Tag Archives: David Harris

David Harris Announces Retirement From NFL

Robert Alvarez
February 23, 2018 at 11:55 pm ET

After 11 seasons in the NFL, New England Patriots linebacker David Harris announced his retirement on Friday afternoon.

Harris’ released the following statement through his agent on Twitter at Sportstars;

Harris’ best seasons came with the rival New York Jets, with whom he played his first 10 seasons and averaged 4 sacks to 70 tackles from 2007-2016, he most notably recorded an interception against Tom Brady in the 2010 Divisional Round upset victory.

In 10 games with the Patriots in 2017, Harris recorded 22 tackles with 1.5 sacks and a pass deflection, but was inactive for all three playoff games.

Teammate Kyle Van Noy shared some congratulatory Tweets to Harris following the news.

New England Patriots Possible Cap Casualties in 2018

Steve Balestrieri
February 15, 2018 at 8:00 am ET

We’ve been posting our free agent profiles for the Patriots in the offseason of 2018 as we’re trying to come to grips who will return and who won’t. This post will look at who may not return this year.

It is interesting to note via our friend Miguel @Patscap, that the Patriots have just about $13 million dollars (13.14 to be exact) to work within the salary cap this spring. That isn’t nearly enough. So what do they do? Well for starters, they’ll approach a few players to re-do their contracts and convert some of that money into signing bonuses so that it eases up some of their cap hits on the team this season.

But they’ll also be looking to cut their ties with some players or ask them to take significant pay cuts if they want to return. In no particular order here are some Patriots players who may get released in a salary cap scenario.  

TE Martellus Bennett: Bennett carries the biggest cap hit of all of the players listed here. After he signed with Green Bay last offseason, he was suffering from a shoulder injury that required surgery and Bennett was at peace with the decision and planned on announcing his retirement.

But the Patriots called and he returned to New England where he performed very well in 2016 and was instrumental in helping the Patriots win Super Bowl LI. But soon after he hurt his hamstring and was placed on IR after just a few weeks with the Pats.

Bennett may take all the guesswork out of the equation and decide to retire. If he does not, then the Patriots can ask him to take a big pay cut or just release him. If he’s released, that will save the team, $6.1 million dollars in the salary cap.

TE Dwayne Allen: Allen came over to the team after Bennett left last year in free agency. Allen was a very good blocker, which has always been his strength but really struggled in the passing game. It wasn’t a lack of effort that slowed him but he was really laboring out there in the passing game.

His struggles were so great that it was the reason the Patriots brought back Bennett late in the year, to begin with. With Gronk healthy last year, that limited his targets but even when the big man was out, he barely registered in the passing game.

Could the team bring him back in 2018? Absolutely. But at $5,000,000? That is really doubtful. This could be a scenario where the team just decides to move in another direction and cut their ties with him. That would be another $5,000,000 in savings.

DT Alan Branch: My, oh my what a difference a year makes. Branch, since coming to New England has played some of the best football of his career. Fresh off of the win in Super Bowl LI, he was given a two-year deal and it was hoped that he’d live out that contract and give the team that immovable object inside that he’s done so well.

But when big men, such as Branch go, their game goes really quickly. Branch started the season slowly, which wasn’t unusual but he never caught on to where he was in the past. When he did play this season, he was often a shell of his former self. Granted he was dinged up for a good part of 2017, but at 33, his best days are probably behind him.

Branch was a healthy scratch for this season’s Super Bowl along with Malcolm Butler, how crazy is that after the big roles each has played. Cutting Branch would save the team $3.55 million, this move is sadly, going to happen.

LB Shea McClellin: I liked what McClellin brought to the table in 2016, he could do a little bit of everything. He could rush the passer, cover in the secondary and act as a middle linebacker and support the run when needed. His versatility was such that they asked to do several things and he did them well.

But he suffered a concussion, a pretty severe one in training camp and was placed on IR at the beginning of the season. The team brought him back midway thru the year and while practicing during his 3-week return window, he suffered a setback and was lost for the year with yet another concussion.

With a lack of pass rushers, the Patriots could opt to let him come back and work his way back into the lineup. But long-term health concerns for the player trump the team’s needs. They should just encourage McClellin to get on with retirement and enjoy life. If they cut McClellin, they’d save. $2.1 million in cap space.

LB David Harris: Harris was released by the Jets and the Patriots scooped him up last year. Harris was the consummate professional and approached every day like he was the starter and worked hard.  But he obviously lost more than a step and couldn’t keep up with the flow of the game any longer.

Harris played very sparingly (180 snaps) for the season while appearing in 10 games. With the lack of depth at linebacker, that had to be crushing for the proud veteran. He only appeared against run-heavy teams on early downs but did show he still brought a pop in the trenches.

But his lack of speed was the reason he too was a healthy scratch for the Super Bowl. If Harris is cut, the savings for the team will count $2.1 million against the salary cap.

RB Mike Gillislee: Gillislee came over from the Buffalo Bills last season and began the season as the Patriots’ lead back. While most look upon his year as a bust, it didn’t have to do with his success as a runner as much as it did his lack of skills in the passing game. Once the team decided to go with Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead, Gillislee was pushed into being a healthy scratch.

Lewis and Burkhead gave the team the run/pass option whereas Gillislee was basically a threat just to run so the coaches decided on a switch. And the offense was much more difficult to stop. Cutting Gillislee would save the team $2.1 million in salary cap savings.

But both Lewis, Burkhead and backup Brandon Bolden are all free agents. That leaves Gillislee and James White as the only pure running backs on the roster. They could opt to hold onto him for that reason. Or they could cut him and use the saved money to bring back Lewis or Burkhead.

These cap savings would push the Patriots up to the $30,000,000 dollar salary cap cushion, due to the Top 51 players rule in the salary cap. But that scenario is a much better one than say $13.14 million.

And of course, for every player cut, another has to be there to take his place. Two young players who we saw very little a year ago are top draft choice Derek Rivers and UDFA Harvey Langi. It will be interesting to see if they can carve out a role for themselves this year in camp. We’ll have more on them and others in the upcoming weeks.

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.

McClellin Setback Another Big Blow for the Patriots Defense

Steve Balestrieri
November 8, 2017 at 6:03 am ET

The news wasn’t good for the Patriots on Tuesday as they learned that LB Shea McClellin, who had been on IR since the end of preseason, had suffered a setback in his return and now he too will be likely lost for the season.

The Patriots linebacking core is already dealing with the loss of Dont’a Hightower and this one could be more damaging than meets the eye. Hightower’s loss meant that the Patriots lost an edge rusher as well as a linebacker who can stuff the run inside and be used in a coverage role. McClellin, who was brought over to New England in 2016 as a free agent can also perform all three of those roles, albeit not as well as Hightower but his versatility is what sets him apart.

The Patriots didn’t address the linebacker position at the end of the trading deadline possibly because they were expecting to get McClellin back this week. It was hoped that he’d be back in uniform this week in Denver. Now that possibility is dashed and he’ll probably not play at all this season.

Shea McClellin’s 2017 season may be over before it ever began. (SBalestrieri photo)

McClellin was placed on IR in what has now been reported as a concussion. He’s had a history of those prior to coming to New England. And once he was eligible to return to practice on October 18, he did which automatically began the 21-day window in which the Patriots had to either activate him, place him on season-ending IR or release him.

McClellin’s 21-day window ended on Tuesday at 4 p.m. If the Patriots wish to keep him on the active roster, they’d have to make a corresponding move and release another player off of the active roster.

Teams are allowed to make two such moves with players on IR each season. Since McClellin had already begun practicing, he counts as one. The added bad news is that now means that either DL Vincent Valentine or WR Malcolm Mitchell will likely be reverted to season-ending IR soon.

Neither one has begun practicing yet. It has been reported that Mitchell has begun running again but it also means that he isn’t close to returning anytime soon. Valentine’s chances may have taken a hit since the team signed DL Ricky Jean Francois on Tuesday. Francois is a two-gap run stuffer and he may see action in Denver with DL Malcom Brown likely out with an ankle injury.  

McClellin’s injury leaves the team thin again depth wise. Kyle Van Noy was moved outside as an edge rushing option more with Hightower gone. That leaves Elandon Roberts and veteran David Harris as interior run stuffers but neither one is considered viable in a coverage role.

Other players such as Trevor Reilly and Marquis Flowers are considered more Special Teams players than as linebackers. Reilly has the size and athleticism to potentially be used more in an edge role. While Flowers has speed and athleticism to be used in a coverage role. But since neither has played yet this season in either of those scenarios, it wouldn’t be expected that they’d contribute there now.

The Patriots defense has already been dealing with not only the Hightower injury but the absence of cornerbacks Eric Rowe and Stephon Gilmore. Now with Malcom Brown out with an injury, it really depletes a unit that has been struggling to find its 2016 form. With five of their next six games on the road, after traveling to Denver and Mexico City to face the Raiders, the team returns home for one week before going on the road to Buffalo, Miami and Pittsburgh, the defense is going to be facing some challenges.

So who is the “next man up” in the linebacking role? In the pass coverage realm expect to see more Pat Chung or Jordan Richards as the “Big Nickel” safety/LB role close to the line of scrimmage. Cassius Marsh who has played in about 50 percent of the snaps will probably see an uptick in work as a pass rusher, although he could do a better job of setting the edge more consistently.

It now opens the door for a potential reunion with OLB Akeem Ayers who spent the 2014 Super Bowl season with the Patriots after being picked up as a midseason trade addition. The 28-year old is currently a free agent and was in Foxboro for a workout in September. Many will remember he posted a cryptic tweet after Dont’a Hightower was injured against Atlanta. Now he could be getting a phone call as the depth at linebacker took another hit.

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 Make No More Moves at the Trade Deadline, What About the Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
November 2, 2017 at 10:52 am ET

With the trade of Jimmy Garoppolo, many people assumed that the Patriots would make another move bolster their edge rushing capability, either using that early 2nd round draft pick which is essentially a late first rounder to trade for an impact player or to use other trade capital to pick up another depth guy who could impact the pass rush.

But as the old saying goes, “It takes two to Tango” and one has to wonder if anyone out there was willing to help Bill Belichick and New England unless getting an exorbitant return.

But now the trading deadline is over and the question remains, what do they do about getting the pass rush up to an acceptable level. While it hasn’t been completely awful, it hasn’t blown anyone away either. The team obviously felt like they were in a good enough position that even with Chris Long and Jabaal Sheard leaving, that they’d be fine. Trey Flowers who came on strong late last season and Rob Ninkovich, the aging but still productive defensive end, gave them a good place to start. They drafted two young kids in top draft choice Derek Rivers and Deatrich Wise. They brought in Kony Ealy, from the Carolina Panthers who they hoped would be a productive player from the inside. And they still had linebackers Dont’a Hightower, Shea McClellin and Kyle Van Noy, all of whom had shown the ability the blitz either off the edge or up the A-gap.

But things haven’t worked out smoothly, Ninkovich retired in training camp, leaving a big hole of experience. Ealy couldn’t or wouldn’t adapt to the Patriots system and was released. The light was just beginning to come on a little bit for Rivers during camp when he was injured and placed on IR. McClellin was injured and placed on IR, but with the chance to return later this season. And the worst of all possible scenarios, Hightower, their leader and best player on the front seven, the captain who called the signals and the guy they could least afford to lose was injured against the Falcons and lost for the season with a torn pectoral muscle. What now?

Forced to Look Within: With a dearth of trading partners, the team now has to fill their needs from players that are already on the roster. Trey Flowers is already playing nearly all of the snaps defensively and asking him to do more is frankly not possible. However, if other players show the ability to step up, it would no doubt boost his productivity.

The team brought over Cassius Marsh from the Seahawks. He was known as primarily as a Special Teams guy there but was a guy, the other members of the defense raved about as an ascending player. He plays with a non-stop motor and is an excellent STs guy but is still learning the defense here. He’s not set the edge consistently and has lost containment on a few occasions. That happens with players that lack consistent playing time. But Defensive Coordinator Matt Patricia and DL coach Brendan Daly will work with him on maintaining his edge responsibilities and he will be given plenty of chances to play himself into a bigger role.

Rookie Deatrich Wise and UDFA Adam Butler have both flashed at times. Wise too needs to maintain his edge responsibilities but they’ve both shown upside. Butler has interior pass rush potential. With Hightower down, the team moved Van Noy back to a more comfortable place with him on the outside now. David Harris who had been almost a ghost in the first six weeks of the season is sharing the inside linebacker role with Elandon Roberts.

Van Noy now calls the signals and wears the green dot for the receiving the calls from the sidelines. He can also chip in with pressure off the edge. The good news is that McClellin is back to practice and is eligible to return against the Broncos. He can do a bit of everything. Drop into coverage, rush the quarterback off the edge, and .play inside support in the running game. I foresee him doing more of the first two than the latter.

The much-maligned depth at the linebacking spot is actually looking pretty good once McClellin returns to the field. However, they can’t afford any more injuries there.

But with no trade help forthcoming at the deadline, the Patriots are going to need either one of the above-mentioned players to step up or have another role player take on added responsibility.

They have the week off with the bye and now is the time for the coaches to do some experimenting and possibly moving players around to shift the responsibilities around and see who can possibly step from the shadows to help the pass rush.

Could other Special Teams’ players such as Marquis Flowers or Trevor Reilly step up and play a bigger role? It is a possibility and don’t be surprised if the coaches put them out there to see if they can make the leap into a bigger part of the defense.

But now more than ever, they’ll have to use that Patriots mantra “Next Man Up”  

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.

Final New England Patriots 53-Man Roster Projection 4.0

Steve Balestrieri
August 28, 2017 at 6:30 am ET

As we’ve been saying all summer, the New England Patriots will have many difficult decisions to make when the final 53-man cut down is due after the Giants game. The hour glass is running out and if players are going to make a move, they have a week remaining to convince the coaches that they’re worth keeping.

With some serious injuries to Derek Rivers and Julian Edelman, that will open up two spots that we had as locks. Ditto for the release of Kony Ealy. So, despite that, we can expect that the Patriots initial 53-man roster will change rather quickly as they’ll probably pick up a player or two via the waiver wire. I wouldn’t rule out a trade for an edge player either as they are really thin there right now.

With that in mind, we’ll take our final crack at the roster here on Sunday night with time to digest and re-watch the Lions game.

First up is the offense…

QUARTERBACK (3): Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett

Out: None
New England has traditionally kept two QBs on their roster. Last year they kept three because of the crazy Brady suspension. I didn’t expect Brissett to push Garoppolo for the #2 slot this season, but his play has been really disappointing. He holds the ball far too long and his arm, though cannon-like has the accuracy of an old smooth-bore musket and not where it should be.

But I just don’t see them cutting bait with Brissett yet. Is it possible? You betcha, but not this year. I think they will stick with three but Brissett isn’t a lock by any means.

RUNNING BACK (5): James White, Mike Gillislee, Rex Burkhead, Dion Lewis, James Develin

Out: D.J. Foster, Brandon Bolden, Glenn Gronkowski, LeShun Daniels
No changes here, I really wanted to find a way to keep both Foster and Bolden. Foster is going to be on a roster somewhere on Opening Weekend. If it isn’t here, it will be somewhere else. I thought of keeping only two TEs and utilizing him in an RB/Slot receiver mode where Devlin and an extra tackle can help in the blocking. And they still may do that.

Bolden is a superb STs performer but with Gillislee back and looking healthy, I don’t see how they keep him without cutting from somewhere else.

TIGHT END (3): Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, James O’Shaughnessy

Out: Matt Lengel, Sam Cotton, Jacob Hollister
While he’s played well the past few weeks, O’Shaughnessy’s slot is still tenuous at best. He’s a better blocker but not as good as a receiver as Hollister. The UDFA rookie from Wyoming had a big game against Jax and then was barely used after that. It is obvious the team likes O’Shaughnessy and wants to keep him. Lengel, who is banged up didn’t show enough to warrant keeping him around.

WIDE RECEIVER (5): Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, Danny Amendola, Austin Carr

Out: Julian Edelman (IR), Matthew Slater (IR), Devin Lucien, Cody Hollister, Tony Washington, K.J. Maye
Julian Edelman’s injury opens the door for the Patriots to keep Austin Carr, who to me has just barely edged out Devin Lucien for the final spot at the position. Both Edelman and Slater go to IR, Slater will return later this season, which will make for another interesting decision. The top four are locks and will be needed to step up a bit more.

INTERIOR OFFENSIVE LINE (4): David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Joe Thuney, Ted Karras
Out: Jason King, James Ferentz, Chase Farris

No changes here. Center David Andrews and guards Mason and Thuney were all starters last year, are locked and have played well this summer. Karras gets the nod over Ferentz who will be a primary practice squad candidate

OFFENSIVE TACKLE (4):  Nate Solder, Antonio Garcia, Marcus Cannon, Cameron Fleming

Out: LaAdrian Waddle, Conor McDermott, Cole Croston, Max Rich, Andrew Jelks (IR)
The good news is that Nate Solder is back at practice and although he didn’t make the trip to Detroit, he should be ready for the Chiefs game on Opening Night. Garcia has been banged up, does his injury preclude him from making the roster and going on IR? That may open the door a crack for Conor McDermott or LaAdrian Waddle (also banged up) to step in. But it appears that Solder, Cannon, and Fleming are locked in right now.

Next up in the defense.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE (5): Alan Branch, Malcom Brown, Lawrence Guy, Vincent Valentine, Adam Butler

Out: Woodrow Hamilton, Darius Kilgo, Josh Augusta,
With the lack of enough edge players and the release of Kony Ealy, this opens the door for another player to step up inside and that is Adam Butler who has had a very solid camp. He’s shown the ability to penetrate inside and disrupt things in the running game. Branch, Brown, and Lawrence Guy are locked. Guy had a solid camp and with Butler, the team may opt for more of a 3-4 look with the bigger bodies inside.

Hamilton, Kilgo, and Augusta played well this summer and are victims of numbers more than anything else.

EDGE RUSHER (3): Trey Flowers, Deatrich Wise, Geneo Grissom,

Out: Derek Rivers (IR), Caleb Kidder, Keionta Davis
Ealy was released early…which means that he was in no way in their plans for 2017 after an up and down training camp. Depth has become a serious issue here. Wise will be looked to now, to provide the pressure with Trey Flowers. Grissom right now is my 53rd player on the roster. He could be replaced somewhere else but sticks around for his STs play. But he’s been virtually invisible on defense and that isn’t a good sign.

Look for the linebackers to provide help in this realm. Dont’a Hightower, Van Noy, and Langi will all be utilized as edge rushers as well. This is an area they may cherry pick off of the waiver wire and/or swing a trade. I think Davis will go to the practice squad and possibly play a factor down the road sometime in the future.

LINEBACKER (6): Dont’a Hightower, David Harris, Kyle Van Noy, Shea McClellin, Harvey Langi, Trevor Bates

Out: Elandon Roberts (IR), Jonathan Freeny, Brooks Ellis
I had the team keeping just five linebackers all summer but with the dearth of edge players, they keep an extra LB and those guys will help out on the edge as well. David Harris is an early-down inside run stuffer who is a liability in coverage (see Roberts). But the difference is, he’s a guy who is an established, smart veteran and will be rarely out of position. Hightower is a guy who can play inside or on the edge as a rusher, as well as Van Noy.

Langi and Bates, the last addition to the linebacking crew both had a good summer and training camp. Langi was a bit overaggressive at times as a pass rusher, but he’ll learn to temper those tendencies. Bates noses out Belichick favorite and STs standout Freeny and Roberts goes to IR.

CORNERBACK (6): Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler, Eric Rowe, Jonathan Jones, Kenny Moore, Cyrus Jones

Out: Justin Coleman, DJ Killings, William Likely
The top four are locked and ready for the season. Gilmore had, in my opinion, a terrific summer. He’s adapted extremely well to the Patriots system and should be an outstanding addition. He and Butler promise to be a dynamic pair of corners on the edge. Rowe and Jonathan Jones have split the nickel corner duties and will continue to do so, depending on the matchups. Both played well this summer. Kenny More displayed a nose for the ball all summer and just beats out the veteran Justin Coleman. Cyrus Jones, for now, is a corner in name only. He’s the primary Kick returner but the team may ultimately decide to go with Dion Lewis/Amendola, in which case he’d be expendable.

SAFETY (5): Patrick Chung, Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, Brandon King, Nate Ebner

Out:  Jordan Richards, David Jones, Damarius Travis, Jason Thompson
The top three of Chung, McCourty, and Harmon have been solid and are locked. The team has depth for those two with Nate Ebner and Brandon King who are mainly special teamers, neither of whom plays much defense although Ebner has played in spots in the past.

Jordan Richards is a favorite of Belichick and the team is trying every way of keeping him around. They switched him to the linebacker position in the “Big Nickel” look, the Pat Chung role and he was as inconsistent as he’s been elsewhere. Too slow, too stiff with a penchant for taking bad angles. Jones was hurt all summer, Travis played well in spots. Both may be candidates for the practice squad.

SPECIAL TEAMS (3): Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen, Joe Cardona,

Out: None
A good solid group who have had a good camp thus far. Gostkowski still seems to have a mental block for extra points. But is solid on his field goal attempts and his kickoffs which are outstanding at getting the team great field position on defense. Allen has had a very strong camp. We haven’t mentioned Cardona much at all….which tells you his snaps have been right on the money.

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.

VIDEO: @FitzyGFY Presents “P.A.T.S.”

Robert Alvarez
August 22, 2017 at 11:17 pm ET

New England Patriots superfan Fitzy recaps the teams offseason acquisitions in the most informative way possible, through a parody video based upon a really bad 1980’s cartoon show entitled “M.A.S.K.”

As stated on his website townienews.com “If you love the New England Patriots and 1980s cartoons then you’ll love this retro mashup.”

Also be sure to check out Fitzy’s new Facebook Live football talk show with Mike Dussault of Pats Propaganda, the first episode of which can be found HERE.

Patriots 53-Man Roster Projection 2.0 – After Week 1 of Camp

Steve Balestrieri
August 3, 2017 at 6:30 am ET

The New England Patriots will have many difficult decisions to make at the end of training camp this summer. They enter the 2017 season fresh off a Super Bowl win and have re-tooled their roster to an even more dangerous (on paper) group that was victorious in February.

They seem to have more than made up for the players that they’ve lost in free agency and appear poised for another deep playoff run in 2017. Bill Belichick went against the grain once again and traded most of his draft picks in what was considered a very deep draft and came away with a slew of established veterans.

The team only drafted four players in April with two each from the offensive and defensive lines, but even those are with an eye to 2018 as this team appears loaded. First up are the key players lost and then the ones added.

Key Players Lost:
TE Martellus Bennett
DE Jabaal Sheard
DE Chris Long
RB LeGarrette Blount
CB Logan Ryan
LB/ST Barkevious Mingo
WR Michael Floyd
RT Sebastian Vollmer (injured/retired)
Andrew Hawkins (retired during training camp)
*DE Rob Ninkovich
(retired during training camp)

Key Players Added:
LB Dont’a Hightower (re-signed)
DL Alan Branch (re-signed)
S Duron Harmon (re-signed)
FB James Develin (re-signed)
RB/ST Brandon Bolden (re-signed)
CB Stephon Gilmore
DL Kony Ealy
DL Lawrence Guy
WR Brandin Cooks
TE Dwayne Allen
TE James O’Shaughnessy
RB Mike Gillislee
RB Rex Burkhead
WR Andrew Hawkins
LB David Harris

This doesn’t take into account their four draft picks and the UDFAs that they’ve signed thus far. While the inevitable injuries will occur, as its part of the game, the team seems in very good shape to handle whatever gets thrown at them in 2017. Our first attempt at an early roster projection was done on July 1 prior to training camp. We’ll highlight any changes we make from our earlier version.

First up is the offense…

QUARTERBACK (3): Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett

Out: None
New England has an embarrassment of riches at the position. They have three QBs that have started and won games for the team. Garoppolo was the guy everyone had being traded this spring but they held on to him … at least for this season. And can we please cease and desist with the “is Jimmy G injury prone?” talk? He has proven he can take over the team in a pinch and he’ll be watched closely this summer to see where his progression is at.

Neither Garoppolo nor Brissett has really shined in the first week of camp. Both have struggled at times and both have thrown a lot of interceptions. Brady has been Brady. The incessant, inane talk of him “falling off a cliff” this year is ridiculous. We’ve been hearing that for 5-6 years. So, keep it up, and one year the writers who spout that stuff off will finally get it right and take victory laps. But for now, he’s as sharp as ever.

RUNNING BACK (5): James White, Mike Gillislee, Rex Burkhead, Dion Lewis, James Develin

Out: D.J. Foster, Brandon Bolden, Glenn Gronkowski, LeShun Daniels
I was a big fan of the additions of Burkhead and Gillislee this spring. Now, I’m an even bigger fan of these moves. I love the versatility that Burkhead brings to the table. One issue the offense had a year ago, depending on who was on the field, opponents could tell if the play was run or pass. With him and a healthy Dion Lewis? That has changed.

Burkhead can run the ball between the tackles and in the passing game, will find those sweet spots in the flat when Brady spreads the field. Gillislee has shown that the power running game will look a bit different this year, but may be better. He hits the hole quick and he’s a faster, one-cut runner.

James White hauls in a pass. (SBalestrieri photo)

Foster is still the tough cut here. He’s getting a lot of work with the backups but is a very competent receiver with speed and quickness out of the backfield. Strictly a case of numbers for Brandon Bolden who is a core STs player. Daniels is a great candidate for the practice squad.

TIGHT END (3): Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, James O’Shaughnessy

Out: Jacob Hollister, Matt Lengel, Sam Cotton
A healthy Gronkowski is a wonderful thing to behold. He and Allen are locks. The real battle comes down to the number three slot. We originally had O’Shaughnessy beating out Lengel on the basis of his blocking and STs skills. But he’s shown soft hands and the ability to find the open spots on the field.

Hollister is an intriguing case as he’s more of a “move” tight end that can stretch the field. He’s getting a ton of reps with the top STs unit. What does that mean? They want to keep him around and he’s a primary practice squad candidate.

WIDE RECEIVER (5): Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Julian Edelman, Malcolm Mitchell, Danny Amendola

Out: Devin Lucien, Austin Carr, Cody Hollister, Tony Washington, K.J. Maye
Brandin Cooks has been everything as advertised. His speed is incredible to watch. Imagine if Tom Brady didn’t have diminishing arm strength (sarcasm). He’s going to be fun to watch in this offense.

Edelman and Hogan seem in mid-season form and the top three are going to be a versatile, dynamic group. Mitchell and Amendola are working with the training staff so they haven’t practiced but there are no worries there.

Carr has been electrifying at times as he’s building a nice chemistry with Jacoby Brissett when working with the backups. He seems to make a big play in every session and the team may have to get creative to keep him around.

INTERIOR OFFENSIVE LINE (4): David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Joe Thuney, Ted Karras
Out: Jason King, James Ferentz, Chase Farris

Center David Andrews and guards Mason and Thuney were all starters last year and are locked. It comes down to Ferentz and Karras and so far, I haven’t seen anything to change my earlier call of the 2nd year guy sticking around.

OFFENSIVE TACKLE (4):  Nate Solder, Antonio Garcia, Marcus Cannon, Cameron Fleming

Out: LaAdrian Waddle, Conor McDermott, Cole Croston, Max Rich, Andrew Jelks
The starters and the swing tackle from 2016 (Solder, Cannon, and Fleming) return this season. Garcia isn’t that big but plays with a bit of a mean streak that I like.  McDermott is in a red shirt year and will go to the practice squad.

Next up in the defense.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE (4): Alan Branch, Malcom Brown, Vince Valentine, Lawrence Guy

Out: Woodrow Hamilton, Darius Kilgo, Josh Augusta, Adam Butler
Alan Branch is on PUP to begin camp but he’s a lock. Brown has been steady but unspectacular as has Valentine. Guy was a nice pickup from Baltimore and projects as an interior guy with New England. Bill Belichick spoke about his versatility and dependability before practice on Tuesday.

EDGE RUSHER (4): Kony Ealy, Trey Flowers, Derek Rivers, Deatrich Wise,

Out: Geneo Grissom, Caleb Kidder
With Rob Ninkovich’s retirement, this puts Ealy and Flowers firmly in the starters position with the two rookie draft picks Wise and Rivers as the backups. Depth is definitely thinner now. Combined the team lost 26 years of experience at the position.

Deatrich Wise has had a nice start at training camp. (SBalestrieri photo)

Grissom is getting a ton of reps with the starting unit to see if he can break thru in season #3. He may be kept or the team may opt for another linebacker. Wise has really turned some heads so far in camp. He’s shown good explosion off the ball and the strength to hold up and set the edge. Can he keep it going? We’ll see.

Rivers has struggled a bit with the speed and physicality of the NFL game which isn’t a surprise given he’s a rookie from Division 1AA. I had one fan DM me asking if he was a bust… Really? After five practices? Relax folks, he’s going to be fine.

LINEBACKER (6): Dont’a Hightower, David Harris, Kyle Van Noy, Shea McClellin, Elandon Roberts, Harvey Langi

Out: Jonathan Freeny, Trevor Bates, Brooks Ellis
Hightower is on PUP but should be ready soon, he’s been out at practice in sweats, usually a good sign. Harris looks like he’s still a thumper inside and with Roberts gives them good depth in the middle. This will allow the team to move Hightower outside more where he can be more of a disruptor.

Van Noy and McClellin will probably be asked to fill in at times as edge rushers (Hightower as well) so the team may opt for an extra linebacker. Harvey Langi is a good sized, athletic kid who can play inside or outside and even as DE in a pinch but this unit will have to work out some roles during the season.

CORNERBACK (5): Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler, Eric Rowe, Cyrus Jones, Jonathan Jones

Out: Justin Coleman, DJ Killings, William Likely, Kenny Moore, Dwayne Thomas
This has been a fun group to watch. Butler and Gilmore have played as advertised. Jonathan Jones and Eric Rowe have both played well thus far in the slot. This may be a case where they’ll use both depending on matchups.

Stephon Gilmore looks to be a good fit in the Patriots defense.

All of the others have played well. It is strictly a numbers crunch. If they had the slots they would keep them all. Moore has had a great nose for the ball and has made some nice plays so far.

SAFETY (4): Patrick Chung, Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, Jordan Richards

Out:  David Jones, Damarius Travis, Jason Thompson
Richards leap frogs Jones from our earlier projection as he’s played fairly well so far and Jones, who we are really high on, has been working with the training staff on the lower fields thus far.

The top three of Chung, McCourty, and Harmon have been solid. Harmon had an injury scare the other day and missed Tuesday’s practice but it isn’t considered serious.

SPECIAL TEAMS (6): Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen, Joe Cardona, Brandon King, Matthew Slater, Nate Ebner

Out: None
A good solid group who has had a good camp thus far. Allen had a weird sequence of two straight shanked punts on Saturday but that was an anomaly. The Patriots under STs coach Joe Judge have a very solid core group and they should be fine in 2017. Gostkowski is looking for a rebound year and has looked his normally solid self in camp.

They will need a backup long snapper now, something that was always covered by Ninkovich in the case of an injury to Cardona. Slater is still a marvel and has tremendous speed for a guy in his 10th 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 7-30, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
July 30, 2017 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 7-30, & AFC East Notes.

With three days of camp in the books, the Patriots 2017 season is underway. The crowds have been huge at the Gillette practice fields, with the spillover from the crowds being funneled to the walkways of Gillette Stadium that overlook the practice fields. It might be time for Robert Kraft and the team to invest in more rows of bleachers that overlook the practice field on the side closest to the indoor practice bubble.

The current bleachers are stressed to the max every day and there still remains joint practices with the Jaguars upcoming. Those practice sessions are always very well attended and if the first three dates of 2017 are any indication, then they should look into expanding those bleachers farther back and adding extra rows.

Congratulations…It is About Time for Raymond Clayborn:
The Patriots Hall of Fame got its 26th member, and he wore #26 for the team. He’s been well-deserving for a long, long time and on Saturday, that wrong was righted as he was fitted with the red jacket and became a member of the team’s Hall. From the Patriots.com website:

Drafted by the Patriots in the first round (16th overall) out of the University of Texas in 1977, Clayborn eventually became one of the game’s best at the position, earning three Pro Bowl honors (1983, ‘85, and ‘86). A native of Fort Worth, Texas, he went on to set a franchise record with 36 career interceptions, a milestone which fellow Patriots Hall inductee Ty Law tied equaled in 2004. Clayborn also excelled as a kickoff returner during his 13-year Patriots career, something Patriots owner Robert Kraft touched upon during his introductory remarks.

Kraft recalled watching from the stands of what was then called Schaefer Stadium as Clayborn returned three kickoffs for touchdowns in his rookie season.

“I can’t believe that was 40 years ago, especially since I still think I’m 35,” the owner joked.

“To the fans who voted for me,” Clayborn said, “I’ve always said Patriots fans are the best fans in the world. Y’all were able to finally able to make this happen. The fourth time was a charm!

“To Mr. Kraft and Coach Belichick, boy, I wish I could’ve played for the both of you. I would’ve won at least a couple of championship rings!”

Getting to Know UDFA TE Jacob Hollister:
The Patriots made a splash in free agency by signing twin brothers Cody and Jacob Hollister. Cody was a wide receiver from Arkansas and Jacob was a tight end from Wyoming. Jacob is more of a move tight end than a traditional inline tight end in the Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen mold. He’s a project, a bit raw and needs to work on his blocking skills but as a receiver, he’s a very intriguing player.

TE Jacob Hollister is an intriguing prospect as a “Move” tight end for the Patriots in 2017. (SBalestrieri photo)

The 6’4, 240-pound TE was signed for a guaranteed $90,000 so it shows the Patriots have hopes that he can make the roster. Wyoming moved him out of the slot, put him in the backfield as well as split out wide. He was a big play producer in 2016, targeted on pass plays of 20-yards or more downfield, he caught seven of eleven attempts for 189 yards.

At the conclusion of Saturday’s practice, we asked if we could sit down with Hollister for a few moments. He’s a very personable young player and here are a few excerpts from our conversation yesterday.

What are your first impressions of your first NFL Training Camp?It’s going great,” he said. “I’m just trying to learn and get better every day and trying to improve on the little things, it is going great and has been a great experience.”

How are things going with the Patriots playbook which has a reputation for being hard to learn? (laughs), “I wouldn’t know about that, it is definitely a lot more than college. But it is a process, I feel like that you just have to pay attention to the details and take it day by day and let the everything play itself out.”

Where he was used as a bit of a deep threat in the Wyoming passing game could he see himself in a similar situation here we followed up with. “Ah yeah, right now I’m just trying to learn the playbook and play the way they want me to. I’m still in the learning phase of things and trying to hit on all the little things.”

We have noticed that you’re getting a lot of reps (with the first unit) on Special Teams. Is this something that you did a lot of in college? No, I didn’t do a lot of it in college at all. They kept me strictly with the offense, especially since I was getting so many reps. But I love playing special teams and look forward to really playing a lot of them here. He added, “it has been really fun, I’ve been working with guys that have been doing that for a while. And again, it is a learning experience.

What are your impressions about the fan turnout here so far: “It is unbelievable. The atmosphere here at training camp is just awesome. This is like a game up in Wyoming. It has been really fun, the fans create this energy that carries over to the entire team. It has been really cool.”

As a rookie, you work with seasoned vets like Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen. How have they been as a sounding board to you during your time here thus far? “Oh it couldn’t be any better. Those guys are great. We’ve been picking their brains and asking questions here and there about all the little things. And really just watching them, is what I’ve done a lot of. Watching how they handle situations and approach everything has been a great learning experience.

David Harris Shows Early Signs of Being a Steal:
When the Jets cut loose linebacker David Harris about a month ago, it raised some eyebrows especially among the Jets faithful as he’d always been a stalwart performer in the middle of the defense for a decade, a tremendous teammate and a steady veteran presence as a guy who always answered the bell. But there were also thoughts that he’d lost a step and may not be the player he was before.

While it is still very early in camp, Harris seems to be fitting in seamlessly with New England. The 11-year veteran is admittedly still learning the Patriots defense, but he seems to have some quickness still in his legs and he can still bring the pop in the middle of the defense. He had a couple of hits during Saturday’s session that could be audibly heard all over the field. Ever the consummate pro, Harris was playing down his veteran leadership presence after Thursday’s camp opener.

“They already have leadership here,” Harris said. “I’m just trying to come in and be a piece of the puzzle, that’s all. I’m trying to learn from guys like (Dont’a) Hightower, who plays the position at a high level for a long time and trying to pick their brains because I am kind of late picking up things. So I’m trying to make it as fast as possible and get on the same page.”

Thus far, the pickup of Harris, like that of Cooks looks to be an early steal for the Patriots. With Hightower on PUP, Harris is the veteran taking the starting reps with the defense.

Still No Sign of Ninkovich:
While Hightower and Alan Branch are on PUP, the Patriots have a couple of their established veterans missing. And having Rob Ninkovich a no-show for the first three days of camp while he attends to what the Patriots are calling a “personal matter” just adds levels of intrigue to his situation.

Rumors abound that Ninkovich is contemplating retirement and in speaking with several people that are aware of the situation much more so than we are, it appears to be the case. We’ll just have to wait and see what the valuable and versatile Ninkovich ultimately decides.

However, the Patriots have announced that they’ll hold a press conference today at 12:15 p.m. after practice. Could he be calling it quits? It sounds like it.

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills Move Lawson Back to DE and He’s Thriving:

The Buffalo Bills drafted Shaq Lawson in the first round last year and in Rex Ryan’s defense, he was playing outside linebacker which was a new position for him. Not surprisingly he struggled with it.

Under new coach Sean McDermott, the Bills are moving to a 4-3 and a slimmed down Lawson is back to DE and loving it. And making like difficult for the offensive linemen.The Bills edge rushers with Lawson and Jerry Hughes with Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams inside looks to be a very disruptive group, something that never took off under Rex Ryan’s watch.

Dolphins Linebackers Showing Promise After Dismal 2016:
The Miami Dolphins has a new look defense especially at linebacker in 2017 and so far the results are encouraging. Lawrence Timmons who was brought over from the Pittsburgh Steelers led the way for the defense to dominate in Saturday’s training camp action. Timmons intercepted a pass and then lateraled to CB Bobby McCain for what would have been a touchdown.

Miami’s defense intercepted three passes on Saturday, Kiko Alonso also picked off Ryan Tannehill, who stared down his receiver and Alonso made him pay with his second pick in as many days.

What is still a question mark for Miami was their run defense. Will it be better than the porous unit from a year ago? That is still a question that needs answering but for now, the linebacking unit is showing signs of improvement.

Jets Make History, Hire Their First Female Coach:

The New York Jets hired Collette Smith, 44, as a coaching intern this summer. She’ll learn under the tutelage and assist Defensive Backs coach Dennard Wilson. She attended a few practices last season and coach Todd Bowles was impressed.

“I met Collette over a year ago,” Bowles said Saturday to the New York Post. “She came to a few practices. Just talking to her over the course of time, her football knowledge is outstanding. It’s all male interns so far, and I thought it would be a good idea to bring in a female intern, strictly off of her skillset, not because she’s a female. She’s a hell of a football coach. We got to talking a lot, and she fits in with the guys. We gave her a chance.”

Smith is the third woman to coach in the NFL.

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.

Despite Late Arrival, Belichick Not Worried About Newcomer David Harris

Ian Logue
July 27, 2017 at 8:13 pm ET

David Harris hasn’t had much time to get acclimated to his new team, but that doesn’t seem to be having any effect on the former Jet settling in with his new surroundings.

Harris, who signed just barely a month ago on June 21st with the Patriots, hasn’t had as much time as many of his other teammates to get up to speed in New England’s defense but according to Bill Belichick, that doesn’t seem to be hurting his progress.

Belichick equated the situation to what the Patriots experienced with Rob Ninkovich, who joined the team even later than Harris back in 2009 when he signed on August 2nd as a free agent.  Like Ninkovich, Belichick cited Harris’ experience being an asset at helping him work through it.

“Yeah, it’s a little bit of a challenge, although we’ve had this before,” explained Belichick when asked about it on Thursday. “[It’s] different, but if you remember, I think it was ’09 when we signed [Rob] Ninkovich and guys like that coming right in before training camp. One thing about David, though, he has a lot of experience. He’s, as you said, played a lot of football and been in a lot of different systems.”

“We gave him a lot of information when we signed him that he’s studied over the last three, four weeks. We were able to catch up on some of that in the last couple days and so, I mean, we’ll see. We’ll see how quickly it comes to him or how quickly he’s able to be comfortable with what we’re doing. I think we’ll be alright there, but there’s definitely some work. But he’s put in a lot of work. Coach [Brian] Flores has, as well, and we’re just trying to get him as up to speed as we can at this point.”

Given how they’ve handled other players in addition to Ninkovich in the past, Belichick said that they’ll be able to get him up to speed.

“We’ve been through that before,” said Belichick.  “Even though they’ve been in our system, in this case, we’ll just have to play a little bit of a catchup with him. But, I think we have enough time to get reps on the field, get communication with his teammates, understand the various schemes and adjustments that we make, and we’ll just have to put in some extra work to try to do it.”

“You know, he’s a smart guy, he has a lot of experience and he knows our division, a lot of our opponents pretty well. Not that we’re at that point yet, but when we do get to that point, he’s pretty familiar. You know, we play the same schedule pretty much every year, with the exception of two games that the other division teams play, so I think there’s a lot of things that will come up that will be relevant – not the same, but at least he’ll be able to relate to them.”

As for Harris, the newcomer said on Thursday that New England was where he wanted to be and he immediately jumped at the chance when the Patriots called.

“Just everything — the winning culture, the high standard,” Harris said via NESN when asked about the decision. “This is the place to be if you want to win.”

New England Patriots Training Camp Primer – Linebackers

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

Healthy Hightower and Depth Are Key for 2017

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

Bill Belichick likes to say that the spring’s OTAs and Minicamp is a learning exercise and that the real competition begins in training camp. With a roster of 90 players and no cuts needed before the final 53-man roster cut down, there will be plenty of time for evaluation. And some serious decisions will have to be made to get to the 53-man limit at the end of camp this summer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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