Tag Archives: New England Patriots

New England Patriots News 6-16, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
June 16, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 06-16 and AFC East notes this week. And a Happy Father’s Day to all the great dads out there.

While anyone can become a father, the word Dad means so much more. My own Dad never gave me much advice but the way he conducted himself every day and the way he treated everyone around him was all the example that was ever needed.

Quick Hitters:

Bill Belichick – decided to cancel the final two days of OTAs last week and on the first day, took the players out to a team-building exercise…a paintball range. Belichick supposedly took out Kyle Van Noy with a headshot, the linebacker told Dont’a Hightower his tooth hurt where Bill nailed him. In cooler weather, those tend to hurt even more.

Michael Roberts – the Patriots traded for the Lions tight end on Thursday, but he failed his physical on Friday and the trade was voided. He was placed on IR last year for a shoulder injury. Upon reverting back to the Lions, Roberts was released.

Tom Brady – heard about a high school senior who missed his graduation while in the hospital and Brady sent him a video message. Shaun Patterson was suffering from a congenital heart defect and was the recipient of a heart transplant. Brady heard about it and sent the Missouri teen a message. You can watch the clip here:

Zdeno Chara – While the Bruins Game 7 loss to St. Louis will sting all summer long, the Bruins captain was as tough and gritty as they come. It was revealed later that Chara’s jaw was fractured in two places when he was hit by a puck in Game 4. He tried to return that night but doctors wouldn’t clear him but did return and play in Games 5-7. At 42 years old, he’s no longer the Bruins best defenseman but he’s what being a captain is all about. Get well soon Big Z.

Pat Bowlen – RIP to the Broncos long-time owner who passed away on Friday at age 75. He turned around the franchise and brought them a winner.

Training Camp to Begin around July 25.

Thoughts on the Caserio Mess With Houston:

In the end, the Houston Texans declined to pursue any further contact with Nick Caserio and the Patriots have removed their charges of tampering against the Texans. John McClain of the Houston Chronicle was the first to report the development that there is a clause in Caserio’s contract that would stop other teams from pursuing him.

The Texans released a statement from Texans owner Carl McNair.

“When we started the process to interview Nick Caserio for our EVP/GM position, we consulted the League office on numerous occasions, followed the procedures outlined in the League’s rules and believed we were in full compliance,” McNair said. “We have now been made aware of certain terms in Nick’s contract with the Patriots,” McNair added in the statement. “Once we were made aware of these contract terms, I informed Mr. Kraft that we would stop pursuing Nick.”

Nick Caserio

The pursuing of Caserio reportedly began at the Patriots ring ceremony at Robert Kraft’s home. Jack Easterby, the former Patriots character coach and now part of the Texans organization (Executive VP for Team Development) had allegedly made overtures toward Caserio. He reportedly did so before the Texans asked the Patriots permission to interview for their GM position.

The interesting thing is the timing. The next morning, that Friday, Houston fired their GM Brian Gaine after one season. Gaine went 11-5 in his only season at the helm of the Texans and had just completed the NFL Draft. It has also been reported that Gaine was targeting and firing black employees of the staff, which will be looked at as well.

Houston tried last year to interview Caserio after then-GM Rick Smith stepped away to be with his wife during her cancer treatments. The Patriots rebuffed that approach and denied them the opportunity to interview Caserio.

The statement by McNair answered one of the questions surrounding this entire mess.

Other Questions About Caserio Matter:

“How could the Patriots allow this to happen, possibly losing Caserio?” Well, with the language inserted in there, it certainly seems like they have protected themselves against this scenario. But in reality, this entire mess could have easily been avoided.

Had the Patriots given Caserio the title of an equivalent position, (former Patriot front office man Scott Pioli was the VP of Player Development) and a raise, this entire situation never comes to fruition.

“Did the Texans knowingly tamper with Caserio?” Again, no one knows for sure. It is strictly innuendo. However, if Easterby did, in fact, make overtures to Caserio at Kraft’s house, as was implied, before asking the team permission, then yes they did. Another interesting tidbit is the fact that Easterby and Caserio share the same agent. Wouldn’t the Texans know that there is language inserted in his contract that would preclude him from being pursued? Especially given how close Caserio is with both Easterby and O’Brien?

One would think so. And in Houston, Caserio wouldn’t have the final say in the formation of the 53-man roster. That rests with O’Brien.

“Do the Patriots Have Their Succession Plan in Place?” Another good question. The answer is yes and no. It would seem like Josh McDaniels is the next head coach in waiting for the Patriots when Bill Belichick finally decides to retire. Caserio would be the obvious choice for the GM position. But he’s only signed thru the 2020 season. That will have to be rectified…and soon. He previously was interviewed for the Miami and San Francisco GM positions.

Caserio has a unique job in that he wears many hats for the team. While officially the Director of Player Personnel, he has a direct line during game days …to McDaniels in the headsets and advises him on situations unfolding during games. That is unheard of for a man with his title.

He has held many positions in his years with the team, personnel assistant, offensive coaching assistant, area scout, director of pro personnel, wide receivers coach as well as his current position. During minicamp, he was throwing passes to wide receivers.

Bill Belichick has said on numerous occasions that Caserio does much more than his job description states.

“Nick does a great job,” Belichick said last winter. “He does a lot of different things for us. I’m sure he does more than anybody in the league at his position in terms of his interaction with the team, the coaching staff, and the college and pro scouting. He’s involved in a lot of different things and does a great job at all of them. His job description would be several pages.”

One thing is for certain. There is no way the Patriots could have afforded to lose Caserio this summer. With all of the other losses of the coaching staff, this would have been a huge blow. Now they need to lock him up long-term for the future regime. Stay tuned.

Michael Bennett Could Be An Under-the-Radar Addition in 2019:

The Patriots lost Trey Flowers in free agency to the Lions this spring when he signed a monster deal that he wasn’t going to get in Foxboro. But they traded just a fifth-round draft choice for Michael Bennett and a seventh rounder. And although Bennett turned 33 in November he had nine sacks for the Eagles in 2018 plus another one in their two playoff games.

So while the production from last season is about the same as Flowers, it was the versatility of Flowers that will be missed. He could line up all over the formation and play any number of roles that the defense would ask of him.

Super Bowl XLIX:

Rewind the tape to Super Bowl XLIX, on the Patriots first four offensive snaps, Bennett lined up at four different positions, left defensive end, left defensive tackle, right defensive end, and right defensive tackle. And he pressured Tom Brady on three of those plays.

Bennett is at the age where most edge rushers (emphasis on most), seem to begin to lose their ability to produce. We didn’t see anything, however, from Bennett last year that he was approaching that level, despite his age. In fact, one could make the argument that he was the Eagles best pass rusher down the stretch last year.

The fire still burns bright for him as he is hungry for another championship. It is tough to gauge the big men on the offensive and defensive lines in minicamp. The real test for them begins with training camp begins.

But one area that Bill Belichick has always had a high percentage of hitting on is his ability to recognize and identify veteran players who can fill important roles for far less money and cap space. We believe Bennett will be another case of that.

Patriots-Lions Teaming Up for Joint Practices This Summer:

The Patriots are set to begin training camp around the July 25 timeframe, and prior to the first preseason game against the Detroit Lions, the two teams are going to conduct three joint practices. Former Pats DC Matt Patricia, like his mentor Bill Belichick, has a healthy respect for the value of joint practices and it seemed like a no-brainer that the two teams would hook up this summer.

The Lions announced on their website the dates and times for the joint practices:

The Detroit Lions 2019 Training Camp presented by Rocket Mortgage will open at the team’s headquarters and training facility in Allen Park for a 13th-straight year beginning July 25. There will be three practices exclusive to season ticket members and eight practices free and accessible to all fans. This year’s camp will also feature three joint practices with the New England Patriots prior to the Preseason Week 1 matchup at Ford Field (Thursday, Aug. 8; 7:30 p.m. ET).

With the three joint practices will take place at their Allen Park training facility on Monday-Weds. August 5,6, and 7 with practice beginning at 9:30 a.m. on each day. The gates will open at 8:30 a.m. Any Patriots fans looking to see the preseason game can plan their trip accordingly.  

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Buck Trend And Remain Traveling For Training Camp:

The Buffalo Bills are one of the teams that remains convinced that traveling away to training camp is the right way to go. They believe that their team-building and the opportunity for players to become the best versions of themselves are best served while going away for camp.

One can make the argument for or against such a move, but both head coach Sean McDermott and GM Brandon Beane are both on-board with that decision. On the Bills website, they both spelled out their reasoning behind the decision.

“First and foremost, we love going up to Rochester,” McDermott said. “We love going to Fisher. I think it’s a great venue for an NFL training camp. I think that the people and staff are first class. I’ve been around before when you go to a campus when you’re wanted contractually but not wanted maybe once you’re there. They open up their home to us. We love going up there. I love my early morning runs up there.”

Seating a challenge:

“The challenge a little bit is some of the location and the fields as it relates to the public practices,” McDermott added. “We’d love to make everything public, quite honestly. We’re just not able to do that necessarily with the physical location of things and trying to rotate fields and space.”

“It’s just when you go to that other field, that’s not the main one, it’s not conducive for the fans,” Beane said in reference to the grass field behind the St. John Fisher Fieldhouse. “It’s just hard to do that. It’s not fair for us to advertise — they don’t know which fields. We wouldn’t want someone driving multiple hours, bring kids and there’s no seating.”

Flores Changing the Dolphins Culture A Piece at a Time:

The Miami Dolphins have a new sheriff in town named Brian Flores and he knows that the rebuilding process takes time. But he also knows that the ownership group isn’t going to be overly generous with the time it takes to build a winner. They’re frustrated through years of mediocrity and are hungry for a winning team and attitude.

Flores saw what he perceives as a loose ship in South Beach and is trying to emulate the workman-like culture he was a part of in New England. And he didn’t waste any time in bringing that attitude to Miami.

Takes No Talent:

Flores trademark is the T.N.T. mantra (Takes No Talent), to build a winning attitude. The core values are hard work, discipline, and respect. It is easy to see some of the Patriot-way infused in Flores’ beliefs, but he’s put his own spin on it.

“I tell my players this — I can go out there and get conditioned if I just go out there and run every day. I’m not going to do that, not like they do; but I could do that,” Flores said, in a piece on ESPN.

“Any of us in here can do that. That really takes no talent; it just takes hard work, effort,” Flores said. “Everybody talks about, ‘This guy is talented; that guy is talented.’ The talent on the team and a lot of things in this game come down to focus, execution, not making a bad penalty. Really, that’s not a talent issue. It’s a focus issue; it’s a mindset issue. I try to, and us as a staff, we try to make an emphasis on those specific things. Things that take no talent, I think those are the details that help you win games.”

Little by little, Flores is putting his own stamp on things in Miami. By changing their work habits, discipline, and the overall culture, Flores is trying to speed up the rebuilding process.

Jets DC Williams Looking To Aggressively Use His Star Players:

The new defensive coordinator of the New York Jets, Gregg Williams has had seven different stops as defensive coordinator and one stint as a head coach, with the Buffalo Bills. And his units are always aggressive. And with a core of special players on defense, he has with Leonard Williams, Jamal Adams, and C.J. Mosely, the Jets will no doubt be aggressive again in 2019. And by adding arguably the best player in the draft in Quinnen Williams at DT, the Jets defense can be very tough this season.

Speaking of Mosely who the Jets signed as a free agent this spring, Williams raved about his play.

Leads by Example:

“He’s a really good leader and he leads by example first. All the great leaders that I’ve ever been a part of, have to show great example before you open your mouth, so he’s always doing that,” Williams said of Mosely.

“He’s always done that, he’s not an extremely highly vocal guy but he sets the example by how he goes about doing his job and he understands the routine of being a pro, being a real pro. Williams is excited about the flexibility now of all a sudden even being more of a quarterback of the defense and having the checks and the audible systems and the things that we teach. He’s been very good and it will be fun.”

In regard to Leonard Williams, his new DC is licking his chops at unleashing him on the competition. “I’m really looking forward to cutting him loose and he was high on my list to get a chance to draft,” he said to Jets.com.

“There is a drastic difference in just the philosophy of how we play up front and he’s had some really great springs, can’t wait to get him in pads and ready to go,” Williams said of the 25-year old. “But he’s another one I’m excited about the opportunity to help him be as good as he can be.”

________________

“It is a wise father that knows his own child.” William Shakespeare

“So, how was your week?”

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

Patriots Reportedly File Tampering Charges Against Texans in Caserio Pursuit

Steve Balestrieri
June 13, 2019 at 9:30 am ET

Et Tu, Jack, Billy?

The New England Patriots have filed tampering charges against the Houston Texans for attempting to hire team executive Nick Caserio as general manager, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Wednesday.

Schefter reported that the NFL is expected to gather relevant information and open its own investigation against Houston. The league will look into this situation and try to determine whether any tampering was done and if so, what punishment is appropriate.

At the center of the controversy is former Patriots character coach Jack Easterby, who left the team this spring and is working for the Texans now. Easterby was at Robert Kraft’s home on Thursday night for the Patriots ring ceremony. It is rumored that while there, Easterby made overtures to Caserio about the Texans GM position.

The next day, the Texans fired general manager Brian Gaine after just one season on the job. Caserio, who has been New England’s director of player personnel since 2008, once again became Houston’s leading target. Houston tried to hire Caserio last spring and asked for permission to interview him, but the Patriots blocked that attempt.

Caserio is close with both Easterby and Houston head coach Bill O’Brien who was a member of the Patriots coaching staff from 2007-2011.

Pro Football Talk took it one step further stating on Twitter that:

Replying to @ProFootballTalk

Evidence of potential tampering come from photos, videos, other proof of interactions between Texans exec @JackEasterby and Caserio at last Thursday’s Patriots ring ceremony, which happened the night before the Houston G.M. job became vacant.
113
5:31 PM – Jun 12, 2019

So, if the rumors are true, how did the Patriots find out that Easterby was beginning the pursuit of Caserio again by Houston? Were they overheard? Did Caserio report it himself? (doubtful). It adds another layer to the intrigue.

The Texans have requested permission to interview Caserio for their GM job but have not been granted permission to date. And judging from the Patriots reaction, that permission isn’t forthcoming.

The NFL’s policy on tampering is stated as “Any interference by a member club with the employer-employee relationship of another club or any attempt by a club to impermissibly induce a person to seek employment with that club or with the NFL” is impermissible.

Bill Belichick has stated many times that what Caserio does is far beyond his scope as just the Director of Player Personnel.

“He’s certainly involved in all of the personnel aspects of his job, college, pro, free agent workouts, waiver, everything,” Belichick said back in 2017. “But you throw all of the coaching stuff on top of that, the week-to-week role in the press box and on the practice field. I mean, he does a tremendous amount. I can’t think of any other personnel person that would even come close to that. I don’t know who it would be. I don’t know what everybody else does, but I don’t know anybody.”

The league rules state that a team can’t block a person from interviewing for a position that is above their current level. The Patriots will take the stand that Houston’s GM position is, in essence, a lateral move, which by Caserio’s job title only, it is not.

As both Mike Reiss (ESPN) and Doug Kyed (NESN) have stated, the one way the Patriots can block this is to give Caserio a promotion and a raise that would pay Caserio to the level more consistent with the duties.  

While the Patriots as a whole tend to eschew personal job titles, (see offensive/defensive coordinator roles), this might be the perfect time to reverse that trend for Caserio, who is very deserving. And a healthy jump in pay would sweeten the pie as well.

The team can ill-afford to lose Caserio at this juncture of the season. Give him the title (as Kyed suggested) of VP of Player Personnel and a raise, which would elevate him to the level of a GM. That will keep Caserio around for the foreseeable future and create an ascendancy plan for when Belichick decides to retire.

But in terms of Easterby and O’Brien, the reception they get in Foxboro from here on out may not be as warm as before. C-ya in December.

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

Listen in to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts as Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

Patriots Acquiring TE Michael Roberts from Detroit for a Late Pick

Steve Balestrieri
at 8:57 am ET

Several Detroit press outlets are reporting that the Lions are parting with tight end Michael Roberts and trading him to the Patriots for a late-round draft pick.  

Roberts has been with the Lions since 2017 and has flashed promise but his career thus far has been beset by injuries. Roberts was red zone machine at Toledo, catching 16 touchdowns his senior year but hasn’t been able to stay on the field.

In 2018, he caught nine passes for 100 yards and three touchdowns in eight games. He suffered a knee injury early in the season and later a shoulder injury that put him on IR. This past offseason, the Lions signed free agent tight end Jesse James from the Steelers and then added T.J. Hockenson from Iowa with the #8 pick in the draft. Later adding Isaac Nauta from Georgia. They also have Logan Thomas, the converted QB/TE.

Now with the Patriots, Roberts will be given a chance to carve out a role for himself once training camp begins. His availability will be the biggest question mark facing him with the Patriots. It never seemed to be a talent issue.

He’ll enter Foxboro with a clean slate but if he suffers any setbacks in camp this summer, it won’t bode well for his chances.

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

Listen in to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts as Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

Sony Michel’s Knee Scope Kept Him Out of Minicamp

Steve Balestrieri
at 5:53 am ET

Last week, one of the most well-known Patriots players among the missing at the mandatory mini-camp was running back Sony Michel. No one knew why the second-year back from Georgia was missing until Wednesday. Now, as Paul Harvey used to say, “now we know, … the rest of the story.”

Jeff Howe of the Athletic was the first to report that Michel, who has had knee problems dating back to high school had his knee scoped earlier this offseason. The knee procedure is considered to be minor and Michel is reportedly on track for being ready for training camp at the end of July.

Michel had a very solid rookie season for the Patriots. Despite missing three games, he led the team with 209 carries for 931 yards and six touchdowns. In the playoffs, Michel was immense, carrying the ball 71 times for 336 yards and a rookie record six post-season touchdowns, including the only one in the Patriots Super Bowl win over the Rams.

So, despite the procedure being considered minor, it is still disconcerting in the fact that Michel needed to have another procedure on his knees. He missed time last year in training camp and wasn’t ready for the season opener. While missing three days of minicamp isn’t a show stopper, it was hoped that Michel would carve out a bigger role in the passing game this year. Getting those reps in minicamp is a great way to lay the foundation for that.

The Patriots under Bill Belichick have always been cautious in the offseason when it comes to players returning from injury or surgery, opting to keep them off the field. Which could be partly the reason why Michel wasn’t spotted at any of the final four practices open to the media.

Perhaps now it is becoming clearer why the Patriots drafted Damien Harris from Alabama in the third round of the draft this season. Harris is a player who excels at running between the tackles and making yards after contact. He can take some of the onus off of Michel in the running game.

Running back is one of the deepest positions on the team, Michel would be considered the primary ball carrier while James White is the top pass catcher. But with Rex Burkhead who can do a bit of both well and veteran Brandon Bolden who returned this spring as well as the rookie Harris, the team is well stocked and should have plenty of depth for another run to the postseason.

With Michel missing in minicamp, Bolden and Harris got the lion’s share of the carries in the running game drills. Michel’s status and his workload once training camp opens will definitely be one of the more closely watched developments this summer. His long-term viability is definitely a concern, as it was reported last summer that he may have a “bone-on-bone” condition in his knee.

He is a very talented running back whose potential was shown last year in the postseason, but he may not have a very long career. However, with the running back rotational system that the Patriots employ, it would definitely add some mileage to that.

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

Listen in to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts as Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

PatsFans.com Patriots 53-man Roster Projection 1.0

Steve Balestrieri
June 11, 2019 at 6:00 am ET

With the Patriots mandatory mini-camp over, it is time to a very early look at a New England Patriots 53-man roster projection. We were fortunate enough to be there for the entire three days this season. While there was no contact and no pads, it gave a good if albeit premature look at how the 2019 roster could play out.

Later this summer, we’ll post primers for each position but here is our first crack at a  workable 53-man roster.

Offense –
Quarterbacks: (3)

Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Jarrett Stidham

The Patriots will once again go with three quarterbacks this summer. Hoyer is entrenched as the #2 for now and in minicamp the rookie Stidham was taking all of the #3 reps, at times on the final day, he even got #2 reps before Hoyer so the coaches could get a look at what he can do in the offense. He has a long way to go, but he’s clearly got the coaches intrigued with his down-the-road potential.

Bad news for Danny Etling who was working as the personal protector during minicamp. Oh and that Brady kid from Michigan? He’ll be okay and should stick….

Running backs: (6)

Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, James White, Damien Harris, Brandon Bolden, James Develin

Sony Michel missed all of mini-camp which raises the question if he’s hurt. With the drafting of the impressive rookie Harris, he and Burkhead can spell Michel if he’s out for a while. James White isn’t going anywhere and the team brought back Bolden for STs and to fill in if needed. Develin is invaluable as the fullback who can block and catch the odd pass here or there.

Tight ends: (3)
Matt Lacosse, Ryan Izzo, Stephen Anderson **Ben Watson Suspended**

The Patriots have Lacosse as the clear #1 heading into the season with Watson suspended for the first month of the season unless they make a trade. Izzo is the blocking (read Dwayne Allen) tight end who nudges out Andrew Beck while Anderson is the “move” tight end who may be on the block once Watson is eligible to return.

The position has been totally revamped since last season and it may take some time to gel once the regular season starts. Training camp will be invaluable for this group

Wide Receivers: (5)
Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, Phillip Dorsett, Maurice Harris, Jakobi Meyers
**Josh Gordon Suspended** ***Demaryius Thomas PUP***

Edelman, Harry, and Dorsett are roster locks…barring injury. Meyers with his size and hands makes it yet another year with a UDFA making the roster out of training camp.

Thomas and Gordon (if reinstated), give the team some intriguing options. Berrios had a good spring and looks the part in the slot, he and Meyers will battle it out for the spot. Dontrelle Inman has a lot of ground to make up. He didn’t catch a single pass in team drills during mini-camp. Ryan Davis and Gunner Olszewski are practice squad candidates.

Offensive line: (8)
Isaiah Wynn, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, Joe Thuney, Yodny Cajuste, Ted Karras, Hjalte Froholdt

The state of the offensive line centers around health. Wynn missed all of last year with an Achilles injury. He was at mini-camp but was held out of team drills. Cajuste who they drafted this spring had off-season surgery and it is hoped he’ll be ready to go by September.

In the meantime, Joe Thuney played left tackle this spring. Expect him to get some work there this summer, even if Wynn is a full go for training camp. Left tackle and swing tackle are the two question marks. Cole Croston heads to the practice squad. After that, the offensive line is solid.

Defense –

Edge Players: (4)
Michael Bennett, Deatrich Wise, John Simon, Chase Winovich

After losing Trey Flowers, the Patriots brought in Bennett. Wise is a solid if unspectacular veteran now and Simon played very well for them last season. They’re hoping Winovich can step in and play as advertised. I like his motor and relentlessness. This could be the end of the line for Derek Rivers this summer. He is going to be given an opportunity to show what he can do. He got reps with the 1st personnel grouping last week. Keionta Davis and Trent Harris may still be able to step up in case of an injury.  

Interior Defensive Line: (4)

Lawrence Guy, Mike Pennel, Danny Shelton, Adam Butler

Guy and Pennel should be the Week 1 starting combination inside. Shelton returns, as the backup big man inside. Butler is the best pass rusher of the group. David Parry and Byron Cowart are on the outside but will have to turn some heads in August.

Linebacker: (6)

Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Elandon Roberts, Brandon King

Linebacker is a position of strength heading into training camp this summer. Hightower has slimmed down, gotten more pliable, and is moving well. Van Noy has been a jack of all trades, but the biggest surprise (pleasant) of the spring has been the play of Collins. He has been all over the field disrupting plays at the line and playing solid coverage

Roberts, coming off of a solid postseason and Bentley who shined early in 2018 before ending on IR, gives the group really good depth.

Cornerback: (6)
Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, Jason McCourty, Joejuan Williams, Jonathan Jones, Duke Dawson

Gilmore and Jackson are the starters for Week 1. But this group is really deep and very talented. Jones and Dawson (who beats out Crossen) can play in the slot and McCourty can play safety, outside or inside. Williams is a big corner (6’4) that allows him to play against the bigger WRs or even tight ends. The versatility of this group provides them with the matchups they can roll against nearly every opponent.

Safety: (4)
Devin McCourty, Pat Chung, Duron Harmon, Nate Ebner

Ebner beats out Terrence Brooks …on paper for now. Brooks has superior defensive skills but Ebner is a Belichick favorite on Special Teams. Obi Melifonwu played STs and has the size and athleticism but seems far back on the depth chart right now. He’ll need a big summer to push Ebner and Brooks off the roster. Malik Grant is a candidate for the practice squad.

Specialists: (4)
Kicker Stephen Gostkowski, punter Jake Bailey, long-snapper Joe Cardona, Gunner Matthew Slater

Gostkowski returns and has no camp competition. He and long snapper Joe Cardona are both locks for the 53-man roster. The big competition is at punter. The team brought back the steady Ryan Allen on a one-year deal but they moved up to draft Jake Bailey, the big-legged punter and kick off specialist from Stanford. By now you’ve no doubt heard about the charge he puts into the ball. If he gets his consistency down, he’ll make the roster.

Slater isn’t going anywhere. Watching him race up and down the field this spring, practicing his moves on his own shows the fire still burns very bright for him.

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 and game analysis.

New England Patriots News 6-09, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
June 9, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

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.

Quick Hitters:

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.

The Patriots put up a big photo gallery of the night here:

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.  

Julian Edelman, wearing a Bruins jersey and Jamie Collins before practice on Weds

“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.

“So, how was your week?”

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

Photos: Author

Mike Pennel Didn’t Have To Be Sold On NE, “Where I Wanted to Be”

Steve Balestrieri
June 7, 2019 at 6:20 am ET

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.”

Patriots Mini-camp Day 3 Observations “We Got a Lot Done”

Steve Balestrieri
June 6, 2019 at 3:18 pm ET

The Patriots finished up their mandatory three-day minicamp on Thursday and at the conclusion of it, head coach Bill Belichick seems pleased..with how things turned out.

“I think we got a lot done, out on the field, which is good, but we just have to keep grinding away,” Belichick said. Both Belichick and Tom Brady spoke after the practice session and remarked on the day that Patriots long-snapper Joe Cardona was promoted in Gillette Stadium to the rank of Lieutenant in the Naval Reserve. And both remarked on how the day coincided with the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

As Brady was speaking to the media after practice, Devin McCourty cracked, “Tell ‘em (media) it is Ring Night and we ain’t got time for this!”

Julian Edelman showed some love for the Bruins by wearing a Bruins jersey out before practice started. Coincidentally, it was  #13 and had Dorsett on the back….

Notable Players MIA:

Among the missing was the same names that missed the first two sessions, RB Sony Michel, RB Nick Brossette, WR Demaryius Thomas, OT Yodny Cajuste, DE Deatrich Wise Jr, SS Patrick Chung, SS Nate Ebner. One new name was added, CB J.C. Jackson.

Isaiah Wynn was present and worked on individual drills and looked like he was moving without any limitations, which is a good sign for moving forward in training camp.

Overall today’s session was a lot of individual drills with not as much 11-on-11 and 7-on-7 drills.

Other observations included:

  • Joe Thuney continues to line up at left tackle and worked with the tackles during individual drills
  • Deion Branch and Troy Brown worked once again with the wide receivers. Branch gets very animated and worked with them on breaking a jam at the line of scrimmage
  • Tom Brady and Josh McDaniels worked a side session with N’Keal Harry and Jacobi Meyers. It was an exercise in timing as well as how McDaniels and Brady want the young WRs to run their routes and position their breaks. It continues to be a learning process
  • Stephon Gilmore finished a strong camp in style, by locking down the WRs and knocking down a pass.
  • Jamie Collins had a strong week and knocked down a Bryan Hoyer screen pass
  • Jonathan Jones had a nice pass breakup on a deep pass from Tom Brady to Julian Edelman in the corner of the end zone
  • The offense ran a Flea Flicker on one play where Maurice Harris got behind Jason McCourty and caught it in the end zone.
  • Duke Dawson had a nice pass breakup on a deep sideline pass from Brady to Phillip Dorsett.
  • Derek Rivers got some snaps with the first grouping of defensive players.
  • After Brady finished up his work with 11-on-11, once again the coaches went to Jarrett Stidham before Brian Hoyer or Danny Etling. They want to see what the young man has got.

Play of the Day:

The day ended on two very nice pass plays from Brian Hoyer. He threw a touchdown to Braxton Berrios to end the day, but his TD before that to Phillip Dorsett was a beauty. Hoyer threw a high arcing pass to the corner of the end zone and Dorsett made a beautiful leaping catch in the end zone.

The play by Dorsett brought Hoyer running over to celebrate with him. Ditto for the same thing with Berrios.

After practice, we got to speak with new DL Mike Pennel, and we’ll have more of that on PatsFans.com soon.

Brady Sharp In Patriots First Mini-camp Workout – Observations

Steve Balestrieri
June 5, 2019 at 6:30 am ET

Tuesday morning was the Patriots first mandatory mini-camp practice. And the weather gods smiled on the team as there was plenty of sunshine with temps around 70 degrees.

Players Missing:

Sony Michel was the most notable absence. It was reported that he was there on Monday for the individual photo day but we don’t know the reason he was missing. Pat Chung, Nate Ebner, Demaryius Thomas, Deatrich Wise, Yodny Cajuste and Nick Brosette were also missing.

Austin Seferian-Jenkins was released today. It has been widely reported that he’s been suffering thru some personal issues. It isn’t known whether the door will be open for him if he decides to return at a later date.

Kyle Van Noy worked out on the lower practice field and returned to the main field later in practice. Isaiah Wynn was present for the warmups and then retreated to the lower fields for work with the training staff.

Brady Looks Sharp:

It is funny how at times Tom Brady, who always looks focused and sharp is questioned. I received several DM’s on Twitter asking “How does Tom look?” As soon as he bounded up the steps to the practice field, walking with James Develin, there was a air of anticipation. He looked over at the assembled media and smiled. “How’s it going guys…and gals,” he said.

Wearing a blue hoodie under his uniform, Brady was sharp, mid-season sharp and was putting some zip on the passes. His mechanics are always flawless. Both he and Brian Hoyer seemed to be trying to get the ball to N’Keal Harry on some short crossers and some out routes.

Brady connected twice on deep balls down the field to Maurice Harris. On the second one, however, backup safety Terrance Brooks could have had a play on the ball in a game situation. At a minimum, he’d have laid a big hit on Harris.

After practice, Bill Belichick was asked: “How did Tom look?” In typical Belichick deadpan, he answered, “there were 90 guys out here, I can’t watch them all.”

During a Special Teams period, Brady worked on the side with James White, Ben Watson, and N’Keal Harry… Interesting stuff there.

Jarrett Stidman is the clear #3, or at least was on the first day of minicamp. We’ll see what Wednesday’s practice brings. Stidman and David Andrews botched a snap on a miscommunication and both had to run a penalty lap.

Danny Etling got very little play with 11-on-11. Stidman’s release needs to get worked on. He has a longer, looping release, but much like he was advertised, he throws a nice tight spiral. Brian Hoyer had an okay day. He had a few passes batted at the line, including one by Van Noy that was picked off by Ja’Whaun Bentley. But he also zipped a few nice passes into tight coverage during the 11-on-11 drills. That being said…

Play of the Day:

Hoyer connected with Braxton Berrios on a deep pass down the right sideline on the far practice field. Berrios had to dive for it and came up with a fantastic catch. The players on the field roared and Berrios just beat rookie corner Joejuan Williams to the pylon. He then spiked the ball.

Other offensive impressions included:

  • Berrios had an impressive day. While it is hard to get a true read on performances like these in shorts and shirts with no hitting, contact or jamming at the line. He didn’t hurt his chances moving forward. He exhibited quickness off the line and out of his breaks. He got snaps with both Brady and Hoyer, although Brady never targeted him. He made another nice touchdown catch from Hoyer when he cut across the back of the end zone and Hoyer zipped a laser (I can’t believe I just wrote that) in tight coverage.
  • Maurice Harris had a nice practice, hauling in some contested catches. I like his length, route running, and hands. He’ll be a guy to watch more of as camp wears on. Julian Edelman and Phillip Dorsett were the first guys in every WR and team drill. Edelman looks like vintage #11.
  • N’Keal Harry had plenty of good moments but struggled at times. He lined up wrong once and had a drop along the sideline. But he also went up against Stephon Gilmore too, which will only make him better moving forward.
  • With Michel out, Brandon Bolden got quite a few snaps during the running back drills and 11-on-11s. It is good to see him back, and he’s a popular teammate.
  • Damien Harris had a nice day. I like the way he hits the hole quickly in the running game and runs low. He’s a solid looking back and looks quick. He got some reps in the passing game and did well.
  • Ben Watson still moves well for a 38-year old tight end. He was working on his chemistry and timing with Brady. But I was pretty impressed with Matt LaCosse. He moves well and has very good hands. I’d say he was the best TE of the group on the day. Stephen Anderson was active with both Brady and Hoyer.
  • Joe Thuney was taking the majority of left tackle reps with Cole Croston getting some work, Ted Karras took Thuney’s slot at left guard.

Secondary Looks Strong:

The Patriots have a plethora of cornerbacks, very good cornerbacks and all of these guys can play. They are a fun group to watch.

Defensive observations included:  

  • Gilmore is an All-Pro, J.C. Jackson has the look of a guy who is going to start…and excel. He broke up a pass. Although Jason McCourty got a lot of reps with the first group. Duke Dawson and Keion Crossen also broke up passes.
  • With Chung missing, Duron Harmon was filling in but Terrance Brooks was getting more reps than Obi Melifonwu and looked better in coverage on the day.
  • With no pads, it is tough to gauge the offensive and defensive line play. But it does matter how they match up and Michael Bennett, Lawrence Guy, Mike Pennel, and John Simon got first reps… Chase Winovich, as advertised went all out on every rep.
  • Jamie Collins was getting a lot of first reps with the defense (wearing #8)
  • Jerod Mayo was calling the defensive signals again.

Special Teams:

Jake Bailey can put a charge into the ball. He launched a few punts into the ozone. He just needs to be more consistent. However, Ryan Allen had a few excellent punts as well. It will be an interesting competition this summer.

Punt returners included Berrios, Harry, Edelman, Harris, Dorsett, and Gunner Olszewski. No kickoffs were conducted, no field goals or extra points either.

Robert Kraft was there for nearly the entire practice. Troy Brown and Deion Branch were again helping out at practice again.

Wednesday’s practice again kicks off at 11:15 a.m. We’ll be there again. On a personal note, I was asked to be an in-studio guest on the Patriots Unfiltered Podcast as soon as practice was over. Fred Kirsch, Paul Perillo, Megan O’Brien from Patriots.com and I spoke about our observations from practice. It can be heard here:

New England Patriots News 06-02, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
June 2, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 06-02 and AFC East notes this week.

We can hardly wait for Tuesday when the mandatory mini-camp begins for the team and we’ll get our first look at the 2019 Patriots team on the field. Although it will be sans pads, it will be our first live look at football since the Super Bowl, so yes we’re psyched to be going down to the practice fields.

Quick Hitters:

Tom Brady – was at Harvard Stadium on Friday night for his annual Best Buddies charity touch football game. It is Brady’s signature charity and was attended by current teammates Julian Edelman, James White, Brian Hoyer, Ted Karras, Marcus Cannon, Joe Thuney and Joe Cardona. Retired Patriots included Troy Brown, Dan Koppen, and Christian Fauria.

Brady QBs for both teams and the kids, including his own and adults on the field always have a memorable evening.

Bill Belichick – Was quoted by former Arizona State head coach Todd Graham as being thrilled that WR N’Keal Harry was still available at #32 in the 2019 NFL Draft.

Graham who was replaced by Herm Edwards as head coach in 2018, spoke with Jeff Howe of the Athletic and  “When I talked to coach Belichick the night that he drafted N’Keal, he (Belichick) told me, ‘Man, we were so fortunate that he was still there,’ ” Graham said to Howe. “They were so glad he was still available. They had him graded a lot higher than where he was taken in the first round.

Brady Pt.2 – Can we all (okay, certain people) just stop with the hand-wringing over Brady skipping OTAs again this year? Granted it is spring and there isn’t a lot to write/talk about for the most part but this is a tired storyline.

And please, pretty please don’t tell me how the offense struggled in the first quarter of the season. It had nothing to do with Brady not being there for seven practices. Edelman was suspended, Gronk was hobbled and they had injuries all over the place. The offense struggling had nothing to do with Brady missing OTAs, nada, zilch, nicht.

Fast forward to the Super Bowl parade in February, was anyone talking about Brady’s absence then? Well, maybe someone did… My worries about him being ready to go in September based on OTAs? Less than zero.

Boston Bruins – Not Patriots related, but there was an awful lot of flap over a towel this week before the Bruins Stanley Cup Finals Game 2. And it reached the point of being ridiculous with the comments being tossed about.

Whether you are a fan of BarStool Sports or not, they are a major force in online readership today. Besides, we’re talking about a towel here folks. Sometimes I think people stay up at night wondering what the next thing they can find to be outraged at.

BarStool saw a chance to do some advertising and the Bruins took them up on it. I don’t remember anyone in Boston being so put out when Matt Patricia wore a Stoolie t-shirt after a Super Bowl win…but it is what it is.

Gerald McCoy – The free agent DL was thought to be on the Patriots radar after his release by the Bucs but now is seemingly headed to either Cleveland or the Ravens according to NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport.

Those two teams are considered the favorites to land the six-time Pro Bowler with Carolina being a distant third in the potential for landing him. It seems like the Patriots, who were interested initially, were priced out of the competition.

Andy Hart – The longtime writer for Patriots Football Weekly and a regular on the “Patriots Unfiltered” podcast by PFW is leaving for WEEI. Hart will be an on-air personality for the struggling radio station, where it is hoped that he’ll breathe some fresh air and a boost for their ratings. He’ll be missed at Unfiltered, where his constant jabs at Paul Perillo especially were always a highlight of the show.

Questions for This Week’s Mini-camp and Beyond:

As we mentioned above, the Patriots begin their mandatory mini-camp this week, June 4-6 at the Gillette Stadium practice fields. And we’re looking forward to getting our first look at what the team looks like in 2019, albeit without pads or contact. And of course, seeing several of the new players that have been welcomed on the team this year.

As we all know with Bill Belichick, roster building is a process and the OTAs and mini-camps are teaching tools for the team. The evaluation won’t begin in earnest until training camp comes in late July.

There are, however, several questions that we have as the team begins their quest for “Knockin on Seven’s Door” in September.

What is the Status at Tackle – The Patriots lost left tackle Trent Brown in free agency. They drafted Isaiah Wynn with their first pick in the 2018 NFL Draft to be their left tackle of the future, but he was lost for the year after tearing an Achilles in training camp. Marcus Cannon remains entrenched on the right side.

The Patriots drafted T Yodny Cajuste who could be their swing tackle this year and possibly their RT is Cannon moves on in free agency in 2020. But Cajuste had off-season surgery on his quad and isn’t expected to be ready until training camp. Then, they signed free tackle Jared Veldheer as an insurance policy, but he abruptly retired last week.

With both Wynn and Cajuste coming off of injuries/surgery, there is an awful lot of uncertainty there that we really won’t know the answers to until training camp and preseason games begin. Could the team make another foray into free agency? Possibly, especially with the aging but still solid Donald Penn available.

Production at Tight End – We touched on this a couple of times recently. While there is no replacing Rob Gronkowski, they have to find some relief with the production that Gronkowski provided the offense.

While no one is expecting Ben Watson (who’ll miss the first four games), Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Matt LaCosse, et al. to replace the big man alone, they will no doubt ask them to combine to replace a lot of Gronk’s production.

And they’ll no doubt lean on the running backs more in the passing game as well as the wide receivers to ease some of the burden. But in essence, the position is wide open for competition this summer. And it will be definitely one to watch.

Running Back By Committee, How the Rotation Spins – We also know Belichick has always liked to have a RB by committee approach. The 2019 season should be no exception. The Patriots running backs hit their stride down the stretch once everyone got healthy and they had Sony Michel, James White, and Rex Burkhead to keep opponents off-balance. But early in the season with Michel dinged up and Burkhead on IR, their depth was thinned.

This spring they brought back depth RB and STs ace Brandon Bolden and then, somewhat surprisingly drafted a very intriguing prospect Damien Harris from Alabama. Harris is a three-down back who excels at yards after contact and short yardage. He’s very good at running between the tackles, an outstanding pass blocker, and an underrated pass receiver with soft hands. Look for Michel and Harris to get increased looks in the passing game.

With a 1-2-3 punch with Michel, Harris, and Burkhead running the ball and White as the designated third-down back, the combinations that OC Josh McDaniels can throw at opponents is going to be interesting when the Patriots line up in their “21-personnel” grouping (2RBs, 1 TE, 2 WR). This week we’ll watch for any signs of this playing out.

N’Keal Harry, Intriguing Potential, But Let’s Pump the Brakes a Bit:

The Patriots drafted N’Keal Harry with the #32 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft and fans are excited. Heck, we’re all excited. He’s done everything right since being drafted to hit all the high notes. His family story and being raised here by his grandmother was one of those must-read pieces.

He was very well spoken on being drafted, and his openness on learning from Julian Edelman on route running in the Patriots system every day certainly hit the right chords. He was then invited for a photo-op with Edelman and Brady for a workout/glorified catch at Brady’s home. The team made sure to publish the fact as the three worked out together. That set tongues to wagging non-stop. Even Bill Belichick, he of the normally low-key, clipped answer, didn’t give the standard, “he and all the players have a long way to go” response had this to say about Harry: “It’s been good, he’s worked hard. He’s smart and works hard,” Belichick said. That is some heady praise indeed.

But let’s all remember, Harry is a rookie WR and we all know that rookie WRs, as well as many veterans, have struggled in their first season in Foxboro. Yes, there have been exceptions to the rule, but he’s learning a new offense and terminology and trying to find where his best fit is. That’s something that he and the coaching staff will work on all summer and into the regular season.

If Harry doesn’t catch 75-80 passes for 1000 yards and double-digit touchdowns in 2019, I’m not going to worry about and neither should you. Let him find his comfort zone and begin his learning curve. That being said…Can’t wait to see him on the field on Tuesday.

Joejuan Williams Creates Matchup Wins for the Secondary:

The Patriots drafted CB Joejuan Williams in the 2nd round of the draft only 13 picks after N’Keal Harry.  And the very first thing that stood out was his size. At 6’4, 211, many fans and media members began to recall the 2014 acquisition of CB Brandon Browner. And while it is early, those thoughts may not be far off.

The two are remarkably close in physical make-up and playing styles. Earlier this week, I got to speak with Evan Lazar on a podcast and he was discussing the similarities between the two players. Lazar always does a super job of breaking down film and players at CLNS Media. He wrote about Williams’ possible role here:

With Stephon Gilmore locking down the opposite side (a la Revis in 2014), the Patriots can become creative with an opponent’s bigger WRs or tight ends. If he’s a smaller shiftier player, that could fall to Jonathan Jones, Duke Dawson or Jason McCourty. But that distinction could fall to Williams or J.C. Jackson.

With a plethora of good corners, the Patriots defense, on paper, for now, has the potential to be as good, or better than the 2014 version. Williams could be much like Browner, with the ability to cover the opponent’s bigger WR or TE. In the case of WRs, with his lack of top end speed, he’d have over the top safety help.

In today’s NFL, you can never have enough good corners. And the Patriots have several of them. Williams adds another chess piece for the defense to counter any threats by the opposition.

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills “Rallied Around Josh Allen” – Alexander:

The Buffalo Bills made a lot of very good moves this offseason, both in free agency and in the draft. But if the Bills are going to make the jump to contenders, they are going to need 2nd year QB Josh Allen to play like the franchise QB he was drafted to be.

While the jury is still out on Allen, with many established analysts on both sides of the coin, Allen is gaining the trust and confidence of his teammates. And one of the more established and respected members of the Bills’ locker room, Lorenzo Alexander believes Allen is ready to make the next step.

“I think the team started rallying around Allen and we want to obviously use some of that juice we finished the season off with and transition it to next year,” Alexander said while guesting on the Jim Rome Show. That’s the first big hurdle, expectations are high for the Bills in 2019.

Flores High on Dolphins Edge Player Charles Harris:

The Miami Dolphins new head coach Brian Flores is incorporating a Patriots “multiple” defensive mindset in the Dolphins defense in 2019. Players are going to move around and have multiple responsibilities and have to know what other players are doing on the field at the same time. But one of Miami’s biggest lacks is at edge rusher and 3rd-year player Charles Harris is at a crossroads. But he has a believer in Flores.

Harris was drafted in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft and was supposed to be one of the Fins’ designated pass rushers. But thru two NFL seasons, Harris has just three sacks to his credit, which is leading many to place the “bust” label on him. But not Flores.

In speaking with ESPN, Flores raved about Harris, despite the edge rusher not being fully healthy with an injured wrist.

“I can’t say enough good things about him,” Flores said. “He’s the kind of guy we want in the building. Honestly, I don’t care about his past. I care about right now. That’s where I’m at. … He’s really doing a good job for us in the classroom, on the field. He’s smart. He’s hard-working. He’s got a lot of ability.”

Flores is reportedly going to place Harris more in space, giving him a chance to become more of a difference maker than on the DL where he got swallowed up in the running game at times.  

Jets Dysfunction Played Out in Detail By Mehta:

Patriots fans are well familiar with Manish Mehta. With his over-the-top predictions, he calls for every New York Jets coach or player signing as being the death knell to the Patriots dynasty.  Just a few weeks ago, he trolled Twitter with his “Top AFC East QBs for 2019” and placed Sam Darnold at the top of the heap.

But he wrote a scathing report about the Jets dysfunction this week which detailed the inner workings of a team where the owner is making moves without the general manager having the slightest clue.

If even a quarter of this is accurate, it is a pretty damning picture of the Jets front office and that starts with Chris Johnson. You can read it in its entirety here:

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One final thought about the Patriots’ “easiest schedule” talk, if you look from just before Halloween to early December, New England has Cleveland at home, Baltimore away on SNF, followed by a game at Philadelphia, home against Dallas, at Houston in another prime time game and home against Kansas City. Six tough games in a row, against five teams who made the postseason in 2018. Sound easy?

“So, how was your week?”

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