Tag Archives: Keshawn Martin

PHOTO: Gisele Catches Passes From Tom Brady During Suspension

Robert Alvarez
September 10, 2016 at 10:57 pm ET

One of the hot topic conversations during New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s four game suspension was just who would he be practicing with during his time away? Would it be retired former teammates like Randy Moss? Or newly cut players like Aaron Dobson or Keshawn Martin?

Here’s an option you might never have thought, how about supermodel wife Gisele Bundchen?

On her Instagram account Saturday, Bundchen posted the following photo of herself catching a pass from her husband in the backyard with the caption “Don’t worry guys, I will keep him ready.”

https://www.instagram.com/p/BKLu61LD_iP/?taken-by=gisele&hl=en

Patriots – Giants, Preseason Week 4, Five Areas to Watch

Steve Balestrieri
September 1, 2016 at 9:00 am ET

 

All About the Bottom of the Roster Players Tonight

First and foremost, the Patriots (and Giants), biggest goal for tonight’s game is to come out healthy. But there are five things to watch for from a Patriots perspective. Saturday comes to the cut-down to the 53-man roster and there are still some intense positional battles going on.

Tonight isn’t about the starters, although players like Tom Brady and Julian Edelman made the trip. Although they may possibly see some action, tonight is about the players on the bubble. The Patriots are going to cut 22 players currently on the roster, and several will be difficult choices. These players are getting a final opportunity to make this team or to show a potential new team what they can do. Here are our five positional areas to watch for tonight:

Running Back Battle Comes Down to Two: Looking at the game tonight, the battle comes down to Tyler Gaffney and D.J. Foster. Who will the Patriots keep? Will either make the roster or will they cut loose both in the hopes of landing both back on the practice squad and pick up another running back not on the roster?

Foster-taking-a-handoff-in-

With LeGarrette Blount, James White, Brandon Bolden and FB/TE James Develin seemingly safe, that leaves a single roster slot open. Gaffney had a nice game against the Saints and ran well against the Panthers a week ago. He’s the prototypical big back who can carry the ball between the tackles and catch the odd pass out of the backfield.

Foster is still a largely unknown quantity but with a ton of upside, especially catching the ball out of the backfield. He’s an extremely intriguing player who was both a running back and wide receiver at Arizona State and showed lightning quickness out of the backfield in the spring. But then he pulled a hamstring and missed nearly all of training camp.

I expect we’ll see a ton of these two tonight as the other players with the exception of Joey Iosefa probably won’t see much playing time. The one issue is, will Foster clear waivers and be available to be brought back onto the practice squad if he’s let go? I don’t think so.

Interior Offensive Line Still Up for Grabs: Specifically, the right side is still a question mark. Shaq Mason broke his hand and is on the shelf for the time being. Josh Kline is dealing with a shoulder issue although he will probably play some against the Giants. With those two guys hurting right now, who steps up?

The most obvious choice this spring was Jonathan Cooper. The Patriots brought him over in the Chandler Jones trade and throughout the spring he was getting all of the first-team reps. But he’s suffering from plantar fasciitis and went down in the very first padded practice on July 30. He just returned to the field this week and is a bigger unknown to the Patriots than perhaps even Foster. If he’s able to go this week, then he’ll be the guy to watch.

Ted Karras has been out there and battling all summer, something Bill Belichick always seems to remark upon in his press conferences, players available and working out daily. Karras isn’t the most athletically gifted offensive lineman but he’s more than made up for that in the physicality department. He’s tough, plays to the whistle and brings the Logan Mankins type of mean streak to his play. He’s been versatile too, not only has he played guard but taken some snaps at center as well.

With Belichick, the more you can do sometimes, the more valuable you are and Karras will be one of those tough guys to part with. The rest of the offensive line starters seem set. The only other question is, do they keep four tackles and does Cameron Fleming make the 53? He’ll get plenty of looks tonight at both right tackle and as the extra blocking tight end…the more you do.

Cornerback Choice Will Be Tough: The Patriots seem set with their top three corners with starters Malcolm Butler, and Logan Ryan returning. Rookie Cyrus Jones seems to have passed Justin Coleman for the third or slot corner position. Coleman still looks in good shape to make the team, so the three players vying for one final spot have a final chance to impress the coaches.

Jonathan Jones

Jonathan Jones

Cre’Von LeBlanc has probably impressed more than the other two and has gotten plenty of reps earlier in games. He’s shown good cover skills and physicality and the ability to make plays while the ball is in the air. Belichick spoke on Tuesday about why this skill is important and some players seem to have it ingrained. But he’s been dealing with a hip issue. Will he play this week? And if not, has he done enough to stick?

Jonathan Jones and Darryl Roberts are just behind LeBlanc in terms of cornerback play. Both have had good and bad moments this summer, but each brings a special teams’ element to the table that LeBlanc doesn’t have. Keep your eyes on each. The more you do (Pt.3).

Wide Receivers Try to Make Final Push: The Patriots seem to have their wide receiver positions set, but some questions still remain. Danny Amendola is still on the PUP. Will he stay on it for the first six weeks of the season or will he be able to start the season on time? Rookie Malcolm Mitchell was quickly becoming a part of the passing offense when he dislocated his elbow during the game against the Saints. He’s now back to practicing with the team in positional drills but may not be ready to go in Arizona.

It comes down to Keshawn Martin, Aaron Dobson, and DeAndre Carter. Martin has the most upside, he was a small but key part of the offense a year ago and also helped the team by returning punts and kicks. He was given a contract extension in January with a $600,000-dollar bonus. He’s missed some valuable time this summer but if he can show the coaches that he’s able to knock off the rust, his status should be secure on the roster.

Dobson, Ryan 2-3

Dobson, Ryan 2-3

Is Dobson reportedly on the trading block? So with that said, he’ll probably turn in the game of the week against the Giants right? He’s been an enigma in his time in New England. Just when you’re ready to write him off, he turns it around and makes you see what they saw in him. Amendola’s status will directly tie into Dobson’s. If Amendola goes on PUP to start the year, I think Dobson may have the edge over Carter.

Carter has played well this summer and has flashed numerous times. With him, it comes down to a numbers crunch but he could turn few heads with a standout performance against the Giants.

Interior Defensive Line: The Patriots cut ties to veteran and free agent signee Terrance Knighton, who most of us had as a lock earlier this summer. But he struggled in learning the Pats’ two-gap system and it opened the door for a couple of guys who are playing really well. With Malcom Brown, Vincent Valentine and Alan Branch roster locks, there is still room on the roster for one more. Markus Kuhn and Anthony Johnson have both played well, albeit in different roles.

Kuhn came over in free agency from the Giants and wasn’t given much of a shot to make the roster. Well, with injuries and such to start the spring and summer workouts, he got a lot of solid, first-team reps and has been another big, run-stuffing presence inside. He’s been a pleasant surprise after arriving with a not-so-stellar reputation.

Johnson, on the other hand, is an undersized, penetrating defensive tackle who has really come on lately. He’s played well all summer but didn’t get a ton of reps to really show what he can do. He’s built more along the lines of a Dominique Easley. I would expect both to play a ton of snaps tonight. If each plays well, then the coaches will have to decide on another big body inside or a slightly smaller more athletic pass rusher.

Stay tuned to PatsFans.com as we’ll have some post-game critique and analysis.

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.

 

With the Roster Cut to 75, Patriots Focus Turns to the Giants

Steve Balestrieri
August 31, 2016 at 6:00 am ET

No Surprise Cuts as Club Moves Lewis, Vollmer to PUP

The Patriots made their expected cuts to bring the roster to the league mandated 75-man limit on Tuesday and unlike the Terrance Knighton release, there were no surprises.

Running back Dion Lewis who requires additional “clean-up” surgery on his knee and tackle Sebastian Vollmer were moved to the reserve/PUP list meaning that neither can return before Week 6 but not after Week 11. With Vollmer’s ailing hip issues, however, it is rumored that he won’t play at all in 2016 and being a free agent next season, would probably mean an end to his Patriots playing days.

The team also released reserve TE Steven Scheu, OL Keavon Milton, and LB Ramon Humber. None were expected to make the 53-man roster although Humber, with his STs experience, was thought to have an outside shot to stick there. But the recent addition of LB Barkevious Mingo ultimately put an end to those hopes.

The biggest and most difficult cuts come on Saturday when the team has to cut to their 53-man roster limit. The six-man practice squad can be announced the next day.

LeBlanc Missing: There was also a number of players missing from practice yesterday due to injury. Among them, rookie CB Cre’Von LeBlanc who is suffering from a hip ailment. LeBlanc’s absence on cut-down day sparked a social media feeding frenzy with Patriots fans panicking that the young corner had been cut.

With the limited window the media is allowed now at practice, after the stretching/warm up period was over, WR Danny Amendola, G Jonathan Cooper, and G Tre’ Jackson retreated to the lower practice fields with members of the training staff for conditioning work.

The good news was that DEs Rob Ninkovich, Jabaal Sheard, and WR Malcolm Mitchell were staying with the rest of the team and taking part in positional drills. Mitchell was spotted wearing a large brace on his injured arm but his presence was definitely a positive sign that his return will be sooner rather than later.

Gearing Up for the G-Men: Now with the final preseason game against the Giants upcoming, Bill Belichick and the staff will try to find the delicate balance between getting the starters some needed reps and giving the players on the bubble one more chance to show they belong.

Photo-Bill-Belichick-JaJ0A-250x250Belichick smiled when asked if it will be a different experience facing a Giants team without Tom Coughlin across the sidelines, and cracked, “Tom probably misses us, he had a lot of success against us over the years.”

But pressed on the issue if the fringe players would see the most playing time, he answered that “any time you go out on the field, be it a game situation or a practice, it’s an opportunity, and not just for the players but the coaches as well.”

He also took a thinly-veiled shot at the league when asked about Baltimore coach John Harbaugh’s comments that preseason games should be cut back or eliminated and more joint practices held to prepare teams for the regular season. Belichick deadpanned, “Well, I think we’ll let all the experts in the league decide that. That’s not really my job,” he said.

“My job is to coach the team. But I think our joint practices give us extra opportunities to evaluate the team, so that’s why we use them. I’d say probably almost every team in the league does that.”

While Belichick remained mum on the team’s plans on Thursday. Most expect Jacoby Brissett to possibly start and play the vast majority, if not all the snaps under center this week. He would gain some invaluable experience and go thru the motions of preparing to start his first NFL game. The coaches will have to weigh that or getting Jimmy Garoppolo some additional work.

Two other players to watch on Thursday are WRs Aaron Dobson and Keshawn Martin. Dobson was rumored to be shopped around by the Patriots according to NFL.com’s Albert Breer. The 4th-year wide receiver is locked into a struggle to make the roster and Mitchell’s role would likely impact that.

Martin, who was given a new contract this season with a good ($600K) signing bonus, may also find himself on the bubble. He missed a significant amount of time this summer, and now is trying to get some reps, find a comfort level again in the offense and secure a position on the roster.

Asked in the locker room if he’s feeling pressure, he said, “I don’t look at the pressure. I just want to go out and do my job and let my game speak for itself.” To see more of his brief talk with the media see the clip.

Brady Wants to Play Thursday: Mark this one under the no-surprise category. In his final press conference before his suspension takes place, QB Tom Brady made it clear that wants to play against the Giants this week.

“I’ve got a good day of practice. I’ve tried to look at all these days of practice as ways to get better. I have access to the fields, and throwing to my receivers. Try to use those days the best that I can, just like I always would. I got another hopefully opportunity to play on Thursday night, be with the team Friday, and then try to do the best that I can over the next month.”

Brady flashed a wry smile when told that the league will allow him to work out with his personal QB coach Alex Guerrero during his suspension. “Well that was nice of them,” he said.

Asked if he’d share what his plans were doing the first month of the season, he said simply, “We’ll see.”

Pressed, he was asked, does he plan on staying in the area? “We’ll see,” he repeated.

One of the media members asked him if he’d share anything at all about his plans.

“No,” Brady said. “I don’t. In case anyone else is in this situation in the future, I don’t want to give away all my tips.”

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, Panthers Preseason Game, What to Watch For

Steve Balestrieri
August 26, 2016 at 6:31 am ET

There are no dress rehearsals, we are professionals, this is the big time” Willie Nelson

Had to use my favorite Willie Nelson quote in there, as we do every year during the third preseason game. The Patriots and the Panthers get at it tonight for the third preseason game and we have five areas of the game to watch for.

With the starters playing into the third quarter, it still isn’t a “dress rehearsal” as Bill Belichick so aptly pointed out this week to members of the media who asked him as such. But we will get a chance to see the starters or whoever is starting this week for an extended look so that will be fun.

But back to the situation at hand, and that’s what to look for from a Patriots perspective tonight. We’ve heard that Tom Brady will make his preseason debut tonight and we’ll get to that in a bit but Belichick’s crew will be looking to get some things accomplished. And foremost should be getting out of Charlotte healthy. Here are our five areas to watch for tonight:

Who Steps Up at WR: With the preseason winding down, we still won’t see Julian Edelman, Malcom Mitchell or Danny Amendola (PUP), so Chris Hogan will be the go-to guy early. But here is where it gets interesting. Keshawn Martin is back to practicing and should play against the Panthers. He, Aaron Dobson, Chris Harper, DeAndre Carter and Devin Lucien are all locked in a battle for the final wide receiver spot on the roster.

Dobson, Ryan 2-3

Dobson, Ryan 2-3

Martin is going to have to show that he’s healthy and able to produce. His versatility and production give him a leg up on the others but they’ve been working with Jimmy Garoppolo and Tom Brady in his absence so they’ll likely have a bit more chemistry and timing down with the QBs.

Carolina has one of the better defenses in the league and they’ll be playing into the second half, so this should be a good test for all of the WRs, as they have just two games left to make an impression with the coaching staff.

How Much Will Butler/Ryan Play at CB? With the roster competition going on at the corner position, Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan are locks for the roster. Ryan just recently shed his red non-contact jersey and they may play only the first quarter as the coaches may want extended looks from the young corners vying for roster spots and playing time.

Rookie top draft choice Cyrus Jones is another lock and he’s played well this summer. He and second-year corners Justin Coleman and Darryl Roberts are vying for reps with rookie UDFAs Jonathan Jones and Cre’Von LeBlanc. Coleman is a near roster lock and the remaining three are essentially battling it out for a final roster spot.

Jonathan Jones had the early advantage in camp but LeBlanc has been right on his heels. Both have played very well this summer. Jones is gifted athletically while LeBlanc is a guy who saw his draft stock slip because he didn’t test well this spring. They may each see some time against Carolina’s top offense. Roberts didn’t have a great summer but turned it up against the Bears a week ago. He had a good week of joint practices and then had three passes defensed in the preseason game. He’s still in the mix.

Gaffney, Foster Each Trying to Earn a Roster Spot at RB: Much of the social media banter with the Patriots RBs centers around if the team will make a move for another back to come in and add to the depth or lack thereof at the position. LeGarrette Blount is, for now, the big back who will carry the ball between the tackles. James White is the third down passing back specialist. He’ll catch the ball out of the backfield or split out wide to create mismatches. Brandon Bolden is the STs player who can sub in as needed.

Gaffney

That leaves a single roster spot there for the taking since Dion Lewis will start the season on PUP when it was learned on Sunday that he’d need additional surgery on his knee. Tyler Gaffney and D.J. Foster are each vying for the final spot. Gaffney was originally drafted by Carolina two years ago before being hurt and spending the past two seasons on IR. He’s healthy now and offers the additional big back depth of running the ball between the tackles and catching the occasional pass. He shined against New Orleans in the first preseason game. Now he’ll be looking to do it against his former teammates.

Foster was one of the most intriguing pickups of the spring. An UDFA from Arizona State, he is the quickest and smoothest route runner of the Patriots backs. With nearly 2500 yards each running and receiving in college he is a guy that has a ton of potential. But he pulled a hamstring in minicamp and has been MIA all summer. Now finally healthy, he’s going to have to show, and quickly that he belongs.

Offensive Line Play Against Tough Defense: While the game planning aspect is out of the game here, this will be a good test for the Patriots offensive line against a very tough Carolina front seven.  And the Patriots seem to have their starting five OL set with the trade of Bryan Stork and the news that Sebastian Vollmer is probably going on IR. Nate Solder, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Josh Kline and Marcus Cannon will be the Pats starting unit this week and on Week 1 in Arizona.

Now is the time for coach Dante Scarnecchia to get this unit’s play down and get the communication and calls in seamlessly. One of the issues last year was the constant mixing and matching done because of the numerous injuries that hurt their continuity. Here’s a chance to begin to work on that and getting the group to function as one.

Finally, the Quarterbacks, Who plays and how much? Tom Brady made it clear that he wanted to play, wants to play in the preseason and expects to play. Brady made the trip to Charlotte and is expected to play, at least some but who starts?

If I’m Bill Belichick, I give Brady a series, hopefully around 6-10 snaps to get him a feel for game action again and then have Garoppolo play into the third quarter. Although he won’t have many of his weapons (Edelman, Gronk, Amendola) for this contest, its valuable experience against a tough defense that will serve him well when the games count for real in two weeks.

This way we’ll see all three QBs get some game action in as Brissett can log some snaps in the 3rd-4th quarter and gain some needed experience himself. There’s no right or wrong answer here, Belichick and Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels will have to feel their way here and do what they feel is right.

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

With Competition Heating Up, Keshawn Martin a Player to Watch

Steve Balestrieri
August 25, 2016 at 7:33 am ET

Missed a lot of time and needs to show he’s ready

Keshawn Martin will be one of the key players to watch this Friday when the Patriots take on the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte on Friday night.

With the cuts in the 90-man roster (Patriots are already down to 81), looming to 75 next week, the Patriots still have an on-going and intriguing battle for the fifth wide receiver position. The team has Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and rookie Malcolm Mitchell as roster locks. Danny Amendola seems close to returning from the PUP so he’d be #4. That leaves a single spot unless the team opts to carry an extra WR at the expense of a position elsewhere.

Martin was an under-the-radar pickup for the Patriots in mid-September last season. The 5’11,195-pound wide receiver was an inactive player for the first two weeks of the season with Houston. The Patriots sent a fifth-round draft pick to the Texans and received Martin and a sixth-rounder in return. He quickly proved his worth and showed nice versatility in working his way in with the Pats seamlessly.

Martin-beats-Coleman-deep

Martin appeared in 11 games in 2015 and caught 26 passes for 326 yards and two scores as the Patriots third wide receiver. He also returned 12 kickoffs for 302 yards and 8 punts for 92 yards. The Patriots gave Martin a $600,000 signing bonus as part of his new 2-year deal worth $2.975 million dollars and immediately his status for the upcoming season improved to a near roster lock.

In June, Martin spoke to the media about excited about the opportunity to have an entire offseason in the Patriots system and working with Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo. But training camp hasn’t been a smooth one for Martin. He’s missed some time with an injury and when he was on the field, he was outplayed by Aaron Dobson.

Now he’s back on the field and taking full part in the practices which are very good signs that he’ll play against the Panthers in the third preseason game this week. He needs to, the competition is heating up for that fifth and final wide receiver spot on the Patriots roster.

On our latest 53-man roster projection from last week, Martin was still penciled in as our choice for the final wide receiver but there is still plenty of opportunity for that to change.

Dobson had a very strong camp but his production in the first two preseason games hasn’t been eye-popping. DeAndre Carter and Chris Harper have both had their moments during training camp and have been consistent, hard workers who’ve been answering the bell every day, something that can’t be overlooked. Devin Lucien seems a long-shot at this point and would be a practice squad candidate.

Martin brings the veteran presence, the prior production, and the special teams’ versatility to the table when discussing his chances. If he’s healthy and able to generate any kind of offensive production, he’s still the favorite to land on the 53-man roster. Because Carter, Harper, and Dobson all will be trying to turn heads themselves against one of the better defenses in the league.

So in watching the game within the game this week, keep tabs on the Patriots wide receivers, especially Martin. Five players are vying for one roster spot. And time is running out on the opportunities to show what they can do.

My money is still on Martin, but don’t rule anyone out just yet.

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 Training Camp Primer – Wide Receivers

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

Health, New Blood Are Important Factors

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

Bill Belichick likes to say that the spring’s OTAs and Minicamp is a learning exercise and that the real competition begins in training camp. 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 next up are the wide receivers. The Patriots have no less than 11 players vying for roster spots although Matthew Slater is truly a special teams’ specialist first and a WR second. For our purposes, we’ll list Slater later with our STs primer.

This is a position that is top heavy with roster locks and it will be hard for some of the players trying to either break into the NFL or established veterans to carve out a roster spot. So the competition here, especially for the last slot will be intense. Another question to be answered is, will the Patriots carry five WRs or six?

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

Roster Locks: Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell
Edelman is recovering from another procedure related to his surgery where he had another pin placed in his broken foot. That the team will no doubt opt to go slowly with him will help the other players vying for spots get more reps.

Among the cognoscenti of national NFL writers, Edelman is widely considered a “system player”. While we differ with that assessment, no one can argue his worth with Tom Brady and the Pats. He’s one of  Brady’s favorite two targets in the passing game and his toughness and willingness to do the dirty work is unquestioned. A healthy Edelman in September means big things for this offense, so we may not see much of him in camp.

Amendola has worked himself in Brady’s “Circle of Trust” and become a key member of the wide receiver core. He has a knack for making the tough catches at critical times and is another guy who, while not the biggest guy, has plenty of toughness. He worked his contract again to stay in NE.

Hogan was signed as a free agent from the Buffalo Bills this spring and is another guy that isn’t highly valued elsewhere. But he’s a perfect fit for this New England offense. He can play inside in the slot or slide outside into the “X” position that Brandon LaFell played in the past two seasons. While he doesn’t have the short-area quickness of Edelman, he’s bigger (6’1, 220 lbs) with better top end speed.  He’ll be an intriguing guy to watch as the season unfolds.

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

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

Mitchell is a lock due to his draft position. The rookie wide receiver from Georgia has decent size at 6’1, 195 pounds and played in a pro-style offense in college. He runs good crisp routes, has excellent hands and has outstanding athleticism. He probably would’ve gone higher in the draft but he had some injuries and played in a run-heavy offense. Mitchell injects some much-needed youth into the wide receiver position.

Near Roster Locks: Keshawn Martin
Martin came over in a trade last year with the Houston Texans and showed he was a quick study, learning the Patriots offense swiftly upon his arrival. Now with a full offseason under his belt, Martin is looking to carve out a role with the team.

The speedy, if undersized wide receiver has the versatility that the coaches love. He can play inside in the slot (are we seeing a pattern here?), outside in the “X”, as well as play special teams. Martin was given a contract extension with some decent guaranteed money last year, so the team liked what they saw from him a year ago.

On the Bubble: Nate Washington, Aaron Dobson, Chris Harper
Washington, another Texans’ WR, signed with the Patriots as a free agent in March. The 32-year old veteran was a member of two Super Bowl winning teams earlier in his career and now is looking to add another to his resume.

He’ll be an outside the numbers kind of receiver here. Washington has always been a deep threat kind of player with a 15.2-yard career average per reception. How will he fit in with the Patriots short to medium passing game? He struggled to find a rhythm with Brady in the spring, but there is plenty of time left to get it going.

The clock is running out for Aaron Dobson. When the Patriots drafted him in 2013 NFL Draft he came with a rep of having the size and hands to be a #1 type receiver for the Patriots. But injuries, inconsistent play and a lack of confidence in him place him squarely on the bubble in 2016. He had a strong spring, but will need much more to stick around this year. He’ll have to stay on the field for the entire training camp and preseason and turn some heads.

Chris Harper signed with the Patriots as a UDFA out of Cal last spring. Facing an uphill battle in training camp, he had an impressive summer and preseason and made the 53-man roster in September. But he couldn’t break into the offense last season and unfortunately for him, he’s best remembered by the gaffe he made. He muffed a punt in Denver last November which led to a Denver comeback OT victory. Harper faces much the same odds this season again and will need a strong summer to make the team.

Harper had a catch that looked eerily familiar to a certain SB catch

Harper had a catch that looked eerily familiar to a certain SB catch

Outside Looking in…. Longshots: Devin Lucien, DeAndre Carter
While these next two players are longshots, don’t go to sleep on either.

Devin Lucien is an intriguing player because he’s bigger receiver at 6’2 and is the kind of guy who traditionally comes out of nowhere to make the team. He played three seasons at UCLA and had just 58 catches before transferring for his senior season at Arizona State.

Playing in the “X” role, he had a solid 2015 with 66 catches for 1072 yards and eight touchdowns. But it was his finish that got the Patriots attention. He snagged 26 catches for 534 yards with five touchdowns in his final three games. Once he got familiar with the offense, his play took off. He was one of Pro Football Focus’ UDFA sleepers to watch.

He’s got very good athleticism, running a 4.49-second 40-yard dash at his Pro Day with a 6.93 time in the 3-cone drill and a 34.5-inch vertical leap. With the logjam ahead of him at WR, it will be a tough hill to climb for the 7th rounder, but we’ve seen this happen before. He may be a good Practice Squad candidate.

DeAndre Carter signed with the Ravens as a UDFA in the spring of 2015. He spent training camp with Baltimore before being picked up by Oakland and finally the Patriots last year. He signed a futures contract with New England and is facing an uphill climb to make the roster.

While diminutive at just 5’8, 188 pounds, Carter is very athletic, running a 4.44 time in the 40-yard dash with a 1.45 10-yard split, a 38.5-inch vertical leap and a very impressive 6.64 time in the 3 Cone Drill. Carter is fast, makes quick cuts and had a pretty impressive spring.

But again, with the logjam at WR especially players that can play the slot, he’ll have to really have an impressive summer to stick. But if Edelman and Amendola aren’t ready to go at the outset of training camp, Carter could turn enough heads to make a push for a roster spot. He too, like Lucien could end up on the Practice Squad this fall.

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.

 

For the Patriots WRs, Opportunity Knocks With Edelman Out

Steve Balestrieri
May 16, 2016 at 6:03 am ET

With #11 out until mid-August, the time is now to build trust w/Brady

The Patriots got some not entirely unexpected news last week when it was announced that WR Julian Edelman had a second procedure on his injured foot and had a screw inserted. While for the fans and the team this is a worrisome development, if you are one of the many wide receivers vying for a roster spot or an increased role, this means something totally different…Opportunity.

While no one wants to see another man hurt or miss time, these players are professionals and they can recognize this for what it is. Injuries are a constant fact of life in the NFL and all of the other receivers (WR/TE/RB), not named Danny Amendola, or Rob Gronkowski have a unique opportunity to build their rapport with Tom Brady and gain the QB’s trust. With Dion Lewis rehabbing from a torn ACL, it is true for the backs as well. And the time to do that isn’t in Arizona Week 1, but now… in the spring OTAs, the minicamps and into training camp.


Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola have already built up their trust level with Tom Brady, now the new members of the offense have to step up. (USA TODAY Images)

As a former Special Forces operator, we looked at things in much the same manner that these young men will now. While the average man looks on events thrust upon him as a blessing or a curse, the warrior-minded individual looks upon every obstacle in front of him as a challenge. That was our Bushido and it undoubtedly is theirs as well.

The events playing out now with Edelman out and even Tom Brady possibly missing the first month of the season is a unique opportunity for the receivers on this team to carve out their roles and build trust with both Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo.

There are a lot of new faces in the Patriots offense this season. WRs Chris Hogan and Nate Washington came over in free agency while Malcolm Mitchell and Devin Lucien were added in the draft.  TEs Martellus Bennett and Clay Harbor were signed during free agency as was RB Donald Brown.

The Patriots also have WRs Aaron Dobson, Keshawn Martin, Chris Harper, DeAndre Carter who all will be looking to expand their snap counts this spring and summer as they fight and compete for roster spots.


Chris Hogan will be looking to carve out a role in the Patriots offense in 2016. (USA TODAY Images)

Without the Pats most favored target in camp, these players will have expanded opportunities to work with both Brady and Garoppolo to build up the timing, the comfort level and the trust needed to thrive in the Patriots offense. Gronkowski and Amendola already have found that trust level with Brady, the rest need to get working on it now.

Speaking of Amendola much has been written about how he was staring at being released if he didn’t agree to a huge salary slash. One has to wonder now if that was indeed true. The Patriots had to know, full well that Edelman was staring at another surgical procedure. Regardless of whether he’s “expected” to be good to go for training camp (which is still a big if), would the Patriots roll the dice and cut Amendola loose with the possibility that Edelman may not be ready for the season? Especially considering that both LeGarrette Blount and Lewis are coming off of serious injuries.

While everyone is expecting Hogan and Bennett to be very successful this season, for all intents and purposes they’re still unknown quantities in the New England scheme. That would leave Gronkowski as the only trusted weapon that could (looking at a worst case scenario) be available in Week 1. So perhaps it was really Amendola that held the power there. If so, then the Patriots made a slick maneuver. Regardless, Amendola decided that staying put was his priority over everything else and the point was moot. Still an interesting topic, however.

Watching the spring and early summer workouts it will be intriguing to see who thrives with Brady and who does so with Garoppolo. I think we’ll see Hogan initially step into an Edelman-esque mode while Mitchell will probably take on much of the workload that the now-departed Brandon LaFell handled.

It wouldn’t surprise me to see Jimmy G build up a big rapport with the new TEs, Bennett, and Harbor. But at this point, it is purely speculative. There will be a lot of moving parts this spring/summer and the veterans will be motivated to step into new roles on a new team quickly.

For the younger players especially the draft picks and UDFAs especially a guy like D.J. Foster, with some of the Patriots top weapons being on the shelf during the spring, the time is ripe for them to learn the playbook and gain some valuable experience working alongside Brady and Garoppolo and earning that all-important trust.

There is always the next Wally Pipp waiting to happen…

Carpe Diem

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Amendola Reworks Contract Again, A Smart Move by the Patriots

Steve Balestrieri
May 7, 2016 at 8:02 am ET

Pats WR Depth Chart Rounding Into Place

The Patriots made a smart if not totally unexpected move on Friday when they reworked the contract of wide receiver Danny Amendola for the second year in a row. That will keep Amendola in Foxboro for the next two years and will allow QB Tom Brady to keep one of his most trusted wide receivers.

That contract deal with Amendola by the Patriots puts to bed the annual talk over social media that the team is about the release the 30-year old wide receiver. Amendola gets about the same amount of love strangely enough in Boston as Jar-Jar Binks does with Star Wars fans.

Amendola was slotted to be paid $5 million dollars in salary with a $6.8 million dollar hit against the salary cap. Brady’s trusted wideout has agreed to a restructured, two-year deal that will pay him $7.35 million with another $750,000 available in bonuses and incentives for 2016-17.

“It’s an honor to play for this franchise and with this group of guys,” Amendola said in an interview with Fox Sports Mike Garafalo who first broke the news. “We have one goal … to win another championship and that’s all we care about.”

It was a smart move by both parties to agree to a re-worked deal, for the Patriots it keeps one of Brady’s most trusted wide receivers in the fold for the next two years and for Amendola? It gives him a chance to play for a winner again, something that he’s obviously all about after reworking his contract again.


Danny Amendola returns to the Patriots with a two-year deal that keeps one of Tom Bradys favorite targets in the fold. (SBalestrieri photo)

Perhaps part of the ‘not-so-warm’ love for Amendola stems from the first contract he signed with the team in 2013 when it was widely reported that he was brought in to replace Wes Welker who had been an icon here. Those comparisons were unfair to both parties and tough wide receiver has certainly earned his stay in New England.

After agreeing to a pay cut last season Amendola caught 65 passes for 648 yards and three touchdowns. He also led the NFL in punt returns with a 12-yard average on 23 punt returns.

He made some sensational catches during the season, Week 2 in Buffalo going up high to snag a Brady pass that put the game away. Week 6 against the Jets doing the same thing along the sideline getting a key first down on a drive that culminated in a touchdown in a tough Patriots win.

Things really turned around for Amendola during the 2014 Super Bowl run, where he filled in at kick returner which got him involved and then caught 11 passes for 137 yards and three scores in three playoff games. Chris Price put a remarkable stat on Twitter Friday afternoon, Danny Amendola’s first 25 games with Pats (inc. playoffs): 68 catches, 805 yds, 3 TDs Last 24 games with Pats: 99 catches, 947 yds, 6 TDs.

His signing locks down another WR spot on the 53-man roster. With Julian Edelman, newly signed Chris Hogan, Amendola and 4th round draft pick Malcolm Mitchell as well as special teams’ maven Matthew Slater locks to make the roster, it narrows down the slots available.

Those five are roster locks at this point, and with the Patriots carrying six WRs in 2015 that leaves free agent signee Nate Washington, Aaron Dobson, Keshawn Martin, Chris Harper, 7th round draft pick Devin Lucien and DeAndre Carter all pretty much competing for one roster spot. Martin it should be noted was given a pay increase this spring.

Unless some gets hurt or comes down with a case of the “Foxboro Flu”, that will put the competition for the WR position firmly on areas to watch in training camp.

Our buddy Miguel from PatsCap.com put out that Mitchell, Lucien, Dobson, Harper, Carter and UDFA RB/WR D.J. Foster all have practice squad eligibility. Although I doubt Michell would sneak through waivers.

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Mitchell, Lucien Give the Patriots Youth, Depth at WR

Steve Balestrieri
May 3, 2016 at 6:44 am ET

Pats will have intense competition in Training Camp at WR

The Patriots added some much-needed youth into the wide receiver core, by selecting Malcolm Mitchell from Georgia in the 4th Round and Devin Lucien with a comparative steal in 7th Round of the NFL Draft. With Julian Edelman turning 30 later this month and Danny Amendola and Nate Washington turning 31 and 33 respectively this season, the team needed an injection of youth and athleticism.

The team added Chris Hogan during free agency who brings a bit of size, speed, and athleticism to the mix. Now with Mitchell and Lucien thrown into the fray at WR, the level of competition during spring OTAs and into training camp should be intriguing.

The two rookies join Edelman, Amendola, Hogan, Washington, Aaron Dobson, Keshawn Martin, Chris Harper and DeAndre Carter into the mix at the position. UDFA agents D.J. Foster as well as De’Runnya Wilson could also be in the mix.

With Edelman and Hogan roster locks and Amendola very nearly one, that doesn’t leave much room on the roster for the others to compete for a roster slot. Matthew Slater, a perennial Pro-Bowl STs player is a wide receiver (in name only) as well.

But with both rookie draft picks playing outside the numbers, they have the opportunity to contribute immediately and provide some needed production that doesn’t come from the slot.

Mitchell has good but not great size at 6’0, 198 pounds. He shook off some injuries to put up some solid numbers despite overall poor play from the Georgia QBs.

He had 58 catches for 865 yards for a 14.9-yard average, and five touchdowns in his final season. He possesses good speed with 4.45 speed in the 40-yard dash with good hands and the ability to go over the middle of the field and be productive.

He’s tough, runs very good routes but will have to be more physical, as he can get re-routed at the line of scrimmage. He’ll be looked to take over that Brandon LaFell role as the “X” wide receiver. He should be able to fulfill that role well, coming from a pro-style offense with the Bulldogs.

Lucien was considered one of the biggest sleepers in the draft. He spent three years at UCLA before transferring to AZ St.

He’s another guy that runs smooth routes, can make contested catches in traffic. Lucien has decent size at 6’2, 195-pounds and has the ability to make yards after the catch. His scouting profile says “he can turn 15 yards into 40 if he slips a tackle.” He’s very good at working the middle of the field, a Patriots specialty.

After starting the season slowly, he got in sync with the offense down the stretch especially once he got over a hamstring injury which slowed him. He dominated over his last three games with 534 yards receiving and 5 touchdowns.

These two players with Hogan thrown into the competition should give the Patriots plenty of options for Tom Brady to throw the ball outside the numbers, something that was missing in 2015 after LaFell was so successful the year prior.

But let’s temper expectations a bit. Don’t expect either of these guys to come in and catch 60-70 passes this season….that isn’t going to happen. With Rob Gronkowski, Martellus Bennett, Edelman, Amendola, Hogan and (hopefully), Dion Lewis out of the backfield, there just isn’t going to be that many passes to go around.

But they will be able to compete and contribute….Mitchell especially in the offense right from jump street. The training camp battles for reps and roster spots is going to be very interesting to watch.

Let the games begin.

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Possible Patriots Draft Target, WR Tyler Boyd

Steve Balestrieri
April 11, 2016 at 9:00 am ET

Boyd a Talented Playmaker, a Perfect Fit for NE’s Offense

As the 2016 NFL Draft draws closer we’ll profile some of the players that may be on the Patriots radar that we feel would be a great fit.

With free agency slowing down and the 2016 NFL Draft quickly approaching the Patriots can still use some depth at the wide receiver position. They suffered a rash of injuries in 2015 and too many were Tom Brady’s targets in the passing game. Brandon Gibson and Brian Tyms went down early in training camp. Then Aaron Dobson went on IR, and Julian Edelman missed two months with a broken foot.  Danny Amendola trudged on like a good soldier, but the team was forced to rely on Keshawn Martin and rookie Chris Harper to provide too many snaps for the offense. Tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Scott Chandler were also banged up during the season.

With Tyms and Gibson both gone this spring, the team brought in WR Chris Hogan from the Buffalo Bills and Nate Washington from the Texans. With a healthy Edelman and Amendola and an additional year in the system for Martin and Harper, things are looking up. No one knows what to expect from Dobson at this point of his career. So the Patriots could still use another wide receiver to round out the depth in 2016.

The team could use a bigger, faster wide receiver who can stretch the field both vertically and horizontally, which is more in line with the Patriots system. We wrote about Keyarris Garrett earlier in the draft, and now we have another good fit.

Tyler Boyd from Pitt is a very productive, ultra-competitive wide receiver who broke all the Pitt receiving records despite having some very uneven QB play while playing for the Panthers. He finished his final college season with 91 catches for 926 yards and six scores with career numbers of 254 catches for 3361 yards (both school records) and 21 touchdowns.

He runs very crisp routes, sinking into his cuts and changing direction at top speed. Times his leaps perfectly and snatches the ball out of the air with outstanding hands. He consistently is able the stretch the field horizontally and gets separation quickly when running crossing routes.

Boyd is very physical and tough after the catch and can make people miss with added yards after the catch (YAC). He’s a very smart play and will win the majority of jump ball situations.

Tyler boyd

Pros:

– Has the measurable at height, weight (6’1,197) that teams look for

– Has outstanding, vice-like grip hands

– Runs crisp routes and comes out of his breaks at top speed

– Elusive in space, can make people miss and get all-important YAC

– Versatile, has experience as a kick and punt returner

Cons

– Doesn’t have breakaway speed

– Needs to use his body better in contested areas and not just his hands

– Ball security while on special teams was an issue

What his Role Will Be:
His role will be competing for one of the outside the numbers wide receiver spots on the team and being an immediate impact player.

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2?
Yes, with a year in the system he will be looked to, to be the primary “X”- receiver on the team.

How Many Downs Can He Play?
Three

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?
His roster slot will be in direct competition with guys like Dobson, Martin and Washington.

What is his ST Value?
Very good, could be used as a return man in either punts or kickoffs

Conclusion:
Boyd is a player that would immediately mesh with the Patriots offense. His ability to run crisp routes, get immediate separation and stretch the field horizontally will make him a quick favorite of both QB Tom Brady and Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels.

He isn’t a burner in the classic sense but the things he does well fits in perfectly what the Patriots like to do. With the big tight ends and Julian Edelman working underneath, Boyd would fit in perfectly in the intermediate range to keep the chains moving. Occasionally when the defense bites on a double move he can stretch the field vertically as well, much like Edelman does now.

He has good size at 6’1, 197-pounds and adds the versatility of being able to fill in in the punt and kick return units where his excellent vision will serve him well.

He projects in the Patriots system to be a Starter. He should fit in very well into the NE offense. He’s slotted to go between Rounds 1-2 in the upcoming NFL Draft. The Patriots will probably have to move up to select him early in Round 2.

Boyd’s highlight film can be found here, courtesy of ST11:

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.