Dawson’s had a tough run with the Patriots, suffering a hamstring injury last season which left him unable to break into the line-up after being selected 56th overall in round two of the 2018 NFL draft out of Florida.
2019 hasn’t quite worked out any better. Despite an interception Thursday night, Dawson wasn’t quite able to stand out in a crowded secondary that included several players who did a better job than he did carving out a role for themselves this preseason.
As a result, Belichick decided to make a move and unfortunately for Dawson, his time in New England is now over.
The Patriots wrap up their preseason slate later on tonight against a very familiar foe, the New York Giants. The two teams have faced each other 15 years in a row in the preseason finale, it is akin to the warning bell telling both teams that the preseason is over and the games count starting next week.
However, despite the fact that the starters on either team will barely play if at all should not lead one to believe that this game is meaningless. A number of players from both teams are playing for their futures tonight and while most of the slots on each team are already decided a few may hinge on what happens tonight in Gillette.
So, from a Patriots perspective, what are we looking for tonight and how will these scenarios shape the upcoming roster cuts?
Stidham Should Play the Entire Game at QB:
Tonight will be the Jarrett Stidham show from start to finish. Tom Brady will definitely not play and Brian Hoyer should only enter in case of an emergency, or injury to the rookie. If Hoyer were to play any snaps in a scenario other than what was mentioned, it definitely wouldn’t bode well for his chances of sticking.
And…in a perfect world, these should be the last meaningful snaps we see Stidham take in live-action until next preseason. He won’t have a full complement of backs and receivers but, the coaches will get to evaluate how he handles the huddle, situational football and how well he grasps the offense.
Nick Brosette and Brandon Bolden …C’mon Down:
Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead, and Damien Harris should get the night off. So it will be up to Brosette and Bolden to handle the running back duties. It wouldn’t be crazy if the coaches decided to get Harris some more game action but the feeling here is that he’s shown them enough and he’s been slowed by a few injuries this preseason, that they don’t want to risk aggravating anything this close to the Steelers game.
Brosette has played pretty well this summer, but he’s a victim of the numbers game as the team is really deep at running back. Bolden is a special teams ace but will spell Brosette here and there as well as catch the odd catch out of the backfield.
While Bolden is pretty much a lock for the roster with his STs experience, Brosette will either be auditioning for the Patriots practice squad or for another team. Jakob Johnson [NFL International Player] will be on the PS and he and Andrew Beck should see plenty of work at fullback.
No Edelman, Gordon, Thomas, Harry Tonight?
It would be very surprising to see Josh Gordon or Demaryius Thomas on the field tonight against the Giants. Neither played against the Panthers and it would appear that the coaches are satisfied that they’ll be ready to contribute vs the Steelers next week. Ditto for Phillip Dorsett, although they may opt for him to play a few series just to give Stidham some targets [ditto for Jakobi Meyers]. No way we’ll see Julian Edelman.
So, Meyers, who has built quite a nice chemistry with Stidham should get the start and see plenty of work. This game will be very important to both Gunner Olszewski, and Braxton Berrios. Both showed good promise in the return game this summer. Berrios was beginning to catch on in the passing game before suffering an injury. Olszewski looked very good in the return game recently.
But with the activation of Thomas from PUP and Gordon from suspension, the chances of either making the 53-man roster for their STs [read return] ability has really taken a hit. Either or both could be brought back to the practice squad. Of course, the question is, if they don’t make it, who are your kick returners? It would seem to fall to Dorsett and Bolden… stay tuned.
OL Shuffling, Newcomers to See Work?
The Patriots just traded a 6th round draft choice for swing tackle Korey Cunningham, he was a 7th round draft pick for the Cardinals last year who got six starts at left tackle. The 6’6”, 305-pound tackle should immediately vault over Dan Skipper and Cole Croston for a spot on the 53-man roster.
With David Andrews sidelined for at least three months and possibly for the season, the Patriots brought in more depth in a trade with Baltimore for interior OL Jermaine Eluemunor. He was a 5th round draft pick of the Ravens in 2017 and has appeared in 17 games with three starts. He was named to the PFWA [Pro Football Writers of America] All-Rookie Team in 2017.
Players like James Ferentz and Hjalte Froholdt will get plenty of playing time and it may come down to just one of those two making the roster,
Defense Is Set, Now Is the Time For Game Experience:
The Patriots defensive line looks pretty set right now so, with no Michael Bennett, Lawrence Guy, Danny Shelton, or Adam Butler expected to play tonight, the younger players should see plenty of action to get more game time snaps. That begins with impressive rookies Chase Winovich and Byron Cowart.
Derek Rivers and Shalique Calhoun are still banged up so we’ll see a lot of Umfomba Kamalu, Nick Thurman and David Parry tonight. One big scenario to watch is for Deatrich Wise’s situation. Many have him on the bubble. If he sits it would seem his position is safe. If he plays, those rumors would appear to be true.
The same holds true at linebacker where Elandon Roberts [trade bait?] and Calvin Munson appear to be fighting for one roster position. Munson has been impressive in the past few weeks. And with Brandon King on IR, Munson has taken many snaps on STs and it could swing in his favor.
In the secondary, look for younger guys J.C. Jackson, Keion Crossen, and Joejuan Williams to get a lot of work at cornerback. Duke Dawson has played a lot of STs and he may play some safety too. The final safety spot comes down to Nate Ebner [strictly STs] or Obi Melifonwu who offers some ST’s acumen and a much higher upside defensively.
Check back with us after the game for our observations and notes.
With the Patriots now halfway thru their preseason slate, we’re going to take stock of the roster once again and take a stab at predicting a 53-man roster projection. The preseason games in Detroit and Nashville along with several joint practices conducted with both teams have given the coaches much more information and play against an opponent to evaluate.
What is different about this particular projection is that several established veterans may now find themselves on the roster bubble as the coaches now find that the depth of this roster will make them face some really difficult decisions moving forward.
Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Jarrett Stidham Out: none
No changes here. The Patriots could feel that Stidham can handle the backup duties for Brady, much like they did in 2009 when Brady was returning from his ACL injury and Brian Hoyer was a rookie backup. But Hoyer’s value lies in his experience, he is a sounding board for Brady and does a valuable and underrated job of running the scout team offense during the practice week. This could change, but for now we’re sticking with three QBs.
Running backs: (5) Sony Michel, James White, Damien Harris, Brandon Bolden, James Develin Out: Rex Burkhead, Nick Brosette, Jakob Johnson* [NFL International Player]
A big change this time around. Develin could be lumped in with the tight ends but regardless of where he is, he’s not going anywhere. The Patriots are deep here and after the game in Nashville, Harris showed his versatility of being able to run the ball and made five catches out of the backfield. Something he shares with Burkhead.
Could the increased versatility of Michel and now Harris, plus the return of Gordon mean that the Patriots cut Burkhead? Due to the depth and decisions, they have to make on the other side of the ball, [see more below], some very tough decisions will have to be made, and this one won’t be easy. Watch who is playing late in preseason games 3-4 and we may have our answer
Brosette has played well in limited action and lands on the practice squad. Johnson got a number of reps in Nashville who is automatically granted an extra spot on the PS due to his NFL International status
Tight ends: (2) Matt LaCosse, Ryan Izzo, **Ben Watson Suspended** Out: Lance Kendricks, Stephen Anderson, Andrew Beck, Eric Saubert
This all depends on how serious LaCosse’s injury situation is. If he’s going to be out for a while, this could open the door for one of the other veterans to step in. LaCosse has had a solid summer. Izzo is a good inline blocker, remember he made the 53-man roster last year before landing on IR.
Wide Receivers: (6) Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, Josh Gordon, Phillip Dorsett, Jakobi Meyers, Braxton Berrios Out: Maurice Harris (IR), Dontrelle Inman [asked for and granted his release Sunday], Damoun Patterson, Ryan Davis, Gunner Olszewski, Demaryius Thomas [PUP], Cameron Meredith [PUP]
Edelman, Harry, and Gordon project to be the top three. Gordon’s reinstatement puts him right smack on the roster in a lock status. They know his value.
Meyers has been extremely impressive all summer and is now a lock. Harris was having a terrific spring/summer but he got injured and Tom E. Curran from NBC Sports Boston has reported he could be out “for a while”. So this is where the Pats will place him on IR with the possibility of returning later this season. Dorsett is injured as well. His position seems a bit unsure right now as well.
Berrios goes from out in our last projection to making the roster by virtue of his ability to return kicks and punts. Although they could tag Dorsett/Bolden for that. Thomas, although seen running full speed this week, along with Meredith begins the year on PUP. With Gordon’s addition, the team will have to carry an extra wide receiver to protect themselves in the event that Gordon’s inner demons resurface.
Offensive line: (8) Isaiah Wynn, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, Joe Thuney, Dan Skipper, Ted Karras, Hjalte Froholdt Out: Yodny Cajuste [NFI], James Ferentz, Cedric Lang, Tyree St. Louis, Martez Ivey, Cole Croston
Wynn’s return to action and his performance in the game against the Titans has to be a big relief for the coaching staff. The team keeps Skipper as the swing tackle for now as Cajuste gets a red-shirt IR year. Froholdt and Ferentz battle it out for the final backup spot. But the team could opt for keeping just seven OL as they did at cut-down time a year ago.
Edge Players: (5) Michael Bennett, Deatrich Wise, John Simon, Chase Winovich, Derek Rivers Out: Keionta Davis, Trent Harris, Nick Thurman, Ufomba Kamalu
Rivers makes the cut this time around after very solid play this summer with a big caveat. He was hurt and helped off the field in Nashville. The severity of his injury may come into play here. Hopefully, he’s not injured badly this time around.
Winovich has been very impressive this summer, Bennett, Simon, and Wise are established veterans. Harris has played well as a sub-rusher and could sneak in if Rivers is hurt more seriously.
Interior Defensive Line: (4)
Lawrence Guy, Mike Pennel, Danny Shelton, Adam Butler
Out: Bryon Cowart, David Parry
No changes. Guy and Pennel should be the Week 1 starting combination inside. Shelton returns, as the backup nose tackle. Guy and Butler offer versatility in either inside DL in a 4-3 or as 3-4 DEs playing a five-technique. This is a solid group and Mike Pennel should be an immediate early downs producer. Cowart is playing really well and although pushing for a roster spot will end up on the practice squad.
Big changes here, once again difficult decisions force the team to part ways with Roberts and King who is a special teams ace. Sam and Munson have looked good in limited availability but are victims of the numbers crunch. Calhoun has gotten better all summer long and brings good pressure off the edge.
Cornerback: (6) Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, Jason McCourty, Joejuan Williams, Jonathan Jones, Keion Crossen Out: Duke Dawson, Ken Webster, D’Angelo Ross
Another area where changes are made. Gilmore, McCourty, and Jackson give the team three very good outside corners. Jones has clearly outperformed Dawson and will handle the slot. Williams has really come on and has played very well in the past few weeks.
Will the Patriots cut ties with a 2nd round player [Dawson] who has never played a down? Unfortunately, that is the case.
Safety: (5) Devin McCourty, Pat Chung, Duron Harmon, Terrence Brooks, Nate Ebner Out: Obi Melifonwu, Malik Gant, AJ Howard
Ebner is back and edges out King for the STs slot. Toughest cut here is Melifonwu who has played well all summer long. The top three are locked in and Brooks has gotten a lot of work with the top unit.
Specialists: (4) Kicker Stephen Gostkowski, punter Jake Bailey, long-snapper Joe Cardona, Gunner Matthew Slater Out: Ryan Allen
No changes here. Gostkowski and Cardona faced no camp competition, although Gostkowski has missed kicks in consecutive games. Bailey has a huge leg and also can kickoff, he still gets the edge over the established solid veteran in Allen, who won’t be unemployed for long. Slater is tremendous as the Patriots gunner.
The Patriots offensive players must miss Detroit. Because on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium, the defense was very, very impressive today. After struggling somewhat against this loaded secondary, the New England wide receivers had very impressive weeks in Detroit. But not so much today.
In the next to last training camp session, the defense was ball-hawking everything in sight. Tom Brady threw back-to-back INTs during individual drills but in the 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 portions of the session, the defense also picked off Brian Hoyer and Jarrett Stidham …with seven on the day total
One of the more impressive players on the field today had to be rookie Joejuan Williams. The first-year cornerback had a bit of a rough go of it early in camp but he picked up his game last week and continued his upward climb today. He had a couple of nice interceptions and had a few pass breakups as well.
The team was in full pads.
Nate Ebner and Ken Webster returned to practice. Lance Kendricks returned …in a red non-contact jersey. Julian Edelman, Demaryius Thomas, and Cameron Meredith were in attendance but not in uniform. Matt LaCosse, N’Keal Harry, and D’Angelo Ross were absent from this session.
There was also a new offensive lineman [#74] present but no word yet on who that is…possibly Cole Croston returning?
Other Observations Included:
Good news on the Isaiah Wynn front. He was nearly 100 percent at participation today. He took part in 11-on-11 drills for the first time in camp.
Lots of drops, pass breakups, and interceptions in individual drills today.
First real scrap today. Michael Bennett and Dan “the Weatherman” Skipper got into during 1-on-1 blocking drills. Bennett slapped him upside his helmet and Skipper responded with a double-barrelled bird flip.
Pat Chung made a nice interception of Brady during 7-on7s. Brady attempted to go to Braxton Berrios on a drag route but Chung read it perfectly and jumped the route.
Others getting picks during the team portion of the session were Gilmore with a pair, Jamie Collins, and Williams
Jake Bailey was doing the holding during the field goal attempts today by Stephen Gostkowski…that is Gostkowski with two “k’s”
During 1-on-1s Jonathan Jones flattened Berrios with a jolting hit but the WR came back and made a really nice over the shoulder catch after almost going down again on a hit from Duke Dawson.
Berrios returned punts along with Rex Burkhead, Gunner Olszewski, and Jakobi Meyers
Berrios continued a strong showing in the return game as he and Phillip Dorsett returned kickoffs.
Jakobi Meyers continues his rise in camp. He had another nice day, making several catches including a nice back-shoulder catch on a pass from Tom Brady and another where he dove and came up with a throw from Brian Hoyer on the sideline.
Maurice Harris had a drop during team drills and wasn’t as sharp as we’ve seen this summer, but then made a really nice grab as he was able to wrest the ball away from Gilmore as he high-pointed it.
QB turned WR Danny Etling had a tough morning. He had a drop in individual drills and was the target on both Stidham throws that were picked off.
The Patriots tried a little trickery with a double pass from Meyers to James White.
White also had a nice deep catch from Brady over his shoulder beating Christian Sam in coverage.
Danny Shelton left practice and retreated to the lower practice fields but later returned.
Jon Bon Jovi was in attendance today, along with Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy who did a quick interview with 98.5 after the session
The Patriots are wrapping up their final joint practice with the Lions on Wednesday and then all of the attention will turn to the first preseason game of the year. With that said, we should finally get a look at the Patriots rookie players with the real numbers that they’ll be wearing this season.
Don’t expect to see any of Tom Brady and most of the starting lineups in Thursday’s game, they’ll get eased more into the next two games. This one is usually about the rookies and the new players to the roster. Expect to see a lot of QB Jarrett Stidham in this one.
*For you who have been going to training camp, the following are the jersey numbers of the Patriots rookies for the game, unlike the funky numbers they’ve been wearing in training camp.
#4 Jarrett Stidham QB #7 Jake Bailey P #9 Gunner Olszewski WR/KR #10 N’Keal Harry WR #16 Jakobi Meyers WR #19 Ryan Davis WR #33 Joejuan Williams CB #37 Damien Harris RB #41 D’Angelo Ross DB #42 Nick Brossette, RB #42 Malik Gant, S #47 Ken Webster CB #50 Chase Winovich Edge #63 Martez Ivey OL #64 Hjalte Froholdt G #65 Yodny Cajuste T #67 Tyler Gauthier, OL #68 Tyree St. Louis OL #86 Andrew Beck TE #99 Byron Cowart DL
So, with all of the roster number hoopla out of the way, what exactly are we looking for after preseason Week 1?
Come Back to Foxboro Healthy:
Injuries are part of the game and we know they are inevitable, but the last thing you want to see is a player from either team going down with an injury. Just two years ago it was there in Detroit when Julian Edelman made a cut and went down with a torn ACL without being contacted. It ended his season before it began and may have cost the team down the road in Super Bowl LII.
So, while the coaches want to see their players perform well in all three phases of the game, coming out of the game as intact as possible, health-wise will be paramount.
Watching Stidham and Young Receivers in the Passing Game:
Stidham was drafted by the Patriots with little fanfare, he was hardly thought to be one of the best QB prospects in the draft. Part of the issue was the terrible offensive system they ran at Auburn. Stidham still has a long, long way to go but has been progressing nicely in camp and had a really good day on Tuesday’s joint practice.
Now, he’ll get to put his foot in the water for his first NFL game action. Thus far, he’s had a typical rookie spring/summer with issues holding the ball too long and trying to learn an entire new offensive system, to some sessions where he’s thrown the ball well.
And he’s got a plethora of receivers who are new to the Patriots. Unfortunately, top draft pick N’Keal Harry may not be among them. Harry tweaked a hamstring in Tuesday’s practice session, so he may be held out of this one…it will bear watching.
But rookies Jakobi Meyers, Gunner Olszewski, Ryan Davis, 2nd-year man Braxton Berrios, as well veteran newcomers Maurice Harris, and Dontrelle Inman are getting their first reps in Patriots uniforms.
Meyers is generating a ton of buzz around his play and his early grasp of the Patriots playbook but Berrios, who had a strong spring and a frustrating beginning to camp has shown signs of life against the Lions secondary. These preseason games will tell the tale of who earns more reps and carves out a role on the roster.
Harris and Inman are veterans but want to put forward solid contributions in preseason working against mainly vanilla coverages to earn more reps with Brady, who is doubtful to make an appearance.
Rookie Damien Harris has shown the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield during camp sessions. It will interesting to see if the coaches decide to use him and Brandon Bolden in that capacity in their first game action of 2019.
Running Game Can Be Hit or Miss:
The problem with trying to judge running backs, and Harris should see a ton of action along with Nick Brossette and Jakob Johnson, is that the back-up offensive lines are in the game. And it frequently occurs that the offense can sputter in running situations as the backups don’t have the reps together to work in harmony with one another.
However, I’m intrigued to watch what Harris and Brossette can do. Brossette will have a very tough time cracking the 53-man roster as the position is loaded this year. But I liked what I saw of him in college and thus far in limited reps. He’s playing for a practice squad role.
Brandon Bolden is one of our favorite Patriots players to watch. The reserve running back and special teams ace should also see quite a bit of action in the preseason opener both in the running and passing game.
Special Teams Battle:
As much as I thought Ryan Allen could have made a case for Super Bowl LIII MVP, I’ve been sold on Jake Bailey since minicamp. He has a leg that puts distance and incredible hang time into the ball which almost puts it into the outer marker for Logan. He and Allen are battling it out for the punter’s job in 2019. While Bailey has the much stronger leg, Allen’s forte is directional punting and consistency, where he has the edge over the rookie.
One thing to watch all thru the preseason is kickoffs. Bailey is adept at it as well as being an emergency field goal kicker. He’s shared duties with Stephen Gostkowski on kickoffs in camp thus far and it could make a difference in the final cutdown.
Defense As a Whole, But Keep an Eye on the Secondary:
The Patriots defense looks to be much better, deeper and more versatile than last year’s unit. While many of the starting members may only play sparingly, the guys that really bear watching are the new players or those fighting for roster spots.
Chase Winovich has stepped up his game in the practices with the Lions, it promises to be intriguing to see A. How they use him and B. How well he does in his first game action. The rookie from Michigan looks to be a very promising player. Shilique Calhoun, we wrote the other day is having a very solid camp. He continued his strong play against the Lions and has a chance to earn more reps as camp progresses.
Other edge players on the bubble and bear watching are Derek Rivers, Keionta Davis, Trent Harris, Ufomba Kamalu, and Nick Thurman. All of them have played well so far but need to step it up during the next four weeks.
In the secondary, with Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, and Jason McCourty known quantities, the guys we really want to see are new 2nd round pick Joejuan Williams, Duke Dawson, Keion Crossen and D’Angelo Ross at cornerback.
At safety, Terrence Brooks, Obi Melifonwu, and Malik Gant are all vying for roster spots behind Devin McCourty, Pat Chung, and Duron Harmon. Both Brooks and Melifonwu have played well and have gotten reps with the starting unit.
The 2019 Patriots training camp sessions begin this morning and football is finally back. Well maybe not the games that count yet, but we’ll have the Patriots and the NFL with us until Super Bowl LIV plays out in February. Hopefully, we’ll be looking at another Patriots appearance in the big game.
But… as Bill Belichick likes to say, “we have a long way to go.” The spring is a teaching camp and in actuality, the first two days of training camp will be a continuation of that. No pads, no hitting and there is really no way to gauge the play of the interior linemen or the running game yet.
We won’t be able to really gauge any of that stuff until Saturday when the pads come on for the first time. However, there are some things we are excited about watching this summer at training camp.
Isaiah Wynn and the LT Position: Wynn was the Patriots top draft pick a year ago and before we really got a sense of knowing how he could handle himself as a left tackle in the NFL, he was hurt. Trent Brown had taken over the position, pretty much from Day 1 and there was never that feeling that they were competing for the top spot.
Now Brown is gone, after signing a big-money deal with the Raiders. Wynn is coming off of that Achilles injury and missed all of the spring. Third-round pick Yodny Cajuste, someone we’re really high on here, is beginning camp on PUP after offseason quad surgery. Cole Croston is also on PUP, so I would expect to see more of Joe Thuney at left tackle this summer.
But make no mistake about it, this is Wynn’s position to win or lose. It is going to be a must-watch area when he takes part in the one-on-one battles with the edge players. Unfortunately, those are always as far away from the crowd as humanly possible.
With Sony Michel Out, Watch Damien Harris: I thought getting Harris in the third round of the draft was an absolute steal. At the time, I chalked it up to the Patriots just recognizing a good player who was too good to pass up. Now, that move looks brilliant.
Michel had a knee scope in the spring and it was supposed to be a minor thing. He missed all of minicamp and is now starting on PUP. Harris got a lot of reps in the spring and looked as good as advertised.
Harris is a good runner between the tackles, gets yards after contact, is an outstanding pass blocker and is an underrated pass receiver with very soft hands. Even with a healthy Michel, I expect Harris to see a lot of action this season. With Michel out, at least for now, look for him to accelerate that learning curve.
No Julian Edelman is Good News For the Other WRs: Edelman is Tom Brady’s best friend and most trusted receiver on the team. That brace on his thumb looks to be a minor issue and not something that should linger long. But him not being there just elevates everyone behind him on the depth chart to get reps with #12. And you know what? That is a good thing.
N’Keal Harry had a good spring, some solid moments mixed in with typical rookie moments. That is expected…from anyone. Harry has a reputation as a very hard worker and since the minicamp ended, I wouldn’t be surprised if he looks like a different guy this week. I would go all-in that he spent that off time getting deep into the playbook.
Braxton Berrios is another guy who could really benefit from Edelman’s absence. Berrios has never caught a pass from Brady in team drills, one can expect that dubious distinction to end very soon. Berrios has to stay healthy and on the field this summer. He had a pretty impressive spring and everything is falling in place for him to carve out a nice niche for himself in the offense. He could fit in the Danny Amendola role in 2019.
Jakobi Meyers is my dark-horse to make the 53-man roster at wide receiver. With Josh Gordon suspended for who knows how long and Demaryius Thomas on PUP, Meyers may be able to carve out a role in the offense. He’s a former QB and a big (6’2, 204) slot receiver. One thing that stood out during minicamp was that Meyers was invited to the side session with Brady, Hoyer, Josh McDaniels, and Harry. While it may not mean much, we believe that anything that goes down in Foxboro has a motive. It’ll be up to him to show us right or wrong.
Front Seven Play and How the Reps are Divided: The Patriots run defense was awful early in the season. It was especially bad along the defensive line. Eventually, the Patriots tightened that up and the run defense was a strength in the postseason. The Patriots lost former 1st round pick Malcom Brown in free agency. But they brought in Mike Pennel, someone we were lobbying for when free agency started. He and Lawrence Guy should be a very stout early run-stuffing pair.
But the players on the edge are an intriguing bunch. Michael Bennett still has gas left in the tank …and plays with arguably the smallest shoulder pads on the team. Deatrich Wise starts on PUP which opens the door for more reps for John Simon, rookie Chase Winovich and some guys who are on the bubble. Derek Rivers, Keionta Davis, Trent Harris are all guys who are looking to carve out a roster spot. Another guy to watch is Shalique Calhoun.
At linebacker, the Patriots have plenty of depth and a slimmed-down Dont’a Hightower, the return of Jamie Collins and the playmaking ability of Kyle Van Noy lends itself to the idea that the defense will continue to postseason trend of being very aggressive.
J.C. Jackson and Duke Dawson Have Big Year 2 Expectations: Jackson had a meteoric rise in 2018. But Bill Belichick tried to possibly send a message to him by giving most of the first-team reps to Jason McCourty this spring. Many people expect Jackson to be an even better player than Stephon Gilmore somewhere down the line. So, a lot of people will be watching him closely.
Dawson didn’t play at all in 2018 after coming off IR late in the year. Jonathan Jones cemented the slot role down and he and Dawson will be vying for that starting slot corner role. Rookie Joejuan Williams is a big corner in the Brandon Browner mold and is hoped to be a matchup piece in a ridiculously deep cornerback grouping.
Training camp is always chalked full of action with 90 players competing all over the field. One area we neglected to mention was the punting battle between Ryan Allen and Jake Bailey. This promises to be another intriguing positional battle.
Don’t expect too much in those first two days which are like minicamp with the lack of hitting and pads, But come Saturday morning, the fun should really begin.
The Patriots begin training camp later this week and like most people, I can’t wait as it seems like football has been missing for a long time. The weather is supposed to be much more manageable than the past few days, which makes the experience for the people in attendance and the players more enjoyable.
Today, we’re looking at the cornerbacks and the Patriots are loaded at this position. This is easily the deepest position on the team. There will be some players not making the roster (or traded), that are NFL quality corners. The old saying that “you can never have enough cornerbacks”? It seems the Patriots and Bill Belichick have taken that to heart.
This year’s roster is deeper and more talented than the group who held the Rams to just three points in the Super Bowl. Stephon Gilmore returns from an outstanding season and is joined by veterans Jason McCourty, Jonathan Jones, and Keion Crossen. At this time last year, J.C. Jackson was an undrafted free agent and considered a long-shot to make the 53-man roster. Not only did he make the team, as the year went on, but he also contributed and was a starter. Duke Dawson was a 2nd round draft pick a year ago but was injured and on IR, but was activated near the end of the season. However, he didn’t dress for any of the games being an inactive scratch.
The team added Joejuan Williams in the 2nd round this spring, he’s a very big (6’4) corner who will provide some matchup possibilities with bigger WRs and TEs. They also added corners Ken Webster and D’Angelo Ross.
With nine corners, not all of them are going to make the 53-man roster, so the back end of the depth chart will have four players competing for two, possibly three roster spots.
Check back with PatsFans.com as we’ll go thru the entire roster as our primers for training camp continue before the heavy lifting starts on July 25. And be sure to keep up with our coverage from training camp.
So, let’s take a look at the position as it unfolds as training camp begins this summer.
Current roster – Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, Jason McCourty, Jonathan Jones, Duke Dawson, Keion Crossen, Joejuan Williams, D’Angelo Ross, Ken Webster
Locks –Gilmore, Jackson, Williams
Near Locks – McCourty, Jones
Bubble – Crossen, Dawson
Long Shot – Ross, Webster
Discussion – With the return of their four main starters (Gilmore, Jackson, McCourty, Jones) from the Super Bowl team, this team is set up for continued success in 2019. In fact, this may just be the deepest set of cornerbacks the Patriots have had… ever. Five of their corners played significant roles last year (Crossen on Special Teams) and getting a 2nd round pick back from an injury that didn’t play at all in 2018 and adding another intriguing 2nd rounder gives them an embarrassment of riches.
Gilmore cemented himself as one of the best corners in the league with a fantastic 2018 season. He played in all 16 games, notched 2 interceptions along with 20 passes defended. Opposing QBs targeting him had just a 56.3 passer rating. Pro Football Focus had him as the top corner in the league last year. And btw, the All-Pro sealed the Super Bowl with an interception deep in Patriots territory.
Jackson made the team after a very impressive training camp where it seemed like he was making highlight-reel plays daily. He made the team and played in 13 games, garnering more and more playing time as the season wore on with 5 starts. In the final five regular-season games and the playoffs, he played in nearly 80 percent of the defensive snaps. Jackson notched three interceptions and opposing QBs had just a 42.0 passer rating when targeting him. Some NFL insiders believe that Jackson has the potential to be an All-Pro and could even surpass Gilmore as the top Patriots corner at some point in the future.
McCourty came to the Patriots last season coming from a winless Browns team to winning a Super Bowl. He’s versatile and can line up as a corner or safety. He played very well last year and logged 80 percent of the defensive snaps. He’s nearly a lock this year but will still have to show he can produce on the wrong side of 30. However, his veteran savvy and leadership, as well as his versatility, bode well for him sticking around for the 2019 season.
Williams is a lock just by virtue of his draft status but his potential is very intriguing. Many people questioned why Belichick would take a corner with their second pick, #45 overall. And the answer is matchups and versatility. Williams is a very big corner (6’4, 211 lbs) who is a big, physical presence. Some people compared him to the Patriots 2014 team’s Brandon Browner and after watching him at minicamp it is easy to see why. He won’t be lining up on small, shifty slot receivers but against the bigger WRs and TEs, Williams gives them matchups that they can roll out depending on the opponent.
Jonathan Jones was a former UDFA who has gradually worked his way into being a very solid and dependable slot corner. He began working on special teams (Crossen) and gradually worked his way up and has improved every year. The Patriots drafted Dawson last year with the possibility of replacing Jones in the slot. But his injury and Jones’ play made Dawson inactive down the stretch.
Dawson has a long way to go if he wants to supplant Jones in the slot, however, Jones is also in a contract year, becoming a free agent in 2020 at the age of just 26. This will be a battle to watch. If the Patriots decide to keep Jones for the long-term, this could put them in a position to possibly trade Dawson rather than risk losing him on the waiver wire. But with camp and preseason ahead, there is a long way to go.
Crossen was a 7th round draft pick (243rd overall) in the 2018 NFL Draft. He’s got speed and athleticism and carved out a role as a special teams’ gunner, with nine tackles. He saw the field very sparingly on defense where he was picked on a bit, not uncommon for a rookie.
However, with the addition of the very athletic but very raw Webster, his role on STs may be pushed. Webster is one of those intriguing 7th round picks (252nd overall), where he has the athleticism and potential to be a viable corner at some point, it may not be right away on this roster. He may battle Crossen for that coveted STs gunner/backup corner role. This will be another battle to monitor as camp progresses.
Ross has a tough road in front of him. It is simply a numbers game. The small (5’9) but fast corner from New Mexico ran a 4:32 at his Pro Day in the 40-yard dash. In other years he may have been a potential player to crack the 53-man roster as a UDFA. But with the limited amount of snaps he may see this summer, he is a candidate for the practice squad heading into camp.
The Patriots are stacked at corner heading into training camp. One potential boon of this is that the wide receivers will all be going against some excellent competition this summer, which should prove to help them when the games begin in earnest.
When you win a Super Bowl, there generally isn’t a lot of available roster spots to go around. The 2019 New England Patriots currently sit at 90 players and they are no exception. There promises to be a ton of competition this summer for the back end of the team’s 53-man roster.
The Patriots were picked earlier this summer for having the deepest roster in the NFL. Whether or not you subscribe to that is immaterial. A look at the roster and there really isn’t a lot of wiggle room for players to come in and carve out a role for themselves.
So, that brings us to the purpose of this piece, several well-known players will be firmly on the bubble when training camp begins. Others, due to injury or subpar play could be added as camp practices progress and some of these players could cement themselves with solid play. Here are some but not all of the players on the bubble. There is a long way to go.
Danny Etling – Some people are surprised that Etling is still on the roster. During minicamp, the 2nd year QB was clearly displaced as the #3 signal caller by Jarrett Stidham. Etling was playing STs as the personal punt protector. The Patriots just used a 4th round pick on Stidham, while that isn’t in itself a guarantee, they clearly were giving him plenty of opportunities, to the detriment of Etling this spring.
The team isn’t going to keep 4 QBs, so Etling is the odd man out. Could he push Hoyer for a slot? Doubtful. And it is also doubtful that the Patriots cut their ties to Hoyer with Stidham so green…at least for 2019.
Braxton Berrios – The 2nd year WR was injured and missed the entire 2018 season and appeared in just one preseason game last summer. Now healthy, Berrios has turned some heads during OTAs and was arguably the best player on the field during Day 1 of the mandatory minicamp.
He hasn’t locked down anything yet however. Once training camp hits, he’ll need to continue that solid play catching passes, returning kicks and more importantly, stay on the field. This will be a big camp for him as he could either carve out a decent role for himself or fall completely off the radar.
Dontrelle Inman – Inman was signed by the Patriots in May after the Colts decided to let him walk in free agency. Inman was picked up by the Colts in midstream of the 2018 season and worked himself into a key role. Indy moved him around as a big (6’3, 205) slot receiver and occasionally as the “X”. He had good production down the stretch and in the playoffs.
But a very subpar minicamp dropped Inman far down the depth chart. He didn’t catch a single pass in team drills in all three days of the mandatory sessions. That doesn’t mean he’s out yet… but it does put him in a precarious position to begin camp, far down the depth chart.
Ted Karras – The tough, versatile Karras was picked up by the Patriots in 2016 and has been a valuable depth piece on the offensive line ever since. He can play anywhere on the interior offensive line. But the team invested a 4th rounder on Hjalte Froholdt. And the Arkansas alum can do the same things that Karras can do.
The feeling is that with Joe Thuney a free agent after this season, the team is grooming Froholdt to be the starter. He and Karras will be battling for the backup position this summer and it should be a great battle.
Derek Rivers – The Patriots top pick from two seasons ago is facing a huge training camp this summer. He lost his rookie season to a torn ACL during the preseason and never stepped on the field. He returned, albeit not 100 percent physically last summer and played sparingly. In his two seasons, he’s logged 78 snaps, two tackles, and one sack.
The Patriots know his potential and his NFL Combine performance and his production in college were the things that attracted them. But this summer is the beginning of Year 3 and projections are no longer in the cards. It is make or break time for Rivers this summer.
Keion Crossen/Duke Dawson – The Patriots are loaded at cornerback. It is arguably their deepest position. With Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, Jason McCourty, Jonathan Jones, Crossen, and Duke Dawson who missed all of his rookie season, the team added more. They drafted Joejuan Williams in the 2nd round and Ken Webster in the 7th. They also added D’Angelo Ross later. They can’t keep all of them.
Gilmore, Jackson, and Williams (by reason of his draft position) are locks for the roster. McCourty and Jones are near locks themselves. That makes the competition between Crossen and Dawson for the sixth spot one to watch. The feeling here is that they’ll keep six but could opt for more, at least initially.
Crossen is a special teams standout with the athleticism to play cover corner, much like Jones, who began the same way. The team invested a second rounder in Dawson last year, but he was lost to injury. With the players they added this spring, Dawson is far from safe. He and Crossen may be fighting it out for the final corner slot.
Nate Ebner/Obi Melifonwu – The Patriots are also very deep but aging at safety. While they have ostensibly three starters in Devin McCourty, Pat Chung and Duron Harmon, the first two are on the wrong side of 30 and McCourty hinted at retirement this spring.
The team normally keeps five safeties/STs but this spring they signed former Jets S/ST ace Terrence Brooks. Brooks got a two-year, $4 million dollar deal with a $500,000 signing bonus and $1.3 million of that guaranteed. That puts him in the lock category.
Brooks is known primarily as a STs ace who can fill in and play some safety when needed. Nate Ebner is another STs standout and a Belichick favorite. However, he rarely if ever plays on defense. Obi Melifonwu was brought in at midstream last season and now has a full offseason under his belt. The team’s idea was for the uber-athletic and big Obi to cover big WRs and TEs in the slot. But with the addition of Williams in Round 2, that makes him potentially expendable.
Melifonwu offers much more upside than Ebner defensively and got some first-team reps this spring with Chung missing but he doesn’t have the ST’s acumen of the latter. These two may be battling it out for the 53rd and final roster spot on the team.
What a difference a year makes. At this time last year, Jackson was an undrafted rookie cornerback from Maryland and a longshot to make the roster. But not only did he make the roster out of training camp but he developed into a starter opposite of Stephon Gilmore for the Patriots.
After a very impressive spring and summer where he shined at training camp, Jackson played in only about 16 percent of the defensive snaps for the first nearly three-quarters of the season. But from Week 12 onwards, he played in nearly 80 percent of the defensive snaps, starting in both the AFC Championship and the Super Bowl where the Patriots held the Rams to just three points.
In the last several years, Jackson is the third CB plucked by the Patriots as an UDFA to become a starter or regular contributor. Malcolm Butler in 2014 and Jonathan Jones in 2016 before him also were undrafted.
He shined in man coverage and was able to stick with and mirror opposing wide receivers. He also has shown extremely good ball skills with three interceptions and six passes defensed. As we have seen countless times, covering the opponent is one thing. But having the awareness and skills when the ball is in the air is another. Jackson has been able to do that.
Jackson posted the best passer rating allowed on cornerbacks who played 200 or more snaps in 2018 with an outstanding 42.0 when opposing QBs targeted him. According to PFF (Pro Football Focus), Jackson allowed only 22 receptions on 42 targets for a combined 262 yards as well as zero touchdowns to go along with his three picks. He also allowed 0.80 yards per coverage snap according to PFF. Gilmore’s was 0.72.
He also had an outstanding 21.4 percent forced incompletion rate, good for 7th overall in the league. Overall, he finished 2018 as PFF’s 12th best-rated corner. Perhaps Jackson’s best game was in Pittsburgh in Week 15. Matched up with the very dangerous JuJu Smith-Schuster, Jackson was extremely competitive. Smith-Schuster was targeted 10 times in the game and had just four catches for 40 yards, the second least productive games he had (catch percentage wise) in 2018 where he caught 111 passes for 1426 yards.
The Patriots are primarily a man-coverage team but Jackson showed he can play some zone as well. In the Week 16 game against Buffalo, he played underneath and undercut the route getting one of his three picks against Josh Allen.
If there is one area of weakness in Jackson’s game it could be playing against bigger wide receivers. Jackson who is generously listed as 6’1, 198 (he measured 5’10 at the NFL Combine) had a rough AFC Championship Game against the bigger Sammy Watkins and against Travis Kelce, however, the Chiefs ran roughshod over nearly every defense they faced in 2018.
But the Patriots, as they nearly always do, had a plan in place. They drafted a very big corner in Joejuan Williams (6’4) who can cover those bigger wideouts they’ll face. Flashback to 2014, the Patriots had Revis (lockdown) and Brandon Browner in those roles. Now with Williams in the fold, they’ll be able to mix and match against nearly anyone.
However, there are some in the Patriots front office who believe that Jackson will one day surpass Gilmore as the top corner of the team. And at just 23-years old, Jackson has yet to hit his peak. In fact, he’s just scratching the surface of his potential.
He and Gilmore are the locked down starters for a very talented group of corners that includes Jonathan Jones, Jason McCourty, Williams, Keion Crossen, Duke Dawson and rookies Ken Webster as well as D’Angelo Ross.
The future appears bright for Jackson and he is our first choice as the 2019 Breakout Player of the Year.
Football is a great deal like life in that it teaches that work, sacrifice, perseverance, competitive drive, selflessness and respect for authority is the price that each and every one of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile. Vince Lombardi
Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 06-09 and AFC East notes this week.
The Patriots mandatory three-day minicamp is in the books and there was plenty of interesting things to see and take note of during the practices. Bill Belichick commented on how he believed that they accomplished a lot during the three days. With the teaching camp in the books, the evaluation will commence once training camp begins.
The 2018 Patriots – got together for the final time at Robert Kraft’s house, and in a celebration with pomp and ceremony, the team received their Super Bowl rings. The sheer size of them now lends itself to question the term “ring” and despite the over-the-top gaudiness of them, there are 31 other teams that wished that was them on Thursday night. Very impressive pieces of jewelry.
Joe Cardona – the Patriots long-snapper was promoted inside Gillette Stadium on Thursday morning to Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Reserve prior to the minicamp practice. Tom Brady spoke about how Cardona epitomizes “commitment to our team and to our country” later in the day. And it happened on the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy. A very cool moment
Tom Brady – Looked in mid-season form for the three days of minicamp. His mechanics are always flawless. Every year I take pics of him throwing and compare them to the years before and you could lay them on top of one another and couldn’t tell the difference.
Brady “deuxième partie” – Brady and Josh McDaniels conducted a side session with rookies Jakobi Meyers and N’Keal Harry on Thursday. They were trying to get their timing and chemistry down, in terms of how they want routes run, where the breaks should happen, the angle of the cuts and ball placement. Fascinating stuff to watch. The work they do in June and July pays dividends in January and February.
Ivan Fears – The Patriots running back coach is beginning his 21st consecutive year with the Patriots, he also had an earlier stint with the team. Fears is one of our favorite guys to watch and listen to during the practices. We got a chance to chat with him before practice briefly on Thursday. After mentioning that the running backs looked good so far but that we’re sure he’d find areas to critique them, Fears got a big grin and said, “Oh I’ll always find ways to critique them.” Asked about Brandon Bolden’s return, he said how Bolden brings energy to the field and his teammates every day.
Troy Brown/Deion Branch – Excellent seeing the two of them work so closely with Joe Judge the Patriots STs Coordinator/WRs Coach and the players this week. Both of them know what it takes to be successful in the Patriots passing game and the two former players lending themselves to teaching the young players was intriguing to watch.
Mini-camp Wrap, Final Thoughts:
In their quest for “Knockin on Seven’s Door” that begins in September, the Patriots started the process with OTAs and their mandatory minicamp. Watching it all for three days, albeit without pads or contact was interesting as the coaches try to mold the 2019 version of the team. Here are some of the things that were intriguing to watch and will bear further consideration moving forward.
Left Tackle Status – Without Isaiah Wynn and Yodny Cajuste taking part in team drills this week, the Patriots moved left guard Joe Thuney into the left tackle position. He was getting nearly all of the first personnel grouping’s reps. And he was practicing with the tackles as well.
The good news, however, is that Wynn was on the field and taking part in individual drills and exhibits no sign of being limited at all after his Achilles surgery. Which lends itself to believe that he should be ready to go by training camp.
Tight End Production – With the release of Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Ben Watson suspended for the first four games of the season, it puts the ball squarely in the corner of Matt Lacosse. Lacosse looked good in the workouts this week, moving well and displaying nice hands, catching everything thrown his way.
We were on hand when Lacosse spoke to the media after Wednesday’s practice session. Which can be seen here:
Ryan Izzo, Andrew Beck seem to be both competing for the blocking tight end role while Stephen Anderson is looking to carve out a role as the “move” tight end.
Brady nixed suggestions that the Patriots are going to diminish the tight end role in the offense. “That has to be a position of strength, even if it’s not one player but multiple players doing different roles,” Brady said. “There were times in my career before that where we’ve had similar approaches.” He finished his thoughts on an upbeat note.
“The tight end position is a big part of our offense and those guys are going to have to do a great job for us.”
Jamie Collins Return, Seems Like a Bigger Development…for Now – We were against the addition of Collins this spring on these pages, remembering the reasons why they jettisoned him in the first place. However, if minicamp is any indication, the Patriots coaches, especially LBs coach Jerod Mayo have bigger plans for Collins.
This week, at least Collins wearing #8, for now, was playing a big role for the defense in their alignments. And, again without pads on, he was asserting his will against the offense during team drills.
Even Mike Reiss was on-board with this train of thought calling Collins “active and looking like key cog” in the defense. Surprising. Another thing to watch for in training camp when that kicks off in about 5-6 weeks.
Maurice Harris Looking Good – Another mild surprise here. Harris was given little chance to make the roster when he was picked up this spring. Well…after the three-day mini-camp, Harris did nothing to hurt his chances of not only making the roster but carving out a role for himself.
We’ve gotten DMs, phone calls, and e-mails about Harris, “He’s a JAG!”, “He’s not going to make the rostah!” Well…you have to report on what you see. And for three days, Harris caught everything thrown his way. On the flip side, I didn’t see Dontrelle Inman catch a single pass in team drills…maybe I missed some or even one. But we’ve seen this film before. One is trending up, the other down.
Cornerbacks are Looking Deep and Talented – The Patriots have a plethora of corners on this team and every one of them can play. That isn’t hype or hyperbole but a fact. This is arguably the team’s biggest strength heading into training camp.
Stephon Gilmore blanketed everyone thrown at him all week. J.C. Jackson looked very solid for the first two days before missing Thursday’s practice session. Those two are the two starters, that we expect to see in Week 1. Some people feel Jackson may someday supplant Gilmore as the #1 corner on the team…
However, behind them are several more talented players. Jonathan Jones has already been a starting slot corner. Jason McCourty has started both outside and in the slot. Rounding out this talented group is Duke Dawson, Joejuan Williams, Ken Webster, and D’Angelo Ross. The cornerback group can mix and match with just about everyone and it is going to be intriguing to see how the defense aligns this year depending on the opponent.
The Punting Competition Will Be a Key One to Watch – Once again this summer, Ryan Allen will be battling for his job. Last year, he bested Corey Bojorquez and then was arguably one of the players that could have won the MVP of the Super Bowl with the way he pinned the Rams deep all game long.
This year, Allen will take on rookie Jake Bailey from Stanford who possesses a massive leg. Bailey was putting the ball into the ozone all week, getting some tremendous height and hang time on his punts.
It will be a battle of consistency over strength. Allen was his usual consistent self all week, while Bailey, even when booming most of his punts all week, had a few that were off the mark. Stay tuned.
Edelman Turns In Solid Week Performance-wise and Mentoring:
The Patriots drafted N’Keal Harry with the #32 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft and he’s sure to feel the heat of fans and the media’s expectations this fall. The Patriots drafted Braxton Berrios in the 6th round in 2018. But he didn’t see the field in 2018. Two different players with different backgrounds. But they have a constant voice that is always there for them.
Julian Edelman was the Super Bowl MVP last year who came to the Patriots via Kent State and was a college QB who made the transition to NFL WR who, after Tom Brady is arguably the most valuable Patriot on the offense. In his 11th season, Edelman is not only Brady’s most trusted receiver, but he’s also now taking on the role as a mentor for these younger players on the roster. It is something he feels strongly about.
“I had teammates that help you, and then you had teammates that didn’t,” Edelman said after practice on Wednesday. “I like to be known as a guy that helped you. I like to give little pointers here and there, because the better we all are, the better the team is going to be. I like going out and trying to give information if they want information from me and go from there. It’s part of my job, I guess.”
Edelman recalled Fred Taylor in his rookie season as a veteran who helped him out immensely and he said that he would try to do the same with Harry. Berrios, also after practice on Tuesday, mentioned that Edelman has been a constant source of mentoring for him. He’s looked quick and skilled thus far in minicamp.
Edelman will be looked to for a lot of production this season in the Patriots offense. If the contributions of Harry and Berrios this season are any indication, then Edelman can chalk up mentoring among his accomplishments this year as well.
Gunner Olszewski Is a Player to Watch For This Summer:
The Patriots brought in the undrafted cornerback from tiny Division II Bemidji State and are trying to convert him to a wide receiver. That alone should put him in the long-shot category for making the roster. But not so fast…Julian Edelman, who knows a thing or two about converting to wide receiver at the pro level is high on the youngster.
“I love that guy,” Edelman said. “If he’s got a question, I’m here to help try to answer it to the best of my ability. I feel that’s part of my role on the team, being here so long. He’s working hard. He’s definitely a tough kid. I love the chip on his shoulder, and I like working with him, that’s for sure. He definitely works his tail off, and I like having him around.”
One of the things going for Olszewski, who is generously listed as 6’0, 170, is the fact that he can return kicks and punts. But make no mistake, he doesn’t appear lost out there or like a duck out of water. While the path won’t be an easy one, he can do it.
The Patriots always seem to have undrafted free agents make the roster. With a name like Gunner Olszewski, you can’t help but root for him.
No AFC East Notes This Week:
With the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion this week, it is important that we remember the American, British, Canadian and Free French soldiers who stormed the beaches of Normandy not to conquer but to free the world of Nazism.
“At the core, the American citizen soldiers knew the difference between right and wrong, and they didn’t want to live in a world in which wrong prevailed. So they fought, and won, and we all of us, living and yet to be born, must be forever profoundly grateful.”
–Author Stephen Ambrose
Can’t end the piece without another look at the entire ring ceremony once more.