Tag Archives: Patriots tight ends

Patriots Injuries Now Put Tight End In Murkier Territory

Steve Balestrieri
August 12, 2019 at 6:30 am ET

The tight end position for the Patriots has been an area of concern since the spring. Rob Gronkowski retired, Dwayne Allen is now a member of the Dolphins and Jacob Hollister was traded. The team brought back Ben Watson, but he’s 38 and suspended for the first four games of the season. 

They brought in Matt LaCosse from the Broncos and after a good spring, there was the hope that he could take his game to the next level with Tom Brady and the Patriots. Stephen Anderson, a move tight end was returning, as well as Ryan Izzo who missed his rookie season with an injury. 

They added UDFA Andrew Beck from Texas and the team gave him a guaranteed sum of $110,000, which isn’t a lot but it was the most of their undrafted free agents.  Then the team signed veteran Lance Kendricks who played for the Packers last year.

While this was far from optimal, with the players they have, it was considered possibly enough that they could get it figured out and that the team will be able to maybe surpass the production they had from the position in 2018. With Gronk et al. in 2018, Patriots tight ends caught 54 passes for 761 yards and three touchdowns. But the team took a hit where they could least afford it in the past few days. 

Kendricks left practice early with an injury while the team was still in Foxboro on July 28 and he didn’t practice or play during the time in Detroit. During the game, LaCosse was off to a good start and had two catches for 37 yards. But he suffered a lower leg injury in the game and went down in obvious pain. Members of the training staff had to help him off the field. An already thin group just got thinner.

No one knows the severity of the injuries to Kendricks or LaCosse. The upcoming practice this morning [Monday] will be telling. If neither is able to go and both miss considerable more time, then the team is between a rock and a hard place. 

Watson is still a quality tight end, but he’s going to miss the first four weeks of the season and they’ll still need another tight end to step up. They can’t expect Watson at 38 to carry the entire position. 

Anderson has flashed in small doses, and he only played a half dozen snaps [hurt also?] on Thursday, while Izzo is more of a blocking tight end than a true receiving threat. Beck has been getting more reps as a fullback or H-back than a true tight end, which may be his calling eventually. 

So, what do the Patriots do now? If Kendricks and LaCosse do indeed miss more time, then the team may have to make a deal to bring in another tight end. James Develin, the team’s fullback, can also help out there as he practices with the tight ends frequently during camp sessions. He’s an outstanding lead blocker but isn’t a great receiving threat.

Today won’t tell the tale but an absence of the two injured players puts this position into further question marks as time rolls along. In a perfect world, both Kendricks and LaCosse return to practice this morning and everything falls into place. 

But that perfect world doesn’t exist. Everyone in attendance [media and fans] will be watching today to see if those two players come up the steps and onto the practice fields. If not, the phone lines should be busy in Foxboro.

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Patriots Add TE Depth, Sign Veteran Lance Kendricks

Steve Balestrieri
July 24, 2019 at 2:35 pm ET

The Patriots’ 2019 training camp practices begin tomorrow, and they continue to tinker with the roster, adding a veteran tight end. First reported by Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network and his sources, the Patriots have signed tight end Lance Kendricks to a one-year deal. This was confirmed by the player’s agent David Canter.

Kendricks, 31, tips the scales at 6’3, 250 pounds, is an eight-year NFL veteran. Kendricks was originally a second-round pick  (47th overall) of the St. Louis Rams in 2011. He played his first six NFL seasons with the Rams. In his rookie season, Kendricks would have played for Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels. He also played for current Patriots DLine coach Bret Bielema at Wisconsin.

Kendricks notched a career-high 50 receptions back in 2016. Last season, he played in 16 games with 3 starts for the Green Bay Packers where he caught 19 passes for 170 yards and one touchdown. Kendricks has totaled 241 catches for 2,505 yards and 19 touchdowns over his career

With the retirement of Rob Gronkowski, the trade of Jacob Hollister and the leaving of free agent Dwayne Allen, the Patriots are totally revamping at the TE position. This spring Matt LaCosse was the go-to guy during minicamp. Ben Watson was also brought on board this spring but he’s suspended for the first four games of the season. 

The Patriots plan seems to be throwing different combos at the wall and seeing what sticks. Kendricks is expected to compete for a spot on the Patriots 53-man roster, along with LaCosse, Watson, Stephen Anderson, Ryan Izzo, and Andrew Beck. He is no lock for the roster and will have to produce this summer.

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Patriots 2019 Training Camp Guide – Tight Ends

Steve Balestrieri
July 17, 2019 at 8:30 am ET

The Patriots have been forced to totally revamp their tight end position this season as all three players on the roster from last year are gone. Rob Gronkowski retired and although rumors are that he’s coming back later this year, he’s not walking thru that door anytime soon…if at all. Dwayne Allen left via free agency and Jacob Hollister was traded. 

The team was beginning with a clean slate. And there were/are questions all around. Old friend Ben Watson was brought back to the team after briefly flirting with retirement, the team also picked up Matt LaCosse with a two-year, $2.8 million dollar deal during free agency. 

The team also signed Austin Seferian-Jenkins during the spring, but he had some personal issues to be worked out and was given his release. Would he be welcomed back if those issues are behind him? No one really knows, but I wouldn’t bank on his return this year.

Watson is suspended for the first four games of the season due to testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. LaCosse has appeared in 22 games in his career and had 24 catches for 250 yards and a touchdown for the Broncos last year in 15 games.

The only holdover was practice squad player Stephen Anderson who was called up to the active roster at the end of the season. The team also has Ryan Izzo who spent the year on IR and UDFA Andrew Beck.

With the state of the position, everyone had the Patriots dipping into the 2019 NFL draft early for one of the premier tight ends that were coming out. And true to form, Bill Belichick did the opposite, eschewing all of them. Many of the journalists who cover the NFL had the Patriots trying to swing a deal for a tight end, with Viking Kyle Rudolph at the top of the list. There have also been persistent rumors about them trying to make a deal for the Tampa Bay Bucs, Cameron Brate. But as of now, that’s all it has been, being rumors

So with training camp just around the corner, let’s take a quick look at the tight ends on the roster and see how they stack up. 

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.

Current roster – Ben Watson, Matt LaCosse, Stephen Anderson, Ryan Izzo, Andrew Beck

Locks – Watson, LaCosse

Bubble – Anderson, Izzo, Beck

Long Shot – None 

Discussion – If there is a position the Patriots could swing a deal for during the summer, this would be it. That being said, they can probably piece together the production they received at tight end last season with who they have right now. With Gronkowski hobbling for much of last year and Hollister/Allen not producing, the total production from the tight end position was 54 catches, 761 yards, and 3 TDs. 

What they won’t be able to replicate is the amount of coverage that Gronkowski would consistently draw away from the other receivers while he was on the field. Watson, while 38 years old, can still move well, but he won’t be available for the first month.

That means, for now, everything is going to go thru LaCosse for better or worse. After watching him at minicamp, he moves better than I had originally believed and shows good hands for hauling in the ball. Anderson is more of flex or a “move” tight end while Izzo was well thought of by the coaching staff, but is more of a blocking tight end. He’ll have to show he is capable of more. 

LaCosse spoke to the media after minicamp practice last month and talked about coming to New England

Beck was given the most guaranteed money by the Patriots of any of their UDFAs ($115,000), so he has that going for him. Beck was used mostly as a blocker at Texas but did contribute with 28 catches for 281 yards and two touchdowns for the Longhorns. He was an First Team, All-Big 12 all-star in 2018. 

So, barring a trade either during camp or into the season, this is who the Patriots will enter the season with at the tight end position. After a decade of dominance there, things are going to change. 

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

New England Patriots News 5-26, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
May 26, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 05-26 and AFC East notes this week.

We hope that everyone has a happy and safe Memorial Day weekend as we all remember and pay homage to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms

Quick Hitters:

OTAs – Are in full swing and as we do every year, we all get overly excited about players performances (good and bad) while performing without pads in essentially a touch football game. However, it is the first time we’ve seen football since the Super Bowl so, we’re allowed a bit of excitement for it. But let’s not get too excited about things until the pads come on.

Dontrelle Inman – Had a very apt answer for signing with the Patriots. “I like winning. It’s one of those things like being part of a winning organization, you want to try to help the team win.”

Jerod Mayo – was making his presence felt on the practice field, yelling out encouragement and signals to the inside linebackers. And retired veterans Troy Brown and Kevin Faulk were on the practice field pitching in. Brown worked with mainly the punt returners while Faulk worked with assistant coach Ivan Fears and the running backs.

Boston Bruins – The Bruins were getting a lot of love from the Patriots as they kicked off OTAs this week. Nearly every Patriot was sporting a Bruins hat of some sort. The Bruins begin the Stanley Cup Finals against the St. Louis Blues on Monday night.

Gunner Olszewski – was signed by the Patriots this week. He was a defensive back at Bemidji State and was the NSIC Defensive Player of the Year in 2018 where he had 63 tackles with three interceptions. The Patriots are trying him at WR however. He’s also a kick returner, he returned 11 kicks for 327 yards and 69 punt returns for 923 yards with one touchdown during his college career.

Chris Long – the former Patriot, Ram, and Eagle after announcing his retirement took a shot at the NFL’s marijuana policy and admitted that he used it frequently during his career.  “It is far less harmful than alcohol. It is far less harmful than tobacco. And at various points in the league’s history, they have engaged in partnerships on different levels in those respective industries,” he said. “We should be headed to a place where we allow players to use what I wouldn’t even call drugs. It’s far less dangerous than players guzzling a fifth of alcohol and going out after a game.”

Who Emerges from the Tight End Group?

After losing TE Rob Gronkowski to retirement, Dwayne Allen to free agency and trading away Jacob Hollister to the Seahawks, the top three tight ends have been purged from the 2018 roster.

The Patriots have thrown a lot of stuff against the wall and now they’ll have to see what sticks. They certainly have to hope that it doesn’t turn into a scenario from last year with what transpired with the wide receivers.

The team has brought in Matt LaCosse, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, and former Patriot Benjamin Watson. They also have last year’s practice squad player, move-tight end Stephen Anderson, Ryan Izzo, and UDFA Andrew Beck.

The spring and summer workouts will be key for this positional group of whom no one other than Watson seems to be a lock. Seferian-Jenkins was missing this week, although with permission but that absence is concerning moving forward.

It will be interesting to see if Watson can, at age 38 work into a regular role on the offense. LaCosse showed flashes in Denver and displayed nice hands in the passing game during OTAs this week according to Tom Curran. The Patriots were in talks with Minnesota about TE Kyle Rudolph but it seems like the Vikings aren’t going to part with him…at least for now.

Our early feeling here is that Watson, LaCosse and either Izzo or Beck make the team as a blocking tight end, barring a trade. Anderson is a wild card here but at this point, if Seferian-Jenkins is here in August is debatable.

McCoy to the Patriots? It isn’t as Farfetched as You’d Believe:

The Patriots have supposedly expressed interest in former Bucs DL Gerald McCoy along with nine other teams. The 31-year old McCoy was released last week for financial reasons and he has plenty of suitors for his talents.

And there is a good reason for this; McCoy is a six-time Pro Bowl player with three All-Pro nods behind him. He is still quite a force inside and can push the pocket as an interior pass rusher. He had six sacks last year from the DT position and has 54 for his career.

The bidding for his services (as of Friday night) has reached $11 million dollars. Which is way out of what the Patriots can afford to pay him. But McCoy (like many others) has expressed the desire to play for a contender and vie for a Super Bowl as he’s never played in the playoffs in his nine-year career. He’s already made over $100 million in career earnings so he can chase one last fat contract or opt for a ring. And only one team has been to the past three Super Bowls and won two of them.

Should McCoy opt for the Patriots, he would join Lawrence Guy inside, along with Michael Bennett, Deatrich Wise and newcomer Chase Winovich on the edge, which makes for an intriguing group.

Danny Shelton Returns to the Fold but Without High Expectations:

Last spring the Patriots swung a trade with Cleveland to bring over DT Danny Shelton. The team then passed on an opportunity to pick up Shelton’s fifth-year option which meant he was a free agent in March.

Shelton has been a free agent since then and had only one visit, with Cincinnati and then left without a contract offer. His contract with the Patriots is less than a fifth of what he’d have gotten from the team had they picked up his option.

Shelton signed a one-year deal worth a total of $1.05 million. He got a signing bonus of $75,000 with a base salary of $805,000.

Shelton is a two-down, two-gap run stuffer. As we saw late in the regular season, and in the AFC Championship Game, his role isn’t always needed or game planned for. As a result, the 6’2, 345-pound Shelton was a healthy scratch for three straight games. But he played well against the Chargers and Rams in the Super Bowl  

Now with him back on the team, he not a lock for the 53-man roster. On their interior defensive line, he joins free agent signing Mike Pennel, Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler, Ufomba Kamalu and David Parry. The Patriots will probably keep four from that group and have also expressed interest in free agent Gerald McCoy.  

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Lose TE Kroft To a Broken Foot:

The Buffalo Bills signed TE Tyler Kroft to be their #1 tight end this spring. His 2018 season was cut short with a broken foot. Now it appears that the oft-injured Kroft broke the same foot on the first day of OTAs.This latest injury is expected to keep him out until at least the beginning of the regular season.

That opens up competition right away for the Bills this spring. The Bills have Lee Smith, who they brought in and Jason Croom from the 2018 squad. Newcomer Dawson Knox who the Bills drafted this spring is the early favorite to get a lion’s share of the reps from QB Josh Allen.

Speaking of Allen, ESPN’s Aaron Schatz is not a fan. Schatz was a guest on the WGR-550′s Schopp and the Bulldog show and said, that he likes a lot of the moves the Bills made during the offseason, he’s not optimistic of their chances.

“I’m just not a Josh Allen believer. I do not think there is an NFL starting quarterback in there waiting to come out and develop,” Schatz said. “And if I’m wrong then, you know, they’ve done a lot to give him help, but if I’m right then they’re still in trouble.”

Flores Trying to Build Optimism for the Dolphins:

The Miami Dolphins are in rebuilding mode and one national media analyst even has the team going 0-16. That isn’t going to happen but despite all of the noise, first-time head coach Brian Flores is trying to get the team to focus on coming together and building a winner. To quote his mentor Bill Belichick, the answer is to ignore the noise and build a team, not collect talent.

“I’m not really worried about anything that’s going on outside of our building,” Flores said when asked about the 0-16 prediction. “My focus is on helping these players succeed and get better and try to make some type of impact on these guys. I don’t really listen to the rest of it, to be honest.”

Flores mantra is T-N-T (Takes No Talent), which translates into doing all of the little things right, being prepared and giving 110 percent.  In a bit of good news…

The Miami Dolphins will be presented with the 2019 NFL Team of the Year Award, given annually to a franchise by the Pop Warner Little Scholars that have demonstrated commitment and support of their community and youth. RaShauna Hamilton, Director of Youth Programs and Camps, will be accepting the award for the team

Darnold Can Silence “Jets Are a Mess” Crew With a Hot Start:

The New York Jets play in one of the toughest media centers of the world. Win and they’ll toast you, sing your accolades, and tell the world how great you are. Lose, and they’ll turn on you like a pack of rabid dogs. After the latest fiasco centering around the firing of their general manager, the guy that silence all of the noise around them is their second year QB Sam Darnold.

If the Jets get off to a hot start, all of this “the Jets are a mess” talk will disappear and Darnold and head coach Adam Gase will dissappear. Nothing like adding a bit of extra pressure on a kid who turns 22 next month.

Gase is known as a QB whisperer and expectations are very high that Darnold is going to make the Jets a contender…now. Darnold was drafted #3 overall last year and he has the demeanor to handle the scrutiny of the NY media, which for the most part gave him a pass in 2018. He was, after all a rookie.

Gase has installed his offense and right now both he and his QB are in the honeymoon phase. The team gave him improved weapons to run the offense around. But the biggest obstacle in their path is an offensive line that still has a lot of questions.

The Jets haven’t won a Super Bowl in 50 years or have been to the playoffs in eight. The honeymoon won’t last long unless they begin with a couple of wins. Week 1, the Jets host the Bills at 1:00 p.m. And then in begins in earnest.

________________

One final thought on Memorial Day, from General George S. Patton. “It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God such men lived.”

“So, how was your week?”

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

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

New England Patriots News 5-12, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
May 12, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 05-12 and AFC East notes this week. And a very Happy Mothers Day to all those great Moms out there, not only in Patriots Nation but worldwide as well.

Quick Hitters:

Rodney Harrison was the 2019 fans’ choice for induction into the Patriots Hall of Fame, he’ll join the veteran selection Leon Gray in being inducted this summer. That is scheduled for Monday, July 29, which should coincide with the first weekend of training camp. Circle the date folks, this ought to be a good one to attend.

Julian Edelman is finishing off his college degree this weekend at Kent State, something he began in 2006 and after nearly a decade in the NFL, he’s going to graduate. Edelman said on social media that he wanted to be a positive role model for his daughter and to finish something he started. Congrats.

Jarvis Green, the former Patriot defensive end is now a CEO of a shrimp company, Oceans 97, a salute to his uniform number. Green learned about the shrimping business from a friend and now his gourmet line is available all across New England and features easy-to-cook meals of shrimp packaged in bags with four sauce flavors to choose from, New Orleans Style BBQ, Cajun Curry, Chimichurri, and Garlic Butter.

Rookie Mini-camp for the Patriots begins tomorrow. The most recent draft picks and UDFAs will report to Foxboro, get physical examinations, meet the coaching staff, get down the daily routine and be introduced to the Patriots’ schemes that they’ll be expected to learn and quickly. These on-field sessions are not padded and no contact is allowed. For the 21 newest Patriots it is their first day of work in the NFL.

OBJ – caught a lot of flak last week for saying “I plan on being there for the next five years and trying to bring as many championships there as possible. Turning (the Browns) into the new Patriots,” There is nothing wrong with that at all. That SHOULD be the team’s goal, not just his.

I did poke some fun at him on Twitter for saying “I” instead of “we”, for failing to get the entire team thing mantra that is New England, but honestly, no one should have any problem with it. Tempering expectations, a least early? Sure, but as the old saying goes, “fortune favors the bold.” The Browns have a legitimate reason to be excited this year. When was the last time that happened.

White House Visit upcoming? The Patriots didn’t get a chance to visit the White House as is the tradition because of conflicts with dates, usually, it is done right after the NFL Draft. But there should be a date coming soon for the team to visit the White House and be recognized by the President soon.

Some Big Changes in the Coaching Staff, Joe Judge Gets Added Responsibility:

The Patriots have had a lot of turnover in the coaching ranks this offseason. Brian Flores is now the head coach of the Miami Dolphins, taking with him WR coach Chad O’Shea, CB coach Josh Boyer, and assistant QB coach Jerry Schuplinksi. DL coach Brendan Daly went to Kansas City in a lateral move.

With a smaller staff in 2019, the Patriots always have one of the smaller staffs in the NFL, the Patriots coaching staff now consists of the following:

Head coach: Bill Belichick
Offensive coordinator/Quarterbacks coach: Josh McDaniels
Special teams coordinator/wide receivers coach: Joe Judge
Running backs coach: Ivan Fears
Tight ends coach: Nick Caley
Offensive line coach: Dante Scarnecchia
Defensive line coach: Bret Bielema
Inside linebackers coach: Jerod Mayo
Outside linebackers coach: DeMarcus Covington
Safeties coach: Steve Belichick
Defensive backs coach: Mike Pellegrino
Assistant special teams coordinator: Cameron Achord

The biggest changes occur on the defensive side of the ball. Bielema was primarily working with the defense last year and he takes over the DL and will probably inherit the job of making the calls. He’s been a defensive coordinator and head coach in the college ranks. Jerod Mayo has been brought in to coach the inside linebackers while Demarcus Covington takes over the outside linebackers. Mike Pellegrino is listed as a “defensive backs” coach but will probably coach the cornerbacks only. The only returning defensive coach is Steve Belichick who remains the safeties coach.

Joe Judge gets more on his plate as he retains his Special Teams coordinator position but also picks up the new title of WR coach as well. But with OC Josh McDaniels, OL coach Dante Scarnecchia, and RB coach Ivan Fears to return, the offense should be in really good shape.

Patriots Welcome N’Keal Harry Finally to New England:

The Patriots brought in N’Keal Harry to meet with the media on Friday and he was finally officially introduced as the Patriots first draft pick of 2019, (32nd overall in the first round). He posed for pictures with Robert and Jonathan Kraft and spoke with the press. Some of the highlights included:

On being drafted by the Patriots: “It means the world to me. This is a great organization. I feel like I couldn’t have been put in a better situation. I’m learning from the best of the best and I’m just excited to get to work and soak in as much information as possible.”

Asked about Tom Brady being hard on his WRs, Harry embraced the challenge. “That’s something I’m looking forward to. I’m the type of player that wants to get better, I want to get coached hard, so I’m looking forward to that.”

Harry spoke about giving back to his home on Saint Vincent and how much of an influence his grandmother was in his life. “She’s been everything. There’s no way I would have been in this position if my grandmother wasn’t a part of my life. She’s been a great role model. That’s where I get my work ethic from, just seeing how hard she works, seeing her come from a different country and having to start over. I really do know there’s no way I would be in this position without that woman.”

And asked what’s he’s been doing since being drafted, how he answered should be music to Patriots’ fans ears. “These past couple of weeks, my biggest things have been making sure I stay in shape and just making sure I’m studying a lot, watching a lot of film. I want to be the type of player that comes in and can be accountable from day one… with this transition, it’s all the work you put in, the time you put in, the effort you put in. So that’s what I’ve been doing the past couple of weeks and that’s what I’m going to continue to do.”

Patriots Sign Watson and Several Draft Picks:

Ben Watson is returning to the place where his NFL career began with the Patriots. The team announced the signing of the 15-year NFL veteran who spent the first six seasons in the NFL with the Patriots before signing with Cleveland. He also played for the Ravens and Saints. Watson has played in 195 games with 135 starts and has 530 catches, for 5885 yards and 44 TDs.

The Patriots also announced the signings of second-round draft pick DB JoeJuan Williams, third-round draft pick OL Yodny Cajuste, fourth-round draft pick OL Hjalte Froholdt, fourth-round draft pick QB Jarrett Stidham, fifth-round draft pick DL Byron Cowart, fifth-round draft pick P Jake Bailey and seventh-round draft pick DB Ken Webster.

Only three draft picks remain unsigned, top draft pick N’Keal Harry, and third-round picks Chase Winovich and Damien Harris. Those shouldn’t be too long in coming

Adjustments Are Just a Walk in the Park for the Patriots:

For the past couple of months, the fans and media have been discussing how the team will handle so many losses thru free agency, coach-poaching, and retirement.

“No Josh Gordon, Hogan, Patterson at WR…Who will Brady throw to?”
“RobGronkowski retired and the top three tight ends from last year are gone…how will the team adjust?”
“The team lost Trent Brown and LaAdrian Waddle at tackle…who’s going to protect Brady?”
“All of these changes at the coaching staff, does the rest of the AFC catchup in 2019?”

These are just a few of some of the questions we’ve all been hearing, or asking ourselves this spring. But as always, if there is one thing the Patriots do better than anyone is to adjust. No team has been better than adjusting to changing personnel, coaches, situations …whatever. They always figure it out. It has been a hallmark of this team for the past two decades is that they always figure it out.

So, while we’re all lamenting the loss of Gronk and openly wondering (as I did here) if they’re going to put an emphasis elsewhere, Belichick, McDaniels and don’t forget Brady will figure out a way to get this done. And until they don’t figure it out, I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt.

I found it intriguing this week that the Patriots were omitted from the NFL.com’s predicted “Top 10” offenses of 2019. I can think of nothing that will motivate Brady more. The Patriots love to play the role of the underdog and something tells me, the same people who omitted them from the list will be ridiculing New England for playing the underdog role next winter.   

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Get No Love from ESPN, Network Predicts a Losing Season:

The Buffalo Bills had a strong offseason in free agency and followed that up with a strong 2019 NFL Draft.  There they landed DL Ed Oliver, OT Cody Ford, RB Devin Singletary, and TE Dawson Knox in the first three rounds but are picked by the experts at ESPN to win just six games.

Buffalo fans are used to the media pundits taking shots at their team but from a perspective standpoint, the same experts had the Kansas City Chiefs as the best in the league with a probability of just 10.3 wins.

While much of how the season unfolds will depend on the 2nd year jump by QB Josh Allen, at first glance this doesn’t look like a six-win team.

Dolphins Defense Looking For a Hybrid Identity:

The Miami Dolphins are trying to build a defense that looks at times like a 4-3. At other times a 3-4. The base defense may have five defensive backs on the field. Their plan is to run a hybrid defense that morphs into whatever their opponents struggle against.   I

If that sounds vaguely familiar, it should. That is the kind of defense Brian Flores ran with the Patriots and he and Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham plan on running with the Dolphins.

But both Graham and Flores know that if the defense is going to be successful, then they’ll have to improve a woeful 2018 run defense. Miami allowed a whopping 2325 yards on the ground and 4.8 yards per rush. And in playing in a hybrid front, the players will have to set the edge, something that Graham is well aware of.

“There will be a bunch of guys who will learn to set the edge,” Graham said to the Sun Sentinel this week. “The edge comes down to this. You’ve got to get a feel for it. The traditional edge we grew up knowing, where [the offense] lines up with two tight ends and they are going to run outside, that doesn’t happen that often (anymore).

“Setting the edge is really getting a feel for it, and being physical at the point, using proper angles with our body. We’re teaching a bunch of guys to learn how to do it. It can be a safety. It can be a defensive end and outside linebacker…

Polite Getting a Fresh Start with the Jets:

The New York Jets picked up Jachai Polite in the 3rd Round of the 2019 NFL Draft after the very talented edge player from Florida began to fall in the draft.  Polite seemed like a sure-fire 1st rounder after a 2018 season that saw him produce 17.5 tackles for a loss, 11 sacks and six forced fumbles.

But he tested poorly at the NFL Combine and again at Florida’s Pro Day, prior to the draft. This, coupled with what was perceived as several poor interviews caused his draft stock to plummet.

But Jets coach Adam Gase isn’t worried about any of that. He said, “Well right now, we have a guy with pretty much a fresh start. What happened in the past is irrelevant to me.”

Gase added, “Moving forward it’s going to be about doing the right things, worrying about what he can control which is showing up every day, being on time, practice hard. If he does that, it’ll be smooth sailing for him.”

________________

“So, how was your week?”

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

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

Ben Watson Returning to New England Proves You Can Go Home Again

Steve Balestrieri
May 10, 2019 at 6:30 am ET

BThe Patriots are turning the clocks back to 2004 a bit as they’re coming to an agreement with veteran tight end Ben Watson who they’re signing to a one-year deal worth $3 million dollars.

Watson began his career in New England as a first-round draft pick (#32) out of Georgia in 2004. He played the first six years of his career with the Patriots before moving on to Cleveland, Baltimore, and two stints with the New Orleans Saints.

Watson never really lived up to his first-round expectations with the Patriots but a couple of his most memorable moments were his two late touchdowns on the first Monday Night Football game of 2009 as Tom Brady was just returning from his ACL injury to pull out an improbable comeback win. And his uber-athletic chasing down of Champ Bailey in the playoffs of 2005 where he ran 100 yards from the opposite side of the field and knocked Bailey out of bounds after he intercepted Brady and returned the ball all the way down the field.

He led the Ravens in receptions in 2017 with 61 and had his best season with the Saints in 2015 with 74 catches for 825 yards and six touchdowns.

The 38-year old Watson considered retirement this winter but after the birth of his twins recently had a change of heart. Now his career has come full circle and he’s returning to the team that drafted him.

The tight end position will be vastly different in 2019 as the top three players from 2018 (Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, Jacob Hollister) are all gone. Now the tight end roster will look like this:

Ben Watson
Austin Seferian-Jenkins
Matt LaCosse
Stephen Anderson
Ryan Izzo
Andrew Beck

Anderson was brought in at midseason in 2018 but didn’t catch a pass. Izzo spent the season on IR. The team brought in free agents Watson, Seferian-Jenkins, and Lacosse this spring as well as the UDFA Beck.

The learning curve for Watson should be very short, after spending six seasons in Foxboro with Brady, re-learning the offense should be fairly easy for him despite his being gone for so many years.

Obviously, the hope is Watson can give them veteran leadership and together with Seferian-Jenkins provide them with enough production to at least replicate what they had a year ago and hopefully more.

Watson is a solid run blocker and together he and Seferian-Jenkins with Lacosse should provide the offense with enough targets to go around. Other than the missed season of 2016 with an injury, Watson has been durable and has always been on the field. The knock on Seferian-Jenkins is that he’s hurt all too frequently, but has never played with a QB like Brady.

In his career, Watson has played in 195 games with 135 starts. He has 530 career catches for 5885 yards and 44 touchdowns.

Adding Watson should give a nice short-term boost to the tight end position. And perhaps, like Patrick Chung proved a few years ago, you can go home again.

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Austin Seferian-Jenkins Signed, Increases Depth at TE

Steve Balestrieri
April 11, 2019 at 6:30 am ET

The Patriots on Wednesday signed veteran tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins to a very team-friendly one-year contract that increases their depth at the tight end position. The news was first reported by Field Yates of ESPN.

Jenkins has very good size at 6’6, 262 and is only 26 years old. However, he’s had trouble staying on the field. In 2018, he played for the Jacksonville Jaguars and played in only five games before a pair of hernias ended his season early. In 2017, he caught 50 passes with the Jets. A

The deal with the Patriots is a very low risk and a possible very high return. Seferian-Jenkins signed for the veteran minimum andincludes a $50,000 signing bonus, with an additional $40,000 in future bonuses.

Seferian-Jenkins was considered an athletic freak when he entered the NFL but has been unable to stay healthy. But with a minimum contract and little in bonus money, he is betting on himself to have a good year working with Tom Brady and Josh McDaniels and can cash in next season at the age of 27.

While he doesn’t possess the kind of speed to threaten the seams like Rob Gronkowski, he can (when healthy) find open spots on the field and find a way to get open. He’s not a replacement for Gronk, that just isn’t fair to Seferian-Jenkins to even suggest it. Nobody is. He can, however, become a productive member of the Patriots passing game.

Something to keep in mind when talking about Jenkins is that he hasn’t exactly played with an elite quarterback. Take a look at the QBs he’s caught passes from… Blake Bortles, Josh McCown, and Jameis Winston. There is no reason to not believe that he should be much more productive working with Tom Brady.

But is he going to be the Patriots #1 tight end? No, but the Patriots just picked up a possibly very productive #2 with several other players vying for the #3 spot on the roster. The #1 tight end for the team is still to come via the upcoming 2019 NFL Draft.

He just increased the depth at the position and will be given every chance to carve out a very big role in this offense. The risk/reward pendulum, due to his contract is tilted firmly in the Patriots side.

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Despite Slow Start, Gronkowski Still On Pace Through Five Games

Ian Logue
October 12, 2018 at 11:06 am ET

It’s been a while since fans have seen Rob Gronkowski spike a football, but through five games Gronkowski is still on pace for another Gronk-like year.

The veteran tight end last spiked the football back in week one when he scored on a 21-yard acrobatic play in the first quarter against the Texans, which saw Brady make a back-shoulder throw in double coverage where Gronkowski spun and managed to cross the pylon for New England’s first touchdown of 2018.

It was a great play, but that’s been the last time we’ve seen him score.  From there, two straight losses saw Chris Hogan (2) and James White (1) as the only two receivers to catch a touchdown pass from Brady while no running backs also crossed the goal line.  In their last two wins, Brady’s thrown three touchdown passes, with White, Josh Gordon and Corradelle Patterson each on the receiving end of scoring throws from the quarterback, while Sony Michel and Brady each crossed the goal line on the ground.

But no Gronk spikes.  Is Gronk worried?

“No, we’re winning,” said Gronkowski, who was asked about his touchdown drought on Wednesday.  “We’ve won the last two. I’ve got to pick it up. I’ve got to start scoring.”

His current drought hasn’t hurt him in terms of his touchdown totals from last season.  Through five games, he had just two receiving touchdowns this time last year compared to the one he has this season, and he’s actually three receptions ahead of what he had hauled in at this point in 2017 (he has 23 so far, compared to 20 last year).

Speaking of which, it’s interesting to look at the red zone totals, which are interesting.  Gronkowski is surprisingly without a reception in scoring territory so far this season, but that drought is eerily similar to what he endured last season after having been targeted six times with just one reception, which was a touchdown.  Like last year, the team was still adjusting to losing Julian Edelman during the preseason, while this year they were obviously without him during his four-game suspension.

As for receiving yards, Gronkowski is just 10-yards behind where he was last year at this time, having compiled 308-yards compared to the 318-yards he had last season.

Gronkowski doesn’t appear to really know that despite his slow start, he’s right on par with where he was through five games last season.

When asked about his incentives in his contract, Gronk downplayed it and said he’s just trying to make sure he remains focused on what he’s supposed to be doing out there and he’s not worried at all.

“No, I’ve got to keep doing what I’ve been doing,” said Gronkowski.  “Just get back to the basics, just get back out and keep playing football. That’s the last thing I’m worried about. The first thing I’m worried about is just doing my job and doing the best I can do to help out the team.”

New England Patriots 2018 Training Camp Primer – Tight Ends

Steve Balestrieri
June 29, 2018 at 8:30 am ET

Gronkowski and Who Else?

The Patriots have a bunch of interesting tight end possibilities on the roster this season after Rob Gronkowski and the competition in training camp will ultimately tell the tale on who stays and who goes. Although the big news all spring was that Rob Gronkowski along with Tom Brady was staying away from the “voluntary” workouts, the star tight end was on hand for mandatory minicamp and looked in excellent condition.

There were also some rumblings that the Patriots tried to trade Gronkowski just prior to the draft, having had contact with several teams. But regardless, he is still here and he remains the best overall tight end in the NFL. The big question is now, who will back him up. Last year, the Patriots carried three tight ends with Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, and rookie Jacob Hollister.

We here would expect them to carry three again. And there are quite a few intriguing options for them to look to this year. And as we’ve already broken down the QB and WR positions, we’ll do the same here with the tight ends.

So, who’s locked in and who’s on the bubble?

Roster Locks: Rob Gronkowski

Gronkowski is still the man in the NFL. He’s the guy that everyone tries to shut down and very few teams are able to do it with just one player, it usually revolves around multiple players having to get involved.

Last season, in 14 games he had a very Gronk-like 69 catches for 1084 yards and eight touchdowns receiving. He and Brady are always on the same page and they often communicate with simply a look or a slight hand signal at the line of scrimmage as they both see the field and how the defense is lining up extremely well and are always in sync with one another.

I would expect a new deal or an extension to get done with him sooner, rather than later that will keep him around Foxboro for the next couple of years, despite the offseason talk about him retiring.

Gronk has it all; size, speed, tremendous hands, he can line up all over the field from in the slot to split out wide and is a very good pass blocker and a devastating run blocker. Gronkowski is just 29 years old and the Patriots use him to create mismatches all over the field.

Near Roster Locks: Jacob Hollister, Dwayne Allen

Jacob Hollister after practice. (SBalestrieri photo)

Hollister made the team as a rookie UDFA in 2017 and played a little bit on offense but was a regular contributor on special teams. He’s got the speed and hands to challenge the seams but needed to bulk up, and get a little bit stronger as well as improve his run blocking this year.

Hollister had a very solid spring and looked very impressive in the passing game. He also appears to have bulked up a little bit and we’ll see if that translates into being a better run blocker. Putting on the pads will ultimately tell the tale but he appears ready to make that big Year 1-to-Year 2 jump that Bill Belichick always talks about.

Allen had a very disappointing year in the passing game in 2017. He was expected to replace some of the production of Martellus Bennett who signed with Green Bay as a free agent last year. But he caught just 10 passes and never seemed like he had a firm grasp of the passing game and was basically an afterthought most of the season.

But he remains a very good blocking tight end and a Bill Belichick favorite. Allen is carrying a $5 million cap hit for 2018, that is not guaranteed. However, the Patriots didn’t try to renegotiate his deal this spring. So read into that what you will.

On the Bubble: Troy Niklas, Will Tye

The Patriots brought in Niklas this spring and the first thing that stood out about him was his size. He’s comparable to Gronkowski in bulk (6’6, 270 pounds), although not in speed and athleticism. Many pegged Niklas to be a big target in the passing game when he entered the league with the Cardinals.

But it has never happened for “Hercules”, he’s been utilized as mostly a blocking tight end and he caught just 11 passes last season. But he remains a very solid blocking tight end and he could push Allen for that blocking TE spot since he has a much more manageable cap number. He looked good this spring in the positional work but in 11-on-11, he disappeared a bit. He’ll need to show more this summer once the pads come on and show more in the passing game.

The Patriots picked up WIll Tye last year and promptly stashed him on the practice squad. He had a nice spring and was getting open in the passing game, showing his athleticism. He made a beauty of a catch over Pat Chung during minicamp while we were there and it is worth noting that he was a two-year starter for the Giants catching 90 passes in 2015-2016.

Longshots: Ryan Izzo, Shane Wimann

Izzo and Wimann face long odds to make the roster but could be candidates for the Patriots practice squad in 2018. Izzo is a very good blocking tight end and will be competing with Allen and Niklas as the blocking tight end. He’s got good size at 6’5, 256 pounds.

Wimann is listed at 6’4, 252 pounds but seems a bit lighter than that, but when standing next to Gronkowski, Niklas and Allen, everyone looks thin. He’s a small school tight end (Northern Illinois) who caught 30 passes for 283 yards and a school-record 7 touchdowns receiving in 2017. He’s a long shot but we’ve seen crazier things. The problem for he and Izzo will be the chance to show much on the field will be very limited with so many tight ends in camp.

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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:

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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.