Tag Archives: Gunner Olszewski

New England Patriots News 9-01, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
September 1, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 09-01 and AFC East notes this week. 

September is back among us and yes that means the NFL regular season is beginning in just a few days while the Patriots season begins a week from tonight. The beauty of it all is that everyone is square with the house, and starting with a clean slate. There are 512 regular-season games on the slate for 2019 and let’s all look forward to seeing some great football this fall.  

All eyes, however, are right now on the state of Florida as a huge hurricane is barreling towards them. Stay safe folks. It looks to be a bad one.

 Quick Hitters:

Tom Brady – was photographed lining up behind Chase Winovich and measuring his hair for the famous Patriot rookie haircut event which takes place every year. The two were going back and forth with one another on Instagram about it which just heightens the sense of “Tom-foolery” one can expect sometime today.

Julian Edelman  – Along with Brady were spotted doing some balancing poses on the sideline during Thursday night’s preseason finale against the Giants…which harkens back to our days of physical therapy for aching knees where we had to do the same…but not quite. 

Jadeveon Clowney – was traded to the Seattle Seahawks after refusing to go to Miami. The Texans got two linebackers and a third-round draft pick. Miami then traded LT Laremy Tunsil and WR Kenny Stills to the Texans for a bevy of draft picks. Could Miami be tanking for Trevor Lawrence? 

Bill Belichick – [on cutting the 4th preseason game],”‘The more games you play, the more opportunities you have. Look at the Giants last night, you want to go ahead and cut out this game then go ahead and cut it out. It gave [Kyle] Lauletta a chance to play half the game. It gave [Alex] Tanney a chance to play half the game and gave [Daniel] Jones a chance to play. If you want to get rid of the game then go ahead and get rid of the game, and then don’t play those guys. Do whatever you want on that.”

 “Bill Whiffed on Another 2nd Rounder, Grab Yer Torch & Pitchforks:

The NFL Draft isn’t an exact science, we all know that. And no one knows it better than Bill Belichick. He likes to amass picks because, in his mind, it gives you a better chance of hitting on players than rolling the dice on just a few players. 

So, when to no one’s surprise, the Patriots parted ways with 2nd-year cornerback Duke Dawson, trading him and a 7th rounder to Denver for a 6th round draft pick, the boo-birds were out in force. But, after watching Dawson all spring/summer in minicamp, training camp and the preseason, he didn’t deserve a spot on the 53-man roster. He was clearly outplayed by the incumbent slot corner Jonathan Jones for the starting position as well as other young players, J.C. Jackson and Keion Crossen. 

So, should the Patriots have kept Dawson around, simply by the aspect of his draft position? Of course not. It was why Belichick has never cared one iota where a player is drafted, only how he performs on the field. And that line of reasoning has worked pretty well wouldn’t you say? Nine Super Bowl appearances in 18 years, including four out of the last five? 

But several media members [and ones who know better] started with now annual and very tired “Bill has another draft flop” routine while another posted “Duke Dawson added to the Ras-I Dowling-Chad Jackson memorial Belichick 2nd round pick trash heap” 

While it is true that Belichick has whiffed on several 2nd rounders, what was forgotten, [perhaps conveniently ignored] are Belichick’s own feelings on the second round of the NFL Draft. In case any of our readers have, we are posting them here. 

Several years ago, Michael Holley wrote a New York Times bestseller [and one that every one of these media folks read] called “Inside the War Room” which detailed how Belichick goes about trying to build the perfect football team. Belichick has frequently said that the 2nd round frequently has the highest ‘bust’ rate of the entire draft league-wide and there is where the team frequently may take a chance on a guy. 

“In the second round you find a lot of players with first-round talent but not first-round performance or production,” Belichick said. “The highest bust factor is in the second.” That line of thinking has been reiterated by Nick Caserio as well during the draft. 

Belichick has stated that some of those players may be a better football player than an athlete [Brandon Spikes] or more of speed guy than a true football player [Bethel Johnson]. “One guy may work out, others will not,” Belichick said.
“If you want that kind of upside, you want that kind of potential, that’s where you have to take it, [a chance] because it isn’t going to be there in the third round.”

Belichick has had more than his share of misses in the second round where the team took a shot at some players they liked. Including in those are Chad Jackson, Ron Brace, Terrence Wheatley, Jermaine Cunningham, Aaron Dobson, Jordan Richards, Cyrus Jones as well as Dawson last year. 

But while everyone is quick to point out Ras-I Dowling in 2011, they fail to mention Shane Vereen. You know, the guy who caught 11 passes in the Super Bowl against the Seahawks?

Some notable hits in the 2nd round for Belichick include Matt Light, Deion Branch, Eugene Wilson, Pat Chung, Sebastian Vollmer, Vereen, Jamie Collins, Jimmy Garoppolo, and this year’s draftee Joejuan Williams. Belichick’s best 2nd rounder? Oh yeah, it was a kid named Gronkowski. Oh wait, what did he ever do in the league?  

It is a well-known fact that Belichick will take a chance on a second-rounder. Instead of cherry-picking that fact and accentuating the busts, look at the big picture. Dawson didn’t pan out. He himself was considered a bit of a reach in the 2nd round. Most draft analysts had him pegged for Rounds 3-4. But the simple fact of the matter is, Dawson would still be here as a backup, project DB except that a 7th round pick Crossen, and a UDFA, Jackson, clearly outperformed him. 

Let’s all remember that fact when Dawson finds his game elsewhere and then the same people decry “GM Bill trading away his top draft picks.” Enough already.  

Patriots Initial 53-man Roster Takes Shape:

The Patriots’ cut down from the 90 man roster to their initial 53 is complete. And we stress the word ‘initial’ as the roster we see today may not be the same next week against the Steelers and definitely won’t be the same in December. It will continue to evolve as the season rolls. 

As always there were some big surprises. Demaryius Thomas being released was one. After activating him on just August 20, he seemed a slam-dunk for the roster. However, Mike Giardi of NFL.com has said that both sides are amenable to his return, so we’ll watch for that. 

Brian Hoyer’s release was also something that came as a surprise. Our feeling was that he would be here for 2019, but with all the other players they wanted to keep, it became a numbers crunch. 

Gunner Olszewski had a heckuva ride this summer and yesterday was one for the books. First, he was told he was being released before noon. But a late trade with the Texans sending CB Keion Crossen to Houston opened up a spot for him. And then he was told that he’ll be remaining. The team will go with five corners and six safeties with Obi Melifonwu who many had on the outside making the initial cut. Here’s a look at the initial 53…expect some changes before the Steelers get to town. The 10-man [11 with Jakob Johnson, NFL International Player] can be filled out today at 1:00 p.m. 

QB (2) Tom Brady, Jarrett Stidham

RB (6) Sony Michel, James Develin, Rex Burkhead, James White, Damien Harris, Brandon Bolden

WR (7) Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, Josh Gordon, Phillip Dorsett,Gunner Olszewski, Matthew Slater, Jakobi Meyers

TE (2) Matt LaCosse, Ryan Izzo

C  (2) Ted Karras, Russell Bodine

G  (2) Shaq Mason, Joe Thuney, 

T  (4) Marcus Cannon, Isaiah Wynn, Jermaine Eluemenor, Korey Cunningham

DE (5) Michael Bennett, Deatrich Wise, Chase Winovich, John Simon, Shalique Calhoun

DT (4) Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler, Byron Cowart, Danny Shelton

LB(5) Ja’Whaun Bentley, Dont’a Hightower, Kyle VanNoy, Elandon Roberts, Jamie Collins

CB (5) Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, Joejuan Williams, Jonathan Jones, J.C. Jackson

S (6) Pat Chung, Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, Terrence Brooks, Nate Ebner, Obi Melifonwu

ST (3) Stephen Gostkowski, Jake Bailey, Joe Cardona

Luck Boos, Slams, Misunderstood at Best:

How anyone could think lesser of Andrew Luck when it became apparent that he couldn’t play anymore is beyond the pale. Luck has suffered an inordinate amount of serious and painful injuries and his press conference where he spelled it all out should have been all anyone needed to hear. 

But some fans and media members, many of whom have never done anything similar in their lives and have never suffered a serious injury descended on Luck like sharks smelling blood in the water. Calling him out as cowardly, wishing “he was wired differently” [same exact thing but splitting proverbial hairs] and any other thing he heard or read is not seeing the forest for the trees. 

Listen to what Rob Gronkowski said this week in an emotional response to the pain he felt after the Super Bowl. Read Rich Ohrnberger’s story on his decision. The former Patriots OL is now a radio host in San Diego. Who are these people to question his courage without having ever walked in his shoes? 

As for others who bemoaned the timing of his decision? Sorry, your body doesn’t punch a clock in regards as to when the NFL schedule happens to fall. Gimme a break. I sincerely hope that none of these buffoons ever have to wake up in the morning and worry about how long it takes to get out of bed and moving…ever.

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Trade Guard, Center Prior to Cut Down Day:

The Buffalo Bills, as many already know, traded center Russell Bodine to the Patriots for a sixth-round draft pick in 2020. Bodine, 27, made 10 starts for the Bills last season and had been a four-year starter in Cincinnati. 

Buffalo also sent left guard Wyatt Teller and a 2021 seventh-round draft pick to the Browns for two draft picks, a fifth and a sixth-round pick. Teller, 24, was a fifth-round pick in 2018 for the Bills and started the final seven games last year. But recent acquisitions Ike Boettger, and Ryan Bates made Teller expendable.

QB Josh Allen told Adam Schein on his radio show that he expects special things in 2019. “Not trying to get too ahead of ourselves, taking it one game at a time. I know it’s cliché, but this team is special. I love all the guys that we have on this team and I think it’s going to be a special year for us.”

Dolphins HOF Jim Langer, Member of Undefeated Team Dies at 71:

The Miami Dolphins lost one of their legends last week as Jim Langer, the center on the Dolphins undefeated 1972 team has died. He was 71. Langer was a Minnesota native and passed away from heart-related problems in Coon Rapids, MN on Thursday.

“Jim was a true success story,”  Dolphins coach Don Shula said in a statement via Dolphins.com. “He joined us as a free agent in 1970 and ended up as a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He was the steadying force in the middle of an offensive line which was key to our championship teams.

“But Jim was more than a great football player,” Shula added. “He was one of the finest human beings that I have ever had the opportunity to know and also to coach. He was a gentleman in every sense of the word. He was loved and respected by everyone who knew him. My thoughts are with his wife, Linda, and their children.”

Langer played every offensive snap during the team’s 1972 undefeated run. He was voted to six straight Pro Bowls and was the Fins’ MVP in 1975. He was a first-ballot HOFer inducted in 1987. 

Jets Looking For RB Help? Roster Position Appears Deep:

The New York Jets running back position seems deep with Le’Veon Bell, Ty Montgomery, Bilal Powell, and Trent Cannon set to make the 53-man roster. However, after the team released Elijah McGuire, Aaron Wilson, who covers the NFL and the Texans for the Houston Chronicle, reported that the Jets are looking to swing a trade for another running back. 

He posted on Twitter that, “Texans and Jets are actively looking for running backs via the trade market, according to league sources.”

This may be something to monitor moving forward. 

________________

“You take all of the things into consideration that you possibly can and just try to make the best decisions for your team. There’s a lot of considerations long term, short term, depth, the next game, games later in the year, next year. You just try to do the best you can to balance it out. You can’t do it all, so each decision has a consequence or some kind of residual. There’s always good arguments for doing things one way or the contrary point of view. In the end, you just have to try and figure out what’s best for the team by putting all of that into consideration.”
Bill Belichick on establishing the 53-man roster, 8-30

________________

“So, how was your week?”

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.

Best Of Social Media: Preseason Week 4 Giants vs Patriots

Robert Alvarez
August 30, 2019 at 8:47 pm ET

The Patriots wrapped up the 2019 preseason with the New York Giants on Thursday night.

Check out all the best social media postings and videos from the final tuneup before the regular season.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B1wsl0Fg8IJ/
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In the first quarter Josh Gordon made his first appearance since being reinstated.

A Stephen Gostkowski 31 yard field goal gave the Patriots an early 3-0 lead.

The Giants would answer back with a 35 yard pass from Alex Tanney to Alonzo Russell.

7-3 New York Giants.

https://twitter.com/Giants/status/1167228155402211328?s=20

A 32 yard field goal by Aldrick Rosas gave the Giants their first lead of the game after one quarter of play.

10-3 NYG.

The second quarter became the Demaryius Thomas Show.

Thomas, who missed the remainder of the 2018 season with an achilles injury, looked sharp.

Thomas hauled in a 35 yard highlight catch for a touchdown from Jarrett Stidham, the two point attempt failed.

10-9 ballgame early in the second quarter.

The Patriots retook the lead when Stidham again found Thomas for a score completing a perfect drive for the rookie quarterback.

16-10 Patriots at the eight minute mark of the second.

Stephen Gostkowski tacked on a 40 yard field goal to extend the Patriot lead to nine.

A Nick Brossette rushing score opened up a 26-10 Patriots lead.

Don’t tell Tom Brady and Julian Edelman that its week four of preseason.

A Stephen Gostkowski 51 yard field goal just before halftime pushed the Patriot lead to 29-10.

In the third quarter the Giants mounted a comeback following a field goal and Kyle Lauletta touchdown to Scott Simonson to cut the Patriots lead to ten at 29-19 after three.

Gunner Olszewski captured the attention of many in the second half for his versatility to play multiple positions, will it earn him a roster spot, we will see?

The Giants comeback continued into the fourth quarter as Wayne Gallman brought big blue within three at 29-25.

With the clock winding down on the game late fourth, Alonzo Russell hauled in a stunning buzzer beater, game winning touchdown from Kyle Lauletta.

The Giants once again foiled a Patriots perfect (pre) season attempt with a come from behind 31-29 victory.

The regular season at long last begins for real on September 8th at 8:25 against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

31-29 FINAL NYG

https://twitter.com/Giants/status/1167279830246842368?s=20

Patriots Close Out Preseason, Now It is Decision Time

Steve Balestrieri
at 7:00 am ET

For the fifteenth year in a row, the Patriots and Giants ended their preseason with a game against each other and the Giants, courtesy of a last-second Kyle Lauletta touchdown pass [albeit one where the play clock ran out well before the snap], beat the Patriots 31-29, scoring 21 unanswered points in the second half.

With the preseason over, now comes the cut-down from the 90 man roster limit to the active 53-man roster by Saturday at 4:00 p.m. On Sunday at 1:00 p.m. the teams can fill out their 10 man practice squad. The Patriots actually have a waiver for an 11th player, Jakob Johnson due to his being an NFL International Player if he doesn’t make the 53.

Here are our quick observations from tonight’s game:

Tough Ending for Olszewski:

Gunner Olszewski was beaten on the final play of the game in the end zone when Lauletta launched a 14-yard touchdown to Alonzo Russell with no time left on the clock. It was a disappointing ending of what was a good night and a truly outstanding summer for the UDFA rookie from Bemidji State.

Nobody gave the Division 2 cornerback that the Patriots turned into a wide receiver much of a shot to make the team. But he’s worked hard and has been able to contribute in the kick return game and a bit offensively. He may not make the 53-man roster but he put some distance between himself and Braxton Berrios who was thought to have the inside track on the position. 

On Thursday night, Olszewski returned three kicks for 77 yards, one punt for seven, and had two catches for 35 yards including a nice 29-yard reception. At the end of the game, he went back to playing defense on the Giants last possession and was at big size mismatch against Russell who beat him for the touchdown. 

Olszewski has been a really nice story this summer, and there is still a shot that he’ll make the team as a returner. 

Gordon, Thomas, and Edelman at WR, Who Would Have Predicted That?

Josh Gordon, Demaryius Thomas, and Julian Edelman all played in the first half, giving the Patriots a look offensively that one wouldn’t normally enjoy for the 4th preseason game. But none of them had played at all this preseason and the coaches obviously felt that they could use some live game action. 

Edelman had one catch for 20-yards but landed on his injured thumb and quickly left the game, having had it checked out by the medical staff on the sideline. That tweak sent Patriots fans on social media from unbridled optimism to near panic… “Why’s he out there in a meaningless 4th preseason game, Bill!” sigh.

Thomas looked like he was moving pretty well, with no discomfort and had seven catches for 87 yards with 2 touchdowns on eight targets. It had to be a promising start for a guy who had surgery for a torn Achilles about eight months ago. 

The offense and Gordon had trouble clicking as Stidham and he didn’t have their timing down. Which isn’t surprising since he was suspended since December and just began work with the team last Sunday. He was on NFI until this week. However, despite catching just two passes for 30 yards on six targets, Gordon’s night was particularly optimistic looking forward. He also drew a 35-yard pass interference penalty. Gordon showed he still has the explosiveness off the line and has the ability to stretch the field vertically which should lend itself well to the offense.

Stidham Plays the Entire Game:

This wasn’t a surprise, we felt that the Patriots would approach the game by giving the rookie QB all the work in this final tilt. Barring catastrophic injury, this should be the last meaningful game action until the 2020 preseason. 

Stidham completed 18-25 for 225 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. His pick resulted from a big hit he took as he was releasing the ball causing his pass to flutter straight up where safety Sean Chandler picked it off. 

But the only way for Stidham to improve is by getting game reps so that he can work on his decision making, his speed in processing plays and getting a better overall feel of the offense. He’s made very impressive strides since the first time we watched him back in minicamp. As we said in our podcast earlier this week, the Patriots should keep three QBs on the 53-man roster. 

Rookie Froholdt Injured, OL Depth Takes a Hit:

The team started Hjalte Froholdt at guard tonight, the rookie from Denmark is considered a project for the offensive line this year. He’s been battling a shoulder issue but then went down with an injury in the first half, holding his right arm. After going into the blue medical tent, he was taken to the locker room where he didn’t return. 

The team just made a couple of trades yesterday for tackle Korey Cunningham and guard Jermaine Eluemunor but Froholdt was still on our list for players making the 53-man roster. This injury may change that. If he’s hurt and going to be out for an extended period of time, the Patriots may opt to place him on IR, which may open the door for James Ferentz. 

Coaches Test Versatility With Olszewski, Williams, Johnson: 

We mentioned above that the coaching staff had Gunner Olszewski in all three phases of the game, offense, defense, and special teams. But he wasn’t alone. Jakob Johnson played fullback and in the second half was also logging snaps as an outside linebacker, and even generated some pressure on the QB. But the real story was the team moving rookie Joejuan Williams to safety. 

Williams is a corner but he has the size of a safety at 6’3, 212. He has the size and physicality that is slightly reminiscent of Brandon Browner. And while this may be nothing more than to see what the rookie can handle, We view Williams as a matchup piece where the coaching staff figures to use him against bigger wide receivers and/or tight ends. But with Belichick, it is always a case of “the more you can do…” 

Williams played next to Malik Gant who was injured and was carted off during the game. It was curious that Obi Melifonwu who was dressed didn’t play tonight. 

So, the coaches have to make their roster cuts, one player who was just signed on Sunday, LB Scooby Wright, acquitted himself quite well. He had four tackles, two sacks and two tackles for losses. Another linebacker, Calvin Munson is making a case for himself to make the roster as well. 

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.

What to Watch For, Patriots and Giants Preseason Finale

Steve Balestrieri
August 29, 2019 at 7:25 am ET

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. 

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.

Best Of Social Media: Preseason Week 3 Panthers vs Patriots

Robert Alvarez
August 28, 2019 at 12:20 pm ET

Week three of the 2019 preseason saw Tom Brady start for the Patriots for the first time.

Check out some of the best social media sights and sounds one final time from last Thursday’s game against the Carolina Panthers.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B1gqbcNA5iC/
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Just keeeeeep it movin’ #GameDay

A post shared by Julian Edelman (@edelman11) on

https://www.instagram.com/p/B1er38JgF17/

In what would become an unfortunate occurrence throughout the night, the Patriots medical tent saw frequent action.

With the first quarter winding down and the game still scoreless, Panthers safety Eric Reid delivered a controversial late hit on Ben Watson.

At the time of this posting, Eric Reid has reportedly apologized for the late hit but no NFL action has been made.

With the game scoreless through a quarter, Brady finally put together a scoring drive.

7-0 Patriots following a James Develin rushing touchdown.

Just before halftime, the Patriots special teams unit was delt a serious blow when Brandon King suffered a torn quadriceps muscle.

King was placed on season ending injured reserve.

Through one half of play the Patriots lead remained 7-0.

The second half remained quiet for both squads backup players as the Patriots and Panthers traded field goals in a 10-3 final score.

The Patriots will conclude the 2019 preseason on Thursday night against the New York Giants at Gillette Stadium.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B1gilkAn2Ky/
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Visualize.

A post shared by Isaiah Wynn (@iwynn77) on

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Blessing came Perfect…i Timed it.

A post shared by Ja’Whaun Bentley (@warriormentality) on

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Patriots Defense Looks Ready For 2019 With 10-3 Win Over Carolina

Steve Balestrieri
August 23, 2019 at 7:30 am ET

The Patriots improved to 3-0 in the preseason with a 10-3 win over the Carolina Panthers at Gillette Stadium on Thursday night. 

As we’ve seen during the first two preseason games with mainly the backup defense, the starting unit played for the first time and was dominating, holding Carolina to just 29 yards in five first-half drives. The Panthers could only manage two first downs and were 0-5 on third downs, managing just 1.7 yards per play. 

Once again, despite not having “a dominant pass rusher” the unit hounded Cam Newton for a few series before he left with a foot injury after being sacked by Adam Butler. Newton played in his first preseason action after offseason surgery. 

The starting unit registered three sacks with Butler, Michael Bennett, and Kyle Van Noy taking down the Panthers’ QB. Ufombra Kamalu had the Patriots other sack. Carolina only had a total of 99 yards of offense with 48 passing and 51 rushing and could only muster seven first downs in the entire game.

Other observations include:

Brady Looks Sharp In Preseason Debut:

Tom Brady and much of the first unit offense were in for three series and scored one touchdown, with the other two drives wiped out by penalties. With no Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, Demaryius Thomas, Maurice Harris, Braxton Berrios, and Josh Gordon [NFI] in the lineup, Brady was targeting mainly Phillip Dorsett [5 targets, 5 catches for 41 yards] and rookie Jakobi Meyers.

Meyers got off to a rough start with Brady. He stopped running on a deep route, had a drop on a drag route where the pass was slightly behind him and had another pass batted away by cornerback James Bradberry. 

Brady ended up 8-12 for 75 yards, his two best throws were an 18-yard laser down the seam to Ryan Izzo and a nicely zipped pass on the outside to Dorsett. He looks ready to go. 

Dorsett and Michel Shine in Early Action: 

Dorsett was targeted five times by Brady and twice by Stidham and hauled in all seven passes thrown his way.  He looked quick off the line and sure-handed as he and Brady were locked in one another. It was a good veteran performance as he stepped up with all of the other players missing and with Harris missing, Dorsett has solidified his grip on a roster spot. Many have him neck and neck with Harris. He didn’t hurt his chances with a solid game tonight.

Michel looked quick to the hole, decisive and elusive. He made people miss with some outstanding, explosive cuts and looks absolutely ready for the regular season. While he had just 36 yards on 10 carries, those numbers are skewed somewhat as he had two runs including a really nice 30-yard run wiped out by a holding penalty downfield, [Meyers] and was stuffed on the goal line twice, once where the TE [Saubert] missed his block.  

Starting Offensive Line Play Encouraging, Backups…Not So Much:

The Patriots starting unit did a good job of protecting Brady and other than some holding penalties that have to be cleaned up, did a nice job of opening holes for Michel and the running game. And this was against a very good Carolina front seven. 

The starting unit of Isaiah Wynn, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, and Marcus Cannon was solid overall. Wynn, other than a whiff on a screen to Dorsett once again appears to be well on his way after his injury last summer that wiped out his rookie season.

The backup offensive linemen had a rougher evening. Carolina sacked Jarrett Stidham five times and registered eight QB hits. While two of the sacks were the result of the rookie QB holding the ball too long, this wasn’t a great night for the backups.

Injuries Pile Up:

There were several players who didn’t suit up on Thursday night. N’Keal Harry, Maurice Harris, Josh Gordon [NFI], Cam Meredith [PUP], Braxton Berrios, Matthew Slater, Obi Melifonwu, Patrick Chung, Trent Harris, Martez Ivey, Yodny Cajuste [NFI], Matt LaCosse, Shalique Calhoun, and Derek Rivers. Edelman, James White, and Demaryius Thomas dressed but didn’t play.

During the game, Kyle Van Noy, Nate Ebner, Damien Harris, Ben Watson, Gunner Olszewski, Lance Kendricks, and Stephen Anderson all left with injuries. Van Noy and Ebner returned, the rest did not. Brandon King was carted off with what appeared to be a serious leg injury. 

Quick Hitters:

Jarrett Stidham – once again appeared good, not as good as last week but his protection wasn’t nearly as strong. Belichick made the decision to replace Brady not with Brian Hoyer, but with the rookie. This was a chance to see what the rookie can do against the better players who will be there in the fall. They know what they have in Hoyer, so he sat. Stidham completed 15-19 for 134 yards. He hit some tight windows.

Gunner Olszewski – had a really good night in the punt return game. He called for a fair catch on his first where it appeared he had plenty of room to run, but after that he had four returns for 63 yards. He caught one pass for 15 yards from Stidham and it was then that he was injured and didn’t return.

Stephen Gostkowski – missed a field goal for the third straight game although this one was firmly on the hands of rookie Jake Bailey who put the ball down with the laces facing the kicker….”laces out Dan!” This will have to be cleaned up moving forward.

Jake Bailey – Speaking of the rookie, despite his gaffe holding for the field goal, he was outstanding in his punting, averaging 48 yards in his four attempts, putting two inside the 20-yard line and with excellent hang time. The Panthers had just five yards on three punt returns, because of how long the ball was in the air. 

Calvin Munson – continues his strong summer. He appears quick and is all over the field. He had four tackles, one for a loss, plays special teams and with King down, may just crack the 53-man roster.

Jakobi Meyers – After an inauspicious start with Brady, the rookie WR settled down with Stidham and made seven catches 74 yards. He’s shown good chemistry with Brady during joint practices, he’ll have to learn from this and shake it off. 

Penalties – The yellow flags continue to pile up against the Patriots, this has to be a very sore spot with Belichick and the coaching staff. Last week they got flagged numerous times for hands to the face, tonight it was holding. However, the Panthers did challenge two non-call Defensive Pass Interference plays and both were upheld.

The Giants come in a week from tonight for the final preseason tilt. 

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

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As More Patriots WRs Go Down, It is Opportunity Time for the Remainder

Steve Balestrieri
August 15, 2019 at 7:33 am ET

At the conclusion of the first joint practice with the Titans on Tuesday, the state of the Patriots receiver corps was more notable on who wasn’t in attendance rather than who was. Julian Edelman, Demaryius Thomas, Cameron Meredith, Josh Gordon [still suspended] tight end Matt LaCosse and N’Keal Harry were not there for the beginning of practice, although Harry was in uniform, he didn’t take part in any activities and quickly moved off to work with members of the training staff. 

Then during the session, both Phillip Dorsett and Maurice Harris each left with various ailments. That left a thin wide receiver grouping even thinner. Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, and Jarrett Stidham were left with Jakobi Meyers, Braxton Berrios, Dontrelle Inman, Gunner Olszewski, Damoun Patterson, and Ryan Davis. 

It isn’t known if the dings that Dorsett and Harris took were heat-related or more serious. Dorsett was reported to have returned and rode a stationary bike at the end of the practice session. This is in addition to reports that running back Damien Harris is dealing with a wrist injury, which has limited his pass=catching ability.

But rather than looking at this as a red flag [as it would be during the regular season], this is a time of opportunity, a chance to earn more reps with the starting unit and carve out a role for themselves for the players on the field.

Meyers has been a very pleasant surprise as to how fast he’s caught on to the Patriots system as well as his versatility and production in the passing game. If there is an area where he could improve it would be in special teams. The coaches have been getting him some reps in the punt return game, which to date haven’t been all smooth. 

Berrios has thrived during joint sessions and the preseason game with the Lions and is carrying that momentum into this week in Tennessee. Berrios looked very good in the return game last week in Detroit and that alone may win him a spot among the final 53-man roster. Away from the smothering Jonathan Jones in team practices, Berrios has found room to move and made some nice plays in the passing game. 

Dontrelle Inman may be the biggest benefactor from the recent spate of injuries to the wide receivers. After a very forgettable spring, Inman found himself deep in the bowels of the depth chart at the beginning of training camp. He helped himself with some good work against the Detroit third teamers last week. 

Now he’ll get more reps with Brady and the first team unit today. If that means more playing time on Saturday night, then it is a chance to move up in the pecking order. If he can find the comfort level and chemistry with Brady that he showed late last season with Andrew Luck, he could force himself into a much better situation. Maurice Harris had a tremendous start to camp. But he had a couple of big drops in Detroit, [granted one was a clear defensive pass interference] and with him now possibly on the shelf, this allows Inman a chance to push him a bit. 

LaCosse’s ankle injury last week opened the door for the team to bring in the third-year tight end Eric Sauber that they picked up from the Falcons for a conditional 7th round draft pick. Sauber has the size, 6’5, 255 pounds and the athleticism to play special teams and to attack the seams of the defense. But the knock on him is his hands, “manos de piedra” which have precluded him from having any impact in the league.

Sauber should get more and more work in the passing game as the team tries to lighten the load on 38-year old Ben Watson. Ryan Izzo is known more as a blocker. Rookie Andrew Beck is being used more as a fullback/H-back and Stephen Anderson has seemingly become an afterthought in the passing game. 

But like anything else, opportunities arise and players have to take advantage of them. 

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Patriots Rookies, Defense Shine in Preseason Win Over Detroit

Steve Balestrieri
August 9, 2019 at 6:51 am ET

The New England Patriots looked much more prepared for the first week of preseason football than the Detroit Lions did. They were sharper, looked in better shape and appeared to be farther along in their installation than their opponents did. 

While most of the starters on either team sat this one out, the final score is pretty much immaterial in these matchups. However, it was difficult not to be impressed with the production the Patriots players displayed in the Motor City as they whipped the Lions 31-3. 

We wrote in our pregame piece we wanted to see the rookies in the passing game show what they can do in live game action. Jarrett Stidham, N’Keal Harry, Jakobi Meyers, Gunner Olszewski, along with 2nd-year player Braxton Berrios, as well as newcomers Maurice Harris and Matt LaCosse are all going to be counted on at some point to produce when the games matter. 

And with a deep and loaded defensive unit, we wanted to see how the edge rushers and secondary men held up. It is safe to say that they passed their first test quite well.

Here are some of our observations from the Patriots first game action of 2019.

Hoyer/Stidham Both Look Very Sharp:

Pats QBs Brian Hoyer and rookie Jarrett Stidham played extremely well in their first game action of the year. Hoyer looked very much in control of the offense, and afforded excellent protection, he was able to go thru his progressions and deliver the ball with good accuracy in the first half. 

Hoyer finished 12 of 14 for 147 yards with 2 TD passes. He was very much in command of the offense and it seemed like they could move the ball at will over the Lions’ second-team defense.

Stidham, the rookie 4th round draft pick from Auburn had a very impressive first outing. As we’ve reported from Foxboro since the spring, he throws a very nice football and really puts some spin on it. But learning a new offense for a rookie QB is a daunting task. And he went thru the typical rookie growing pains early in camp.

In Detroit, Stidham looked like a player that already has a firm grasp of the offense. He looked extremely poised and in control, went thru his progressions really well and delivered the ball on-target. While he had a couple of hiccups where he double-clutched the ball, trying not to make a mistake, it was a very impressive debut for the rookie. He completed 14-24 for 174 yards with a TD. arguably, his two best passes, deep balls to Maurice Harris were dropped but could have been flagged for pass interference. But Stidham was justifiably pleased to get his first NFL action under his belt.

“I had a great time,” said Stidham. “This is my first NFL experience, getting to play. There are a lot of things to improve on, but overall it was a lot of fun. It was a great experience.”

Meyers, WRs Answers the Bell in First Game Action:

Jakobi Meyers has been the story of the Patriots training camp thus far, learning the offense and quickly gaining the trust of all of the quarterbacks on the roster. But we live in New England… where regardless of what has transpired, fans have been force-fed to accentuate the negative, “Well can he do it in a game?” has been a common refrain the past two weeks.  Well, his first game action was a success.

Meyers isn’t a burner, he isn’t going to wow anyone by blowing the top of the defense. His slow 40 time at the NFL Combine was the reason he went undrafted after a 92-catch season at NC State. But he has a knack for getting open and finding the seams of opponents’ defenses. And he has sticky hands and makes the difficult catches.

He had six catches for 69 yards [Gronkowski approves] and two TDs in a very impressive first effort on Thursday night in Detroit. He mentioned going against a very stout Patriots defense in practice as a positive.

“Even before this week of practice with the Lions, practicing with ourselves for two weeks — I mean, that’s a tough group of guys,” Meyers said. “You see what they did today, the show that they put on today. Going against them, I feel like I got better. I kept trying to take one step forward every day, and I feel like it prepared me for this week and today.”

N’Keal Harry had two very impressive catches before suffering a minor injury but one that kept him out for the rest of the game. Braxton Berrios and Gunner Olszewski both looked impressive in the return game, something that may win them roster spots. Maurice Harris continued his solid camp with three catches including a touchdown from Brian Hoyer.

Yes, the schemes were vanilla and the starters weren’t in there, but all you can ask for your players in this situation to do is produce….and they did. Moving on to Tennessee.

Defense Smothers Lions All Night:

The Patriots defense was very impressive all night long holding Detroit to under 100 total yards of offense, [94], just 21 passing and allowing just a late field goal after going up by 31. Good stout run defense, excellent play in the secondary and a fearsome pass rush defanged the Lions all night long.

Derek Rivers led the way with 2 sacks, Chase Winovich, playing in front of many hometown fans chipped in with 1.5 and looked very impressive. Danny Shelton, Jamie Collins, Shalique Calhoun, Terez Hall, Ja’Whaun Bentley each had one sack while Byron Cowart chipped in with a half-sack.

The depth of the defense, something we’ve been harping on all spring and summer was on full display Thursday night.

“You saw me make the play maybe on a couple of occasions today, but really, we have so many guys up front,” Winovich said. “Sacks are very contagious. It’s a great thing anytime you can make a play and get the fans, even though we are in an opposing stadium I guess, and get your team into it. You really get into a groove feeling the game out. We are just playing great team defense I think”

Again, it is just a first step, but this was a very impressive one. 

Hate to Be a Debbie Downer….But:

It wasn’t all roses on Thursday night. FIrst, on the injury front. Harry left with what appears to be a minor injury, but that will bear watching. Matt LaCosse went down in bad pain grasping his lower leg/ankle and didn’t return. Keion Crossen left with what appeared to be a concussion.

Rivers played well after he made a bad mistake in getting past the QB and allowing him to scramble for big yardage. He got an earful from Bill Belichick on the sideline after that one. But his play after that was a huge positive. 

Joejuan Williams was really solid in the secondary and outstanding in the running game but then took a very stupid penalty by throwing a runner to the ground well out of bounds…he’ll hear about that in the film session tomorrow.

________________

Overall, this performance on Thursday night capped off a productive week of joint practices and their first preseason game. It gave them plenty to build off of…we’re on to Tennessee next week. 

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 and game analysis.

Patriots at Lions, Preseason Game 1, What to Watch For

Steve Balestrieri
August 7, 2019 at 9:01 am ET

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. 

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 and game analysis.

Taking Stock of the First Week of Patriots Training Camp

Steve Balestrieri
July 29, 2019 at 8:18 am ET

A shortened week is now complete with two padded and two unpadded practices for the Patriots as they began their 2019 training camp. This week, they’ll begin by enshrining Rodney Harrison and Leon Gray into the team’s Hall of Fame and then conduct their in-stadium practice on Monday night. Unlike the other training camp practices, this one is open only to season ticket holders and I believe Foxboro residents.

So let’s take a look at the first practices and get some of the highlights of the camp thus far and how the team is shaping up in the early going. 

Health Still a Concern In Some Areas:

Julian Edelman and Yodny Cajuste are still on the NFI. Cole Croston, Demaryius Thomas, Nate Ebner, and Ken Webster are on PUP. Sony Michel, Isaiah Wynn, and David Andrews have returned to practice in a limited way while Dontrelle Inman and Bryon Cowart missed the last sessions. 

With Cajuste and Croston out and Wynn limited, it has been pushing the depth at tackle, especially left tackle…more to that below. 

Defense Looking Very Strong in Early Going:

The Patriots defense thus far in the camp has been very impressive. As is the norm in training camp, the defense begins usually slightly ahead of the offense. And this year is no exception. They look better (at this point) than the team that took the field for the Super Bowl in February. 

Deep, Talented Secondary – We’ve been writing that all spring long and they’ve been giving the receivers a tough time. Stephon Gilmore has continued right where he left off in the Super Bowl. He’s only been targeted twice that we’ve seen in team drills and hasn’t given up a reception. J.C. Jackson is steadily improving over his very solid rookie season and will push to be the starter opposite Gilmore. Jonathan Jones is quietly having a very good camp, something he’s used to, he’s rarely if ever mentioned as one of the better slot corners in the league, but he is and appears entrenched as a starter thus far. 

The safeties are deep with Devin McCourty, Pat Chung, and Duron Harmon all returning and on the field, although Chung is still wearing a red no-contact jersey. But the competition behind them is getting intriguing to watch. Terrence Brooks is the next man on the depth chart, he was given a nice contract with $1.3 million guaranteed, he’s a special teams ace who can fill in on defense. He’s battling with Obi Melifonwu who has stood out in limited action with three interceptions thus far. With Ebner on PUP, Melifonwu got some extended looks with the STs units. Something to monitor. 

Linebackers Are Stacked – The Patriots return Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, and Elandon Roberts from their playoff run, but they added Jamie Collins and got back impressive 2nd-year player Ja’Whaun Bentley from IR and appear even better heading into 2019. 

The depth allows them to move Collins, Hightower, and Van Noy around to attack favorable matchups and be more aggressive. How they plan on utilizing Collins should be a fun thing to watch. Unheralded Calvin Munson, a long-shot to make the roster is quietly having a good camp in the early going. 

D-Line Much Better Suited to Stopping the Run – When free agency rolled around, we were touting that the Patriots needed to sign Mike Pennel, the run-stuffing nose tackle from the Jets. That met with a lot of “who?”, even from our own podcast. But Pennel and Lawrence Guy appear to be a solid tandem in the middle. During goal-line drills on Sunday, Pennel blew up one play, pushing into the backfield and stopping Brandon Bolden for a loss. 

The edge players got a boost from the arrival of Michael Bennett on Sunday, who flew straight from Hawaii to Boston and came straight to practice to dominate, jet-lagged and all on the field. Deatrich Wise is still not 100 percent but veterans Derek Rivers, John Simon, and rookie Chase Winovich have all looked good thus far.

Wide Receiver Competition Heating Up: 

With Julian Edelman on NFI, this opened the door for some of the other wide receivers to get more playing time with Tom Brady and carve out a role. Rookie N’Keal Harry has been getting outstanding tutelage from former Patriot Troy Brown as well as the daily side sessions with Brady and McDaniels. 

Maurice Harris has been the best, most consistent player on the field, he catches just about everything thrown his way and would appear to be well on his way to earning not just a roster spot but a nice role in the offense as well. Phillip Dorsett still appears to be an enigma. He has all the tools, and when called on, usually produces. But one would think he’d be a bigger go-to guy by now. 

Braxton Berrios is still with the second tier of receivers in the early going. After a nice spring, there was hope that he’d use the Edelman downtime more to his advantage. Two undrafted rookie WRs to monitor are Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski. Meyers is a big, (6,2, 200) slot receiver who is a converted QB. Because he knows the responsibilities of the players on the field, he knows where the soft spots are in the coverages. His number hasn’t been called a lot, but he’s producing when it is and could be that next undrafted free agent to make the team. Plus, he’s been a frequent participant in the side sessions with Brady and McDaniels.

Olszewski is the undersized, underdog who is scrapping his way into work every day. He competes hard in drills and returns kicks and punts and is giving the coaches a reason every day to keep him around. 

Biggest disappointment thus far is Dontrelle Inman. He had a very quiet spring followed by some forgettable practices in camp and then on Sunday was a no-show. He hasn’t improved his bubble position and may find himself in a weaker position now.

But the one constant is the deep running back position, even with Sony Michel just getting back to work and Tom Brady. The backs, especially Brandon Bolden and impressive rookie Damien Harris are getting a lot of reps in the running game.

Brady looks … like Brady. Forget about the age talk and the endless “cliff” nonsense. He looks as good, if not better than he did a decade ago. Nuff said. Brian Hoyer and Jarrett Stidham are getting the back up work while Danny Etling is being transitioned to wide receiver.

Bennett Puts Retirement Rumors to Rest, Dominates: 

Michael Bennett was excused from the Patriots first three practices due to a family situation. Bennett said, he saw the retirement rumors at home and laughed at those. He said he’s never quit at anything, even checkers with his daughter.

Bill Belichick allowed him the time to take care of his situation. After practice on Sunday, Bennett was effusive in his praise of Belichick for allowing that time.

“It’s nice when you have a coach that sees you as a human, sees you as a human being, not just a number and you’re able to go talk to him, tell him what’s going on, and you’re able to go take care of it,” Bennett said to the media. “That just makes you want to play harder for a coach. When he believes in you, and lets you take care of your family first.”

Belichick had to love Bennett’s comments about training camp, not as a necessary evil but as an opportunity to learn and show his teammates what he can bring to the table. 

“I think it’s important,” he said. “Training camp is always fun. It’s another time to get a chance to work with young guys, and you get a chance to work on your skills and prove yourself every day.”

Bennett cracked a joke and said that he told linebackers coach (and defensive signal-caller) Jerod Mayo that he wasn’t going to listen to him, “because we’re the same age.” The two have known each other for some time and worked out together in the offseason in the past. 

“It’s nice to have a young guy who knows the plays, who lived the defense, and he just knows,” Bennett said. “You trust the way that he plays because he played in the game and you know he knows the call. He was the leader before, so to have him in the huddle every single time, you can’t let him down because he’s been in the game.”

Bennett acted like a guy who has been here all along and was a dominant force in one-on-one battles and in team drills. Like his predecessor Trey Flowers, the Patriots plan on using him inside and outside and Sunday was just the tip of the iceberg.

Tight End Still a Work in Progress:

The Patriots have totally revamped the tight end position, with Gronk retired, Dwayne Allen and Jacob Hollister no longer with the team. Matt LaCosse had a strong spring and is trying to parlay that into getting some meaningful reps come September. So far, that looks like the case.

Ben Watson, doesn’t look like a 38-year old guy who contemplated retirement this spring. He’s moving like someone ten years younger. But with his upcoming 4-game suspension looming, that opens the door for other players to carve out their own roles in the offense. Watson has been a frequent side session participant with Brady and McDaniels. They were working on red zone opportunities on Saturday.   

Move tight end Stephen Anderson, Ryan Izzo, and UDFA Andrew Beck are all in the mix for a roster spot. It is pretty much a wide-open competition right now with no one having firm control over anything. Just before camp began the Patriots signed Lance Kendricks, the former Packer tight end was an afterthought in the Green Bay offense the past two years but may see an uptick in looks if everything works out. 

“This is a special place, obviously,” Kendricks said after Day 3. “This is a championship team. They know how to play football. They know how to win games. They know how to do it the right way, so it’s a no-brainer.”

So far, he’s gotten some work in but despite his veteran pedigree, he’s in no better position than anyone else right now, he’ll have to earn his spot. 

Tackle Still a Concern For Now:

With Trent Brown now a Raider (and an extremely well-paid one), the depth at tackle is concerning. The Patriots are set at right tackle with Marcus Cannon but the left and swing tackle positions are still areas of concern with depth and availability issues. 

Isaiah Wynn is still being eased into the mix after recovering from last year’s Achilles surgery. Third round draft pick Yodny Cajuste is on NFI recovering from offseason quad surgery and has yet to appear. Jared Veldheer retired before training camp. Cole Croston is on PUP.

With these issues, the Patriots have moved Joe Thuney over to left tackle throughout the spring and early camp practice sessions. That put Ted Karras at left guard. On Sunday, the Patriots gave 6’9 tackle Dan Skipper and Cedric Lang reps with the first team. Neither fared well. Skipper, despite his size, failed to generate any push in the running game and both struggled with pass protection. 

This will bear watching as we move forward. However, if history is any indication, and it is… Dante Scarnecchia will get things sorted out. 

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