Good morning, Here is your Sunday’s Patriots news 8-05, & AFC East Notes. The Patriots are getting the day off today from training camp, but we hope to see many of you down there in the coming days as the team gears up for their first preseason game.
Sony Michel who left practice early on Wednesday with an injury to his already damaged knee, had a procedure done to drain the knee. He’s expected to be sidelined for at least 10 days but it could be that we won’t see Michel until the first game of the regular season. It is a waiting game at this point. But that was the drawback of drafting Michel, he’s had knee woes before. Hopefully this won’t be a long-term issue but regardless, it definitely sets back his progression in a big way
With the birthday of Tom Brady on Friday, the Patriots made enough birthday cake for Brady and 5000 of his fans. Shaped in a big #12, the cake consisted of 2000 eggs, 250 pounds of sugar, etc … all of which are usually strictly off-limits for Brady’s diet. He was surprised after practice by his wife and kids on the field. And was serenaded by both fans and teammates as he got a rare off-day in training camp.
Julian Edelman told the media on Friday that recovering from last year’s ACL tear has been a “grind” on the field. Edelman said that “I feel like I got to get my legs under me a lot more. I don’t have my camp legs, I don’t have football legs, and it’s evident out there.”
Training camp he added has been difficult, “You get tired, you create bad habits, you don’t run your routes right and you get yelled at in meetings for it. I’m expecting to do that because I got to pick it up,” he said. “I wasn’t as good as I want to be today and feeling that’s because I’m not in the best shape right now.”
Riley McCarron is having a pretty good training camp thus far, the 2nd year practice squad player is vying for one of the Patriots WR spots on the roster. McCarron and Braxton Berrios are almost mirror images competing against one another for the slot/PR duties. Both are similarly built can return punts and good in the middle of the field. While there is a long way to go, McCarron may be slightly ahead of the rookie at this point, but this will bear very close watching once the preseason games begin.
J.C. Jackson has been having a strong offseason, dating back to OTAs. The UDFA from Maryland has been getting some reps opposite Stephon Gilmore and has competed hard and showed nice flashes of potential. He shook off a rookie mistake against Chris Hogan, not locating the ball in time on a 50+-yard completion by breaking up a pass in the end zone and intercepting a two-point conversion try.
Kenny Britt, Matthew Slater, and Mike Gillislee returned to practice after missing time due to injuries. That is a good sign as injuries, most of the non-serious nature begin to pile up.
Hollister Seems Primed for a Big Year 2 Jump:
The Patriots signed UDFA TE Jacob Hollister a year ago and he flashed enough athleticism, good hands and toughness to make the team. After playing sparingly in 2017, he set about to improve his all-around game starting with becoming a better blocker in the running game. He looks a tad more chiseled this season after a year in the strength and conditioning program but his pass catching looks right on schedule.
Hollister has made several standout plays during the first week of training camp. Showing good hands and the ability to find the open areas of coverage and attack the seams of the defense, Hollister is a much more fluid receiver than the current #2 Dwayne Allen, but Allen’s blocking skills remain his strong suit.
Bill Belichick was asked about Hollister this week and gave (for him) an almost glowing recommendation. “He’s still got a long way to go. He has a lot of football in front of him. He didn’t have a lot of experience–had some–but has gained a lot and will gain a lot more. I think he’s got a great future, Belichick said. “He works hard, he’s a tough kid, he plays hard, practices hard and has become much better at his fundamentals and techniques at his position.”
While the highlighted text was my doing, this kind of praise is rare from Belichick. And he’s right, although he says this about everyone, Hollister still has a long way to go. But he’s definitely arcing in the right direction. With the uncertainty at the WR position as it sorts itself out, the Patriots offense could easily lean more on the running game and two tight end sets (12 personnel) in the first month of the season until Edelman returns.
Watching practice at training camp this week, Tom Brady usually throws a side session during Special Teams drills with his “Circle of Trust” receivers, normally Gronkowski, Hogan, and Edelman. Hollister was included in there this week a few times. That in itself is a very encouraging sign, we’ll see how the preseason plays out.
Belichick Inserts Fun? Into Patriots Training Camp:
With the abundance of stories from players, some of whom have never stepped foot in the Patriots locker room that the team doesn’t have any fun, this week’s events should effectively put those to rest…well not really but you know what I mean.
On Monday Night, the in-stadium practice for the season ticket holders, Bill Belichick ended practice on an interesting note. He had rookie OL Isaiah Wynn back fielding a Ryan Allen punt. If Wynn catches the ball cleanly, the team was didn’t have night meetings on Monday night and could get a little extra rest.
With the team cheering him on, Wynn dropped the first attempt but caught the second, amid wild cheers from the players and fans and big smiles all around, even from Belichick.
Then on Thursday, Day 7 of camp, Belichick ended the practice by switching roles. The defense went on offense and vice versa. Watching Duron Harmon play QB and Tom Brady safety was, as Monty Python once said, “something completely different.”
The defense, especially QBs Harmon and Pat Chung struggled but the players loved it. Devin McCourty broke it down for the media as follows:
“We need a lot of practice,” McCourty said. “We need a little bit more rules. There was no running game. (The offense) dropped like nine into coverage and rushed two. They had a little bit of an advantage because they rushed (380-pound offensive tackle Trent Brown), so that’s like rushing three. It’s tough for us on offense, but hopefully, we do it again and we get another shot at those guys.”
It should be noted here that these are things that Belichick has done frequently in the past and it was not him reacting to the crap that is posted in social media, not that he would anyway. But for the team known as the buttoned-down all business Patriots, it is always good to see them lower the guard a bit.
Young Edge Rushers Look to Improve Pass Rush in 2018:
The front seven of the Patriots defense was beset by injuries in 2017 and that was the cause of many of their struggles. As much as people want to point at the lack of Malcolm Butler as the cause of Super Bowl failures, the absence of Dont’a Hightower was an even bigger factor in their struggles.
But initially, on paper, for now, things are changing for the better. The team added run stuffing DL Danny Shelton and he and returning from IR Vincent Valentine should really help the rotation inside. Hightower and Harvey Langi return from IR which should help the LB core play much better. But at the edge is where the team is looking to play much better in 2018.
The team went out and signed DE Adrian Clayborn during free agency. Clayborn isn’t a dynamic “hair on fire” pass rusher, but a very solid, big, veteran presence who should help solidify things. And the trio of young edge players, all just 24 years old should, with Clayborn be much better against the pass and the run.
Trey Flowers is the elder statesman of the DLine, having been there the longest but he’s still just reaching his peak where many predict an All-Pro season for him. Deatrich Wise is having an outstanding camp and is making a big jump in play so far this summer. And Derek Rivers, last year’s top draft choice who missed all of last year with an ACL injury is over that now and beginning to come on in the 2nd week of training camp. These players are the top 4 rotation that should help the defense be much improved in 2018.
Eric Lee who played last year and the under-the-radar Keionta Davis who missed all of his 2017 rookie season with a neck injury and Trent Harris are all still in the mix. The front seven will bear considerable watching in the preseason but the edge players are the ones poised to look vastly different. We’ll keep you updated as camp rolls along.
Van Noy Trade Continues to Be a Steal For New England:
The Patriots traded just a 6th round draft choice for LB Kyle Van Noy in 2016, but the linebacker has worked his way into becoming a key contributor and leader in his second full season in New England.
With Dont’a Hightower injured last year, a lot was forced onto Van Noy’s plate including the mantle of leadership, something he’s embraced. Now with Hightower back, Van Noy can return to do the things he’s better suited for on the outside and is penciled in as a starter for 2018.
Bill Belichick was very complimentary about the level of play and the mentoring he’s shown with the younger players at one of his daily press conferences this week.
“Kyle’s done a really good job for us,” Belichick said. “He’s a player that didn’t start his career here but has come in and really has understood the way that we have tried to do things. He’s embraced it. He’s become very much of a leader in, A, doing his job and doing it the right way, but also helping other guys, particularly guys that transition onto the team as he did. He has a good perspective for that.”
The fact that the Patriots were able to snag the former 2nd round draft pick (40th overall) and a 7th rounder for just a 6th round pick has been an outright steal for Bill Belichick. They found a role for Van Noy and he’s met their expectations and has had more put on his plate. He should be much more effective with Hightower back in the fold this fall.
Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:
Bills UDFA Phillips Impressive in First Week of Camp:
The Buffalo Bills signed Virginia Tech UDFA WR Cam Phillips to a deal this spring that paid him a signing bonus of just $600. Yep, that isn’t a typo, but the WR has used that slight to motivate him to earn the trust of his QBs and coaches. And the young WR is doing just that.
Phillips has shined in the first week of training camp that has many re-evaluating him as a long shot to make Buffalo’s 53-man roster to a player that now has a really good shot of doing so. Phillips has been making some big plays in practice every day, something that is getting the attention of the coaching staff.
With a WR position that is wide open, Phillips is making a spot for himself at the table. Now he’ll have the chance to do some work once the preseason games begin.
Dolphins Going With Three Safety Look This Season? Not yet says DC:
The Miami Dolphins already had a pair of talented safeties in Reshad Jones and T.J. McDonald before drafting the very talented Minkah Fitzpatrick, the glue from the National Champion Alabama defense with the 11th overall pick in this year’s draft.
Now the issue is getting all of the pieces gainfully employed. Dolphins defensive coordinator was asked this week when he “has to” get the three of them on the field together. Burke wasn’t having any of it. “I don’t have to,” he said.
“We’re mixing the groups. What you’re probably not seeing is we’re repping guys at different spots but maybe not all together. So, there may be times where there are only two safeties on the field but one of them is playing a spot that they’d be playing when there are three safeties on the field if we’re going to do something like that.”
The three will eventually see the field in practice at the same time to iron out any potential issues they may encounter with communication. The Patriots use a similar grouping with Duron Harmon joining Devin McCourty and Pat Chung.
For now, it is still early in training camp for the Dolphins and it is a good problem to have as they an abundance of talent at the position.
Jets Tight End Position a Possible Achilles Heel in 2018:
The New York Jets may have made a mistake in letting TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins walk in free agency this spring. As it looks right now, they may struggle at the position in 2018. Jenkins is now a member of the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Jets don’t have an answer at this early stage of training camp.
In a piece written by Luis Tirado for the JetPress, Tirado says the Jets haven’t had Jordan Leggett who is injured and thus far Chris Herndon, Eric Tomlinson, Neal Sterling, and Clive Walford haven’t done anything to stand out positively.
Any quarterback’s security blanket is usually their tight end, it may be especially so if the Jets top draft Sam Darnold wins the starting job this summer once the preseason games begin. Without having a credible target at tight end will hurt even an established veteran like Josh McCown, with a young QB like Darnold, it could prove even more so.
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