Tag Archives: Ryan Izzo

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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New England Patriots News 6-09, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
June 9, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

Football is a great deal like life in that it teaches that work, sacrifice, perseverance, competitive drive, selflessness and respect for authority is the price that each and every one of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile.
Vince Lombardi

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 06-09 and AFC East notes this week.

The Patriots mandatory three-day minicamp is in the books and there was plenty of interesting things to see and take note of during the practices. Bill Belichick commented on how he believed that they accomplished a lot during the three days. With the teaching camp in the books, the evaluation will commence once training camp begins.

Quick Hitters:

The 2018 Patriots – got together for the final time at Robert Kraft’s house, and in a celebration with pomp and ceremony, the team received their Super Bowl rings. The sheer size of them now lends itself to question the term “ring” and despite the over-the-top gaudiness of them, there are 31 other teams that wished that was them on Thursday night. Very impressive pieces of jewelry.

The Patriots put up a big photo gallery of the night here:

Joe Cardona – the Patriots long-snapper was promoted inside Gillette Stadium on Thursday morning to Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Reserve prior to the minicamp practice. Tom Brady spoke about how Cardona epitomizes “commitment to our team and to our country” later in the day. And it happened on the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy. A very cool moment

Tom Brady – Looked in mid-season form for the three days of minicamp. His mechanics are always flawless. Every year I take pics of him throwing and compare them to the years before and you could lay them on top of one another and couldn’t tell the difference.

Brady “deuxième partie” – Brady and Josh McDaniels conducted a side session with rookies Jakobi Meyers and N’Keal Harry on Thursday. They were trying to get their timing and chemistry down, in terms of how they want routes run, where the breaks should happen, the angle of the cuts and ball placement. Fascinating stuff to watch. The work they do in June and July pays dividends in January and February.

Ivan Fears – The Patriots running back coach is beginning his 21st consecutive year with the Patriots, he also had an earlier stint with the team. Fears is one of our favorite guys to watch and listen to during the practices. We got a chance to chat with him before practice briefly on Thursday. After mentioning that the running backs looked good so far but that we’re sure he’d find areas to critique them, Fears got a big grin and said, “Oh I’ll always find ways to critique them.” Asked about Brandon Bolden’s return, he said how Bolden brings energy to the field and his teammates every day.

Troy Brown/Deion Branch – Excellent seeing the two of them work so closely with Joe Judge the Patriots STs Coordinator/WRs Coach and the players this week. Both of them know what it takes to be successful in the Patriots passing game and the two former players lending themselves to teaching the young players was intriguing to watch.

Mini-camp Wrap, Final Thoughts:

In their quest for “Knockin on Seven’s Door” that begins in September, the Patriots started the process with OTAs and their mandatory minicamp. Watching it all for three days, albeit without pads or contact was interesting as the coaches try to mold the 2019 version of the team. Here are some of the things that were intriguing to watch and will bear further consideration moving forward.

Left Tackle Status – Without Isaiah Wynn and Yodny Cajuste taking part in team drills this week, the Patriots moved left guard Joe Thuney into the left tackle position. He was getting nearly all of the first personnel grouping’s reps. And he was practicing with the tackles as well.

The good news, however, is that Wynn was on the field and taking part in individual drills and exhibits no sign of being limited at all after his Achilles surgery. Which lends itself to believe that he should be ready to go by training camp.

Tight End Production – With the release of Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Ben Watson suspended for the first four games of the season, it puts the ball squarely in the corner of Matt Lacosse. Lacosse looked good in the workouts this week, moving well and displaying nice hands, catching everything thrown his way.

We were on hand when Lacosse spoke to the media after Wednesday’s practice session. Which can be seen here:

Ryan Izzo, Andrew Beck seem to be both competing for the blocking tight end role while Stephen Anderson is looking to carve out a role as the “move” tight end.

Brady nixed suggestions that the Patriots are going to diminish the tight end role in the offense. “That has to be a position of strength, even if it’s not one player but multiple players doing different roles,” Brady said. “There were times in my career before that where we’ve had similar approaches.” He finished his thoughts on an upbeat note.

“The tight end position is a big part of our offense and those guys are going to have to do a great job for us.”

Jamie Collins Return, Seems Like a Bigger Development…for Now – We were against the addition of Collins this spring on these pages, remembering the reasons why they jettisoned him in the first place. However, if minicamp is any indication, the Patriots coaches, especially LBs coach Jerod Mayo have bigger plans for Collins.

This week, at least Collins wearing #8, for now, was playing a big role for the defense in their alignments. And, again without pads on, he was asserting his will against the offense during team drills.

Even Mike Reiss was on-board with this train of thought calling Collins “active and looking like key cog” in the defense. Surprising. Another thing to watch for in training camp when that kicks off in about 5-6 weeks.

Maurice Harris Looking Good – Another mild surprise here. Harris was given little chance to make the roster when he was picked up this spring. Well…after the three-day mini-camp, Harris did nothing to hurt his chances of not only making the roster but carving out a role for himself.

We’ve gotten DMs, phone calls, and e-mails about Harris, “He’s a JAG!”, “He’s not going to make the rostah!” Well…you have to report on what you see. And for three days, Harris caught everything thrown his way. On the flip side, I didn’t see Dontrelle Inman catch a single pass in team drills…maybe I missed some or even one. But we’ve seen this film before. One is trending up, the other down.

Cornerbacks are Looking Deep and Talented – The Patriots have a plethora of corners on this team and every one of them can play. That isn’t hype or hyperbole but a fact. This is arguably the team’s biggest strength heading into training camp.

Stephon Gilmore blanketed everyone thrown at him all week. J.C. Jackson looked very solid for the first two days before missing Thursday’s practice session. Those two are the two starters, that we expect to see in Week 1. Some people feel Jackson may someday supplant Gilmore as the #1 corner on the team…

However,  behind them are several more talented players. Jonathan Jones has already been a starting slot corner. Jason McCourty has started both outside and in the slot. Rounding out this talented group is Duke Dawson, Joejuan Williams, Ken Webster, and D’Angelo Ross. The cornerback group can mix and match with just about everyone and it is going to be intriguing to see how the defense aligns this year depending on the opponent.

The Punting Competition Will Be a Key One to Watch – Once again this summer, Ryan Allen will be battling for his job. Last year, he bested Corey Bojorquez and then was arguably one of the players that could have won the MVP of the Super Bowl with the way he pinned the Rams deep all game long.

This year, Allen will take on rookie Jake Bailey from Stanford who possesses a massive leg. Bailey was putting the ball into the ozone all week, getting some tremendous height and hang time on his punts.

It will be a battle of consistency over strength. Allen was his usual consistent self all week, while Bailey, even when booming most of his punts all week, had a few that were off the mark. Stay tuned.

Edelman Turns In Solid Week Performance-wise and Mentoring:

The Patriots drafted N’Keal Harry with the #32 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft and he’s sure to feel the heat of fans and the media’s expectations this fall. The Patriots drafted Braxton Berrios in the 6th round in 2018. But he didn’t see the field in 2018. Two different players with different backgrounds. But they have a constant voice that is always there for them.

Julian Edelman was the Super Bowl MVP last year who came to the Patriots via Kent State and was a college QB who made the transition to NFL WR who, after Tom Brady is arguably the most valuable Patriot on the offense. In his 11th season, Edelman is not only Brady’s most trusted receiver, but he’s also now taking on the role as a mentor for these younger players on the roster. It is something he feels strongly about.  

Julian Edelman, wearing a Bruins jersey and Jamie Collins before practice on Weds

“I had teammates that help you, and then you had teammates that didn’t,” Edelman said after practice on Wednesday. “I like to be known as a guy that helped you. I like to give little pointers here and there, because the better we all are, the better the team is going to be. I like going out and trying to give information if they want information from me and go from there. It’s part of my job, I guess.”

Edelman recalled Fred Taylor in his rookie season as a veteran who helped him out immensely and he said that he would try to do the same with Harry. Berrios, also after practice on Tuesday, mentioned that Edelman has been a constant source of mentoring for him. He’s looked quick and skilled thus far in minicamp.

Edelman will be looked to for a lot of production this season in the Patriots offense. If the contributions of Harry and Berrios this season are any indication, then Edelman can chalk up mentoring among his accomplishments this year as well.

Gunner Olszewski Is a Player to Watch For This Summer:

The Patriots brought in the undrafted cornerback from tiny Division II Bemidji State and are trying to convert him to a wide receiver. That alone should put him in the long-shot category for making the roster. But not so fast…Julian Edelman, who knows a thing or two about converting to wide receiver at the pro level is high on the youngster.

“I love that guy,” Edelman said. “If he’s got a question, I’m here to help try to answer it to the best of my ability. I feel that’s part of my role on the team, being here so long. He’s working hard. He’s definitely a tough kid. I love the chip on his shoulder, and I like working with him, that’s for sure. He definitely works his tail off, and I like having him around.”

One of the things going for Olszewski, who is generously listed as 6’0, 170, is the fact that he can return kicks and punts. But make no mistake, he doesn’t appear lost out there or like a duck out of water. While the path won’t be an easy one, he can do it.

The Patriots always seem to have undrafted free agents make the roster. With a name like Gunner Olszewski, you can’t help but root for him.

No AFC East Notes This Week:

________________

With the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion this week, it is important that we remember the American, British, Canadian and Free French soldiers who stormed the beaches of Normandy not to conquer but to free the world of Nazism.

“At the core, the American citizen soldiers knew the difference between right and wrong, and they didn’t want to live in a world in which wrong prevailed. So they fought, and won, and we all of us, living and yet to be born, must be forever profoundly grateful.”

–Author Stephen Ambrose

Can’t end the piece without another look at the entire ring ceremony once more.

“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.

Photos: Author

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.

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.

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.

Patriot Draft Profiles -Tight End Is a Position of Need

Steve Balestrieri
March 25, 2019 at 6:00 am ET

As we count down the days until the 2019 NFL Draft is upon us, we’re going to look at some of the positions that the Patriots need to address to restock, reload and prepare to defend their Super Bowl title. As everyone knows, winning back-to-back titles is extremely hard.

So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at several positions that the team needs to address. And we’ll start with tight end. Dwayne Allen was released and Rob Gronkowski now finally deciding to retire, the Patriots are in dire need of a productive tight end. Regardless of whether he came back or not, the tight end position needs a shot of youth there.

I know, I know… it is getting increasingly hard to be a Patriots fan. There hasn’t been a Super Bowl parade for nearly two months. Right? SMH

With Gronkowski gone, the position consists of Jacob Hollister, Ryan Izzo, Stephen Anderson, and the newly signed Matt Lacosse. Lacosse will be an upgrade in the passing game but isn’t the blocker that Allen is. Hollister is a talented kid but can’t stay healthy. Izzo is a very good blocker while Anderson is the wildcard.

In the upcoming draft, we expect both T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant to be gone before the Patriots pick, despite our recent Mock Draft 1.0 where Hockenson was still there when we selected. So, who do they have a shot at? Could they now move up and take one of those players if they are still around in the #15-20 range? Yes, I’d think Hockenson may be that target.

Irv Smith, Alabama:

Smith is a slightly small TE at 6’2, 242, but had excellent production in 2018 with 710 yards, 16.1 yards per reception and seven touchdowns. He doesn’t have a ton of experience but he’s just scratching the surface of his potential.

Pros :

  • Excellent blend of speed and route running
  • Can attack the seams
  • Mismatch on linebackers
  • Good blocker outside in slot or as an H-Back

Cons:

  • Despite NFL pedigree, was a bit of a one-year wonder
  • Size isn’t ideal, not great as an in-line blocker

What his Role Will Be: Smith will be eased into the offense as a flex or “move” tight end initially or line up in the slot with two tight end sets.

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2? Yes, with added strength and size, he could be ready to become a true three-down TE inline.

How Many Downs Can He Play? Three

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?

Smith could be the eventual “replacement” for Gronkowski, and we put that in quotes because no one can replace Gronk.

What is his ST Value? Minimal but he may find himself on the return team

Irv Smith could possibly be around at the end of the 1st round for the Patriots. He has the potential to be a very good pro receiver. He comes from an NFL background and is just scratching the surface of his professional potential. From our point of view, he’d be enjoy big production in this offense. Could the Patriots move up to get him in Round 1? It is now more than just an exercise in what-ifs.

Kaden Smith, Stanford:

Smith is a well-rounded, tough, customer. He’s the latest member of “Tight End U” to enter the NFL Draft. Smith (#2) has improved his run blocking by working with Stanford alums Zach Ertz and Dalton Schultz.

Pros :

  • Solid blocker in-line
  • Can catch balls in traffic
  • Good hand/eye coordination
  • Can work underneath and be a security blanket

Cons:

  • Blocking technique needs to be refined
  • Route running will need some work
  • Occasional concentration drops

What his Role Will Be: Smith can be eased into the Gronkowski “Y” tight end role gradually, especially if they swing a deal for an established veteran.

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2? With improved route running and strength after a year in the conditioning program, he could become a productive #1 or #2 tight end.

How Many Downs Can He Play? Three

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?

***See above***

What is his ST Value? Minimal

The Patriots should find Smith on the board during Day2/3. He isn’t the most athletic tight end but will be a solid blocker and should be fine working underneath moving the chains. While probably not ever becoming a dynamic receiver in the Gronkowski mold, he could be a very solid, move the chains type of guy.

Jace Sternberger, Texas A&M:

Sternberger is a talented pass catcher who comes from a very athletic family. His mom was a HOF basketball player from Southeast Oklahoma St. and his dad played football at Southeast Oklahoma. He’s 6’4, 252 pounds and had 48 catches, 832 yards and 10 touchdowns for A&M this year.

Pros :

  • Excellent route running
  • Plays like a big receiver
  • Very good hands
  • Can present matchup issues

Cons:

  • Willing but not great at blocking inside
  • Size isn’t ideal, he will have to beef up more
  • Can be misrouted at the line at times

What his Role Will Be: Sternberger could easily slide into a move TE role initially and give the Patriots a big target out of the slot.  

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2? If he can improve his strength, he could possibly get more snaps at the “Y” position.

How Many Downs Can He Play? Three

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?

He can eventually replace a lot of Gronkowski’s production, when he gets cut loose more in the passing game. He’s a very good athlete at the position and should give the team flexibility to be the move or the “Y” tight end.

What is his ST Value? He could find himself on the return teams right off the bat.

Sternberger could be found in the middle rounds and one AFC scout told NFL.com that he can easily become a 50-60 catch kind of player. Sternberger has a lot of upside with star potential as a receiver. I look for him as a Round 3 or 4 selection. If he’s there, he’d be hard-pressed to pass up.

Trevon Wesco, West Virginia:

Wesco has very good athleticism for a big man 6’3, 270. He’s part offensive lineman, part pass receiver who can block, run and catch the ball. He’s still very raw in the pass receiving department but could become a very good #2 tight end.

Pros :

  • Big upper body, strong, and agile
  • Punishing blocker
  • Can line up inline, as an H-Back, or a fullback
  • Soft hands caught 24 of 26 passes targeted to him in 2018

Cons:

  • Won’t beat man coverage consistently
  • Can lunge at times in his run blocking
  • Raw route running will be an issue to work on

What his Role Will Be: Wesco can easily compete for the #2 tight end role. His physicality and athleticism will provide him with the tools to take Allen’s role

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2? If he can improve his skills in the pass-catching role, he can become a much more viable target in the passing game.

How Many Downs Can He Play? Three

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?

He can replace Dwayne Allen’s role as a big, physical blocking tight end who can catch the occasional pass thrown his way.

What is his ST Value? He will immediately play on the return team as an athletic big man who can open holes for the returners.

Wesco is a player who will be there in the late rounds and has the capability to be a very good #2 tight end. If Gronkowski does indeed return for more one go-round with the Patriots, picking up a guy as Wesco sets them up for the #2 spot for some years ahead. But it is doubtful, he’d ever become a #1 guy.

_______________________

The Patriots need to address the tight end position in the draft or possibly decide to make a trade with one of their 12 draft picks for an established veteran. Reportedly, via Mike Reiss at ESPN, they were actively trying to bring Jared Cook in but he balked at the thought of Gronkowski returning and the two having to split reps. However, Cook hasn’t signed anything yet so he may get an 11th hour push from the Pats.

In regards to the draft, while there are other tight ends that may fit the Patriots offense, these are the ones we feel would be the best fit. We’ll continue to keep an eye on any developments as they unfold at Gillette.

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


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Patriots Announce Jersey Numbers For 2018 Rookie Class

Robert Alvarez
August 9, 2018 at 6:25 pm ET

For the first time in their NFL careers, the New England Patriots 2018 rookie class was officially assigned jersey numbers on Thursday.

The full list, which is still subject to change, has number assignments that align more closely with each players respective position as opposed to the “non-traditional” numbers the rookies donned since their first days in pads this past spring.

At the start of training camp, most rookies wore numbers in the 50’s and 60’s, making it difficult for observers to differentiate between them and the veterans.

According to 985 The Sports Hub’s Matt Dolloff, the Patriots active roster is still dealing with duplicate numbers for multiple players, but they aren’t on the same side of the ball when viewing tonight’s game.

The full list is as followed

5 – Quarterback Danny Etling

7 – Punter Corey Bojorquez

14 – Wide Receiver Braxton Berrios

22 – Running Back Ralph Webb

29 – Running Back Sony Michel

33 – Cornerback A.J. Moore

34 – Cornerback J.C. Jackson

35 – Cornerback Keion Crossen

42 – Cornerback Duke Dawson

44 – Linebacker Christian Sam

45 – Defensive End Trent Harris

48 – Fullback Henry Poggi

51 – Linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley

76 – Offensive Lineman Isaiah Wynn

85 -Tight End Ryan Izzo

92 – Defensive Tackle Frank Herron

97 – Defensive Tackle John Atkins

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.

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

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