Good morning, Here is your Sunday’s Patriots news 8-12, & AFC East Notes. The Patriots are getting to back work this afternoon after their first preseason game on Thursday night. Bill Belichick has been taking a slower approach to training camp, having given the players several days off already. Belichick did say that the long 2017 season and the increased workload on the players definitely have an effect on how they approach the workload for the current training camp.
And lost in all the Malcolm Butler hoopla was this. On the Packers first drive of their preseason game against Tennessee, Brett Hundley completed a 48-yard bomb to Davante Adams who blew by Butler, giving the Packers a first and goal at the two. Maybe it is the conspiracy theorist in me, but if Butler had picked it off and went to the house, what would you think the odds would be that the play would have been all over the sports talk radio world?
With many missed tackles in the first preseason game and some general sloppy tackling all around, one reason (other than rust) could be the lack of live tackling and physicality in practice. It will be interesting to watch if that ramps up a bit now.
Ralph Webb had a really nice night in his professional debut scoring a pair of touchdowns and two, 2-pt conversions. The former Vanderbilt running back was called up by Bill Belichick for congratulations after the team’s win and in his post-game press conference, Belichick had several compliments for the rookie. Washington lost very promising rookie RB Derrius Guice to a torn ACL for the season in the game. They stated that for the time being, they were going to stay with the players they have. However, Webb is still a longshot to make the 53-man roster. If the Patriots try to sneak him onto the practice squad in a few weeks, don’t be shocked if the Redskins make a move to bring him to their squad after his game this week.
Tom Brady’s $5 million dollar incentive clause into his contract was a head scratcher earlier this week. If earned, that $5 million will vault Brady up into the Top 10 of QB salaries, tied with Blake Bortles but less than Sam Darnold, who has yet to throw a pass in the NFL yet. Tom E. Curran of NBC Sports Boston called it a band-aid fix and we’re inclined to agree here. A look at the list of QBs making more money than Brady, other than Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers is a Who’s Who? Of QBs having never accomplished a smidgen of what Brady’s done. So his contract, even at 41 is still a bargain. But tying the $5 million to incentives? Really? I don’t get that one.
Terrible setback for Pats LB Harvey Langi who made the roster in 2017 and then was in an awful car wreck last fall while stopped at a red light. Langi returned this year and had been having a good camp thus far until he took a hit to his side and suffered an internal laceration according to Jeff Howe of the Athletic. Because of concerns to his kidney, he will be out 4-5 weeks.
Very sad news about former Patriots LB Jerod Mayo and his 5-year old Bulldog who went missing after supposedly going for a walk with the dog’s trainer. The family and police searched for the dog and after two months the dog’s body was found in plastic bags inside a closet in the trainer’s house outside of Cranston, RI. The trainer, Amelia Ferreira told Wrentham, MA police the dog Knox, disappeared after slipping his leash at a conservation area in Wrentham. Charges are pending. And hopefully will be severe.
Derek Rivers Looks Strong in First Game Back From ACL Tear:
Less than a year removed from his torn ACL surgery, not only was DE Derek Rivers back on the field, he played at a high level showing good physicality and exceptional strength. The 2nd year player got the start at defensive end and had several good plays.
Derek Rivers during 2016 training camp. (SBalestrieri photo)
Perhaps his best was when he bull rushed Redskins tackle, John Kling. Rivers exploded off the snap and had Kling on roller skates. He then gave Kling a big shove pushing him into QB Colt McCoy and getting his hand up trying to knock down the pass attempt. The move against Kling is a total body type of movement from Rivers who when asked about his ACL and repaired knee from Henry McKenna of USA Today said, “It felt awesome,” Rivers said. “No complaints. Praise God.”
Make no mistake, the mental part of getting over an ACL injury is the biggest hurdle. This summer I spoke with UMass Medical Center Dr. Brian Busconi, who has performed hundreds of ACL surgeries on MLB and NFL as well as college and high school athletes. It was rumored he performed the surgery on Julian Edelman. Busconi would neither confirm or deny it, however, a signed picture of Edelman hangs in the office and a source of ours passed Edelman in the office earlier this summer. So take it for what it is worth.
Busconi said the surgery was only 30 percent of the fix for the athlete. The other 70 percent was doing the rehab work, strengthening the muscles that will atrophy because of the injury and the resultant layoff and most importantly, the mental hurdle to test the joint once it is ready. Edelman admitted last week he “doesn’t have his football legs” back under him yet. He looks to be in terrific shape, it is probably more a mental block more than anything.
That’s why it was so important for Rivers (and Edelman) to get out on the field and run and cut and do all the things they did without thinking prior to their injury. Rivers looked good for the most part, he also had his not-so-good moments as well. On one play, he ducked his head and lost the running back, who zipped past his gap for a big gain.
However, for the first preseason game and after a year layoff from the field, Rivers took a great big leap back to being part of the edge player rotation. With Trey Flowers and Adrian Clayborn expected to be the starters, he and Deatrich Wise could combine and form a much better group at getting after the QB in 2018.
He leaped over the first hurdle. We’ll be watching him next week closely to see if he can continue to improve and produce when the Patriots play the Eagles in Week 2 of the preseason.
Hightower on the Block? Troy Brown Thinks It Could be a Possibility:
The Patriots welcomed back linebacker Dont’a Hightower in his first game action since October after the big man went on IR last season. Hightower played extensively, into the second quarter. At the time, we thought it nothing more than the coaching staff wanting to shake off the rust after not playing for about 10 months. But after the game, former Patriots WR Troy Brown thought the Patriots may be shopping the big LB.
Dont’a Hightower is back and played into the second quarter against Washington. (SBalestrieri photo)
Brown on NBC Sports Boston said, “Sometimes you gotta put people on the market and let people see what they can do.” At first glance, that stance would appear to be ludicrous, no one was more instrumental to the Patriots defense, Hightower was the one player on defense that they could ill afford to lose. While the talk centered around Malcolm Butler after the Super Bowl loss to Philadelphia, the absence of Hightower was a far greater loss overall.
Brown doubled down on his thought by adding, “You have to ask yourself…why is he still out there so long?” Assuming his take is correct, who would they trade Hightower to and what could they get in return that would help the team? Unless they’re making a push to the Raiders with Hightower a piece of a package for Khalil Mack, then it wouldn’t make sense.
From our view, we’re sticking with the “knocking the rust off” scenario, but we’ve seen stranger things in Foxboro in the past.
Bentley Makes a Strong Debut at Linebacker:
Ja’Whaun Bentley, the Patriots fifth-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft wasn’t highly thought of when he was going thru the draft process, in fact, was considered to be a UDFA and wasn’t even invited to the NFL Combine. But the Patriots liked what they saw from the big Purdue linebacker in his first NFL preseason action.
Bentley had six tackles, two for a loss and QB hit and should have been credited with a forced fumble that the officials ruled forward progress had been stopped. A play Bill Belichick tried to challenge and when told he couldn’t, said it was “F***ing BS.”
Bentley was considered a Brandon Spikes throwback, a two-down run stuffer who couldn’t cover on passing downs. So far, he’s proving the critics wrong. He has had a strong training camp and followed it up with good performance in the opening PS game.
Rookie LB Ja’Whaun Bentley has been impressive thus far thru camp, especially in coverage. (SBalestrieri photo)
“I just wanted to come out and put my best foot forward to do the best I could as far as assignments and just make sure all my guys were ready to go,” Bentley said. “And I feel like we did a good job of that. Of course, we got some kinks to work out, but we did a very good job.”
Bentley also had some time calling the signals with the green dot communication device which is a great learning step for a rookie on the defense to be able to learn his responsibilities but also everyone else’s to call out the signals is a testament to his learning the system quickly.
His best play came in the first half. With the Redskins inside the three-yard line, they tried to pound the ball in the middle for a touchdown. Bentley, at his MLB position, read the play, waited for the right time until the RB committed and flew into the hole, dropping him for no gain.
He still has a long way to go but for now, he’s looking very good and appears to be almost a lock for the 53-man roster.
Jeremy Hill Buys In, And Shows Impressive Burst in Opener:
After a disappointing 2017 from Mike Gillislee, the Patriots drafted Sony Michel this spring and then added veteran Jeremy Hill who had lost his starting gig with the Bengals. Hill is bigger (6’1, 230 pounds) than most of the Patriots running backs, but it is something they need for certain situations, (goal line and short-yardage) with the offense.
Hill, whose snaps and numbers have steadily gone down in Cincinnati, at first glance didn’t seem like a good fit. But Hill had surgery to remove some bone spurs in his ankles. He also bought into the Patriots offseason conditioning system and lost weight in an attempt to add a bit of quickness to his step.
Jeremy Hill had a big game on Thursday night and is looking to turn that into a roster spot. (SBalestrieri photo)
He certainly appeared that way on Thursday night, hitting the holes with authority and showing nice vision cutting back against the grain. He appeared much quicker than Gillislee with the ability to convert those short-yardage situations.
His ability to flash in the passing game helped. Facing a 3rd and 8 from the 30-yard line midway thru the third quarter, Hill caught a short pass from QB Brian Hoyer and then made the first tackler miss and was able to convert the first down by stiff-arming a linebacker and then lowering his head and getting past the sticks.
The Patriots insist all of their running backs pass block as well and Hill had a highlight reel play when he planted LB Shaun Dion Hamilton, giving Hoyer time to hit FB Henry Poggi on a check down out of the backfield.
Again, there is a long way to go, but Hill with his performance didn’t do a thing to hurt his chances to not only make the team but earn some significant snaps. Especially with Sony Michel on the shelf for the time being.
Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:
Bills Allen Has Buffalo Abuzz After Preseason Debut:
The Buffalo Bills played the Carolina Panthers in their Week 1 preseason opener but it was strictly the Josh Allen show for the fans, and who can blame them? The Bills fans have been waiting for that next franchise QB since Jim Kelly retired. And after moving up to take him in the first round of the NFL Draft this spring, fans are excited.
Head coach Sean McDermott wasted little time in letting Allen uncork his arm which is his strongest asset. He lasered a 60-yard pass downfield on his first snap which was caught by WR Robert Foster but just out of bounds.
Yes, his footwork is inconsistent and his decision making can still be suspect but Allen possesses a cannon for an arm and it as well as his playmaking ability were on full display. He completed 9 of 19 for 119 yards and a touchdown while rushing three times for 29 yards, twice converting third downs with his feet.
For now, he’ll remain the 3rd QB on the depth chart and be the future. But Buffalo fans caught a glimpse of that and can’t wait for him to be the present.
Dolphins Tannehill Aces First Test:
The Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill played his first football since the 2016 season in an albeit short but impressive stint against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Tannehill played a series and took the Dolphins into field goal range but the most important feature was that he looked comfortable, cool in the pocket and in control of the offense. The offensive line gave him plenty of time to throw, coach Adam Gase said Tannehill was “back there peeling an orange.” to push home the point.
One thing that the Dolphins seem intent on doing is getting Mike Gesicki the ball in the end zone and that combination with the big rookie TE and Tannehill looks intriguing. We’ll expect to see more of it next week against Carolina.
Jets QBs Shine In Preseason Win Over Atlanta:
The New York Jets unleashed rookie QB Sam Darnold in their preseason opener and the rookie taken with the #3 pick in the draft didn’t disappoint. Darnold shined, completing 13-18 passes for 96 yards and a touchdown in a little over two-quarters worth of work. He received thunderous applause from the Jets fans and didn’t disappoint, hitting on eight of his first 9 throws.
Teddy Bridgewater on his first action of the season after returning from an injury was also very sharp hitting on 7-9 for 85 yards including a 16-yard touchdown. Coach Todd Bowles said Darnold looked poised out there and it is clear that the Jets organization is going to give Darnold every opportunity to win the starting job over veterans Josh McCown and Bridgewater.
McCown started the game but played only one series and completed the only pass he attempted for four yards. It will be interesting to see how the Jets decide to play this out. While the temptation is there to get Darnold on the field, with two good veterans, there should no attempt to rush him into the starting lineup until he’s ready for it.
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