Tag Archives: Riley McCarron

Best Of Social Media: Week 1 Texans vs Patriots

Robert Alvarez
September 11, 2018 at 3:23 pm ET

At long last the New England Patriots season opener arrived on Sunday against the upstart Houston Texans and young quarterback Deshaun Watson, who just a year earlier, gave the Pats a thriller at Gillette Stadium.

View this post on Instagram

Let’s go boys. #GameDay

A post shared by Julian Edelman (@edelman11) on

View this post on Instagram

GAME DAY MOOD!

A post shared by Jason+Devin McCourty (@mccourtytwins) on

In the first quarter, the new look Patriots defense made an immediate impact, with the help of a healthy Dont’a Hightower.

The Patriots scored first, as tight end Rob Gronkowski logged his first Gronk spike of 2018.

7-0 Patriots.

Before the end of the quarter, the Texans scored a Ka’imi Fairbairn 42 yard field goal to cut the deficit to 7-3.

To open the second, the Patriots offense continued to look crisp, as quarterback Tom Brady found James White for a 12 yard touchdown and a 14-3 lead.

Deatrich Wise and the Patriots defense continued to step up, bowling strikes along the way after sacks.

https://twitter.com/Patriots/status/1038851827071049728

Stephon Gillmore continued to keep Watson out of the end zone.

Just before the half, Gronk caught one of the more bizarre balls you’ll ever see.

https://twitter.com/WAD1980/status/1038857378551095296

The catch setup Phillip Dorsett’s first touchdown of the year and a 21-6 halftime lead.

In the third quarter, Brady and Gronk continued to connect deep. With this reception leading to another Gostkowski field goal and a 24-6 lead.

https://twitter.com/Patriots/status/1038869569299861504

With under two to play in the third, the Texans finally found the end zone when Alfred Blue ran it in from the one on Watson’s first successful drive of the afternoon. 24-13 Patriots after three.

In the fourth quarter, Doresett continued to impress, setting up another Gostkowski field goal to extend the lead to 27-13.

Nursing a two touchdown lead, return man Riley McCarron made things interesting following a muffed punt that lead to a Bruce Ellington five yard touchdown reception from Deshaun Watson. 27-20 Patriots.

So with the Texans down just seven, Ryan Allen and the special teams unit delivered as Houston was unable to tie the game and the Patriots would go on to win week 1 27-20.

https://twitter.com/Patriots/status/1038884315914887168

 

View this post on Instagram

12 & 99.

A post shared by New England Patriots (@patriots) on

View this post on Instagram

W

A post shared by Tom Brady (@tombrady) on

View this post on Instagram

Week one ✔️

A post shared by David Andrews (@bear_6060) on

https://www.instagram.com/p/BnkQJ2pnL6z/?hl=en&taken-by=gronk

Patriots  Week 1 Report Card, New England Downs Texans 27-20

Steve Balestrieri
at 7:30 am ET

The Patriots took care of business at home against the Texans and they came away with the 27-20 victory that wasn’t really as close as the score would indicate. There was never the feeling that the Texans could take over and win this game and the muffed punt at the end, while it made it a one-score game, didn’t really change the momentum.

It was a good win, with plenty of positives and also plenty of negatives for the coaches to clean up before they travel to Jacksonville next week. With the NFL showing a ton of sloppy play across the board in Week 1, we’ve become accustomed to most of the teams playing below par since most of the players barely see the field during preseason. So, with that in mind, the coaches will take the victory and move on.

Overall the Patriots looked pretty good and were the better team throughout the game. The combination of Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski seems to have not missed a beat and perhaps those missing OTAs sessions weren’t a big a negative as we were told to believe. There is a reason to feel much better about the pass rush this season, although the Houston OL is a bit suspect again. And the OL’s performance can only be described as a ton better than when the two teams met last year.

There were issues with the run defense, turnovers and special teams coverages on the minus side. So, with the season opener in the books, we’ll start with the offense and the players can come forward to pick up their grade sheets.

Quarterback: B+

Tom Brady wasn’t at his very best, as he was quick to point out after the game on Sunday but he was pretty damned good. There was absolutely no rust factor involved with the offense under #12 and he was his normal cool, brutally efficient leader.

All summer we heard the same mantra we’ve heard for what now? Eight to ten years? They have no weapons…the offense will struggle…yada, yada. Brady eats that like M&Ms, (although he probably eschews chocolate). He threw a nice back shoulder throw to Gronkowski for the Patriots first touchdown where the big man then muscled his way into the end zone.

He also had touchdown passes to James White and Phillip Dorsett, who was the 69th player (Gronk approves this message) to catch a touchdown pass from Brady. And his best pass of the day was arguably the one in the fourth quarter when facing a third and long. Brady bought time, slid in the pocket and found his fourth option, FB James Develin for a key first down. He finished 26-39 for 277 yards with 3 TDs and 1 INT.

Running Backs: B

The Patriots went with Rex Burkhead and James White mainly early in the game and then brought in Jeremy Hill later. Both Burkhead, who got the majority of the work in the running game and White were their normal solid performers on the field.

Hill came on and got just a few carries but appeared quick in the running game before going down with what appeared to be a nasty injury. That hit may require the Patriots to make a roster move if he’s out for an extended period, which it appears initially to be. **Update** Hill has torn his ACL and is done for the year**

James Develin provided his always solid game in the running game as a lead blocker but also chipped in with four catches for 22 yards. Develin had six catches all season in 2017 and nearly equaled that on Sunday. That’s nice stepping up. But overall, the running game went for 122 yards on 31 carries which isn’t bad at all.

Wide Receivers: C

The wide receivers entered the game pretty thin with just four on the roster, minus STer Matthew Slater. While their numbers weren’t earth shattering they performed okay for the first game of the season but in the future, they’ll have to step it up.

The bright spot was Phillip Dorsett who had just 12 catches all of last year. He had seven catches for 66 yards and a touchdown. On the final drive before the first half, Dorsett caught the last three passes Brady threw, including the four-yard touchdown. Cordarrelle Patterson had four touches including three carries and one reception.

Chris Hogan’s day was a disappointment. He was targeted five times and had just one catch for 11 yards. Riley McCarron was targeted once and had no stats but he would figure prominently in special teams (more below). The third down conversion rate wasn’t good and it is the WRs who must step up and change that.

Tight Ends: A

Rob Gronkowski is the best, most complete tight end in the NFL and it isn’t even close. The Texans decided that they were going to take him away with an athletic linebacker and a safety. It didn’t work. Gronkowski was the most dominant player on the field on Sunday.

He caught seven passes for 123 yards and a score, despite being the guy they tried to shut down. His 22-yard touchdown was a classic Gronkowski double coverage, back shoulder throw to Brady where he muscled his way in the end zone. At the end of the half, he split two defenders on a deep seam route where he made a fantastic catch despite a defender clearly pulling on his arm.

But Gronk is a force multiplier, he is a great decoy as well. On James White’s touchdown he lined up in the slot on the right and cut left and took all of the defenders with him, White was left with a huge hole in the defense to work in. Dorsett’s touchdown was similar. The guy continues to be unstoppable.

Offensive Line: A-

The offensive line was thought to be a question mark by some even though they had four of five starters returning. They were facing one of the best front sevens in the NFL and one that has a plethora of pass rushers. And for much of the day, Tom Brady could stand flat-footed in the pocket and go thru his progressions.

Trent Brown did a tremendous job on Jadeveon Clowney all game long and the talented pass rusher was invisible for most of the game. He and Whitney Mercilus were relegated to a milk carton in the game. Marcus Cannon did a tremendous job on J.J. Watt who did get a couple of hits on Brady when LaAdrian Waddle came on the second half. The Texans did get a couple of sacks from the interior of the line late in the game.

The only picky thing we can find is that the run blocking was just okay but not great. The team averaged just 3.9 yards per carry, again okay but not where they want to be. However, they did rush for 122 yards on that front seven, so we’re not going to harp on that at all.  

Defensive Line: B

It was a mixed bag for the defensive line on Sunday. They were outstanding at getting after the quarterback and (this time), containing him in the pocket. Trey Flowers had a tremendous game, he’s always an under-the-radar guy. Flowers logged 1.5 sacks, two tackles for loss and three QB hits. Deatrich Wise, in a limited role, due to the rotation, had 1.5 sacks, 1.5 tackles for a loss, and three QB hits. All in just 22 snaps

Unlike a year ago, the Patriots were for the majority of the afternoon, able to keep Deshaun Watson in the pocket and stop him from gaining the edge and making plays with his feet. The rotation of DEs was working and they kept fresh legs out there with Adrian Clayborn and newcomer Keionta Davis playing well too.

Lawrence Guy is the most underrated player on the Patriots. Guy had a great game and provided solid run support as well as pushed the pocket. He forced Watson’s throw that was picked off by Gilmore.

The run defense overall was not good, the Texans were running at Malcom Brown and Adam Butler and that will have to be tightened up. In the second half, however, it looked like the team was going to a smaller box and playing more two deep safeties, but we’ll have to rewatch the tape and see if some of the issues were by design.

Linebackers: B

Kyle Van Noy, rookie Ja’Whaun Bentley, and Dont’a Hightower played the most snaps. Bentley was really good for the most part and moves all over the field pretty well for a big man. He was out of position, however, on the 31-yard run by Lamar Miller in the first half. Elandon Roberts came on in the second half and had one really bad series, where Alfred Blue and the Texans gashed them on the ground. Roberts has a penchant for filling the wrong gaps at times and that series was not good.

But in covering the backs and tight ends, the linebackers had a very good game. The running backs had just two catches and TE Ryan Griffin was shut out. It was a pretty good start to the season, while they have a lot of room for improvement, it was light years better than the start to 2017.

Secondary: A

Stephon Gilmore continued the outstanding play that he’s demonstrated since the midway point of last year. He had a strong spring and summer and he was matched up with one of the best WRs in the game with DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins had his catches, he ended up with eight for 78 yards but he wasn’t a difference maker in the game. The Texans were trying everything in their power to get him the ball but Gilmore blanketed him all game.

His interception was a phenomenal play. Gilmore ran from the other side of the field when he saw Eric Rowe in single coverage and covered a tremendous amount of field with the ball in the air and went up, high pointed the ball and snagged the interception out of the hands of Rowe.

Rowe had a pretty solid game as well, while Ellington had just four catches for 37 yards. The safeties did a very good job of communication (the opposite of 2017) and the bunch formations that gave the team fits in 2017 didn’t phase them this time around.

Special Teams: C-

The normally solid Patriots special teams coverage units laid a clunker against the Texans who were one of the worst STs units in the league last year. Houston averaged 31.2 yards per kickoff return, not what I would consider anywhere near the Patriots par. But it was the first game of the season and the team did lose a couple of their core special teamers in Brandon Bolden and Jordan Richards while Jacob Hollister missed the game due to injury.

Riley McCarron muffed a punt which allowed Houston to score on a short field to cut the score to a touchdown late in the game, but it was also his first NFL game. He’ll hear it from the coaches this week.

On the plus side, Stephen Gostkowski was perfect on three PATs and both FG attempts. And Ryan Allen had six punts for a 46.8-yard average. Included in that was his last-minute punt that went 55 yards and was downed on the one-yard line.

Coaches: A

Bill Belichick had the team ready to go this season. The Texans tried to replicate their game from last year where they bunched their formations and got the Patriots secondary confused but this time, it didn’t work. The defense was well prepared for it plus the movement of Watson in the pocket.

Dante Scarnecchia had the OL extremely well prepared to face the Texans pass rush and stout front seven. The offense knew they were thin at WR but they worked up a game plan that got everyone involved. Josh McDaniels was still able to find ways to attack the secondary and the Patriots were still balanced in the running and passing games.

Brian Flores and the defense earn high marks of the week. The Patriots defense looked much, much better this week than they did at this time last year. Overall, very high marks for the coaching staff, but an even tougher test awaits this 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 the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots Release Wide Receiver Malcolm Mitchell

Steve Balestrieri
August 6, 2018 at 3:11 pm ET

The Patriots are releasing wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell, according to NFL insider Jason La Canfora.

Knee issues have dogged Mitchell since his playing days at Georgia and are the cause of his release. The Patriots tried unsuccessfully to shop Mitchell around this summer but his inability to get on the field had no interested parties.

Mitchell, who just turned 25, was a key contributor in the Patriots Super Bowl run in 2016. He caught 32 passes for 401 yards and four touchdowns as a rookie, nearly all of it in the second half of the season. He missed part of that season with an elbow injury but came back and earned the trust of Tom Brady. He steadily gained confidence and was a huge part of the 4th quarter comeback against the Falcons in the Super Bowl.

He caught five passes for 63 yards in the second half of the Super Bowl.

His future looked bright, however,  the very same knee issues robbed him of 2017. He never made it onto the field last season and his knee woes held him to just a couple of all-too-brief cameos this spring. That led to the Patriots shopping him unsuccessfully.

The team can either convert him to IR again with an injury settlement or outright release him, depending upon the health of his knee. It is a case of oh-so-close for the talented wide receiver.

So where does this leave the team? In the short term, it immediately opens up a roster spot, despite the fact he hadn’t been practicing. That will be filled quickly. But it was clear before training camp even began that Mitchell wasn’t going to be in the team’s plans for 2018.

With Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, Cordarrelle Patterson, Eric Decker, Kenny Britt, and younger players Riley McCarron, Braxton Berrios, Devin Lucien and Paul Turner, they have enough depth to carry them through the season. Although Britt too has missed some valuable time this camp. Julian Edelman will miss the first month of the season due to his suspension.

As we posted in our 53-man roster projection this morning, Mitchell wasn’t on the roster and youngsters Berrios and McCarron were still on the outside looking in for a roster spot.

It is a shame to see a player as talented as Mitchell lose his career on an injury. But the chances of another team taking a flyer on him at this point would remain pretty slim.

What Does the Eric Decker Signing Mean for the Patriots?

Steve Balestrieri
August 3, 2018 at 7:30 am ET

With the surprising news that Jordan Matthews’ injury was severe enough for the Patriots to place him on IR, the Patriots lost out on one of the key free agent signings they made this spring. The team ended up releasing Matthews, I’m thinking, at his request as he probably believes that he’ll be ready to go a lot sooner this season.

But back to the situation at hand, with Matthews gone, the Patriots saw this coming and worked Decker out before he was signed on Thursday. After nearly missing all of 2016 with the Jets, Decker signed with Tennessee and put decent but career low numbers since becoming an every-down player. He caught 54 passes for 563 yards (career-low 10.4 yards per reception) with just one touchdown. But he remains reliable, his 65 percent catch percentage was the second highest of his career.

Can he revert to something akin to his last two years with the Broncos or the first two with the Jets or has he permanently lost a step. Part of his stats could stem from the struggles of the Titans offense. Last season they were just 28th in passing attempts and 23rd in yardage. Catching passes from Tom Brady should be more akin to better stats than Marcus Mariota.

The biggest asset Decker brings to the Patriots is versatility. He can play outside as the Z- receiver or in the slot. As a slot guy, he’s much like Matthews, a bigger (6’3, 215 pounds) who relies on his size to box out smaller defenders. So how will the Patriots use Decker?

Without seeing him run yet in practice, I see Decker as the Z-wide receiver, not the X. He will be used to attack the middle depth routes and work the perimeter and the middle of the field. They can move him around to create matchups in the slot where he logged about 50 percent of the Titans’ snaps last year when the opportunity avails itself. Phillip Dorsett has been seeing a lot of reps in the slot this summer and he’s been one for the more impressive players on offense.

Right now, the wide receiver depth has Chris Hogan, Dorsett, Cordarrelle Patterson, Decker along with rookies Braxton Berrios and Darren Andrews with 2nd-year player Riley McCarron, and Paul Turner. Veteran Matthew Slater is a wide receiver in name only, he’s a special teamer. Veterans Kenny Britt and Matthew Mitchell are not practicing yet and are considered day to day. Julian Edelman will return to the team Week 5 when his suspension is finished.

Decker isn’t a lock to even make the team but I believe he’ll have enough in the tank to beat out one of the younger slot guys (Berrios/McCarron) but time will tell. He had just a tad of experience with Josh McDaniels in Denver during his rookie season.

While the loss of Matthews is a blow, we thought he’d be an integral member of the offense in 2018, it certainly isn’t a death knell. Why? The Patriots still have plenty of talent at the wide receiver position. They like Britt and he’s only a year removed from a 1000-yard season. Dorsett appears primed to shake off his first season blues and be a bigger contributor. Patterson is the wild card, he’s never been able to produce like he was thought to be when he arrived in the NFL. But the Patriots are intent on finding him a role.

And this team has so many other talented pass catchers at other positions. Rob Gronkowski is the gold standard among NFL tight ends. Jacob Hollister seems poised to make a big jump in production from Year 1 to Year 2 and has caught more passes from Brady this summer than anyone. And the production from Rex Burkhead, James White and Sony Michel at running back shouldn’t have anyone pushing the panic button.

So while I’d temper expectations a bit for Eric Decker right now, I think he’ll be fine here. He’s at the age where his one-year deal comes at a good time for him. He’ll be very visible with the Patriots nationally and could parlay this into one more good payday. I expect him to be a model teammate (unlike the other guy fans were clamoring for) and be “all-in” immediately.

While I have never been a big fan of Decker’s, the timing may be just right for him to come to New England and carve out a nice role for himself. His versatility will be a key facet in him being able to pick up the offense on the fly. Without being here all spring, and the first week of training camp, he’s well behind the rest of the receivers. However, it isn’t anything that can’t be overcome with hard work.

Orchestrating all of this is Tom Brady, who has taken the Patriots deep in the playoffs and to a Super Bowl with far less talent than he has right now with this offense. The loss of Matthews and Edelman (for a month) is a blow but this team will be just fine. They always start off a bit slow anyway. No reason to panic and sound the alarm. In one aspect of this, they were fortunate that the injury happened in the first week of training camp rather than Week 9 or 10.

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.

Edelman Suspension Creates Huge Hole, Opportunity

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

Well by now, as everyone heard, the NFL denied the appeal for Julian Edelman and he’ll be lost to the team for the first four games of the season. He was suspended for the first four games of the season for testing positive for an unknown substance which violated the league rules against PEDs. Edelman missed all of the 2017 season after tearing his ACL in a non-contact play during the preseason. He’s been trying to work his way all the way back.

During the spring, the team at times kept him out of some drills, but it seemed more precaution than anything else. In the limited amount of time we were able to watch him, he looked like….Julian Edelman. Quick, able to cut on a dime and nearly impossible to cover in the short passing game.

But now the team will miss him the first four games against Houston, Jacksonville, Miami and Detroit and make no mistake, despite being able to hum along without him last season, this is a big loss for the first quarter of the season.

The offense lost three of its biggest playmakers as Danny Amendola and Dion Lewis left in free agency and the team traded Brandin Cooks to the Rams. So at wide receiver, the depth chart consists of Chris Hogan and a lot of question marks. While there is no denying the talent level is there with players such as Jordan Matthews, Kenny Britt, Phillip Dorsett, Cordarrelle Patterson, rookie Braxton Berrios, as well as the battle-tested but oft-injured Malcolm Mitchell, they haven’t worked for long in the system and the unknown element persists with all of them.

The suspension now may change how they look at training camp and the preseason. Edelman will be gone for the first month of the season, they’ll have to juggle, getting him all the way back with a balance of limiting his workload initially.

This suspension will no doubt put more pressure on tight end Rob Gronkowski and the running backs to produce more in the passing game. With Rex Burkhead and James White back in the fold, the team will look to Sony Michel to add that level of playmaking ability to both the passing and running games in 2018.

The loss of Edelman for that first month of the season, where the Patriots are normally slow starters is a big loss, there is no getting around that. But it opens a window of opportunity for the other players to step up and for at least one of them, it may lead to a four-week reprieve that could lead to him becoming a regular part of the offense.

We wrote on Sunday that the snaps in the slot are now wide open and up for grabs. Mitchell would be the first choice to snag them up but his health is a big question mark right now. Berrios and 2nd-year practice squad player Riley McCarron seem cut from the prototypical Patriots slot receiver mold, and they’ll have plenty of opportunities both in practice and in four preseason games to turn the coaches heads and carve out a role for themselves.

Our money here is on Jordan Matthews who has been able to thrive in many different offenses so he’s able to learn a new one and become productive right away. He brings a different element to the mix, he’s 6’3, so he presents a much larger target especially in the red zone.

Of course, this puts more pressure on Tom Brady and the soon-to-be 41-year-old QB has always been equal to the task. He’ll be operating without two of his best friends and most trusted receivers in Amendola and Edelman but something tells me he’ll be able to weather the storm until Edelman returns in  Week 5 and the newer players find their rhythm in the Patriots offense.

It won’t be a walk in the park and at times they may struggle, as they always do early in the season. That’s what makes every year so different, so compelling and ultimately so much fun to watch.

But nobody circles the wagons better than the Patriots under Bill Belichick and are able to block out the noise and get all 53 men pulling in one direction. Is the loss of Edelman for four games a huge loss? Absolutely. Is it a crisis that will bear close scrutiny? Yes again. But this is where the wheat is separated from the chaff and this is where the great step up to the forefront. JFK once wrote:  

“When written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity.”

I’d place your bets on #12 getting it done this year even without Edelman for the first month of the season.

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 7-1, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
July 1, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, Here is your Sunday’s Patriots news 7-1, & AFC East Notes … We’d like to wish all of our readers a happy and safe 4th of July holiday this week. And Happy Birthday America! We may have our issues, but there is still no better place to live in the world.

Quick Hitters:
Training Camp is now just a few weeks away. The Patriots have announced the following days and times for the first few practices, which will be open to the public. ***Please Note that all times are subject to change***. From the Patriots website:

July 26 | Practice Time – 9:15 AM

July 27 | Practice Time – 9:15 AM

July 28 | Practice Time – 9:15 AM

July 29 | Practice Time – 9:15 AM

*Gates will open at 8 AM each morning and the fan activities will remain open one (1) hour after practice ends.

No Joint Practices? For the first time in about a decade (there were none in 2011 during the lockout), it seems the Patriots will not be conducting joint practices with an opponent. Typically Bill Belichick lines up the opponent for the first or second preseason game (both last year) and works out a joint practice schedule. It doesn’t seem like that will happen this year barring any last minute changes.

Dwayne Allen’s status remains a hot topic for many fans as well as media members to discuss. Much like safety Jordan Richards, Allen remains a target for criticism considering his very small production in the passing game despite having a $5 million dollar cap hit in 2018, none of which is guaranteed.

But Bill Belichick likes Allen and was pleased with his blocking ability. They brought in competition this spring. Although tight ends Jacob Hollister, Will Tye and UDFA Shane Wimann are more in the mode of “move” tight ends, both Troy Niklas and Ryan Izzo are considered more of the blocking type of tight ends and could provide a younger, cheaper alternative. Of course, the team could always opt for re-doing Allen’s deal, which many predicted they’d do in the spring and didn’t.

Julian Edelman should be hearing back from the NFL regarding his appeal on his four-game suspension early in the week. If the suspension stands, the team will be without him for the first four games of the season. With that in mind…

Who Will Take the Slot Snaps in Case of #11 Suspension?

If indeed Julian Edelman is suspended for the first four games of the season, who will the Patriots go to in the slot for the majority of their snaps and production?  Well first off, they won’t (they learned that a year ago when he went on IR), be able to plug one player in that position, it is going to take multiple players to step up.

  • Malcolm Mitchell: In a perfect world that primary player would be Mitchell. He looked at the end of the 2016 season to be primed for big things down the road. But his knee woes are well-chronicled and with him missing most of the spring workouts just makes him a player with too many questions health-wise for the team to rely on him. At least for the first month of 2018.
  • Chris Hogan: The team looked like they were going to use Hogan in that type of role early in the 2017 season, but he ran into some injury issues of his own. However with Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola and Dion Lewis gone, they may opt to go with an experienced, trusted player here.
  • Phillip Dorsett: The former 1st round pick was underwhelming in his first season as a member of the Patriots as he had to learn on the fly. However, he looked better and more comfortable in the offense this spring. But Dorsett doesn’t have the skill set to play an Edelman role. Where could he fit better? In the Cooks role as the outside burner. And he has the quickness to work the underneath routes that Cooks struggled with. We’ll see how that works out in camp.
  • Braxton Berrios/Riley McCarron: The young slot players resemble former Patriot slot receiver Wes Welker and are quick and productive when they’ve had their numbers called in college. But would the Patriots entrust such a vital part of the offense to such untested players in the first month of the season? Doubtful.
  • Jordan Matthews: The former Eagle and Bill seems like he’d be an excellent fit for the slot role, although he is a much different player. Matthews is 6’3, 212 pounds and excelled in the slot role with Philly averaging about 70 catches a year before an injury-plagued campaign with the non-throwing Bills. But Matthews bet on himself, opting for a one-year, $1.0 million-dollar contract with New England this spring. He is the guy we’ll be watching if the Pats get some bad news on the Edelman front.

Flowers Contract Extension Going to be Difficult:

Trey Flowers is in the final year of his rookie contract and a new contract with him may be a much more difficult undertaking than it appears on the surface. Flowers has led the team in sacks the past two years, despite not having a big presence opposite him on the other side in 2017.

With the Minnesota Vikings signing DE Danielle Hunter to a 5-year, $72 million-dollar extension last week, with a $15 million signing bonus and $40 million guaranteed.  That will be the starting point for negotiations. The two players have had similar production with Hunter logging 8 sacks and Flowers 6.5. However, Hunter plays in a much more aggressive defense and has played with Everson Griffen on the opposite end.

Flowers isn’t flashy but does everything well, setting the edge, getting after the quarterback and kicking inside at times as an interior pass rusher. And with Adrian Clayborn on the team, signed in free agency, Derek Rivers back and Deatrich Wise looking to improve on a good rookie season, the chances for Flowers to cash in by producing in a contract year are very good.

Former Cowboys GM Gil Brandt predicts Flowers will make the Pro-Bowl this year. That would be great news for Flowers. For the Patriots? It will mean, he’ll be just that much harder to re-sign.

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills Need Stability, High Play at QB in 2018:
The Buffalo Bills opted for a possible future franchise QB with the #7 pick in the draft with the selection of Josh Allen. There is a lot to like, he has an absolute cannon for an arm and can deliver the ball in a manner that very few QBs can. However, as a rookie, the Bills are taking their time with him, very smartly and allowing him to learn the offense, work on his mechanics and find his way in the NFL before putting the pressure of being the franchise QB for the franchise.

They brought in A.J. McCarron from the Bengals and he appears to have the inside track over Nathan Peterman for the starting job out of the gate. While many in the Bills fan base are clamoring to sign a WR, they need to take a page out of New England’s book and not worry so much about WRs, but get solid QB play.

Wide receivers are successful because of QB play and not the other way around. Our friend Kerry Byrne of CHFF has labeled WRs, “shiny hood ornaments” and we tend to agree with that sentiment. Tom Brady won three Super Bowls with a pretty much no-name group of receivers.

With fans clamoring for a Dez Bryant signing, it is just another case of which we’re ultimately familiar with in New England of “gotta get the NAME” player. Head coach Sean McDermott is installing a passing game that stretches the field horizontally. That isn’t a Bryant specialty.

Dolphins Announce Training Camp Dates:
The Miami Dolphins will open their 2018 training camp on the same day as New England and several others and have published the dates and times for the first week of camp. According to their website, the Fins first few practice sessions are:

▪ Thursday, July 26: 8:30 a.m.

▪ Friday, July 27: 8:30 a.m.

▪ Saturday, July 28: 8:30 a.m.

▪ Sunday, July 29: 8:30 a.m.

▪ Monday, July 30: 8:30 a.m.

The caveat is that the Dolphins training facility at the Nova Southeastern University campus holds on 2000 people and fans must get tickets (which are free) by contacting the Dolphins website.

If there are any Dolphins fans here in New England or you’re just interested in keeping up with what Miami is up to, I recommend you follow our old friend Antwan Staley who is a Dolphins beat writer for the USA Today and his stuff can be found on the “Dolphins Wire” website. Twan is a great guy and a die-hard Red Sox fan.

Details Emerge on Jets’ TE DWI Arrest:
New York Jets rookie tight end Chris Herndon from the University of Miami was arrested for DWI on June 2 after getting into an accident at 4:45 a.m. on I-80 westbound in Rockaway Township, NJ.

His Nissan Altima crashed into a 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser driven by Albert Elliott of Manalapan, 76, who was towing a trailer and hauling a yellow rail car. Herndon initially claimed that Manalapan hit him which caused his vehicle, to flip over. Herndon claimed to be driving only 58 miles per hour but a witness at the scene told NJ State Police that Herndon passed him going over 100 miles per hour. After the crash, Herndon’s SUV slid on its roof for over 700 feet.

Officers detected a strong odor of alcohol on Herndon’s breath and he failed field sobriety tests. Once arrested and taken to the police station, he blew a 0.14 percent BAC on a breathalyzer. In NJ a person is guilty of DWI with a Blood Alcohol Concentration level of 0.08 percent or greater.

Besides any court costs, fines or court-imposed penalties, Herndon now faces possible NFL-imposed discipline, which could include a suspension. Luckily, no one was seriously injured.

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 2018 Training Camp Primer, Wide Receivers

Steve Balestrieri
June 27, 2018 at 11:06 am ET

Position is Loaded and Competition Will Tell the Tale

The Patriots head into training camp in just a month and the 90-man roster as it now stands is pretty stocked. Which means there will be a lot of players fighting for a very few spots on the 53-man roster.

Nowhere is that truer than at wide receiver. The Patriots (as of today 6/25) have 11 players vying for probably six roster spots. The team usually keeps around six WRs. That number could fluctuate if they feel they can’t part with a player or two.

Julian Edelman’s looming suspension may play a factor into that as well. If his suspension stands, then the team will have a full month of the regular season to carry an extra wide receiver and give them a longer look at some players. And of course, health will play a major role in the players that they keep, let go, place on PUP/IR.

The Patriots lost their two most productive wide receivers in Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola from 2017. Both left via free agency. Cooks the speedster that came over from New Orleans had a solid season with 65 catches for 1082 yards and 7 TDs. Amendola had 61 catches for 659 yards and 2 TDs. But in the playoffs, Amendola ratcheted up his game in a big way, hauling in 26 catches for 348 yards and 2 more TDs.

Replacing their production will be a big priority. But getting both Julian Edelman and Malcolm Mitchell back from IR, neither played in 2017 will be a huge boost. The team also drafted Braxton Berrios from Miami and has Kenny Britt and Phillip Dorsett back after each got to spend an entire offseason in New England.

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

Roster Locks: Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Matthew Slater

The Patriots get back a healthy Julian Edelman as well as a healthy Hogan this summer. Edelman missed the entire season with a torn ACL and Hogan was dinged up with a couple of injuries where he wasn’t a 100 percent for much of last season.

Julian Edelman looks healthy and ready to go. (SBalestrieri photo)

Edelman looked like the Julian Edelman we’ve always seen during the spring. We watched him closely during minicamp to see if there was any difference in his cutting to the left or right and his knee looks 100 percent. The real test will be once camp begins and the hitting starts.

The only question with him is if he will miss the first four games with a suspension due to PEDs where he was popped on a random drug test. If his suspension holds, it may end up being a better thing for him, giving him an extra month to fully recover from his surgery and rehab. But it will definitely hurt the team.

Hogan is an intriguing case as if the suspension does hold, will the team use him more in the slot or will they turn to a guy like Berrios or Jordan Matthews? It does give the team options.

Slater is a perennial Pro-Bowler and in speaking with NBC Sports Boston’s Phil Perry in a podcast today, he again mentioned the changes in the kickoff rules this season and believes Slater and other STs mavens to be even more valuable this season than in years before.

Near Roster Locks: Cordarrelle Patterson, Malcolm Mitchell

Patterson is (at least here) a near lock on our roster due to the changes to the rules governing kickoffs which will make him much more valuable this season. If Josh McDaniels and the coaches can figure out a way to get him involved in the offense, it will be a huge plus.

Cordarrelle Patterson looks to not only help in the kick return game but on offense as well. (SBalestrieri photo)

Mitchell had a really solid rookie season in 2016 and followed that up with a big Super Bowl in the win over the Falcons. But unfortunately, that was the last time he’s played in a meaningful game. His knee issues are chronic and he missed nearly all of the spring. The only thing that can hold him back is health. Will he be good to go or will he end up on PUP or IR?

On the Bubble: Jordan Matthews, Kenny Britt, Phillip Dorsett, Braxton Berrios, Riley McCarron

Matthews is a very intriguing signing. He was very productive in Philadelphia, averaging over 70 catches a year for three seasons. Last year he had a myriad of injuries and played on a non-passing team that derailed his season in Buffalo. I believe he’s going to be a big part of this offense in 2018. But he’ll have to prove it once the pads come on.

Ditto for Kenny Britt and Phillip Dorsett. Both came over last season, Dorsett just before the season opener and Britt later in the season. Dorsett, despite having blistering speed, never really caught on last year. Britt was having a very nice spring before tweaking a hamstring in minicamp and was held out as a precaution the last two days.

Berrios was a late round (6th round, 210th Overall) draft pick in the 2018 NFL Draft from Miami. He has the quickness and long speed to be a dynamic slot receiver. But he had a lingering medical issue that precluded him from taking part in any team drills in minicamp. He has some catching up to do.

McCarron spent all of 2017 on the Patriots practice squad and now knows the offense very well. With Berrios out during minicamp, he took advantage of some extra work. He looked okay but not great in the passing offense and got second-team snaps in both the punt and kick return games where he did a good job.

Outside Looking in…. Longshots: Cody Hollister

The Patriots signed undrafted free agent Cody Hollister last spring and he did enough to warrant the team to bring him back onto the practice squad last year. He had a good spring this year as well as last season. But with a top-heavy and loaded wide receiver roster, it is going to be difficult for him to get enough reps to earn a roster spot.

He, Berrios and McCarron may be looking at practice squad slots, at least to start the season. And then, depending on what transpires during the season as the inevitable injuries do occur, they may have an opportunity to get some reps in the regular season.

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 5-27, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
May 27, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, Here is your Sunday’s Patriots news 5-27, & AFC East Notes

Quick Hitters:
Can’t say enough about the league’s “compromise” in regards to the national anthem. Compromise with who? The league and the owners, that’s who. The players, who are the ones most affected by this new policy, weren’t even consulted and involved in the discussions. Bad move NFL.

The NFL loves to throw around the word “partners” when discussing the players. So how in the world can they NOT involve them in the process? Baffling would be the politically correct answer. The Players Association should take note and remind the league about it when the new CBA comes around.

Bill Belichick loves to find new ways to build team cohesion…and to tweak the NFL. Belichick traditionally used the old Chuck Noll tactic of using numberless jerseys for OTAs and minicamp in have the players get to know one another and communicate better on the field.

But the massive uptick in media coverage in the modern game had the league force the Patriots and Belichick to ban that tactic. So, Belichick, this spring had the rookies wear non-traditional numbers for OTAs. Examples? RB Sony Michel wore #51, CB Duke Dawson wore #52, QB Danny Etling wore #58, Braxton Berrios wore #55.

One can expect the league to address this soon as well.

There have been rumors of a contract extension for Rob Gronkowski for awhile now, getting a new deal done will be relief no doubt for the team and the player to keep him around Foxboro a bit longer. Gronk released a shot of him swimming with sharks as part of a Discovery Channel special

All the amateur psychologists were out in force to try to decipher the meaning of Tom Brady’s Instagram post this week. Brady posted a picture of himself practicing and added the caption, “Dreamworks”. Brady was rumored to be working out at the TB12 clinic but that was quickly shot down by Scott Zolak and others.

This weekend we know that he and his wife are in Monaco at the invitation of the prince. It is good to be the King…er the Goat. As to when he’ll be on the field, look for mandatory minicamp June 5-7. I wouldn’t expect to see him out there on May 30-31.

So what about the players on the field?

Wide Receiver Will Be a Great Position to Watch This Summer:
This will be a prime position to watch at both minicamp and training camp this summer. Julian Edelman has been on the field for the OTAs and looks like he hasn’t lost a bit of his quickness. Coming off of a serious ACL injury that caused him to miss all of 2017, that is good news. He and Chris Hogan seemed to be locked into the top two spots on the depth chart.  There,  things get really interesting and that’s where the camp competition will be fun to watch.

Malcolm Mitchell who had such a promising end to his rookie season, also missed the entire season a year ago with knee woes that are looking chronic. He was at Monday’s session and then missed Tuesday’s on-field work. Whether it was injury related or the team just taking a cautious approach will bear watching.

Two guys the team brought in last year will be looking to assert themselves after a full offseason in the Patriots system. Phillip Dorsett was something of a disappointment last year as he didn’t contribute much. He has the advantage of being able to line up inside or outside and with his spot far from guaranteed, he’ll be going all out this spring and summer.

Kenny Britt is a sleeper here. Brought in at the tail end of last year after a miserable 2017 with the Browns, Britt had 1000 yards receiving with the Rams in 2016. He has good size, (6’3, 225) and still runs well. The Patriots need some size at the position and Britt could be a productive player in the system with a solid summer.

Jordan Matthews is a guy that I’m going to make an early prediction and say makes the team. We haven’t seen him play in the Patriots system yet, but he’s learned several different systems already in his career and despite an injury-riddled season in Buffalo, he’s been a very productive receiver in Philadelphia where he averaged 70+ catches over three years there. He too has good size  (6’3, 205) and can operate out of the slot.

Cordarrelle Patterson is probably the most intriguing guy in the group. Patterson has good size, (6’2, 220) and has tremendous speed. He’s the best kick returner in the business right now and a very effective gunner. That alone should make him a near roster lock. With the Patriots ability to insert him in the lineup for some specifically tailored plays designed for him, end-arounds, quick slants, screens, his ability to make something in the open field should be fun to watch.

Braxton Berrios arrives in New England with a ton of hype as the “next Wes Welker” in the Pats offense. He’s small with a very limited catch radius but he has the quickness and better top end speed than Welker did. Where he can secure a spot is in the punt return game. He was working with Julian Edelman on that this week, which is a good sign. He and Riley McCarron will no doubt be competing for a spot either on the roster or the practice squad. Don’t go to sleep on the second year McCarron. He offers much the same value as Berrios without the hype and spent all of last year on the practice squad. He can return punts and is built similar to recently departed Danny Amendola.

Cody Hollister is a super long shot to make the roster and would have to turn heads this summer to remain on the practice squad for another year. He has the versatility to play in different spots on the field as well as special teams.

Matthew Slater is a wide receiver truly in name only. He’s one of the best special teams players in the league, year in and year out. But with so many qualified wide receivers on the squad this year, the team will have to decide whether to keep an extra WR or make some difficult decisions in regards to who to release.

The wide receiver position will be a fun one to watch this summer. With Tom Brady not at OTAs, it gives the younger players an opportunity to gain some level of comfort and build some chemistry with Brian Hoyer and Danny Etling. Why is that important? Because they’ll be mostly getting reps with them once Brady gets to camp and is taking reps with the top WRs on the depth chart.

Helmet Maker with the NFL is Trying to Make Soldiers Helmets Safer:
Not Patriots-related news but on Memorial Day weekend, we salute anything that can make our troops a bit safer.

VICIS, the makers of the new Zero1 football helmet has partnered with the US Army to make the ballistic helmet safer for the men and women in the military. They plan on replacing the foam pads inside the existing helmets with technology from the Zero1 helmet.

While the primary purpose of the military’s helmet is ballistic protection, four out of five traumatic brain injuries occur from blunt impact during training and/or other events. The company believes it will take a year or two of research and testing to begin fielding a new military helmet that makes the troops safer.

Military ballistic helmet

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills: WR Zay Jones Knee Surgery Will Not Sideline Him During Season:
The Buffalo Bills appeared to have dodged a major bullet when WR Zay Jones was forced to have knee surgery last week, but although he’ll miss the remainder of the spring, head coach Sean McDermott said it will not force Jones to miss the season.

“At this point, we aren’t concerned this injury will jeopardize his season,” McDermott told the media. When pressed for return timetable McDermott deferred and , said it was “best for us to get this done now.”

Jones who had 27 catches for 316 yards and a pair of touchdowns in 2017 is expected to be a starter opposite Kelvin Benjamin in 2018. He also had a bizarre episode in Los Angeles this off-season where he appeared naked in an apartment corridor and argued with his brother before he broke a few glass doors and windows. He was not charged with a crime in that incident as the DA declined to pursue charges.

Dolphins Bolster OL Depth, Sign Center Mike Matthews:
The Miami Dolphins announced on Friday that they have signed center Mike Matthews.

Matthews spent the 2017 season with the Pittsburgh Steelers on Injured Reserve after suffering a season-ending injury during training camp. He tore his patella tendon with the Steelers and then spent the 2016 offseason and training camp with the Cleveland Browns after originally signing with them as an undrafted college free agent on May 5, 2016. Matthews was a three-year starter (2013-15) at Texas A&M, where he played in 40 games with 33 starts.

Matthews comes from a football family; he’s the son of Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce Matthews, brother of Atlanta Falcons 2014 6th-overall pick Jake Matthews, and cousin of six-time Pro Bowl Packers linebacker Clay Matthews.

Matthews isn’t expected to compete for a starting job but to provide depth along the offensive line.

Jets Owner Johnson Says He’ll Pay the Fines For Players in New Anthem Policy:
It isn’t often when you’ll read about us here complimenting the New York Jets on their actions off the field. But this one is the exception.

The NFL on Wednesday approved a new policy that could fine teams if players don’t stand for the national anthem, but the New York Jets chairman and CEO Christopher Johnson told the media that he would pay any fine handed down by the NFL, allowing players to freely kneel during the national anthem with no repercussions or backlash from the team.

“If somebody on the Jets takes a knee, that fine will be borne by the organization, by me, not the players,” Johnson said. “I never want to put restrictions on the speech of our players. Do I prefer that they stand? Of course. But I understand if they felt the need to protest. There are some big, complicated issues that we’re all struggling with, and our players are on the front lines. I don’t want to come down on them like a ton of bricks, and I won’t. There will be no club fines or suspensions or any sort of repercussions. If the team gets fined, that’s just something I’ll have to bear.”

Well done, Mr. Johnson.

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.

Riley McCarron is one Option to Replace Amendola in the Slot in 2018

Steve Balestrieri
March 19, 2018 at 8:30 am ET

The loss of Danny Amendola will hurt the Patriots offense in 2018. You just can’t plug and play a guy who has the clutch production he’s had in the Patriots offense. Especially a guy who had the absolute confidence of Tom Brady. So with the veterans on the roster, Phillip Dorsett, Kenny Britt and running back, Rex Burkhead could join Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan and the returning Julian Edelman as well as Malcolm Mitchell at the wide receiver position this season. If everyone is healthy, it will be a tough position to crack.

There is another player, a guy who is a dark horse to make the team that could be a guy to watch this spring and that is Riley McCarron.

McCarron is a 5’9’’, 185-lb slot receiver from Iowa who will draw comparisons to Wes Welker as soon as he catches a pass in training camp. That is bound to happen with just a look at him because he appears to be the prototypical slot receiver. And it isn’t fair nor right to compare him to Welker who had crazy production with the Patriots while here in Foxboro.

But the Texans who signed him as an undrafted free agent last season did exactly that. Texans head coach Bill O’Brien called McCarron “the spitting image of Welker” in training camp. O’Brien would know a bit about that. Not only did he coach Welker as a member of the Patriots. He hired Welker as an assistant coach on the Texans staff.

McCarron made the Texans’ practice squad out of training camp before being released. The Patriots picked him up in late September and signed him to the practice squad. The Patriots kept him on the practice squad all season, so they think enough of him to give him a shot.

He is built like Amendola and tried to learn from him and pick his brain with every chance he got last season. When speaking to the media last fall, he spoke about the learning curve at the position.

“Obviously, Danny and I have kind of the same build,” McCarron said. “He’s in the slot, too. Any chance I can, I’ll try to pick his brain, ask him why he does one thing instead of another. I keep learning, and he always has an answer for something. … Trying to learn any way I can, especially guys who have done it and proven themselves for a long period of time.”

Unlike the perception of most white slot receivers, McCarron isn’t slow. In fact, his measurables were outstanding. He ran a 4.41 in the 40 at his Pro Day, some had it as low as a 4.36. He had a 40.5-inch vertical leap, a 10’4 in the Broad Jump and his 3-Cone Drill time was an outstanding 6.47.

McCarron was a walk-on at Iowa who saw very little playing time his first three years. In his senior year, he was the leading receiver and caught 42 passes for 517 yards and four touchdowns in Iowa’s run-first offense. He excelled in the Hawkeye offense at getting open. And with his speed and athleticism, he could separate.

Look, McCarron like fellow WR Cody Hollister on the practice squad is a long shot to make the roster. But the Patriots just lost a guy who carved out a valuable niche in the slot and that position is still wide open. And he has the skill set to make it work.

His best chance is to turn heads during the spring OTAs, where even if Edelman and Mitchell are ready to go, will still be on a pitch-count where they’ll be reps to be had. There are a lot of veterans vying for the roster and he’ll face an uphill battle. But the rookie has another ace up his sleeve.

One of the other things Amendola did was return punts. With Edelman and Cyrus Jones on IR, he and Dion Lewis returned the kicks last season. Both are now gone. McCarron did return punts in a limited role at Iowa but had a 21.1-yard average and a 55-yard return for a touchdown. It all comes down to “the more you can do.”

The Patriots coaches, like Houston’s, are high on the kid, and it isn’t like we haven’t seen this before. With an opportunity, even among a crowded field at wide receiver, there is a chance to carve out a role and make the roster.

Check out some of McCarron’s highlight film from college:

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.