With the news coming down Wednesday that the New England Patriots released wide receiver Kenny Britt, it created yet another opening on an already thin depth chart at the position.
The Patriots, who previously cut Malcolm Mitchell and Jordan Matthews due to injuries in camp, opened the door for additional fan and media speculation that the team should give free agent Dez Bryant a chance.
Bryant, who was last seen on HBO’s Hard Knocks leaving the Cleveland Browns without a contract, added more fire to the Patriots rumors when he was spotted calling Tom Brady his “favorite player” in response to an Instagram comment from a fan asking him to come to New England.
Could the comment be interpreted as Bryant seeking attention from the Patriots?
Surely he knows Bill Belichick doesn’t have a SnapFace or Pandarama account?
In the meantime, brace yourself for the Logan Airport “sightings” over the next few weeks.
Good morning, Here is your Sunday’s Patriots news 7-29, & AFC East Notes. Training camp is in full swing and we hope to see many of you down at Foxboro in the next few days.
Quick Hitters: With the start of training camp, one would have hoped that all of that drama hooey would have been left behind…yet on Day 1, that was not to be. It didn’t end there on Day 3 Tom Brady was asked about another player’s suspension and the connection between him, Alex Guerrero and that suspended player (Julian Edelman). Brady got incensed and cut the interview off, stating, ”This is ridiculous.” And it is. Enough already with the constant search for a conspiracy behind every event.
It is time to talk football for the 2018 season.
Deatrich Wise had the hit of the summer so far when early in the session on Saturday, he slipped the block of rookie Isaiah Wynn and decleated RB Jeremy Hill, who flew backward and ended up flat on his back.
Bret Bielema works with Vincent Valentine and Deatrich Wise at practice. (SBalestrieri photo)
Troy Niklas was released after just two days of training camp, which is a bit of a surprise. The big tight end was in competition to get one of the backup slots. In his stead, the team signed WR Paul Turner who spent four games with the Eagles in 2016. In other moves this week, the team signed safety Eddie Pleasant, guard Nate Theaker and WR Devin Lucien while releasing safety David Jones.
Rob Gronkowski said he never considered holding out for a new contract this spring and has looked excellent in the early going. He and Brady were putting on a clinic in early red zone work in camp.
Sony Michel looks like he’s a veteran thus far in camp. He’s getting reps with Brady and the starters (yes we know Belichick hates using that term in camp). The Patriots put a premium on pass protection, and Michel will have to excel in that area. But thus far, he’s way ahead of schedule and it seems the Patriots are fully invested in him.
One area of concern thus far is ball security. Michel has put the ball on the ground in every day (first three) of training camp. That will have to change.
Dwayne Allen was a factor in the passing game during the practice sessions on Friday. The big blocking tight end was an afterthought in the passing game in 2017 and his performance in the heat was a welcome addition. Coincidentally after a strong spring and good first day, second-year tight end Jacob Hollister had a pair of drops on Friday.
Cordarrelle Patterson had a nice day on Friday, and while there is a long way to go, it looks like the team is trying to find a comfort level for the big, fast WR in the offense. And his one-handed TD grab over Stephon Gilmore on a pass from Tom Brady was the kind of good news that we hope to see continue. And he did with another nice catch from #12 on Saturday.
Cordarrelle Patterson has been a pleasant surprise so far. (SBalestrieri photo)
Jason McCourty also had a nice day on Friday, looking very competitive and breaking up some passes in the end zone. He continued his strong play on Saturday.
Dorsett Making the Most of His Opportunity:
The Patriots traded backup QB Jacoby Brissett to the Colts early last season for WR Phillip Dorsett and while he didn’t make a big dent in the passing game a year ago, that looks like it will change drastically in 2017. Dorsett was targeted just 18 times last year and caught just 12 but with a year in the system, he is looking like he’s ready for a much bigger piece of the pie.
With Julian Edelman out for the first four weeks of the season due to a PED suspension, there will be plenty of opportunities for a player to step up at the inside wide receiver. And Dorsett, this summer is getting in a lot of work inside. Both he and veteran Jordan Matthews are working in the slot as well as 2nd-year player Riley McCarron and rookie Brandon Berrios.
Dorsett besides possessing great straight-line speed, has excellent quickness, running a 6.70 3-Cone-Drill back when he went thru the NFL Combine. This will be an intriguing area to watch this summer.
Hightower Cites DC (in waiting) Flores With Easing the Learning Curve:
With the departure of Matt Patricia, this winter to take over the head coaching duties of the Detroit Lions, Brian Flores’ responsibilities have been expanded to become the signal caller for the Patriots defense. While he’s the Defensive Coordinator in everything but name, he has a lot more on his plate.
But for the veteran signal caller on the field, Dont’a Hightower, Flores is already receiving high marks for the job he’s doing teaching the Patriots system to the younger players, especially rookie linebacker Christian Sam.
“Coach is definitely different. I think guys are learning a lot faster, a lot easier. A lot of young guys are stepping up and able to pick up for some of the older guys. It definitely works in our favor.” “Maybe it’s just the way that he teaches it,” Hightower said. “The way that the guys kind of absorb it a little bit different. We meet a little different, talk about things a little different. It’s just small quirky things that you can’t necessarily put a finger on, but it’s obvious whenever you can kind of have first-year guys come in or even guys who maybe got signed that can pick things up.”
Devin McCourty, however, pooh-poohed that assertion saying that nothing has changed under the Patriots defense and everything and everyone is on the same page.
During the spring, Hightower got the fan base a bit more excited by saying that under Flores, the Patriots defense will be much more aggressive this year. One area that the team struggled in during the 2017 season was the ability to consistently get to the QB.
With Trey Flowers, Deatrich Wise and 2nd-year player Adam Butler returning, the team signed Adrian Clayborn from the Falcons during free agency and now they’ll get a healthy return of Derek Rivers, their top draft pick from last year who missed the entire season with an ACL injury.
While the mantra of the Bill Belichick defensive philosophy has always been to play conservatively and keep the play in front of them, there are some ways that this team could still stick within the Belichick system and play a bit faster. I’d look for some 3-4 looks to go along with their 4-3 and 4-2-5 packages and see them getting a bit more game plan specific in 2018.
Hightower’s Return, an Automatic Boost for the Defense: Speaking of the defense, there was one person who we said all season was irreplaceable for the unit and that was Hightower. His loss was felt all last season and while everyone wants to talk about how the absence of Malcolm Butler hurt in the Super Bowl loss to the Eagles, a much bigger factor was not having Hightower in there against Philly.
And nothing has changed, on the Patriots defense, he’s the one player they can least afford to lose. After Patricia was forced to move him to the edge exclusively early last year, he back at the middle linebacker position, where he’s most effective. And the trickle-down effect begins. That allows Kyle Van Noy to move where he’s more effective on the outside. He took on much of Hightower’s role a year ago and they’re very different players.
Was it coincidence on Friday that Van Noy was having a big day breaking up passes? In the first two days of camp, he’s broken up four, as the Patriots are freer to move him around a bit more to take advantage of his athleticism.
It will be interesting to see how the position changes this season. Hightower and Harvey Langi return from IR, they added Ja’Whaun Bentley and Sam thru the draft and still have returning veterans Marquis Flowers, Elandon Roberts and Nicholas Grigsby in the mix. On paper at least, it is still the thinnest on the team and the one guy that they can still ill-afford to lose is Hightower.
Danny Etling’s Work on His Mechanics is Plain to See:
Etling, who was a 7th round draft choice (219th overall) this spring had mechanics issues to work thru. Watching him perform in the SEC the past two seasons, he frequently threw the ball flat-footed, rarely if ever setting his feet and relied on his arm strength to get the ball out, causing his passes to sail and diminished his velocity.
That won’t get it done in the NFL and give the rookie credit, he has put the extra work in. We read that he’s working with QB/MLB throwing guru Tom House. His mechanics look much improved and thus far ( it is still very early) he’s looked much better than what was expected of him.
Does this mean, he’ll push Hoyer for the backup job to Brady? Hardly. He has a long, long way to go and will have to learn all the nuances of the Patriots playbook and grasp the offense. But to see this first…albeit baby step is encouraging. Add in that he’s staying on the field for nearly 30 minutes after practice to work on his footwork, mechanics, and timing and route concepts, is another nice sign.
For a guy fighting for a roster spot, he is doing all the right things so far. Now we’ll see if he can keep progressing as camp unfolds and the preseason moves on.
Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:
Bills QB Battle A Key Area to Watch in Training Camp: TheBuffalo Bills have three QBs vying for reps in training camp and into the preseason this summer and it’ll bear watching this summer. Top draft choice Josh Allen signed his contract and is in camp, the team traded for A.J. McCarron with the Bengals and have veteran Nathan Peterman who was thrown into a disastrous first start last year but bounced back nicely after that.
McCarron led Alabama to a national title but this is his first opportunity to start. He’ll try to hold off Peterman and the rookie Allen. Allen is their QB of the future, but Bills coach Sean McDermott has made it clear, that the team won’t push their future QB into game action before he’s ready. That’s why they brought in McCarron.
When it comes to arm strength, Allen is head and shoulders above the other two, but as we’ve seen, playing QB in the NFL is much more than that or else Jeff George would be in the Hall of Fame.
Dolphins’ QB Tannehill Trying to Get Chemistry With Amendola: The Miami Dolphins are trying to work Danny Amendola in the slot where he was so valuable for the Patriots the past few years. And QB Ryan Tannehill, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL is working hard to build his chemistry with the tough but diminutive wide receiver.
But not everyone is happy with the work being turned in by the Dolphins QB. Dolphins beat writer, Omar Kelly who is known for his over the top tweets was writing that Tannehill is leading Amendola into a huge collision.
“Every single media member has CRINGED watching some of the passes Tannehill throws Amendola. If the action were live Reshad Jones and T.J. McDonald would break his ribs, or give him a concussion. Ball placement is a very important trait a QB needs, ask Dustin Keller.”
Kelly added, “And for the record, I predict Reshad Jones and T.J. McDonald will be head hunters (sic) in this defense….if the refs allow it. Both make great jumps on plays and bring the sledge hammer. Problem is, the NFL doesn’t want those hits in the game anymore. We’ll see.”
Jets’ QB Darnold Unsigned At the Outset of Camp: The New York Jets have started their 2018 training camp and have done so without the services of QB Sam Darnold. The talented USC signal caller was the #3 overall pick in this spring’s NFL Draft and his contract was thought to be an after-thought. But that hasn’t worked out and his early absence may hurt his chances to start in his rookie season.
Darnold is expected to push long-time veteran Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater for the starting job this summer, but this unexpected snafu is throwing a monkey wrench into the works. According to ESPN’s Rich Cimini, the two sides have sharp differences on certain clauses and language in what will be a four-year, $30.2 million deal, fully guaranteed.
Coach Todd Bowles however, isn’t worried. “It’s just another day in the office. There’s no animosity. It’s just the business part. When he comes in, we’ll get him caught up to speed and get him ready to go, Bowles said. “I’m not frustrated,” Bowles added. “I’m a coach.” He said that as soon as the two sides agree on the deal, that the Jets would quickly bring Darnold up to speed.
Good morning, Here is your Sunday’s Patriots news 7-15, & AFC East Notes.
Quick Hitters: Something you can file under either a slow news week or not very surprising news, Mark Wahlberg has placed “a hefty bet” on the Patriots winning the Super Bowl. The Boston-born and Pats diehard fan who played Vince Papale of the Eagles in a film has long been a good friend of Tom Brady. Oh and he placed a bet on the Eagles as well.
Tony Romo jumped into the Tom Brady – Bill Belichick ongoing discussion on how their relationship is, in his opinion just fine. “I just think when you work together for 15-20 years, whatever it is, I think that whenever you have the success that they have, people have to come up with stuff,” Romo said. “I’ve been upset with my coaches before, and then you come back and you’re fine.
Romo added, “I don’t really think that there’s a whole lot to it. I think they probably squabble just like any married couple for 20 years, and then they also love each other. So that’s my take there.”
Romo also made his early Super Bowl call of the Packers-Jaguars for this season.
Free Agents Still Out There That New England Can Target:
With training camp now right around the corner, the Patriots roster is right around 90 players but there are several guys still out there that may be able to help the team in 2018. The team has always targeted veterans that can step in contribute.
And these players would, in our opinion help out with some positions that could use the depth and while some were positions of need a year ago, others, while not a particular position of need per se, could benefit from the depth.
Kenny Vaccaro: The Patriots have three starting caliber safeties in Devin McCourty, Pat Chung, and Duron Harmon and frequently use all three on the field at the same time. Behind them is Jordan Richards and we’ve all seen what happens on defense when he plays a key role. With both McCourty and Chung starting to get up there in years, it may be time to bring in an eventual replacement in case of either a dropoff in play or injury.
Vaccaro is still just 27 and had a very solid 2017 until wrist and groin injuries landed him on IR. He made 60 tackles, had three Interceptions and broke up 12 more in 12 games. The former 2013 first round pick has had some issues staying on the field. The market for safeties didn’t play out the way he hoped it would and he’s still out there.
But Vaccaro is versatile and can be moved around, much like Bill Belichick likes to do with his safeties. Is a one-year flyer on a player of his caliber out of the question? Of course not and he’s a huge step up from Richards in the secondary.
NaVorro Bowman: Bowman is a 30-year old free agent middle linebacker who can help with the lack of depth inside. Is the team planning on moving Dont’a Hightower back inside after playing him on the edge a year ago? And given his injury history, it has been rare for him to play an entire season.
With Bowman returning to play strong for the Raiders in 2017 after being released by the 49ers last year, he still has plenty of gas left in the tank. The Raiders made him an offer during the spring but he’s still out there in free agency and hasn’t signed with anyone although rumors suggest that he’ll return to Oakland.
Bowman could be brought in on a relatively cheap short-term deal and with Elandon Roberts and rookie Ja’Whaun Bentley inside, Bowman would be an upgrade.
Connor Barwin: Barwin is a 31-year old edge rusher who has been remarkably durable over his career starting in 109 of 112 games for Houston, Philadelphia and Los Angeles (Rams). And while he’s still effective at rushing the quarterback and getting some offers, he has his sights set on goals other than money.
Barwin is in search of a team that is in contention for a Super Bowl and of course one that could use his skill set. Right now, he looks like he may be leaning towards a return to the Rams but as he’s still unsigned, he’s a player that could help the Pats.
We wrote about him in the spring, the Patriots lacked a consistent pass rusher to complement Trey Flowers in 2017. The team has brought in Adrian Clayborn and has high hopes for 2nd-year players Deatrich Wise and Derek Rivers. Rivers missed all of last season after tearing an ACL. Barwin is a savvy veteran who has always had good production getting after the passer and with the Patriots lack of depth and experience there, I still think it would be a good move to bring in a proven veteran edge rusher.
Robert Ayers: Another defensive end who is as good setting the edge as he is getting after the passer. Ayers will be 33 when the season rolls around and may be losing a step. He had just two sacks last season although he was providing some good pressure on the quarterback.
Ayers could be one of those one-year rentals who extends his career for one more season by coming in as part of the defensive end rotation and giving some good quality reps along with a veteran presence. With a chance to play for a winner in the twilight of his career could be a nice enticement where Belichick and Nick Caserio won’t have to break the bank for him.
Training Camp 2018, Who Needs to Step Up:
It doesn’t seem like football is right around the corner but a week from Thursday morning the Patriots will begin their 2018 training camp and then right around the corner the regular season will begin. So we’re looking at some players on the roster and thinking for the Patriots to make it back to the Super Bowl this season, these are the guys who’ll have to step up.
Adrian Clayborn: The Patriots are putting a lot of eggs in his basket and while they’re not an attacking style of defense where their edge rushers are pinning their ears back on every down, they still expect a lot from their edge players, especially from the veterans. And for Clayborn, a guy they brought in during FA, the pressure to produce will be there in 2018.
Clayborn, is thus far, doing all the right things. He’s always among the first to arrive on the field. He’s leading by example and playing hard during the spring workouts, which albeit are tougher for the big guys since there are no pads allowed.
Camp will be the beginning of a very interesting year for the veteran. A lot of eyes will be watching him all year and he’ll be expected to make a difference in the Patriots pass rush and overall defense.
Chris Hogan/Jordan Matthews: These two wide receivers will be especially looked to early in the season to provide the offense and QB Tom Brady with the confidence to replace the production of Danny Amendola, Brandin Cooks and Edelman (for the first four weeks) of 2018. Hogan has been a productive receiver for the Patriots and last year had some nagging injuries that cut into his season. But he’s healthy this summer and in a contract year should be primed for a good season.
I look for Hogan’s looks from Tom Brady to get a huge uptick this season, especially in the red zone where he was flourishing before his shoulder injury in 2017. Hogan isn’t a #1 WR but in the Patriots system, it is all about the matchups and Brady can move his WRs and TEs around to find them and Hogan should benefit from that big time in the first month of the season.
Matthews is a newcomer to the Patriots offense but expectations are already quite high for him (here too), to not only to assimilate into the offense but be a key contributor as well. Matthews has the size that most slot receivers don’t have but has been a very productive receiver in several different schemes. This season, we’ll be watching him closely beginning on the 26th.
Derek Rivers: While he’ll only be part of the rotation and has yet to play an NFL game, the 2nd year edge rusher/linebacker already has high expectations following him. The team’s top draft choice of 2017, Rivers missed all of last year with a knee injury so expectations should be a bit tempered.
But much was expected from him a year ago and that hasn’t changed this season. In fact, there may be a bit more pressure on him to produce this fall. With the pass rush needing a boost in 2018, and the majority coming from Flowers and Clayborn, the next players in the rotation will be second-year players River and Deatrich Wise providing the QB pressure, setting the edge and occasionally dropping into the flat.
Rivers appeared healthy this spring and now will have to show even more once the pads come on. He started slowly last summer, but that was to be expected coming from a small school at Youngstown State. Things seemed to be just falling into place when he tore his ACL. Now with a year in the system, albeit not playing, he’s expected to provide the type of jump a typical second-year jump in play that Wise will be showing as well.
Trent Brown: Brown is a massive tackle who is listed at 6’8, 359 pounds but after seeing him this spring, he looks much larger. He’s one of the biggest players I’ve seen in the flesh that plays for the Patriots with a wingspan that rivaled Tommy Kelly. The Patriots picked him up from the 49ers this spring and that move got some raves from Von Miller who called him “the best right tackle in the NFL and one of the best tackles period.”
Brown will have big shoes to fill and will be tasked with protecting Tom Brady’s blindside. Brady has had Nate Solder and Matt Light during his career and now the job will fall to Brown. Not to put any undue pressure on him but ultimately he’ll have a lot to say about effective the Patriots passing game will be.
We’ll be watching him closely this summer as will everyone else as his every move will be dissected this summer. Welcome to Foxboro, Mr. Brown.
Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:
Bills McCoy Accused by ex-Girlfriend of Being Behind Home Invasion, Beating: TheBuffalo Bills LeSean McCoy’s ex-girlfriend was the victim of a home invasion and a vicious beating at her home in Atlanta this week. And she’s pulling no punches of her own and claiming that McCoy was behind the entire thing. The local police redacted her name from reports, however, attorneys for Delicia Cordon, McCoy’s former girlfriend, have previously identified her as the victim of the home invasion.
“I’m telling you, I’m telling you, that guy is [redacted],” the caller said in the 911 audio. “He must have known the camera system. LeSean must have told him. There’s no camera in the front.”
The armed intruder beat Cordon in the face with a firearm in trying to remove her bracelets, of interest to police since they were among items McCoy has been trying to recover from her in addition to other jewelry.
McCoy has denied any wrongdoing in the case and has hired prominent Atlanta attorney Don Samuel who has not commented on the case publicly. It may turn out that McCoy does indeed have nothing to do with the home invasion, but regardless, after seeing Cordon’s face and hearing the accusations, it is a bad, bad look for McCoy, the Bills and the NFL. Stay tuned.
Well by now, as everyone heard, the NFL denied the appeal for Julian Edelman and he’ll be lost to the team for the first four games of the season. He was suspended for the first four games of the season for testing positive for an unknown substance which violated the league rules against PEDs. Edelman missed all of the 2017 season after tearing his ACL in a non-contact play during the preseason. He’s been trying to work his way all the way back.
During the spring, the team at times kept him out of some drills, but it seemed more precaution than anything else. In the limited amount of time we were able to watch him, he looked like….Julian Edelman. Quick, able to cut on a dime and nearly impossible to cover in the short passing game.
But now the team will miss him the first four games against Houston, Jacksonville, Miami and Detroit and make no mistake, despite being able to hum along without him last season, this is a big loss for the first quarter of the season.
The offense lost three of its biggest playmakers as Danny Amendola and Dion Lewis left in free agency and the team traded Brandin Cooks to the Rams. So at wide receiver, the depth chart consists of Chris Hogan and a lot of question marks. While there is no denying the talent level is there with players such as Jordan Matthews, Kenny Britt, Phillip Dorsett, Cordarrelle Patterson, rookie Braxton Berrios, as well as the battle-tested but oft-injured Malcolm Mitchell, they haven’t worked for long in the system and the unknown element persists with all of them.
The suspension now may change how they look at training camp and the preseason. Edelman will be gone for the first month of the season, they’ll have to juggle, getting him all the way back with a balance of limiting his workload initially.
This suspension will no doubt put more pressure on tight end Rob Gronkowski and the running backs to produce more in the passing game. With Rex Burkhead and James White back in the fold, the team will look to Sony Michel to add that level of playmaking ability to both the passing and running games in 2018.
The loss of Edelman for that first month of the season, where the Patriots are normally slow starters is a big loss, there is no getting around that. But it opens a window of opportunity for the other players to step up and for at least one of them, it may lead to a four-week reprieve that could lead to him becoming a regular part of the offense.
We wrote on Sunday that the snaps in the slot are now wide open and up for grabs. Mitchell would be the first choice to snag them up but his health is a big question mark right now. Berrios and 2nd-year practice squad player Riley McCarron seem cut from the prototypical Patriots slot receiver mold, and they’ll have plenty of opportunities both in practice and in four preseason games to turn the coaches heads and carve out a role for themselves.
Our money here is on Jordan Matthews who has been able to thrive in many different offenses so he’s able to learn a new one and become productive right away. He brings a different element to the mix, he’s 6’3, so he presents a much larger target especially in the red zone.
Of course, this puts more pressure on Tom Brady and the soon-to-be 41-year-old QB has always been equal to the task. He’ll be operating without two of his best friends and most trusted receivers in Amendola and Edelman but something tells me he’ll be able to weather the storm until Edelman returns in Week 5 and the newer players find their rhythm in the Patriots offense.
It won’t be a walk in the park and at times they may struggle, as they always do early in the season. That’s what makes every year so different, so compelling and ultimately so much fun to watch.
But nobody circles the wagons better than the Patriots under Bill Belichick and are able to block out the noise and get all 53 men pulling in one direction. Is the loss of Edelman for four games a huge loss? Absolutely. Is it a crisis that will bear close scrutiny? Yes again. But this is where the wheat is separated from the chaff and this is where the great step up to the forefront. JFK once wrote:
“When written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity.”
I’d place your bets on #12 getting it done this year even without Edelman for the first month of the season.
Good morning, Here is your Sunday’s Patriots news 7-1, & AFC East Notes … We’d like to wish all of our readers a happy and safe 4th of July holiday this week. And Happy Birthday America! We may have our issues, but there is still no better place to live in the world.
Quick Hitters: Training Camp is now just a few weeks away. The Patriots have announced the following days and times for the first few practices, which will be open to the public. ***Please Note that all times are subject to change***. From the Patriots website:
July 26 | Practice Time – 9:15 AM July 27 | Practice Time – 9:15 AM July 28 | Practice Time – 9:15 AM July 29 | Practice Time – 9:15 AM *Gates will open at 8 AM each morning and the fan activities will remain open one (1) hour after practice ends.
No Joint Practices? For the first time in about a decade (there were none in 2011 during the lockout), it seems the Patriots will not be conducting joint practices with an opponent. Typically Bill Belichick lines up the opponent for the first or second preseason game (both last year) and works out a joint practice schedule. It doesn’t seem like that will happen this year barring any last minute changes.
Dwayne Allen’s status remains a hot topic for many fans as well as media members to discuss. Much like safety Jordan Richards, Allen remains a target for criticism considering his very small production in the passing game despite having a $5 million dollar cap hit in 2018, none of which is guaranteed.
But Bill Belichick likes Allen and was pleased with his blocking ability. They brought in competition this spring. Although tight ends Jacob Hollister, Will Tye and UDFA Shane Wimann are more in the mode of “move” tight ends, both Troy Niklas and Ryan Izzo are considered more of the blocking type of tight ends and could provide a younger, cheaper alternative. Of course, the team could always opt for re-doing Allen’s deal, which many predicted they’d do in the spring and didn’t.
Julian Edelman should be hearing back from the NFL regarding his appeal on his four-game suspension early in the week. If the suspension stands, the team will be without him for the first four games of the season. With that in mind…
Who Will Take the Slot Snaps in Case of #11 Suspension?
If indeed Julian Edelman is suspended for the first four games of the season, who will the Patriots go to in the slot for the majority of their snaps and production? Well first off, they won’t (they learned that a year ago when he went on IR), be able to plug one player in that position, it is going to take multiple players to step up.
Malcolm Mitchell: In a perfect world that primary player would be Mitchell. He looked at the end of the 2016 season to be primed for big things down the road. But his knee woes are well-chronicled and with him missing most of the spring workouts just makes him a player with too many questions health-wise for the team to rely on him. At least for the first month of 2018.
Chris Hogan: The team looked like they were going to use Hogan in that type of role early in the 2017 season, but he ran into some injury issues of his own. However with Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola and Dion Lewis gone, they may opt to go with an experienced, trusted player here.
Phillip Dorsett: The former 1st round pick was underwhelming in his first season as a member of the Patriots as he had to learn on the fly. However, he looked better and more comfortable in the offense this spring. But Dorsett doesn’t have the skill set to play an Edelman role. Where could he fit better? In the Cooks role as the outside burner. And he has the quickness to work the underneath routes that Cooks struggled with. We’ll see how that works out in camp.
Braxton Berrios/Riley McCarron: The young slot players resemble former Patriot slot receiver Wes Welker and are quick and productive when they’ve had their numbers called in college. But would the Patriots entrust such a vital part of the offense to such untested players in the first month of the season? Doubtful.
Jordan Matthews: The former Eagle and Bill seems like he’d be an excellent fit for the slot role, although he is a much different player. Matthews is 6’3, 212 pounds and excelled in the slot role with Philly averaging about 70 catches a year before an injury-plagued campaign with the non-throwing Bills. But Matthews bet on himself, opting for a one-year, $1.0 million-dollar contract with New England this spring. He is the guy we’ll be watching if the Pats get some bad news on the Edelman front.
Flowers Contract Extension Going to be Difficult:
Trey Flowersis in the final year of his rookie contract and a new contract with him may be a much more difficult undertaking than it appears on the surface. Flowers has led the team in sacks the past two years, despite not having a big presence opposite him on the other side in 2017.
With the Minnesota Vikings signing DE Danielle Hunter to a 5-year, $72 million-dollar extension last week, with a $15 million signing bonus and $40 million guaranteed. That will be the starting point for negotiations. The two players have had similar production with Hunter logging 8 sacks and Flowers 6.5. However, Hunter plays in a much more aggressive defense and has played with Everson Griffen on the opposite end.
Flowers isn’t flashy but does everything well, setting the edge, getting after the quarterback and kicking inside at times as an interior pass rusher. And with Adrian Clayborn on the team, signed in free agency, Derek Rivers back and Deatrich Wise looking to improve on a good rookie season, the chances for Flowers to cash in by producing in a contract year are very good.
Former Cowboys GM Gil Brandt predicts Flowers will make the Pro-Bowl this year. That would be great news for Flowers. For the Patriots? It will mean, he’ll be just that much harder to re-sign.
Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:
Bills Need Stability, High Play at QB in 2018: TheBuffalo Bills opted for a possible future franchise QB with the #7 pick in the draft with the selection of Josh Allen. There is a lot to like, he has an absolute cannon for an arm and can deliver the ball in a manner that very few QBs can. However, as a rookie, the Bills are taking their time with him, very smartly and allowing him to learn the offense, work on his mechanics and find his way in the NFL before putting the pressure of being the franchise QB for the franchise.
They brought in A.J. McCarron from the Bengals and he appears to have the inside track over Nathan Peterman for the starting job out of the gate. While many in the Bills fan base are clamoring to sign a WR, they need to take a page out of New England’s book and not worry so much about WRs, but get solid QB play.
Wide receivers are successful because of QB play and not the other way around. Our friend Kerry Byrne of CHFF has labeled WRs, “shiny hood ornaments” and we tend to agree with that sentiment. Tom Brady won three Super Bowls with a pretty much no-name group of receivers.
With fans clamoring for a Dez Bryant signing, it is just another case of which we’re ultimately familiar with in New England of “gotta get the NAME” player. Head coach Sean McDermott is installing a passing game that stretches the field horizontally. That isn’t a Bryant specialty.
Dolphins Announce Training Camp Dates: The Miami Dolphins will open their 2018 training camp on the same day as New England and several others and have published the dates and times for the first week of camp. According to their website, the Fins first few practice sessions are:
▪ Thursday, July 26: 8:30 a.m. ▪ Friday, July 27: 8:30 a.m. ▪ Saturday, July 28: 8:30 a.m. ▪ Sunday, July 29: 8:30 a.m. ▪ Monday, July 30: 8:30 a.m.
The caveat is that the Dolphins training facility at the Nova Southeastern University campus holds on 2000 people and fans must get tickets (which are free) by contacting the Dolphins website.
If there are any Dolphins fans here in New England or you’re just interested in keeping up with what Miami is up to, I recommend you follow our old friend Antwan Staley who is a Dolphins beat writer for the USA Today and his stuff can be found on the “Dolphins Wire” website. Twan is a great guy and a die-hard Red Sox fan.
Details Emerge on Jets’ TE DWI Arrest: New York Jets rookie tight end Chris Herndon from the University of Miami was arrested for DWI on June 2 after getting into an accident at 4:45 a.m. on I-80 westbound in Rockaway Township, NJ.
His Nissan Altima crashed into a 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser driven by Albert Elliott of Manalapan, 76, who was towing a trailer and hauling a yellow rail car. Herndon initially claimed that Manalapan hit him which caused his vehicle, to flip over. Herndon claimed to be driving only 58 miles per hour but a witness at the scene told NJ State Police that Herndon passed him going over 100 miles per hour. After the crash, Herndon’s SUV slid on its roof for over 700 feet.
Officers detected a strong odor of alcohol on Herndon’s breath and he failed field sobriety tests. Once arrested and taken to the police station, he blew a 0.14 percent BAC on a breathalyzer. In NJ a person is guilty of DWI with a Blood Alcohol Concentration level of 0.08 percent or greater.
Besides any court costs, fines or court-imposed penalties, Herndon now faces possible NFL-imposed discipline, which could include a suspension. Luckily, no one was seriously injured.
Position is Loaded and Competition Will Tell the Tale
The Patriots head into training camp in just a month and the 90-man roster as it now stands is pretty stocked. Which means there will be a lot of players fighting for a very few spots on the 53-man roster.
Nowhere is that truer than at wide receiver. The Patriots (as of today 6/25) have 11 players vying for probably six roster spots. The team usually keeps around six WRs. That number could fluctuate if they feel they can’t part with a player or two.
Julian Edelman’s looming suspension may play a factor into that as well. If his suspension stands, then the team will have a full month of the regular season to carry an extra wide receiver and give them a longer look at some players. And of course, health will play a major role in the players that they keep, let go, place on PUP/IR.
The Patriots lost their two most productive wide receivers in Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola from 2017. Both left via free agency. Cooks the speedster that came over from New Orleans had a solid season with 65 catches for 1082 yards and 7 TDs. Amendola had 61 catches for 659 yards and 2 TDs. But in the playoffs, Amendola ratcheted up his game in a big way, hauling in 26 catches for 348 yards and 2 more TDs.
Replacing their production will be a big priority. But getting both Julian Edelman and Malcolm Mitchell back from IR, neither played in 2017 will be a huge boost. The team also drafted Braxton Berrios from Miami and has Kenny Britt and Phillip Dorsett back after each got to spend an entire offseason in New England.
So… who’s locked in and who’s on the bubble?
Roster Locks: Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Matthew Slater
The Patriots get back a healthy Julian Edelman as well as a healthy Hogan this summer. Edelman missed the entire season with a torn ACL and Hogan was dinged up with a couple of injuries where he wasn’t a 100 percent for much of last season.
Julian Edelman looks healthy and ready to go. (SBalestrieri photo)
Edelman looked like the Julian Edelman we’ve always seen during the spring. We watched him closely during minicamp to see if there was any difference in his cutting to the left or right and his knee looks 100 percent. The real test will be once camp begins and the hitting starts.
The only question with him is if he will miss the first four games with a suspension due to PEDs where he was popped on a random drug test. If his suspension holds, it may end up being a better thing for him, giving him an extra month to fully recover from his surgery and rehab. But it will definitely hurt the team.
Hogan is an intriguing case as if the suspension does hold, will the team use him more in the slot or will they turn to a guy like Berrios or Jordan Matthews? It does give the team options.
Slater is a perennial Pro-Bowler and in speaking with NBC Sports Boston’s Phil Perry in a podcast today, he again mentioned the changes in the kickoff rules this season and believes Slater and other STs mavens to be even more valuable this season than in years before.
Near Roster Locks: Cordarrelle Patterson, Malcolm Mitchell
Patterson is (at least here) a near lock on our roster due to the changes to the rules governing kickoffs which will make him much more valuable this season. If Josh McDaniels and the coaches can figure out a way to get him involved in the offense, it will be a huge plus.
Cordarrelle Patterson looks to not only help in the kick return game but on offense as well. (SBalestrieri photo)
Mitchell had a really solid rookie season in 2016 and followed that up with a big Super Bowl in the win over the Falcons. But unfortunately, that was the last time he’s played in a meaningful game. His knee issues are chronic and he missed nearly all of the spring. The only thing that can hold him back is health. Will he be good to go or will he end up on PUP or IR?
On the Bubble: Jordan Matthews, Kenny Britt, Phillip Dorsett, Braxton Berrios, Riley McCarron
Matthews is a very intriguing signing. He was very productive in Philadelphia, averaging over 70 catches a year for three seasons. Last year he had a myriad of injuries and played on a non-passing team that derailed his season in Buffalo. I believe he’s going to be a big part of this offense in 2018. But he’ll have to prove it once the pads come on.
Ditto for Kenny Britt and Phillip Dorsett. Both came over last season, Dorsett just before the season opener and Britt later in the season. Dorsett, despite having blistering speed, never really caught on last year. Britt was having a very nice spring before tweaking a hamstring in minicamp and was held out as a precaution the last two days.
Berrios was a late round (6th round, 210th Overall) draft pick in the 2018 NFL Draft from Miami. He has the quickness and long speed to be a dynamic slot receiver. But he had a lingering medical issue that precluded him from taking part in any team drills in minicamp. He has some catching up to do.
McCarron spent all of 2017 on the Patriots practice squad and now knows the offense very well. With Berrios out during minicamp, he took advantage of some extra work. He looked okay but not great in the passing offense and got second-team snaps in both the punt and kick return games where he did a good job.
Outside Looking in…. Longshots: Cody Hollister
The Patriots signed undrafted free agent Cody Hollister last spring and he did enough to warrant the team to bring him back onto the practice squad last year. He had a good spring this year as well as last season. But with a top-heavy and loaded wide receiver roster, it is going to be difficult for him to get enough reps to earn a roster spot.
He, Berrios and McCarron may be looking at practice squad slots, at least to start the season. And then, depending on what transpires during the season as the inevitable injuries do occur, they may have an opportunity to get some reps in the regular season.
Good morning, Here is your Sunday’s Patriots news 5-27, & AFC East Notes
Quick Hitters: Can’t say enough about the league’s “compromise” in regards to the national anthem. Compromise with who? The league and the owners, that’s who. The players, who are the ones most affected by this new policy, weren’t even consulted and involved in the discussions. Bad move NFL.
The NFL loves to throw around the word “partners” when discussing the players. So how in the world can they NOT involve them in the process? Baffling would be the politically correct answer. The Players Association should take note and remind the league about it when the new CBA comes around.
Bill Belichick loves to find new ways to build team cohesion…and to tweak the NFL. Belichick traditionally used the old Chuck Noll tactic of using numberless jerseys for OTAs and minicamp in have the players get to know one another and communicate better on the field.
But the massive uptick in media coverage in the modern game had the league force the Patriots and Belichick to ban that tactic. So, Belichick, this spring had the rookies wear non-traditional numbers for OTAs. Examples? RB Sony Michel wore #51, CB Duke Dawson wore #52, QB Danny Etling wore #58, Braxton Berrios wore #55.
One can expect the league to address this soon as well.
There have been rumors of a contract extension for Rob Gronkowski for awhile now, getting a new deal done will be relief no doubt for the team and the player to keep him around Foxboro a bit longer. Gronk released a shot of him swimming with sharks as part of a Discovery Channel special
All the amateur psychologists were out in force to try to decipher the meaning of Tom Brady’s Instagram post this week. Brady posted a picture of himself practicing and added the caption, “Dreamworks”. Brady was rumored to be working out at the TB12 clinic but that was quickly shot down by Scott Zolak and others.
This weekend we know that he and his wife are in Monaco at the invitation of the prince. It is good to be the King…er the Goat. As to when he’ll be on the field, look for mandatory minicamp June 5-7. I wouldn’t expect to see him out there on May 30-31.
So what about the players on the field?
Wide Receiver Will Be a Great Position to Watch This Summer: This will be a prime position to watch at both minicamp and training camp this summer. Julian Edelman has been on the field for the OTAs and looks like he hasn’t lost a bit of his quickness. Coming off of a serious ACL injury that caused him to miss all of 2017, that is good news. He and Chris Hogan seemed to be locked into the top two spots on the depth chart. There, things get really interesting and that’s where the camp competition will be fun to watch.
Malcolm Mitchell who had such a promising end to his rookie season, also missed the entire season a year ago with knee woes that are looking chronic. He was at Monday’s session and then missed Tuesday’s on-field work. Whether it was injury related or the team just taking a cautious approach will bear watching.
Two guys the team brought in last year will be looking to assert themselves after a full offseason in the Patriots system. Phillip Dorsett was something of a disappointment last year as he didn’t contribute much. He has the advantage of being able to line up inside or outside and with his spot far from guaranteed, he’ll be going all out this spring and summer.
Kenny Britt is a sleeper here. Brought in at the tail end of last year after a miserable 2017 with the Browns, Britt had 1000 yards receiving with the Rams in 2016. He has good size, (6’3, 225) and still runs well. The Patriots need some size at the position and Britt could be a productive player in the system with a solid summer.
Jordan Matthews is a guy that I’m going to make an early prediction and say makes the team. We haven’t seen him play in the Patriots system yet, but he’s learned several different systems already in his career and despite an injury-riddled season in Buffalo, he’s been a very productive receiver in Philadelphia where he averaged 70+ catches over three years there. He too has good size (6’3, 205) and can operate out of the slot.
Cordarrelle Patterson is probably the most intriguing guy in the group. Patterson has good size, (6’2, 220) and has tremendous speed. He’s the best kick returner in the business right now and a very effective gunner. That alone should make him a near roster lock. With the Patriots ability to insert him in the lineup for some specifically tailored plays designed for him, end-arounds, quick slants, screens, his ability to make something in the open field should be fun to watch.
Braxton Berrios arrives in New England with a ton of hype as the “next Wes Welker” in the Pats offense. He’s small with a very limited catch radius but he has the quickness and better top end speed than Welker did. Where he can secure a spot is in the punt return game. He was working with Julian Edelman on that this week, which is a good sign. He and Riley McCarron will no doubt be competing for a spot either on the roster or the practice squad. Don’t go to sleep on the second year McCarron. He offers much the same value as Berrios without the hype and spent all of last year on the practice squad. He can return punts and is built similar to recently departed Danny Amendola.
Cody Hollister is a super long shot to make the roster and would have to turn heads this summer to remain on the practice squad for another year. He has the versatility to play in different spots on the field as well as special teams.
Matthew Slater is a wide receiver truly in name only. He’s one of the best special teams players in the league, year in and year out. But with so many qualified wide receivers on the squad this year, the team will have to decide whether to keep an extra WR or make some difficult decisions in regards to who to release.
The wide receiver position will be a fun one to watch this summer. With Tom Brady not at OTAs, it gives the younger players an opportunity to gain some level of comfort and build some chemistry with Brian Hoyer and Danny Etling. Why is that important? Because they’ll be mostly getting reps with them once Brady gets to camp and is taking reps with the top WRs on the depth chart.
Helmet Maker with the NFL is Trying to Make Soldiers Helmets Safer: Not Patriots-related news but on Memorial Day weekend, we salute anything that can make our troops a bit safer.
VICIS, the makers of the new Zero1 football helmet has partnered with the US Army to make the ballistic helmet safer for the men and women in the military. They plan on replacing the foam pads inside the existing helmets with technology from the Zero1 helmet.
While the primary purpose of the military’s helmet is ballistic protection, four out of five traumatic brain injuries occur from blunt impact during training and/or other events. The company believes it will take a year or two of research and testing to begin fielding a new military helmet that makes the troops safer.
Military ballistic helmet
Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:
Bills: WR Zay Jones Knee Surgery Will Not Sideline Him During Season: TheBuffalo Bills appeared to have dodged a major bullet when WR Zay Jones was forced to have knee surgery last week, but although he’ll miss the remainder of the spring, head coach Sean McDermott said it will not force Jones to miss the season.
“At this point, we aren’t concerned this injury will jeopardize his season,” McDermott told the media. When pressed for return timetable McDermott deferred and , said it was “best for us to get this done now.”
Jones who had 27 catches for 316 yards and a pair of touchdowns in 2017 is expected to be a starter opposite Kelvin Benjamin in 2018. He also had a bizarre episode in Los Angeles this off-season where he appeared naked in an apartment corridor and argued with his brother before he broke a few glass doors and windows. He was not charged with a crime in that incident as the DA declined to pursue charges.
Dolphins Bolster OL Depth, Sign Center Mike Matthews: The Miami Dolphins announced on Friday that they have signed center Mike Matthews. Matthews spent the 2017 season with the Pittsburgh Steelers on Injured Reserve after suffering a season-ending injury during training camp. He tore his patella tendon with the Steelers and then spent the 2016 offseason and training camp with the Cleveland Browns after originally signing with them as an undrafted college free agent on May 5, 2016. Matthews was a three-year starter (2013-15) at Texas A&M, where he played in 40 games with 33 starts.
Matthews comes from a football family; he’s the son of Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce Matthews, brother of Atlanta Falcons 2014 6th-overall pick Jake Matthews, and cousin of six-time Pro Bowl Packers linebacker Clay Matthews.
Matthews isn’t expected to compete for a starting job but to provide depth along the offensive line.
Jets Owner Johnson Says He’ll Pay the Fines For Players in New Anthem Policy: It isn’t often when you’ll read about us here complimenting the New York Jets on their actions off the field. But this one is the exception.
The NFL on Wednesday approved a new policy that could fine teams if players don’t stand for the national anthem, but the New York Jets chairman and CEO Christopher Johnson told the media that he would pay any fine handed down by the NFL, allowing players to freely kneel during the national anthem with no repercussions or backlash from the team.
“If somebody on the Jets takes a knee, that fine will be borne by the organization, by me, not the players,” Johnson said. “I never want to put restrictions on the speech of our players. Do I prefer that they stand? Of course. But I understand if they felt the need to protest. There are some big, complicated issues that we’re all struggling with, and our players are on the front lines. I don’t want to come down on them like a ton of bricks, and I won’t. There will be no club fines or suspensions or any sort of repercussions. If the team gets fined, that’s just something I’ll have to bear.”
Some key notes include safety Duron Harmon giving his number 30 to old Rutgers teammate and cornerback Jason McCourty. He has held that number his whole career in Tennessee and Cleveland. Harmon will take Malcolm Butler’s old 21 in 2018.
Video: With his brother Devin smiling next to him, Jason McCourty explains how he landed No. 30 from Duron Harmon. pic.twitter.com/fla9eYyNEr
Wide receiver numbers have Jordan Matthews taking Danny Amendola’s number 80 and Kenny Britt switching from 85 to 88.
Cordarrelle Patterson nabs his usual number 84 that he held his whole career previously with the Minnesota Vikings and Oakland Raiders.
Running back Jeremy Hill will sport Dion Lewis’ old 33.
The full list is as followed:
New Patriots numbers 17- Riley McCarron 21- Duron Harmon 30- Jason McCourty 33- Jeremy Hill 58 – Keionta Davis 64- Matt Tobin 65- Jason King 66- James Ferentz 67- Trent Brown 71- Danny Shelton 80- Jordan Matthews 84- Cordarrelle Patterson 88- Kenny Britt 94- Adrian Clayborn
Speaking with the media on Thursday, newly signed wide receiver Jordan Matthews revealed his jersey number that has a very familiar and successful recent history with the franchise.
Matthews, who wore 81 in Philadelphia and 87 in Buffalo, selected the newly open 80, but only after requesting permission from its previous holder, Danny Amendola.
“He said I could have it. I have a lot of respect for his game,” Matthews told reporters
“I know what he did here. I don’t think you have to get a number retired and all that stuff to understand you need to have respect for what guys do in a place like this. They call him ‘Danny Playoff,’ and I think he earned that nickname. I just wanted to make sure, ‘Hey, is this cool?’ He said it was.”
According to ESPN Boston’s Mike Reiss, Matthews had met Amendola previously at Sam Bradford’s wedding.
Matthews, who wore 87 last year and in college at Vanderbilt University, had the following to say regarding that number.
Jordan Matthews wore No. 87 last year, but didn't want to ask for it: "I think somebody is wearing that. I was like, whoever has that I can probably fight him, but I heard he was big. So, I won’t worry about it."