The Patriots are taking on the Carolina Panthers tonight in Foxboro for the third preseason game for both teams. This is the week that the starters traditionally see a lot of game action. But I have always disliked the term “dress rehearsal”, so for the eighth year in a row here at PatsFans.com, I’ll use my favorite quote from Willie Nelson. My wife and I spent time back and onstage with Willie at one venue and partied on his bus with him at others. [Those are stories for a different time.] But Willie’s words ring true.
“There are no dress rehearsals, we are professionals and this IS the big time”
So, both teams’ starters should see about a half of work and maybe a series in the second half to get acclimated to the entire process. This will be Cam Newton’s first game action this year after off-season shoulder surgery. So, he may not be as apt as he’s shown in the past about tucking the ball away and running with it. This will also be Tom Brady’s first preseason action this summer.
So, what are we looking for from a Patriots perspective tonight?
Can Brady and the New Faces Click on Offense?
Julian Edelman came off of NFI on Monday, Demaryius Thomas was removed from PUP on Tuesday. I don’t imagine either will play. Josh Gordon is still on NFI and has already been ruled out of tonight’s game. N’Keal Harry just returned to practice this week and may not play either.
So, this will be a really big test for Jakobi Meyers, going against the top Carolina defense as Brady’s go-to receiver. Phillip Dorsett and Braxton Berrios should also get a lot of snaps with the first unit.
This should be a good time to see how Sony Michel and Damien Harris are used out of the backfield in the passing game, something they’ve worked on this summer. We know James White’s value there, but the coaches made a concerted effort to by more unpredictable this summer. Michel and Harris should handle the bulk of the work in the running game. Isaiah Wynn’s workload should increase this week and we want to see how he handles this as well as how he holds up against a stout Panthers defense.
Matt LaCosse is back on the field after being injured in Detroit, and this is his opportunity to shine. No one has really stepped up at tight end this summer, so this a big chance to carve out a role with the team.
How Well the Front Seven [Starters] can Create Pressure:
We’ve seen the top guys dominate in workouts and joint practices. The second and third-tier guys have looked really good in preseason games, but now the starters get to show their stuff. And they get a good test against a Panthers team that has given them problems in the past.
With players like Micheal Bennett, Dont’a Hightower, and Kyle Van Noy getting into their first game action of the year, mixing in Jamie Collins, Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler, and John Simon, we’ll get a better idea on how they are planning on using these players. In particular, will the coaches continue to be aggressive and we’ll be wanting to see the personnel groupings that they will rollout.
This front seven looks deep and versatile, with guys like Chase Winovich, Shalique Calhoun, and Derek Rivers coming on later to spell the starters, the 2019 front seven is as deep a unit the Patriots have had since the 2003-2004 teams.
Watching the Starting Secondary Gel On the Field:
This secondary unit of the Patriots is one of the more stronger ones in the league and arguably the deepest secondary unit that Bill Belichick has coached since he took over the reins of the Patriots in 2000.
Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, and Jason McCourty give the team their top three boundary corners. Jonathan Jones has easily bested former 2nd round pick Duke Dawson for the top slot corner. Now watching the starters and their communication with Devin McCourty and Pat Chung at safety is a step. This unit hasn’t played together in a game since the Super Bowl. This is a big week of preparation for the season. Many of them probably won’t play next week.
Dawson should see plenty of reps in the second half as he’s one of the guys who is fighting for a roster spot. Joejuan Williams, the rookie 2nd round CB, who has improved markedly since training camp began and Keion Crossen should also see a lot of work in the second half.
Special Teams Get Ready For Week 1:
With the release of Ryan Allen, Jake Bailey has won the starting punting position. But the pressure doesn’t let up now, it just gets even tougher. He’s replacing a very popular player with the fanbase and this will be his first game action in Foxboro. He’ll also be tasked with holding on field goal and extra-point attempts. It will be important for him to get off to a good, clean start.
Stephen Gostkowski has missed field goals in each of the first two games, whether that was all on him or something in the exchange between Joe Cardona and his new holder Bailey will bear watching. For all of the fans who would like to see the third most accurate kicker in NFL history replaced, who is out there and most importantly available? Other than the Ravens’ Justin Tucker, Gostkowski is right up there with the best kickers in the game. With a better career accuracy average than the guy he replaced 14 years ago.
The kick return game will bear particular watching tonight. Braxton Berrios or Gunner Olszewski’s roster spot may depend on how well they produce in the kick return game.
What a difference a year makes. Last season at this time, there were major questions about the depth of their linebacking corps and who…besides Trey Flowers could rush the passer. Now, they enter their second preseason game and the front seven has depth galore and an entirely new outlook on things.
Flowers was tough to see leave, he did so much and a lot of it under the radar for the Patriots. But the team addressed it in several ways this year. The big men in the middle Lawrence Guy, Mike Pennel, Adam Butler, and Danny Shelton look better than they were a year ago inside. Rookie Byron Cowart is still a long shot for the roster but has come on after missing time early with an injury. He had a half-sack and a QB pressure last week in Detroit.
Although Michael Bennett is 33 years old, as of today, he shows no sign of slowing down and has been dominant in our limited look at him so far. And Bennett is flashing some of the same versatility, lining up inside, outside and even over the nose.
He’s embracing his role and the defensive scheme and seems to have a healthy respect for the coaching staff. Deatrich Wise hasn’t been 100 percent yet but should now see some action. Consistency is the key for him in 2019.
Chase Winovich was picked up this spring in the third round of the draft and he’s been “exactly who we thought he was.” He has an incredible motor that goes non-stop, excellent hands [which will only get better with pass-rush consultant Joe Kim]. Winovich has looked terrific in his opportunities which included a 1.5 sack performance against the Lions last week.
Derek Rivers keeps trending up. He too had a big game against Detroit [2 sacks], and put constant pressure on the QBs last week, both in practice and in the game. After being a total non-factor for his first two years, is he a shoo-in? No, but the way he’s playing has to be a huge confidence boost for not only him but the coaches.
Shalique Calhoun is quickly becoming a steal. The veteran that came over from the Raiders this spring barely registered on the radar [here as well….], however, it seems like he’s another guy that wasn’t considered a nice pickup and who can pay big dividends for the team. His play was such that he was given reps with the starters. He responded in Detroit with a sack and a tackle for loss.
And we haven’t even got to the linebackers. John Simon was the under the radar pickup last year. He does a terrific job of setting the edge and had an interception last week. Jamie Collins was dynamic last week and has been a beast throughout training camp. He has the athleticism to be a movable chess piece anywhere they sense a mismatch to their advantage. He had a sack last week…. Are we sensing a pattern here?
Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy are the linchpins for the front seven. They can rush off the edge or up in the A-gaps. Hightower dropped weight this offseason and looks faster and a bit more athletic. He looked good back in his home state this week.
Van Noy was another Belichick highway robbery when they snatched him away from the Lions. He can do everything that Belichick and Mayo will ask of him. Elandon Roberts and Ja’Whaun Bentley hold down the middle. Two guys outside looking in are Calvin Munson and Christian Sam. Munson has put back-to-back solid weeks together.
Last week, the Patriots had 17 QB pressures and nine sacks against the woefully unprepared Lions. This week against a better team, the front seven hounded Titans’ QBs in the joint practices. Can they do it again in the game on Saturday night?
We shall see. But things are trending up for this defense in 2019. In about three weeks will be the first real test when they take on the Steelers in the season opener. Pittsburgh has one of the better offensive lines in the league. And this time around, there is growing confidence in the front seven.
The Patriots offensive players must miss Detroit. Because on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium, the defense was very, very impressive today. After struggling somewhat against this loaded secondary, the New England wide receivers had very impressive weeks in Detroit. But not so much today.
In the next to last training camp session, the defense was ball-hawking everything in sight. Tom Brady threw back-to-back INTs during individual drills but in the 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 portions of the session, the defense also picked off Brian Hoyer and Jarrett Stidham …with seven on the day total
One of the more impressive players on the field today had to be rookie Joejuan Williams. The first-year cornerback had a bit of a rough go of it early in camp but he picked up his game last week and continued his upward climb today. He had a couple of nice interceptions and had a few pass breakups as well.
The team was in full pads.
Nate Ebner and Ken Webster returned to practice. Lance Kendricks returned …in a red non-contact jersey. Julian Edelman, Demaryius Thomas, and Cameron Meredith were in attendance but not in uniform. Matt LaCosse, N’Keal Harry, and D’Angelo Ross were absent from this session.
There was also a new offensive lineman [#74] present but no word yet on who that is…possibly Cole Croston returning?
Other Observations Included:
Good news on the Isaiah Wynn front. He was nearly 100 percent at participation today. He took part in 11-on-11 drills for the first time in camp.
Lots of drops, pass breakups, and interceptions in individual drills today.
First real scrap today. Michael Bennett and Dan “the Weatherman” Skipper got into during 1-on-1 blocking drills. Bennett slapped him upside his helmet and Skipper responded with a double-barrelled bird flip.
Pat Chung made a nice interception of Brady during 7-on7s. Brady attempted to go to Braxton Berrios on a drag route but Chung read it perfectly and jumped the route.
Others getting picks during the team portion of the session were Gilmore with a pair, Jamie Collins, and Williams
Jake Bailey was doing the holding during the field goal attempts today by Stephen Gostkowski…that is Gostkowski with two “k’s”
During 1-on-1s Jonathan Jones flattened Berrios with a jolting hit but the WR came back and made a really nice over the shoulder catch after almost going down again on a hit from Duke Dawson.
Berrios returned punts along with Rex Burkhead, Gunner Olszewski, and Jakobi Meyers
Berrios continued a strong showing in the return game as he and Phillip Dorsett returned kickoffs.
Jakobi Meyers continues his rise in camp. He had another nice day, making several catches including a nice back-shoulder catch on a pass from Tom Brady and another where he dove and came up with a throw from Brian Hoyer on the sideline.
Maurice Harris had a drop during team drills and wasn’t as sharp as we’ve seen this summer, but then made a really nice grab as he was able to wrest the ball away from Gilmore as he high-pointed it.
QB turned WR Danny Etling had a tough morning. He had a drop in individual drills and was the target on both Stidham throws that were picked off.
The Patriots tried a little trickery with a double pass from Meyers to James White.
White also had a nice deep catch from Brady over his shoulder beating Christian Sam in coverage.
Danny Shelton left practice and retreated to the lower practice fields but later returned.
Jon Bon Jovi was in attendance today, along with Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy who did a quick interview with 98.5 after the session
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.
The 2019 Patriots training camp sessions begin this morning and football is finally back. Well maybe not the games that count yet, but we’ll have the Patriots and the NFL with us until Super Bowl LIV plays out in February. Hopefully, we’ll be looking at another Patriots appearance in the big game.
But… as Bill Belichick likes to say, “we have a long way to go.” The spring is a teaching camp and in actuality, the first two days of training camp will be a continuation of that. No pads, no hitting and there is really no way to gauge the play of the interior linemen or the running game yet.
We won’t be able to really gauge any of that stuff until Saturday when the pads come on for the first time. However, there are some things we are excited about watching this summer at training camp.
Isaiah Wynn and the LT Position: Wynn was the Patriots top draft pick a year ago and before we really got a sense of knowing how he could handle himself as a left tackle in the NFL, he was hurt. Trent Brown had taken over the position, pretty much from Day 1 and there was never that feeling that they were competing for the top spot.
Now Brown is gone, after signing a big-money deal with the Raiders. Wynn is coming off of that Achilles injury and missed all of the spring. Third-round pick Yodny Cajuste, someone we’re really high on here, is beginning camp on PUP after offseason quad surgery. Cole Croston is also on PUP, so I would expect to see more of Joe Thuney at left tackle this summer.
But make no mistake about it, this is Wynn’s position to win or lose. It is going to be a must-watch area when he takes part in the one-on-one battles with the edge players. Unfortunately, those are always as far away from the crowd as humanly possible.
With Sony Michel Out, Watch Damien Harris: I thought getting Harris in the third round of the draft was an absolute steal. At the time, I chalked it up to the Patriots just recognizing a good player who was too good to pass up. Now, that move looks brilliant.
Michel had a knee scope in the spring and it was supposed to be a minor thing. He missed all of minicamp and is now starting on PUP. Harris got a lot of reps in the spring and looked as good as advertised.
Harris is a good runner between the tackles, gets yards after contact, is an outstanding pass blocker and is an underrated pass receiver with very soft hands. Even with a healthy Michel, I expect Harris to see a lot of action this season. With Michel out, at least for now, look for him to accelerate that learning curve.
No Julian Edelman is Good News For the Other WRs: Edelman is Tom Brady’s best friend and most trusted receiver on the team. That brace on his thumb looks to be a minor issue and not something that should linger long. But him not being there just elevates everyone behind him on the depth chart to get reps with #12. And you know what? That is a good thing.
N’Keal Harry had a good spring, some solid moments mixed in with typical rookie moments. That is expected…from anyone. Harry has a reputation as a very hard worker and since the minicamp ended, I wouldn’t be surprised if he looks like a different guy this week. I would go all-in that he spent that off time getting deep into the playbook.
Braxton Berrios is another guy who could really benefit from Edelman’s absence. Berrios has never caught a pass from Brady in team drills, one can expect that dubious distinction to end very soon. Berrios has to stay healthy and on the field this summer. He had a pretty impressive spring and everything is falling in place for him to carve out a nice niche for himself in the offense. He could fit in the Danny Amendola role in 2019.
Jakobi Meyers is my dark-horse to make the 53-man roster at wide receiver. With Josh Gordon suspended for who knows how long and Demaryius Thomas on PUP, Meyers may be able to carve out a role in the offense. He’s a former QB and a big (6’2, 204) slot receiver. One thing that stood out during minicamp was that Meyers was invited to the side session with Brady, Hoyer, Josh McDaniels, and Harry. While it may not mean much, we believe that anything that goes down in Foxboro has a motive. It’ll be up to him to show us right or wrong.
Front Seven Play and How the Reps are Divided: The Patriots run defense was awful early in the season. It was especially bad along the defensive line. Eventually, the Patriots tightened that up and the run defense was a strength in the postseason. The Patriots lost former 1st round pick Malcom Brown in free agency. But they brought in Mike Pennel, someone we were lobbying for when free agency started. He and Lawrence Guy should be a very stout early run-stuffing pair.
But the players on the edge are an intriguing bunch. Michael Bennett still has gas left in the tank …and plays with arguably the smallest shoulder pads on the team. Deatrich Wise starts on PUP which opens the door for more reps for John Simon, rookie Chase Winovich and some guys who are on the bubble. Derek Rivers, Keionta Davis, Trent Harris are all guys who are looking to carve out a roster spot. Another guy to watch is Shalique Calhoun.
At linebacker, the Patriots have plenty of depth and a slimmed-down Dont’a Hightower, the return of Jamie Collins and the playmaking ability of Kyle Van Noy lends itself to the idea that the defense will continue to postseason trend of being very aggressive.
J.C. Jackson and Duke Dawson Have Big Year 2 Expectations: Jackson had a meteoric rise in 2018. But Bill Belichick tried to possibly send a message to him by giving most of the first-team reps to Jason McCourty this spring. Many people expect Jackson to be an even better player than Stephon Gilmore somewhere down the line. So, a lot of people will be watching him closely.
Dawson didn’t play at all in 2018 after coming off IR late in the year. Jonathan Jones cemented the slot role down and he and Dawson will be vying for that starting slot corner role. Rookie Joejuan Williams is a big corner in the Brandon Browner mold and is hoped to be a matchup piece in a ridiculously deep cornerback grouping.
Training camp is always chalked full of action with 90 players competing all over the field. One area we neglected to mention was the punting battle between Ryan Allen and Jake Bailey. This promises to be another intriguing positional battle.
Don’t expect too much in those first two days which are like minicamp with the lack of hitting and pads, But come Saturday morning, the fun should really begin.
The Patriots begin training camp in just a few days and once that starts we’ll have football back with us until the winter and snow return with a vengeance. Hard to picture that right now with the heat index pushing 110.
Last year at this time, there were a lot of questions at the linebacker position. This season it is considered a position of strength heading into the 2019 season. The three main starters return, Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, and Elandon Roberts. The team also gets back last year’s promising rookie Ja’Whaun Bentley who played very well all summer and began the season getting a lot of quality reps before getting injured and ending up on IR.
Another rookie from last season, Christian Sam, who spent the entire season on IR returns. Brandon King is listed as a linebacker on the depth chart but is essentially a special teams player only.
But the big surprise was in bringing back former Patriot Jamie Collins. It seemed like those bridges were burned when he was traded to Cleveland but the team added him back this spring. Collins was one of the better players on the field for the Patriots during OTAs and the mandatory June minicamp. Shilique Calhoun, Calvin Munson, and Terez Hall round out the players at the position.
Check back with PatsFans.com as we’ll go thru the entire roster as our primers for training camp continue before the heavy lifting starts on July 25. And be sure to keep up with our coverage from training camp.
So, let’s take a look at the position as it unfolds as training camp begins this summer.
Current roster – Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Jamie Collins, Christian Sam, Brandon King, Shalique Calhoun, Calvin Munson, Terez Hall
Locks – Hightower, Van Noy, Bentley, Collins
Near Locks – Roberts, King
Bubble – Sam, Calhoun
Long Shot – Munson, Hall
Discussion – With the return of their three main starters from the Super Bowl, the team is going to be looking very similar in 2019. Hightower, Van Noy, Bentley, and Collins are all locks for the roster in 2019.
Hightower stayed healthy last year and played very well. What is a factor to be especially optimistic about is that it always seems Hightower saves his best plays and his best games for times when the games matter most and in the playoffs. He’s a fixture on this defense and what we’ve stated here many times rings true about him. Is he a perennial league All-Pro? No, but in the Patriots defense, he is.
Van Noy has blossomed in New England and is arguably one of their bigger chess pieces on the defensive side. He was even better than Hightower during the playoffs and despite what some talk-radio folks would have you believe, he’s a playmaker and one of the leaders of this defense.
Bentley had a fantastic summer followed by a pretty impressive start to his career before getting injured early last season and ended up on IR. It is interesting to wonder how his development would have played out last year if he hadn’t gotten hurt. But he’s healthy now and should vie for plenty of work.
Collins is the wild card here. With an already solid cast around him, it will be interesting to see how the team decides to use him once the season starts. Collins was all over the field this spring, if the Patriots can find a way to showcase his talents with the cast already in place, he could be in line for a very solid season.
Roberts has been up and down in his career but had a very solid 2018. Consistency is the key for him. In mentioning the defensive line yesterday, we said that they may be better suited for a 3-4 than the 4-3. Roberts and Bentley could definitely benefit from that as well. Being an ILB in a 3-4, it would lend itself well to Roberts, downhill, run-thumping style. It would also create plenty of opportunities to move Hightower and Van Noy around, inside and outside and give them more chances to make plays.
King is technically (by the depth chart) a linebacker, but to my knowledge hasn’t played any time there. He is, however, a very solid, dependable special teams’ player. While maybe not a lock for the 53 per se, knocking him out of there will take a very big effort from someone beneath him on the team’s overall roster. Or him having an awful camp. Other than that, we’d expect to see him come September.
Christian Sam is a 2nd-year outside linebacker who never got to show what he can do last year, ending up on IR out of training camp. His value is a total unknown and he’ll have some work to do this summer. He’ll have to show he can contribute on special teams right away and then flash some ability on defense. Calhoun is a newcomer to New England but has been in the league for a while. Can the journeyman find himself a home and a role in New England? It has been done before, so he’s not a write off by any means but also has a lot of work to do.
Munson spent last year on the Patriots practice squad, so they like what they’ve seen from him. Hall is a real long shot and will have to flash big time on STs in order to stick. He and Munson are candidates for the practice squad.
So, entering 2019, the linebacker position, which was one full of questions a year ago, enters this year as a position of strength. There should be no movement at the top unless of injury, so there may be only one or two spots that are open for competition. But watching to see how the Patriots and new linebacker coach Jerod Mayo plans on using his troops this year will make camp another must-see event daily.
With the Patriots mandatory mini-camp over, it is time to a very early look at a New England Patriots 53-man roster projection. We were fortunate enough to be there for the entire three days this season. While there was no contact and no pads, it gave a good if albeit premature look at how the 2019 roster could play out.
Later this summer, we’ll post primers for each position but here is our first crack at a workable 53-man roster.
Offense – Quarterbacks: (3)
Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Jarrett Stidham
The Patriots will once again go with three quarterbacks this summer. Hoyer is entrenched as the #2 for now and in minicamp the rookie Stidham was taking all of the #3 reps, at times on the final day, he even got #2 reps before Hoyer so the coaches could get a look at what he can do in the offense. He has a long way to go, but he’s clearly got the coaches intrigued with his down-the-road potential.
Bad news for Danny Etling who was working as the personal protector during minicamp. Oh and that Brady kid from Michigan? He’ll be okay and should stick….
Running backs: (6)
Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, James White, Damien Harris, Brandon Bolden, James Develin
Sony Michel missed all of mini-camp which raises the question if he’s hurt. With the drafting of the impressive rookie Harris, he and Burkhead can spell Michel if he’s out for a while. James White isn’t going anywhere and the team brought back Bolden for STs and to fill in if needed. Develin is invaluable as the fullback who can block and catch the odd pass here or there.
Tight ends: (3) Matt Lacosse, Ryan Izzo, Stephen Anderson **Ben Watson Suspended**
The Patriots have Lacosse as the clear #1 heading into the season with Watson suspended for the first month of the season unless they make a trade. Izzo is the blocking (read Dwayne Allen) tight end who nudges out Andrew Beck while Anderson is the “move” tight end who may be on the block once Watson is eligible to return.
The position has been totally revamped since last season and it may take some time to gel once the regular season starts. Training camp will be invaluable for this group
Wide Receivers: (5) Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, Phillip Dorsett, Maurice Harris, Jakobi Meyers **Josh Gordon Suspended** ***Demaryius Thomas PUP***
Edelman, Harry, and Dorsett are roster locks…barring injury. Meyers with his size and hands makes it yet another year with a UDFA making the roster out of training camp.
Thomas and Gordon (if reinstated), give the team some intriguing options. Berrios had a good spring and looks the part in the slot, he and Meyers will battle it out for the spot. Dontrelle Inman has a lot of ground to make up. He didn’t catch a single pass in team drills during mini-camp. Ryan Davis and Gunner Olszewski are practice squad candidates.
Offensive line: (8) Isaiah Wynn, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, Joe Thuney, Yodny Cajuste, Ted Karras, Hjalte Froholdt
The state of the offensive line centers around health. Wynn missed all of last year with an Achilles injury. He was at mini-camp but was held out of team drills. Cajuste who they drafted this spring had off-season surgery and it is hoped he’ll be ready to go by September.
In the meantime, Joe Thuney played left tackle this spring. Expect him to get some work there this summer, even if Wynn is a full go for training camp. Left tackle and swing tackle are the two question marks. Cole Croston heads to the practice squad. After that, the offensive line is solid.
Edge Players: (4) Michael Bennett, Deatrich Wise, John Simon, Chase Winovich
After losing Trey Flowers, the Patriots brought in Bennett. Wise is a solid if unspectacular veteran now and Simon played very well for them last season. They’re hoping Winovich can step in and play as advertised. I like his motor and relentlessness. This could be the end of the line for Derek Rivers this summer. He is going to be given an opportunity to show what he can do. He got reps with the 1st personnel grouping last week. Keionta Davis and Trent Harris may still be able to step up in case of an injury.
Interior Defensive Line: (4)
Lawrence Guy, Mike Pennel, Danny Shelton, Adam Butler
Guy and Pennel should be the Week 1 starting combination inside. Shelton returns, as the backup big man inside. Butler is the best pass rusher of the group. David Parry and Byron Cowart are on the outside but will have to turn some heads in August.
Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Elandon Roberts, Brandon King
Linebacker is a position of strength heading into training camp this summer. Hightower has slimmed down, gotten more pliable, and is moving well. Van Noy has been a jack of all trades, but the biggest surprise (pleasant) of the spring has been the play of Collins. He has been all over the field disrupting plays at the line and playing solid coverage
Roberts, coming off of a solid postseason and Bentley who shined early in 2018 before ending on IR, gives the group really good depth.
Cornerback: (6) Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, Jason McCourty, Joejuan Williams, Jonathan Jones, Duke Dawson
Gilmore and Jackson are the starters for Week 1. But this group is really deep and very talented. Jones and Dawson (who beats out Crossen) can play in the slot and McCourty can play safety, outside or inside. Williams is a big corner (6’4) that allows him to play against the bigger WRs or even tight ends. The versatility of this group provides them with the matchups they can roll against nearly every opponent.
Safety: (4) Devin McCourty, Pat Chung, Duron Harmon, Nate Ebner
Ebner beats out Terrence Brooks …on paper for now. Brooks has superior defensive skills but Ebner is a Belichick favorite on Special Teams. Obi Melifonwu played STs and has the size and athleticism but seems far back on the depth chart right now. He’ll need a big summer to push Ebner and Brooks off the roster. Malik Grant is a candidate for the practice squad.
Specialists: (4) Kicker Stephen Gostkowski, punter Jake Bailey, long-snapper Joe Cardona, Gunner Matthew Slater
Gostkowski returns and has no camp competition. He and long snapper Joe Cardona are both locks for the 53-man roster. The big competition is at punter. The team brought back the steady Ryan Allen on a one-year deal but they moved up to draft Jake Bailey, the big-legged punter and kick off specialist from Stanford. By now you’ve no doubt heard about the charge he puts into the ball. If he gets his consistency down, he’ll make the roster.
Slater isn’t going anywhere. Watching him race up and down the field this spring, practicing his moves on his own shows the fire still burns very bright for him.
Football is a great deal like life in that it teaches that work, sacrifice, perseverance, competitive drive, selflessness and respect for authority is the price that each and every one of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile. Vince Lombardi
Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 06-09 and AFC East notes this week.
The Patriots mandatory three-day minicamp is in the books and there was plenty of interesting things to see and take note of during the practices. Bill Belichick commented on how he believed that they accomplished a lot during the three days. With the teaching camp in the books, the evaluation will commence once training camp begins.
The 2018 Patriots – got together for the final time at Robert Kraft’s house, and in a celebration with pomp and ceremony, the team received their Super Bowl rings. The sheer size of them now lends itself to question the term “ring” and despite the over-the-top gaudiness of them, there are 31 other teams that wished that was them on Thursday night. Very impressive pieces of jewelry.
Joe Cardona – the Patriots long-snapper was promoted inside Gillette Stadium on Thursday morning to Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Reserve prior to the minicamp practice. Tom Brady spoke about how Cardona epitomizes “commitment to our team and to our country” later in the day. And it happened on the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy. A very cool moment
Tom Brady – Looked in mid-season form for the three days of minicamp. His mechanics are always flawless. Every year I take pics of him throwing and compare them to the years before and you could lay them on top of one another and couldn’t tell the difference.
Brady “deuxième partie” – Brady and Josh McDaniels conducted a side session with rookies Jakobi Meyers and N’Keal Harry on Thursday. They were trying to get their timing and chemistry down, in terms of how they want routes run, where the breaks should happen, the angle of the cuts and ball placement. Fascinating stuff to watch. The work they do in June and July pays dividends in January and February.
Ivan Fears – The Patriots running back coach is beginning his 21st consecutive year with the Patriots, he also had an earlier stint with the team. Fears is one of our favorite guys to watch and listen to during the practices. We got a chance to chat with him before practice briefly on Thursday. After mentioning that the running backs looked good so far but that we’re sure he’d find areas to critique them, Fears got a big grin and said, “Oh I’ll always find ways to critique them.” Asked about Brandon Bolden’s return, he said how Bolden brings energy to the field and his teammates every day.
Troy Brown/Deion Branch – Excellent seeing the two of them work so closely with Joe Judge the Patriots STs Coordinator/WRs Coach and the players this week. Both of them know what it takes to be successful in the Patriots passing game and the two former players lending themselves to teaching the young players was intriguing to watch.
Mini-camp Wrap, Final Thoughts:
In their quest for “Knockin on Seven’s Door” that begins in September, the Patriots started the process with OTAs and their mandatory minicamp. Watching it all for three days, albeit without pads or contact was interesting as the coaches try to mold the 2019 version of the team. Here are some of the things that were intriguing to watch and will bear further consideration moving forward.
Left Tackle Status – Without Isaiah Wynn and Yodny Cajuste taking part in team drills this week, the Patriots moved left guard Joe Thuney into the left tackle position. He was getting nearly all of the first personnel grouping’s reps. And he was practicing with the tackles as well.
The good news, however, is that Wynn was on the field and taking part in individual drills and exhibits no sign of being limited at all after his Achilles surgery. Which lends itself to believe that he should be ready to go by training camp.
Tight End Production – With the release of Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Ben Watson suspended for the first four games of the season, it puts the ball squarely in the corner of Matt Lacosse. Lacosse looked good in the workouts this week, moving well and displaying nice hands, catching everything thrown his way.
We were on hand when Lacosse spoke to the media after Wednesday’s practice session. Which can be seen here:
Ryan Izzo, Andrew Beck seem to be both competing for the blocking tight end role while Stephen Anderson is looking to carve out a role as the “move” tight end.
Brady nixed suggestions that the Patriots are going to diminish the tight end role in the offense. “That has to be a position of strength, even if it’s not one player but multiple players doing different roles,” Brady said. “There were times in my career before that where we’ve had similar approaches.” He finished his thoughts on an upbeat note.
“The tight end position is a big part of our offense and those guys are going to have to do a great job for us.”
Jamie Collins Return, Seems Like a Bigger Development…for Now – We were against the addition of Collins this spring on these pages, remembering the reasons why they jettisoned him in the first place. However, if minicamp is any indication, the Patriots coaches, especially LBs coach Jerod Mayo have bigger plans for Collins.
This week, at least Collins wearing #8, for now, was playing a big role for the defense in their alignments. And, again without pads on, he was asserting his will against the offense during team drills.
Even Mike Reiss was on-board with this train of thought calling Collins “active and looking like key cog” in the defense. Surprising. Another thing to watch for in training camp when that kicks off in about 5-6 weeks.
Maurice Harris Looking Good – Another mild surprise here. Harris was given little chance to make the roster when he was picked up this spring. Well…after the three-day mini-camp, Harris did nothing to hurt his chances of not only making the roster but carving out a role for himself.
We’ve gotten DMs, phone calls, and e-mails about Harris, “He’s a JAG!”, “He’s not going to make the rostah!” Well…you have to report on what you see. And for three days, Harris caught everything thrown his way. On the flip side, I didn’t see Dontrelle Inman catch a single pass in team drills…maybe I missed some or even one. But we’ve seen this film before. One is trending up, the other down.
Cornerbacks are Looking Deep and Talented – The Patriots have a plethora of corners on this team and every one of them can play. That isn’t hype or hyperbole but a fact. This is arguably the team’s biggest strength heading into training camp.
Stephon Gilmore blanketed everyone thrown at him all week. J.C. Jackson looked very solid for the first two days before missing Thursday’s practice session. Those two are the two starters, that we expect to see in Week 1. Some people feel Jackson may someday supplant Gilmore as the #1 corner on the team…
However, behind them are several more talented players. Jonathan Jones has already been a starting slot corner. Jason McCourty has started both outside and in the slot. Rounding out this talented group is Duke Dawson, Joejuan Williams, Ken Webster, and D’Angelo Ross. The cornerback group can mix and match with just about everyone and it is going to be intriguing to see how the defense aligns this year depending on the opponent.
The Punting Competition Will Be a Key One to Watch – Once again this summer, Ryan Allen will be battling for his job. Last year, he bested Corey Bojorquez and then was arguably one of the players that could have won the MVP of the Super Bowl with the way he pinned the Rams deep all game long.
This year, Allen will take on rookie Jake Bailey from Stanford who possesses a massive leg. Bailey was putting the ball into the ozone all week, getting some tremendous height and hang time on his punts.
It will be a battle of consistency over strength. Allen was his usual consistent self all week, while Bailey, even when booming most of his punts all week, had a few that were off the mark. Stay tuned.
Edelman Turns In Solid Week Performance-wise and Mentoring:
The Patriots drafted N’Keal Harry with the #32 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft and he’s sure to feel the heat of fans and the media’s expectations this fall. The Patriots drafted Braxton Berrios in the 6th round in 2018. But he didn’t see the field in 2018. Two different players with different backgrounds. But they have a constant voice that is always there for them.
Julian Edelman was the Super Bowl MVP last year who came to the Patriots via Kent State and was a college QB who made the transition to NFL WR who, after Tom Brady is arguably the most valuable Patriot on the offense. In his 11th season, Edelman is not only Brady’s most trusted receiver, but he’s also now taking on the role as a mentor for these younger players on the roster. It is something he feels strongly about.
“I had teammates that help you, and then you had teammates that didn’t,” Edelman said after practice on Wednesday. “I like to be known as a guy that helped you. I like to give little pointers here and there, because the better we all are, the better the team is going to be. I like going out and trying to give information if they want information from me and go from there. It’s part of my job, I guess.”
Edelman recalled Fred Taylor in his rookie season as a veteran who helped him out immensely and he said that he would try to do the same with Harry. Berrios, also after practice on Tuesday, mentioned that Edelman has been a constant source of mentoring for him. He’s looked quick and skilled thus far in minicamp.
Edelman will be looked to for a lot of production this season in the Patriots offense. If the contributions of Harry and Berrios this season are any indication, then Edelman can chalk up mentoring among his accomplishments this year as well.
Gunner Olszewski Is a Player to Watch For This Summer:
The Patriots brought in the undrafted cornerback from tiny Division II Bemidji State and are trying to convert him to a wide receiver. That alone should put him in the long-shot category for making the roster. But not so fast…Julian Edelman, who knows a thing or two about converting to wide receiver at the pro level is high on the youngster.
“I love that guy,” Edelman said. “If he’s got a question, I’m here to help try to answer it to the best of my ability. I feel that’s part of my role on the team, being here so long. He’s working hard. He’s definitely a tough kid. I love the chip on his shoulder, and I like working with him, that’s for sure. He definitely works his tail off, and I like having him around.”
One of the things going for Olszewski, who is generously listed as 6’0, 170, is the fact that he can return kicks and punts. But make no mistake, he doesn’t appear lost out there or like a duck out of water. While the path won’t be an easy one, he can do it.
The Patriots always seem to have undrafted free agents make the roster. With a name like Gunner Olszewski, you can’t help but root for him.
No AFC East Notes This Week:
With the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion this week, it is important that we remember the American, British, Canadian and Free French soldiers who stormed the beaches of Normandy not to conquer but to free the world of Nazism.
“At the core, the American citizen soldiers knew the difference between right and wrong, and they didn’t want to live in a world in which wrong prevailed. So they fought, and won, and we all of us, living and yet to be born, must be forever profoundly grateful.”
–Author Stephen Ambrose
Can’t end the piece without another look at the entire ring ceremony once more.
Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 05-19 and AFC East notes this week.
Patriots Plane Makeover – The Patriots team plane got a makeover recently and the results were pretty impressive. The tail now has six Lombardi trophies on it while the fuselage sports the “6X Champions” lettering.
Hardly subtle, but the fans of the team will love the new look for the “AirKraft 767”. At this rate, the painters for the Patriots plane and Bill Belichick’s boat are going to get put on a full-time basis. See the pics below, courtesy of the Patriots.
Brandon King was the recipient of a 2-year contract extension this week. Although he practices with the linebackers, King hasn’t played a snap of defense in his career. The Special Teams stalwart should be pretty much a lock for the roster now. King has had the most STs snaps beside Nate Ebner
Scott Pioli, the former Patriot front-office exec and the assistant GM in Atlanta, resigned his position “to pursue other opportunities”. One potential suitor could be the Jets now that their GM position is semi-open. Adam Gase was named the interim GM as well as holding down the head coach position….more below.
N’Keal Harry and Damien Harris, are representing the Patriots at the NFLPA Rookie Premiere this weekend. According to the NFLPA press release, the rookie premiere is the first major business and marketing event featuring NFL players since becoming professionals. The 40 rookies that are there can get a jump start on their endorsement careers by meeting and signing on with some big-name brands for marketing purposes.
Speaking of N’Keal Harry, he signed his first professional contract this week. Harry is been signed to a 4-year, $10,098,348 deal that includes a $5,364,252 signing bonus, per Adam Schefter
After the NBA Draft Lottery situation played out, many people are now clamoring for an NFL Draft Lottery. Count me totally out on that. Don’t need it, don’t want it. The NFL has already turned everything into an event. Now we’ll have non-stop coverage of the pre-Draft Lottery? No thanks, the current system works just fine.
Jamie Collins Contract Low-Risk Move By the Patriots:
The Patriots have brought linebacker, Jamie Collins, back in the fold, but they hardly threw down the gauntlet of a ton of money to bring the former 2nd round draft pick back. The actual guaranteed money amount is rather small. The team-friendly deal was reported by NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.
The total amount of guaranteed money is just $250,000 and a base salary of only $1.05 million dollars. Collins has bonuses tied up with incentives and he’d receive $500,000 for making either the Pro Bowl or an All-Pro. He can also earn $100,000 in workout bonuses and $850,000 in roster bonuses.
Collins can make an additional $250,000 for playing 50 percent of the team’s defensive snaps, another $250,000 for playing 60 percent, another $250,000 for playing 70 percent, and another $250,000 for playing 80 percent of the team’s defensive snaps. He can make another $500,000 by playing 91 percent, and then another $500,000 by playing 95 percent of the Patriots defensive snaps.
Last season, as a member of the Cleveland Browns, Collins was on the field for nearly 91 percent of the Browns defensive snaps. He registered 104 total tackles, four sacks, seven quarterback hits, one interception, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery.
Collins cap number is $3,000,000 with a maximum possible cap number of $5 million. It is a low-risk, possibly high reward scenario by the Patriots who also have Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts, and Ja’Whaun Bentley at linebacker from last year. Christian Sam was on IR, and they also have Terez Hall and Calvin Munson. John Simon and 3rd round draft pick Chase Winovich can play both DE or OLB. So the depth is very high at the position. Which makes competition at training camp something to watch.
Running Back Position is Strong and Will Play A Bigger Role:
In typical fashion, while we were all lamenting the lack of depth at wide receiver and tight end this spring, Bill Belichick went out and found another running back. The Patriots selected Alabama running back Damien Harris in the 3rd round. A classic case of zigging while the rest of us were zagging.
Now, the team did go out and draft WR N’Keal Harry in the first round and signed Demaryius Thomas, and Dominique Inman at wide receiver and Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Ben Watson at tight end but the selection of Harris was a very intriguing one.
Harris and second-year back Sony Michel are both very good at running the ball between the tackles. And the Patriots at the end of the 2018 season made a decision to put an emphasis on running the ball. In the Patriots’ three playoff games they rushed for 485 yards or an average of 161.6 yards per game against the Chargers, Chiefs, and Rams. It was after the Pittsburgh game that the team made their choice to lean more on the running game and if you add in those two games, in the team’s final five games of the season, they averaged 177.8 yards per game.
With Shaq Mason, David Andrews, and Joe Thuney inside, the Patriots running game has thrived. Add in the devastating blocking of fullback James Devlin and they are set up well for success again. They will miss the outstanding blocking of Rob Gronkowski who retired, however.
When Michel ran the ball between the tackles in 2018, he averaged more yards per carry than both Ezekial Elliot and Todd Gurley. Harris will certainly add to that. He and Michel can be a very effective 1-2 punch in the running game. Harris is also an underrated pass catcher with good hands and is a very good pass blocker.
But the backfield also has James White and Rex Burkhead who can run as well but are both very good out of the backfield in the passing game. With Gronkowski retired, look for the offense to place White and Burkhead out wide more often to put pressure on the linebackers with mismatches.
The NFL and the Patriots are still pass-first offensively. However, look for the team to be even more balanced between pass and run in 2019.
The Decision to Remain With the Patriots, A No-Brainer for Gostkowski:
For Stephen Gostkowski, the decision to remain with the Patriots in free agency wasn’t that hard. The 13-year vet was brought in when Adam Vinatieri left in 2006 and has spent his entire career with the Patriots. He re-signed with New England this spring on a two-year deal worth a reported $8.5 million dollars, numbers he could have probably bettered by going elsewhere. But to hear the 35-year old tell it, he’s quite content here.
“To be able to have a chance to do it on one of the most high-pressure teams in the history of sports and have a chance to continue to do it — I think it would be tough to go somewhere else,” Gostkowski said. “The grass might seem greener on the other side, but it’s not always that way. I kind of like the challenge of being here, the bad weather, the pressure of the big games.”
Gostkowski has converted on better than 87 percent of his field goals in his career, third-best in NFL history. He’s also appeared in six Super Bowls, the most for any kicker in league history. After Justin Tucker, it is easy to make the argument that Gostkowski is the best kicker in the league. Last year he converted 49 of 50 extra point attempts and 27 of 32 field goal attempts.
He has been named to four Pro Bowls and twice been named All-Pro.
Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:
Bills Gaining Momentum With Pundits for a Playoff Berth:
The Buffalo Bills, as we wrote here earlier weren’t getting a lot of love from ESPN in their preseason rankings, putting the over/under for wins at 6.5, which is pretty low. However, the same piece put the Patriots win total over/under at 10.5 and some of the media are looking at them in a much more positive light.
Adam Schein said he’d take the over for the Bills at 8.5 if it were that high. NFL.com’s senior analyst and former scout and VP of player personnel Gil Brandt thinks that Buffalo had the 3rd best offseason in the league this spring. Brandt wrote:
All of Buffalo’s moves, combined with rebuilding projects going on with the Dolphins and Jets, mean anything less than a playoff appearance will count as a disappointment.
Also at NFL.com Michael Robinson puts the Bills at 11-5 and slotted as a Wildcard participant in the 2019 season. Pete Prisco from CBS said on the Pick Six podcast that the Bills will earn a Wildcard berth this year with better things happening in 2020.
“They’re not gonna win the division this year,” said Prisco. “They’re gonna push for a Wild Card spot (this season), but in 2020 the Buffalo Bills will finally take over and win that division. How about that?”
Prisco was then asked if he believed that Tom Brady would still be playing?
“Yeah, but the Bills are gonna take the division next year.”
Dolphins Have to go With Rosen This Year:
The Miami Dolphins made a huge splash by trading for QB Josh Rosen for a 2nd round draft pick (#62 overall) during this year’s NFL Draft. Rosen was selected with the #10 overall pick in the 2018 draft by the Cardinals.
It was a shrewd move by Miami where nearly all of Rosen’s guaranteed cash was already paid and they can see what they have in Rosen before deciding to move on or put their trust in him as their franchise QB. But he needs to be the man starting in Week 1. Miami signed journeyman QB Ryan Fitzpatrick as a stop-gap measure after trading Ryan Tannehill earlier this spring. Fitzpatrick is a known commodity, he’s fully capable of lighting it up for a number of games but then being dreadful right behind it. The time to evaluate Rosen should begin right away.
Head coach Brian Flores is saying all the right things, stating before the recent rookie minicamp that the QB position is an open competition, a may-the-best-man-win scenario. But that isn’t really what’s in the best interest for the team in the short or long term. They need to see if Rosen is going to be the man for Miami and if they decide that he is not, then they’ll have plenty of opportunities to move on from him next spring.
With Miami in a complete makeover with a new regime in Flores this year, handing the keys to Fitzpatrick doesn’t really make any sense. They have to know if Rosen can indeed be their franchise QB and the best way to see that is on the field.
The worst-case scenario for Miami is to sit Rosen while going with Fitzpatrick and then having Fitzy go on one of his hot streaks garnering enough wins to knock the Dolphins out of a prime drafting spot. Then they’ll still not know what they have.
Jets – What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been:
The New York Jets have had a coup in the palace and the new head coach Adam Gase has won. GM Mike Maccagnan is out. Just months after hiring the new head coach, the inner workings of the Jets showed that they are a disjointed, hot mess. Right from ownership on down, this is truly the gang green that can’t shoot straight.
After hiring Gase, Maccagnan didn’t want Gase’s input on players that the scouting department was looking at. According to reports from Jets media, Gase wanted (and rightfully so) to give his take on players that he feels will fit his philosophy for playing on the field.
Not having the scouts on the same page with the head coach is a ludicrous exercise in futility for the scouting department. That is the fault with the GM, but Chris Johnson, the head of football operations was ready to fire Maccagnan in January but didn’t feel he or his staff could handle finding a new coach and GM. Wow.
So, Gase distanced himself from the draft process by moving his chair from next to the owner in the draft room to the corner where he was out of camera sight. Gase was apparently PO’d that ownership overpaid for Le’Veon Bell, in essence bidding against themselves.
So after the draft, Gase put a word in the owners’ ear and Maccagnan is out. Gase and Johnson will work on bringing in a GM (Pioli?) who they’ll both agree is a better fit for Gase’s philosophies. After the upheaval at the palace, the pressure, already and always high in New York will be magnified x 10.
And later reports (made up?) began surfacing that the Jets are pursuing Peyton Manning for the vacant GM job. Of course, it may all be a bunch of hooey but nothing would ignite the Jets fan base and some of the more hysterical media members than throwing another Manning in NY.
“Sometimes the lights are shining on me….other times I can barely see.”
The Patriots roster looks really loaded so training camp competition should be excellent this summer before the Patriots begin “Knockin’ on Seven’s Door”. Can’t wait.