Tag Archives: Kamu Grugier-Hil

Patriots Training Camp Primer – Linebackers

Steve Balestrieri
July 22, 2016 at 6:00 am ET

Top End Talent, But Depth Needed in 2016

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

Bill Belichick likes to say that the spring’s OTAs and Minicamp is a learning exercise and that the real competition begins in training camp. While that is true to an extent, with 89 players on the current roster, a minimum of 36 of these will be cut. That doesn’t take into consideration the tweaking that goes on during the season after the initial 53-man roster is completed.

So the next position to break down are the linebackers. The Patriots have two of the best LBs in the business with Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower. But they each missed time in 2015 and the depth behind them was a problem. The run defense really suffered when Hightower was injured in the Denver game in November.

Jamie-Collins,-Chandler

Both are free agents at the end of this season, something the Patriots should try to rectify this summer. Jonathan Freeny played some meaningful snaps on defense but struggled with his consistency.

The team signed former Bears LB Shea McClellin this spring and the former first round pick gives them some versatility. He can play DE, OLB, and ILB. During the spring, McClellin was seen mostly at DE but I’d expect him to revert to linebacker once the pads come on.

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

Roster Locks: Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower, Shea McClellin
Collins and Hightower are a fantastic duo at linebacker. One of the reasons I don’t care for those Top 10 Lists or in this case the NFL’s Top 100 is how can Collins be left off of that?

The freakishly athletic 6’3, 250-pound linebacker led the team in tackles with 89, had 5.5 sacks and forced five fumbles despite playing in only 12 games. He missed four games due to an illness. He’s also outstanding in coverage and can make plays all over the field. Pro Football Focus (PFF), had Collins rated as the AFC’s top linebacker in 2015.

While Collins and for that matter Hightower didn’t make the Top 100 player list, should they hit free agency they’ll get paid like one.

Hightower is the perfect complement to Collins. Big at 6’3, 265-pounds, he is a fantastic run stuffer in the box with his size and instinctive play. Smart, he calls the plays for the defense and ensures everyone is lined correctly pre-snap. He logged 61 tackles and 3.5 sacks in 12 games last season. Hightower is the glue that holds the front seven together and provides the solid run protection while Collins is the athletic playmaker.

McClellin came over from the Bears during free agency and the biggest question about his signing is, where will he fit?  New England was interested in him during the draft process in 2012 but the Bears selected him in the first round with the 19th overall pick.

Chicago initially had him as a sub-package edge rusher, a full-time defensive end, then two years ago they moved to linebacker where he lined up outside and then in the Mike position. While the Patriots worked him as a defensive end during the spring, look for him to revert to his best fit and that would be as a linebacker. McClellin will initially back up Collins and Hightower and go on the field when they play their base defense.

On the Bubble: Jonathan Freeny, Rufus Johnson, Kamu Grugier-Hill, Ramon Humber
Freeny came over from the Dolphins a year ago with the reputation as a solid special team performer. He did that but was pressed into service much more on defense after both Collins and Hightower were lost for periods of time during the year.

He logged the third most snaps at linebacker for the Patriots behind Collins and Hightower and notched 50 tackles, one sack, two QB pressures, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. But although he was serviceable against the run, Freeny struggled in coverage, allowing 19 of 21 passes to be completed. That must improve.

Johnson made the team out of training camp in 2015 only to end up on IR with an illness in October. The 6’5, the 280-pound backer is athletic and turned heads as a pass rusher in camp. His size and versatility (he can also play DE), may give him a leg up on Freeny if it comes down to a numbers crunch.

With defenses around the NFL getting smaller and more athletic, a player’s versatility can sometimes mean a world of difference between a roster spot and that dreaded call from the “Turk”. That’s where Kamu Grugier-Hill comes in. He is built like a safety, can run like a slot corner and plays linebacker.

The 6’2, 215-pound hybrid S/LB was drafted in the 6th round of this year’s draft with the 208th overall pick. He’s certainly athletic; he ran a 4.45 in the 40-yard dash with a 1.52 10-yard split. Coupled with a 6 .89-second time in the 3-Cone Drill, a 38.5-inch vertical leap, and a 10-foot, 9-inch broad jump, he’s intriguing, to say the least. He was getting a lot of 1-on-1 work with Special Teams Coach Joe Judge this spring and he should fit well in a gunner role as well as a punt blocker. But he could also see some time as hybrid “money” LB/S role that Pat Chung plays as well.

Grugier-Hill,-King-STs

Humber was the first player signed by the Patriots during free agency on March 9. He’s a standout special teams’ performer but with a limited ceiling on defense. He did have 13 starts at middle linebacker in the past three years as an injury replacement.

Originally signed in 2009 by the Colts as a UDFA out of North Dakota State, Humber moved over to the Saints in 2010 and played there until being released this spring. He may find himself pushed hard by Grugier-Hill.
Outside Looking in…. Longshots: Kevin Snyder, Elandon Roberts, C.J. Johnson
Snyder was signed to the Patriots practice squad in December after being released by the Lions who signed him as a rookie free agent in May. He was active for but didn’t play in the AFC Championship Game in Denver.

The 6’2, 240-pound Snyder is a Rutgers product and also has good athleticism, running a 4.54 time in the 40, with a 35-inch vertical leap at his school’s Pro Day.

Roberts was another 6th round draft pick by the Patriots and like Grugier-Hill is undersized at 6’0, 235 pounds. But he’s very productive and plays a down-hill style, run thumping Mike linebacker that belies his lack of size. He shows a tremendous explosion in the running game and when blitzing but struggles in pass coverage.

C.J. Johnson is a 6’2, 235-pound rookie linebacker from Mississippi. He’s had injury concerns while in college and was moved from defensive end to middle linebacker in his senior season. His work ethic and attitude were lauded by the coaches and he was elected to be a team captain. However, he’ll face a steep uphill climb to make the roster.

Check out our earlier primers on the running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, offensive line and the defensive line.  And be sure to keep tuned into PatsFans.com during training camp as we’ll post daily updates from down in Gillette.

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

 

5 Reasons the New England Patriots Defense Will Be Better in 2016

Steve Balestrieri
June 13, 2016 at 6:00 am ET

Unit is Deeper, More Athletic Than a Year Ago

The Patriots made some big changes on the defensive side of the ball this spring and parted ways with two of their younger players that were high draft picks. But despite trading former 1st round pick Chandler Jones to the Cardinals this spring and cutting ties to another former 1st round draft pick in Dominique Easley, as well as losing Akiem Hicks in FA, the Patriots are primed to have an even better defense than a year ago.

Much like last season when Bill Belichick and the team cut the three starting cornerbacks from the Super Bowl winning team and many saw disaster befalling the defense, this year’s squad is beginning fresh with new blood, better depth all over and a more athletic group that made it to the AFC Championship Game a year ago.

So here are our 5 Reasons why the Pats Defense will be better than a year ago.

The Core of the Defense is Still Young:
Most of the core members of the defense are young and still have plenty of productive years left. On the front seven, Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower are 26, Jabaal Sheard is 27 and Malcom Brown only 22. Young edge rushers Geneo Grissom and Trey Flowers are only 24 and 22 respectively.

The secondary is also young with Malcolm Butler on 27, Logan Ryan is only 26 with both starting safeties Pat Chung and Devin McCourty only 28. Top draft choice Cyrus Jones is only 22.

While Hightower, Collins, Butler, Sheard and Ryan will soon be in line for new contracts there is no reason why the Patriots can’t lock up the majority if not all of them. If they are able to do that, the defensive core can stay intact for the next several years.

CB Malcolm Butler

CB Malcolm Butler

Belichick will Rely on the Defense the First Four Games:
With all due respect to Jimmy Garoppolo, but if Tom Brady does indeed miss the first four games of the season, Bill Belichick will rely on the defense to get it done in the first month and try to take as much pressure off of Jimmy G.

You can already see that the message has been passed down to the players and the leaders of the defense are acting accordingly even during the spring OTAs and minicamps. There hasn’t been any of the half-stepping and lightheartedness one usually associates with spring workouts. It’s been all business.

And the veterans like Hightower, Collins, Ninkovich and McCourty are leading the way. Hustling on and off the field, they’re setting the example for the others to follow. With the defense having to step up in the first month, the veterans are taking the task at hand seriously and they’re preparing with September in mind right now.

Defensive Line will be better, deeper and have a better pass rush:
We are already hearing the rumblings that the defensive line will take a step back in 2016. We’re not buying that. While the team would have loved to have had Hicks back, I think they no plans on retaining Jones. While a very talented pass rusher, he was good but not great, and he was weak in setting the edge in the running game. Jones pass rushing production was like a Halloween mask, it disappeared after October 31.

With Jones gone, this elevated Jabaal Sheard to a starting position. Not only is he much better at setting the edge in the running game, but he registered eight sacks in about 400 fewer snaps than Jones. But the team wasn’t done.

They signed FA Chris Long who was an elite level DEs before injuries took their toll the past two seasons. Long is looking to resurrect his career here as a sub-package pass rusher, taking over Sheard’s position from a year ago.

The team also has second-year players Geneo Grissom and Trey Flowers who both made the team a year ago as rookies before injuries cut them down. They can play the edge or jump inside as interior pass rushers on obvious passing downs. Their depth on the edge is such that they can move Rob Ninkovich and Rufus Johnson to linebacker with Shea McClellin and provide extra rushers from the second level.

Flowers-pressure

Easley’s selection in the draft was a gamble that failed. He ended up on IR both seasons and while flashed glimpses of his speed off the snap, it never really materialized consistently. Rumors of his refusal to rehab the way the team wanted compounded things and the team cut bait quickly.

They instead brought in big bodied defensive linemen who can stuff the run inside, allowing the edge rushers and linebackers to provide the quarterback pressure. Terrance Knighton is a huge man who will be called upon to stuff the middle and play over the nose. They also brought in veterans Markus Kuhn and Frank Kearse. During the draft, they selected big DL Vincent Valentine. All of them are over 300 pounds and will be looked to control the line allowing the linebackers to flow and make plays.

Secondary is much deeper than a year ago:
With all the injuries the team suffered in 2015, one area they were fortunate to avoid injuries was at cornerback where they were thin. While the safety position is as deep as any on the team, the real depth the team added was at corner.

With starters Butler, Ryan and Justin Coleman returning, the team’s top draft choice Cyrus Jones should immediately push for reps at the slot corner position. Darryl Roberts who had a big camp a year ago returns and he too will push for reps. The team also brought in some smaller but extremely athletic corners to compete for roster slots this season. Jonathan Jones, Cre’Von LeBlanc and V’Angelo Bentley are all very athletic. Veteran E. J. Biggers came over from the Eagles and will also compete for a spot.

The safety position is set with starters Pat Chung and Devin McCourty in place ably backed up by Duron Harmon and Jordan Richards. Chung has thrived in his second go-round with the team, playing down in the box and McCourty remains the QB for the backend of the defense. Look for the secondary to play much better with an improved pass rush in 2016.

Linebacker is the strength of the defense and they’ve improved:
Last season the team looked solid while Hightower and Collins, one of the better tandems in the league, were in the lineup. But then they lost them both for a time and the play, especially against the run suffered. They just didn’t have the depth needed to back those two up. Jonathan Freeny was mainly a ST player and while he performed well, they needed an upgrade.

In free agency the team landed McClellin who can play inside as well as give them a blitzer in passing downs. The team also added the very athletic if undersized Kamu Grugier-Hill who could prove to be an intriguing option in the future.

Grugier-Hill is an intriguing prospect

Grugier-Hill is an intriguing prospect

With the work in minicamp showing that they can slide edge rushers like Ninkovich (the Patriots current version of the Swiss Army Knife) and Rufus Johnson back to the linebacker position if needed shows the depth the defense, especially this front seven has.

Because they can drop different players into coverage or get them after the passer. With the versatility, opponents won’t have the luxury of knowing where the pass rushers will be coming from and the Pats have the men who can drop and cover.

This Patriots defense …on paper looks to be a much better unit than the one that was 10th in points allowed in 2015. Now they just have to go out on the field and prove it. Is it July 27th yet?

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

New England Patriots News 6-12, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
June 12, 2016 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are Sunday’s Patriots news 6-12 notes and what’s happening around the AFC East.

Hogan quietly building trust factor/chemistry with Brady:
The talk this week during minicamp was mainly centered around the Patriots new …and big tight end Martellus Bennett. And while the colorful Bennett was indeed impressive, equally impressive was the work being done by new WR Chris Hogan.

Hogan came over as a FA from the Bills this spring and without Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola available thus far this spring, he is stepping into the void extremely quickly. Thus far he’s taken on more of the Edelman role in the offense and is proving a quick learner of the Pats complicated route tree.

He’s spent time off to the side with Brady during OTAs and minicamp, working one-on-one with the QB and building up their own chemistry and timing. While he doesn’t have the short-area quickness of Edelman, Hogan does possess the better size and more straight line speed. It looks so far that he could seamlessly step into Brandon LaFell’s “X”-wide receiver slot once everyone is back to practice. And being able to get in this much work with Brady this early bodes well for the start of the season which starts in Arizona.

Hogan comes back and makes a nice catch in front of Biggers

Hogan comes back and makes a nice catch in front of Biggers

Like Father, Like Son… Steve Belichick Seamlessly Stepping in:
One of the most interesting if, understated scenes that played out during minicamp was watching new safeties coach Steve Belichick interact with his players. And his first impressions was that unsurprisingly, he’s lot like his father.

After one series, the younger Belichick called over all of his charges and they had an impromptu discussion over what had just transpired. Veterans Pat Chung and Devin McCourty were also actively involved in the five-plus minute conversation as the group discussion went on oblivious to the rest of what the team was doing.

In keeping with what the elder Belichick stressed all week, that it was “a teaching camp” the younger Belichick gets high marks for setting the season off on the right foot.

Tight End Michael Williams Tears ACL, is released:
Backup tight end Michael Williams tore his ACL during Wednesday’s practice and will need surgery, effectively ending his 2016 season. In a corresponding move the Patriots released him and if he clears waivers, then he will revert to IR.

Williams, 25, was acquired by the Patriots with Detroit in August of last year. The 6-foot-6, 304-pounder, originally entered the NFL as a 7th round draft pick (211th overall) by the Lions in the 2013 NFL Draft out of Alabama.

He played in 15 games with nine starts for the Pats last year catching three passes for 26 yards. This spring the converted tackle appeared to slim down some and was being used more in the passing game and had a couple of nice catches down the seams during minicamp prior to his injury.

With Williams lost for the year, that leaves Clay Harbor, A.J. Derby, Steve Scheu, and Bryce Williams fighting for backup spots to Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett.

Brown/Foster are looking to carve out roles at RB:
Going into the spring, one of the areas that were deemed ready for an upgrade was the running back position. The Patriots finished 30th in rushing in 2015 and their top two backs Dion Lewis and LaGarrette Blount ended up on IR.

But the Patriots eschewed on the prospects in the draft, instead, signing veteran Donald Brown and UDFA D.J. Foster from Arizona State. They’ll compete with veterans James White, Brandon Bolden (mainly an STs standout), Tyler Gaffney, as well as fullbacks James Develin and Joey Iosefa.

While still very early, both Brown and Foster have made strong cases for themselves. Brown has been able to carry the ball in the running game, provide good pass protection and be a capable receiver out of the backfield in his career. This week, he looked smooth sliding out of the backfield catching passes and his versatility may be called upon, especially if Blount isn’t ready to go.

Foster is an intriguing player who has that instant burst of acceleration off the snap and has very, quick feet in being able to plant and go in an instant. He also has the added versatility of being a special teams’ capable player, returning kicks which is an added bonus. Both of these players will bear watching once training camp begins.

Grugier-Hill Taking a Similar Path as King a Year Ago:
When the Patriots drafted Kamu Grugier-Hill in the 6th round of the NFL draft this season, one of the things that immediately drew attention to the undersized LB/S hybrid player was his athleticism and speed. We knew that he’d have to make a spot for himself via STs, similar to how Brandon King did last season.

At the time, King was considered a long shot to make the roster, but every day we’d watch STs Coach Joe Judge work with King one-on-one on different drills and we stated then, that the team had plans for King. Now we’re seeing the same thing with Grugier-Hill.

During minicamp we watched Grugier-Hill and King work on the side with coaches and long snapper Christian Yount on punt blocking drills. Later in camp, he worked with Pro Bowler Matthew Slater as a gunner. During Thursday’s session he showcased his speed on defense by knocking a pass away on one snap and later, breaking on a Jacoby Brissett pass, Grugier-Hill was able to pick off the pass. With the Patriots it always helps your cause if you can do a lot of things, versatility being the key.  Grugier-Hill is a player that has a lot of potential.

Kamu Grugier-Hill and Brandon King get some one-on-one time in STs drills

Kamu Grugier-Hill and Brandon King get some one-on-one time in STs drills

Cornerback Competition Likely to Heat up in July:
The Patriots entered the 2015 season with nothing but questions at the cornerback position. A year later they appear, on paper to be deep and talented if still unproven there. And if minicamp is any indication, then training camp promises to be even more fun to watch.

With Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan and top draft choice Cyrus Jones all roster locks, that leaves last season’s slot corner Justin Coleman, Darryl Roberts, free agent E.J. Biggers, and UDFAs V’Angelo Bentley, Jonathan Jones, and Cre’Von LeBlac fighting it out for the final two roster spots.

We watched this group closely during minicamp and each of them was making plays. Once the pads come on in about six weeks, it promises to be very entertaining to watch. And with Ryan out during this week’s practices, it increased the reps for everyone else to make some headway…and they all did.

East Bound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Dolphins Plan on Running Up Tempo Offense:
New Dolphins Head Coach Adam Gase and Offensive Coordinator Clyde Christensen plan on having the Dolphins offense running an up-tempo attack this season, including some time in the no-huddle.

“Just keep pushing the pace. It gives our quarterback some time at the line so all of them don’t get snapped with 22 seconds left on the clock,” Christensen told the Miami Herald. That’s not necessarily the intention. … One of the reasons we’re at the line of scrimmage is the tempo, for the conditioning, and for the advantage-based part of it where it looks like it’s going to be fast and then all of a sudden we can get into a play we want to get into.”

The Dolphins are already practicing it during OTAs and as one would expect it requires a lot of conditioning on the part of the players. With some improved weapons for QB Ryan Tannehill, this will be an interesting development to watch.

Jets Counting on Henderson, Mauldin at LB:
The J-E-T-S, Jets are facing replacing some veterans this season and it just isn’t at the QB position where the Ryan Fitzpatrick watch has continued to drag on. The team is also having to contend with the loss of long-time veteran Calvin Pace as well as Demario Davis at the linebacker position in 2016.

The team did sign veteran free agent Bruce Carter this spring but they’ll really be leaning on two younger players in Erin Henderson and Lorenzo Mauldin. The team gave Henderson a one-year deal in 2015 and despite a slow start by the end of the season, he was sharing reps with Davis. Mauldin was a rookie in 2015 and used as a sub-package pass rusher. He’s expected to take on a bigger role in 2016.

The team also drafted two intriguing prospects at linebacker in Darron Lee in the 1st round and Jordan Jenkins in the 3rd round of the 2016 NFL Draft. So it will be a new look for the Jets linebackers but promises to be an exciting group.

Former Bills’ QB Says Ryan Will Be Fired with No Playoffs:
Well, that didn’t take long… Rex Ryan is officially on the hot seat with the Buffalo Bills. Former QB Jim Kelly on the Jim Rome Show this week said that if the Bills don’t make it to the postseason, “I think Rex will probably be looking for another job,” Kelly said on Thursday. “I think everybody knows that, including Rex.”

The Bills currently own the dubious distinction of holding the longest playoff drought in the NFL, at 16 years and it has been 20 since Buffalo’s last playoff win for the football-crazed fans in upstate NY.

Bills owner Terry Pagula was on record this year stating the both Ryan and GM Doug Whalley have to make the playoffs this year.

As for the ever bombastic Ryan? He says he’s not worried. “The media looks at it [like], ‘Well, we have to win this year'” Rex Ryan said earlier this month. “Or what? Oh, I am going to be fired? I don’t think so. I’m not going to worry about it because we are going to win anyway. But it’s like, that is an ultimatum? No.”

 

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots Mini Camp Observations, Bennett, Hogan Fitting In Well

Steve Balestrieri
June 9, 2016 at 6:44 am ET

The new receivers are getting off to a very good start

The Patriots conducted Day 2 of Minicamp on Wednesday, under sunny skies in Foxboro as the players are getting back into the football routine albeit with no pads on yet.

Like Day 1 there were a lot of players missing and the numbers grew. Absences included, TE Rob Gronkowski, WR Julian Edelman, WR Danny Amendola, RB Dion Lewis, RB LeGarrette Blount, CB Logan Ryan, S Duron Harmon, OL Nate Solder, OL Sebastian Vollmer, OL Shaq Mason, OL Tre’ Jackson, OL Josh Kline, S Nate Ebner (Olympic tryout), who all missed Day 1. Day 2 absences also included RB Brandon Bolden, WR Malcolm Mitchell, TE Clay Harbor, and LB C.J. Johnson.

There was a flurry of activity all over the field as the coaches attempted to keep the pace up high throughout the practice. Here are some of our observations from the Wednesday practice.

Bennett, Hogan quickly working on the Brady trust factor:
TE Martellus Bennett and WR Chris Hogan seem to be rapidly gaining the all-important trust factor with QB Tom Brady. Bennett’s value was shown when he tweaked something early in practice and went down. Brady rushed over and spoke to Bennett, who was able to walk it off and continue.

Bennett again worked 1-on-1 with Brady on a side session and the QB was going over hot reads and even demonstrated exactly where he wanted Bennett on a skinny post route. Brady could be heard then on the next rep, telling the huge TE that he was in exactly the right spot. Not coincidentally, on the next 11-on-11 series, Brady went right to that exact play, but the pass was knocked away on an alert play by Pat Chung.

Bennett looks very impressive thus far

Bennett looks very impressive thus far

With no Edelman and Amendola, Hogan and Keshawn Martin are fulfilling their respective roles in the offense. Hogan, in particular, seems to be picking up the offense very quickly (a good sign) and was arguably the best receiver on the field. Hogan also worked with Brady on a side session later in practice.

Martin looked very sharp in the session and was finding the open spots in the coverage. Brady went to him on a deep post that was perfectly thrown. But at the last moment, Malcolm Butler was able to jump up and knock the ball away.

Aaron Dobson had another good day, making some nice contested catches. The big question for him will be, can he stay on the field and be consistent. Although he had a misread on one route and Jimmy Garoppolo’s pass was picked off by Jonathan Jones.

Brady was sharp…in fact all three QBs looked sharp for the most part. Jimmy G looks much more comfortable in the offense from this point a year ago. He displayed some nice touch on the ball and he too seems to have already found a comfort level with Hogan.

Jacoby Brissett made a really nice deep sideline comeback pass to Martin about 15-17 yards downfield. He put some nice zip on the ball and as soon as Martin broke back the ball was in his hands. Darryl Roberts had tight coverage on the play.

Michael Williams was injured during the session and was carted off, not to return. The scary part was as he was down, the trainers immediately began testing his ACL joint. Hopefully, it wasn’t a serious injury.

Rookies Cyrus Jones and RB D.J. Foster were working on returning punts during the STs portion of practice. Both look quick on the initial glance, this will bear watching once the pads come on. Donald Brown was targeted quite a bit out of the backfield during the session from both Brady and Garoppolo.

Running back Donald Brown

Running back Donald Brown

Grugier-Hill, King Working Side-by-Side:
Last year at this time, we found it intriguing that S Brandon King, a longshot to make the roster was getting a lot of one-on-one instruction from STs coach Joe Judge and we commented that it was a sure way to make the roster. Well fast forward a year and both King and rookie LB Kamu Grugier-Hill were getting the same instruction.

Both were working on the side doing punt blocking drills against backup long-snapper Christian Yount. Grugier-Hill is an uber-athletic, undersized linebacker who will have to, initially, at least make the roster as a STs player….That was a good sign for the young man.

We saw a little bit of fireworks at the end of the session when Bryan Stork who was wearing some kind of throwback 1980s short-shorts got into a scuffle with DT Woodrow Hamilton and both were tossed off the field. Hamilton along with Vincent Valentine already have the names to be featured in an upcoming Quinton Tarrentino film.

The Patriots get back to work on Thursday for the final minicamp session of the week.

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots Linebackers, Rated #4…With a Bullet

Steve Balestrieri
May 13, 2016 at 6:55 am ET

 

Pats ex-LB Willie McGinest gives NE High Marks

The Patriots defense in 2015 played well all season, this year they’re looking to make the jump from the ranks of the good to be among the best. And to go along with improved depth on the edge and the secondary is the play of the unit’s linebackers. NFL Network’s Willie McGinest was asked to rate the top five linebacker units in the league and not surprisingly, he gave the Patriots high marks.

McGinest waxed nostalgic about his time in New England, talking about the great teams and defenses from the early 2000s, of which he was a great part of and then spoke a bit about what makes this unit go, specifically Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins.


Jamie Collins bring the element of freak athleticism to the linebacker position. (USA TODAY Images)

“More often than not … the linebacking units with the most production have exceptional group play, with two particular things in common: great preparation and communication. Alongside Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel and several others throughout my years in New England, I felt that our linebacker group had these components when we helped the Patriots win three Super Bowl titles in 2001, 2003 and 2004,” he stated.

“We were always on the same page, whether we were watching film or playing on Sunday because we gave our full attention to preparation. We not only knew our own job but the position of every other person in the unit. We were moved around a lot and interchangeable, and that worked to our advantage. However, we could only play this way with good communication. When you’re lacking in that area, there is a lot of confusion, players are frequently a step slower and the defense gets beat on the play. If communication is smooth, players can simply react to what the offense is doing, because they know assignments and can diagnose formations quickly.”

This group brings a traditional, physical style of play. These guys are stout against the run — and they’re solid pass rushers, as well. All of these players feed off each other. Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia puts his ‘backers in the right positions to be effective… Bill Belichick and Co. tend to move linebackers around and change their responsibilities each week, depending on the opponent. It worked with our group over a decade ago and it continues to work with the current players — specifically Hightower.

The Patriots return four players from last year’s team, Collins, Hightower, Jonathan Freeny, who was their top backup in 2015 as well as Kevin Snyder. Collins and Hightower are two of the most talented players at their position in the league and give NE a tremendous pair of starters. Each brings something different to the table. Collins the freak athleticism and big play ability, and Hightower the size, physicality and smarts to be the signal caller for the defense.

There has been a lot of turnover in the depth of the position with a number of players being let go including former Bear Jon Bostic who was traded to the Lions for a conditional 7th round pick and Tony Steward, the former Clemson and Buffalo Bill who was released just three weeks after being signed.

The team signed another former Bear, Shea McClellin to a three-year, $9.05 million-dollar contract this spring during free agency. McClellin possesses the traits that McGinest spoke about, he can move around being a standup outside or middle linebacker and can play with his hand in the dirt as an edge rusher.

He figures to be the top backup for the Patriots behind Collins and Hightower and in certain packages could move into a starting role when they go with three linebackers. The 6’3, 260-pound linebacker should become a valued role player for the Patriots defense this season. This becomes especially important when considering that both Collins and Hightower missed time last season with injuries.

The team also added the intriguing, uber-athletic Kamu Grugier-Hill during the draft. Although built more like a strong safety, he showed a propensity to fly around the field and be a sideline-to-sideline player with the ability to blitz off the edge.

Other depth players include run-stuffers Elandon Roberts, C.J. Johnson as well as former Rutgers player Snyder who was active for the AFC Championship Game over Bostic and special teams’ maven Ramon Humber.

The nine linebackers currently on the roster give the Patriots a talented, versatile group who will have to put the work in to gel, but have the capability to be a special group. They’ll have to decide who best fits what they want to do and then leave it to the coaches to put those players in the best position to be successful.

They should be fun to watch….just ask Willie Mac.

 

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots Fourth And Two Podcast: Patriots Draft Review

Russ Goldman
May 2, 2016 at 6:15 am ET

In this episode, we analyzed all of the Draft Picks for the Patriots. This is my favorite espisode ever of Patriots Fourth And Two, because we give you the type of talk and analysis I had hoped for when we started this show over four and a half years ago. I invite you to listen!

Patriots 2016 Draft Picks – Recapping Every Selection

Ian Logue
May 1, 2016 at 6:00 am ET

The NFL Draft is done and the Patriots picked up a pretty good mix of players across the board, although they came away without a running back. However, there’s a common theme within this group of Patriots 2016 draft picks, with several having traits that seem to make them great fits with this club.

Needless to say, it sets up what should be an interesting stretch heading into training camp, and here’s a quick rundown of the players taken this weekend:


1) CB CYRUS JONES:

Cyrus Jones is among the Patriots 2016 draft Picks who should give the Patriots defense help in their secondary.
Cyrus Jones should be a great addition to the Patriots’ secondary.

Name: Cyrus Jones
Position: CB
Round: 2
Selection: 60th Overall
College: Alabama
Summary: An athletic cornerback with terrific cover skills and closing speed, who despite his size at 5’10” is tough and not afraid to come up and make the tackle in the ground game.  He’s also a dynamic punt returner who should be able to help take some pressure off of new teammate Julian Edelman.


2) OL JOE THUNEY:


Joe Thuney adds versatility to the Patriots offensive line.

Name: Joe Thuney
Position: OL
Round: 3
Selection: 78th Overall
College: North Carolina State
Summary: A solid offensive lineman who played both guard and tackle in college and should give Tom Brady some additional help up front as he joins a group that didn’t exactly perform well last season, and struggled in the AFC Championship Game.


3) QB JACOBY BRISSETT:


With the uncertainty surrounding Tom Brady, Jacoby Brissett gives the Patriots depth at quarterback.

Name: Jacoby Brissett
Position:
QB
Round: 3rd
Selection: 91st Overall
College: North Carolina State
Summary: Brissett was a decent passer in college and joins his fellow college teammate Joe Thuney, showing good accuracy while also having done a good job reducing his touchdown to interception ratio as his collegiate career went on and improving his ability to take care of the football.  With the uncertainty with Brady heading into the season, Brissett gives New England some depth behind Jimmy Garoppolo, but he’ll also have the opportunity to learn and develop behind one of the best in the game in Brady.


4) DT VINCENT VALENTINE:


Valentine’s selection adds to a revamped Patriots defensive line.

Name: Vincent Valentine
Position: DT
Round: 3rd
Selection: 96th Overall
College: Nebraska
Summary: Valentine is an interesting prospect, and at 6’4″, 329-pounds he’s a big presence who is yet another addition to the Patriots revamped defensive line.  He’s a disruptive player and despite battling through injuries during his junior season finished with 4 tackles for a loss along with 3 sacks.  He’s a player with a lot of potential and having played for a school like Nebraska, he’s certainly no stranger to playing in big games.


5) WR MALCOLM MITCHELL:


The Patriots may have finally found themselves a playmaker in Mitchell. (USA TODAY Images)

Name: Malcolm Mitchell
Position: WR
Round: 4
Selection: 112th Overall
College: Georgia
Summary: The addition of Mitchell appears like it could give the Patriots the playmaker they’ve been looking for to strengthen their offense. He’s listed at 6’0″ which gives Tom Brady a taller receiver to target and also ran a 4.40 40-yard dash during private workouts. The interesting thing about Mitchell is that he’s also spent time at cornerback, which gives him the advantage of having some familiarity with how defenders will play him. He also has great body control and has shown a great ability to adjust to the football, and he’s also one of those guys who isn’t afraid to fight for the football. Overall, he should be fun to watch in training camp and adds to what is already a pretty competitive group.


6) LB KAMU GRUGIER-HILL:


Grugier-Hill gives the Patriots another athletic player in their defense. (USA TODAY Images)

Name: Kamu Grugier-Hill
Position: SS/LB
Round: 6th
Selection: 208th Overall
College: Eastern Illinois
Summary: The Patriots grabbed a teammate of Garoppolo with Grugier-Hill’s selection, adding an athletic linebacker who was certainly a play-maker during his senior season.  He finished the season with an incredible 16.5 tackles for a loss along with 6.5 sacks, and also had an interception and a fumble recovery.  He’s certainly an intriguing player and should be a fun one to keep an eye on.


7) ILB ELANDON ROBERTS:


Roberts was a solid player during his collegiate career in Houston.

Name: Elandon Roberts
Position: ILB
Round: 6th
Selection: 214th Overall
College: Houston
Summary: Roberts is great story, having had a solid career for the University of Houston and turning himself from a good player into an NFL-ready prospect.  His coach, Tom Herman, called Roberts a “self-made man”, which obviously shows you the type of work ethic and respect the former Houston linebacker had as a member of his program.  The theme of what New England was looking for seems to fit the mold of what Roberts provides, with the linebacker finishing with a breakout season, amassing 142 tackles, including six sacks, 19 tackles for a loss, an interception, and two forced fumbles.


8) OG TED KARRAS:


Ted Karras should bring plenty of attitude and intensity to the Patriots’ offensive line.

Name: Ted Karras
Position: OG
Round: 7th
Selection: 221st Overall
College: Illinois
Summary: One of the biggest things missing up front on New England’s offensive line was some nastiness and intensity last season, and the selection of Karras is going to be one of the more interesting ones to watch during training camp.  He’s an intense player, to the point where his pregame preparations are one of the more unique ones out there.  Ryan Hannable of WEEI pointed out that before each game, Karras pours two bottles of water over his head and yells like a Viking, and you have to love having a guy like that on your offensive line and in your locker room.  That type of approach and attitude tends to be infectious and if that ends up being the case, we should see a big improvement from this group in 2016.


9) WR DEVIN LUCIEN:


Devin Lucien was considered to be one of the biggest sleepers in the draft.

Name: Devin Lucien
Position: WR
Round: 7th
Selection: 225th Overall
College: Arizona State
Summary: It’s hard to explain exactly what the reason is, but 7th round picks seem to offer the most intrigue compared to other rounds and Lucien certainly falls into that category.  He was a solid receiver for ASU and Pro Football Focus actually named him the No. 1 sleeper in the draft a couple weeks ago.  Some scouting reports seem to believe that Lucien was the victim of a talented draft class that simply forced him down the board, and given his strong hands and his ability to adjust his body to the football, he seems like he could be yet another player to keep an eye on.

There seems to be a common theme among these players and overall it’s one of the more intriguing drafts in recent memory.  For now, this one’s in the books and now we’ll see in the coming months which players emerge as potential play-makers for the Patriots this season.

Patriots Day 3 Draft Choices, 2 Wide Receivers, STs Boost

Steve Balestrieri
April 30, 2016 at 8:16 pm ET

Pats Surprisingly …or not, don’t address Running Backs

The Patriots, as Nick Caserio said on Friday night at his Post-Draft Day 2 presser, may trade away some of their picks on Day 3. On Saturday, they did just that.

The Pats went from eight picks to five, moving one pick into a 2017 4th Round draft pick which will replace the one they lost in the Deflategate punishment from the league. In the fourth round, the Patriots selected WR Malcolm Mitchell from Georgia before picking four times between the sixth and seventh rounds with selections between 208 – 225. One area not addressed in the draft, and glaringly so was running back.

Here’s a quick snapshot of their selections:

Round 4, Pick #112 Malcolm Mitchell, WR Georgia:
Mitchell is a decent sized WR at 6’0, 198 pounds who suffered a torn ACL in 2013. He came back but was limited in 2014, but had a solid season last year despite poor play from the Bulldog’s QBs.

He notched 58 catches for 865 yards (14.9 average) and five touchdowns in his final campaign. He possesses good speed with 4.45 speed in the 40 with good hands and the ability to go over the middle of the field and be productive.

He’s tough, runs good routes but will have to be more physical, as he can get re-routed at the line of scrimmage. He’ll be a 24-year old rookie as well. But if he can develop and catch on in the Pats system, he could be field stretcher horizontally with the occasional deep ball.

Round 6, Pick #208 Compensatory Pick, Kamu Grugier-Hill, S/LB, Eastern Illinois:
Grugier-Hill is another one of those hybrid, safety/linebackers that are the new player du jour in the NFL.  He played at the same small school as Pats QB Jimmy Garappolo.

He’s got good size at 6’2, 215 pounds and runs a 4.45 in the 40 with a 38.5-inch vertical jump at his Pro Day. Could the Patriots use him in their sub-packages as a “big nickel” linebacker? Quite possibly. With his speed and explosion, he could cover sideline-to-sideline and be an effective blitzer up the gaps. He’ll make his bones initially on STs.

Round 6, Pick #214 Elandon Roberts, LB Houston:
Roberts is a two-down, run-stuffing inside linebacker who was very productive (88.5 solo tackles, led FBS), for the Cougars.

Roberts is 6’0, 235 pounds and was described as a “coach’s dream” in his scouting reports. He was a tremendous leader on and off the field from Houston and is known as a fierce hitter with an outstanding work ethic.

He’s a thumper in the running game but will be a liability in coverage, hence the two-down capability. He too will make the team initially based upon his STs expertise.

Round 7, Pick #221 Ted Karras, G, Illinois:
Karras is the great-nephew of Lion’s great (and Blazing Saddles fame) Alex Karras. Karras was a 2014-15 Honorable Mention for the All Big-Ten. He’s got good size at 6’3, 307 pounds and was a four-year starter at right guard.

He’s got tremendous strength (32 reps on the bench press), is a physical, gritty presence in the running game but is limited by his athleticism in pass protection. His game day intensity is said to be legendary but plays in control. Only flagged twice in the past two seasons.

Round 7, Pick #225 Devin Lucien, WR, Arizona State:
Lucien spent three years at UCLA before transferring to AZ St. He finished the season strongly after shaking off a hamstring injury, catching 35 passes for 659 yards and six touchdowns over his final five games.

He runs smooth routes and shows very good hands with the ability to get the ball in traffic. He ran a 4.49 in the 40 showing good but not great speed. He and Mitchell will be locked in a training camp battle with Nate Washington, Aaron Dobson, Keshawn Martin, and Chris Harper for reps and roster spots.

The Patriots improved their depth at WR with the two picks although neither is a true lock to make the final roster. On defense, their two picks will help with depth and be a boost for the special teams. While Karras will join an already crowded crew along the interior offensive line and have to battle to earn reps and a roster spot.

It is interesting to note that two of the positions that were considered among the team’s greatest need, OT and RB were not covered with 11 picks in the draft. Friday’s selection of JoeThuney was thought to be as a tackle, but in his conference call with the media, he told them that he considers himself an interior offensive lineman.

The absence of any running backs in the team’s draft selections has to be considered, moving forward, an area of a glaring weakness. The team was completely ineffective running the ball in 2015 and with LaGarrette Blount as well as Dion Lewis coming off of serious injuries last year, this was an area that needed a serious upgrade. The team signed Donald Brown during free agency but that won’t nearly be enough.

There were plenty of good options available, and with the prospect of Jimmy Garappolo having to start the first four games of the season, being one-dimensional on offense is not going to help his cause, nor the teams at all.

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.