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New England Patriots News 8-25, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
August 25, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 08-25 and AFC East notes this week. 

The Patriots have one more game left in the preseason this week against the Giants and then will have the tough task of cutting down the 90 man roster to just 53 and then filling out the remaining ten spots [11 with Jakob Johnson who is an NFL International player if he doesn’t make the 53].

While the starters won’t play much if at all on Thursday for either team, the game will still be compelling because of the roster spots that are still on the line. Several players will be playing for their jobs, some will succeed and carve out a roster spot, others will be unemployed and waiting for the phone to ring.

Check back with us frequently on PatsFans.com as we’ll continue to post daily updates on the latest news and how the roster initially shakes out. 

 Quick Hitters:

Andrew Luck – Announced his retirement yesterday. Luck has been hobbled by injuries for much of his career and it was cut short after just seven seasons. He was once thought to be the “next great one” but it never materialized for him. For a Colts team that had made major strides in building up a legit contender, this is a huge setback. Jacoby Brissette is the man for the time being again in Indy.

Tom Brady – on the learning process with Jakobi Meyers said, “I think for all of us, you play with guys that are maybe new to the offense and so forth. Sometimes they think they’re not part of the route, and then a team plays a certain coverage and they’re part of the route. Early in the season, that’s part of this time of year. We don’t have the full week to prepare. We’re kind of putting things together on the fly.”

And BTW Tom, ditch that hat…not a good look

Bill Belichick [on the play of the defense] –  You know, I thought we played competitively. We still have a lot of things to work on. There’s a lot of things we can improve on, so we’ll just go back to work this week and just keep grinding away. We’ve got a long way to go. We’re making progress.

Devin McCourty – was asked about the changes to the new pass interference rules and if the referees have done a good job of explaining it to the players. He is not a fan. “I’m never a fan of those meetings. I feel like they go however we ask the question, and then once we get in the season you might as well throw that whole meeting away. So Bill always says it the best; week-by-week. We have to go how the game is being called, and we have to adjust to it.”

Jakobi Meyers – wasn’t pleased with the way his early snaps with Brady went, but was happy to be able to persevere. He had this to say about sitting down with Brady. “Tom has played for a long time so when he wants to sit down and talk, you sit down and talk with an open ear. I am just trying to listen to everything he says, soak it up and get better.”

 Jarrett Stidham Is Ahead of His Projections And Learning His Craft:

The NFL Draft isn’t an exact science, we all know that. Some players have superstar potential and never make it. Others, aren’t very highly sought after but thru hard work, belief in themselves, and a burning desire to succeed will rise far above their projected ceiling when the draft rolls around. 

Take Tom Brady, drafted in the 6th round,199th overall in 2000. No one thought he’d amount to much. Now 20 years later, he stands alone at the absolute pinnacle of the sport. Which brings us to this year’s 4th round draft choice Jarrett Stidham, the rookie QB from Auburn. 

Stidham played in an offense at Auburn that really stunted his growth as an NFL QB. He too wasn’t highly thought of and his selection barely registered across NFL circles. He struggled in minicamp and even threw an interception in a walkthru. When training camp started, he frequently held the ball too long and struggled to make a decision. Although he throws a really nice ball, he was struggling with his reads, things that not uncommon with rookie QBs. 

But with each passing day, he was learning …and improving. He’s steadily got better and watching him on Thursday night against the Panthers it didn’t resemble anything close to the kid who struggled so badly on Day 1 of Training Camp. I reached out to Mark Schofield, who is an outstanding analyst, especially when it comes to QBs. He wrote a very nice piece on QB Development for Pro Football Weekly in the annual draft issue. He writes for Inside the Pylon and does a really good podcast on Pats Pulpit. I had spoken to Mark in the spring after the Patriots had drafted Stidham and wanted to get his take on how far he’s progressed. He had several interesting takes on the rookie.

“Progress is probably the best way to phrase this,” Schofield said. “The really interesting thing is the mental development, you saw it against the Lions… I love those ‘no-throw’ moments when the QB doesn’t throw a pass that was expected and then go back and to find out why.”

On this particular play, the Patriots were running a two-receiver set known as “Rope”, where the slot receiver runs a slant and then breaks to the outside. The outside receiver runs a route that is dependent on the coverage but is normally a go route. This play is designed to defeat a Cover 2 which is what the Lions defense was aligned in. “The QB wants to throw that route in the flat,” Schofield said. Stidham held the ball and scrambled for five yards…no big deal right? Wrong, says Schofield. 

“The Lions were running what they call a ‘Cover 5 Cougar’ which is Cover 2 man underneath trap coverage, which is specifically designed to stop this kind of play. The cornerback backpedals for just a moment with the outside vertical route, and if he sees the inside receiver run this route to the flat, he peels off the outside receiver and crashes—or “traps”—the out route. But the corner is still reading the slot receiver. even with his back to him. This tells the quarterback that the CB is bailing, but it is really just a wrinkle looking to bait the quarterback into throwing the flat route, and potentially an interception.”

“Stidham sees the coverage, drops back and begins to throw the ball but recognizes what the Lions are doing. He stops the throw and pulls down the ball and runs. It is a real heads up play for a rookie because it is a coverage that fools even veteran QBs. And when you’re seeing the progress there, going from tossing picks in a walk-thru to recognizing the coverage and reacting like this, it is huge progress.”

“I think he’s made a huge impression on this coaching staff and his progress has been excellent, I’ve been really impressed with him,” Schofield added.

The Auburn offense wasn’t a great fit for a QB with his talents and until he hit the Senior Bowl this spring, he wasn’t considered a coveted prospect. But playing in Kyle Shanahan’s offense in Mobile was an eye-opener. “There were times, that I thought he was the best QB down there…not Daniel Jones or anybody else,” Schofield said. 

Schofield added, “when I got a chance to talk to him, I asked him what his favorite offense was, in the ones he’d run, and he said, ‘Everything this week.’”

He was a really good fit in a pro-style offense, and Schofield said that you could see him moving defenders with his eyes, and going thru reads quickly. “So the fit with him coming to New England was pretty good.”

So, the question now is, do the Patriots believe that Stidham can handle the offense if anything were to happen to Brady and part ways with Hoyer, keeping only two quarterbacks. 

“It is a really tough question because they have so many tough decisions to make at other positions… when you look at some of the players that they have at, say…wide receiver or the defensive line, the coaches could say, we have to make a choice here. But ideally, they’d find a way to keep all three. But the fact that we’re having this conversation tells you how much he’s progressed.”

“This is another example of how the Patriots approach things,” Schofield said. “They don’t concern themselves with what he can’t do, they focus on the things that he does well. They saw the arm talent, his processing speed and they liked the potential in him and he’s in a good position to learn, not just from Tom Brady but from Josh McDaniels as well. It is a great environment to learn.”

While no one is anointing him for Canton just yet or that he’s the heir apparent to Tom Brady, it at least shows the coaching staff, that they may have something in him and he’s going to get more put on his plate as they attempt to further develop him.

We’ll have the entire interview with Mark Schofield available shortly on our YouTube channel.

Patriots Defense Ahead Of Schedule This Year:

The Patriots’ defense went through a ton of changes this spring. They lost the versatile and important Trey Flowers as well as former 1st round pick Malcom Brown in free agency. But the losses on the coaching staff left the team with literally the cupboard bare. De facto DC and LBs coach Brian Flores went to Miami along with cornerbacks coach Josh Boyer, while defensive line coach Brendan Daly bolted for Kansas City. 

Greg Schiano was hired as the new Defensive Coordinator but soon after stepped down. Jerod Mayo was hired the next day as the inside linebackers coach. Bret Bielema, who was already on the staff took over the d-line. DeMarcus Covington took over the outside linebackers coaching position, while Mike Pellegrino is now the cornerbacks’ coach. Steve Belichick remains the safeties coach.

On the field, it seems like this crew has been together for years. And Bill Belichick has assembled a really deep and talented crew from top to bottom with some very experienced players mixed in with 2nd-year players and rookies that are meshing together extremely well. 

The defense last year struggled especially against the run and getting after the QB early in the year. Their slow start wasn’t anything especially new, Belichick likes to add more and more as the season goes on and build on things. By the end of the season, they had things figured out and ended the regular season and went into the playoffs with a much more aggressive, attacking mindset. The results spoke for themselves, as they held the Rams to just three points in the Super Bowl. 

That slow build-up looks to have been accelerated this season. The 2019 Patriots have the potential to be a very special group, perhaps even rivaling the 2004 team. With depth at all three levels, this group is already a confident, versatile bunch and their play on the field bears that out.

While comparing them to the 2004 unit may be a stretch at this early juncture, look at the depth and versatility at the linebacker position. A year ago it was a position of concern, now, they may have to part with some players who could contribute, not just here but with other teams as well. The cornerback group is as deep as I’ve ever remembered and has the ability to mix and match with any opponent matchups.

Last year, the team couldn’t find any takers for joint practices and they entered the regular season not as prepared as the coaching staff would have liked, not surprisingly, the defense wasn’t good as the team limped out to a 1-2 start. 

The back-to-back joint practice sessions with the Lions and Titans have this team in a much better position. But the pieces were already in place this spring. There has been a collective confidence brewing since the first OTAs with the defensive group. Since training camp has started this unit has looked really strong. The Patriots offense really struggled in the first days of training camp which led to the question, “Is it the defense being really good, or just the offense being really bad?” 

The joint practices and the preseason game with the Lions reinforced that it was indeed the defense being “that good”. The Patriots offense looked very good in Detroit while the defense stifled the Lions. During the game, they wracked up nine sacks and held the Lions to just three points. 

At home against the Panthers, they held Carolina’s offense in the first half to just 29 yards, two first downs, and 0-5 on third down. The confidence that the unit is playing with is far ahead of where they normally are at this time of year. But what was more impressive is that they liberally rotated a lot of players with the top unit. Game planning for this unit? A total of 13 players have sacks thru three games.

They even dusted off the old Bears 46 Defense with two LBs on the line of scrimmage on the strong side which resulted in a sack. That will give the Steelers’ coaches something to think about in two weeks. That’s the first real test and a very big one as Pittsburgh’s offense looks stacked once again. 

Holding for Field Goals, Why Use Punters and Not WRs?

After the missed field goal connection between Jake Bailey and Stephen Gostkowski I got a good question on Twitter this Friday, a follower asked, “Why would the Patriots [and other teams] use a punter as a holder for extra points and field goals and not a wide receiver who is used to handling the ball?”

This is a very good question and I remember thinking the same thing several years ago. So, with that in mind, a few years ago Bill Belichick was asked about that. And he always has good reasons to play Special Teams. Here are a few good reasons why teams use a punter rather than a WR. 

Punters, kickers, and long-snappers can work all week on their delivery and timing of kicks. While the WRs will be working on another part of the game plan. That allows them to dedicate nearly all of their time to this when a WR may not have as much.

Punters have good hands and have to handle the ball quickly and seamlessly. Any bobble will result in a blocked punt. And punters are used to working under pressure. Imagine a slew of big defensive linemen rushing at you and everything depends on handling the ball quickly and letting a kick go. 

Plus, punters aren’t injured nearly as much as wide receivers are so the continuity factor is always there.

Replacing Chung Is No Easy Task in the Secondary:

Patriots safety Pat Chung is facing arraignment for possession of cocaine charges in New Hampshire this coming week. He may not actually see his court case heard until next year. So, any suspension from the NFL may not come until next year. But depending upon the circumstances of his case, the league could act sooner. 

Chung, however, may still not play in the season opener as he’s missed the entire preseason and has worn a red non-contact jersey all through training camp as he’s been recovering from a broken arm suffered in the Super Bowl as well as off-season shoulder surgery. So, who steps up and plays his role against the Steelers if he isn’t ready to go?

We may see a mixture of Duron Harmon and Terrence Brooks if he’s out. Brooks was mainly a special teams’ contributor with the Jets but this summer, he’s gotten a lot of reps with the top defensive unit. Harmon has been used more as another deep safety. Brooks accounted well for himself in joint practices and the preseason and could step into the role, but Chung does so much it is no easy task. 

Chung plays the in-the-box safety run support role, a linebacker in dime coverage, at times even playing in the slot as well as providing backup support as a third punt returner for special teams when needed. One other player to watch may be rookie corner Joejuan Williams who can be asked to cover the tight ends with his size. 

Hopefully, Chung will be ready to go against Pittsburgh and in uniform that night. But if he isn’t, it would be expected his place would be taken not by one player but multiple ones.

Due to the longer than normal [nearly 3000 words] Patriots notes this week, we are not running our AFC East Notes this Sunday, but they’ll be back next week for sure.

________________

“I think Jarrett’s pocket presence is good. I think there’s a lot of room for improvement. Certainly, when you’re comparing him to the other two quarterbacks on our roster, guys who have played a lot of football in this league, it’s quite a gap in experience. I’m sure those are things that Jarrett will get better at. [It is] probably about what you would think it would be given the difference in experience that you’re comparing him to – to players in our offense running the same plays that he does. So, it’s hard to compare one quarterback in one system to a quarterback in a completely different system, but in our case, we have three quarterbacks all in the same system. It’s an obvious comparison. He’s getting better. I think he does a good job, but there’s room for improvement, certainly.”
Bill Belichick on how Jarrett Stidham’s pocket presence has improved 8-23

________________

“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.

Patriots at Lions, Preseason Game 1, What to Watch For

Steve Balestrieri
August 7, 2019 at 9:01 am ET

The Patriots are wrapping up their final joint practice with the Lions on Wednesday and then all of the attention will turn to the first preseason game of the year. With that said, we should finally get a look at the Patriots rookie players with the real numbers that they’ll be wearing this season. 

Don’t expect to see any of Tom Brady and most of the starting lineups in Thursday’s game, they’ll get eased more into the next two games. This one is usually about the rookies and the new players to the roster. Expect to see a lot of QB Jarrett Stidham in this one. 

*For you who have been going to training camp, the following are the jersey numbers of the Patriots rookies for the game, unlike the funky numbers they’ve been wearing in training camp.

#4 Jarrett Stidham QB
#7 Jake Bailey P
#9 Gunner Olszewski WR/KR
#10 N’Keal Harry WR
#16 Jakobi Meyers WR
#19 Ryan Davis WR
#33 Joejuan Williams CB
#37 Damien Harris RB
#41 D’Angelo Ross DB
#42 Nick Brossette, RB
#42 Malik Gant, S
#47 Ken Webster CB
#50 Chase Winovich Edge
#63 Martez Ivey OL
#64 Hjalte Froholdt G
#65 Yodny Cajuste T
#67 Tyler Gauthier, OL
#68 Tyree St. Louis OL
#86 Andrew Beck TE
#99 Byron Cowart DL

So, with all of the roster number hoopla out of the way, what exactly are we looking for after preseason Week 1? 

Come Back to Foxboro Healthy: 

Injuries are part of the game and we know they are inevitable, but the last thing you want to see is a player from either team going down with an injury. Just two years ago it was there in Detroit when Julian Edelman made a cut and went down with a torn ACL without being contacted. It ended his season before it began and may have cost the team down the road in Super Bowl LII. 

So, while the coaches want to see their players perform well in all three phases of the game, coming out of the game as intact as possible, health-wise will be paramount.

Watching Stidham and Young Receivers in the Passing Game:

Stidham was drafted by the Patriots with little fanfare, he was hardly thought to be one of the best QB prospects in the draft. Part of the issue was the terrible offensive system they ran at Auburn. Stidham still has a long, long way to go but has been progressing nicely in camp and had a really good day on Tuesday’s joint practice. 

Now, he’ll get to put his foot in the water for his first NFL game action. Thus far, he’s had a typical rookie spring/summer with issues holding the ball too long and trying to learn an entire new offensive system, to some sessions where he’s thrown the ball well.

And he’s got a plethora of receivers who are new to the Patriots. Unfortunately, top draft pick N’Keal Harry may not be among them. Harry tweaked a hamstring in Tuesday’s practice session, so he may be held out of this one…it will bear watching. 

But rookies Jakobi Meyers, Gunner Olszewski, Ryan Davis, 2nd-year man Braxton Berrios, as well veteran newcomers Maurice Harris, and Dontrelle Inman are getting their first reps in Patriots uniforms. 

Meyers is generating a ton of buzz around his play and his early grasp of the Patriots playbook but Berrios, who had a strong spring and a frustrating beginning to camp has shown signs of life against the Lions secondary. These preseason games will tell the tale of who earns more reps and carves out a role on the roster. 

Harris and Inman are veterans but want to put forward solid contributions in preseason working against mainly vanilla coverages to earn more reps with Brady, who is doubtful to make an appearance. 

Rookie Damien Harris has shown the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield during camp sessions. It will interesting to see if the coaches decide to use him and Brandon Bolden in that capacity in their first game action of 2019. 

Running Game Can Be Hit or Miss:

The problem with trying to judge running backs, and Harris should see a ton of action along with Nick Brossette and Jakob Johnson, is that the back-up offensive lines are in the game. And it frequently occurs that the offense can sputter in running situations as the backups don’t have the reps together to work in harmony with one another. 

However, I’m intrigued to watch what Harris and Brossette can do. Brossette will have a very tough time cracking the 53-man roster as the position is loaded this year. But I liked what I saw of him in college and thus far in limited reps. He’s playing for a practice squad role. 

Brandon Bolden is one of our favorite Patriots players to watch. The reserve running back and special teams ace should also see quite a bit of action in the preseason opener both in the running and passing game. 

Special Teams Battle: 

As much as I thought Ryan Allen could have made a case for Super Bowl LIII MVP, I’ve been sold on Jake Bailey since minicamp. He has a leg that puts distance and incredible hang time into the ball which almost puts it into the outer marker for Logan. He and Allen are battling it out for the punter’s job in 2019. While Bailey has the much stronger leg, Allen’s forte is directional punting and consistency, where he has the edge over the rookie.

One thing to watch all thru the preseason is kickoffs. Bailey is adept at it as well as being an emergency field goal kicker. He’s shared duties with Stephen Gostkowski on kickoffs in camp thus far and it could make a difference in the final cutdown. 

Defense As a Whole, But Keep an Eye on the Secondary:

The Patriots defense looks to be much better, deeper and more versatile than last year’s unit.  While many of the starting members may only play sparingly, the guys that really bear watching are the new players or those fighting for roster spots. 

Chase Winovich has stepped up his game in the practices with the Lions, it promises to be intriguing to see A. How they use him and B. How well he does in his first game action. The rookie from Michigan looks to be a very promising player. Shilique Calhoun, we wrote the other day is having a very solid camp. He continued his strong play against the Lions and has a chance to earn more reps as camp progresses. 

Other edge players on the bubble and bear watching are Derek Rivers, Keionta Davis, Trent Harris, Ufomba Kamalu, and Nick Thurman. All of them have played well so far but need to step it up during the next four weeks. 

In the secondary, with Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, and Jason McCourty known quantities, the guys we really want to see are new 2nd round pick Joejuan Williams, Duke Dawson, Keion Crossen and D’Angelo Ross at cornerback. 

At safety, Terrence Brooks, Obi Melifonwu, and Malik Gant are all vying for roster spots behind Devin McCourty, Pat Chung, and Duron Harmon. Both Brooks and Melifonwu have played well and have gotten reps with the starting unit. 

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 and game analysis.

New England Patriots 53-man Roster Projection 2.0

Steve Balestrieri
August 5, 2019 at 8:30 am ET

With the Patriots first ten days of training camp over, it is time to take another crack at our New England Patriots 53-man roster projection. With eight practices in, several of them fully padded, we’ll look at the early risers and whose falling. We’ll revisit this after a week with the Detroit Lions and their first preseason game.

Offense –
Quarterbacks: (3)

Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Jarrett Stidham
Out: Danny Etling

The Patriots will continue to go with three QBs as Brady, Hoyer, and Jarrett Stidham will man the position this year. It will be interesting to see if Stidham shows enough in the upcoming preseason games to push Hoyer as Brady’s backup in case of emergency.

Running backs: (6)

Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, James White, Damien Harris, Brandon Bolden, James Develin
Out: Nick Brosette, Jakob Johnson* [NFL International Player]

Sony Michel looks good, now that he is back on the field and he and Damien Harris are getting more frequent looks in the passing game. James White looks as good as ever while Brandon Bolden isn’t going anywhere, he’s a good depth guy and outstanding on STs. Develin could easily be posted with the tight ends as he practices with them frequently. If the Patriots decide five is enough would that make Burkhead expendable? Possibly, but for now, he sticks.

Brosette is a victim of the numbers and lands on the practice squad. Ditto for Johnson who is automatically granted an extra spot on the PS due to his NFL International status

Tight ends: (2)
Matt Lacosse, Ryan Izzo, **Ben Watson Suspended**
Out: Lance Kendricks, Stephen Anderson, Andrew Beck

The Patriots have Lacosse being the receiving tight end with Izzo as the blocker who nudges out Anderson, the move tight end thus far. Ben Watson will return after the first month which means they’ll have to make another cut somewhere.

Beck got a fair amount of guaranteed money and could become another fullback option if Develin gets hurt, he’ll be a practice squad candidate.

Wide Receivers: (5)
Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, Phillip Dorsett, Maurice Harris, Jakobi Meyers
Out: Braxton Berrios, Dontrelle Inman, Damoun Patterson, Ryan Davis, Gunner Olszewski, **Josh Gordon Suspended** Demaryius Thomas [PUP], Cameron Meredith [PUP]

Edelman, Harry, and Dorsett are the top three, Dorsett is still an intriguing case. He has all of the tools to be a very productive receiver but only produces in short flashes. But given the cuts, he’s the only viable kick returner on the roster unless the coaches want to push Edelman or Michel back out there. 

Harris has been the most consistent receiver on the field thus far and Meyers is already beginning to develop the chemistry with Brady that will be needed. Thomas has yet to see the field so no one knows if he has anything left in the tank. Gordon has applied for reinstatement by the league so we’ll be watching to see how that unfolds.  

Berrios can’t get any separation and after a strong showing in the spring, has taken a step back. This coming week with the Lions will be huge for him. Inman has been largely invisible but just began making progress this week. Patterson, Davis, and Olszewski are practice squad candidates.

However, Berrios and/or Olszewski could carve out a role in the return game. Preseason will tell the tale.

Offensive line: (8)
Isaiah Wynn, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, Joe Thuney, James Ferentz, Ted Karras, Hjalte Froholdt
Out: Yodny Cajuste [NFI], Dan Skipper, Cedric Lang, Tyree St. Louis, Martez Ivey

Hmm, depth at tackle remains a dicey situation with Isaiah Wynn still not a full go at practice. At this point, they need to start getting him real reps and not a walk-thru if he’s going to be ready for the regular season. The team is giving Dan Skipper every opportunity to win a roster spot but he’s shown that even against the 2nd tier guys, he’s getting beat. Not good for a left tackle.

Cajuste is still on NFI and the longer it drags on, the more it seems that he won’t be ready until midseason. The answer for the short term? Joe Thuney at LT, Karras at LG and now it makes more sense to keep Ferentz. 

Defense –

Edge Players: (4)
Michael Bennett, Deatrich Wise, John Simon, Chase Winovich
Out: Derek Rivers, Keionta Davis, Trent Harris, Nick Thurman, Ufomba Kamalu

Bennett and Wise are your defensive ends in a base 3-4, which they’ve run a lot of this spring/summer. Simon and Winovich could easily be lumped in with the linebackers. It is curious if they do run a 3-4, Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler could be 3-4 DEs as well. Rivers has looked good so far, but Winovich is looking just a strong right now and would, IMO get the nod. 

Nobody is closing the door on Davis, Harris, Thurman, or Kamalu at this point. All of them have had good moments in camp. Plenty can happen in the next few weeks, but as of today, they’re on the wrong side of the numbers crunch.

Interior Defensive Line: (4)

Lawrence Guy, Mike Pennel, Danny Shelton, Adam Butler

Out: Bryon Cowart, David Parry

Guy and Pennel should be the Week 1 starting combination inside. Shelton returns, as the backup nose tackle. Guy and Butler offer versatility in either inside DL in a 4-3 or as 3-4 DEs playing a five-technique. This is a solid group and Mike Pennel should be an immediate early downs producer. 

Cowart and Parry have some ground to make up but are for the time being, outside looking in. 

Linebacker: (6)

Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Elandon Roberts, Brandon King
Out: Christian Sam. Terez Hall, Calvin Munson, Shalique Calhoun

Linebacker is a position of strength and the Patriots could still play Winovich and Simon here as well. If they were to add another roster spot for extra depth, Sam, who is having an under the radar camp or Calhoun who has played well in limited reps could find their way on the roster. 

Hightower, Bentley, and Roberts will handle the inside duties while the others will play outside, but moving players around seems like a given this year. 

Cornerback: (7)
Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, Jason McCourty, Joejuan Williams, Jonathan Jones, Duke Dawson, Keion Crossen
Out: Ken Webster, D’Angelo Ross

You can never have enough talented corners…right? Gilmore, McCourty, and Jackson give the team three very good to excellent boundary corners. Jones and Dawson will handle the slot. Williams is a big corner (6’4) that allows him to play against the bigger WRs or matchup with tight ends. 

The versatility and depth of this group give the Patriots their deepest part of the roster. Both Ross and Webster are candidates for the practice squad.

Safety: (4)
Devin McCourty, Pat Chung, Duron Harmon, Terrence Brooks
Out: Obi Melifonwu, Malik Gant, Nate Ebner [PUP], AJ Howard

Brooks has been seeing a lot of reps on defense with the top unit and the veteran ST’s ace edges out Obi Melifonwu right now. Obi has had a good camp and has gotten a lot of reps himself with the top unit. His size and athleticism make this one a tough choice. But the competition continues. 

Ebner is on PUP for now and Gant is a candidate for the practice squad.

Specialists: (4)
Kicker Stephen Gostkowski, punter Jake Bailey, long-snapper Joe Cardona, Gunner Matthew Slater
Out: Ryan Allen

Gostkowski and  Cardona aren’t facing any competition in camp and other than Brady, perhaps, these two should rest easiest in training camp. Bailey the strong-legged punter and Allen are locked in a good camp battle. Bailey has a booming leg with incredible hang time while Allen is the steady vet. But Bailey can also kickoff and fill in for Gostkowski on FGs if need be. Slater practices hard on his own all session long with a staff member, working on his gunner skills. 

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 and game analysis.

Patriots 2019 Training Camp Guide – Safeties

Steve Balestrieri
July 23, 2019 at 8:00 am ET

The Patriots’ training camp starts in just two days, it is one of our favorite times of the year. All 32 teams are beginning with a clean slate and are trying to build the best version of themselves as possible. 

Today, we’re looking at the safeties and there promises to be virtually no movement at the top of the depth chart. The Patriots have been fielding the same top three safeties at the top of their depth chart for several years now. 

Devin McCourty, Pat Chung, and Duron Harmon are all considered starters and all three are frequently on the field at the same time. However, after those three, competition is wide open for one, possibly two, with an outside chance of three roster spots. (In our initial 53-man roster projection, we had them keeping only four safeties.)

Special teamer Nate Ebner, Terrence Brooks, Obi Melifonwu, A.J. Howard, and rookie UDFA Malik Grant round out the position. 

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. And be sure to keep up with our coverage from training camp. 

So, let’s take a look at the position as it unfolds as training camp begins this summer.

Current roster – Devin McCourty, Pat Chung, Duron Harmon, Nate Ebner, Terrence Brooks, Obi Melifonwu, A.J. Howard, Malik Gant

Locks – McCourty, Chung, Harmon, Brooks

Near Locks –  none

Bubble – Ebner,  Melifonwu, Howard

Long Shot – Gant

Discussion – With the top three players returning, one can expect the position on Week 1 against the Steelers to look exactly the same as it has for a long time. McCourty, Chung, and Harmon are all locks for the roster and the only way we can see them not being on the field against Pittsburgh is because of injury. 

However, both McCourty and Chung are on the wrong side of 30 and despite very solid play from both, it is time the team begins grooming their eventual replacements. McCourty flirted with retirement after the Super Bowl. It wouldn’t surprise me if he called it a career after the 2019 season. Chung is coming off of offseason surgery for his arm which was injured in the Super Bowl. Harmon is essentially a starter and should be around for the next couple of years. And that is where the team now stands. 

Are there replacements for Chung and McCourty currently on the roster as it now is constructed? Time will tell. Here is where the competition proves to get fierce this summer. 

The Patriots gave Brooks a two-year, $4 million dollar contract with a $500,000 signing bonus and $1.3 million guaranteed. So, because of his deal in 2019, it is really hard to see the Patriots letting go of the 27-year-old backup safety. Brooks led the Jets in special teams snaps in 2018 and he should a core mainstay on the Patriots ST units. 

Melifonwu is perhaps the most intriguing member of the group. Easily the most athletic of the group, Melifonwu has tremendous size (6’4, 224) with elite athleticism. The Patriots picked him up in midseason last year and with a full offseason under his belt, he now knows the defense. It is unclear if the team views him as a deep safety who will compete with Harmon or an in-the-box safety behind Chung. With Chung missing minicamp, Melifonwu got a lot of reps with the top unit. He will bear watching in what could be a make-or-break season for him. 

Every year we put Ebner on the bubble, you’d think by now, we’d have learned our lesson and recognize the fact that Bill Belichick loves what he’s got in the backup safety and special teams standout. But the fact that Brooks was brought in strictly for his special teams’ acumen, could be a omen that Ebner’s time is waning with the team. He is starting the year on PUP. But then I remember Belichick wearing Ebner’s rugby jersey at TC while Ebner was away representing the USA. 

Howard had an impressive career at Appalachian State but went undrafted. He spent time with the Cardinals and Giants before the Patriots picked him up in early January. He’s a strong safety who will try to carve out a spot for himself this summer or try to land on the Patriots practice squad. 

Gant is a strong safety who plays with a chip on his shoulder. He’s a thumper in the running game and offers good size (6’2, 200) for the position. Right now, he’s a long shot to make the roster but is a great candidate for the team to develop on the practice squad.  One thing to keep in mind is that with Joejuan Williams at a corner, he may be able to help cover some of the tight ends traditionally covered by the safeties.

The Patriots enter the season in very good shape at the safety position but it is time to begin developing and making plans for the eventual replacements for McCourty and Chung. There should be great competition here but again as with the cornerback position, it will take place at the back end of the depth chart. 

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