Tag Archives: Malcolm Butler

Texans Down Patriots 27-23 in Preseason Week 2, Observations

Steve Balestrieri
August 20, 2017 at 8:15 am ET

Belichick, Patriots Playing it Close to the Vest

The Patriots wrapped up their week with the Houston Texans with a preseason game at the site where they triumphed in the Super Bowl just over six months ago. The two teams had a couple of spirited joint practices in West Virginia, a good competitive football game and they’ll meet again, for real in Week 3 of the NFL season.

There were a couple of surprises at the outset of this one. Rob Gronkowski played in a preseason game for the first time since 2012. The big man was used mainly as a blocker in the running game but as Bill Belichick said, they all need the work. Trey Flowers didn’t play, perhaps it was a coach’s decision since the team is so thin on the edge right now. Adding to that was the fact that Geneo Grissom didn’t dress, apparently suffering an injury during the joint practices on Wednesday. Our other observations from Saturday night:

  • Belichick and the team gave nothing away in this one. The offense was very conservative. No seam routes to Gronk, no deep shots to Brandin Cooks. Obviously, this has Week 3 in mind when the two teams meet again.
  • Tom Brady played a bit and looked good, completing 6-9 passes for 67 yards and a touchdown.On the Patriots second drive, he marched them down the field for a touchdown.
  • Jimmy Garoppolo didn’t have a great night, turning the ball over twice. Once on a sack where he fumbled and the other on his last pass of the night, a poor decision on the sideline that set up a Houston TD on the next snap. Overall he completed 15-23 for 145 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
  • On Garoppolo’s touchdown drive, he was sharp going 6-6 for 70 yards, topping it off with a nice 25-yard touchdown pass to  D.J. Foster.
  • Jacoby Brissett once again came on late with a chance to pull the game out and failed. He holds the ball too long (broken record here) and his accuracy is all over the place.
  • Matt Patricia’s defense had another rough game. For a team that prides itself on no big plays, they gave up plays of 33, 37 and 63 yards in Houston. Preseason or not, that is unacceptable and the defense has some work to do.
  • Malcolm Butler struggled in his first game action of the year. He gave up a deep pass on the Texans first possession where he had good coverage but when turning, didn’t jump for the ball. Later he slipped in the end zone and gave up an easy touchdown pass to Jaelen Strong.
  • Rex Burkhead had a very nice night, he was showing why the Patriots picked him up from the Bengals. On the touchdown drive with Brady, Burkhead accounted for 70 of the 75 yards. He rushed five times for 14 yards and caught four passes for 56 yards including a 22-yard touchdown.
  • Stephen Gostkowski was sharp, hitting three field goals (38, 42 and 51). The team had him kicking off out of the end zone last night, possibly to minimize the injury factor. Normally his pooch kickoffs die on about the 5-yard line.
  • The Patriots passing game is going to feature the running backs quite a bit this year as the talented wideouts clear out real estate underneath for them to operate. We’ve seen that all summer and it was in evidence last night, Burkhead, and D.J. Foster’s touchdowns were clear cases of this. Dion Lewis had some wiggle room too.
  • Fans on social media were piling on Kony Ealy on DeShaun Watson’s touchdown scamper, but that is a mismatch against a defensive lineman. Ealy had his moments but overall played well.
  • I love the way Harvey Langi plays, but he has to remain in control, a couple of times he got upfield too far and allowed the QBs to step up and run to the edge.
  • One Texan who won’t look forward to the film session for this one will be LB Zach Cunningham. He was victimized…twice on those passes to the backs and looked bad on each.
  • During the work up to the draft, I wrote about Texas now Texans running back D’Onta Foreman. I loved the physicality of the big guy and was anxious to see how he looked. He didn’t disappoint. Taking a screen pass, he easily shook off Elandon Roberts and rumbled 63 yards to set up a score. He has tremendous power inside and looks to be a nice pickup.
  • Alan Branch played a lot of snaps this week, the team obviously wanted to get him right up to speed quickly.
  • James O’Shaughnessy took over the primary 3rd TE role last night and was a frequent target of Jimmy Garoppolo. He had a good week of joint practices both on offense and STs.
  • Elandon Roberts took a shot to the ribs by teammate Jonathan Freeny on the Foreman 63-yard catch and was helped off the field. Vincent Valentine turned an ankle but was able to finish the game.

While the collective angst in New England rose perceptibly during the game because of the losing effort. It should be noted that Brady didn’t attempt a pass to Gronkowski and just one short quick out to Cooks.

The offensive line woes with Nate Solder, LaAdrian Waddle, and Tony Garcia out no doubt dictated that but it probably was more to the coaches not showing their cards too much before Week 3.

The defense, however, needs some tweaking, especially they need to improve their tackling in the open field.

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.

New England Patriots News 8-20, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
at 5:00 am ET

Good morning and welcome to your Sunday Patriots news 8-20 and AFC East notes.  These are indeed some strange times we’re living in….nuff said.

Rivers Loss a Costly One in the Short Term: The loss of rookie Derek Rivers will be felt by the team this year, but it shouldn’t impact the team or the player long term. Most players who have ACL surgery return to being just as athletic as they were before the surgery. Rivers can use the time to be in all of the meetings and learning every nuance of the defense in the meantime. Once Wise returns from his concussion, it should help things along in the depth department. That and Dont’a Hightower once back at practice will help things immeasurably.

In the meantime, the team can look at either free agency or via a trade if they feel they have to address this loss immediately. We kicked around a few names on Friday night with our piece.  Mike Reiss also kicked around a few more names on Saturday in his regular column with a few other intriguing names.

Hold a Grudge? Bill Belichick? No Way…Unless it is the Jets:
Bill Belichick has a memory like an elephant, just sit in on one of his press conferences when the subject comes around to history and he’ll talk for a long while rattling off tidbits of information and stats that are at times…simply amazing.

He also has a long memory when it comes to people that have done him wrong. And he’s not the forgiving sort. This week during joint practices with the Texans, he was asked about his long relationship with Romeo Crennell.

“Romeo and I started together at the Giants in special teams, so he and I coached special teams together and then we coached defensively together through 1990,” he said. “We worked at the Patriots together, then another team, and then back with the Patriots in 2001.”

The other team? None other than the Jets. After he resigned as the Jets coach he was nearly accused by Jets President Steve Gutman of being off his rocker. “I think, I’m not a psychologist, but I think I just listened for an hour to a person who is in some turmoil and deserves our understanding and our consideration,” Gutman said.

Bill Belichick at Patriots training camp. (SBalestrieri photo)

That didn’t sit well with Belichick and the Eric Mangini and Spygate fiasco was the final straw. The Jets are Public Enemy #1, “He who shall not be named” and don’t forget it.

While some in the NY media think of it as petty, Belichick doesn’t care. They write about “another team.”

Former Patriot NT Lester Williams Passes Away at 58: Sad to note that former Patriots nose tackle Lester Williams has died, he was just 58. Williams played in 40 games for the Patriots from 1982-85 including a start in Super Bowl XX against the Bears. While with the Patriots, Williams logged 39 solo tackles, 60 assists, five sacks, three fumble recoveries and five passes defensed.

He was part of the deep Patriots draft class of 1982 with No. 1 overall pick, defensive end Kenneth Sims, running back Robert Weathers (second round), Patriots and Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker Andre Tippett (second round), guard Darryl Haley (second round), wide receiver Cedric Jones (third round), linebacker Clayton Weishuhn (third round) and free safety Fred Marion (fifth round).

According to the Patriots.com, he passed away at his home. He was an All-American at Miami before joining New England.

Patriots Buy Two Planes, Air Kraft Takes Off:
The Patriots became the first NFL team to own private planes. And yes the team will travel in style, the paint job on the “Air Kraft” is phenomenal with five Lombardi trophies painted on the tail.

ESPN broke the story on Tuesday that Kraft bought two 767 Boeing wide-body jets for the  Super Bowl champions to fly in their own aircraft.

“One plane will be used as the main plane for the season, while the other will be the backup, with flight operations being run out of Providence, Rhode Island,” sources told ESPN.

The planes, which have reportedly been retrofitted with all first-class seats, will be run out of Rhode Island.

East Bound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills McDermott Voices Confidence in Tyrod Taylor at QB:
After two weeks of the preseason, new Buffalo head coach Sean McDermott probably didn’t envision himself answering questions to who his starting quarterback is going to be, but after a slow, uneven start to the summer, Tyrod Taylor hasn’t been particularly impressive which adds to the questions. But after McDermott left open a potential QB competition on Thursday, a day later he rallied around his starter.

“I have all the confidence in the world in Tyrod,” McDermott said. “By no means was that meant to come across that way.”

“Tyrod’s going to start for us this week, and I look forward to him getting back on track. There’s plays that he wanted back from last night among other players as well. That said, there were good moments in the game. We continue to evolve as an offense. That’s the second game. Keeping big picture perspective in mind, we have to do some things to get the offense on track. There’s no doubt about it.”

Miami Adds Depth to Linebacking Core, Signs Rey Maualuga:
The Dolphins, needing depth at the LB position after Raekwon McMillan was lost to IR with an injury have signed veteran Rey Maualuga to a one-year deal. Maualuga, 30, spent the last eight years for the Cincinnati Bengals.

He signed a deal for the veteran minimum of $900,000 which means he’ll count only for $615,000 against the salary cap.

Maualuga will be counted on to be a two-down run-stuffing linebacker who will come off the field in obvious passing situations for the Dolphins defense. He brings a veteran’s savvy and an element of toughness with him which should help. Miami’s defensive coordinator Matt Burke was Maualuga’s position coach in Cincinnati.

Jets Sign WR Kenbrell Thompkins, Waive Safety Middleton:
The New York Jets, in need of depth at wide receiver, have brought back Kenbrell Thompkins who played for Gang Green in 2015. To make room for him, they waived/injured safety Doug Middleton.

Thompkins was signed by the Patriots as a UDFA in 2013 and played for them before being waived in 2014. He then played for the Jets in 2015 and caught 17 passes for 165 yards (9.7 yards per catch) in seven games.

The 6’0, 195-pound wide receiver from Cincinnati had his most memorable moment as a member of the Patriots in 2013. Trailing 27-23 with 10 seconds left on the New Orleans Saints 17-yard line, Thompkins beat Jabari Greer down the sideline and in the end zone, corralled Tom Brady’s throw with just 5 seconds on the clock for the game-winning score.

For his career, Thompkins has played in 33 games (17 starts) with 70 receptions for 893 yards (12.8 yards/catch) and four touchdowns.

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 – Texans Preseason Game #2, What to Watch For

Steve Balestrieri
August 19, 2017 at 8:00 am ET

The Patriots and Texans have finished their joint practices and meet in Houston on Saturday night at 8 p.m. (7 p.m. local time) for the second preseason game of the 2017 Patriots schedule.

The game will be broadcast on CBS with Dan Roche, Christian Fauria and Matt Chatham (sidelines) on the call. It will also be live on NFL Game Pass and on 98.5 the Sports Hub, the Patriots flagship station with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call.

After a couple of spirited and tough practices against the Texans this week in West Virginia, the teams meet in a preseason game before doing it for real in Week 3 in Foxboro. Here are some of the things we’ll be watching for.

Brady and the Healthy Starters Making an Appearance: Last week against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Patriots sat 40 of their veteran players as well as some hurt ones. It would be difficult to imagine them sitting again and then having to play two + quarters against the Lions next week in the tune-up for the regular season.

So this will be the first chance we get to see guys like Brandin Cooks and Rex Burkhead on the offense and established veterans like Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, and James White will get to strut their stuff with Brady. I still don’t expect to see Rob Gronkowski this week.

On the defense, that means seeing Stephon Gilmore and Malcolm Butler at corner this week with Pat Chung and Devin McCourty at safety. None of whom played a week ago. David Harris should see some action at middle linebacker tonight as well.

The Offensive Line Will Have Their Hands Full: The Patriots know full well how tough the Texans front seven on defense is. They gave them all they could handle in the divisional playoff game in Foxborough last year. The joint practices were much more of the same. On Tuesday, the Texans defense carried the day, leading Brady to get heated on the sidelines. They were better on Wednesday but look for Houston to get after whoever is under center.

Nate Solder, Tony Garcia, and LaAdrian Waddle are banged up and won’t play. That leaves Cameron Fleming protecting Brady’s blind side over left tackle. The team kept a running back in, right behind the left tackle to help out this week. When Brady is in, expect to see James White or Burkhead doing much the same thing.

Whitney Mercilus, J.J. Watt, Jadevon Clowney et.al had a good week going against the Patriots offensive line during the joint practices. They’ll be looking to set the tone early by doing the same. The offensive line will have to give Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo the time to find the receivers. With that in mind, our next key to watch…

Patriots Wide Receivers Keeping the Pressure On: During training camp thus far this summer, the Patriots wide receivers have looked like a pretty dominant group. The versatility and depth make this unit fun to watch. This week will be our first chance to see them on the field together. Brady already has great chemistry with the likes of Edelman, Hogan and Danny Amendola. He’s approaching that (in practice) with Cooks who has been explosive this summer.

While Houston’s front seven is a dominant type of group, the secondary has some question marks. At corner, they lost A.J. Boyue who effectively shut down half of the field in the divisional playoff game in January. And at safety is the Texans position of concern. They’re still searching for answers there besides Andre Hal who wasn’t terrific a year ago. If there is a chance to stretch the field tonight, look for Brady to do so with either Cooks or Hogan.

Once the starters give way, guys like Devin Lucien, Austin Carr and TE Jacob Hollister will be looking to continue their hot summers. All three would be, in a different time frame, in a great position to make the roster. With the depth in place, all three are having to make strides to make the 53-man cut down in two weeks.

Patriots Edge Pressure, Where Does It Come From: We’ve mentioned the Texans front seven which is excellent and now the flip side. With the injuries to the two rookie draft picks, the Patriots are thin on the edge. Dont’a Hightower won’t play, so that leaves the team even thinner. Where does the edge pressure come from?

This will probably be a question we’ll ask every week, but for now, veteran Trey Flowers who led the team down the stretch a year ago will be the guy who is expected to provide the most pressure. Look for the team to employ LBs Kyle Van Noy and Shea McClellin in more of a rush mode beginning this week. Rookie Harvey Langi, who is having a very solid camp will no doubt be tasked to do more of the same.

One area where the team can help the edge players is to push the pocket from the inside where the Texans QBs, Tom Savage and DeShaun Watson can’t step up. That will fall to guys like Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler, the rookie UDFA who is stepping up his game.

Bottom of the Roster Players Have a Great Chance to Shine: With the Patriots 90-man roster as deep as we’ve seen it in many years, the players who round out the Patriots roster will have a chance to strut their stuff against a playoff team from 2016 in the Texans. And that includes a couple of players who didn’t have their best moments against the Jacksonville Jaguars last week.

Cyrus Jones struggled mightily on defense, and he’s clearly over-thinking things back there. That is something that has to be remedied. In essence, he’s the #5 corner, so he’s not expected to play much on defense. But he can’t let it affect his play in the return game. And he was lackluster there a week ago, tonight is a prime opportunity to erase those bad feelings.  If he fails there, the Patriots have options. Both Danny Amendola and Dion Lewis are waiting in the wings if called. Time to step it up.

Elandon Roberts and Jordan Richards both struggled a week ago, Roberts was reaching and filled the wrong gaps and Richards’ deficiencies in speed were put on display as well as taking a very poor angle on a 79-yard touchdown run. Both need to step up their game.

As we mentioned above, the young receivers, Lucien, Carr, and Jacob Hollister have another prime opportunity to impress the coaches. Adam Butler and Conor McDermott on the offensive and defensive lines, respectively are players to watch tonight.

 

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 53-Man Roster Projection 3.0 – More Questions Emerge

Steve Balestrieri
August 15, 2017 at 6:30 am ET

Patriots 53-Man Roster Projection 3.0 – More Questions Emerge

As we’ve been saying all summer, the New England Patriots will have many difficult decisions to make when the final 53-man cut down is due in September. There is still plenty of time, joint practices, and three preseason games to go before their hand is forced.

With some injuries cropping up and some uninspired play at some spots, there are a few more questions that are emerging, as it is always is, when dealing with training camp. Thru the first several weeks, we’ve seen some very good competition and some players are going to make Bill Belichick’s decision a very tough one.

So we’ll take our third crack at the roster here on Sunday night with time to digest and re-watch the Jaguars game.

First up is the offense…

OFFENSE (25)
QUARTERBACK (3): Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett

Bubble: None
New England has first world problems at QB, do they keep two or three. All three have won games for the franchise and the feeling here is they continue with the same trio.

The Patriots are set at QB with Tom Brady and Jimmy G. Jacoby Brissett is the insurance. (SBalestrieri photo)

Brady has had a typical Brady summer, that is, he’s been excellent. He’s sharp, always has laser focus and shows no sign of falling off that cliff everyone else in the NFL keeps predicting since 2008 and keeps praying for. His arm strength is still there and he has hummed in a few fastballs into tight coverage. No worries with #12.

Jimmy Garoppolo has had a typical Jimmy G. summer as well. Very inconsistent practices and a very solid, if not spectacular game performance against Jacksonville. He didn’t push Brady as some envisioned this summer, but the team is in good hands if disaster should befall Brady during the season. Brissett is a different story. He’s been a disappointment this summer. I expected a much bigger jump and despite what some of the media wrote about on Thursday, I thought his performance, going against many of the Jags who won’t make their team, was subpar. Could the Pats go with two QBs and save a guy like Carr? Maybe, but I think Brissett stays.

RUNNING BACK (5): James White, Mike Gillislee, Rex Burkhead, Dion Lewis, James Develin

Bubble: D.J. Foster, Brandon Bolden, Glenn Gronkowski, LeShun Daniels
No changes here, I really love the way the offense looks with the top four backs with White, Lewis, Gillislee, and Burkhead. Burkhead has been exciting to watch and with the additions at wide receiver, the Patriots will have lots of acreage for the backs to operate out of the backfield. There are a few minor injuries, Gillislee with a balky hamstring but it should be fine by the opener.

Brandon Bolden is on the bubble but has had a nice summer. (SBalestrieri photo)

Bolden has stepped in, in his absence and played well. He’s a core STs guy so, Belichick could make a cut somewhere else and keep him around. Ditto for D.J. Foster, a guy I really like. Daniels and Baby Gronk are practice squad candidates.

TIGHT END (3): Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, Jacob Hollister

Bubble: Matt Lengel, Sam Cotton, James O’Shaughnessy
Just when you thought that Gronk may be hurting a little, he puts on a demonstration, like he did against Jax during joint practices. He was vintage Gronkowski and lit them up to the tune of seven TDs during practice.

Allen is an established veteran and the talk of his being cut earlier this summer, ….sorry I wasn’t buying it then or now. He’s an excellent blocker and can threaten the seams, he’s not a Gronkowski, but then again, who is?

Hollister steps up to the big table after a very impressive performance against the Jaguars. He’s not a big bodied blocker but as a move tight end, he showed he can go deep down the seams, has outstanding hands and can make plays even when taking some hits. He also needs to be better as a blocker but is getting a lot of STs reps. O’Shaughnessy and Lengel are by no means out by any means, and they’ll have to step up their game.

One thing to keep in mind, the two above players are more big blockers than receivers. Do the Patriots want another big body with the weapons they already have or another big target in the passing game? They could always keep a guy like LaAdrian Waddle around and let Hollister play more of a move-TE, in the mold of he who shall not be named.

WIDE RECEIVER (6): Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Julian Edelman, Malcolm Mitchell, Danny Amendola, Austin Carr

Bubble: Devin Lucien,Cody Hollister, Tony Washington, K.J. Maye
For the record, I love the job Austin Carr is doing so far in training camp. He’s done everything that they’ve asked from him and has outstanding hands. He doesn’t look like a rookie trying to earn his way onto the roster. But the problem is once again, do they keep a 6th WR plus Matthew Slater and make a cut elsewhere? As much as I like Lucien, he hasn’t done enough to unseat any of the veterans.

The only way I can see him being on the roster in September is if injuries occur. Slater is banged up right now, if he ends up on IR (who knows?), then it may open the door for these guys.

Julian Edelman has had an excellent training camp. (SBalestrieri photo)

But this WR group is going to be fun to watch. With this group, Gronkowski at TE and the backs in the passing game it will be a pick your poison type of game plan.

INTERIOR OFFENSIVE LINE (4): David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Joe Thuney, Ted Karras
Bubble: Jason King, James Ferentz, Chase Farris

Center David Andrews and guards Mason and Thuney were all starters last year, are locked and playing well. Karras has outplayed Ferentz …so far but not by a lot. He may end up as being a primary practice squad candidate.

OFFENSIVE TACKLE (4):  Nate Solder, Antonio Garcia, Marcus Cannon, Cameron Fleming

Bubble: LaAdrian Waddle, Conor McDermott, Cole Croston, Max Rich, Andrew Jelks
Here’s where things get interesting. Solder has been hurt, and nobody filling in for him has done the job particularly well. And now Garcia is hurting. This will be something to monitor in the next two weeks to see if the injuries persist, then the team could make a move for a veteran.

But for now, I’m sticking with the same group. If the team decides to cut from elsewhere, Waddle could find his way onto the roster for sure. McDermott is a prime candidate for the practice squad. He’s done well in practice. But in the joint practices with the Jaguars and the preseason game, he didn’t fare well. It will be a big week for him in Houston.

Next up in the defense.

DEFENSE (22):
DEFENSIVE TACKLE (4): Alan Branch, Malcom Brown, Vincent Valentine, Lawrence Guy,

Bubble: Woodrow Hamilton, Darius Kilgo, Josh Augusta, Adam Butler
With Alan Branch on PUP and probably coming off of that after this week, Lawrence Guy has stepped up and played very well. He’s an established veteran who is versatile and tough. He’s going to be a solid addition.

Butler has stepped up and played very well this summer showing good penetration and toughness on the inside. He’s a great candidate for the practice squad if he’s cut and for the 53 if someone were to go down with an injury. Hamilton and Kilgo have always played well but not enough to unseat anyone.

EDGE RUSHER (4): Kony Ealy, Trey Flowers, Derek Rivers, Deatrich Wise,

Bubble: Geneo Grissom, Caleb Kidder, Keionta Davis
Depth has become an issue here. Wise was stepping up and playing some outstanding football the first two weeks but now has a concussion. He’ll be out for the next week and we’ll see if this sets back his progression. Rivers started slowly but has picked up his game as he’s adjusted to NFL speed.

The Patriots will rely on young guys, such as Deatrich Wise and Kyle Van Noy to supply pressure from the edge. (SBalestrieri photo)

So what’s up with Ealy? Nearly everyone has him being cut. I don’t. And I’ll tell you why. Has he been disappointing so far? Yes. But the team has asked him to do a lot of different things, things he was never asked to do in Carolina. He’s by no means a lock but I don’t see them cutting him. Especially since Grissom, who is very athletic and a very good STs player can’t seem to make an impression at the edge.

I really liked Davis during the pre-draft process and had him to NE in one of our Mock Drafts. If he’s healthy I like him to compete for a practice squad spot.

LINEBACKER (6): Dont’a Hightower, David Harris, Kyle Van Noy, Shea McClellin, Elandon Roberts, Harvey Langi

Bubble: Jonathan Freeny, Trevor Bates, Brooks Ellis
I’ve been intrigued with Langi who the team has moved around and asked to do a bunch of different things. So far, I’ve been very impressed and think he’s approaching a lock status. There are no worries about the top unless an injury crops up.

Roberts to me is firmly on the bubble and it is neck and neck between him and Freeny. I know fans are enamored with his downhill “thumper” style but he’s a liability in coverage and as shown as Jacksonville, frequently guesses the wrong gap or overplays the run and is out of position. See those big holes (79-yard TD run) the other night? That is from the Mike being out of position.

CORNERBACK (5): Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler, Eric Rowe, Jonathan Jones, Cyrus Jones

Bubble: Justin Coleman, DJ Killings, William Likely, Kenny Moore
The top four are locked and cocked and ready for the season. Gilmore and Butler are a dynamic and intriguing duo. Rowe and Jones (Jonathan) have split the duties for the slot corner and all four have played very solidly this summer. No worries there. If someone goes down, would they trust Jones (Cyrus) back there? Not so much.

Malcolm Butler and Stephon Gilmore have been excellent for the the team this summer. (SBalestrieri photo)

He’s hanging on to his roster slot by a sliver right now over Coleman and Moore who has been outstanding at times this camp. Jones only saving grace is the fact that he looks like the Patriots #1 return man right now. But he didn’t look good on Thursday night doing that either. Bill Belichick has never cut a guy before season 2 with his draft position. But the ice is getting mighty thin ….

SAFETY (3): Patrick Chung, Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon

Out:  Jordan Richards, David Jones, Damarius Travis, Jason Thompson
The top three of Chung, McCourty, and Harmon have been solid and are locked. The team has depth for those two with Nate Ebner and Brandon King who are mainly special teamers and will be carried down there.

Very disappointing summer for David Jones. When the team signed him, I thought he had a good chance to make an impact. His limited play in minicamp magnified that. But he’s yet to take the field. Jordan Richards? After a nice start to summer, he’s reverted to what he’s done in the first two years. His lack of top end speed and stiffness makes him a liability. His performance on Thursday was a harbinger of things to come. He’s not long for the roster.

Jordan Richards? After a nice start to summer, he’s reverted to what he’s done in the first two years. His lack of top end speed and stiffness makes him a liability. His performance on Thursday was a harbinger of things to come. He’s not long for the roster.

SPECIAL TEAMS (6): Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen, Joe Cardona, Brandon King, Matthew Slater, Nate Ebner

Out: None
A good solid group who have had a good camp thus far. Gostkowski still seems a tad shaky me on his field goals/extra points but his kickoffs are outstanding at getting the team great field position on defense. Allen has had a very strong camp. Slater is dinged up right now but the other three of Cardona, King and Ebner are outstanding STs performers.

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.

New England Patriots News 8-13, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
August 13, 2017 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 8-13, & AFC East Notes.

The Patriots signed former defensive lineman Vince Wilfork to a one-day contract so that he could retire as a Patriot. Or as Robert Kraft put it in his remarks, “A Patriot for Life.” The respect he has around these parts is off the charts, both on and off the field.

Wilfork and his wife Bianca (AKA Mrs 75) were great representatives not only for the team but for the region with their charitable endeavors and the interaction with the fans. The most emotional part of his retirement ceremony was his mention of his parents, who both passed away before they could see him live his dream of playing in the NFL. We hope to see lots of them around here in the future. Red and gold jackets await in the future…we’re calling it early.

Goodell Shows Up for the Preseason Opener in a Pre-emptive Strike:
How ‘bout dem apples? NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell just took the drama out of his opening night appearance in Gillette Stadium by showing up at the Jaguars preseason game. The Commish then posed for pictures with a couple of surprised Patriots fans who probably seemed as shocked to see him as the rest of us that he was there.

It kinds of renders the entire clown-nose shirt thing moot. However, I’m sure that will still go on as planned but it seems like a day late and a dollar short now. Smart move by Goodell.

The backlash against the three guys who posed with Goodell has gone, predictably over the top with the reaction of many on social media. These guys were surprised as they were walking to their seats by an NFL staffer who asked them to take a picture. Less than 30 seconds later it is all over social media, posted by the league.

They were no doubt lubing up in the pregrame tailgate, got surprised and used as pawns by a slick NFL staffer in this deal and were taken advantage of, Case closed… We’re on to Houston.

Jerry Jones Furious…Over “no evidence” and Suspension of Elliott:
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is fighting mad and he isn’t going to take it anymore…or is he? When the ongoing fiasco with the investigation of Ezekiel Elliott a while back, there were serious questions about whether the alleged abuse ever happened. Jones, the Cowboys owner rushed to his RB’s defense and said there was “no evidence” that anything took place.

Ah, but the workings of the good folks at Park Avenue look at things differently. Evidence, schmevidence. The NFL slapped a six-game ban on Elliott for allegedly abusing his girlfriend. The fact that the same league only suspended Giants kicker Josh Brown for one game last year, when a mountain of evidence, including NFL security personnel who had to separate Brown from his wife at the Pro Bowl speaks volumes about the consistency of their punishments.

Jones won’t get any sympathy in these parts. He was practically giddy about the suspension of Tom Brady and spoke highly about the job Goodell was doing and he supported his decision-making in these matters…OOPS.

Patriots – Texans Joint Practice/Preseason Games to Have Different Vibe:
In a strange scheduling of events this summer, the Patriots and Texans meet in the second preseason game and then will lock horns for real in the third week of the NFL season on September 24 at Gillette Stadium.

As a result, the workouts and the preseason will look a bit different when the two teams meet this week. Expect both teams to be really cagey and play their cards close to their vest as they will have Week 3 in mind.

Defensive End Depth Addressed As Pats SIgn Keionta Davis:
The injury sustained by Deatrich Wise when he got kicked in the head on Thursday night against the Jaguars highlighted the need for some depth at defensive end. Wise suffered a concussion and is expected to miss at least a week. Kony Ealy has struggled somewhat in the early going, so the team went out and signed DE Keionta Davis, the UDFA from Chattanooga. In a corresponding move, the team released DB Dwayne Thomas.

Davis was an All-America defensive end who had 31 sacks in college, including 10.5 in 2016. He was thought to be a mid-to-late round draft selection before he was found to have a bulging disc in his neck that he never knew about or affected his play and went undrafted. We even had him in one of our Mock Drafts this spring.

The 6’3, 271-pound Davis, if healthy, he has good initial explosion, has the ability to shoot the gap inside and influence the play and has quick, violent hands that can free him from the offensive lineman’s grasp. He is still a bit raw but has the size and strength to play on the edge in a 4-3 scheme.

Hollister and Carr Make the Most of Their Opportunities Against Jax:
A couple of the bright spots for the Patriots this week against the Jaguars was the play of both WR Austin Carr and TE Jacob Hollister who took advantage of the starters resting to put forth some very solid efforts in their first NFL action.

Carr led the Big 10 in receiving last season but went undrafted. He’s had some very good moments during the early going of training camp, showing some outstanding hands and good quickness off the line.

We got the chance to interview Hollister in a one-on-one opportunity during the first week of training camp and you can take another look at that here: He’s more of a move tight end than a traditional inline blocker but he has good speed to attack the seams, has good hands and has been a productive player in college.

Both have uphill climbs to make the 53-man roster, the WR position is very deep and there are two tight ends already locked into the roster. Will Hollister have enough to unseat the others for the #3 TE spot? We’ll see but neither did anything to hurt their chances with solid performances on Thursday night.

The sequence of a Great Catch:
We normally look at a big play during practice or a game and watch the video of a player making a great catch or a run. On Monday, Chris Hogan had arguably the play of the day with a great catch down the sideline on a perfectly thrown ball by Tom Brady. Instead of video we had our sequence of still photos that show how Hogan gets just the slightest of separation and then leaps up to come down with the ball.

Just something a little different this week. Check them out.

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills Trade Two of the Best Players Away:

The Buffalo Bills in a stunning move traded star WR Sammy Watkins and CB Ronald Darby in a three team deal with the Philadelphia Eagles and the Los Angeles Rams.

Watkins who is in the final year of his rookie contract and a 6th round draft pick goes to LA for CB E.J. Gaines and a 2nd rounder. Darby the starter at corner goes to the Eagles for WR Jordan Matthews, a versatile, productive WR, also in the final year of his rookie contract.

While these moves may potentially weaken the Bills in the short term, they look to be in better shape down the road, for 2018 and beyond. Matthews has made his living operating out of the slot the past three years and will automatically become the #1 target for QB Tyrod Taylor in the Bills offense.

Tannehill to Cutler Isn’t a Step Up for the Dolphins:
“Just when I thought I was out…they pulled me back in.” Michael Corleone GFIII The Miami Dolphins signed Jay Cutler after QB Ryan Tannehill was injured in a non-contact injury during training camp, in what will probably be an end to his time in Miami. Tannehill hasn’t become the QB that the Dolphins hoped he would, but after surrounding him with a lot of talent this season, the hopes were that he’d make a jump in play this year.

Tannehill has weathered a lot in his time, different offenses and offensive coordinators every year, a sieve of an offensive line at times, and even the barbs of social media from the wife of a teammate. We never thought he’d be the franchise QB there, but in our humble opinion, he’s a better deal than Cutler.

As soon as this deal was made, many in social media were lauding this move as Miami “making a step up” at the QB position. Over who? Matt Moore the backup? I could accept that, but Cutler isn’t a better QB than Tannehill in the Dolphin’s system. I’m not buying that…at all. If so, Miami had plenty of opportunities to make that move back in March and give Cutler (who played for Adam Gase) the benefit of an entire offseason program.

Cutler is the perennial tease. Everywhere he’s gone he’s hailed as a savior upon arriving and shown the door down the road with no one sad to see him go. Miami isn’t going to end any differently. Is he better than the scrappy Matt Moore? Maybe, and then only marginally so. Caveat emptor Miami, (Let the buyer beware). Come on, Rook. Show us that million-dollar arm, ’cause I got a good idea about that five-cent head of yours.” Crash Davis in Bull Durham.

Decker Returns to the Jets Stadium, in a Titans uniform:

The New York Jets released Eric Decker this spring in the Great Purge that hasn’t been seen since the days of Joseph Stalin and the USSR in the 1930s. The Jets cleaned house and let go a plethora of stars for the team. Decker who went thru OTAs with the team was coming off of an injury plagued season in 2016 that eventually landed him on IR requiring shoulder and back surgeries.

He was very productive in 2015 with 80 catches, for 1027 yards and 12 touchdowns as the #2 WR to Brandon Marshall, who was also released. Jace Amaro, the Jets 2nd round bust TE who was released in 2016 will also suit up for Tennessee.

Did the Jets cut Decker too soon? Looking at their current crop of WRs especially after the injury to Quincy Enunwa, it appears so. So we’ll be watching Decker this summer and into the regular season. If he’s healthy, he’ll help resurgent Titans team. And the Jets? They’ll be setting their sights on the #1 pick in the NFL Draft for 2018.

 

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 myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

New England Patriots – Jaguars Preseason Opener, What to Watch For

Steve Balestrieri
August 10, 2017 at 9:45 am ET

The long wait since the Super Bowl is over, the field at Gillette has the goalposts back up, the lines are painted on the turf and the Patriots will once again take the field for a football game. But don’t call it meaningless, because there remains a lot to accomplish.

OK, we get that the final score of tonight’s game is secondary to both Bill Belichick and Doug Marrone but for the 90 players on the roster, many of them are fighting for jobs. And the coaching staffs will attempt to find those depth players and those valuable guys who fill roles on the team that makes such a big difference during the course of a season.

Gillette Stadium is ready for football again. (SBalestrieri Photo)

Many of the Patriots starters won’t play tonight, I don’t expect to see Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Danny Amendola, Nate Solder or Mike Gillislee on the field for the Pats offense. So what are we looking for tonight from a New England perspective as the Patriots take on the Jaguars in the first game of the 2017 preseason?

The Patriots Pass Rush and Specifically How the Rookies Fit:
This will be a big storyline for the entire preseason and into the regular season. Gone are Rob Ninkovich, Jabaal Sheard, and Chris Long. Trey Flowers is the elder statesman in terms of time with the team. He, Kony Ealy along with rookies Deatrich Wise, Derek Rivers and Harvey Langi will be watched closely in their first game action this year.

Wise has had a very good start to camp and seems to be much farther along in his development than was expected at this point. He’s shown to be explosive and has had good penetration from the edge and along the interior.

Deatrich Wise has looked very impressive in the early days of training camp. (SBalestrieri photo)

Before people pile on Ealy (and there’s been a lot of it), something to keep in mind is that early in camp the team has asked him to do a lot of different things that he was never asked to do in Carolina. He’s played a lot inside and that is a new position for him. Rivers seems to be getting in sync a bit more in the last few days, it will be interesting to see how he fares in his first game action. Langi has been moved around by the coaches. They’re trying to see all the things he can do and look for him to play outside linebacker and down as a defensive end tonight.

Jacksonville’s offensive line has a lot of issues right now. There are at least two starting spots wide open for competition. So this will be a good test for both teams to see how their players are coming along.

How Will Jimmy Garoppolo Fare in Game Action:
We know that Jimmy G. hasn’t had the greatest camp, but he’s never been the best practice player for some reason although he’s fared better during the games. Well at least initially, he’ll be playing with some very good weapons.  I would expect Brandin Cooks, Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan to play a series or two tonight. Coupled with Dwayne Allen at tight end, James White, Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead coming out of the backfield, this will be a very good group to work with.

I’d expect to see Garoppolo play most of if not all of the first half. He should be able to lead the Patriots offense and get the unit clicking, especially when the above-named players are taking the field. Things to look for in his play, his decision-making, his processing of what he sees in front of him and his ability to get the ball out quickly and accurately.

Many people thought that this was the year that he may push Tom Brady a bit for the reins to the offense. That hasn’t come close to happening yet. Brady is still head and shoulders far above him. But he must be ready to take over in a pinch and tonight we’ll be watching how he looks in the starting role.

Look for the Patriots to test the waters deep Thursday night with Chris Hogan and Brandin Cooks. (SBalestrieri photo)

Secondary Looks Strong, But This May Not be the Best Test:
Thus far in camp, the Patriots corners, Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler, Eric Rowe and Jonathan Jones have been very solid. They bring the physical element to the game and contest everything thrown at them. Rowe probably won’t play as he’s been dinged up a bit but that will still leave the other three to watch for the probably the first quarter.

Jacksonville has some very good wide receivers in Allen Robinson, Marqise Lee and Allen Hurns with Marcedes Lewis at tight end but the problem with them has been getting them the football. The quarterback play in camp so far has been spotty at best and that’s what we saw in the two days of joint practices. Blake Bortles and Chad Henne were not doing a good enough job of getting their skill players the football during the 11-on-11 team drills. On the first day, they were a combined 8-22, on Day 2 they didn’t fare much better.

With the largely vanilla schemes on defense in the preseason, the time may be right to see Bortles and Henne open things up a bit and see the field a bit better. In which case the Jaguars receivers will provide a solid first test for the Patriots secondary. But after what we’ve seen in the two practices, the Jags quarterback situation may preclude that.

Let’s See Some of the Running Game This Week:
With LeGarrette Blount in Philadelphia now, the Patriots running game will definitely have a different look and feel to it in 2017. Gillislee has been slowed by a balky hamstring so I don’t expect to see him tonight. But the team has a lot of players who could see some significant snaps trying to earn a roster or practice squad slot.

In the early going, I am intrigued to see how Rex Burkhead fares in his Patriots debut. He’s been an intriguing player to watch in camp as he brings the element of both running and catching to the mix. Dion Lewis looks back to full health and I’d expect the team to give him a few reps early in the game along with James White.

But later in the game, D.J. Foster who is very quick out of the backfield is fighting for a roster spot. I’d look for him to get a ton of reps as the receiving back out of the backfield. Brandon Bolden who has gotten a lot of work with Gillislee on the shelf and LeShun Daniels will handle the heavy lifting in the running game between the tackles.

Time for the Young Players to Shine:
Invariably during these preseason games, especially the early ones, a couple of the unheralded undrafted free agent players step to the forefront. It seems every year the Patriots have one UDFA who not only makes the roster but contributes some meaningful snaps during the season.

We’ve already mentioned Langi above but the team has several to keep an eye on this week. Wide receiver Austin Carr has made some nice catches this summer and has struggled to get separation at times as well. He’s a guy to watch tonight. CB Kenny Moore has been around the ball making plays all summer, he and fellow rookie Will Likely are players to watch. TE Jacob Hollister is a move-tight end that has the speed to get separation and attack the seams, this may factor in later.

Some of the players who have been on the team and are on the bubble this summer will bear watching. CB Justin Coleman, WR Devin Lucien who has had a strong camp thus far and CB/KR Cyrus Jones. Jones it should be noted, dropped his first kick of the summer and hasn’t had an issue since. He’ll be watched closely in Year 2 and much will be expected of him in the return game in 2017.

Bonus Note:
It will be interesting to see how Patriots fans respond to Mark Brunell who does the color commentary for the Jaguars radio network tonight. Brunell had the famous crying jag (no pun intended) on ESPN after the news of Deflategate broke.

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.

Tuesday Patriots Joint Practice With Jax Quick Observations

Steve Balestrieri
August 8, 2017 at 4:24 pm ET

Gronkowski Makes His Presence Known

The Patriots wrapped up their 11th practice of the 2017 training camp and their second joint practice with the Jacksonville Jaguars. The two teams have a walk-thru scheduled for Wednesday and the first preseason game of the year for each team is on Thursday night at Gillette Stadium.

The teams got some good work in these past two days but the intensity level, while very competitive wasn’t up as high as we pictured it to be.

But the story of the day was Rob Gronkowski, a day after we wrote that it appeared like the Patriots were limiting his workload and had only a single catch, the big man was immense today. He was dominant in the 1-on-1 matchups and during 7s and full team 11-on-11 work, Gronk was uncoverable. He and Tom Brady had their chemistry going full bore Tuesday and the Jaguars were struggling to match up. During the 7s session, Gronk hit the end zone four times and added a pair more in full 11s.

Rob Gronkowski had a monster, Gronk, type of day on Tuesday. (SBalestrieri photo)

Our favorite part of the individual drills, (albeit the most difficult to see) is the linemen during the 1-on-1 matchups. And if today was any indication, the Patriots defense should have a very good night on Thursday.

Trey Flowers was winning every matchup we saw and rookie Deatrich Wise was impressive, beating Jaguars starting left tackle Cam Robinson twice… Harvey Langi was particularly impressive, showing not only speed but power. He deposited backup right tackle Jeremiah Poutasi on his butt which drew some audible chatter from the press area.  Adam Butler continued a solid camp with some impressive work in the drills as well.

Despite having a very deep roster, four rookies have seen significant snaps with the first unit defense and they should see a ton of work on Thursday night. Wise and Derek Rivers, Langi and Butler have all gotten time with the first unit with some of the veterans of the team on the shelf right now.

No Shows: Alan Branch, Dont’a Hightower (PUP) and Andrew Jelks (NFI) didn’t practice but were there in sweats. Matthew Slater, Shea McClellin, Eric Rowe, Trevor Bates and Ton Garcia were absent. Mike Gillislee, Danny Amendola, Nate Solder, James O’Shaughnessy, Cody Hollister, Vincent Valentine and David Jones worked with the training staff of the lower fields.

Stephon Gilmore and Duron teamed up for a nice pass breakup on a deep pass to Allen Robinson. (SBalestrieri photo)

Quick Hitters:

  • Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, and Brandin Cooks were very impressive during 1-on-1s.
  • A couple of scary moments, Matt Lengel went down hard in the end zone and seemed to be favoring his left hip. But he returned later and appeared fine. Kony Ealy hurt his arm and was getting worked on by the training staff. He too returned and seemed fine.
  • The Patriots had a number of drops again, Sam Cotton had two, Rex Burkhead, Edelman, and Tony Washington each had drops.
  • During “opportunity time” with the third unit, Jacoby Brissett struggled again, throwing a bad interception. When the offense couldn’t get it in the end zone on 4th down during a goal line drill, the entire unit to include Bill Belichick did pushups.
  • The Jaguars QBs were struggling again and completed only around a third of their passes. The Patriots defense got good pressure on them and the secondary play was tight
  • Malcolm Butler had some good battles with Marqise Lee again, he was beaten during the 1-on-1 drills but during full team sessions, he knocked down a pair of passes. And safety Duron Harmon got his hand on one as well.
  • Stephon Gilmore made a nice diving play knocking down a pass that was thrown to Allen Robinson.
  • Brady hooked up nicely with Brandin Cooks on a 15-yard back shoulder throw. Cooks sold the deep route and as soon as he turned, the ball was there.
  • Malcolm Mitchell gave a shake-and-bake move to corner Stanley Jean-Baptiste and left him grabbing air.
  • During 11s, Brady hit Dwayne Allen with a perfect play action pass down the seam where he had the clear separation from coverage.

Play of the Day: Malcolm Butler was covering Marqise Lee during a red zone situation drill. Lee was trying run a quick slant, Butler had good coverage and read the QBs eyes. Blake Bortles stared down Lee and just as he let go of the ball, Butler jumped the route and broke up the play and came up with the ball as he rolled to the ground. The ball may have hit the ground, but it looked like a good interception from our vantage point.

Before practice started Bill Belichick addressed the media on the field and had some very nice things to say about now Hall of Fame Miami Dolphin Jason Taylor.

Mike Mayock was in the house as well as Tom Brady’s parents. After practice the NFL referees who were in attendance the past two days spoke with the media and took a question and answer session about the new rules in place for 2017. Pete Morelli gave the presentation and did a great job of answering a lot of questions. Chip Kelly was on the field as well Willie McGinest addressed the team as practice broke up and then did an interview with Tom Brady for the NFL Network.

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.

New England Patriots News 8-6, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
August 6, 2017 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 8-6, & AFC East Notes.

The Patriots have the first week + of camp in the books, the team will have today off as they prepare for the joint practices with the Jacksonville Jaguars that begins tomorrow morning. The two teams will open their preseason schedules on Thursday night with a game at Gillette Stadium.  

We will be looking forward to the two teams getting some good work in this week. It is always a valuable tool for the coaches and players to practice against someone else after going against just your teammates all spring and thru the first week or so of training camp.

A Healthy Gronkowski Has Been a Big if Rarely Mentioned Factor:
The Patriots got a healthy Rob Gronkowski back for training camp this season and although the team is limiting his reps a bit, he’s fully healthy and ready to go this summer. Gronkowski and Bill Belichick earlier during training camp both said that Gronkowski is under no limitations whatsoever, which is great news for the offense this year. The big man was limited to just eight games a year ago and none during the Patriots Super Bowl run.

Having a healthy Gronkowski for the 2017 season with the stacked wide receiver group and running back options in the passing game makes the Patriots offense an even more dangerous one than averaged over 30 points per game in the playoffs last year.

Rob Gronkowski is completely healthy and that is a very good sign for the Patriots in 2017. (SBalestrieri photo)

He looks to be his normal, athletic self at tight end so far and is a load for any safety to cover and is a mismatch against any linebacker. Tom Brady also has one of his two most trusted receivers in the passing game.

Gronkowski still has that exuberance for the game, even in training camp that brings out the kid in all of us. He takes great delight in scoring touchdowns even in practice and even when he makes a mistake, he makes the most out of it. Yesterday he jumped offside and get going and looked like his penalty lap was still fun while most guys act like they’re going to the gallows.

Rex Burkhead Looks to be A Valuable Pickup For the Patriots Offense:
The Patriots picked up Rex Burkhead this spring and on the surface, the move made very good sense. Burkhead is a valued special teams’ performer and was a productive backup running back for the Bengals.

But in New England the 27-year old looks to have a much larger role. He has the ability to run between the tackles and is showing a nice knack for finding open real estate in the passing game. This versatility with his ability to run or catch is something the team lacked last year. When James White was in the game, opponents knew they would probably pass. When LeGarrette Blount was on the field, it was considered a run. Now they can keep opponents guessing.

“Hopefully, this year, we’ll have a little more balance between the running game and passing game,” Bill Belichick said. “Again, (Blount) was primarily a runner. He didn’t have a lot of receiving production. The reverse is true of James White. So hopefully with our backs this year we’ll have a little more balance and be a little less predictable from that spot.”

With a return of health of Dion Lewis and Mike Gillislee handling the majority of short yardage situations, the team is in a good position to keep things mixed up. And Burkhead thus far looks to be much more than a backup and a STs player.

Wise Has Been One of the Biggest Surprises of Camp So Far:
On the flip side of the coin, the surprise for the defense may be DE Deatrich Wise. The Patriots drafted a couple of edge players in Derek Rivers and Deatrich Wise in the 2017 NFL Draft and both are expected to produce in the future but Wise may be pushing the envelope a bit earlier than expected.

Patriots rookie defensive end Deatrich Wise after practice on Aug. 3. (SBalestrieri photo)

The rookie who has a large wingspan at 6’5, 271 pounds and seems much more mature than his years may just be a steal in the 4th round of the draft. After a stellar junior season in 2015, Wise’s senior campaign was a frustrating one filled with a couple of injuries that limited his production. But as we said in the spring, if you want to see what he can do watch the 2015 tape.

So far, the big man is playing both inside and outside and has shown the ability to not only set the edge in the running game but beat the offensive linemen using a nice array of moves. He’s shown good explosion off the line. Wise credits the veterans on the team for helping him with the many questions and tips for him and the other young players on the team.

Can he continue to do so? He’ll be a key player to watch during the joint practices with the Jaguars and even more so once the preseason games begin.

Tom Brady Is Still The Hardest Working Man on the Field:
Hard to believe that the Patriots quarterback just turned 40 on Thursday. It is safe to say that no one is better prepared than Brady is and his work ethic despite his many accolades is second to none.

One of the things that all of the new players on the roster marvel about is how hard Brady prepares and works during practice. When he’s off the field, rarely does he sit on the side and chat with the other players. He’s usually working on his mechanics or his chemistry with some of the other players.

While some in the national media are always looking for a sinister reason why Brady continues to battle Father Time, they should come down to Gillette and watch him work. Brady hates to waste even a rep in practice. He has the incessant desire to improve, his drive, his fire and passion for the game remain as strong as ever. That’s the biggest reason for his success

Training Camp Dustups Are Not New:
Much was made about the shoving and wrestling match between Julian Edelman and Stephon Gilmore early this week but in reality, those things happen in every training camp. And in true Belichick form, both players were ejected from practice. The coach has zero tolerance for that and while he understands that it happens, the players know he won’t tolerate it.

The heat and humidity and the constantly going against the same people will cut tempers a bit short and all it takes for one player to give another a little extra push or feel like the other guy is holding on a bit too tight and that’s it. Last year both Malcolm Butler and Bryan Stork were given five for fighting and sent to the showers. Let’s hope that we don’t see any more of it with the Jaguars are in town. But if it does it wouldn’t be shocking.

After practice on Tuesday, wide receiver Brandin Cooks spoke with the media and said that it is just training camp. 

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills Depth at Defensive End Tested on Friday:

The Buffalo Bills practiced in New Era Field on Friday but lost two of their defensive ends early in the session. Shaq Lawson tweaked his groin and was shut down for precautionary reasons. Lawson later reported to the media that it was nothing serious. Fellow DE Ryan Davis suffered a concussion and was helped off the field. Neither is expected to be sidelined long and Lawson may even practice today.

Charles Clay had his best day of camp on Friday night and he reportedly is looking completely healthy. With the Bills still searching for WR help for QB Tyrod Taylor, having a productive season for Clay is essential. While it is still early in training camp, Taylor has looked very inconsistent according to the Buffalo media. Having Clay heat up would certainly help that.

Tannehill Injury May Be a Rallying Point for the Dolphins:
The Miami Dolphins had pretty high hopes for the 2017 season after a 10-6 campaign last year and a playoff berth. But then a non-contact injury to starting QB Ryan Tannehill is the nightmare no team wants to face. But when faced with a similar situation during the stretch run in 2016, the team rallied behind Matt Moore to win three of four to secure a playoff spot.

With Tannehill possibly looking at season-ending surgery, Moore is the man for now. And forget the haters, Moore is a very solid backup QB. Is he the answer for the Miami Dolphins for this year? They have reached out to Jay Cutler to see if he’s interested. If he’s signed, I would be surprised if Adam Gase just handed the job to him. Especially the way Moore rallied the Fins last season.

Don’t count them out yet. Miami dropped four of their first five and rallied. Then regrouped again after Tannehill went down last year. Gase has his work cut out for him, that is clear. But as we pointed out a year ago, Miami hired the right guy this time.

Jets Seem To Be Going With McCown at QB:

The New York Jets have their first week of training camp in the books and there is no QB controversy this season. According to reports by the Jets media beat writers, Josh McCown is getting nearly all of the first team reps. One piece in the New York Post said the number was almost 99 percent. Christian Hackenberg is solidly locked into the 2nd team slot. Bryce Petty? In the same report, he was reported to get only four reps total during Friday’s session.

McCown certainly has his work cut out for him. Only Quincy Enunwa is a bona fide NFL wide receiver with any kind of experience. The Post reported that the Jets WRs are running the wrong routes and making all of the QBs look bad.

The good news for Gang Green is the play of their top draft picks Marcus Maye and Jamal Adams. Both are having solid camps and appear to be the starting safety tandem for the Jets when the season opens.

 

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 myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots 53-Man Roster Projection 2.0 – After Week 1 of Camp

Steve Balestrieri
August 3, 2017 at 6:30 am ET

The New England Patriots will have many difficult decisions to make at the end of training camp this summer. They enter the 2017 season fresh off a Super Bowl win and have re-tooled their roster to an even more dangerous (on paper) group that was victorious in February.

They seem to have more than made up for the players that they’ve lost in free agency and appear poised for another deep playoff run in 2017. Bill Belichick went against the grain once again and traded most of his draft picks in what was considered a very deep draft and came away with a slew of established veterans.

The team only drafted four players in April with two each from the offensive and defensive lines, but even those are with an eye to 2018 as this team appears loaded. First up are the key players lost and then the ones added.

Key Players Lost:
TE Martellus Bennett
DE Jabaal Sheard
DE Chris Long
RB LeGarrette Blount
CB Logan Ryan
LB/ST Barkevious Mingo
WR Michael Floyd
RT Sebastian Vollmer (injured/retired)
Andrew Hawkins (retired during training camp)
*DE Rob Ninkovich
(retired during training camp)

Key Players Added:
LB Dont’a Hightower (re-signed)
DL Alan Branch (re-signed)
S Duron Harmon (re-signed)
FB James Develin (re-signed)
RB/ST Brandon Bolden (re-signed)
CB Stephon Gilmore
DL Kony Ealy
DL Lawrence Guy
WR Brandin Cooks
TE Dwayne Allen
TE James O’Shaughnessy
RB Mike Gillislee
RB Rex Burkhead
WR Andrew Hawkins
LB David Harris

This doesn’t take into account their four draft picks and the UDFAs that they’ve signed thus far. While the inevitable injuries will occur, as its part of the game, the team seems in very good shape to handle whatever gets thrown at them in 2017. Our first attempt at an early roster projection was done on July 1 prior to training camp. We’ll highlight any changes we make from our earlier version.

First up is the offense…

OFFENSE (24)
QUARTERBACK (3): Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett

Out: None
New England has an embarrassment of riches at the position. They have three QBs that have started and won games for the team. Garoppolo was the guy everyone had being traded this spring but they held on to him … at least for this season. And can we please cease and desist with the “is Jimmy G injury prone?” talk? He has proven he can take over the team in a pinch and he’ll be watched closely this summer to see where his progression is at.

Neither Garoppolo nor Brissett has really shined in the first week of camp. Both have struggled at times and both have thrown a lot of interceptions. Brady has been Brady. The incessant, inane talk of him “falling off a cliff” this year is ridiculous. We’ve been hearing that for 5-6 years. So, keep it up, and one year the writers who spout that stuff off will finally get it right and take victory laps. But for now, he’s as sharp as ever.

RUNNING BACK (5): James White, Mike Gillislee, Rex Burkhead, Dion Lewis, James Develin

Out: D.J. Foster, Brandon Bolden, Glenn Gronkowski, LeShun Daniels
I was a big fan of the additions of Burkhead and Gillislee this spring. Now, I’m an even bigger fan of these moves. I love the versatility that Burkhead brings to the table. One issue the offense had a year ago, depending on who was on the field, opponents could tell if the play was run or pass. With him and a healthy Dion Lewis? That has changed.

Burkhead can run the ball between the tackles and in the passing game, will find those sweet spots in the flat when Brady spreads the field. Gillislee has shown that the power running game will look a bit different this year, but may be better. He hits the hole quick and he’s a faster, one-cut runner.

James White hauls in a pass. (SBalestrieri photo)

Foster is still the tough cut here. He’s getting a lot of work with the backups but is a very competent receiver with speed and quickness out of the backfield. Strictly a case of numbers for Brandon Bolden who is a core STs player. Daniels is a great candidate for the practice squad.

TIGHT END (3): Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, James O’Shaughnessy

Out: Jacob Hollister, Matt Lengel, Sam Cotton
A healthy Gronkowski is a wonderful thing to behold. He and Allen are locks. The real battle comes down to the number three slot. We originally had O’Shaughnessy beating out Lengel on the basis of his blocking and STs skills. But he’s shown soft hands and the ability to find the open spots on the field.

Hollister is an intriguing case as he’s more of a “move” tight end that can stretch the field. He’s getting a ton of reps with the top STs unit. What does that mean? They want to keep him around and he’s a primary practice squad candidate.

WIDE RECEIVER (5): Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Julian Edelman, Malcolm Mitchell, Danny Amendola

Out: Devin Lucien, Austin Carr, Cody Hollister, Tony Washington, K.J. Maye
Brandin Cooks has been everything as advertised. His speed is incredible to watch. Imagine if Tom Brady didn’t have diminishing arm strength (sarcasm). He’s going to be fun to watch in this offense.

Edelman and Hogan seem in mid-season form and the top three are going to be a versatile, dynamic group. Mitchell and Amendola are working with the training staff so they haven’t practiced but there are no worries there.

Carr has been electrifying at times as he’s building a nice chemistry with Jacoby Brissett when working with the backups. He seems to make a big play in every session and the team may have to get creative to keep him around.

INTERIOR OFFENSIVE LINE (4): David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Joe Thuney, Ted Karras
Out: Jason King, James Ferentz, Chase Farris

Center David Andrews and guards Mason and Thuney were all starters last year and are locked. It comes down to Ferentz and Karras and so far, I haven’t seen anything to change my earlier call of the 2nd year guy sticking around.

OFFENSIVE TACKLE (4):  Nate Solder, Antonio Garcia, Marcus Cannon, Cameron Fleming

Out: LaAdrian Waddle, Conor McDermott, Cole Croston, Max Rich, Andrew Jelks
The starters and the swing tackle from 2016 (Solder, Cannon, and Fleming) return this season. Garcia isn’t that big but plays with a bit of a mean streak that I like.  McDermott is in a red shirt year and will go to the practice squad.

Next up in the defense.

DEFENSE (23):
DEFENSIVE TACKLE (4): Alan Branch, Malcom Brown, Vince Valentine, Lawrence Guy

Out: Woodrow Hamilton, Darius Kilgo, Josh Augusta, Adam Butler
Alan Branch is on PUP to begin camp but he’s a lock. Brown has been steady but unspectacular as has Valentine. Guy was a nice pickup from Baltimore and projects as an interior guy with New England. Bill Belichick spoke about his versatility and dependability before practice on Tuesday.

EDGE RUSHER (4): Kony Ealy, Trey Flowers, Derek Rivers, Deatrich Wise,

Out: Geneo Grissom, Caleb Kidder
With Rob Ninkovich’s retirement, this puts Ealy and Flowers firmly in the starters position with the two rookie draft picks Wise and Rivers as the backups. Depth is definitely thinner now. Combined the team lost 26 years of experience at the position.

Deatrich Wise has had a nice start at training camp. (SBalestrieri photo)

Grissom is getting a ton of reps with the starting unit to see if he can break thru in season #3. He may be kept or the team may opt for another linebacker. Wise has really turned some heads so far in camp. He’s shown good explosion off the ball and the strength to hold up and set the edge. Can he keep it going? We’ll see.

Rivers has struggled a bit with the speed and physicality of the NFL game which isn’t a surprise given he’s a rookie from Division 1AA. I had one fan DM me asking if he was a bust… Really? After five practices? Relax folks, he’s going to be fine.

LINEBACKER (6): Dont’a Hightower, David Harris, Kyle Van Noy, Shea McClellin, Elandon Roberts, Harvey Langi

Out: Jonathan Freeny, Trevor Bates, Brooks Ellis
Hightower is on PUP but should be ready soon, he’s been out at practice in sweats, usually a good sign. Harris looks like he’s still a thumper inside and with Roberts gives them good depth in the middle. This will allow the team to move Hightower outside more where he can be more of a disruptor.

Van Noy and McClellin will probably be asked to fill in at times as edge rushers (Hightower as well) so the team may opt for an extra linebacker. Harvey Langi is a good sized, athletic kid who can play inside or outside and even as DE in a pinch but this unit will have to work out some roles during the season.

CORNERBACK (5): Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler, Eric Rowe, Cyrus Jones, Jonathan Jones

Out: Justin Coleman, DJ Killings, William Likely, Kenny Moore, Dwayne Thomas
This has been a fun group to watch. Butler and Gilmore have played as advertised. Jonathan Jones and Eric Rowe have both played well thus far in the slot. This may be a case where they’ll use both depending on matchups.

Stephon Gilmore looks to be a good fit in the Patriots defense.

All of the others have played well. It is strictly a numbers crunch. If they had the slots they would keep them all. Moore has had a great nose for the ball and has made some nice plays so far.

SAFETY (4): Patrick Chung, Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, Jordan Richards

Out:  David Jones, Damarius Travis, Jason Thompson
Richards leap frogs Jones from our earlier projection as he’s played fairly well so far and Jones, who we are really high on, has been working with the training staff on the lower fields thus far.

The top three of Chung, McCourty, and Harmon have been solid. Harmon had an injury scare the other day and missed Tuesday’s practice but it isn’t considered serious.

SPECIAL TEAMS (6): Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen, Joe Cardona, Brandon King, Matthew Slater, Nate Ebner

Out: None
A good solid group who has had a good camp thus far. Allen had a weird sequence of two straight shanked punts on Saturday but that was an anomaly. The Patriots under STs coach Joe Judge have a very solid core group and they should be fine in 2017. Gostkowski is looking for a rebound year and has looked his normally solid self in camp.

They will need a backup long snapper now, something that was always covered by Ninkovich in the case of an injury to Cardona. Slater is still a marvel and has tremendous speed for a guy in his 10th season.

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 Practice #5 Observations, Heat, Intensity Ramp Up

Steve Balestrieri
August 1, 2017 at 3:57 pm ET

The Patriots wrapped up their fifth practice of the 2017 training camp and their third practice in full pads in a row. The crowd was much smaller than the huge throngs over the weekend and the temperatures were much more summer-like than we saw over the weekend.

Bill Belichick said in his morning presser that this was going to be a big week for the team, that they had a lot to accomplish before Jacksonville comes in for joint workouts and preseason game #1.

He added that the evaluation process would really begin and you could tell that the message was received by the team. This session was by far the most intense that we’ve seen to date.

No Shows: Alan Branch, Dont’a Hightower (PUP) and Andrew Jelks (NFI) didn’t practice but were in sweats on the sidelines. Cody Hollister and Duron Harmon were not present. Danny Amendola, David Jones and Malcolm Mitchell retreated to the lower fields for conditioning work as soon as warm-ups were completed. Amendola returned at the end of practice for punt return drills.

Quick Hitters:

  • Jimmy Garoppolo was a bit sloppy and careless with the ball again. He threw some poor passes that were picked off by both Demarius Travis and Justin Coleman. He appears to be forcing things a bit.
  • With the intensity ratcheted up a bit, some players were jumping off a bit too quickly and had to run penalty laps, including: Vincent Valentine, Josh Augusta, Harvey Langi, Joe Thuney. Jimmy G. and Ted Karras had to do a lap for a bobbled snap.
  • More drops today by the offense, including Brandon Bolden, D.J. Foster, Devin Lucien, and Tony Washington all had a case of the dropsies today.
  • Kenny Moore had a couple of nice plays today. One pass he deflected but Chris Hogan was able to regain control of the ball. But Moore seems to always be around the ball.
  • Devin McCourty made a nice jump in front of a receiver and was able to pick the ball off.
  • While not the biggest guy, Tony Garcia is feisty. He and Dwayne Allen got into it a little bit during 1-on-1s.
  • Some good work in the secondary today, Eric Rowe, D.J. Killings and Stephon Gilmore all got their hands on and deflected passes today. Gilmore’s was a nice one as he battled Brandin Cooks.
  • Cyrus Jones is getting better as camp goes along. He’s showing much better confidence and sure-handedness handling kickoffs.

Deatrich Wise continues to impress. He showed some good explosion and penetration again today and batted down a Brady pass at the line.

Elandon Roberts suffered an injury early in practice. It was a non-contact injury where he was helped off the field by the training staff. But after getting a breather and having his foot taped, he returned to practice as a full participant.

Trey Flowers, Kony Ealy, and Deatrich Wise were given 1-on-1 instruction by Belichick on the finer skills, the angle and timing of punt blocking. In his morning presser BB had said that they’ll work on Ealy’s versatility this week. Belichick also worked with Harvey Langi while the rookie was doing pass rushing drills.

Jacoby Brissett was better today but still missed several makeable throws. Two that stood out were deep passes to Chris Hogan and TE Jacob Hollister. Both men had separation and Brissett has to make those

1-on-1 Battles: Some good ones took place today, Max Rich fought Josh Augusta to a draw. Karras later beat Augusta cleanly. Adam Butler beat Jamil Douglas and Tony Garcia held his ground against Kyle Van Noy. Marcus Cannon and Kony Ealy battled to a draw.

Play of the Day: Jimmy Garoppolo hit Matthew Slater with a 40-yard bomb where the speedy veteran ran a deep post over Justin Coleman. Coleman got a fingertip on the ball but Slater was able to pull it in with a beauty of a catch.

Dustup at the end: Julian Edelman and Stephon Gilmore got into it a bit at the end of practice. They were rolling around the field before other players and coaches got involved and broke it up. As per the Patriots usual M.O. both players were sent to the locker room.

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.