Tag Archives: Patriots edge rushers

New England Patriots News 7-15, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
July 15, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, Here is your Sunday’s Patriots news 7-15, & AFC East Notes.

Quick Hitters:
Something you can file under either a slow news week or not very surprising news, Mark Wahlberg has placed “a hefty bet” on the Patriots winning the Super Bowl. The Boston-born and Pats diehard fan who played Vince Papale of the Eagles in a film has long been a good friend of Tom Brady. Oh and he placed a bet on the Eagles as well.

Tony Romo jumped into the Tom Brady – Bill Belichick ongoing discussion on how their relationship is, in his opinion just fine. “I just think when you work together for 15-20 years, whatever it is, I think that whenever you have the success that they have, people have to come up with stuff,” Romo said. “I’ve been upset with my coaches before, and then you come back and you’re fine.

Romo added, “I don’t really think that there’s a whole lot to it. I think they probably squabble just like any married couple for 20 years, and then they also love each other. So that’s my take there.”

Romo also made his early Super Bowl call of the Packers-Jaguars for this season.

Free Agents Still Out There That New England Can Target:

With training camp now right around the corner, the Patriots roster is right around 90 players but there are several guys still out there that may be able to help the team in 2018. The team has always targeted veterans that can step in contribute.

And these players would, in our opinion help out with some positions that could use the depth and while some were positions of need a year ago, others, while not a particular position of need per se, could benefit from the depth.

Kenny Vaccaro: The Patriots have three starting caliber safeties in Devin McCourty, Pat Chung, and Duron Harmon and frequently use all three on the field at the same time. Behind them is Jordan Richards and we’ve all seen what happens on defense when he plays a key role. With both McCourty and Chung starting to get up there in years, it may be time to bring in an eventual replacement in case of either a dropoff in play or injury.

Vaccaro is still just 27 and had a very solid 2017 until wrist and groin injuries landed him on IR. He made 60 tackles, had three Interceptions and broke up 12 more in 12 games. The former 2013 first round pick has had some issues staying on the field. The market for safeties didn’t play out the way he hoped it would and he’s still out there.

But Vaccaro is versatile and can be moved around, much like Bill Belichick likes to do with his safeties. Is a one-year flyer on a player of his caliber out of the question? Of course not and he’s a huge step up from Richards in the secondary.

NaVorro Bowman: Bowman is a 30-year old free agent middle linebacker who can help with the lack of depth inside. Is the team planning on moving Dont’a Hightower back inside after playing him on the edge a year ago? And given his injury history, it has been rare for him to play an entire season.

With Bowman returning to play strong for the Raiders in 2017 after being released by the 49ers last year, he still has plenty of gas left in the tank. The Raiders made him an offer during the spring but he’s still out there in free agency and hasn’t signed with anyone although rumors suggest that he’ll return to Oakland.

Bowman could be brought in on a relatively cheap short-term deal and with Elandon Roberts and rookie Ja’Whaun Bentley inside, Bowman would be an upgrade.

Connor Barwin: Barwin is a 31-year old edge rusher who has been remarkably durable over his career starting in 109 of 112 games for Houston, Philadelphia and Los Angeles (Rams). And while he’s still effective at rushing the quarterback and getting some offers, he has his sights set on goals other than money.

Barwin is in search of a team that is in contention for a Super Bowl and of course one that could use his skill set. Right now, he looks like he may be leaning towards a return to the Rams but as he’s still unsigned, he’s a player that could help the Pats.

We wrote about him in the spring, the Patriots lacked a consistent pass rusher to complement Trey Flowers in 2017. The team has brought in Adrian Clayborn and has high hopes for 2nd-year players Deatrich Wise and Derek Rivers. Rivers missed all of last season after tearing an ACL. Barwin is a savvy veteran who has always had good production getting after the passer and with the Patriots lack of depth and experience there, I still think it would be a good move to bring in a proven veteran edge rusher.

Robert Ayers: Another defensive end who is as good setting the edge as he is getting after the passer. Ayers will be 33 when the season rolls around and may be losing a step. He had just two sacks last season although he was providing some good pressure on the quarterback.

Ayers could be one of those one-year rentals who extends his career for one more season by coming in as part of the defensive end rotation and giving some good quality reps along with a veteran presence. With a chance to play for a winner in the twilight of his career could be a nice enticement where Belichick and Nick Caserio won’t have to break the bank for him.

Training Camp 2018, Who Needs to Step Up:

It doesn’t seem like football is right around the corner but a week from Thursday morning the Patriots will begin their 2018 training camp and then right around the corner the regular season will begin. So we’re looking at some players on the roster and thinking for the Patriots to make it back to the Super Bowl this season, these are the guys who’ll have to step up.

Adrian Clayborn: The Patriots are putting a lot of eggs in his basket and while they’re not an attacking style of defense where their edge rushers are pinning their ears back on every down, they still expect a lot from their edge players, especially from the veterans. And for Clayborn, a guy they brought in during FA, the pressure to produce will be there in 2018.

Clayborn, is thus far, doing all the right things. He’s always among the first to arrive on the field. He’s leading by example and playing hard during the spring workouts, which albeit are tougher for the big guys since there are no pads allowed.

Camp will be the beginning of a very interesting year for the veteran. A lot of eyes will be watching him all year and he’ll be expected to make a difference in the Patriots pass rush and overall defense.

Chris Hogan/Jordan Matthews: These two wide receivers will be especially looked to early in the season to provide the offense and QB Tom Brady with the confidence to replace the production of Danny Amendola, Brandin Cooks and Edelman (for the first four weeks) of 2018. Hogan has been a productive receiver for the Patriots and last year had some nagging injuries that cut into his season. But he’s healthy this summer and in a contract year should be primed for a good season.

I look for Hogan’s looks from Tom Brady to get a huge uptick this season, especially in the red zone where he was flourishing before his shoulder injury in 2017. Hogan isn’t a #1 WR but in the Patriots system, it is all about the matchups and Brady can move his WRs and TEs around to find them and Hogan should benefit from that big time in the first month of the season.

Matthews is a newcomer to the Patriots offense but expectations are already quite high for him (here too),  to not only to assimilate into the offense but be a key contributor as well. Matthews has the size that most slot receivers don’t have but has been a very productive receiver in several different schemes. This season, we’ll be watching him closely beginning on the 26th.

Derek Rivers: While he’ll only be part of the rotation and has yet to play an NFL game, the 2nd year edge rusher/linebacker already has high expectations following him. The team’s top draft choice of 2017, Rivers missed all of last year with a knee injury so expectations should be a bit tempered.

But much was expected from him a year ago and that hasn’t changed this season. In fact, there may be a bit more pressure on him to produce this fall. With the pass rush needing a boost in 2018, and the majority coming from Flowers and Clayborn, the next players in the rotation will be second-year players River and Deatrich Wise providing the QB pressure, setting the edge and occasionally dropping into the flat.

Rivers appeared healthy this spring and now will have to show even more once the pads come on. He started slowly last summer, but that was to be expected coming from a small school at Youngstown State. Things seemed to be just falling into place when he tore his ACL. Now with a year in the system, albeit not playing, he’s expected to provide the type of jump a typical second-year jump in play that Wise will be showing as well.

Trent Brown: Brown is a massive tackle who is listed at 6’8, 359 pounds but after seeing him this spring, he looks much larger. He’s one of the biggest players I’ve seen in the flesh that plays for the Patriots with a wingspan that rivaled Tommy Kelly. The Patriots picked him up from the 49ers this spring and that move got some raves from Von Miller who called him “the best right tackle in the NFL and one of the best tackles period.”

Brown will have big shoes to fill and will be tasked with protecting Tom Brady’s blindside. Brady has had Nate Solder and Matt Light during his career and now the job will fall to Brown. Not to put any undue pressure on him but ultimately he’ll have a lot to say about effective the Patriots passing game will be.

We’ll be watching him closely this summer as will everyone else as his every move will be dissected this summer. Welcome to Foxboro, Mr. Brown.

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills McCoy Accused by ex-Girlfriend of Being Behind Home Invasion, Beating:
The Buffalo Bills LeSean McCoy’s ex-girlfriend was the victim of a home invasion and a vicious beating at her home in Atlanta this week. And she’s pulling no punches of her own and claiming that McCoy was behind the entire thing. The local police redacted her name from reports, however, attorneys for Delicia Cordon, McCoy’s former girlfriend, have previously identified her as the victim of the home invasion.

“I’m telling you, I’m telling you, that guy is [redacted],” the caller said in the 911 audio. “He must have known the camera system. LeSean must have told him. There’s no camera in the front.”

The armed intruder beat Cordon in the face with a firearm in trying to remove her bracelets, of interest to police since they were among items McCoy has been trying to recover from her in addition to other jewelry.

McCoy has denied any wrongdoing in the case and has hired prominent Atlanta attorney Don Samuel who has not commented on the case publicly. It may turn out that McCoy does indeed have nothing to do with the home invasion, but regardless, after seeing Cordon’s face and hearing the accusations, it is a bad, bad look for McCoy, the Bills and the NFL. Stay tuned.

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

New England Patriots Training Camp Primer – Defensive Line

Steve Balestrieri
July 9, 2018 at 9:44 am ET

Health and New Faces Key

The Patriots 2018 training camp begins in less than three weeks which means that we’ll be in football mode from then until early February. The team is looking to return to the Super Bowl albeit with a different result this time around and where they have to make changes, begins with the defense and specifically the defensive line.

The team allowed 4.7 yards per rush attempt (31st in the NFL)in 2017 and while there were plenty of factors involved in that, they needed to get bigger and stronger inside. Which is why they brought in Danny Shelton from the Cleveland Browns. Getting big Vincent Valentine back from injury this season should help as well.

The Patriots have to do a much better and more consistent job of getting after the quarterback this season. Trey Flowers is their best overall defensive lineman and many expect him to turn in a Pro-Bowl season in 2018. They’ve added Adrian Clayborn from the Falcons and get back Derek Rivers from a season-ending injury suffered in preseason last year. Deatrich Wise had a good rookie season as well.  

So… who is locked into the roster and who is on the bubble for the defensive line?

Roster Locks: Trey Flowers, Danny Shelton, Malcom Brown, Adrian Clayborn, Deatrich Wise

Trey Flowers and Adrian Clayborn look (on paper) to be the starting defensive edge setters while newcomer Danny Shelton and Malcom Brown anchor the middle. Flowers can do everything, rush the passer off the edge, kick inside as an interior rusher and set the edge in the running game. Clayborn gives the Patriots a veteran presence on the edge, and a solid one. He’s been productive in his career and a solid player on the field and in the locker room. He’s been one of if the not the first players on the field all spring.

Shelton will be looked to provide that two-gap immovable presence inside against the run that they were lacking a year ago when Alan Branch got old quickly. He’s looking to get his career back on track and with the team turning down his fifth-year option, is in a contract year.

Ditto for Malcom Brown. The Patriots former first-round pick has been good but could be more consistent on the field. Brown has held up well against the run and is playing for a contract as well. The team will expect much better play on the interior as well.

Wise had a solid rookie season, after getting off to a very good start, he tailed off in the middle of the season before finishing well down the stretch. He’s got a long wingspan but isn’t the most athletic guy. With a year in the system and looking to get a little stronger, the strength and conditioning program should have helped him quite a bit.

Near Roster Locks: Lawrence Guy, Vincent Valentine, Derek Rivers

The health of Valentine and Rivers are the only things that could hold them back in 2018. Valentine played well as a rookie in 2016 and the team was pleased with his performance. But an injury caused him to miss the entire 2017 season.  It was thought he might be healthy enough to activate by the end of the regular season but it never took place. Now the team is hoping for him to not only be healthy again but to make the next leap forward in his development.

Rivers was the Patriots top draft choice a year ago coming from a smaller school at Youngstown State. He started slowly, getting used to the speed and physicality in the pro game. It seemed like the light was just coming on for him when he tore his ACL and was lost for the season. Now it is hoped that he’ll be fully recovered and ready to go once training camp begins. He’ll be on the players to watch on defense this summer.

Guy was signed to a 4-year deal last spring and the 6’4, 305 interior lineman away from the Baltimore Ravens during free agency. He played well during his first year in Foxboro appearing on the field for 54.91 percent of the snaps. If he appeared in just one more (55%) it would have immediately triggered in a $500,000 bonus. But the Patriots decided to pay it anyway which tells you something about they feel about Guy.

On the Bubble: Adam Butler, Keionta Davis, Geneo Grissom, Trent Harris, Eric Lee

The Patriots signed Butler, a UDFA last spring and he made the team out of training camp and immediately became part of the rotation in 2017 appearing in all 16 games. He showed the ability to get after the passer a bit and contributed 16 QB pressures and two sacks. He was inconsistent and needs to improve in the running game but will be a tough player to jettison after a promising start.

Davis was considered a later round edge rusher from Chattanooga last year and then a neck injury caused him to go undrafted. He certainly looks the part and appears chiseled in his upper body. We’ll see if it can translate onto the field. Grissom has been a key contributor on STs but has yet to make a dent in the defense.

Lee was picked up from Buffalo last fall and displayed an ability to rush the passer. However, he has troubles setting the edge and may be just a situational pass rusher. Harris, “Toolbox Trent” as he was called in Miami was a UDFA and isn’t the most athletic defensive end but his teammates marveled at his array of pass rush moves. Will it translate to the NFL? We’ll see.

Outside Looking in…. Longshots: John Atkins, Frank Herron,

The Patriots signed undrafted free agents John Atkins and Frank Herron this spring. Atkins was a key player in the Georgia Bulldogs defense, eating up two blocks while allowing Roquan Smith to clean up. He has good size at 6’3, 322 for a nose tackle and a great work ethic but has a long way to go to beat out any of the interior guys.

Herron is another interior defensive lineman with good size at 6’3, 311 and plays with a chip on his shoulder. Had a few scrapes with disciplinary issues at LSU but raised his stock a bit in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, displaying a quick first step, something he was lacking in during film study of his games. But he too is a longshot with a chance to possibly make the practice squad.

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

New England Patriots News 7-08, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
July 8, 2018 at 5:30 am ET

Good morning, Here is your Sunday’s Patriots news 7-8, & AFC East Notes …We hope everyone had a safe and happy Independence Day holiday. Here’s to the next 242 years.

Quick Hitters:
Tom Brady was on vacation up in Montana and the Pats QB has been pretty active with his Instagram account on social media. And the Brady clan had a spirited game of dodgeball with the QB even beaning his mom. But for the record, it appeared that his wife Gisele was the most active and accurate of all players out there.

Tom vs Time Soccer version? Soccer superstar Cristiano Ronaldo is supposedly weighing his options with Facebook about producing a 10-part series on the social media giant about his life, similar what Tom Brady did a year ago.

Cristiano will be paid a cool $10 million and it is expected that the series would be insanely popular, even more so than Brady’s. Ronaldo has 120 million followers on social media. It wouldn’t be shocking to see several of these pop up now.

Shawne Merriman was back in the news this week as he asked on social media, “What happened to forever hating an organization and fanbase, to be honest, I would’ve never played for the Patriots.”  When pressed, he replied, “because of all the ‘gates’”. Fair enough, but whoever said, the Patriots would have wanted him?

Patriots individual game tickets go on sale on July 23. That’s just two weeks from tomorrow. It is almost time for football season again.

You know we’re in that dead space before training camp begins when the fact that when Rob Gronkowski attends a wedding in Western, NY and the bride places a Buffalo Bills hat on his head, which he promptly Gronk spikes and it becomes a thing.

Bleacher Report Story of Edelman Suspension Gets Patriots Fans Ire:

Mike Freeman knew what buttons to push…and he did it expertly. Julian Edelman is hardly the first player to be busted for PEDs and certainly won’t be the last, however, the latest Bleacher Report piece throws the thought out there that Edelman’s suspension should lead everyone to question whether we are watching an honest game.

Julian Edelman file photo. (SBalestrieri photo)

 

By invoking that question it was sure to fire up the legion of Patriot haters out there, giving them all the excuses to slam down their Block House India Pale Ale and scream for asterisks. It also quickly inflamed the passions of the fan base here as they feel, Freeman is making a “Patriots-mountain” out of an anthill when he very subtly calls into question whether Edelman’s catch against the Falcons in the Super Bowl was legit.

There is a difference between the baseball steroid inflated home run era and NFL players getting caught up in the HGH testing while rehabbing from serious injuries. That includes Edelman and that he that “he that won’t be named” individual who couldn’t feel his fingertips after neck surgery. But perhaps not.

He did step over the line by injecting race into it, “white man in a black league” as if that had anything to do with anything other than to, once again, inflame both sides of the equation.

In a totally unrelated side to this, and maybe it is just the oversaturation this spring/summer of the talk of the Patriots’ issues inside the building, but I have this sneaking suspicion that the team may try to dangle #11 in a trade scenario this summer. With 2018 and 2019 remaining on his contract, at a pretty affordable cap hit, it wouldn’t be the strangest thing we’ve seen.

Unless of course, teams subscribe to Freeman’s take that many teams believe Edelman is an overrated product, and of others that he’s working with a system QB. Take your pick. We’ll see how that plays out.

2nd Year Player Deatrich Wise May Benefit from Clayborn’s Presence:

Trey Flowers has been mentioned quite often as the player most pundits believe to benefit the most from the addition of DE Adrian Clayborn this offseason. And that figures to be the team’s plans for third downs, having both of them on the field as much as possible on third down. But one player who could also benefit from Clayborn’s presence is 2nd year DE Deatrich Wise.

Wise impressed as a rookie in training camp last year. He seemed much older and mature than the rookie he was in 2017. He got off to a quick start in the season, showing an ability to get after the quarterback. But he struggled with consistency, especially in the running game, something that isn’t a shocker for rookies.

Deatrich Wise in a joint practice with the Jaguars in 2017. (SBalestrieri photo)

The Patriots expect much bigger and better things from players from Year 1 to Year 2 and the 6’5, 275 pound Wise is one of those players who is expected to step up his game. Playing next to and learning from a seasoned pro like Clayborn is bound to help Wise. Clayborn was frequently one of the first players on the field this spring. When veterans show that kind of work ethic, it generally rubs off on the younger players.

Another area he’ll need to improve in is dropping into the flats in coverage, something the team asks its edge rushers to do often. Wise isn’t the best at that and will have to improve in that regard.

One area to watch on defense will be how new coordinator Brian Flores (without the title) calls the defense. He promised to have the unit being aggressive. If that is indeed the case this year, it will be good news for players such as Wise, Clayborn, Flowers and Derek Rivers.

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills Honor State Trooper and Former Tryout Player Clark:

The Buffalo Bills honored NY State Trooper Nicholas F. Clark this week after he was killed in the line of duty responding to a call. The Bills flew the flags at half-staff at One Bills Drive.

Clark, 29,  tried out for the Bills in 2012 after being a two-time All-America honoree and the Empire 8 Defensive Player of the Year twice at Alfred University.

On Monday, Clark responded to a call involving a suicidal man who had barricaded himself in a house. Officers from the County Sheriff’s Office as well as local and State Police responded to the scene. In trying to bring the entire sad episode to a peaceful solution, Clark was shot and killed.

The man who shot Clark, Steven M. Kiley, 43, was a pre-K to 12th-grade principal in the Bradford Central School District who also died at the scene. Kiley killed Clark with a blast from a shotgun. Police then responded with gunfire which wounded Kiley in the chest and would have been fatal, however, then Kiley turned his gun on himself committing suicide.

The funeral for Clark will be today at 11 a.m. at Alfred University.

Former Grafton Standout Steinmetz Hoping to Stick With the Dolphins:
The Miami Dolphins signed one of the bigger rookie free agents, literally, this spring, inking former Grafton, URI and Purdue alum offensive lineman David Steinmetz to a UDFA contract.

Steinmetz, a 6’8, 325-pound offensive tackle was a standout on the Grafton Indians football teams coached by Mike Ross and current head coach Chris McMahon. Playing in Central Mass, he didn’t get a lot of interest in top FBS schools and signed with URI. After starting 31-of-33 games there and graduated with a degree in criminology and criminal science, he transferred as a graduate student to Purdue and played his final season of eligibility there.

Although he wasn’t invited to the NFL Combine, he took part in Purdue’s Pro Day and his vertical leap of 33 inches and his Broadjump of 9’7”, would have been 2nd and 4th respectively of OL in attendance. He also Benched pressed 225 pounds, 26 times which got the attention of the Dolphins’ coaching staff. Now it is simply a question of learning the playbook and carving out a role for himself.  

Jets Hoping For Redemption For Terrelle Pryor:
Most of the talk surrounding New York Jets WR Terrelle Pryor seems to be centered on either the boom or bust label. While that may be a true statement, the Jets are definitely hoping for the former rather than the latter.

After leaving Ohio State as a QB, he had three unproductive years as a QB for the Raiders before landing in Cleveland as a wide receiver in 2015, where he caught one pass. But in 2016, he caught 77 for 1007 yards and four touchdowns. Last year in Washington, he numbers plummeted to just 20 catches for 240 yards and a single score. He suffered an ankle injury that required surgery and ended his season after just nine games.

The Jets signed the freakishly athletic player to a one-year prove it deal and hope he can recapture the magic of his 2016 season with Gang Green this season. His ankle however, kept him out of the spring workouts so he’ll have a lot of ground to make up this summer.

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

New England Patriots News 6-24, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
June 24, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, Here is your Sunday’s Patriots news 6-24, & AFC East Notes …

Quick Hitters:
Isaiah Wynn was signed to a contract by the Patriots, it was announced on Friday. Wynn was one of two Patriots 1st round draft picks in the 2018 NFL Draft, #23 overall. He and Sony Michel were taken by the team in the first round.

Wynn is a 6-foot-2, 302-pounder who played both guard and tackle during at Georgia. As a senior in 2017, he was named a team captain and started all 15 games that he played at left tackle. He was named to the 2017 Associated Press All-America Second Team.

2018 Training Camp will begin on Thursday, July 26, the Patriots have announced. The team will give further details once the dates get closer but expect large crowds and if you want to get a good vantage point, plan to arrive early.

In accordance with the NFL’s rules, here are some of the training camp ones to remember for the beginning of camp:

Day 1: Physicals, meetings, classroom work, running/conditioning

Day 2/3: On-field practices allowed without pads and without contact

Day 4 – UTC: Two-a-day practices authorized

  • No more than 4 hours per day
  • No more than 1 practice with pads per day; no more than 3 hours per day;
  • Padded practice defined as any practice with helmets and shoulder pads worn
  • Minimum 3 hours between practices if the team elects for two-a-day; second practice limited to “walk-through”
  • Quarterbacks, punters, kickers, and long snappers may elect to wear a helmet and/or shoulder pads during non-padded practices
  • Players with head injuries may be directed to wear a helmet by team medical staff as a precaution during non-padded practices
  • Quarterbacks and defensive player who receives signals from coaching staff may wear helmets to receive communications from sidelines
  • Teams are required to video all activities and retain film for at least 30 days after the start of the regular season; the NFLPA will be allowed to view the films of practice if a complaint is made about the team’s workouts

Players aren’t paid during training camp. Instead, receiving room and board from the team and are paid per diem for their time spent at camp.

Tom Brady and his wife Gisele attended the U2 concert recently and like everyone else, Brady sang along with the song (just like all of us do while driving). However, when it comes to singing along with Bono, Brady isn’t the GOAT, he is just as bad as the rest of us in the singing department. But hey, it never stopped me from singing….loudly in traffic or at concerts. Looks like fun was had by all… OOPS! There’s that pesky fun word again.

The video can be seen here:

Eric Decker, the free agent WR said on Sirius XM Radio that he’d be open to going to New England and reuniting with Josh McDaniels who drafted him in Denver in 2010.

“At this point in my career I want to go somewhere where I have a chance to compete for a Super Bowl, be in a good system, be with a quarterback that my skill set would be an addition to the team,” Decker said.

“I talked with New England actually last year when I was going through the free agency process, late there in June,” Decker said. “We’ll see once GMs and coaches have kind of regrouped after minicamp and we’ll see what the needs are going into training camp.”

Brandon Browner, who won back-to-back Super Bowls with the Patriots and Seahawks was sentenced to 60 days in jail after pleading no contest in a domestic battery case. He was released after just two days due to jail overcrowding.

Browner spent three years with the Seahawks and one with the Saints. In 2014, he played in nine regular-season games with the Patriots but played in a key role in their Super Bowl win over his former team the Seahawks.

Jameis Winston is looking at a three-game suspension and once again the league has leaked out the punishment before the player was even notified. And the case, much like the Edelman case, feels like the league has to delve much deeper before issuing a suspension on him.

So is the suspension for failure to report an incident, in which the player’s take is, that the incident in question never happened?

Bentley an Early Down Run Stuffer:
We post our early summer 53-Man Roster Projection 1.0 earlier this week and one of the early winners we projected which got some questions was with the rookie linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley over the incumbent, inside linebacker Elandon Roberts.

Roberts is a favorite of Bill Belichick and his game is built similar to that of Bentley, as an early-down run stuffer. However, Bentley has got a distinct size advantage being 6’2, 260 pounds while Roberts is listed at 6’0, 235 by the Patriots.

Both players’ strengths are playing downhill in the running game, neither is particular adept in coverage or running laterally. But Bentley also brings with him that coveted leadership mantle that he earned at Purdue.

The Patriots run defense was pretty leaky when defending the run last season allowing 4.7 yards per rush, tied with the Rams for the 2nd worst in the entire league. Although that was a combination of things, one of the things which must improve was the play of the linebackers, which included Roberts.

The feeling here is that the Patriots drafted Bentley is a bit of a statement saying they expected more from Roberts.

Two other selections that got a lot of comments were the keeping of RB Jeremy Hill over Brandon Bolden and the UDFA rookie punter Corey Bojorquez. One thing is for certain, it is still very early and nothing is written in stone. But competition is always a good thing and training camp should prove to be interesting.

Patriots Wide Receivers Will Be Fighting For Reps In Camp:
One of the key areas to watch during training camp will be the Pats wide receivers. After losing both Danny Amendola and Brandin Cooks from the 2017 team, the team gets back Julian Edelman, Malcolm Mitchell and has added Jordan Matthews, Cordarrelle Patterson as well as Braxton Berrios during the 2018 NFL Draft.

Edelman’s looming suspension and the health of Mitchell, Berrios who are coming off injuries and Kenny Britt who was dinged up in minicamp are the key things to watch for at the position this summer once camp begins. If Edelman’s suspension does not get reduced or removed during his appeal, it will at least give the team another four weeks to get a look at the WRs vying for a roster spot.

There are 11 WRs vying for about 6 spots on the roster. That makes for great competition especially when considering that only a few (Edelman and Hogan) are locks to make the roster. There will have to be some tough decisions made. Guys like Berrios and Mitchell, who are expected to make strong pushes for the roster both missed most of the spring workouts. July 26th can’t get here fast enough.

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills Legend Kelly Undergoes Another Cancer Surgery:
The Buffalo Bills’ former QB Jim Kelly and his wife Jill were in New York City for a follow up procedure from his recent cancer surgery. This one was planned far in advance for the former Bills’ great.

“The plan at this point is that he will have surgery in mid-June to lessen the “skin flap” bulk in his mouth, as well as put implants into his upper jaw,” wrote Jill Kelly. “And then there will be more healing and waiting and then another surgery and possibly upper teeth sometime in September.”

Jill Kelly jumped on Instagram to keep Bills’ fans appraised of the situation. “Out of surgery and in recovery,” she wrote. “Still in a lot of pain, but everything went well. Thank GOD! No teeth yet, but 5 implants were inserted into the new bone in Jim’s upper jaw. More technical than I can explain…”

Kelly will receive the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance at the 2018 ESPYs.

Dolphins Announce Training Camp Start Date:
The Miami Dolphins veterans will report to training camp on July 25. Under the NFL’s rules teams cannot have veterans report to training camp earlier than either July 15 or 15 days prior to their first preseason game, whichever is later.

With their first preseason game slated for August 9, Miami will have all 15 days to prepare for their first action of the 2018 season. Miami rookies will report on July 18.

The Dolphins are expecting big things out of Kenyan Drake in 2018, the 3rd year RB will be the featured back in the Dolphins offense. He started six of 16 games a year ago and really found a rhythm once he got into his groove. Patriots fans will remember his big night in the Fins win over NE where he ran for 114 yards and caught passes out of the backfield for 79 more.

I’d expect Adam Gase to use him a lot like the Patriots used Dion Lewis last year and with the ageless Frank Gore in the backfield, it should keep Drake fresh for the crunch time in games.

Jets Could Dangle Teddy Bridgewater For an Edge Rusher:
The New York Jets need an edge rusher and ESPN’s Rich Cimini laid out a couple of interesting options for Gang-Green to possibly pursue.

The two names he was writing about was the Broncos’ Shane Ray and the Jaguars Dante Fowler. While Ray is coming off of wrist surgery which may delay his start of the 2018 regular season, Fowler was a very impressive young player on a team that is stacked on defense.

Cimini states that Fowler may be in the position where the Jaguars won’t be able to pay him in 2019 and is coming off a very solid 2017 year where he notched eight sacks. He was originally picked by Jacksonville 3rd overall in the 2015 NFL Draft and won’t come cheap. He’s just 24 years old and while the Jags front office won’t be able to get what he’s worth, they won’t be giving him away either.

Cimini writes: “Teddy Bridgewater could be trade bait, but I don’t see that happening unless Darnold wins the starting job during the preseason. There’s also the matter of his surgically repaired knee. He looked fine in OTAs and minicamp, but there’s still skepticism around the league about his knee. He’d have to quiet the doubters in the preseason to get teams interested. He probably wouldn’t interest the Jaguars unless something happens to Blake Bortles. If there’s a quarterback-needy team out there willing to part with a pass rusher … now you’re talking.”

The Jets have made it clear, that Sam Darnold will be given every opportunity to win and become the starting QB by Week 1 of the 2018 season. The feeling here is that the Jets are making a mistake. The team has a solid veteran in Josh McCown who played very well in 2017 as well as Bridgewater who was playing very well before getting hurt.

Don’t risk damaging Darnold’s confidence, if he indeed is your QB of the future by throwing him to the wolves too soon.  The Jets fans and front office have been waiting for their franchise QB since Joe Namath left. We’ll see how it all works out once training camps and preseason games begin this summer.

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots 53-man Roster Projection 1.0 Post Minicamp Edition

Steve Balestrieri
June 18, 2018 at 9:39 am ET

With minicamp over, it is time to a very early look at a New England Patriots 53-man roster projection. We got a brief glimpse of what the players can do in the Bill Belichick system during the spring workouts and although no one was wearing pads, it was as close to actual football activities as the players will get prior to training camp beginning in about five weeks.

We’ll start posting training camp primers by position very soon to break down the current 90 man roster to a workable 53-man roster.

Offense –
Quarterbacks: (3)
Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Danny Etling

The Patriots will probably go with three QBs this year. Etling has shown enough in the spring to earn that much moving into camp. Will he push Hoyer for the backup job this summer? Very doubtful. Hoyer has a comfort level in the system and the confidence in the coaches that he can step up and play well in an emergency. Etling has a long way to go in that regard.

Running backs: (5)

Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, James White, Jeremy Hill, James Develin

Sony Michel looked like a rookie at times this spring, making mistakes, blowing assignments…all the things that rookies do in assimilating into a new system. That’s part of the learning process but shouldn’t affect his availability at all.

Sony Michel after practice. (SBalestrieri photo)

However, his upside was also there for all to see. He’s a threat to run or receive and showed a smoothness in the passing game with good hands. Along with Rex Burkhead and James White, the Patriots passing offense using their running backs should be very difficult to stop in 2018.

But that learning process may give the coaches pause enough to carry the veteran Hill to make the comeback attempt with the Patriots in the early going of the season. That may be bad news for Mike Gillislee and veteran ST presence, Brandon Bolden. I know, we cut Bolden every year and every year he’s out there making big plays on the special teams, which he’s known for.

Tight ends: (3)
Rob Gronkowski, Jacob Hollister, Dwayne Allen

The fact that Hollister had a great spring shouldn’t surprise anyone. He made the team a year ago as a UDFA and played, although sparingly during the season. He needed to bulk up and get stronger, and it appears he has. Allen has the firm backing of the head coach and is like an extra tackle out there as a blocker. If he can get anything going in the passing game, it is a bonus.

Jacob Hollister beefed up in the offseason and had an excellent spring. (SBalestrieri photo of 2017 training camp)


Wide Receivers: (6)
Chris Hogan, Jordan Matthews, Cordarrelle Patterson, Kenny Britt, Matthew Slater, Malcolm Mitchell (Suspended: Julian Edelman)

Edelman’s looming suspension, unless his appeal is successful will give one Patriots WR at least a month’s reprieve. In this case, it is Malcolm Mitchell. Mitchell’s status has zero to do with ability but everything to do with availability. He missed the majority of the spring but the good news was, the Patriots were taking a cautious approach with him.

Can he stay on the field this summer? If he does, he’s a lock, if he can’t then difficult decisions will have to be made by the coaches. There is a lot of competition to be had here at this position this summer, Philip Dorsett, Riley McCarron and Braxton Berrios will all be vying for spots. And other than Hogan, and Edelman, everything is on the table. And that includes Slater who is a WR in name only.

Offensive line: (8)
Trent Brown, Isaiah Wynn, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, Joe Thuney, Cole Croston, LaAdrian Waddle

The state of the offensive line, if everyone was healthy would be very bright. But injuries abound and because of that, there are plenty of questions right now. Thuney hasn’t made an appearance yet, Wynn and Brown are coming off of shoulder injuries, Cannon is still hurt after going on IR last year. This position will bear watching this summer.

Defense
Defensive line: (8)
Trey Flowers, Malcom Brown, Danny Shelton, Adrian Clayborn, Deatrich Wise, Lawrence Guy, Vincent Valentine, Derek Rivers

No big surprises here, the Patriots really liked Valentine in his rookie season and if he’s healthy (a big if), he noses out Butler who played well last year on the inside. If Valentine doesn’t have the same impact, Butler or one of the other edge players Eric Lee, Keionta Davis, Trent Harris may be able to step up and be noticed.

Linebacker: (7)

Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Christian Sam, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Marquis Flowers, Harvey Langi, Brandon King

Roberts got a lot of reps with the “starters” this spring, Bill Belichick hates the term 1st and 2nd team during OTAs but the fact they drafted Bentley speaks volumes. I’m going out on a limb here and say Langi beats him out for an inside LB spot. King is an ST maven but practices with the LBs.

Harvey Langi (SBalestrieri photo)


Cornerback: (6)
Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, Eric Rowe, Duke Dawson, J.C. Jackson, Keion Crosson (PUP: Jonathan Jones, Cyrus Jones)

Jackson, the UDFA got quite a few looks opposite Gilmore this spring and looked pretty solid. Eric Rowe didn’t have a great spring and McCourty was…unused. Neither is a worrisome development yet. But with Gilmore looking outstanding thus far and a young crop of corners entering the picture, this position looks in good shape.

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

Once again I go to minicamp and watch Gronkowski and Hollister smoke Jordan Richards in coverage and say, “surely the coaches see this too….right?” But when the smoke clears, we’ll see what happens. Ebner and King are STs first and safety/hybrid LB second. So the depth could use a jolt. Two words:  Kenny Vaccaro.

Specialists: (3)
Kicker Stephen Gostkowski, punter Corey Bojorquez, long-snapper Joe Cardona

Jumping the gun here but UDFA rookie punter Corey Bojorquez can really put a charge into the ball. We watched him during minicamp and were thoroughly impressed with his leg strength and hang time. He has a long way to go to beat out Ryan Allen and needs work on his directional punting and pinning opponents deep, things that Allen is very good at. But for the simple fact of competition, we’ll give him the early edge. The other two will sleep well during camp as no one has been brought in to challenge them. That must feel nice.

 

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Best and Most Important Off-season Additions for the Patriots Defense

Steve Balestrieri
May 16, 2018 at 2:48 pm ET

Sometimes it is unfair to base everything on the previous season on just one game but when that game is the Super Bowl, it is hard to erase those memories. And for the Patriots, the problems that were plain to see in the Super Bowl against Philadelphia were symptomatic of problems the team faced all season and was able to overcome.

But against a team with a hot quarterback and an offense that blew out the prevailing #1 defense in the NFL, perhaps we should not have been so surprised at the outcome. Specifically, the defense all season struggled to stop the run, especially inside, they struggled to get consistent pressure on the quarterback as well as setting the edge and the coverage by the linebackers was spotty at best.

So how did the team address these deficiencies? It is important to note that the Patriots consider free agency and the draft inexorably linked. They use their draft capital for veteran players as the feeling is, their quality is a more known value than a college player who has yet to play in the NFL. So when looking at the offseason and the draft, for New England, it is always important to use Free Agency when judging the merits of the General Manager’s prowess at team building. (clears throat)

So who is the most important off-season addition in 2018? Adrian Clayborn.

Clayborn checks the block for two of the most important areas that need to be addressed. Setting the edge and getting after the quarterback. The Patriots like their edge guys to be a bit bigger than the greyhounds that populate the NFL landscape today. Because the value setting the edge as a priority. And Clayborn is big, 6’5, 280 pounds of relentless

After an offseason of losing Jabaal Sheard and Chris Long to free agency, Rob Ninkovich to retirement and Dont’a Hightower, top 2017 draft choice Derek Rivers as well as rookie Harvey Langi on IR last year, they were notoriously thin at the position.

One bright spot was the play of rookie Deatrich Wise who chipped in 26 total tackles and five sacks. He added an additional four tackles and two sacks in three playoff games. Less impressive, however, was the play of Cassius Marsh, who wasn’t a fit in the Patriots system and Eric Lee, both of whom had issues setting the edge. That’s why they brought James Harrison late in the season. It put too much pressure on Trey Flowers and the defense suffered for it.

Hightower, Langi, and Rivers are back, which is huge. Wise will be better in Year 2 which helps but in getting Clayborn, the Patriots should have plenty of depth, and production…if everyone can stay healthy.

The Patriots and Bill Belichick have known Clayborn’s value for some time now. He played at Iowa under Belichick close friend Kirk Ferentz, they watched him in joint practices where he played for another Belichick close confidant in Greg Schiano.

“He’s had a good career,” head coach Bill Belichick told Patriots.com. “He’s been a very productive player in multiple positions. So, again, look forward to working with him. I know he’s a solid person, works hard, tough kid. I think he’ll be a good addition to our program. We’ll see how it all goes.”

He’s had injury issues over his career but was healthy for all of 2017 and had a career-high 9.5 sacks and two forced fumbles for the Falcons. He’s yet another former 1st round draft pick (#20 overall in 2011), that the Patriots have brought in later in their career.

With the addition of Danny Shelton inside with Malcom Brown, Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler and the return of Vincent Valentine, the interior of the defensive line should be much improved over 2017. They also double-dipped at linebacker in Rounds 5-6 in the 2018 NFL Draft with Ja’Whaun Bentley (#143) and Christian Sam (#178) which should also help the issues with the position.

Overall on paper, the unit they have now, with the additional players they’ve added in the secondary looks much, much better than the squad that took the field in the Super Bowl. So who is the most important addition to the defense?

He actually isn’t an addition at all, but his responsibilities are added on to. Brian Flores.

With Matt Patricia now a head coach in Detroit, Flores has the play-calling responsibilities as a defensive coordinator but not the title, which he doesn’t care for anyway. Flores himself, the Patriots linebacker coach/defensive coordinator has gotten consideration from the Arizona Cardinals for their head coaching position. Flores has been with the Pats since 2004 and will be watched closely in 2018 to see how he handles the pressure.

When he met with the media about a week ago, it is pretty obvious why so many speak so highly of him. He says all the right things and has his head screwed on straight. His main defensive philosophy is to help the players become the best version of themselves — on and off the field.

Belichick had to be smiling when he saw that Flores, after being asked many times about putting his own personal stamp on the defense, deferred. Instead, he mentioned making a “team imprint” on defense.

Flores said that he’s hard on the players but gets the best out of them. “I’m tough on the players. I think you need to be tough on them so they can be disciplined. You need the discipline to play this game.”

His goal he said, is “going to sound like a Bill Belichick-coached team.” Flores spoke about playing under pressure, being tough, smart and dependable. All of these things are exactly the right thing to say if you’re Flores. Now he’ll have to do it on the field and prove that he’s up to the task. Something about that leads one to believe that he will be just fine as the team’s new defensive coordinator.

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Trent Harris, “Toolbox Trent” Fits the Mold, For a Patriots UDFA

Steve Balestrieri
May 8, 2018 at 8:40 am ET

Raise your hand if you’ve heard this before. This guy is too small, too slow, is easily blocked in the running game too often and has little chance to make the team. Except that all he does is make plays and keeps showing up on the highlight reel tape.

“That guy”, in this case, is former Miami Hurricane DE Trent Harris, a UDFA defensive end who wasn’t invited to the 2018 NFL Combine and went undrafted in last month’s 2018 NFL Draft, despite leading the Canes in sacks in 2017.

Harris logged 8.5 sacks, six QB hurries, 37 tackles with 10.5 for a loss. He finished his UM career with 126 tackles (26.5 for loss) and 15 sacks.

Standing at 6’2, 250 pounds, Harris doesn’t have the length that the Patriots and most teams are looking for and he’s light, especially in a Patriots system that requires the defensive end to set the edge first and then rush the passer.

But despite those limitations, he’s been amazingly adept at rushing the passer. At the “U” his teammates nicknamed him “Toolbox Trent” because he had a vast array of moves and used his smarts and football savvy to beat defenders rather than just raw speed and athleticism.

He was also versatile for Miami. During one possession sequence, he lined up as a defensive end, middle linebacker (Mike), and a strong-side linebacker (SAM). Those are the kind of small things that will get you noticed and may keep you around during the dog days of training camp. He has played all three linebacker positions as well as a rush end. Plus he’d immediately play on Special Teams.

“I love defensive end, hand in the dirt, getting to the quarterback,” he said. “Who doesn’t love getting to the quarterback? But I’m pretty versatile, so wherever the coach needs me, that’s where I’m happy to play.”

Often you’ll the term, “his tape doesn’t measure his timed speed.” Which means although a player may run well in the 40-yard dash but his playing speed is much slower. For Harris, the opposite may well be true. He ran a slow 5.02 time in the 40 at his Pro Day. But watching his tape, while he’s not a burner by any stretch, he’s quick off the ball and relentless. He uses his hands well and has a nice closing burst.

His former defensive line coach at Miami Craig Kuligowski, now with Alabama, told the media back before the draft that Harris will play in the NFL.


“He’s got special pass-rushing skills,” Kuligowski said. “He’s a guy that can play on every special teams. He’s very smart. If Trent gets drafted late, he’ll be a steal.”

How the Patriots envision Harris will be interesting to see. He could be sub-package defensive end who gets after the quarterback or they could envision him as a linebacker that is able to blitz off the edge or up the interior gaps.

The patriotic Harris (already a perfect fit) honored his brother by saluting every time he sacked an opposing QB. His brother is a paratrooper in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division at Ft. Bragg, NC.

Harris is a longshot to make the roster right now, but as we’ve seen before, UDFAs have a way of getting a chance to show what they’ve got with the Patriots. Every year at least one seems to make the roster and many provide significant snaps. Will Harris be that guy? Time will tell.

For the kid who is too small, and too slow, this may be the perfect place to get noticed. All he does is make plays. We’ll be watching him this spring and summer and watch him empty the “toolbox” in an attempt to make the roster.

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Post Draft Reactions: But What About the Patriots Defense?

Steve Balestrieri
May 1, 2018 at 8:30 am ET

With the 2018 NFL Draft in the books, when it comes to the Patriots, the more things change, the more they remain the same. Bill Belichick is the master at doing the opposite of what people expect him to do and once again he remained true to his principles.

Belichick has made it abundantly clear that he will not draft according to need if he doesn’t feel the value was there for the team in terms of fit or ability. He made it very clear his feelings on that just prior to the draft.

“The whole draft-need thing is… I don’t really understand that. You put a card up on the board. That doesn’t mean the guy is a good player. I think it’s important to acquire good players wherever they are. If you take a player at a position that you might so-called ‘need’ but he’s not good enough to fill that need, then it’s a wasted pick. So I don’t understand the whole need thing. I understand player value, and that’s what we try to go by.”

Down the stretch and into the playoffs the Patriots defense, specifically, the front seven didn’t strike fear into the hearts of anyone. They had a pronounced lack of depth at edge rushers and a dearth of speed and athleticism at linebacker. The prevailing thought was (and not just here) that the Patriots would address these needs early in the draft. They didn’t.

Once a few of the top edge rushers and linebackers went early in the draft, including Alabama’s Rashaan Evans who the team reportedly wanted, the Patriots didn’t look for any in the first four rounds, not believing the ability was there. In fact, their first three draft picks were a tackle, running back and a cornerback. Coincidentally, and despite what Belichick said about drafting for need, their biggest free agent losses? You guessed it, a tackle, running back and cornerback.

While we thought here that were plenty of players that could help the defense, Belichick and Nick Caserio balked. The took a linebacker in the 5th Round at #143 but he is hardly the speedy, athletic type we all clamored for. Ja’Whaun Bentley is a throwback to the 2003 era. He’s a big, 6’2, 260-pound sledgehammer. A two-down run stuffer but hardly a coverage guy. Christian Sam taken at #178 is more in line with that type of player. So what is the plan for the defense?

Belichick obviously feels the defense will be best served by getting back its own players. First of all, the team will be looking from within this year. They get Dont’a Hightower, Derek Rivers, Harvey Langi and Vincent Valentine back from injuries. Hightower and Langi could be asked to move back to the linebacker position. Rivers is seen here as a hybrid edge rusher/outside linebacker. The team picked up Adrian Clayborn and DT Danny Shelton during free agency and corner Jason McCourty will definitely help the depth of the unit.

Derek Rivers will be looked to for big things in Year 2 but his first after going on IR in training camp last year. (SBalestrieri photo)

With these added pieces, the defense, and specifically the front seven will look vastly different. Factor in that both Deatrich Wise and Adam Butler will each have a second season to further their development. Belichick always says the biggest development for players is between Years 1-2.

And of course, the team could still try to swing a deal with another team to make a trade for a veteran player early this summer or sign a free agent. Now that the draft is over, any veterans can scan the rosters and see where their best fit may be.

With everyone returning healthy, Rivers may probably be the most watched guy on the defensive side of the ball this summer.  The light was just starting to come on for the rookie when he went down with an injury that forced him onto IR. The defense could look vastly different than the one they fielded at the Super Bowl if the Patriots put Hightower back at the Mike with Rivers and Kyle Van Noy as outside backers, Adrian Clayborn and Trey Flowers at defensive end and Danny Shelton and Malcom Brown inside.

Some of the other guys can be used for depth and Rivers and Hightower can be moved around and play either upright or down as edge rushers. A few of the UDFAs may make a splash. A couple of the intriguing names for front seven include DTs Frank Herron and John Atkins and DE Trent Harris. Harris is a bit undersized but displayed a lightning quick first step while playing for Miami.

While the draft didn’t play out as some envisioned, (raises hand) the team obviously didn’t value the players available. While I certainly believed that a lot of guys between #56 and #143 were capable of helping the defense, Belichick did not and he’s got a little more experience building defenses. Is it time for minicamp yet?

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

New England Patriots News 4-29, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
April 29, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 4-29, & AFC East Notes

Quick Hitters: The Patriots made a curious decision to hold their post-Day 2 draft press conference immediately after the second round, while the 3rd round was just getting underway. While the Patriots didn’t have a third-round pick in the draft, they were essentially telling the world, that they weren’t interested in getting involved in it either.

When Nick Caserio came out on Friday night, the third round was just getting started. It just seemed a little odd to call it a night so early when there were many intriguing prospects on the board.

For those who are interested in these things,( I know I am), taking a look at the Patriots draft room when Belichick and Kraft called new addition Duke Dawson on Friday night, the Pats room looked like a ghost town compared to some of these other teams with a slew of staffers and coaches packed in the room like sardines. Belichick keeps it small and tight and while neither is right or wrong, it is just interesting.

If you’re trying to compute the final compensation for the Jimmy Garoppolo trade, good luck with that. The team’s trade has now taken it to the 2019 NFL Draft with the Bears second-round pick. And that may be in a prime position to….YES! Trade back.

Day 3 Highlights, Pats Get Going Late:
After trading back twice in the early going of Round 4, the Patriots finally selected a player at #143 with ILB Ja’whaun Bentley from Purdue. Before the draft, we all said that with no picks in over 100 selections, the Patriots would trade back in to not lose out on the mid-rounds talent. Well, they did it anyway, 87 picks went thru before the Patriots selected again.

Bentley is a big, 6’2, 260-pound thumper, a two-down run stuffer who is a liability in coverage. For those who were wanting an athletic, fast, sideline-to-sideline player, this isn’t it.

He will no doubt take on Elandon Roberts for a roster spot and could see duty as an inside linebacker on running downs but as we saw in the Super Bowl, the RPO game which is becoming the norm in the NFL, will not be a strong suit.

However, with their next pick at #178, the Patriots selected an athletic linebacker, arguably the best one they now have in Christian Sam from Arizona State. He’s got speed to get to the outside and takes very good angles to the ball. He covers good ground in coverage and has better than average ball skills.

He’s never out of position, strong and athletic. We had him going much earlier than this so it is a bit of a draft steal for the Patriots.

The Patriots traded back again at 198 and picked up  233 and 243 from the #198 pick.

With the # 210 pick, they selected slot receiver Braxton Berrios from Miami. He’s a small, fast, athletic player who can return kicks which will get him a look.

At #219, LSU QB Danny Etling was taken, the 6’2 three-year starter is a long-shot to make the roster and is likely a camp body. They then added CB Keion Crossen at #243 and TE Ryan Izzo with #250. Izzo is a big, physical blocking tight end.

With all of the talk about needing an off-the-ball linebacker and help on the edge, they didn’t take any linebackers until #143 and didn’t take any edge help. While they may sign a few of both with UDFAs, that should tell you that either, A. Belichick is planning on signing a free agent or making a trade or B. That they feel getting Hightower and Rivers back along with the addition of Adrian Clayborn will be enough. We shall see.  

Second Round Flurry of Activity Nets Dawson:
The Patriots have always been big draft day traders, the only year that Bill Belichick didn’t make a draft day trade was 2004. And the second round on Friday was a prime example of the wheeling and dealing Belichick as the team moved down twice and up once in the round.

The team had the #43 pick netted in the Jimmy Garoppolo trade plus their own pick #63. We thought the 43rd pick would be the place that they’d trade down and they did.

They traded #43 to the Detroit Lions for the #51 and a 4th round pick #117. They then flipped the #51 to the Chicago Bears for a 2019 2nd round draft pick and 4th round pick #105 this season. The team is banking on the Bears being as bad as most pundits think they’ll be this season. Then that 2nd round pick would be at the top of the round.

They then took their own #63 and #117 from the Lions and moved back up to #56 to select Florida slot corner, Duke Dawson. Dawson had been on a visit to Foxboro this spring and they liked the feistiness, versatility and compete level. Our analysis of the pick was here:

Patriots Go and See Red Everywhere Early in the Draft:
The first three additions by the Patriots all came from teams wearing red jerseys and have high ceilings that could really help the team in 2018 and beyond. But coincidentally all come with red flags medically that could also make their floors really low as well.

Georgia T/G Isaiah Wynn is a player that was considered a guard in the NFL due to his height (6’2) despite his playing at left tackle at a high level for the Bulldogs. He was the third-rated guard in the draft but the Patriots are planning on keeping him at tackle. He’s got a quick first step, moves well for a big man and uses his hands well against power rushers. And despite his lack of length, handled speed rushers well in the SEC.

But he is coming off labrum surgery on his shoulder and while he says he’ll be ready for mini-camp, that probably won’t be in the cards as they will err on the side of caution.

Wynn’s teammate in Georgia RB Sony Michel is a dynamic playmaker with the ball in his hands. He has a nice blend of size, speed, and power. He has excellent vision, is quick to the hole and runs excellently between the tackles with true breakaway speed. While not as elusive as Dion Lewis, he has much better speed once he gets to the second level. He’s very good in both the running game as well as the passing game.

But Michel has red flags of his own with a knee that has already had ACL surgery. With Michel, the only question is will he stay healthy long enough to become a star in the NFL because he has the star quality at the position and was arguably the second-best player at the position. But his knee turned some teams off.

The Patriots made a trade with the 49ers early on Friday before the Day 2 of the draft opened, getting RT Trent Brown and the #143 pick for the Patriots pick #95. Brown is a huge right tackle at 6’8, 355 and was considered one of the pass blocking tackles…when healthy. Are we seeing a trend here?

The 2015 7th round draft pick is coming off season-ending shoulder surgery that he had at the end of last season. He is also in the final season of his contract which pays him $1.9 million in 2018, which isn’t an issue. But by trading for Brown, is that a bad sign that starting RT Marcus Cannon who himself is coming off of IR isn’t going to be ready to go.

So in looking at the Patriots first three draft acquisitions this spring, while the ceiling is certainly high, the floor because of injuries is also very low. Shoulder injuries, like those suffered by Wynn and Brown, can be similar to that which has limited Dont’a Hightower. This will bear watching moving forward.

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills Get Their QB and a Premier Linebacker:
The Buffalo Bills had a solid 2018 draft. They entered needing to land a franchise QB and they did just that in Round 1 by selecting gunslinger Wyoming QB Josh Allen. He won’t be rushed into service however as they signed A.J. McCarron as their bridge guy. They also signed one of the best linebackers in the draft with Tremaine Edwards from Virginia Tech. They also added depth on the DL with Harrison Phillips and a good slot or nickel corner in Taron Johnson.

Dolphins Don’t Get a QB But Load Up:
The Miami Dolphins also had a solid draft, they wanted to beef up a defense that had issues covering tight ends so they drafted three possible solutions to it. Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick was the Fins’ first pick and the 11th overall. They then added Ohio State Linebacker  Jerome Baker in Round three, as well as linebacker Quentin Poling, and defensive back Cornell Armstrong.

On offense, the Dolphins needed help at tight end and drafted two, taking Penn State’s Mike Gesicki and Notre Dame’s Durham Smythe in the fourth. They also added running back Kalen Ballage

Jets Grab Darnold and Need Herndon to Step Up as a Rookie:
The New York Jets got their franchise QB in Sam Darnold from USC. Most people thought Darnold would go to the Cleveland Browns with the #1 pick and Baker Mayfield would go to Gang Green. But the situation was reversed and the Jets ended up with the talented Darnold, who should be ready to handle playing in the  Big Apple.

But with no Austin Seferian-Jenkins who left in free agency, Darnold needs a security blanket in the passing game. The Jets hope that they found one in Chris Herndon from Miami in the fourth round.  

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Wednesday Patriots Notebook 4/25, Gronk Returning, Final Mock

Steve Balestrieri
April 25, 2018 at 8:30 am ET

Gronkowski Announcement Doesn’t Change Much:
Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski and his agent Drew Rosenhaus met with Bill Belichick on Tuesday telling the coach that he’s returning for the 2018 season. Adam Schefter reported this first on ESPN. This ends months of speculation that he may retire.

“It was very positive and Rob is committed,” Rosenhaus told Schefter.

Gronkowski then took to Instagram to announce his intentions:

Jeff Howe reported that just a few days ago, Gronkowski didn’t have a date to return and now he’s all in. Howe believes that Belichick issued him an ultimatum.

Regardless, it doesn’t change much for the Patriots needs wise in the draft this weekend. While they have Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, Troy Niklas, Jacob Hollister and Will Tye on the roster, they still have a need there as Gronkowski has committed to playing in 2018. The next question becomes, what happens in 2019? While the need may be significantly lower this year, they still may opt to address the position.

The interesting tidbit was that Schefter announced through a source that Gronkowski will not be traded in 2018. Just as an FYI, that is what was said about Jimmy Garoppolo.

Van Noy Tells Patriots Nation to Chill Out:
When the news of the Gronkowski “decision” was aired, Patriots linebacker Kyle Van Noy had some fun with it and laughingly told everyone to calm down and was hoping for the media to leave it alone as well.

Something tells us that more than one player will pipe in now in regards to this latest Gronkowski saga.

Patriots 4th and 2 Podcast Dates Upcoming:
Be sure to check out our Patriots 4th & 2 podcasts right after each day of the 2018 Draft and the guys will break down who the Patriots added through each round.

Final Mock Draft Has the Patriots Moving Up

The Patriots have several options in the upcoming draft on Thursday night. And while we all talk about “positions of need”, the fact of the matter is, with the roster as currently constructed (if healthy), they’d be okay. Obviously, there are questions of depth at LT (Waddle, Garcia) and at LB, but with Hightower, Langi and Rivers returning, that should help quite a bit.

For our final mock draft, we explored the buzz that has been making the rounds, that the Patriots may decide to move up in the draft. And much of the talk has centered around the #9 pick of the San Francisco 49ers. We’ve heard a ton of talk that John Lynch “owes Bill Belichick” for the Garoppolo trade and frankly that is not how it works. Lynch owes the Patriots nothing, both sides went into that deal with their eyes wide open. If Belichick dials the phone on Thursday night, Lynch will certainly listen but doesn’t owe him a thing.

The thought moving up to #9 centers around the QBs obviously but in researching it, the top QBs (Rosen, Allen, Mayfield, Darnold) were all gone. We looked into it with the hope that LB Roquan Smith or DE Bradley Chubb may still be on the board due to the QB feeding frenzy going on. That didn’t happen. However, there are still opportunities.  

So, for our final mock draft ( conducted 4-22), we still decided to explore a trade up. PatsFans Mock 4.0. We looked at pick #13 for the Washington Redskins. So in our mock, we made a deal with Washington. The Patriots slide up 10 spots and give the Redskins the #23 and #43 picks for Washington’s #13 and #109 in the 4th round, where the Patriots don’t have any picks. The value works out, Washington gets added value in the early second round and the Patriots get their move up as well as a pick in the 4th round. So who did they take?

Round 1, Pick #13 Quarterback, Lamar Jackson, Louisville:

Once the team decides (if Jackson is the guy) who their QB of the future is, then they have to go get him. The Patriots brought him in for an official visit on the sly and judging from their supposed interest, he could be a guy they are interested in. We’ll see.

Jackson is a tremendous athlete with incredible moves in the open field when forced to run and rushed for 3000 yards over the past two seasons. He has a cannon for an arm and threw for 57 touchdowns the past two seasons as well. He is still raw in the passing department but will have the time to work on his mechanics and learning the offense.

Belichick had his eyes opened last season by a rookie QB (Deshaun Watson) who is a mobile QB much like Jackson. Working with Josh McDaniels, Belichick and learning at the side of Tom Brady for the next couple of seasons should have him ready to go.

Round 1, Pick #31 LB, Malik Jefferson, Texas:

Jefferson is another one of those great athletes at the linebacker position and has the added advantage of being able to play on the inside or slide outside as an edge defender or blitzer off the corner. He’s good in coverage in both man or zone.

Jefferson is a great anticipatory player but is explosive, very athletic and a powerful tackler. He’ll learn to be a true off the ball linebacker and can be very effective.

Round 2 Pick # 63 Edge, Sam Hubbard, Ohio State:
We have said all along that Hubbard is a proto-typical Patriots type of edge defender.

He gives that needed depth on the edge, can step in and play at a high level on Day 1, can play either side so he’s versatile and can do a bit of everything.

To see our draft profile on him click here:

Round 3, Pick #95 OT, Jamarco Jones, Ohio State:

Jones was a two-year starter for the Buckeyes who have developed quite a pipeline for tackles in the NFL. Jones has good size at 6’5, 310 and is a very good pass blocker, and has shown the quick feet and agility to rarely get beat by speed rushers on the edge. He’ll need to get stronger and become more physical, especially in the running game at the next level but under the tutelage of Dante Scarnecchia, he’ll get there. With the Garcia news that he’s healthy and ready to go, Jones won’t be hard-pressed to produce as a rookie.

Round 4, Pick #109 S, Marcus Allen, Penn State:

Allen has great size (6’2, 215), and athleticism for the position. He was a starter since midway thru his freshman season and was one of the leaders of the defense. He’s one of the most physical safeties in the class and a big-time hitter

He can play deep but is best suited to be the player in waiting to replace Pat Chung in the box. Excellent in run support, can cover tight ends and will be a perfect player to play the LB slot in the Patriots “big nickel” package.

Round 6, Pick #198 Edge, Dorance Armstrong Jr., Kansas:

Armstrong had a tremendous 2016, with 20 tackles for a loss and 10 sacks as his coaches had him pinning his ears back. In 2017, going to a more read-and-react style, those numbers dropped to 9.5 TFL and just two sacks. But he has very good speed and a quick first step. Armstrong has dropped into coverage at times, something the Patriots ask their edge players to do occasionally. He’s a good, athletic player who tackles well but needs to add some bulk at the next level.

Round 6, Pick #210, CB, Arrion Springs, Oregon:

Springs has decent size at 6’0 and 205 pounds but was insanely productive for the Ducks with 42 passes defensed, including 17 in 2017 alone. He tracks the ball in the air as well as anyone. However, his top end speed isn’t great and looked a bit stiff when turning at times. He is very bowlegged which hurts his athleticism.

Round 7, Pick #219 RB, Jaylen Samuels, North Carolina State:

Samuels is a true jack of all trades, we wrote he is chameleon-like as he can do just about anything. He rushed for 404 yards and 12 touchdowns while being the leading receiver for the Wolfpack with 76 receptions for 597 yards and four scores. He’s a good route runner that played tight end in college, can run between the tackles and can do just about anything on the field. He’s a Bill Belichick type of guy.

Samuels draft profile that we wrote can be referenced here:

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.