The Patriots had a flurry of roster moves in the past few days, defensive lineman Mike Pennel was released, Maurice Harris and Keionta Davis were released with injury designations [reverted to IR], ST/LB Brandon King was also placed on IR and the team signed RB Robert Martin and LB/ST Scooby Wright. But the biggest news was that center David Andrews was admitted to the hospital with a blood clot to his lung.
The blood clot is a potentially life-threatening situation. Andrews was reportedly released from the hospital according to the Globe’s Jim McBride but he still may miss significant time. The medication to treat clots are blood-thinners which may take upward of three months to take effect.
The anti-coagulant blood thinners [heparin, warfarin] are given by injection typically for the first five days and then the patient will take pills for the next three months. During this time, the risk for bleeding is increased and may preclude Andrews from playing football.
Andrews was an undrafted free agent out of Georgia but has been the Patriots starting center for the past three years. He signed a contract extension that carries him through the 2020 season. He was present for the preseason game against Carolina but hasn’t been seen at practice since. He’ll be replaced in the interim by veteran Ted Karras.
Pennel was thought to be an under-the-radar key signing at the time, as he’s known as a big, two-gapping run stuffer. But he was passed by Danny Shelton on the depth chart and as rookie Byron Cowart has progressed, Pennel was deemed replaceable and cut loose ahead of the deadline.
Harris was another Patriot signing this spring. He had a very solid spring and picked up with a very good start to training camp. But an injury during the joint practices with the Tennessee Titans put him firmly on the roster bubble with the return of Josh Gordon and Demaryius Thomas. Davis was considered a longshot to make the 53-man roster on the edge due to the depth the team has this year. He was injured in the game against the Panthers last week. Both players cleared waivers and therefore have reverted to IR.
Martin played for the Giants in the preseason last year and was with the Patriots for all of one day and now he too was released. Wright spent 2016-17 with the Arizona Cardinals before getting released in their final cutdown of 2018. He played with the Arizona Hotshots of the very short-lived AAF this spring. He was recently engaged this past weekend. He should see some significant snaps against the Giants on Thursday.
While a real longshot to make the roster, Wright was one of the highest-rated linebackers in the AAF.
What a difference a year makes. Last season at this time, there were major questions about the depth of their linebacking corps and who…besides Trey Flowers could rush the passer. Now, they enter their second preseason game and the front seven has depth galore and an entirely new outlook on things.
Flowers was tough to see leave, he did so much and a lot of it under the radar for the Patriots. But the team addressed it in several ways this year. The big men in the middle Lawrence Guy, Mike Pennel, Adam Butler, and Danny Shelton look better than they were a year ago inside. Rookie Byron Cowart is still a long shot for the roster but has come on after missing time early with an injury. He had a half-sack and a QB pressure last week in Detroit.
Although Michael Bennett is 33 years old, as of today, he shows no sign of slowing down and has been dominant in our limited look at him so far. And Bennett is flashing some of the same versatility, lining up inside, outside and even over the nose.
He’s embracing his role and the defensive scheme and seems to have a healthy respect for the coaching staff. Deatrich Wise hasn’t been 100 percent yet but should now see some action. Consistency is the key for him in 2019.
Chase Winovich was picked up this spring in the third round of the draft and he’s been “exactly who we thought he was.” He has an incredible motor that goes non-stop, excellent hands [which will only get better with pass-rush consultant Joe Kim]. Winovich has looked terrific in his opportunities which included a 1.5 sack performance against the Lions last week.
Derek Rivers keeps trending up. He too had a big game against Detroit [2 sacks], and put constant pressure on the QBs last week, both in practice and in the game. After being a total non-factor for his first two years, is he a shoo-in? No, but the way he’s playing has to be a huge confidence boost for not only him but the coaches.
Shalique Calhoun is quickly becoming a steal. The veteran that came over from the Raiders this spring barely registered on the radar [here as well….], however, it seems like he’s another guy that wasn’t considered a nice pickup and who can pay big dividends for the team. His play was such that he was given reps with the starters. He responded in Detroit with a sack and a tackle for loss.
And we haven’t even got to the linebackers. John Simon was the under the radar pickup last year. He does a terrific job of setting the edge and had an interception last week. Jamie Collins was dynamic last week and has been a beast throughout training camp. He has the athleticism to be a movable chess piece anywhere they sense a mismatch to their advantage. He had a sack last week…. Are we sensing a pattern here?
Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy are the linchpins for the front seven. They can rush off the edge or up in the A-gaps. Hightower dropped weight this offseason and looks faster and a bit more athletic. He looked good back in his home state this week.
Van Noy was another Belichick highway robbery when they snatched him away from the Lions. He can do everything that Belichick and Mayo will ask of him. Elandon Roberts and Ja’Whaun Bentley hold down the middle. Two guys outside looking in are Calvin Munson and Christian Sam. Munson has put back-to-back solid weeks together.
Last week, the Patriots had 17 QB pressures and nine sacks against the woefully unprepared Lions. This week against a better team, the front seven hounded Titans’ QBs in the joint practices. Can they do it again in the game on Saturday night?
We shall see. But things are trending up for this defense in 2019. In about three weeks will be the first real test when they take on the Steelers in the season opener. Pittsburgh has one of the better offensive lines in the league. And this time around, there is growing confidence in the front seven.
A shortened week is now complete with two padded and two unpadded practices for the Patriots as they began their 2019 training camp. This week, they’ll begin by enshrining Rodney Harrison and Leon Gray into the team’s Hall of Fame and then conduct their in-stadium practice on Monday night. Unlike the other training camp practices, this one is open only to season ticket holders and I believe Foxboro residents.
So let’s take a look at the first practices and get some of the highlights of the camp thus far and how the team is shaping up in the early going.
Health Still a Concern In Some Areas:
Julian Edelman and Yodny Cajuste are still on the NFI. Cole Croston, Demaryius Thomas, Nate Ebner, and Ken Webster are on PUP. Sony Michel, Isaiah Wynn, and David Andrews have returned to practice in a limited way while Dontrelle Inman and Bryon Cowart missed the last sessions.
With Cajuste and Croston out and Wynn limited, it has been pushing the depth at tackle, especially left tackle…more to that below.
Defense Looking Very Strong in Early Going:
The Patriots defense thus far in the camp has been very impressive. As is the norm in training camp, the defense begins usually slightly ahead of the offense. And this year is no exception. They look better (at this point) than the team that took the field for the Super Bowl in February.
Deep, Talented Secondary – We’ve been writing that all spring long and they’ve been giving the receivers a tough time. Stephon Gilmore has continued right where he left off in the Super Bowl. He’s only been targeted twice that we’ve seen in team drills and hasn’t given up a reception. J.C. Jackson is steadily improving over his very solid rookie season and will push to be the starter opposite Gilmore. Jonathan Jones is quietly having a very good camp, something he’s used to, he’s rarely if ever mentioned as one of the better slot corners in the league, but he is and appears entrenched as a starter thus far.
The safeties are deep with Devin McCourty, Pat Chung, and Duron Harmon all returning and on the field, although Chung is still wearing a red no-contact jersey. But the competition behind them is getting intriguing to watch. Terrence Brooks is the next man on the depth chart, he was given a nice contract with $1.3 million guaranteed, he’s a special teams ace who can fill in on defense. He’s battling with Obi Melifonwu who has stood out in limited action with three interceptions thus far. With Ebner on PUP, Melifonwu got some extended looks with the STs units. Something to monitor.
Linebackers Are Stacked – The Patriots return Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, and Elandon Roberts from their playoff run, but they added Jamie Collins and got back impressive 2nd-year player Ja’Whaun Bentley from IR and appear even better heading into 2019.
The depth allows them to move Collins, Hightower, and Van Noy around to attack favorable matchups and be more aggressive. How they plan on utilizing Collins should be a fun thing to watch. Unheralded Calvin Munson, a long-shot to make the roster is quietly having a good camp in the early going.
D-Line Much Better Suited to Stopping the Run – When free agency rolled around, we were touting that the Patriots needed to sign Mike Pennel, the run-stuffing nose tackle from the Jets. That met with a lot of “who?”, even from our own podcast. But Pennel and Lawrence Guy appear to be a solid tandem in the middle. During goal-line drills on Sunday, Pennel blew up one play, pushing into the backfield and stopping Brandon Bolden for a loss.
The edge players got a boost from the arrival of Michael Bennett on Sunday, who flew straight from Hawaii to Boston and came straight to practice to dominate, jet-lagged and all on the field. Deatrich Wise is still not 100 percent but veterans Derek Rivers, John Simon, and rookie Chase Winovich have all looked good thus far.
Wide Receiver Competition Heating Up:
With Julian Edelman on NFI, this opened the door for some of the other wide receivers to get more playing time with Tom Brady and carve out a role. Rookie N’Keal Harry has been getting outstanding tutelage from former Patriot Troy Brown as well as the daily side sessions with Brady and McDaniels.
Maurice Harris has been the best, most consistent player on the field, he catches just about everything thrown his way and would appear to be well on his way to earning not just a roster spot but a nice role in the offense as well. Phillip Dorsett still appears to be an enigma. He has all the tools, and when called on, usually produces. But one would think he’d be a bigger go-to guy by now.
Braxton Berrios is still with the second tier of receivers in the early going. After a nice spring, there was hope that he’d use the Edelman downtime more to his advantage. Two undrafted rookie WRs to monitor are Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski. Meyers is a big, (6,2, 200) slot receiver who is a converted QB. Because he knows the responsibilities of the players on the field, he knows where the soft spots are in the coverages. His number hasn’t been called a lot, but he’s producing when it is and could be that next undrafted free agent to make the team. Plus, he’s been a frequent participant in the side sessions with Brady and McDaniels.
Olszewski is the undersized, underdog who is scrapping his way into work every day. He competes hard in drills and returns kicks and punts and is giving the coaches a reason every day to keep him around.
Biggest disappointment thus far is Dontrelle Inman. He had a very quiet spring followed by some forgettable practices in camp and then on Sunday was a no-show. He hasn’t improved his bubble position and may find himself in a weaker position now.
But the one constant is the deep running back position, even with Sony Michel just getting back to work and Tom Brady. The backs, especially Brandon Bolden and impressive rookie Damien Harris are getting a lot of reps in the running game.
Brady looks … like Brady. Forget about the age talk and the endless “cliff” nonsense. He looks as good, if not better than he did a decade ago. Nuff said. Brian Hoyer and Jarrett Stidham are getting the back up work while Danny Etling is being transitioned to wide receiver.
Bennett Puts Retirement Rumors to Rest, Dominates:
Michael Bennett was excused from the Patriots first three practices due to a family situation. Bennett said, he saw the retirement rumors at home and laughed at those. He said he’s never quit at anything, even checkers with his daughter.
Bill Belichick allowed him the time to take care of his situation. After practice on Sunday, Bennett was effusive in his praise of Belichick for allowing that time.
“It’s nice when you have a coach that sees you as a human, sees you as a human being, not just a number and you’re able to go talk to him, tell him what’s going on, and you’re able to go take care of it,” Bennett said to the media. “That just makes you want to play harder for a coach. When he believes in you, and lets you take care of your family first.”
Belichick had to love Bennett’s comments about training camp, not as a necessary evil but as an opportunity to learn and show his teammates what he can bring to the table.
“I think it’s important,” he said. “Training camp is always fun. It’s another time to get a chance to work with young guys, and you get a chance to work on your skills and prove yourself every day.”
Bennett cracked a joke and said that he told linebackers coach (and defensive signal-caller) Jerod Mayo that he wasn’t going to listen to him, “because we’re the same age.” The two have known each other for some time and worked out together in the offseason in the past.
“It’s nice to have a young guy who knows the plays, who lived the defense, and he just knows,” Bennett said. “You trust the way that he plays because he played in the game and you know he knows the call. He was the leader before, so to have him in the huddle every single time, you can’t let him down because he’s been in the game.”
Bennett acted like a guy who has been here all along and was a dominant force in one-on-one battles and in team drills. Like his predecessor Trey Flowers, the Patriots plan on using him inside and outside and Sunday was just the tip of the iceberg.
Tight End Still a Work in Progress:
The Patriots have totally revamped the tight end position, with Gronk retired, Dwayne Allen and Jacob Hollister no longer with the team. Matt LaCosse had a strong spring and is trying to parlay that into getting some meaningful reps come September. So far, that looks like the case.
Ben Watson, doesn’t look like a 38-year old guy who contemplated retirement this spring. He’s moving like someone ten years younger. But with his upcoming 4-game suspension looming, that opens the door for other players to carve out their own roles in the offense. Watson has been a frequent side session participant with Brady and McDaniels. They were working on red zone opportunities on Saturday.
Move tight end Stephen Anderson, Ryan Izzo, and UDFA Andrew Beck are all in the mix for a roster spot. It is pretty much a wide-open competition right now with no one having firm control over anything. Just before camp began the Patriots signed Lance Kendricks, the former Packer tight end was an afterthought in the Green Bay offense the past two years but may see an uptick in looks if everything works out.
“This is a special place, obviously,” Kendricks said after Day 3. “This is a championship team. They know how to play football. They know how to win games. They know how to do it the right way, so it’s a no-brainer.”
So far, he’s gotten some work in but despite his veteran pedigree, he’s in no better position than anyone else right now, he’ll have to earn his spot.
Tackle Still a Concern For Now:
With Trent Brown now a Raider (and an extremely well-paid one), the depth at tackle is concerning. The Patriots are set at right tackle with Marcus Cannon but the left and swing tackle positions are still areas of concern with depth and availability issues.
Isaiah Wynn is still being eased into the mix after recovering from last year’s Achilles surgery. Third round draft pick Yodny Cajuste is on NFI recovering from offseason quad surgery and has yet to appear. Jared Veldheer retired before training camp. Cole Croston is on PUP.
With these issues, the Patriots have moved Joe Thuney over to left tackle throughout the spring and early camp practice sessions. That put Ted Karras at left guard. On Sunday, the Patriots gave 6’9 tackle Dan Skipper and Cedric Lang reps with the first team. Neither fared well. Skipper, despite his size, failed to generate any push in the running game and both struggled with pass protection.
This will bear watching as we move forward. However, if history is any indication, and it is… Dante Scarnecchia will get things sorted out.
The 2019 Patriots training camp sessions begin this morning and football is finally back. Well maybe not the games that count yet, but we’ll have the Patriots and the NFL with us until Super Bowl LIV plays out in February. Hopefully, we’ll be looking at another Patriots appearance in the big game.
But… as Bill Belichick likes to say, “we have a long way to go.” The spring is a teaching camp and in actuality, the first two days of training camp will be a continuation of that. No pads, no hitting and there is really no way to gauge the play of the interior linemen or the running game yet.
We won’t be able to really gauge any of that stuff until Saturday when the pads come on for the first time. However, there are some things we are excited about watching this summer at training camp.
Isaiah Wynn and the LT Position: Wynn was the Patriots top draft pick a year ago and before we really got a sense of knowing how he could handle himself as a left tackle in the NFL, he was hurt. Trent Brown had taken over the position, pretty much from Day 1 and there was never that feeling that they were competing for the top spot.
Now Brown is gone, after signing a big-money deal with the Raiders. Wynn is coming off of that Achilles injury and missed all of the spring. Third-round pick Yodny Cajuste, someone we’re really high on here, is beginning camp on PUP after offseason quad surgery. Cole Croston is also on PUP, so I would expect to see more of Joe Thuney at left tackle this summer.
But make no mistake about it, this is Wynn’s position to win or lose. It is going to be a must-watch area when he takes part in the one-on-one battles with the edge players. Unfortunately, those are always as far away from the crowd as humanly possible.
With Sony Michel Out, Watch Damien Harris: I thought getting Harris in the third round of the draft was an absolute steal. At the time, I chalked it up to the Patriots just recognizing a good player who was too good to pass up. Now, that move looks brilliant.
Michel had a knee scope in the spring and it was supposed to be a minor thing. He missed all of minicamp and is now starting on PUP. Harris got a lot of reps in the spring and looked as good as advertised.
Harris is a good runner between the tackles, gets yards after contact, is an outstanding pass blocker and is an underrated pass receiver with very soft hands. Even with a healthy Michel, I expect Harris to see a lot of action this season. With Michel out, at least for now, look for him to accelerate that learning curve.
No Julian Edelman is Good News For the Other WRs: Edelman is Tom Brady’s best friend and most trusted receiver on the team. That brace on his thumb looks to be a minor issue and not something that should linger long. But him not being there just elevates everyone behind him on the depth chart to get reps with #12. And you know what? That is a good thing.
N’Keal Harry had a good spring, some solid moments mixed in with typical rookie moments. That is expected…from anyone. Harry has a reputation as a very hard worker and since the minicamp ended, I wouldn’t be surprised if he looks like a different guy this week. I would go all-in that he spent that off time getting deep into the playbook.
Braxton Berrios is another guy who could really benefit from Edelman’s absence. Berrios has never caught a pass from Brady in team drills, one can expect that dubious distinction to end very soon. Berrios has to stay healthy and on the field this summer. He had a pretty impressive spring and everything is falling in place for him to carve out a nice niche for himself in the offense. He could fit in the Danny Amendola role in 2019.
Jakobi Meyers is my dark-horse to make the 53-man roster at wide receiver. With Josh Gordon suspended for who knows how long and Demaryius Thomas on PUP, Meyers may be able to carve out a role in the offense. He’s a former QB and a big (6’2, 204) slot receiver. One thing that stood out during minicamp was that Meyers was invited to the side session with Brady, Hoyer, Josh McDaniels, and Harry. While it may not mean much, we believe that anything that goes down in Foxboro has a motive. It’ll be up to him to show us right or wrong.
Front Seven Play and How the Reps are Divided: The Patriots run defense was awful early in the season. It was especially bad along the defensive line. Eventually, the Patriots tightened that up and the run defense was a strength in the postseason. The Patriots lost former 1st round pick Malcom Brown in free agency. But they brought in Mike Pennel, someone we were lobbying for when free agency started. He and Lawrence Guy should be a very stout early run-stuffing pair.
But the players on the edge are an intriguing bunch. Michael Bennett still has gas left in the tank …and plays with arguably the smallest shoulder pads on the team. Deatrich Wise starts on PUP which opens the door for more reps for John Simon, rookie Chase Winovich and some guys who are on the bubble. Derek Rivers, Keionta Davis, Trent Harris are all guys who are looking to carve out a roster spot. Another guy to watch is Shalique Calhoun.
At linebacker, the Patriots have plenty of depth and a slimmed-down Dont’a Hightower, the return of Jamie Collins and the playmaking ability of Kyle Van Noy lends itself to the idea that the defense will continue to postseason trend of being very aggressive.
J.C. Jackson and Duke Dawson Have Big Year 2 Expectations: Jackson had a meteoric rise in 2018. But Bill Belichick tried to possibly send a message to him by giving most of the first-team reps to Jason McCourty this spring. Many people expect Jackson to be an even better player than Stephon Gilmore somewhere down the line. So, a lot of people will be watching him closely.
Dawson didn’t play at all in 2018 after coming off IR late in the year. Jonathan Jones cemented the slot role down and he and Dawson will be vying for that starting slot corner role. Rookie Joejuan Williams is a big corner in the Brandon Browner mold and is hoped to be a matchup piece in a ridiculously deep cornerback grouping.
Training camp is always chalked full of action with 90 players competing all over the field. One area we neglected to mention was the punting battle between Ryan Allen and Jake Bailey. This promises to be another intriguing positional battle.
Don’t expect too much in those first two days which are like minicamp with the lack of hitting and pads, But come Saturday morning, the fun should really begin.
Less Than a Week Before the Patriots are “Knockin’ on Seven’s Door”
The Patriots lost a couple of their key starters on the defensive line from last year’s Super Bowl team. Trey Flowers was their biggest loss, he was versatile, and could play on the edge as well as kick inside as an interior pass rusher. The team also lost former 1st round pick Malcom Brown who signed with the Saints in free agency. Adrian Clayborn left in free agency as well.
But the team didn’t stand pat and signed former Jets DL Mike Pennel, the big nose tackle is a space-eater and can two-gap over the ball and take on double teams. Pennel’s signing is one of the most under-the-radar and underrated signings of the spring. The team also re-signed Danny Shelton for the interior of the line. David Parry and rookie Byron Cowart will be fighting for a roster spot.
Bill Belichick also swung a trade with Philadelphia, just a few hours after Flowers signed with Detroit. The Patriots gave up a 5th round draft pick for Michael Bennett and a 7th. While Bennett’s best days are behind him, he’s still a very viable pass rusher. He notched nine sacks for the Eagles last year, which would have led the Patriots. They also addressed the pass rush by drafting Michigan’s Chase Winovich in the third round.
The very good and underrated Lawrence Guy returns as does Deatrich Wise, and Adam Butler on the interior line. This is a big year for former top draft pick Derek Rivers. He’ll be fighting for a roster spot with Keionta Davis, Trent Harris, Ufomba Kamalu, and Nick Thurman on the edge.
With the breakdown of personnel that the team has this year, we could see more multiple looks and the team switching between a 4-3 and 3-4 defensive fronts. We’ll get more to that below.
Check back with PatsFans.com as we’ll go thru the entire roster as our primers for training camp continue before the heavy lifting starts on July 25. And be sure to keep up with our coverage from training camp.
Current roster –
Interior DL – Lawrence Guy, Mike Pennel, Danny Shelton, Adam Butler, David Parry, Byron Cowart
Locks – Guy, Pennel, Butler
Near Locks – none
Bubble – Shelton, Parry, Cowart
Long Shot – none
Edge Players – Michael Bennett, Deatrich Wise, Chase Winovich, John Simon, Derek Rivers, Keionta Davis, Trent Harris, Ufomba Kamalu, Nick Thurman
Locks – Bennett, Wise, Winovich, Simon
Near Locks – none
Bubble – Rivers, Davis, Harris, Kamalu, Thurman
Long Shot – none
Discussion – We’ll start with the interior big men. Pennel, Guy, and Butler are all locks for the roster. Pennel is a perfect fit with what the Patriots ask for their big men over the nose. Standing at 6’4, 332 pounds, Pennel is a very thick, powerful man with a huge lower body that is built for eating up two gaps. Guy has been a very nice addition to the Patriots since he arrived from Baltimore. Butler is a 300-pound penetrator who provides the team a nice interior pass rush on passing downs.
Vying for the fourth spot on the interior DL is Danny Shelton, the former 1st round pick who the Patriots brought over from Cleveland last year. He suffered thru a lapse of poor play where he sat and was a healthy scratch a few times. But he elevated his game down the stretch and played better in the playoffs. David Parry is a four-year veteran who played for the Colts, Saints, and Vikings. Byron Cowart is a rookie out of Maryland who flashed a bit in his senior season and is a dark horse to make the roster. However, some analysts believe that he’s just coming into his own and could make some noise this summer.
Essentially, the trio of Shelton, Parry, and Cowart may very well be vying for one roster spot unless they decide to keep five interior players, which is doubtful. Cowart has practice squad eligibility, which could come into play.
On the edge, the Patriots have Bennett, Wise, Winovich (by virtue of his draft stock), and Simon as locks. Bennett is still a very good pass rusher and should continue to be very productive in the Patriots system. Wise is coming off a decent if a slightly inconsistent year with 4.5 sacks. Simon was cut loose by the Colts last year and the Patriots wasted little time in signing him. His role increased down the stretch and showed he could get after the QB, set the edge and drop into coverage a bit. The Patriots gave him a two-year deal worth $4 million with $1.65 million guaranteed.
Winovich is a wild card here this season. The Patriots drafted him with a third-round pick and he’s a guy who plays with his hair on fire, going all out on every snap. His non-stop motor and excellent hands should see him logging some significant snaps.
With possibly two more roster spots remaining, the competition gets fierce here. Derek Rivers is in a make-or-break season. He’ll be competing with Keionta Davis, Ufomba Kamalu, Nick Thurman, and Trent Harris for the remaining edge roster spots. Another guy who could factor into the edge is a fourth-year linebacker, Shilique Calhoun.
Looking at this defensive line and the way it is constructed, it would lend itself to being more of a 3-4 unit than a 4-3. Pennel and Shelton are prototypical nose tackles. Lawrence Guy was a 3-4 DE with Baltimore and guys like Deatrich Wise, Kamalu, and Thurman are best suited for a 5-technique role.
Bennett, Winovich, and Simon would then revert to edge-rushing OLBs. We know Bill Belichick hates to categorize it one way or the other. And they’ll stay multiple and mix and match their personnel depending upon the opponent. Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, and Jamie Collins could all see some work along the edge as well, depending on the opponent and the front in which they line up.
With a lot of the talk this spring and early summer being that the defensive line will be weaker this season, I wouldn’t be so sure about that. While losing Flowers will definitely be a blow, gaining Bennett and Winovich is a nice way to address it. Pennel, in my opinion, will more than makeup for the loss of Brown. But we’ll have to see. That’s what makes the watching of training camp and preseason so intriguing.
With training camp starting next week, the competition among the defensive linemen should be extremely fun to watch.
Football is a great deal like life in that it teaches that work, sacrifice, perseverance, competitive drive, selflessness and respect for authority is the price that each and every one of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile. Vince Lombardi
Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 06-09 and AFC East notes this week.
The Patriots mandatory three-day minicamp is in the books and there was plenty of interesting things to see and take note of during the practices. Bill Belichick commented on how he believed that they accomplished a lot during the three days. With the teaching camp in the books, the evaluation will commence once training camp begins.
The 2018 Patriots – got together for the final time at Robert Kraft’s house, and in a celebration with pomp and ceremony, the team received their Super Bowl rings. The sheer size of them now lends itself to question the term “ring” and despite the over-the-top gaudiness of them, there are 31 other teams that wished that was them on Thursday night. Very impressive pieces of jewelry.
Joe Cardona – the Patriots long-snapper was promoted inside Gillette Stadium on Thursday morning to Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Reserve prior to the minicamp practice. Tom Brady spoke about how Cardona epitomizes “commitment to our team and to our country” later in the day. And it happened on the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy. A very cool moment
Tom Brady – Looked in mid-season form for the three days of minicamp. His mechanics are always flawless. Every year I take pics of him throwing and compare them to the years before and you could lay them on top of one another and couldn’t tell the difference.
Brady “deuxième partie” – Brady and Josh McDaniels conducted a side session with rookies Jakobi Meyers and N’Keal Harry on Thursday. They were trying to get their timing and chemistry down, in terms of how they want routes run, where the breaks should happen, the angle of the cuts and ball placement. Fascinating stuff to watch. The work they do in June and July pays dividends in January and February.
Ivan Fears – The Patriots running back coach is beginning his 21st consecutive year with the Patriots, he also had an earlier stint with the team. Fears is one of our favorite guys to watch and listen to during the practices. We got a chance to chat with him before practice briefly on Thursday. After mentioning that the running backs looked good so far but that we’re sure he’d find areas to critique them, Fears got a big grin and said, “Oh I’ll always find ways to critique them.” Asked about Brandon Bolden’s return, he said how Bolden brings energy to the field and his teammates every day.
Troy Brown/Deion Branch – Excellent seeing the two of them work so closely with Joe Judge the Patriots STs Coordinator/WRs Coach and the players this week. Both of them know what it takes to be successful in the Patriots passing game and the two former players lending themselves to teaching the young players was intriguing to watch.
Mini-camp Wrap, Final Thoughts:
In their quest for “Knockin on Seven’s Door” that begins in September, the Patriots started the process with OTAs and their mandatory minicamp. Watching it all for three days, albeit without pads or contact was interesting as the coaches try to mold the 2019 version of the team. Here are some of the things that were intriguing to watch and will bear further consideration moving forward.
Left Tackle Status – Without Isaiah Wynn and Yodny Cajuste taking part in team drills this week, the Patriots moved left guard Joe Thuney into the left tackle position. He was getting nearly all of the first personnel grouping’s reps. And he was practicing with the tackles as well.
The good news, however, is that Wynn was on the field and taking part in individual drills and exhibits no sign of being limited at all after his Achilles surgery. Which lends itself to believe that he should be ready to go by training camp.
Tight End Production – With the release of Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Ben Watson suspended for the first four games of the season, it puts the ball squarely in the corner of Matt Lacosse. Lacosse looked good in the workouts this week, moving well and displaying nice hands, catching everything thrown his way.
We were on hand when Lacosse spoke to the media after Wednesday’s practice session. Which can be seen here:
Ryan Izzo, Andrew Beck seem to be both competing for the blocking tight end role while Stephen Anderson is looking to carve out a role as the “move” tight end.
Brady nixed suggestions that the Patriots are going to diminish the tight end role in the offense. “That has to be a position of strength, even if it’s not one player but multiple players doing different roles,” Brady said. “There were times in my career before that where we’ve had similar approaches.” He finished his thoughts on an upbeat note.
“The tight end position is a big part of our offense and those guys are going to have to do a great job for us.”
Jamie Collins Return, Seems Like a Bigger Development…for Now – We were against the addition of Collins this spring on these pages, remembering the reasons why they jettisoned him in the first place. However, if minicamp is any indication, the Patriots coaches, especially LBs coach Jerod Mayo have bigger plans for Collins.
This week, at least Collins wearing #8, for now, was playing a big role for the defense in their alignments. And, again without pads on, he was asserting his will against the offense during team drills.
Even Mike Reiss was on-board with this train of thought calling Collins “active and looking like key cog” in the defense. Surprising. Another thing to watch for in training camp when that kicks off in about 5-6 weeks.
Maurice Harris Looking Good – Another mild surprise here. Harris was given little chance to make the roster when he was picked up this spring. Well…after the three-day mini-camp, Harris did nothing to hurt his chances of not only making the roster but carving out a role for himself.
We’ve gotten DMs, phone calls, and e-mails about Harris, “He’s a JAG!”, “He’s not going to make the rostah!” Well…you have to report on what you see. And for three days, Harris caught everything thrown his way. On the flip side, I didn’t see Dontrelle Inman catch a single pass in team drills…maybe I missed some or even one. But we’ve seen this film before. One is trending up, the other down.
Cornerbacks are Looking Deep and Talented – The Patriots have a plethora of corners on this team and every one of them can play. That isn’t hype or hyperbole but a fact. This is arguably the team’s biggest strength heading into training camp.
Stephon Gilmore blanketed everyone thrown at him all week. J.C. Jackson looked very solid for the first two days before missing Thursday’s practice session. Those two are the two starters, that we expect to see in Week 1. Some people feel Jackson may someday supplant Gilmore as the #1 corner on the team…
However, behind them are several more talented players. Jonathan Jones has already been a starting slot corner. Jason McCourty has started both outside and in the slot. Rounding out this talented group is Duke Dawson, Joejuan Williams, Ken Webster, and D’Angelo Ross. The cornerback group can mix and match with just about everyone and it is going to be intriguing to see how the defense aligns this year depending on the opponent.
The Punting Competition Will Be a Key One to Watch – Once again this summer, Ryan Allen will be battling for his job. Last year, he bested Corey Bojorquez and then was arguably one of the players that could have won the MVP of the Super Bowl with the way he pinned the Rams deep all game long.
This year, Allen will take on rookie Jake Bailey from Stanford who possesses a massive leg. Bailey was putting the ball into the ozone all week, getting some tremendous height and hang time on his punts.
It will be a battle of consistency over strength. Allen was his usual consistent self all week, while Bailey, even when booming most of his punts all week, had a few that were off the mark. Stay tuned.
Edelman Turns In Solid Week Performance-wise and Mentoring:
The Patriots drafted N’Keal Harry with the #32 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft and he’s sure to feel the heat of fans and the media’s expectations this fall. The Patriots drafted Braxton Berrios in the 6th round in 2018. But he didn’t see the field in 2018. Two different players with different backgrounds. But they have a constant voice that is always there for them.
Julian Edelman was the Super Bowl MVP last year who came to the Patriots via Kent State and was a college QB who made the transition to NFL WR who, after Tom Brady is arguably the most valuable Patriot on the offense. In his 11th season, Edelman is not only Brady’s most trusted receiver, but he’s also now taking on the role as a mentor for these younger players on the roster. It is something he feels strongly about.
“I had teammates that help you, and then you had teammates that didn’t,” Edelman said after practice on Wednesday. “I like to be known as a guy that helped you. I like to give little pointers here and there, because the better we all are, the better the team is going to be. I like going out and trying to give information if they want information from me and go from there. It’s part of my job, I guess.”
Edelman recalled Fred Taylor in his rookie season as a veteran who helped him out immensely and he said that he would try to do the same with Harry. Berrios, also after practice on Tuesday, mentioned that Edelman has been a constant source of mentoring for him. He’s looked quick and skilled thus far in minicamp.
Edelman will be looked to for a lot of production this season in the Patriots offense. If the contributions of Harry and Berrios this season are any indication, then Edelman can chalk up mentoring among his accomplishments this year as well.
Gunner Olszewski Is a Player to Watch For This Summer:
The Patriots brought in the undrafted cornerback from tiny Division II Bemidji State and are trying to convert him to a wide receiver. That alone should put him in the long-shot category for making the roster. But not so fast…Julian Edelman, who knows a thing or two about converting to wide receiver at the pro level is high on the youngster.
“I love that guy,” Edelman said. “If he’s got a question, I’m here to help try to answer it to the best of my ability. I feel that’s part of my role on the team, being here so long. He’s working hard. He’s definitely a tough kid. I love the chip on his shoulder, and I like working with him, that’s for sure. He definitely works his tail off, and I like having him around.”
One of the things going for Olszewski, who is generously listed as 6’0, 170, is the fact that he can return kicks and punts. But make no mistake, he doesn’t appear lost out there or like a duck out of water. While the path won’t be an easy one, he can do it.
The Patriots always seem to have undrafted free agents make the roster. With a name like Gunner Olszewski, you can’t help but root for him.
No AFC East Notes This Week:
With the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion this week, it is important that we remember the American, British, Canadian and Free French soldiers who stormed the beaches of Normandy not to conquer but to free the world of Nazism.
“At the core, the American citizen soldiers knew the difference between right and wrong, and they didn’t want to live in a world in which wrong prevailed. So they fought, and won, and we all of us, living and yet to be born, must be forever profoundly grateful.”
–Author Stephen Ambrose
Can’t end the piece without another look at the entire ring ceremony once more.
The Patriots picked up one of the more under the radar free agents this spring and one who will play a key if an unheralded role in the defense. Mike Pennel came available after the Jets declined his option and the Patriots quickly swooped in and signed him.
Pennel, 28, who is listed at 6’4, 332 pounds fits what the Patriots like to do, especially on early downs with their defense. They want a big, immovable player to clog the middle, fill up the two gaps on either side of the nose and allow the linebackers to clean up.
That fits Pennel to a tee. While he was surprised that the Jets decided to decline his option, making him a free agent, he knew exactly where he wanted to go. He mentioned with the new coaching regime there, that they would be making changes. After the final minicamp practice, Pennel spoke with the media about his time thus far with the team.
“I knew I fit their scheme,” Pennel said. “It was my first visit and although I took others, I knew this is where I wanted to be.”
He said he was aware of how the Patriots and coach Bill Belichick use nose tackles in the defense and Pennel was rated as one of the best run-stuffers in the league last season. Much like a former Patriot legend, Vince Wilfork.
When asked about Vince, he said, “Vince was one of my idols as a nose,” Pennel said. “Coming out of Miami, I followed him closely. He was very productive early in his career and then settled into his role with Bill here.”
He added, “and then, later on, went to Houston and did the same thing. That played a big part in kind of being here. Just because knowing how Coach Bill (Belichick), what he does with nose tackles and things like that. Obviously, it’s fundamentals and technique, but he’s doing something special with those guys here to have them perform at that level.”
Pennel mentioned that his defensive line coach with the Jets has a connection with Pats DL coach Bret Bielema. “Bret was actually friends with, Robert Nunn,” he said.
“Joe Kim (Pats pass rush/martial arts coach) has some experience with Nunn, so it’s kind of the same technique and coaching-wise and nuances and little things like that they’re coaching but with, it’s just a lot more precise. Everything from the footwork, whether it’s three inches outside or six inches, everything is very detailed-oriented. We practice it and try to do it better on game day.”
He’s always striving to learn something every day, something he said he learned from B.J Raji in Green Bay earlier in his career.
Having been in the league for a while, Pennel said that he knew some of the players here and the transition to the locker room and the Pats DL room has been an easy one. “I definitely didn’t get the first day of school feeling here,” he joked, adding. “I’ve known Lawrence Guy and he hosted Pennel on a recruiting trip to Arizona State.
“I’ve kept in contact with him and have seen his success here in New England. I’m just learning the things that they like and don’t like and we’re just working things out.
Asked about how the interaction and feeling is in the DL room with some new faces (including himself), he said it is all positive.
“It’s excellent. It’s just a range of guys, and I try to pick something up from everybody,” Pennel said. “(Michael) Bennett, speaks for itself. LG, I feel as if he had a Pro Bowl season last year, so any run tips I can get off of him. Danny (Shelton… great pass rusher from the inside. (David) Parry’s been a vet. Ufomba (Kamalu), KD (Keionta Davis), they’ve got Super Bowls. It’s just everyone in there you can learn something from. I’ve never won a Super Bowl. Unfortunately, I missed the playoffs for the last two seasons of my career, so those guys know a little something about playing in January, so I just try to pick up everything.”
Playing alongside Guy is a plus for him he added. “Knowing that he’s a top run defender in the league and last year I excelled a little bit in the run, so hopefully, we can do something good.”
So getting to play in January was a selling point for New England, he was asked?
“They didn’t have to sell that point,” he said laughing. “This is where I want to be.”
The Patriots have been much more active it seems in the May portion of Free Agency than they were earlier this spring. They signed DT Danny Shelton to a one-year which will add depth to their defensive line, first reported by Field Yates of ESPN.
A 6’2, 345-pound run-stuffing interior lineman, Shelton was acquired by the Patriots in trade in March of 2018 for a fifth-round draft pick. He played in 13 games and had 21 tackles. He was a healthy scratch for three straight games in Weeks 13-15, where the Patriots struggled to contain the run.
He appeared in two of the Patriots post-season games (scratched against KC), and made two tackles and generally played very well. The Patriots declined the fifth-year option for Shelton which made him a free agent. That would have paid him over $5 million.
He was drafted by the Browns in the 1st round of the 2015 NFL Draft (12th overall) out of Washington. He never blossomed into the player Cleveland hoped he would and was considered expendable and was dealt to the Patriots. In his three seasons with the Browns, he appeared in 46 games, starting 45, and notched 128 tackles and 1.5 sacks.
Shelton’s addition gives the Patriots two large run-stuffing tackles (he and Mike Pennel) and two interior disruptors Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler. The team also has David Parry and this year’s fifth-round draft choice Byron Cowart. He was brought in by Cincinnati early in free agency for a visit but wasn’t offered a contract.
In a corresponding move, the Patriots released OL Jake Eldrenkamp who they signed earlier this season. Originally an UDFA signed by the Rams in 2017, the 6’5, 305-pound Eldrenkamp spent time on the Rams and Browns practice squads the past two years.
As we count down the days until the 2019 NFL Draft is upon us, we’re going to look at some of the positions that the Patriots need to address to restock, reload and prepare to defend their Super Bowl title. As everyone knows, winning back-to-back titles is never easy.
So, with that in mind, we’ve been taking a look at several positions that the team needs to address. And next up is the defensive tackle position. The Patriots lost former first-round pick Malcom Brown and Danny Shelton during free agency. But then they turned around and signed Mike Pennel of the Jets, who we called for before free agency began on one of our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts. You can go back and listen to that here .
With a plethora of draft picks, the Patriots could still swing a trade for an established veteran, which we assume, they’ll try to do. One veteran who has been linked to the Patriots (I know, isn’t everybody?), is Chiefs DT Allen Bailey. Or the team can add thru the draft and they can possibly do both.
Here’s a list of some guys slotted to go early in the draft, in the mid-rounds and some late round guys that we believe would be a good fit here. We can start off by saying that we’d love Alabama’s Quinnen Williams, Ed Oliver from Houston, or Christian Wilkins from Clemson. But none of those guys in our opinion will last long enough for the Patriots to pounce…so we move on. One name to keep an eye on is Mississippi State’s, Jeffery Simmons. He was a top 4 interior DL on most boards but tore his ACL while prepping for the draft. He could be a steal later.
Dexter Lawrence, Clemson:
Lawrence is a natural two-gap run stuff who was an anchor in Clemson’s outstanding defense in 2018. He is a huge 6’4, 342-pound immovable object in the middle of the defense, but is not fat. He’s surprisingly athletic for his size with incredible size and strength. He’s a natural nose guard in the Vince Wilfork, Haloti Ngata mold.
Outstanding run defender
Quick off the line
Doesn’t give ground on double teams
Very disruptive inside
Not a great pass rusher
Can tire easily, works best in a rotation
PED red flag caused him to be suspended for the playoffs and championship
What his Role Will Be: Lawrence could step in and start on Day 1 as a two-down run stuffer. The Pats love big guys who can play over the nose.
Will his Role Change from Year 1-2? Not much, he should have a big role right off the bat, if anything, with some improved pass rush moves, he could see more snaps
How Many Downs Can He Play? Three
What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?
Lawrence would replace either Shelton or Brown as another big body on the inside as a run stuffer
What is his ST Value? None
Lawrence has that big red flag when he tested positive for Ostarine and was suspended for all of Clemson’s playoff run. But if those issues are capped, he would immediately provide a huge presence inside against the run and would immediately become quite popular with the linebackers.
Jerry Tillery, Notre Dame:
Tillery is a guy that has been frequently linked to the Patriots lately in many mock drafts. Tillery played in a rotation his first two years and was a starter for his final two. He has excellent size, (6’6, 295), speed (4.93), and athleticism (7.45 in the Three Cone) for a man of his size.
Excellent penetrator in a one-gap scheme
Quick off the snap
Good closing speed on runners
Improving as a pass rusher, went from 4.5 to 8 sacks in 2018
Plays too tall and upright at times
Had maturity issues earlier in college
Many interests outside of football have some questioning his commitment
What his Role Will Be: Tillery also could step in and start on Day 1 as a one-gap penetrating interior lineman.
Will his Role Change from Year 1-2? Depending on how much is asked of him in Year 1, he could see a huge uptick in snaps in Year 2
How Many Downs Can He Play? Three
What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?
Tillery would replace the aforementioned free agents but could cut into the snap totals of Adam Butler, the interior pass rusher in the NE defense
What is his ST Value? Minimal, potential kick blocker on FGs/EPs.
Watching the tape of Tillery, one is immediately reminded of Stephon Tuitt. He is an interesting prospect and there were times last year, where he appeared absolutely dominant inside. He has that potential. If the Patriots go after him, they’d be more of a one-gap penetration type of defensive call. Tillery, like Lawrence, is a 1st or 2nd round pick.
Gerald Willis, Miami:
Willis is another one-gap penetrator who has had some off-field issues but was a very productive player for the Canes this season. Willis was very disruptive in the backfield with a terrific blend of quickness, and agility with excellent hand usage. He had 18 tackles for a loss and 4 sacks rushing from the interior.
Very athletic for a big man
Very quick off the snap
Hands are quick and powerful
Ideal fit is a 3-technique in a 4-3 defense
Gets too upright at times
Red flags at Florida and Miami earlier will have to be checked out.
Could add some size and strength at the NFL level
What his Role Will Be: Willis could initially start as a 3rd down interior guy and gradually work his way up to being a three-down lineman
Will his Role Change from Year 1-2? With improved size, strength and technique, Willis could become a very effective all-around player.
How Many Downs Can He Play? Three
What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?
No one, he isn’t a two-gapping space eater
What is his ST Value? Minimal
Willis is a guy who when he’s on his game, literally jumps off the screen on tape. He’s very disruptive and has the type of penetration skills the NFL is looking for. He can get washed out at times in the running game and won’t be a two-gap guy but has a ton of upside.
Isaiah Buggs, Alabama:
Buggs is another one of those Alabama defensive linemen who they played out on the edge but will move inside at the next level. Good size at 6’3, 306 pounds. He’s versatile and can one-gap or two-gap. Buggs didn’t test well at the NFL Combine and that may cause his draft stock to go down.
Had a productive 2018, with 9.5 sacks
Very quick off the snap and instinctive
Very good physicality
Versatile, interior pass rusher
Very short arms
Long speed a question
Pass rush repertoire lacking
What his Role Will Be: Buggs will be a guy that will have to be more consistent at the next level. But it seems he could fill in at any down as a one, or two-gapping lineman.
Will his Role Change from Year 1-2? With coaching and consistency, he has the talent to be an every-down player from the interior for the team
How Many Downs Can He Play? Three
What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?
Brown or Shelton on the interior, but has work to do.
What is his ST Value? Minimal
Buggs is a good, but not a great interior pass rusher. He cleaned up last year because of Quinnen Williams being next to him. But he can be a productive interior rusher at the pro level. He’s versatile and can play 3-technique, 5-technique, out wide in a 3-4 look or as a nose shade defensively. Buggs is a mid-round prospect whose versatility good be a good fit with the Patriots.
Renell Wren, Arizona State:
Wren is kind of a sleeper and could be a “boom or bust” prospect at the next level. At this time he may be a better athlete than football player and whatever team drafts him may require patience until he can show his potential.
Freaky athlete, great explosion
Disruptive in the gaps
Can play one or two-gap style
Production doesn’t match physical traits
Bad footwork needs fixing
Plays upright too much
What his Role Will Be: Wrenn is a developmental guy, in his first year, he may see the field only sparingly but has the physical capability for much more.
Will his Role Change from Year 1-2? With hard work with his coaches on his hand and footwork, he has the ability to be a pocket pusher inside.
How Many Downs Can He Play? Three
What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?
No one, he’ll be trying to make the roster as a project.
What is his ST Value? Minimal
Wrenn is a good gamble for a late round pick, if he’s there in the 6th or 7th round, he could be an enticing player with a lot of potential upside. He’s got the size at 6’5, 318 pounds to be a very enticing prospect.
Daylon Mack, Texas A&M:
Mack is still somewhat of a raw talent and plays the zero technique, as a true nose tackle. Mack underwhelmed for three years at A&M but a coaching shuffle brought the most out of him in his senior season. He’s a 6’1, 336 bowling ball who flashed big time at the Senior Bowl, being basically immovable at the point of attack.
Very stout, thick build, perfect for a NT
Immovable object against double teams
Excellent leg drive
Can disrupt with good initial quickness
Just phone booth quickness
Not a good pass rusher
Gets too upright as he tires
What his Role Will Be: Mack is a classic nose tackle in the Wilfork, Ngata mold. He can eat two gaps and be a two-down run stuffer.
Will his Role Change from Year 1-2? With some increased pass rush moves, he could see a slight uptick in playing time
How Many Downs Can He Play? Two
What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?
He is a good run stuffing replacement for the departed Brown and Shelton.
What is his ST Value? None
Mack is a guy who the NFL is moving away from, with the trend moving towards pass rushing specialists, but the Patriots love a big guy who can set the anchor and two gap over the nose. He’s probably going to go later in the draft and would be a big body who can defend the run and be a good disruptor for two downs.
Other players that could fit the Patriots defense depending on how the board plays out, include Kingsley Keke, Texas A&M, Ed Alexander, LSU, Chris Slayton, Syracuse, and Daniel Wise, Kansas (brother of Deatrich)
The Patriots will address the defensive tackle position in the draft and still possibly add a veteran free agent. After losing Brown and Shelton in free agency, they were thin there but the addition of Mike Pennel should immediately ease some of that as he should get starter reps right off the bat.
They have Adam Butler who is more of an interior pass rusher like Wise who they can kick inside, Lawrence Guy is a big man who can stuff the run and generate some pass rush. I’d look for another big man inside who can anchor and take on double teams but there are some very disruptive, penetrating tackles in this draft. It should be interesting to see how they approach this year’s crop of rookies.
Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 03-17 and AFC East Notes. We hope everyone has a great, happy and safe St. Patrick’s Day.
Favorite St. Patrick’s Day memory? Taking the train into North Station in a blizzard and my Dad taking me, my brother and two cousins to my first Bruins game. Against the Montreal Canadiens.
Adrian Clayborn – the veteran pass rusher will only complete one season as a Patriots and was released on Friday as per his wishes. His release gives the team an extra almost $3.5 million dollars in salary cap room.
Clayborn wrote on Twitter a thank-you note to the Patriots.
“Thank you Patriots for my time with the organization. gained so much respect for how you do things and win championships. It’s done the right way through hard work. Thank you for granting my release. I’m ready for this next chapter.”
He garnered 2.5 sacks, 13 QB hits, and a forced fumble after signing a two-year free-agent deal last spring. He added a sack and five QB hits during the Patriots Super Bowl run. With Trey Flowers a member of the Detroit Lions and Clayborn released, the Patriots depth chart on the edge consists of Michael Bennett, Deatrich Wise Jr., John Simon, Ufomba Kamalu, Derek Rivers, Keionta Davis, and Trent “Toolbox” Harris.
Michael Bennett – Speaking of the latest addition, Bennett spoke with Patriots.com
“I used to hate the Patriots,” he said. “I hated it because they would win so much. I hated it because Tom Brady’s hair was long. I hated that Belichick would wear sweaters. But now that I’m here, I love it. I love Tom Brady’s hair. I love being a Patriot obviously because it is all about winning. I think everything about the organization is being team-first, and just about doing what we need to do to get to where we want to go as a group. I love that.”
KC’s Hill Under Investigation For Child Abuse – Kansas City Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill is under scrutiny by law enforcement personnel for battery against a minor. This is the second brush with the law in 10 days. Police were called to his home for a child abuse/neglect call on March 5 but closed the case without any charges being filed.
Again on March 14 police officers received a call at the same address and Hill’s three-year-old son was reportedly the victim with a broken arm. Hill has not been charged with any crime at this point.
Law enforcement officials won’t comment on an on-going investigation. Hill back in 2015 pleaded guilty of domestic assault and battery by strangulation in August 2015. He received three years probation.
He reportedly punched and choked Espinal, who was then eight weeks pregnant with their son, on Dec. 11, 2014. She is now pregnant with twins. Hill has been in negotiations with the Chiefs on a new deal that would make him among the highest players at his position. But for now, those negotiations are probably on hold. Both the Chiefs and the NFL said that they are aware of the incident.
“The club is aware of the investigation involving Tyreek Hill,” the Chiefs said in a statement. “We’re in the process of gathering information and have been in contact with the league and local authorities. We’ll have no further comment at this time.”
This isn’t good news for Hill, the Chiefs or the NFL. The league just suspended former Chiefs RB Kareem Hunt for eight games in 2019 for violation of the league’s Personal Conduct Policy. After he was captured on video kicking and shoving a woman in the hallway of a Cleveland hotel.
Bolden and McCourty Return – After a year in Miami, Patriots special teams ace and backup running back Brandon Bolden is returning to Foxboro on a two-year deal. The popular locker room presence spent the first six years of his career in Foxboro. Tom Brady responded to Bolden’s Instagram post about his return with an “F**k Yeah!”
Jason McCourty is also returning on a 2-year deal. The 31-year old, came on board with the team last year and played very well, giving the cornerback position another veteran presence along with Stephon Gilmore.
Dorsett and Simon Back – The Patriots also brought back two more of their own free agents by re-signing WR Phillip Dorsett and DE John Simon. Dorsett seemed primed for a big role in the offense after a solid training camp but he never really had a big impact, catching 32 passes for 290 yards and three TDs. Once the team brought in Josh Gordon, Dorsett lost most of his reps. He has a one-year, prove-it type deal in 2019. The one strange thing in this, however, was whenever his number was called, he generally came thru, with a 76 percent catch rate. Will the third season be a charm?
Simon was signed in late September after being released by the Colts. He was a valuable role player both defensively and on STs, where his role increased down the stretch last season and into the playoffs. He was one of the players who found a nice role when the team used their “Amoeba Defense.” The deal was for two years and $7.2 million dollars.
Melifonwu Surprised by Grafton High School Honor – Patriots reserve safety Obi Melifonwu was asked by his old high school in Grafton, Mass. to come in and speak with the students. I was covering it for the Worcester Telegram and Gazette and the Grafton News.
He did and spoke about the importance of schoolwork and how it helped a freshman struggling to fit in find his way into a college where he not only starred in football but graduated with two degrees in 2017. But the school surprised Melifonwu by presenting him with his high school jersey which will be permanently displayed at the school. He was a star both offensively and defensively in CMass football before moving on to UConn and then the NFL.
He admitted he was shocked by the gesture and very appreciative. Afterward, he spoke about preparing for this upcoming season, he’s working with a trainer in Foxboro, outside the facility to prepare himself. He also spoke about learning how to better prepare his body, something he learned the hard way, after being injured for the first time and the resultant therapy.
“Sometimes you train a certain way thru high school and into college that you believe is preparing your body correctly,” he said. “But you learn that certain body parts have been neglected which can lead to overcompensating in certain areas, which ultimately lead to injuries.”
Asked about his Super Bowl experiences, he said, although he didn’t play, his focus was on helping his teammates. “I knew early in the week that I wasn’t going to play, so your focus is completely different,” he said. “Then, your entire mindset is to help the offense, by trying to emulate the Rams defense the best that you can in practice.”
While CMass Division III football isn’t exactly a hotbed for NFL players, the Indians have had a few make their mark. Beside Melifonwu, another former Grafton alum, Steve Spagnuolo is now the Defensive Coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs.
The draft and spring workouts will be an interesting one for Melifonwu. When the Patriots signed him it was for two years, with 2019 in mind. How they feel about the ridiculously athletic safety will be put to the test in April. They normally target a safety early in the draft. If they do or don’t take a strong safety early will probably tell you how they feel about his long-term viability in their system.
Patriots Add Five Free Agents But No Sexy Names…Surprised? Shouldn’t Be:
We knew this was coming…right? While teams were overpaying for the premium name free agents in a feeding frenzy before the actual free agency period even began, the Patriots stood pat. They did bid on a couple of free agent wide receivers, especially Adam Humphries and to a lesser extent Cole Beasley. But if you really expecting OBJ or Golden Tate, you were bound to be disappointed, just like nearly every other spring.
The team did add five free agents, but they weren’t any of the sexy names fans were clamoring for. The Patriots signed wide receivers Bruce Ellington and Maurice Harris, tight end Matt LaCosse, special teams safety Terrence Brooks and defensive tackle Mike Pennel.
Fans shouldn’t be worried at this point in just mid-March about the state of the wide receiver position. Team building is just in the infantile stages here. Trades are still available and with 12 draft picks, there will be some deals to be made. And with 12 picks in the upcoming draft, they have the capital to move around or make a deal
Of all the players the biggest impact player may just be Mike Pennel. If you listen to our Patriots 4th & 2 podcasts, you’d have heard me say, I believe the Patriots were going to add Pennel as a free agent. He’s a big, 6’4, 330-pound space eater who will be the nose tackle in 2019. With Malcom Brown a Saint and Danny Shelton a free agent, the team needed a big body to anchor the middle of the field, something they needed a year ago.
As Bill Belichick said a year ago before the Patriots played the Jets, guys who are 330 pounds don’t grow on trees. He’s big, very strong and will be a very good addition against the run. He’ll be a starter on Day 1.
Bruce Ellington is a small, 5’9 WR who has had trouble staying healthy and on the field. He has excellent speed and had 31 catches in just seven games a year ago. He has KR and PR ability and this may be why the team brought him in to replace Corrdarrelle Patterson this season. In 2017, he had a good game against the Patriots in Foxboro, catching four passes for 59 yards including a 29-yard touchdown from Deshaun Watson. Bill Belichick loves bringing in players who have done well against his team in the past.
Maurice Harris is a former Redskins WR who has never really put things together. He has very good size at 6’3, 200 pounds with some return ability as well. An UDFA in 2016, he seemed destined to break out last year after a big training camp. But he never did and gets a fresh start with New England. He had 28 catches for 304 yards a year ago, however, over half of those receptions (15) came in two back-to-back games.
Matt Lacosse from the Broncos has boom or bust written all over him. He signed a two-year deal worth $4.8 million dollars and has the frame (6’6, 255) to be a very good blocker in the running game.
He caught 24 passes for 250 yards and a TD last year after working his way from the #3 TE to being the starter after injuries hurt the position. He too will be getting a fresh start in New England. He’ll get the chance to be the #2 or #3 TE here in 2019.
Terrence Brooks is a safety but is more known for his special teams’ acumen. He was one of the standout players on one of the better STs units in the league last year. The Patriots struggled in the kicking game especially kickoff and punt coverage early last season. Once they brought in Albert McClellan and Ramon Humber, both free agents, things solidified. Bringing back Bolden and signing Brooks should be a boost overall for the ST units in 2019.
Patriots ST’s Kickers Remain Unsigned:
The Patriots are getting a lot of air time with the usual hot take hosts about their lack of depth at wide receiver. But right now, they have no players in the kicking game with the exception of long-snapper Joe Cardona.
Both kicker Stephen Gostkowski and punter Ryan Allen remain unsigned. Gostkowski has been with the team for longer than Adam Vinatieri was and is one of the top kickers in the league. Allen, while in the middle of the road in terms of gross punting average is outstanding at directional punting and could have been a legitimate Super Bowl MVP candidate by pinning the Rams back deep in their zone all game long.
Bottom line here is there isn’t a better kicker on the market than Gostkowski. We still expect both to return at some point, but it remains an area to monitor.
Patriots Still “Tentatively Planning” on Having Gronk Back in 2019:
Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski still hasn’t announced his decision on whether to return to the team in 2019 or retire. He’s openly talked retirement in the past but the opportunity to have one last shot at the team’s seventh Super Bowl championship may be a big draw for him.
Of course, Gronkowski can also point to the cash he’s due, he’ll count for $11,859,375 against the salary cap in 2019. If he retires, the team will have an additional $9,859,375 to spend this year.
Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reported, “My understanding is when you talk to people close to him, they think there is a better chance that he comes back again than he doesn’t. And I do believe that the Patriots are at least tentatively planning as if they will have Gronk for the 2019 season.”
With the release of Dwayne Allen, the Patriots depth chart at tight end consists of the newly signed Matt Lacosse, Jacob Hollister, Stephen Anderson, and Ryan Izzo.
Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:
Bills Bring In Weapons for Josh Allen:
The Buffalo Bills signed some very needed receivers for their offense in free agency inking WRs John Brown and Cole Beasley, tight end Tyler Kroft as well as offensive line help in Mitch Morse and Ty Nsekhe. This should aid in helping QB Josh Allen in helping transform what was a moribund offense in 2018.
The team also inked the ageless Frank Gore at running back on a one-year deal, giving Buffalo the oldest RB group with Gore who will be 36 along with Chris Ivory (30) and LeSean McCoy (30). It should be noted, however, that Gore averaged 4.7 yards per carry last year with the Dolphins.
Brown gives the Bills the deep speed they lack and he had his best season last year in Baltimore catching 65 passes for 1003 yards. Beasley is a Julian Edelman clone, who the Bills hope will transform their short passing game, where Allen was 32nd in the league a year ago. Kroft had a breakout season with 42 catches in 2017 but broke his foot and played in only five games a year ago.
This will be an interesting year to see how much Allen can progress, the Bills spent a lot of cash to upgrade their weapons for him and added two WRs and a badly needed TE. With the draft upcoming, the Bills will probably still address WR and RB to get a bit younger there.
Dolphins Trade QB Tannehill to the Titans:
The Miami Dolphins have traded their seven-year starter at QB, Ryan Tannehill to the Tennessee Titans on Friday. The Dolphins packaged a 6th round draft pick in 2019 along with Tannehill for the Titans 7th round pick in 2019 and a 4th round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Tannehill had his moments but could never put it all together for Miami who paid him a few years ago as their franchise QB. He completed 64.2 percent of his passes for 1,979 yards with 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions in 11 games last year. Now he’ll serve as the backup to Marcus Mariota. Tannehill is playing on a one-year deal with $7 million guaranteed, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. The one-year deal goes to $12 million+ with playtime and other incentives. The Dolphins are on the hook for $5 million of the $7 million guaranteed in the form of a signing bonus.
Miami, which tried to bring in QB Teddy Bridgewater, now has only Jake Rudock and Luke Falk at QB. They’ll either try to swing a trade for an established QB, or draft a young one in the NFL Draft, perhaps both.
Jets Go All in On Free Agency:
The New York Jets were expected to make a splash in free agency with a ton of cap space to spend it on and they didn’t disappoint. The laid out big money for RB Le’Veon Bell, ILB C.J. Mosely, slot receiver Jamison Crowder and then added slot corner Brian Poole who came over after spending three years with the Falcons.
Bell, is the most notable free agent having sat out 2018 in a contract dispute with the Steelers, and the money he signed for is actually less than the Steelers offer of five-years and $70 million. Bell signed for four years and $52 million with $25 million guaranteed. He has a ton of wear on his tires but after taking a year off, he may go into the season refreshed. But the Jets offensive line scarcely resembles the Steelers unit that helped Bell launch in his career. The Jets did make a move in that direction by trading for LG Kelechi Osemele from Oakland.
Mosely is one of the best interior linebackers in the league, a true leader for the defense and a smart, physical player who will be on the field for all three downs. He’s an instant upgrade for them at the position, but the Jets ponied up a ton of money, guaranteeing a whopping $51 million. They also had Anthony Barr agree to a deal but he ended up getting cold feet and ultimately left the Jets at the altar.
Crowder gives the Jets a big play option in the slot with the speed to make a ton of YAC. This should allow them to move Quincy Enunwa to the outside. But the question with Crowder is can he stay healthy? He missed seven games a year ago.
The Jets made a big splash, but will these moves pay off? We’ll see, but it never stops Manish Mehta from making one of his patented silly predictions. In Manish’s latest “look at me” moment, he made his prediction for the top QBs for the AFC East in 2019.
Current starting QBs in the AFC East… from projected best to worst in 2019:
1) Sam Darnold 2) Tom Brady 3) Josh Allen 4) Luke Falk
But before you get too hard on Manish, he got exactly what he was looking for as Boston sports radio couldn’t wait to get him on to defend his position…hmm