been 20 since Buffalo’s last playoff win for the football-crazed fans in upstate NY.

Bills owner Terry Pagula was on record this year stating the both Ryan and GM Doug Whalley have to make the playoffs this year.

As for the ever bombastic Ryan? He says he’s not worried. “The media looks at it [like], ‘Well, we have to win this year'” Rex Ryan said earlier this month. “Or what? Oh, I am going to be fired? I don’t think so. I’m not going to worry about it because we are going to win anyway. But it’s like, that is an ultimatum? No.”

 

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 5-29, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
May 29, 2016 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are Sunday’s Patriots news 5-29 notes and what’s happening around the AFC East.

Memorial Day Denotes Sacrifice: We wish all of our readers a happy and safe Memorial Day weekend. But at the same time take an opportunity to remember the countless Americans who’ve paid the price to keep our way of life intact.

Freedom isn’t free and it isn’t a right that everyone in the world is blessed with. Our freedoms to choose our own path were paid for by Patriots who paid the ultimate price. The New England Patriots are fortunate to have both a coach in Bill Belichick who spent his early life at the Naval Academy and a player in Joe Cardona who know and respect the commitment that goes with protecting those freedoms.

Balestrieri family WWII

Growing up in a military family that saw my father and his five brothers serve in combat in WWII, the appreciation was inbred at an early age. Growing up two of my favorite NFL players were Roger Staubach who after winning a Heisman, went to Vietnam and Pittsburgh Steelers’ running back Rocky Bleier who was wounded in the same conflict and was thought to have no chance of resuming an NFL career as a result. And of course, Pat Tillman who gave up a million-dollar NFL career and died in Afghanistan.

And today there are many Americans serving far from home in harms’ way that are still serving and protecting our freedom. To them we thank you.

“When you go Home, tell them of us and say, for your Tomorrow, we gave our Today” John Maxwell Edmonds 1916

Patriots Conduct OTAs, Let the Overreactions Begin:
With the Pats back on the field doing football-type stuff initially in 2016, it was an opportunity to see many of the players in a Patriots uniform for the first time.

And as frequently happens in the early going, a fair amount of overreaction occurs in regards to who is or isn’t present and who is making the big plays of the day. Many fans were upset at the high number of veterans who weren’t present at the only media portion of the week’s practices. But many could be explained away as being vets, perhaps they were given the final practice of the week off.

It’s important to remember the beat writers can only report on what they are seeing in front of them. But also remember this, it is still only May, and the players are in pads yet.

There are still a lot of practices to go before they even get to the pads of training camp and then plenty of work between July 27 and the first regular season game in Arizona. With that in mind….let’s take a look at who was starting quickly this spring.

Bennett wastes no time in working closely with Brady:
New tight end Martellus Bennett, signed this spring away from the Bears was, to no surprise a frequent target for Tom Brady in the Thursday’s practice. With Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola not present, it was Bennett who was getting frequent attention in the passing game with Brady.

As we pointed out early in the week about OTAs, the big thing to take away from the early work was building the rapport and “trust factor” with Brady. And right away, as soon as the team broke down into a special teams’ exercise, Brady and Bennett moved off to the side and began working on situational football. Later they were reportedly joined by TE Clay Harbor and FB/TE/HB James Develin.

That’s the big takeaway from the early work here. Bennett and Gronkowski who is already wired in tight with Brady will be his first reads in the red zone and the possibilities with the two are intriguing, to say the least.

Good Battle Brewing at Center with Stork/Andrews:
One of the more intriguing positional battles this year will be at center. Bryan Stork played well for the Patriots during the Super Bowl run but began 2015 on the IR-designated to return list. David Andrews, a UDFA center from Georgia, started the first nine games until Stork returned.

Now the two are seemingly locked in a tough positional battle heading into mini-camps and training camp. Stork is a versatile player that can play guard and even slid out to tackle during a pinch last season, while Andrews is strictly just a center. It should be an intriguing battle to watch.

Darryl Roberts Picks Up Where He Left Off:
After an impressive start to training camp last year where he earned the start in the team’s first preseason game, CB Darryl Roberts suffered a wrist injury that landed him on IR and he missed all of the 2015 regular season.

Roberts-breaks-up-pass-to-T

Now with all eyes on this year’s top draft choice Cyrus Jones, the 2nd year corner from Marshall is out to make people stand up and take notice again. With both Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan not present on Thursday, Roberts made the most of his opportunities, just like last year where he led the team with 10 passes defended in camp. Just don’t call these chances “first team reps”.

“I wouldn’t say really first-team reps. We don’t really have starters,” Roberts said to the media Thursday. “Everybody just out here having fun, flying around and competing, so with those guys not being here, I’m just trying to step up and try to help the team any way I can.”

“I’m just trying to come out here and grind and try to compete and get better each day,” Roberts added.

If last summer’s performance was any indication, he should be ready to compete for not only a roster spot but some playing time.

East Bound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Dolphins Parker Ready for Year 2 Jump/Misi Involved in Bar Fight:
After at times frustrating rookie season, Miami WR DeVante Parker seems poised to be the playmaker he was envisioned when the Fins drafted him in the first round of the draft. Miami’s prior regime seemed reluctant to cut the rookie loose and it wasn’t until after Rishard Matthews got injured that Parker was able to make an impression.

He finished with 26 catches for 494 yards and three touchdowns with 22 of his grabs coming in the final six weeks of the season. Now he’s ready for a bigger role and new coach Adam Gase and his QB thinks he’s going to produce.

“I expect big things out of him,” Ryan Tannehill said. “I expect him to be a heck of a football player — a guy that other teams fear because he can make big plays down the field and inside.

“He’s a big-bodied guy. He’s a guy that we’re going to want to use in the red zone and we’re going to want to use him on third downs and to stretch the field.”

In other news, Miami LB Koa Misi was involved in a bar fight where another man got knocked to the ground and needed medical attention. In a story from Ft. Lauderdale’s Local News 10, Misi apparently had words with a patron then rushed back to the entrance of the bar and assaulted a man, knocking him to the ground.

A police officer detailed to the establishment had his statement posted to the story and tried three times to bring Misi to the ground but he each time Misi was assisted by 10-15 members of his entourage (Cris Carter must surely approve). Eventually, Misi was released as the victim declined to press charges. Not a good look for the player or the team there.

Jets Offer to Fitz Reported $12 Million in Year 1:
While QB Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Jets haven’t yet come to terms with a contract for the 2016 season and beyond, it is now being reported that the two sides weren’t as far apart as previously reported.

ESPN’s Rich Cimini has reported that the Jets offer, originally thought to be around $8-million was in fact in the neighborhood of $12-million in Year 1 however, the exact amounts and the guaranteed amount of money haven’t been specified. So now the game has resorted to a he said-she said.

Fitzpatrick certainly has the backing of many of his teammates. Both Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall have stayed away from OTAs, Decker was openly stating that he was doing so to support the QB while Marshall’s reasoning, although technically not known was reported to be a show of support as well.

Rob Ryan Says Bills Will Beat the Patriots:
There are two Ryans in Buffalo this season, so the rhetoric is bound to be ratcheted up even more in 2016. So not surprisingly,  the first shot fired across the bow was not done by Rex, but by his brother Rob whom he hired to run the defense for the Bills.

“All the respect in the world for Bill Belichick. That was fantastic training, working for him for four years, and I learned a ton,” Rob Ryan said. “Look, he is the No. 1 nemesis of every coach in this league. So it’s not just Rex. Rob was an assistant coach with the Patriots from 2000-2004.

“But I know one thing, we are going to beat them. We are together, we’re going to beat the best. It’s two against one. Him one-on-one against any coach in the league, that guy is pretty damn good. And he’s also got his best buddy Tom Brady with him. He trained him, and he single-handedly made him great as well.”

Although Ryan-coached teams always play the Patriots as tough as any team, he’s still only 4-11 head-to-head against Bill Belichick. And the Bills are just 4-28 against Bill Belichick since he took over the reins in 2000. So while the results have been decidedly one-sided, the hype just increased quite a bit this season.

The first meeting between the two teams is slated for Week 4 at Gillette Stadium on October 2.

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.

Patriots Fourth And Two Podcast: OTA’s Begin For The Patriots

Russ Goldman
May 25, 2016 at 11:23 am ET

In this episode, we discussed the latest in Patriots news which included Kevin Faulk being inducted into the Patriots Hall Of Fame, along with the latest in regards to Tom Brady and DeflateGate. Later on, we discussed the article from Steve Balestrieri entitled ” The Five Things The Patriots OTA’s Should Feature”. We ended the show by answering your questions.

Five Things the Patriots OTAs Should Feature

Steve Balestrieri
May 24, 2016 at 8:42 am ET

 

While the Pats are early in the Team Building Phase, the work starts now

The Patriots are back to work on the field, for the first time in 2016. The individual offensive and defensive units are back to work this week.

Phase III of OTAs began yesterday and the team may hold up to 10 organized team activities as the team building exercise enters the next phase. OTAs are mainly passing camps without pads…unless you’re a member of the Ravens and there is only so much that can be garnered with the team in shorts and t-shirts.

But here are five things that we feel the team will want to accomplish this week. The media won’t get their first glimpse of the players on the field until Thursday, the week’s last practice session.

Who Steps Up at WR without Edelman and Amendola?
The two biggest weapons for Tom Brady will not be out there, so this is a great time to see who is getting the lion’s share of the early reps and who steps up. There is no shortage of subplots in this story line.

Will Aaron Dobson finally step up to the big stage and be able to stay healthy long enough to actually contribute? Or will he get injured again and fall by the wayside in what has to be his final audition at a roster spot.

Brady lets it fly

Rookies Malcolm Mitchell and Devin Lucien will be looking to show they actually belong and the passing camp in May is a nice way to show that the team was justified in giving them a shot.

Veterans Chris Hogan and Nate Washington will be looking to wrestle control of the “starting spots” early in camp as they want to immediately begin to build rapport with Brady. Both Keshawn Martin, and Chris Harper, with time in the system, have an advantage that the newcomers don’t possess yet and that is familiarity with the offense and Brady. Will it be enough?

Time for the Corners to Shine:
With no pads and no hitting, the onus will be on the cornerbacks to cover the WRs without the benefit of jamming them physically at the line. All three starters, Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan and Justin Coleman return but the latter two will be pushed hard this spring.

Veteran E.J. Biggers and last season’s camp standout Darryl Roberts will be looking to carve out early reps and top draft choice Cyrus Jones is sure to get plenty of early reps.

The team brought in a lot of smaller, athletic corners as UDFAs including Jonathan Jones, Cre’von LeBlanc, and V’Angelo Bentley. No one outside of Butler and Jones, courtesy of his draft position is guaranteed a roster spot, so the competition should be intense and fun to watch here.

Corners

How Does the Team Intend on Using the Plethora of Tight Ends:
While it is still early, we’ll get some idea of how the offense of Josh McDaniels plans on utilizing some very talented tight ends. The Patriots already possessed the most talented TE in the league with Rob Gronkowski but added in Martellus Bennett and Clay Harbor this spring.

Bennett is a huge target at 6’6, 273, and is just two years removed from a 90-catch season. He and Gronkowski have the ability to make themselves a potent 1-2 punch that will be sure to fill many a defensive coordinator with sleepless nights this season.

Add in the multi-faceted Harbor who will probably function as the “Move” tight end this season and the Patriots have three huge targets in the red zone that can attack the seams, find soft spots in zone coverages and create mismatches with size. This promises to be an intriguing group in 2016.

Who is the early pass-catcher out of the backfield?
With Dion Lewis out until at least training camp if not beyond, the eyes will be on the running back that can best function as a pass catcher this early. With the running game a non-entity due to no pads, the passing game will be obviously in focus.

James White has the most experience and should get the majority of early reps but his position is hardly secure. The team brought in veteran Donald Brown who is experienced and steady if unspectacular and he’s looking to carve out a role. He is a good pass blocker as well as a receiver and can carry the ball a bit as well.

The wild card here is UDFA D.J. Foster. He’s an electrifying player out of the backfield and is very good in space. It will be interesting to see if he can begin to carve out a small role for himself.

Alignment for the Big Heavies:
While not much at all can be learned from the play in the trenches with no pads on, one can forget trying to make sense of who is playing well at the OL and DL positions. While their position exercises will be an area to watch, where one can evaluate their movement, that is about all one can do until the work begins in earnest in training camp.

But we can possibly get some insight as to how the team envisions using the big men by watching the personnel groupings and formations early this spring. As with any year in OTAs, the looks will mainly be vanilla with little exotic looks but it is a start.

We’ll be intrigued to see if the team throws Joe Thuney right into the mix at guard where the team is deep with numbers but not necessarily talent. Will both starting tackles Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer be on the field this week?

While there is nothing overly dramatic about the first week of OTAs, it is a building block to more things to come. Bill Belichick is sure to state much the same thing as the team takes the field for the first time in 2016.

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.

Don’t Go to Sleep This Spring on Patriots CB Darryl Roberts

Steve Balestrieri
May 10, 2016 at 8:53 am ET

Still an Unproven Quantity at CB, 2nd Year Player Has Plenty of Upside

The Patriots drafted Alabama cornerback Cyrus Jones with their first pick in the 2016 NFL Draft with the 60th overall pick. Jones is expected to immediately contend for slot corner duties immediately with a chance at moving outside later. Another player who can possibly vie for starting reps outside in 2016 is 2nd-year corner Darryl Roberts.

Roberts was drafted by the Patriots with a 7th round draft pick (247th overall), out of Marshall last season. An incredibly gifted athlete, he had a big performance at Marshall’s Pro Day running a 4.38-second 40-yard dash with a 6.66-second time in the 3-Cone Drill, a 4.06-second short shuttle, a 39-inch vertical leap, and an 11’1”-inch broad jump. He also benched 225 pounds 23 times.

He’s the tallest of the Patriots corners currently on the roster, just topping out at 6’0 and 190 pounds. Roberts is a tough, physical corner with long arms that he uses aggressively in press coverage. He has outstanding change of direction skills and has the speed to mirror receivers downfield as well as recover when the ball is in the air.

With the huge turnover at the position last season, the competition was essentially wide open entering training camp. Roberts was tossed right into the mix, getting essentially first team reps against Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola early in training camp. The results were about what one would expect.

Coming from a small school, Roberts wasn’t prepared for the quickness off the line of the Patriots shifty receivers. He was playing too high in his backpedal and wasn’t able to get a good jam at the line. As a result, for the first couple of days, he was getting beat regularly.
Roberts-Edelman
Roberts-Amendola

But the light quickly came on and Roberts began to improve markedly as camp wound along.  His coverage got tighter, his physicality improved and he began making more and more plays as the days passed. Was he rising ala Malcolm Butler in 2014? No, not quite. But his level of play had increased to the point of being noticeably better.


Darryl Roberts came on strong during 2015’s training camp before landing on IR. (SBalestrieri/PatsFans.com image)

One day during the dog days of August, he broke up four passes in the training session, one of which was intercepted. He earned the start in the Patriots first preseason game of the year against the Green Bay Packers and it was in this game that his season came to a halt.

In trying to tackle the Packers Eddie Lacy, Roberts badly dislocated his wrist. The recovery time for that injury is about 8 weeks but the Patriots made the decision to place him on season-ending IR. He was fully healed by the time the season ended.

Now with a clean bill of health, Roberts should have no issues with once again competing for a spot on the roster and possibly for some starting reps. Unlike Jones who can play inside or out, Roberts is ideally a fit for the perimeter. There, his length, athleticism, and physicality can impact the play, giving the Patriots another option at covering opponents’ wide receivers.

He joins a crowded group of ten corners this spring including, Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, Cyrus Jones, Justin Coleman, E.J. Biggers, Brock Vereen, Cre’Von LeBlanc, V’Angelo Bentley, Jonathan Jones.

But with Logan Ryan being an unrestricted free agent in 2017, the Patriots will be looking within to see if there is a player currently on the roster that can step up and play on the outside. Jones is one of those guys but for now, he’ll compete with Justin Coleman for reps in the slot. Roberts should vie with Biggers initially for reps backing up the starters outside in Butler and Ryan.

If last season is any indication, he may indeed by ready for a bigger slice of the pie. He also has special teams’ capability with his speed and athleticism, something that the Patriots always covet in their players.

While all eyes will be focused on Jones this summer and rightfully so, don’t be surprised if Roberts, the 7th round pick from last season starts to turn heads again once the players hit the field.

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.

Competition at CB for the Patriots Will Be Intense

Steve Balestrieri
May 4, 2016 at 6:39 am ET

Pats have brought in several new faces to compete at corner

Yesterday we wrote about the WR position and how the OTAs, Mini-camp and Training Camp battles should be intense. The same should be true about the cornerback position. Between the draft and signing UDFAs, the Patriots have added four new faces at corner and should be looking at some great competition this summer.

Top draft pick Cyrus Jones from Alabama, taken in the 2nd round of the draft with the #60 overall pick will naturally get a lot of attention this summer and with just cause. He should immediately vie for reps and can play either inside or outside.

A converted WR, Jones is slightly undersized at 5’10, but is physical, strong and has been improving in his coverage every year. He’s can mirror wide receivers down the field and is very active in run support. Jones is a dynamic punt returner with 4 returns for TDs in 2015. He ran a 4.49 in the 40-yard dash and an outstanding 6.71 in the all-important 3-Cone Drill.

Cyrus Jones2

The Patriots also added three other corners, the theme being they’re being undersized but very athletic. They included Jonathan Jones from Auburn, V’Angelo Bentley from Illinois and Cre’Von Leblanc from Florida Atlantic. Bentley and Leblanc like Cyrus Jones have experience running back kickoffs and Jonathan Jones was a nationally ranked track star.

Jones was an All-SEC Selection in 2014 and ran a blistering 4.33 in the 40 at the NFL Combine as well as a 7.25-second three-cone, 36-inch vertical leap, and 123-inch broad jump. Strong for his size, he did 19 reps on the bench press.

He notched 129 tackles, seven interceptions, with 24 passes defended over his Tigers career. We ran a draft profile on him earlier during the draft process on his being a fit for the Patriots.

Bentley is another corner who isn’t the biggest guy at 5’10, 190 pounds, but he provided good production with 54 tackles, three TFL, sack, 743 kick/punt return yards last season. He was the only player in school history to score on a kick return, punt return, interception, and a fumble.

Leblanc is the third smaller but physical and athletic corner that the Patriots brought in as a UDFA. He too has special teams’ expertise, returning 29 kickoffs for 556 yards in his career.

While only 5’9, 194-pounds, he’s a stocky, muscular defender who was known for his versatility as a cover man/run stopper/blitzer. He doesn’t have great top-end speed (4.65 time in the 40) but did run a 6.91 in the 3-Cone.

These new faces will have the daunting task of unseating the veterans and three returning starters from last season in Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan and Justin Coleman in the slot. Butler will be a restricted free agent after the 2016 season, but isn’t going anywhere. Ryan is an unrestricted free agent after this year and as is the norm, you can’t keep everyone, so one of these young players may be vying for his spot.

The team also has recently signed E.J. Biggers a veteran backup and last season’s 7th round draft in Darryl Roberts. Roberts is an intriguing player who turned heads at last season’s training camp and earned the start for the team’s first preseason game, before injuring his wrist and being placed on IR.


Darryl Roberts looks to compete for starting reps in 2016. (SBalestrieri image)

Roberts too brings some very gifted athleticism to the table. He ran a 4.38-second 40-yard dash with a 6.66-second 3-cone, a 4.06-second short shuttle, with a 39-inch vertical leap, 23 reps on the bench press and an 11’1 broad jump at his Pro Day last year.

Unlike the rest of the league who are all trending to the bigger more physical corners, the Patriots are content with taking the slightly smaller, more athletic ones. Roberts and Biggers are the only corners at 6’0. Butler, Ryan and Coleman are listed at 5’11 and the rookie class is all under that.

It will be interesting to see who rises above the pack to nail down reps early this summer. While Cyrus Jones will be looked to push immediately for reps, Roberts and Coleman will have something to say about that.

With the old adage that you can never have enough good corners, the Patriots seem to be in that position this season. After entering 2015 with a ton of questions at the position, now they have three starters returning…something that hasn’t happened in recent memory with several talented youngsters waiting in the wings vying to compete.

The corner position will definitely be an intriguing one to watch this summer.

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.