The Patriots are wrapping up their final joint practice with the Lions on Wednesday and then all of the attention will turn to the first preseason game of the year. With that said, we should finally get a look at the Patriots rookie players with the real numbers that they’ll be wearing this season.
Don’t expect to see any of Tom Brady and most of the starting lineups in Thursday’s game, they’ll get eased more into the next two games. This one is usually about the rookies and the new players to the roster. Expect to see a lot of QB Jarrett Stidham in this one.
*For you who have been going to training camp, the following are the jersey numbers of the Patriots rookies for the game, unlike the funky numbers they’ve been wearing in training camp.
#4 Jarrett Stidham QB #7 Jake Bailey P #9 Gunner Olszewski WR/KR #10 N’Keal Harry WR #16 Jakobi Meyers WR #19 Ryan Davis WR #33 Joejuan Williams CB #37 Damien Harris RB #41 D’Angelo Ross DB #42 Nick Brossette, RB #42 Malik Gant, S #47 Ken Webster CB #50 Chase Winovich Edge #63 Martez Ivey OL #64 Hjalte Froholdt G #65 Yodny Cajuste T #67 Tyler Gauthier, OL #68 Tyree St. Louis OL #86 Andrew Beck TE #99 Byron Cowart DL
So, with all of the roster number hoopla out of the way, what exactly are we looking for after preseason Week 1?
Come Back to Foxboro Healthy:
Injuries are part of the game and we know they are inevitable, but the last thing you want to see is a player from either team going down with an injury. Just two years ago it was there in Detroit when Julian Edelman made a cut and went down with a torn ACL without being contacted. It ended his season before it began and may have cost the team down the road in Super Bowl LII.
So, while the coaches want to see their players perform well in all three phases of the game, coming out of the game as intact as possible, health-wise will be paramount.
Watching Stidham and Young Receivers in the Passing Game:
Stidham was drafted by the Patriots with little fanfare, he was hardly thought to be one of the best QB prospects in the draft. Part of the issue was the terrible offensive system they ran at Auburn. Stidham still has a long, long way to go but has been progressing nicely in camp and had a really good day on Tuesday’s joint practice.
Now, he’ll get to put his foot in the water for his first NFL game action. Thus far, he’s had a typical rookie spring/summer with issues holding the ball too long and trying to learn an entire new offensive system, to some sessions where he’s thrown the ball well.
And he’s got a plethora of receivers who are new to the Patriots. Unfortunately, top draft pick N’Keal Harry may not be among them. Harry tweaked a hamstring in Tuesday’s practice session, so he may be held out of this one…it will bear watching.
But rookies Jakobi Meyers, Gunner Olszewski, Ryan Davis, 2nd-year man Braxton Berrios, as well veteran newcomers Maurice Harris, and Dontrelle Inman are getting their first reps in Patriots uniforms.
Meyers is generating a ton of buzz around his play and his early grasp of the Patriots playbook but Berrios, who had a strong spring and a frustrating beginning to camp has shown signs of life against the Lions secondary. These preseason games will tell the tale of who earns more reps and carves out a role on the roster.
Harris and Inman are veterans but want to put forward solid contributions in preseason working against mainly vanilla coverages to earn more reps with Brady, who is doubtful to make an appearance.
Rookie Damien Harris has shown the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield during camp sessions. It will interesting to see if the coaches decide to use him and Brandon Bolden in that capacity in their first game action of 2019.
Running Game Can Be Hit or Miss:
The problem with trying to judge running backs, and Harris should see a ton of action along with Nick Brossette and Jakob Johnson, is that the back-up offensive lines are in the game. And it frequently occurs that the offense can sputter in running situations as the backups don’t have the reps together to work in harmony with one another.
However, I’m intrigued to watch what Harris and Brossette can do. Brossette will have a very tough time cracking the 53-man roster as the position is loaded this year. But I liked what I saw of him in college and thus far in limited reps. He’s playing for a practice squad role.
Brandon Bolden is one of our favorite Patriots players to watch. The reserve running back and special teams ace should also see quite a bit of action in the preseason opener both in the running and passing game.
Special Teams Battle:
As much as I thought Ryan Allen could have made a case for Super Bowl LIII MVP, I’ve been sold on Jake Bailey since minicamp. He has a leg that puts distance and incredible hang time into the ball which almost puts it into the outer marker for Logan. He and Allen are battling it out for the punter’s job in 2019. While Bailey has the much stronger leg, Allen’s forte is directional punting and consistency, where he has the edge over the rookie.
One thing to watch all thru the preseason is kickoffs. Bailey is adept at it as well as being an emergency field goal kicker. He’s shared duties with Stephen Gostkowski on kickoffs in camp thus far and it could make a difference in the final cutdown.
Defense As a Whole, But Keep an Eye on the Secondary:
The Patriots defense looks to be much better, deeper and more versatile than last year’s unit. While many of the starting members may only play sparingly, the guys that really bear watching are the new players or those fighting for roster spots.
Chase Winovich has stepped up his game in the practices with the Lions, it promises to be intriguing to see A. How they use him and B. How well he does in his first game action. The rookie from Michigan looks to be a very promising player. Shilique Calhoun, we wrote the other day is having a very solid camp. He continued his strong play against the Lions and has a chance to earn more reps as camp progresses.
Other edge players on the bubble and bear watching are Derek Rivers, Keionta Davis, Trent Harris, Ufomba Kamalu, and Nick Thurman. All of them have played well so far but need to step it up during the next four weeks.
In the secondary, with Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, and Jason McCourty known quantities, the guys we really want to see are new 2nd round pick Joejuan Williams, Duke Dawson, Keion Crossen and D’Angelo Ross at cornerback.
At safety, Terrence Brooks, Obi Melifonwu, and Malik Gant are all vying for roster spots behind Devin McCourty, Pat Chung, and Duron Harmon. Both Brooks and Melifonwu have played well and have gotten reps with the starting unit.
With the Patriots first ten days of training camp over, it is time to take another crack at our New England Patriots 53-man roster projection. With eight practices in, several of them fully padded, we’ll look at the early risers and whose falling. We’ll revisit this after a week with the Detroit Lions and their first preseason game.
Offense – Quarterbacks: (3)
Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Jarrett Stidham Out: Danny Etling
The Patriots will continue to go with three QBs as Brady, Hoyer, and Jarrett Stidham will man the position this year. It will be interesting to see if Stidham shows enough in the upcoming preseason games to push Hoyer as Brady’s backup in case of emergency.
Running backs: (6)
Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, James White, Damien Harris, Brandon Bolden, James Develin Out: Nick Brosette, Jakob Johnson* [NFL International Player]
Sony Michel looks good, now that he is back on the field and he and Damien Harris are getting more frequent looks in the passing game. James White looks as good as ever while Brandon Bolden isn’t going anywhere, he’s a good depth guy and outstanding on STs. Develin could easily be posted with the tight ends as he practices with them frequently. If the Patriots decide five is enough would that make Burkhead expendable? Possibly, but for now, he sticks.
Brosette is a victim of the numbers and lands on the practice squad. Ditto for Johnson who is automatically granted an extra spot on the PS due to his NFL International status
Tight ends: (2) Matt Lacosse, Ryan Izzo, **Ben Watson Suspended** Out: Lance Kendricks, Stephen Anderson, Andrew Beck
The Patriots have Lacosse being the receiving tight end with Izzo as the blocker who nudges out Anderson, the move tight end thus far. Ben Watson will return after the first month which means they’ll have to make another cut somewhere.
Beck got a fair amount of guaranteed money and could become another fullback option if Develin gets hurt, he’ll be a practice squad candidate.
Wide Receivers: (5) Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, Phillip Dorsett, Maurice Harris, Jakobi Meyers Out: Braxton Berrios, Dontrelle Inman, Damoun Patterson, Ryan Davis, Gunner Olszewski, **Josh Gordon Suspended** Demaryius Thomas [PUP], Cameron Meredith [PUP]
Edelman, Harry, and Dorsett are the top three, Dorsett is still an intriguing case. He has all of the tools to be a very productive receiver but only produces in short flashes. But given the cuts, he’s the only viable kick returner on the roster unless the coaches want to push Edelman or Michel back out there.
Harris has been the most consistent receiver on the field thus far and Meyers is already beginning to develop the chemistry with Brady that will be needed. Thomas has yet to see the field so no one knows if he has anything left in the tank. Gordon has applied for reinstatement by the league so we’ll be watching to see how that unfolds.
Berrios can’t get any separation and after a strong showing in the spring, has taken a step back. This coming week with the Lions will be huge for him. Inman has been largely invisible but just began making progress this week. Patterson, Davis, and Olszewski are practice squad candidates.
However, Berrios and/or Olszewski could carve out a role in the return game. Preseason will tell the tale.
Offensive line: (8) Isaiah Wynn, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, Joe Thuney, James Ferentz, Ted Karras, Hjalte Froholdt Out: Yodny Cajuste [NFI], Dan Skipper, Cedric Lang, Tyree St. Louis, Martez Ivey
Hmm, depth at tackle remains a dicey situation with Isaiah Wynn still not a full go at practice. At this point, they need to start getting him real reps and not a walk-thru if he’s going to be ready for the regular season. The team is giving Dan Skipper every opportunity to win a roster spot but he’s shown that even against the 2nd tier guys, he’s getting beat. Not good for a left tackle.
Cajuste is still on NFI and the longer it drags on, the more it seems that he won’t be ready until midseason. The answer for the short term? Joe Thuney at LT, Karras at LG and now it makes more sense to keep Ferentz.
Edge Players: (4) Michael Bennett, Deatrich Wise, John Simon, Chase Winovich Out: Derek Rivers, Keionta Davis, Trent Harris, Nick Thurman, Ufomba Kamalu
Bennett and Wise are your defensive ends in a base 3-4, which they’ve run a lot of this spring/summer. Simon and Winovich could easily be lumped in with the linebackers. It is curious if they do run a 3-4, Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler could be 3-4 DEs as well. Rivers has looked good so far, but Winovich is looking just a strong right now and would, IMO get the nod.
Nobody is closing the door on Davis, Harris, Thurman, or Kamalu at this point. All of them have had good moments in camp. Plenty can happen in the next few weeks, but as of today, they’re on the wrong side of the numbers crunch.
Interior Defensive Line: (4)
Lawrence Guy, Mike Pennel, Danny Shelton, Adam Butler
Out: Bryon Cowart, David Parry
Guy and Pennel should be the Week 1 starting combination inside. Shelton returns, as the backup nose tackle. Guy and Butler offer versatility in either inside DL in a 4-3 or as 3-4 DEs playing a five-technique. This is a solid group and Mike Pennel should be an immediate early downs producer.
Cowart and Parry have some ground to make up but are for the time being, outside looking in.
Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Elandon Roberts, Brandon King Out: Christian Sam. Terez Hall, Calvin Munson, Shalique Calhoun
Linebacker is a position of strength and the Patriots could still play Winovich and Simon here as well. If they were to add another roster spot for extra depth, Sam, who is having an under the radar camp or Calhoun who has played well in limited reps could find their way on the roster.
Hightower, Bentley, and Roberts will handle the inside duties while the others will play outside, but moving players around seems like a given this year.
Cornerback: (7) Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, Jason McCourty, Joejuan Williams, Jonathan Jones, Duke Dawson, Keion Crossen Out: Ken Webster, D’Angelo Ross
You can never have enough talented corners…right? Gilmore, McCourty, and Jackson give the team three very good to excellent boundary corners. Jones and Dawson will handle the slot. Williams is a big corner (6’4) that allows him to play against the bigger WRs or matchup with tight ends.
The versatility and depth of this group give the Patriots their deepest part of the roster. Both Ross and Webster are candidates for the practice squad.
Safety: (4) Devin McCourty, Pat Chung, Duron Harmon, Terrence Brooks Out: Obi Melifonwu, Malik Gant, Nate Ebner [PUP], AJ Howard
Brooks has been seeing a lot of reps on defense with the top unit and the veteran ST’s ace edges out Obi Melifonwu right now. Obi has had a good camp and has gotten a lot of reps himself with the top unit. His size and athleticism make this one a tough choice. But the competition continues.
Ebner is on PUP for now and Gant is a candidate for the practice squad.
Specialists: (4) Kicker Stephen Gostkowski, punter Jake Bailey, long-snapper Joe Cardona, Gunner Matthew Slater Out: Ryan Allen
Gostkowski and Cardona aren’t facing any competition in camp and other than Brady, perhaps, these two should rest easiest in training camp. Bailey the strong-legged punter and Allen are locked in a good camp battle. Bailey has a booming leg with incredible hang time while Allen is the steady vet. But Bailey can also kickoff and fill in for Gostkowski on FGs if need be. Slater practices hard on his own all session long with a staff member, working on his gunner skills.
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 Patriots’ training camp starts in just two days, it is one of our favorite times of the year. All 32 teams are beginning with a clean slate and are trying to build the best version of themselves as possible.
Today, we’re looking at the safeties and there promises to be virtually no movement at the top of the depth chart. The Patriots have been fielding the same top three safeties at the top of their depth chart for several years now.
Devin McCourty, Pat Chung, and Duron Harmon are all considered starters and all three are frequently on the field at the same time. However, after those three, competition is wide open for one, possibly two, with an outside chance of three roster spots. (In our initial 53-man roster projection, we had them keeping only four safeties.)
Special teamer Nate Ebner, Terrence Brooks, Obi Melifonwu, A.J. Howard, and rookie UDFA Malik Grant round out the position.
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.
So, let’s take a look at the position as it unfolds as training camp begins this summer.
Current roster – Devin McCourty, Pat Chung, Duron Harmon, Nate Ebner, Terrence Brooks, Obi Melifonwu, A.J. Howard, Malik Gant
Locks – McCourty, Chung, Harmon, Brooks
Near Locks – none
Bubble – Ebner, Melifonwu, Howard
Long Shot – Gant
Discussion – With the top three players returning, one can expect the position on Week 1 against the Steelers to look exactly the same as it has for a long time. McCourty, Chung, and Harmon are all locks for the roster and the only way we can see them not being on the field against Pittsburgh is because of injury.
However, both McCourty and Chung are on the wrong side of 30 and despite very solid play from both, it is time the team begins grooming their eventual replacements. McCourty flirted with retirement after the Super Bowl. It wouldn’t surprise me if he called it a career after the 2019 season. Chung is coming off of offseason surgery for his arm which was injured in the Super Bowl. Harmon is essentially a starter and should be around for the next couple of years. And that is where the team now stands.
Are there replacements for Chung and McCourty currently on the roster as it now is constructed? Time will tell. Here is where the competition proves to get fierce this summer.
The Patriots gave Brooks a two-year, $4 million dollar contract with a $500,000 signing bonus and $1.3 million guaranteed. So, because of his deal in 2019, it is really hard to see the Patriots letting go of the 27-year-old backup safety. Brooks led the Jets in special teams snaps in 2018 and he should a core mainstay on the Patriots ST units.
Melifonwu is perhaps the most intriguing member of the group. Easily the most athletic of the group, Melifonwu has tremendous size (6’4, 224) with elite athleticism. The Patriots picked him up in midseason last year and with a full offseason under his belt, he now knows the defense. It is unclear if the team views him as a deep safety who will compete with Harmon or an in-the-box safety behind Chung. With Chung missing minicamp, Melifonwu got a lot of reps with the top unit. He will bear watching in what could be a make-or-break season for him.
Every year we put Ebner on the bubble, you’d think by now, we’d have learned our lesson and recognize the fact that Bill Belichick loves what he’s got in the backup safety and special teams standout. But the fact that Brooks was brought in strictly for his special teams’ acumen, could be a omen that Ebner’s time is waning with the team. He is starting the year on PUP. But then I remember Belichick wearing Ebner’s rugby jersey at TC while Ebner was away representing the USA.
Howard had an impressive career at Appalachian State but went undrafted. He spent time with the Cardinals and Giants before the Patriots picked him up in early January. He’s a strong safety who will try to carve out a spot for himself this summer or try to land on the Patriots practice squad.
Gant is a strong safety who plays with a chip on his shoulder. He’s a thumper in the running game and offers good size (6’2, 200) for the position. Right now, he’s a long shot to make the roster but is a great candidate for the team to develop on the practice squad. One thing to keep in mind is that with Joejuan Williams at a corner, he may be able to help cover some of the tight ends traditionally covered by the safeties.
The Patriots enter the season in very good shape at the safety position but it is time to begin developing and making plans for the eventual replacements for McCourty and Chung. There should be great competition here but again as with the cornerback position, it will take place at the back end of the depth chart.
When you win a Super Bowl, there generally isn’t a lot of available roster spots to go around. The 2019 New England Patriots currently sit at 90 players and they are no exception. There promises to be a ton of competition this summer for the back end of the team’s 53-man roster.
The Patriots were picked earlier this summer for having the deepest roster in the NFL. Whether or not you subscribe to that is immaterial. A look at the roster and there really isn’t a lot of wiggle room for players to come in and carve out a role for themselves.
So, that brings us to the purpose of this piece, several well-known players will be firmly on the bubble when training camp begins. Others, due to injury or subpar play could be added as camp practices progress and some of these players could cement themselves with solid play. Here are some but not all of the players on the bubble. There is a long way to go.
Danny Etling – Some people are surprised that Etling is still on the roster. During minicamp, the 2nd year QB was clearly displaced as the #3 signal caller by Jarrett Stidham. Etling was playing STs as the personal punt protector. The Patriots just used a 4th round pick on Stidham, while that isn’t in itself a guarantee, they clearly were giving him plenty of opportunities, to the detriment of Etling this spring.
The team isn’t going to keep 4 QBs, so Etling is the odd man out. Could he push Hoyer for a slot? Doubtful. And it is also doubtful that the Patriots cut their ties to Hoyer with Stidham so green…at least for 2019.
Braxton Berrios – The 2nd year WR was injured and missed the entire 2018 season and appeared in just one preseason game last summer. Now healthy, Berrios has turned some heads during OTAs and was arguably the best player on the field during Day 1 of the mandatory minicamp.
He hasn’t locked down anything yet however. Once training camp hits, he’ll need to continue that solid play catching passes, returning kicks and more importantly, stay on the field. This will be a big camp for him as he could either carve out a decent role for himself or fall completely off the radar.
Dontrelle Inman – Inman was signed by the Patriots in May after the Colts decided to let him walk in free agency. Inman was picked up by the Colts in midstream of the 2018 season and worked himself into a key role. Indy moved him around as a big (6’3, 205) slot receiver and occasionally as the “X”. He had good production down the stretch and in the playoffs.
But a very subpar minicamp dropped Inman far down the depth chart. He didn’t catch a single pass in team drills in all three days of the mandatory sessions. That doesn’t mean he’s out yet… but it does put him in a precarious position to begin camp, far down the depth chart.
Ted Karras – The tough, versatile Karras was picked up by the Patriots in 2016 and has been a valuable depth piece on the offensive line ever since. He can play anywhere on the interior offensive line. But the team invested a 4th rounder on Hjalte Froholdt. And the Arkansas alum can do the same things that Karras can do.
The feeling is that with Joe Thuney a free agent after this season, the team is grooming Froholdt to be the starter. He and Karras will be battling for the backup position this summer and it should be a great battle.
Derek Rivers – The Patriots top pick from two seasons ago is facing a huge training camp this summer. He lost his rookie season to a torn ACL during the preseason and never stepped on the field. He returned, albeit not 100 percent physically last summer and played sparingly. In his two seasons, he’s logged 78 snaps, two tackles, and one sack.
The Patriots know his potential and his NFL Combine performance and his production in college were the things that attracted them. But this summer is the beginning of Year 3 and projections are no longer in the cards. It is make or break time for Rivers this summer.
Keion Crossen/Duke Dawson – The Patriots are loaded at cornerback. It is arguably their deepest position. With Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, Jason McCourty, Jonathan Jones, Crossen, and Duke Dawson who missed all of his rookie season, the team added more. They drafted Joejuan Williams in the 2nd round and Ken Webster in the 7th. They also added D’Angelo Ross later. They can’t keep all of them.
Gilmore, Jackson, and Williams (by reason of his draft position) are locks for the roster. McCourty and Jones are near locks themselves. That makes the competition between Crossen and Dawson for the sixth spot one to watch. The feeling here is that they’ll keep six but could opt for more, at least initially.
Crossen is a special teams standout with the athleticism to play cover corner, much like Jones, who began the same way. The team invested a second rounder in Dawson last year, but he was lost to injury. With the players they added this spring, Dawson is far from safe. He and Crossen may be fighting it out for the final corner slot.
Nate Ebner/Obi Melifonwu – The Patriots are also very deep but aging at safety. While they have ostensibly three starters in Devin McCourty, Pat Chung and Duron Harmon, the first two are on the wrong side of 30 and McCourty hinted at retirement this spring.
The team normally keeps five safeties/STs but this spring they signed former Jets S/ST ace Terrence Brooks. Brooks got a two-year, $4 million dollar deal with a $500,000 signing bonus and $1.3 million of that guaranteed. That puts him in the lock category.
Brooks is known primarily as a STs ace who can fill in and play some safety when needed. Nate Ebner is another STs standout and a Belichick favorite. However, he rarely if ever plays on defense. Obi Melifonwu was brought in at midstream last season and now has a full offseason under his belt. The team’s idea was for the uber-athletic and big Obi to cover big WRs and TEs in the slot. But with the addition of Williams in Round 2, that makes him potentially expendable.
Melifonwu offers much more upside than Ebner defensively and got some first-team reps this spring with Chung missing but he doesn’t have the ST’s acumen of the latter. These two may be battling it out for the 53rd and final roster spot on the team.
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
With the Patriots win over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, the Patriots are 9-3 and are currently the #2 seed of the AFC. They can clinch their division with a win over the Dolphins on Sunday, the first “hat and T-shirt” game of the season.
Nothing is guaranteed yet, there are still four games left to play and they could finish anywhere from the #1 seed to out of the playoffs if they drop all four. But is there anyone really out there that can see that scenario?
Things you can set your watch/calendar by:
The Pats laying a stinker or two in Sept.
National media rushing to be “first” to predict the end of NE’s run
Patriots fans screaming on social media every time an opponent completes a pass of more than 10 yards, “They’re trash!”
The team slogging thru the midway point of the season stringing together wins
Post-Thanksgiving, the team is suddenly among the AFC’s top seeds…again
After every win, especially against big opponents, the “yeah buts” come out
That “trash” defense begins to come together
Did we miss any? One fan who follows us on social media proclaimed during the Lions game that the team was “going 5-11 as Bill has gutted this team with terrible drafting”, and yet here we are again.
The best thing to watch on Sunday was the work of the Patriots defense. The one constant about the Patriots defense is that it is always changing. They don’t have the one signature aspect that everyone can point to and say, “Team “A” is going to have to deal with this” or that “Team “B” can’t match up with that”. It is, under Bill Belichick a unit that changes from week to week depending on the team and can morph into totally different entities.
Against the Jets, they went to a heavier package trying to stop the running game that was base-heavy. Against Minnesota, they went to nearly all sub-packages, at times having Trey Flowers as the only down lineman, daring them to run, while trying to stop the pass. They did a masterful job of disguising their blitzes and the safety group was moving all around which confused Kirk Cousins to where he was forced to check down time and again to outlet receivers where the defense cleaned them up.
This requires a massive amount of work and study and having players that are smart and versatile, especially the secondary which gets far too little credit. The Patriots have quietly amassed a very talented group in the secondary and they are getting better each week.
Last week, facing the Vikings talented duo of Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, the Pats defense, didn’t do their normal M.O. which is to try to take away their top threat and make you beat them elsewhere, they DID take away both.
Thielen, who had amassed nine 100-yard games was held to just five catches for 28 yards and a 5-yard TD. Diggs had five catches for 49 yards. And right smack in the middle of it all was Stephon Gilmore.
Gilmore is a corner who doesn’t get nearly the credit that he deserves for being the player that he is. Other than the Titans game where he and everyone else played terribly, he’s been lights out since the earliest days of OTAs. Joining him is Jason McCourty, who not only is playing meaningful games for the first time in his career, is also playing some of the best football of his career. Jonathan Jones and the surprising rookie emergence of J.C. Jackson has to be a source of confidence moving forward.
The safety group now has four players that the team can use in just about any situation. Pat Chung and Devin McCourty are both ramping their games up to an extremely high level with Duron (The Closer) Harmon and newcomer Obi Melifonwu providing depth and versatility for the coaches to throw different looks at the opposition.
While everyone south of the North Pole laments the amount of yardage that they allow. But yards passing doesn’t win football games…points do. Otherwise, the Pats would have cruised in the SB against the Eagles. And don’t look now, but that “trash” defense of the Patriots? They’re currently tied with Seattle for 9th best in points allowed with 21.6. Right on time. And the opposing passer rating, they’re currently 6th, with opponents QBs having a passer rating of just 85.9.
They aren’t the most talented group in the front seven, with the exception of Trey Flowers on the defensive line, there are a bunch of workmen who bring their lunch pails to the stadium every day. Lawrence Guy, in particular, has been a great pickup for them.
The Linebacker group is the same. Are Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy All-Pros? Nope but in this defense, they are as valuable as them. Elandon Roberts is someone we frequently criticize but he has the confidence of his coaches and on Sunday was flying around the field which is a good thing. They miss their rookie Ja’Whaun Bentley but who should be even better next season.
Are they now a Top-10 defense? Nope. But they’re competitive and with a confidence level that they feel they can match up and slow down anyone they meet. We all heard the noise (all year) but especially before last week’s game. “They can’t stop Thielen”, or “Diggs will eat them up”, “Who is going to cover Cook underneath.” It was the same when they faced Aaron Rodgers but of course, after that game, there were the endless…yeah buts.
One of the things that Bill Belichick talks about, and one of the hardest thing to do as a coach, is getting a team to “buy-in” to what they’re trying to get across with a team philosophy. We saw that fail in 2009 when he lamented on the sideline in New Orleans that the team wouldn’t do so. Judging from what we saw on Sunday, this team is all-in. What happens from here? Nobody knows, they could run the table or get booted in the first round. “Yeah but what about the Steelers’ offense?” But just this time, for once, sit back and enjoy the ride.
Don’t look now but the Patriots defense has turned things around and looks like the unit we envisioned back this summer. The Pats defense held the Raiders to just eight points while Tom Brady carved up Jack Del Rio’s defense once again as the Patriots rolled to a 33-8 blowout win that wasn’t even as close as the score would indicate.
Brady improved to 9-1 against Del Rio’s defenses with a ridiculous 25 touchdowns to one interception. Oh and Stephen Gostkowski booted a 62-yard field goal as time ran out in the first half that may have been good from 72. The win allows the Patriots to keep pace with the Steelers at 8-2 in the AFC and coupled with another blowout loss by the Bills gives New England a commanding three-game lead in the AFC East.
Bill Belichick earned another career milestone moving past Tom Landry in all-time wins by an NFL head coach with 271 with the victory. He now resides in third place all-time amongst NFL head coaches. Other observations without the benefit of a film review from the game include:
Brady likes the rarified air the past two weeks: Brady started off laser hot, hitting his first 12 passes and he finished 30-37 for 339 yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions. In the past two games in the altitude in Denver and Mexico City Brady is a combined 55 of 71 for 605 yards with six touchdowns and zero interceptions. He has a completion percentage of 77.4 and a passer rating of 130.3.
Those are some remarkable numbers for a guy who the national pundits proclaim every year that this will be the one that he falls off the cliff and shows his age. On the season, Brady is completing 68.7 percent of his passes, (261-380) for 3146 yards with 21 touchdowns and just two interceptions for a passer rating of 110.9.
Tony Romo made a good analogy before the game, Brady, he said, is like an old schoolteacher who already knows the answers to the questions on his tests. He knows his offense inside and out and against the Del Rio defense that he’s faced so many times, there were no surprises. Del Rio always runs a “we do, what we do” type of defense and Brady simply eviscerates them every time.
Brady made a terrific fake on the first touchdown, looking left and at the last second turning right and hitting Dion Lewis who juked and cut, leaving three Raiders in his wake for a beautiful touchdown putting the Patriots up 7-0. Lewis had another very solid day.
Patriots Defense Shines South of the Border: Matt Patricia’s unit has turned a corner and is playing some really good football during this current six-game winning streak. The Patriots haven’t allowed an opponent to score more than 17 points since the last minute loss to Carolina in Week 4.
In the past six games, the Patriots are allowing an average of just 12.5 points per game. That is winning football. The secondary is playing light years better than they were earlier in the year and the communication breakdowns that plagued the team are seemingly a distant memory.
Stephon Gillmore and Malcolm Butler are playing very solidly at corner and they’re being backed ably by Jonathan Jones and Johnson Bademosi. They held the explosive two wideouts of the Raiders, Amari Cooper, and Michael Crabtree under check today. Combined the two wideouts had nine catches for just 79 yards.
Jared Cook who entered the game red-hot had just two catches for 36 yards with the safeties, Pat Chung, Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon did a great job of keeping him under wraps. Elandon Roberts also played well in coverage on Sunday.
Issues persist with the run defense and pass rush, but this unit is in far better shape than the group who was struggling mightily the first month of the season.
Patriots Secondary Coming Together: To piggyback off the above paragraph, the Patriots secondary is really beginning to come together. The first half dozen games, teams were routinely throwing for 300 yards, not any longer. While the Raiders had a number of drops on Sunday, the play of the secondary has to be a bright spot with the coaches this week.
Raiders QB Derek Carr’s numbers reflect a very pedestrian day, 28-49 for 237 yards with one touchdown and one interception for a passer rating of 68.2 on the afternoon. Carr didn’t even pass 100 yards through the air until early in the fourth quarter. On his last couple of drives, he piled on a number of yards underneath in garbage time as the Patriots with a big lead were more than content with allowing him to throw short underneath passes buying time for space. Carr averaged just 4.8 yards per throw on the day.
Scarnecchia Influence Felt on the Offensive Line: Game ball should go to Ted Karras and LaAdrian Waddle who filled in ably on the offensive line. Karras was filling in at center for David Andrews who was a late scratch due to what was characterized as altitude sickness late last week. Karras had played guard in college and had never played center before. There was no issue at all with his shotgun snaps during the game, the communication between the interior offensive linemen seemed fine and Karras did a good job in the running game as they ran the ball effectively between the tackles.
Waddle filled in for the second week in a row and faced one of the NFL’s elite pass rushers in Khalil Mack. Last week he faced Von Miller. In both games, Waddle, with some help from chipping tight ends has fared extremely well. He allowed one sack to Mack in the two games and has been solid in pass protection.
The influence of Dante Scarnecchia can’t be overstated here. His attention to detail and the proper technique that he instills in his linemen are always in the best position to succeed. For Waddle, the road doesn’t get any easier, he’ll face Cameron Wake next week if Cannon is still banged up. But Scarnecchia will have them ready. Game balls for all three.
Situational Football, Gostkowski Has a Monster Day: The Patriots special teams had another big day and it was just highlighted by the team’s stress of practicing situational football. Because of the altitude, Pats kicker Stephen Gostkowski was able to make 70-yard field goals in the warm-ups and the team knew that if the situation arose they could count on him.
That came late in the second quarter with the Patriots leading 14-0. The Raiders were driving for a score and WR Seth Roberts caught a Carr pass and did a terrible job of securing the football on the Patriots five-yard line. Marquis Flowers punched the ball loose and the Pats recovered on the 7-yard line with just 33 seconds left in the half.
Like they’ve done so many times at practice and at training camp, the situational football drill was performed to perfection. Brady drove the Patriots from their seven to the Raiders 45-yard line in just 28 seconds setting the stage for Gostkowski.
Gostkowski boomed the 62-yarder for a field goal as time expired in the half and it wasn’t even close. The ball hit the netting beyond the goal posts and would have been good from 70-yards. The Patriots got the ball first in the second half. On the third play, Brady hit a streaking Brandin Cooks for a 64-yard touchdown, in the span of five plays the Patriots scored 10 points. Game over, thanks for coming, have a safe trip home.
Gostkowski added field goals from 51, 40 and 29 yards on the day. It was his third game where he’s had two field goals from 50+ yards in the same game. Situational football and special teams are hallmarks of Bill Belichick’s teams and on Sunday, they shined once again.
Brandin Cooks has a Monster Day: The Patriots wide receiver has been having a terrific 2017 season. But while he’s been consistently very good, he hasn’t had that one big day where he blew the game open. That block has been checked.
When he was brought in to the team this spring, it was immediately noted that Cooks brings a different element to the table. The Patriots were known as a quick team that thrived on the short, intermediate parts of the field. But they lacked that one true speed demon who can stretch the field both vertically and horizontally. Cooks has filled that need quite well. He and Brady went to great lengths this summer working on their deep ball game, something that Brady supposedly couldn’t do anymore.
After missing on a deep throw early in the second quarter on a third and five. On the Patriots next possession, Brady went right back to it on first down. He and Cooks hooked up perfectly for a 52-yard gain. That set up the second touchdown, a Brady pass to Danny Amendola.
He and Cooks hooked up again on the third play of the third quarter. The Raiders, short-handed at corner, had rookie safety Obi Melifonwu playing corner opposite Cooks. It was a poor matchup for Oakland and Brady caught the rookie peeking into the backfield while Cooks did a double move and was gone. Brady laid the ball in perfectly and the deep safety help was very late in getting over and Cooks was gone for a 64-yard score. He ended up with six catches for 149 yards and the score.
Cooks has bought into the team first concept where Brady is spreading the ball around to everyone and thus far he has just 45 catches on the season. But he’s on pace for a 1250 yard+ season, which would be a career high. He leads the league with catches of 40 yards or more with six. He also has a dozen catches for 20+ yards.
The Patriots got their man with Mike Gillislee, signing the restricted free agent running back to a two-year deal and in the process, lost their 5th round draft pick to Buffalo. That effectively means that they won’t be drafting a back, we looked toward a bigger one this weekend.
There is a fascinating tool to use for doing a mock draft made possible by the guys over at Fanspeak.com that we touted last year and is, even more, fun to use in 2017.
In their “On the Clock” simulator, you are the GM for any NFL team. You can choose how many rounds you’d like to draft for (1-7), and pick one of nine different big boards to choose from.
The big boards for each site differ and the site has a random selection process that picks for the other 31 teams based on the best player available and team needs that are constantly updated until it is your time to pick.
For this final Mock Draft before tomorrow (4-25), I used the big board of CBS
Right now, the Patriots don’t pick until Round 3, #72 due to some of the trades that they’ve swung for Brandin Cooks and Kony Ealy. Talk is still swirling that the Pats may swing a deal involving either Malcolm Butler or Jimmy Garoppolo. I don’t see either of them going anywhere in 2017. And if they were to trade Butler, then they’d be in the market for a cornerback. And with Belichick, he prefers the known commodity. The defense with Butler, Stephon Gillmore and Eric Rowe at corner is stacked.
Here is our Patriots Mock Draft 4.0:
Round 3, Pick #72 SS Obi Melifonwu, UConn: Bill Belichick loves to draft safeties early in the draft and after the disappointing performance by Jordan Richards, they’ll be looking for a long-term replacement for Pat Chung at the strong safety position. Melifonwu is an athletic freak at 6’4, 225. He ran a 4.40 in the 40-yard dash at the Combine, with a 44-inch vertical.
Frankly, we doubted that Melifonwu would be around in the 3rd. But the big board of CBS Sports has him falling all the way to New England at #72. He won’t be a free safety, he’ll be best in the box, where he has the size and athleticism to run with tight ends or step up in run support. The Patriots “big nickel”? He’s a perfect fit.
He has the speed and athleticism to run with the big wide receivers in certain situations as well. Huge steal for NE in the 3rd round.
Round 3, Pick #96 Edge, Tarrell Basham, Ohio: The Patriots have scouted Basham and reportedly have a high level of interest. This would be a quintessential Belichick pick. In a draft chock full of talented edge players, taking a guy who has totally flown under the radar playing at Ohio.
He has an NFL-ready frame at 6’4, 269-pounds with long arms and big, strong hands. Basham was the Mid-American Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year 50 tackle including 16 for a loss, 11.5 sacks, 2 passes defensed, 2 forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.
He’s got the explosion off the ball with short area burst to get to the quarterback. He’s strong and sets the edge well. He’d project to be a third down sub-package player in his rookie year and a potential starter in Year 2.
Round 4, Pick #131 TE George Kittle, Iowa: No change from Mock 3.0. Kittle is a 6’4, 247-pound tight end that will help build the depth they need at the position. Kittle was an honorable mention All-Big Ten pick last season, in 11 starts, he produced 22 catches for 314 yards and four TDs.
He’s got good size, has very good speed with a 4:52 time in the 40-yard dash with excellent hands. He had only one drop with 48 career receptions. He’s a good and willing blocker inside. Kittle has the speed to be a vertical threat down the seam, although his route-running needs polishing.
Round 5, Pick #183 OT Erik Magnuson, Michigan: Magnuson is a 37-game starter for the Wolverines and is a solid run blocker who can get to the second level, has very good pass protection skills. He uses his hands well and can mirror pass rushers. He’s strong, physical and tough with good athleticism at the position.
He’s 6’4, 303-pounds, he’s never played left tackle but right tackle and guard while at Michigan. He’s a versatile kid with upside but like Joe Thuney before him, the Patriots may decide to kick him inside at center.
Round 6, Pick #200 LB Connor Harris, Lindenwood: Harris is a throwback, an extremely versatile kid who can play linebacker, running back and punt in an emergency. A three-time captain his stats speak of an era when players played for 60 minutes. In 2016, he made an incredible 138 tackles, including 8.5 for a loss, two INT, one for a TD. During his career, Harris also contributed as a running back with 50 carries for 328 yards and seven TDs. As a punter, he had a 38.8-yard average, with six downed inside the 20-yard line in 2016.
While he doesn’t have the length, you’d like at linebacker at 5’11, 242-pounds, he is a film junkie who is extremely well prepared and has tremendous production. He’s an inspirational leader on and off the field (3-year captain), who can play all three downs. Non-stop motor, and the ability to make plays all over the field.
Round 7, Pick #231 Edge Keionta Davis, Chattanooga: Davis had his second straight FCS All-American season in 2016, tallying 10.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. At 6’3, 274-pounds he has the length and strength to take on offensive linemen in the trenches.
He plays low to the ground and sets the edge very well in the running game. However, he’s a bit stiff in the hips and doesn’t have the bend on the edge that you’d like to see in an edge rusher. The strength and conditioning coaches may have him bulk up another 10-15 pounds and kick him inside as a sub-package interior rusher.