Tag Archives: Dwayne Allen

New England Patriots News 2-24, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
February 24, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 02-24 and AFC East Notes. And as we’ve said before, the Patriots are many things, but boring is never one of them.

Kraft Opens Himself, and the Team Up For Unwanted Scrutiny:

Robert Kraft found himself in the center of a maelstrom on Friday morning as the Jupiter, Florida police busted a series of massage parlors that were tied to human trafficking. They had implanted surveillance cameras on the premises of each of those establishments and had 173 people on tape soliciting sex. About 200 people are to be charged and Kraft is one of them.

The Patriots immediately fired back with a release denying all charges and with the now very Patriot M.O. in the last line, “we will not be commenting further.”

Don’t worry, the rest of the NFL will, and have already done plenty of talking. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. It doesn’t matter if Kraft is guilty or not (as he claims), the old adage of “innocent until proven guilty” doesn’t count much when the person charged is a celebrity, or in Kraft’s case, the owner of probably the most hated franchise in the NFL.

At a minimum, he was guilty of an extremely poor decision making by frequenting the establishment twice and once the video comes out on TMZ, because in this day and age the video always comes out, then there will be the devil to pay.

Kraft as the owner of the Patriots has not been a “behind the scenes” kind of guy. He’s always been upfront and very visible. He was instrumental in helping to end the player’s strike in 2011. He’s one of the most generous people in New England with his charities both here in the United States and in Israel. He lobbied hard for the release of rapper Meek Hill, and was seen with a championship gold and diamond chain that the rapper gave him as a gift after the Super Bowl. A life-long Democrat, he’s pals with President Trump and regularly golfs with him. And now, his reputation has taken a very big hit.

In the court of public opinion, he’s already guilty, and all of the social media feeding frenzy on his character has already begun. Some, such as the noted blowhard Bart Scott called for the NFL to take away all of the Patriots draft picks in the upcoming 2019 NFL Draft. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

This time, the firestorm is placed right on Kraft’s doorstep and this isn’t going to be an easy time for the 77-year old owner, who has been one of the most popular people in New England. He’ll certainly face some kind of internal discipline from the NFL and Roger Goodell, regardless of whether he’s convicted or not. The NFL holds the owners to an even stricter conduct policy than the players.

It is coming and it isn’t going to be pretty. “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past…”

Patriots Receive Four Compensatory Picks in the Draft:

As expected the Patriots received multiple compensatory picks in the 2019 NFL Draft. They received two third round picks, a sixth, and a seventh. Now the team has 12 selections in the draft, including six in the first 101. With this many picks, the team is in prime position to move up in the draft if there is a prospect that they’re looking for.

1:  #32 Own

2a: #56 via the Bears

2b: #64 Own

3a: #74 via the Lions

3b: #97 Comp pick (Nate Solder)

3c: #101 Comp pick (Malcolm Butler)

4:  #134 Own

6: #205 Comp Pick (Danny Amendola)

7a: #237 via Eagles

7b: #243 Josh Gordon trade

7c: #246 Own

7d: #252 Comp pick (Cameron Fleming)

Flowers Should Be Allowed to Set His Own Worth:

Earlier we wrote that Flowers should be considered one of the top priorities for the Patriots to resign in 2019. And we’re not changing that. However, Flowers plays in a position that is frequently overpaid in the NFL and if he begins to receive offers, such as Nate Solder and others got a year ago, the Patriots would be correct in walking away from the table and looking to replace him elsewhere.

Flowers, in our opinion here, is an invaluable piece of the Patriots defense. He can do multiple things, set the edge against the run, rush the passer and kick inside and be a good interior pass rusher. But is Flowers an “elite” pass rusher to the tune of being worth $12-14 million dollars a year?  The feeling here is that the Patriots would say no and allow him to bolt for greener pastures.

After him, the Patriots have Adrian Clayborn, Deatrich Wise, Keionta Davis, and Derek Rivers. None have the versatility of Flowers. There are some intriguing edge rushers in the upcoming draft, and with a lot of draft capital, the Patriots could slide up and select one of them.

We’ll be watching how the rest of the league sets Flowers’ worth. He’ll probably give the Patriots the chance to match any offer on the table, but anything in that higher range will probably result in the team allowing him to walk.

Devin McCourty Returning in 2019:

In another bit of good news, Devin McCourty announced that he’ll be returning for his 10th season with the Patriots in 2019. McCourty’s steady hand on the back end of the defense, his leadership and his durability all contribute to how valuable he is to the Patriots defense.

If there is a downside to McCourty not retiring, it means that the Patriots will now have a difficult decision to make on McCourty’s contract, which pays him more than $9 million in base salary with a $13.4 million dollar cap hit in 2019.

He’s been a Patriots captain since 2011 and has missed only 5 games in his career. While the two sides will have to work out an agreement on the cap issue, it can be done and should be soon.  

Free Agency – Tight Ends That Could Be on NE’s Radar:

Rob Gronkowski is still sitting on the fence regarding retirement. Regardless of whether he decides to return for the 2019 season or not, the Patriots need to address the position this spring. Maybe in free agency or the draft, possibly both.

The Patriots currently have Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen, who remains one of the best blocking TEs in the game but hasn’t been a factor at all in the passing game. For a player with a $7 million dollar salary cap hit, that far too much. They also have Jacob Hollister, Ryan Izzo, and Stephen Anderson.

There are a couple of intriguing names in the draft and we’ll get to those players soon, but for now, who are the players that would fit in the Patriots scheme?

Jesse James – James was often the fifth option for the Steelers passing offense in a loaded offensive system. While not a dynamic receiving option, James has more potential than people are crediting him with, having 30 catches for 423 yards in 2018.

He’s a reliable good receiver with prototypical size, a tough, no-nonsense attitude and good blocker in the running game. In the Patriots “12” or “22” personnel, he’d immediately be a weapon that can be targeted, giving opposing defenses more options to worry about.

Austin Seferian-Jenkins – Jenkins had an outstanding 2017 with Jets catching 50 passes for 357 yards before moving on the Jaguars. He suffered two hernias and was placed on IR after just five games. He was due $4 million from Jacksonville but they decided to let him walk.

Jenkins is just 26 years old and has never really lived up to his high (2nd round) draft selection…sound familiar? The opportunity to play with Brady and the Patriots offense could be a powerful draw to bring him to New England.

Tyler Eifert – Eifert is easily the most talented TE on the list but has played the least due to injuries. He’s only suited up for 43 of a possible 96 games thus far in his NFL career. Eifert is another play with oodles of talent, was drafted in the 1st round but has only scratched the surface of his potential, catching 13 TDs from Andy Dalton in 2015.

But in the past three seasons, he’s played a total of 14 games. While the talent is obviously there, the Patriots may only offer a one-year, prove it type of deal. If they’re interested at all.

Charles Clay – Clay is a player that they’re very familiar with, playing him twice a year in the AFC East as he was a member of both the Bills and Dolphins. Clay had a very down year in 2018, playing in the moribund Bills offense and with a rookie QB.

The 30-year old has been a productive TE in the past, and it should be noted that Bill Belichick has always thought very highly of him. And we all know that Bill loves to bring in players that he respects.

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills To Put Hughes on the Trade Block?

ESPN had an intriguing piece by Buffalo Bills beat writer Mike Rodak about whether the team may decide to trade edge player Jerry Hughes in 2019. Rodak wrote that Hughes, 30, is in the last year of his contract. Since being traded to the Bills from Indy, he’s played in all 96 games with 80 starts.

Hughes will turn 31 during training camp and is due $10.4 million against the salary cap this season. If they trade him now, they’ll save money against the cap, where they already have $79.4 million in cap space which would allow them to address one of the premier free agent pass rushers and get younger at the position.

The Bills already own the #9 pick in the draft, with added draft capital, they could decide to move up and make an effort to land one of the top names on the edge as well as sign a free agent.  

Flores, Graham Will Run More 3-4 Looks for the Dolphins Defense:

The Miami Dolphins have an entirely new coaching staff this season and many of their names will look familiar to Patriots fans. Brian Flores has hired Patrick Graham to be his defensive coordinator. The two spent seven years together as Patriots assistants, once sharing an office together. Now, they’re be building a defense in a manner that they both feel will fit their personnel.

“We want guys who are selfless, guys who are willing to work hard,” Graham said. “Aside from the character traits, you want guys who play with their hands and are heavy-handed. You want guys to play with good knee bend and good leverage, and you want guys who have good eye discipline.”

“In terms of the toughness, I want to have a way to measure the toughness. To me, you measure the toughness as a defensive player, and what we’re going to talk about to those guys is, ‘Can we stop the run, and can we stop the run when we know they’re going to run the ball?'”

While the Dolphins don’t have the personnel, yet to run more of 3-4 look which will help their ability to stop the run, it will take an overhaul, the coaches believe that is the correct way to go. They want a flexible, versatile defense that can change on the fly determined by who their opponent is…Sounds a lot like New England.

Gase Feels the Jets Can Turn Things Around Quickly:

The New York Jets new coach Adam Gase has a daunting task ahead of him, he’s inherited a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2010, and has a fan base and media contingent hungry for a winner in New York that won’t be patient with him for very long. But he’s convinced that he and his staff can get things done.

Start with the fact that the team has a whopping $101 million dollars of salary cap space. The Jets can go after, and sign multiple big-name free agents this spring and still have flexibility under the salary cap.

But the most important piece, at quarterback, the Jets feel like they’ve finally found their franchise leader in Sam Darnold. Now they have the means to surround him with the talent he’ll need to succeed in the NFL.

“We have to find the right guys for us, the right fit, and make sure those guys want to be here,” Gase said during an interview this week with WFAN. “We have a lot of money right now, but at the same time there are going to be other teams pursuing certain guys and it’s not only going to be money. Guys want to know if this is the right place for me and do I fit into what they want.”

“We can improve quickly because we’re able to bring in players that have done it before. We’ve seen it in the NFL,” he said. There won’t be much of a grace period. He’ll be expected to win and be competitive right away.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

New England Patriots 2018 Training Camp Primer – Tight Ends

Steve Balestrieri
June 29, 2018 at 8:30 am ET

Gronkowski and Who Else?

The Patriots have a bunch of interesting tight end possibilities on the roster this season after Rob Gronkowski and the competition in training camp will ultimately tell the tale on who stays and who goes. Although the big news all spring was that Rob Gronkowski along with Tom Brady was staying away from the “voluntary” workouts, the star tight end was on hand for mandatory minicamp and looked in excellent condition.

There were also some rumblings that the Patriots tried to trade Gronkowski just prior to the draft, having had contact with several teams. But regardless, he is still here and he remains the best overall tight end in the NFL. The big question is now, who will back him up. Last year, the Patriots carried three tight ends with Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, and rookie Jacob Hollister.

We here would expect them to carry three again. And there are quite a few intriguing options for them to look to this year. And as we’ve already broken down the QB and WR positions, we’ll do the same here with the tight ends.

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

Roster Locks: Rob Gronkowski

Gronkowski is still the man in the NFL. He’s the guy that everyone tries to shut down and very few teams are able to do it with just one player, it usually revolves around multiple players having to get involved.

Last season, in 14 games he had a very Gronk-like 69 catches for 1084 yards and eight touchdowns receiving. He and Brady are always on the same page and they often communicate with simply a look or a slight hand signal at the line of scrimmage as they both see the field and how the defense is lining up extremely well and are always in sync with one another.

I would expect a new deal or an extension to get done with him sooner, rather than later that will keep him around Foxboro for the next couple of years, despite the offseason talk about him retiring.

Gronk has it all; size, speed, tremendous hands, he can line up all over the field from in the slot to split out wide and is a very good pass blocker and a devastating run blocker. Gronkowski is just 29 years old and the Patriots use him to create mismatches all over the field.

Near Roster Locks: Jacob Hollister, Dwayne Allen

Jacob Hollister after practice. (SBalestrieri photo)

Hollister made the team as a rookie UDFA in 2017 and played a little bit on offense but was a regular contributor on special teams. He’s got the speed and hands to challenge the seams but needed to bulk up, and get a little bit stronger as well as improve his run blocking this year.

Hollister had a very solid spring and looked very impressive in the passing game. He also appears to have bulked up a little bit and we’ll see if that translates into being a better run blocker. Putting on the pads will ultimately tell the tale but he appears ready to make that big Year 1-to-Year 2 jump that Bill Belichick always talks about.

Allen had a very disappointing year in the passing game in 2017. He was expected to replace some of the production of Martellus Bennett who signed with Green Bay as a free agent last year. But he caught just 10 passes and never seemed like he had a firm grasp of the passing game and was basically an afterthought most of the season.

But he remains a very good blocking tight end and a Bill Belichick favorite. Allen is carrying a $5 million cap hit for 2018, that is not guaranteed. However, the Patriots didn’t try to renegotiate his deal this spring. So read into that what you will.

On the Bubble: Troy Niklas, Will Tye

The Patriots brought in Niklas this spring and the first thing that stood out about him was his size. He’s comparable to Gronkowski in bulk (6’6, 270 pounds), although not in speed and athleticism. Many pegged Niklas to be a big target in the passing game when he entered the league with the Cardinals.

But it has never happened for “Hercules”, he’s been utilized as mostly a blocking tight end and he caught just 11 passes last season. But he remains a very solid blocking tight end and he could push Allen for that blocking TE spot since he has a much more manageable cap number. He looked good this spring in the positional work but in 11-on-11, he disappeared a bit. He’ll need to show more this summer once the pads come on and show more in the passing game.

The Patriots picked up WIll Tye last year and promptly stashed him on the practice squad. He had a nice spring and was getting open in the passing game, showing his athleticism. He made a beauty of a catch over Pat Chung during minicamp while we were there and it is worth noting that he was a two-year starter for the Giants catching 90 passes in 2015-2016.

Longshots: Ryan Izzo, Shane Wimann

Izzo and Wimann face long odds to make the roster but could be candidates for the Patriots practice squad in 2018. Izzo is a very good blocking tight end and will be competing with Allen and Niklas as the blocking tight end. He’s got good size at 6’5, 256 pounds.

Wimann is listed at 6’4, 252 pounds but seems a bit lighter than that, but when standing next to Gronkowski, Niklas and Allen, everyone looks thin. He’s a small school tight end (Northern Illinois) who caught 30 passes for 283 yards and a school-record 7 touchdowns receiving in 2017. He’s a long shot but we’ve seen crazier things. The problem for he and Izzo will be the chance to show much on the field will be very limited with so many tight ends in camp.

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.

Gronkowski, Patriots Story Takes a Bad Turn, It is Decision Time

Steve Balestrieri
February 28, 2018 at 9:40 am ET

Well, file this one under unexpected developments. Apparently, the rumors about Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski possibly stepping away from the game and retiring are true after all.

NBC Sports’ Tom E. Curran unleashed a startling report on his Monday night show of “Boston Sports Tonight” that Gronkowski considered stepping away during training camp of 2017.

Despite having an outstanding season, Curran reports that Gronkowski didn’t enjoy himself during the season and was growing increasingly frustrated.

“(Gronkowski) did not have a good time despite the fact his body was in a better situation than it’s been in a long time — ever maybe. Despite the fact that he’s one of the most dominant players at any skill position, it’s starting to wear on him physically, mentally, the atmosphere in New England.”

Curran reports that during the rigors of training camp, there was a growing discontent with the training staff over the workout regimens and that Gronk was “pissed.” That could mean a variety of things but it may mean more of the Alex Guerrero saga will raise its head again. Gronkowski supposedly has been seeking out Brady’s personal body guru and there is a chance that it was a sore subject with the training staff.

If that is the case…this won’t go away easily. Curran added, “I don’t think that some of the principal players on this team were really happy with the atmosphere and the climate … they still need to have a hell of an air-clearing at Patriot Place to get these guys back.”

Mark Daniels of the Providence Journal, approached Gronkowski during the season about Gronk using the Guerrero method and that the Patriots tried to stop him from writing about the TB12 method. In the end, Gronkowski wanted to talk about it and he gave Daniels the story anyway.

It certainly would seem that there needs to be a sit-down with the veteran leaders of the team with the coaches and ownership and clear whatever bad air is still lingering over what may have been a tense atmosphere in Gillette last season.

Our original thought here over the retirement rumors was that Gronkowski was just frustrated at the way the season ended and would take stock of his situation and bounce back. It was also a nice way to get the team to sweeten the pot a little bit with a contract extension.

One could hardly argue with that line. He’s suffered a myriad of injuries in his NFL career and has grown increasingly frustrated at the one set of rules for defending him as opposed to everyone else. Opponents get away with a lot more leeway when trying to contain him, with a ton of grabbing, holding, hitting well after the five-yard limit as well as targeting. We saw what happened late in the season when he blew up against Buffalo and took out his frustrations with a cheap shot after a play that resulted in a one-game suspension.

But this is different. This changes the landscape quite a bit. Curran’s source has to be with Gronkowski himself or someone within his close circle, no doubt a member of his family. And the source of frustration goes much deeper obviously. His family has always been fiercely protective of him and they’ve always had his best interests at heart.

When talking about the Patriots offense, the three most valuable players are Tom Brady, Julian Edelman, and Gronkowski. They won the Super Bowl last year without Gronkowski but with Edelman.This year without Edelman but with Gronkowski, they went back to the Super Bowl but lost. Although it was hardly the fault of anything offensively to do with Gronkowski.

Gronkowski caught 69 passes for 1,084 and eight touchdowns and was named to his fourth First-Team All-Pro selection of his career in 2017. In the playoffs, he added 16 catches, including nine for 116 yards and two touchdowns in the Super Bowl against the Philadelphia Eagles.

If Gronkowski is truly serious about retiring, then the team would probably want him to do it now rather than later this summer. The Patriots will have some serious decisions to make. With both Martellus Bennett and Dwayne Allen free agents, they may opt for both, one of which or neither to return. Those decisions may rest on if Gronkowski decides to call it a career at 28.

But make no mistake, regardless of what Gronkowski’s decision is, neither Bennett nor Allen will play for the team with what they are currently slotted to earn. That won’t change. Either or both have some serious renegotiating to do. If both aren’t brought back and Gronkowski does indeed retire, tight end becomes a huge area for an upgrade as that will leave them with Jacob Hollister and Will Tye.

No can fault Gronkowski if he’s had enough, he’s been thru a slew of surgeries, more than many players have that have played much longer than him. If this has to do with hurt feelings over his training regimen, then the parties need to sit down at Gillette and get the dialog going. The clock is ticking, and it is decision time for everyone involved.

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 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.

Patriots  Week 10 Report Card, Dominate Broncos on the Road

Steve Balestrieri
November 14, 2017 at 9:30 am ET

The Patriots quickly put the Denver Broncos in the rear view mirror due to outstanding special teams play on Sunday night and then with a tremendous offensive game plan, kept Denver’s defense off-balance and in chase mode all night long in a 41-16 rout.

With the stadium at Mile High in Denver has been a house of horrors for the Patriots, they’ve now won there in back-to-back seasons. Even more importantly, the win allows the Patriots to keep pace with Pittsburgh having the best record in the AFC at 7-2 and opened up a two-game lead in the AFC East due to Buffalo getting spanked at home by New Orleans.

So, we’ll start with the offense and the players can come forward to pick up their grade sheets.

Quarterback: A

The “No-Fly Zone” didn’t apply to Tom Brady on Sunday night. Denver’s strength on defense is their three cornerbacks, who are arguably the best in the NFL and their pass rush. So Josh McDaniels and Brady did the smart thing. They got the ball out quickly to negate the pass rush and attacked their weakness, the linebackers in coverage.

In our pregame matchups we pointed out that the place to attack was the linebackers with the tight ends and backs. And Brady was absolutely clinical in doing so, Denver had no answer for that. Brady’s first touchdown was to Rex Burkhead who easily beat his coverage on a skinny post to open the scoring.

Brady used play action passing to freeze the linebackers on more than one occasion but the best one was arguably on the deep 26-yard completion to Gronkowski where there was a huge gap in the coverage. Brady finished 25-34 for 266 yards with three touchdowns and should have had a fourth with the call on Gronkowski being called incomplete when the ball never touched the ground.

Brian Hoyer got to come in late and got in a bit of working going 3-3 including a really nicely designed and conducted screen pass to Brandin Cooks that went for 27 yards.

Running Backs: A-

The running backs were part of the focus this week and they didn’t disappoint. On a night where Mike Gillislee was a healthy scratch, Rex Burkhead and Dion Lewis were the focal points and both had very solid outings.

While the running game wasn’t dominant, it was good enough. Denver, other than last week in Philly has been very stout against the run and getting just under 100 yards kept the defense honest and allowed Brady to run play action.

Lewis didn’t have a catch but was good in the running game, lugging the ball between the tackles. Burkhead provided good power also between the tackles, moving the pile a few times in short yardage and picking up a key fourth down run. He was also very productive in the passing game. Both featured key moments on STs which we’ll get to below.

James White didn’t get a ton of snaps this week but he had a nice touchdown reception from Brady where he put an excellent move on safety Will Parks and had an easy pitch and catch for the score. James Develin was outstanding in run support getting the ball carriers to the second level.

Wide Receivers: B-

This was more by design than anything else. The team was shorthanded with Chris Hogan out so, they attacked the Denver weak spots using the backs and tight ends. However, they kept Denver’s secondary honest by targeting Cooks 11 times, mostly in short underneath routes. Phillip Dorsett and Danny Amendola were only targeted six times total but responded with six catches.

On a night the coaches were putting the onus elsewhere, the wide receivers still had decent production and did exactly what was asked of them.

Tight Ends: B-

Rob Gronkowski had a typical Gronkowski evening, seeing double, at times triple coverage down close to the goal line but still had good production with four catches for 74 yards. He also had a diving 19-yard catch for a touchdown erased by an official ruling that the ball hit the ground, but we’ve beat that horse to death enough.

Martellus Bennett was back in a Patriots uniform and although he played only about 8 snaps made his presence felt, catching 3 passes for 38 yards. His first catch was a big 27-yarder where the Broncos had a communication breakdown (other teams have them too), and two linebackers went after Burkhead leaving Bennett all alone.

Dwayne Allen finally got a catch and it was a big one, a touchdown catch where he was held by Von Miller and then made a nice catch on an outside pass by Brady. He was also very good in the running game. Jacob Hollister didn’t play on offense but had a couple of big plays on Special Teams.

Offensive Line: A

The offensive line heard all week about the fearsome Denver pass rush especially by Von Miller. Miller was facing backup swing tackle LaAdrian Waddle filling in for injured Marcus Cannon at right tackle and had one pressure all night on Brady. Waddle, receiving little extra help, was mainly left on his own and held up extremely well. Ditto for Nate Solder. Shane Ray on the other side was relegated to milk carton status. The only sack given up was on a safety blitz where James White uncharacteristically whiffed on a pass block, with Brady getting sacked inside Denver’s 10 yard forcing a field goal.

The run blocking was okay but not great. But the bottom line is that the Patriots scored on seven straight possessions. That doesn’t happen…ever unless Brady is getting excellent protection. And yes they aced this test.

Defensive Line: B-

The Patriots defensive line was good but not great in this one. They did a decent job of defending the run although the Broncos did have a couple of really good chunk plays, most of those came after the team was comfortably ahead. But they were stout in the red zone which is a plus, with the Broncos scoring only one touchdown.

The pass rush however was virtually non-existent. Brock Osweiler was nearly as comfortable as Brady was in the pocket. This will be an area to monitor moving forward but they couldn’t get any consistent pressure even when Matt Patricia dialed up some blitzes.

Linebackers: B-

Kyle Van Noy gets high marks for his continuing high level of play all over the field. With Hightower gone for the year, Van Noy calls the signals for the defense and will rush the passer, cover the backs in the flat and drop into coverage. He read a play perfectly and blasted in dropping Jamaal Charles for a loss on one running play. David Harris got the most work of the season and was very good in run support and put a jarring hit on TE Jeff Heuerman knocking the ball loose. Elandon Roberts got good pressure on an A-Gap delay blitz and forced Osweiler to unload the ball.

Special teamers Marquis Flowers and Trevor Reilly got some work in as Matt Patricia worked everyone into the system and all played well.

Secondary: B

While Malcolm Butler had a very rough first half, Emmanuel Sanders had 114 yards receiving by halftime. He recovered however, and played tough and physical in the second half where Sanders could manage just 23 yards after the break. It wasn’t pretty by any stretch of the imagination but Butler has a short memory and he doesn’t get down or sulk when he’s not playing well.

Stephon Gilmore returned from his concussion and played well. He was tasked with coverage on Demaryius Thomas and neutralized him quite well. Thomas had five catches for 44 yards. In Thomas’ nine games previously against the Patriots he has averaged 92.5 yards per game and 16.6 yards per reception. Thomas did snag a touchdown on Gilmore but that was just a well designed play by Osweiler. His play action fake froze the linebackers just long enough and Roberts didn’t get a deep enough drop where he’d have been right in the throwing lane. Thomas had inside position on Gilmore and made the catch for the score.

Devin McCourty was his normally solid self in centerfield and was forced to make a couple of key tackles when Sanders was getting loose. Pat Chung and Duron Harmon played well and Chung got an interception off of Osweiler when he read the play and jumped the route in front of Heuerman.

Special Teams: A+

The Special Teams get very high marks this week for turning in three tremendous big plays that easily turned this game into the laugher that it was. After the Pats were held to a three and out on their first possession, Jonathan Jones flew up the field on punt coverage and Broncos returner Isaiah McKenzie, who has shown a tendency for bobbling punts muffed this one. Jones blasted him, allowing Jacob Hollister to recover the ball. The Patriots would then score on seven straight possessions.

Dion Lewis had a 103-yard kickoff return for a score getting several key blocks including good ones from Hollister and Dwayne Allen. Once he reached the outside, he had clear sailing and no one was going to catch him. That silenced the crowd quickly.

Rex Burkhead came clean on a punt block after a fantastic play by Brandon Bolden freed him up. Bolden caused his man to step out wide and Burkhead burst thru the gap like he was shot out of a cannon. That set the Patriots up with a short field for a score.

Stephen Gostkowski’s kickoffs were a stake in the heart of the Broncos. He dropped them just short of the goal line time and again and the coverage units were outstanding. Trevor Reilly unloaded on McKenzie on one where it was amazing that McKenzie was able to hold onto the ball.

Denver made the night complete by jumping offside on a 4th and 5 where the Patriots lined up to punt. The first down resulted in the Patriots putting another score on the board where they completed a 16-play, 94-yard drive.

Coaches: A

Bill Belichick’s team had two weeks to prepare to face a team that always seems to have its way with New England at home. Belichick and the staff came up with a fantastic game plan to attack the middle of the field with the tight ends and running backs and they simply eviscerated a very good, very proud defense where they scored on seven straight possessions. That doesn’t happen very often, if at all to Denver at home.

The players were focused and executed the game plan extremely well. Belichick likes to talk about producing in “All 3 Phases” of the game. The team did it and more. They allowed only one touchdown and just 16 points on defense, scored 41 points and had tremendous splash plays on special teams.

This was the perfect way to start off the second half of the season and a long road trip that will feature five of the next six games on the road.

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 Special Teams, Dominant In Blowout Win Over Denver

Steve Balestrieri
November 13, 2017 at 9:10 am ET

One of the few complaints heard around Patriots Nation centers around Bill Belichick’s insistence on having so many players on the roster that contribute only on special teams. Sunday night’s game in Denver should put that argument to rest for quite awhile.

For the second game in a row, the Patriots special teams units were a huge difference in the game and were a big reason why the team was victorious.

New England and Denver are teams heading in opposite directions. The Patriots have won five in a row while the Broncos have dropped five straight. A major reason why this game turned into a blowout was the dominance of the Patriots STs units and Denver’s continued awful special teams play. The Broncos are done now, and can only play the spoiler. And it wasn’t the play of their QBs this week, it was their special teams and defense.

There were four huge plays by Joe Judge’s units that turned this game from a potentially close game into a rout. Let me caveat this by saying something straight out. I’ve been hearing the “Special Teams was the only reason the Patriots won” narrative. That doesn’t give hardly enough credit to Tom Brady and the offense. The Patriots offense scored on seven straight possessions. The Denver defense couldn’t stop the Patriots offense all night long. But back to the four key special teams plays.

  • After the Patriots went three and out on their opening possession, they were forced to punt. Ryan Allen’s punt had very good hang time and Jonathan Jones put pressure on Isaiah McKenzie and he muffed the punt. Jones blasted McKenzie and rookie Jacob Hollister recovered the ball and the offense was in business. It was a huge turn of events. Brady later hit Rex Burkhead for a 14-yard touchdown and the Patriots were off and running.
  • Denver answered by driving down and kicking a field goal. On the ensuing kickoff, Denver kicked three yards deep to Dion Lewis. Lewis found a seam and burst thru the poor coverage by the Broncos and raced 103 yards for a touchdown. He received two key blocks by reserve tight ends Dwayne Allen and Jacob Hollister along the way
  • Rex Burkhead, who had a good night on the offense, provided the third key special teams play of the night. He burst thru the interior on a Denver punt and smothered the kick for a key punt block. The short field allowed the Patriots to kick a field goal. Which should have been a touchdown. I’m still waiting to the see the ball hit the ground there…
  • The final key play was early in the fourth quarter. The Patriots had started on their own six-yard line at the end of the third quarter. They moved to the Denver 41 where the drive stalled. But on 4th and 5, Denver jumped offside on the punt giving Brady and offense a fresh set of downs. Seven plays later Brady put the dagger in with a touchdown pass to James White, finishing a 16-play, 94-yard drive that took 7:31 seconds off the clock.

The Patriots special teams have been steadily improving as the season winds along. In their last game against San Diego, they tackled a punt returner for a safety and Lewis ran back a kickoff in that one of 71 yards. The coverage units have been outstanding and Stephen Gostkowski’s kickoffs are putting teams constantly in the hole behind the 25-yard line.

The only downer from the game was ST’s Captain Matthew Slater, pulling a hamstring in the game last night and not returning.

But if they continue to play at this kind of high level, the sky is the limit. They can match up with just about anyone they play and having an STs unit that can give the team a boost like that is outstanding.

We’re on to Mexico….

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.

So Far, The Patriots Have a Broken Connection With Dwayne Allen

Ian Logue
October 3, 2017 at 5:00 am ET

Looking over the Patriots stats through four weeks, it’s pretty obvious that on the offensive side of the ball, one of these players doesn’t quite fit in like the others.

With Tom Brady starting to connect consistently with each of the receivers in his group, newcomer tight end Dwayne Allen remains the only receiver who Brady hasn’t been able to connect with over the course of the first four games of the season.

For Allen, part of it hasn’t been his fault, but lately, it hasn’t looked too good for the newcomer.  Brady badly missed him in the season opener against the Chiefs and since then, there have been a few close calls but overall the veteran is currently 0-for-6 when targeted by Brady.

0-for-6.

That’s not a misprint.  As a matter of fact, Allen is the only Patriots receiver who has been targeted and has yet to make a reception with one quarter of the season under their belt.

It’s tough to say why that is but knowing how stringent Brady is when it comes to the details, it eventually reaches a point where there’s just too big of a disconnect to start to wonder what the problem is.

Whatever the issue, they’re not on the same page. So much so that Brady, who has completed 27-of-39 (69%) and 4 touchdowns on third down to this point, hasn’t even targeted him on third down so far this season.  Even rookie Jacob Hollister was targeted once (an incompletion) but Brady obviously felt that there was a sliver of a chance he might catch it.  Clearly, Allen hasn’t earned that confidence to this point.


Even Jacob Hollister has logged two receptions from Brady, including one where he got lit up but held onto the football.

It’s no secret that some players have a tough time settling into this offense and Allen admitted back during training camp that he might have been in over his head.

“It is extremely hard,” Allen told the Boston Herald. “I’m not going to sugarcoat it.”

However, it’s not like Allen was shipped here and this wasn’t a place he wanted to be.  He told the newspaper that being a Patriot is something he he prayed for, but when that opportunity finally came along, it may have been a little harder than he thought.

“It is hard but also stimulating and very exciting,” Allen said of learning the offense. “It is one of those things that where you pray for something so long, and when it comes, you can’t cry because it’s harder than you thought it was going to be.”

Allen logged just nine snaps on Sunday and was targeted once in the loss to Carolina.  It certainly tempers the expectations from when they traded with Indianapolis for a 4th round pick to acquire his services.

The veteran tight end’s upside is great and it’s always fun to see guys who are struggling finally have that “Ah-ha!” moment and finally get it together.  The bad news is, we’re already a month into the season and the question for Allen might end up being whether or not he’ll get that opportunity before Bill Belichick and the club switch gears and move on without him.

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…

OFFENSE (24)
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.

DEFENSE (25):
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.

New England Patriots Training Camp Primer – Tight Ends

Steve Balestrieri
July 12, 2017 at 6:29 am ET

Gronkowski’s Health Always A Key Concern

The Patriots head into training camp in just 15 days and there should be no shortage of competition at a number of spots. As a lead-in to the beginning of camp, we’ll break down the positions and give our take on who is a lock, a near lock for the 53-man roster and who is on the bubble. Next up is the Tight End position.

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.

So next up are the tight ends. The Patriots have six players vying for roster spots.

This position will ultimately be judged on how healthy Rob Gronkowski can stay in 2017. When he’s good to go and on the field, he’s the most dangerous tight end in the game and an absolute game changer.

The team knows that just by the nature of his game and how he plays, he’s apt to get dinged up. That’s why the second tight end spot is very important and Allen will have to be a guy who can be relied upon.

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

Roster Locks: Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen
Gronkowski is still the gold standard among tight ends in the NFL. No one possesses the entire package that he brings to the table. He has the type of athleticism at the position where he can attack the field down the seams, move the chains, and be a huge physical target in the red zone. And he’s an outstanding blocker in the running game.

He’s one of those players that opposing teams must game plan around. He creates mismatches, as linebackers can’t run with him and safeties, aren’t big enough to stand up to his physicality.

Gronkowski, along with Julian Edelman are two of Tom Brady’s most favorite targets. Both have tremendous football I.Q.s and can read the defense pre-snap and understand and see exactly what Brady is seeing. This frequently means that no audible has to be called. QB and receiver are in tune and the play is changed silently as the two have worked on their reads and chemistry after long hours on the practice field.

Gronkowski in minicamp appeared 100 percent healthy with no restrictions, which is great news for 2017. It will be interesting to see how the Patriots manage his snaps in preseason and training camp as they have plenty of players to use. They want him healthy for a stretch run, not necessarily an early September matchup.

Allen was brought in to replace the departed Martellus Bennett who was a big addition in 2016 and had much to do with the team’s success during the Super Bowl run. Allen is known as a tremendous run blocker, just like Bennett and that will be how the coaches judge him first. Once the pads come on in camp, is when Allen’s fit can be judged.

We saw the commentary on his struggles during the first day of minicamp, his drops and Bill Belichick’s acerbic comments to him about “this isn’t Indy” on that rainy day. We watched Allen closely the next day and I thought he did fine.

Dwayne Allen catches a pass during Patriots minicamp in June. (SBalestrieri photo)

Obviously, if he struggles during training camp it will be a concern moving forward but I’m not buying into much of the talk that he’s on the bubble. He’s had good but not great numbers in the passing game but has been very productive in the red zone.

That could have a significant impact as teams usually pay close attention to Gronkowski in the red area. If Allen’s performance holds true to form, he could have some very good production in 2017.

Near Roster Locks: None

On the Bubble: James O’Shaughnessy, Matt Lengel, Jacob Hollister, Sam Cotton
The Patriots usually like their third tight end to be more of a blocker but in the case of O’Shaughnessy, that may change. The Patriots spent some time looking at him prior to the 2015 NFL Draft and when the opportunity availed itself, they swung a deal with the Chiefs to trade for him. He could be looked at as a move tight end as opposed to the traditional in-line role as well as a special teams’ performer.

Matt Lengel was on the team a year ago and is a big (6’7, 265-pound) blocking tight end who the team snatched off the Bengals’ practice squad. He chipped in with a couple of catches, including an 18-yard touchdown against the Jets, but he’s a blocker first and foremost.

Jacob Hollister is an intriguing UDFA tight end out of Wyoming. (SBalestrieri photo)

Hollister comes to the Patriots via the UDFA route from Wyoming where he had a standout senior season with 32 catches for 515 yards and seven touchdowns. He is more of a move tight end (6’4, 240-pounds) than an inline blocker. He’s still a bit raw and needs to work on his blocking, but he turned our heads a bit during minicamp so he’ll bear watching in training camp.

Cotton is an intriguing guy, the 6’4, 250 tight end had pretty pedestrian numbers at Nebraska but the Cornhuskers are very much a running team first. For a good sized tight end, Cotton showed some nice athleticism during his Pro Day. He ran a very respectable 4.80 but his time in the 3-Cone Drill, a Patriots staple was what turned heads. Cotton ran that in 6.87 which would have been second among tight ends at the Combine in Indianapolis. He also turned in an impressive performance with a 127-inch broad jump and his 35.5-inch vertical leap which would’ve been sixth in Indy. He’s a longshot to make the team but he’s got the Bo Pelini connection that Belichick likes.

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.