Tag Archives: Woodrow Hamilton

New England Patriots Training Camp Primer: Defensive Line

Steve Balestrieri
July 17, 2017 at 6:30 am ET

Versatility and Physicality Mark The Pats DL

The Patriots head into training camp in ten days and there should be no shortage of competition at a number of spots. As a lead-in to the beginning of camp, we’ll break down the positions and give our take on who is a lock, a near lock for the 53-man roster and who is on the bubble. Next up on our primers is the Defensive Line position.

Bill Belichick likes to say that the spring’s OTAs and Minicamp is a learning exercise and that the real competition begins in training camp. With a roster of 90 players and no cuts needed before the final 53-man roster cut down, there will be plenty of time for evaluation.

So, we’re going to look at the Patriots Defensive Line and how they shake out. There is much versatility here and that what makes the Patriots defense so effective. In a sack driven league, they’re rather pedestrian at them despite leading the league in points against in 2016.

DL Malcom Brown will be expected to be more consistent in 2017. (SBalestrieri photo)

It wasn’t smoke and mirrors, the team uses a variety of different looks and squeezes offenses from running the ball and then with their pass rushers, do not let opponents out of the pocket where big plays tend to happen. They demand their edge players set the edge first, they’re not and have never been a “sell-out” pass rush team.

The team lost defensive ends, Jabaal Sheard and Chris Long, this spring but drafted two younger guys in Derek Rivers and Deatrich Wise while picking up Kony Ealy from the Panthers in a steal of a trade, during the NFL Draft. The team also picked up the versatile and underrated Lawrence Guy from Baltimore. Trey Flowers was arguably their best DL down the stretch and into the playoffs and Alan Branch was outstanding all season.

Roster Locks: Trey Flowers, Kony Ealy, Rob Ninkovich, Derek Rivers, Deatrich Wise, Alan Branch, Malcom Brown
Everything starts with the big men in the middle and Branch and Brown were very good in 2016. Branch frequently plays over the center and is outstanding at stuffing the run. Brown is as well. Their job is to force everything outside where the defensive ends and linebackers are supposed to clean it up. They each got a little bit of push in the passing game but that is something that Brown could do a bit more of as well as be more consistent in 2017.

Patriots rookie DE Deatrich Wise in action at minicamp in June. (SBalestrieri photo)

Ealy will be an intriguing guy to watch this year. He’s in a contract year and has been given a clean slate by the coaches in New England.  The biggest knock against him was that he didn’t buy in when he was in Carolina. He seems to be doing that right off the bat here, which is a good sign. When he’s on, he’s a difficult man to block. Just rewind to Super Bowl L and watch him against the Broncos.

Big things are expected of Flowers this season, and after the way he finished 2016, he seems to be the go-to guy in the pass rush. Flowers, like many others in the Pats defense, is versatile and can rush from the edge or push inside as an interior pass rusher.

Ninkovich is a guy who is always at his best in clutch situations. He may be losing a step but he’s another versatile guy who can line up as a defensive end or drop as an outside linebacker.

Rob Ninkovich has been a clutch performer for the Patriots defense. (SBalestrieri photo)

Rivers and Wise by virtue of their draft stock are untouchable this season. Rivers is another guy who can play DE or OLB and was the Patriots top draft choice this season. Wise is another big DE in the Patriots mold that is an edge setter first and a pass rusher second. He was hurt in his senior season in college but had a very impressive 2015.

With the depth listed above, these rookie edge players, they won’t have a ton of pressure put on them to produce much this season. They will be able to learn the defense, get used to the speed of the pro game and get some reps here and there.

Near Roster Locks: Lawrence Guy, Vincent Valentine
Valentine showed some nice flashes last year in his rookie campaign. He’s another big body who can stuff the run on the inside. Guy is a versatile, movable piece and plays the 1-technique or out to the 5-technique. He seems like he’s going to be a nice fit in the Patriots defense. We’ll have to see if he can translate that to the field.

It is going to take some hard work from the guys below to unseat either of these two players. But stranger things have happened. Unless someone gets hurt or a case of the Foxboro Flu.

On the Bubble: Geneo Grissom, Woodrow Hamilton, Darius Kilgo, Josh Augusta, Adam Butler
The clock is running out on Geneo Grissom. He’s a guy that was drafted ahead of Flowers and was thought to have all kinds of versatility. But it hasn’t happened for him, he’s been unable to make a dent in the defense. Hamilton made the team a year ago but with the addition of Guy from the Ravens, he’s going to have to turn it up… a lot.

Augusta is a big-body, run stuffer in the Vince Wilfork mold, he’s listed at 6’0, 335-pounds…which may be wishful thinking. Passing the conditioning test on Day 1 will be a tough task for the big man, who failed to complete a lap during minicamp…twice.

Butler is a definite under the radar guy. Signed as a UDFA from Vanderbilt, the 6’4, 305-pound DL can be a run-stuffing tackle or a penetrator from the interior on passing downs. He played OL in college before switching over. He’ll be a guy to watch to see if he can turn some heads.

Kilgo was drafted by Denver and appeared in 18 games in two seasons before being released last November. The Pats signed the big 6’3, 320 DL to the practice squad where he spent the remaining part of the season.

Our next primer will have the Patriots Linebackers… stay tuned.

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 Players Ready For the 2nd Year Jump in Performance

Steve Balestrieri
May 22, 2017 at 8:00 am ET

The Patriots begin the next phase of their 2017 offseason OTAs today at Gillette Stadium and they’ll be on the field for the first time doing football drills. And while many will be focusing on the new players such as Stephon Gilmore, Brandin Cooks, and Kony Ealy, the second-year players should be of equal importance. Bill Belichick always talks of the big jump that players experience between their rookie and sophomore seasons.

There are several players that will bear watching under that scenario but we’re going to focus on just three that could play very large roles in 2017.  Guard Joe Thuney, WR Malcolm Mitchell and CB/KR Cyrus Jones.

Thuney was a Day 1 starter at left guard and had the not-so-unexpected growing pains, Mitchell got hurt in training camp but came on in the second half of the season and was a key contributor in the Super Bowl win over the Falcons. Jones was the team’s top draft choice a year ago, a talented corner and kick returner who struggled mightily and was barely a blip on the radar in 2016.

Thuney was drafted by the Patriots in the 3rd round (78th overall) in the 2016 NFL Draft out of NC State. The 6’4, 305-pound tackle turned guard was a steady, dependable interior offensive lineman last year. He fought his way thru the competition at training camp to become the Day 1 starter at left guard. He showed good communication with LT Nate Solder and C David Andrews and they did a good job of keeping the Patriots QBs upright.


Joe Thuney wants to know “What are Pink Stripes?” (SBalestrieri photo)

He certainly got a good rookie report card from Bill Belichick. “Joe is smart. Joe works hard. He’s here every day. I don’t think he’s missed a day all spring, summer,” Belichick said. “He shows up every day [and] goes to work. A lunch-pail guy. He just grinds it out. And he’s smart. Takes coaching well. He understands what we’re doing.”

He needed to get stronger this offseason and that will bear some watching. But after spending a year with his demanding OL Coach Dante Scarnecchia, he should be ready for the Year 2 jump. His technique, communication, and strength should all be better. There will be no backsliding on Coach Scar’s crew.

The Patriots drafted Mitchell in the 4th round, (112th overall) in last season’s draft. His story was well known when he wasn’t a good reader and joined a ladies’ book club in Georgia. Now he’s an author of a children’s book and a Super Bowl champion.


Malcolm Mitchell puts a move on Darrell Roberts in 2016 TC. (SBalestrieri photo)

Mitchell suffered an injury in the team’s first preseason game and that definitely slowed his progress. He barely registered on the stat sheet thru the first half of the season. But after Tom Brady’s return from suspension, Mitchell gradually worked his way onto the field and earned his way into Brady’s circle of trust. He finished the season with a modest 32 catches for 401 yards and four touchdowns in 2016. But his Super Bowl was a game that showed that his future is bright with New England, catching six passes for 70 yards and again, Brady trusted him to come thru at crunch time late in the game.

The Patriots are stacked at wide receiver this season. With Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, newcomer Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola, Mitchell and newcomers Austin Carr, Cody Hollister and Devin Lucien. But while Mitchell’s numbers may not increase dramatically in 2017, he should be an integral part of the offensive plan this season.

No one could have predicted the struggles that Cyrus Jones suffered in 2016. Coming from the storied football of program of Nick Saban at Alabama, Jones was a talented corner who was thought to be in line for reps at least in the slot for 2016. He was also a dangerous, valuable kick returner, returning four for touchdowns in his final college season. None of it materialized. Right off the bat in Minicamp, he began to struggle with holding onto kicks and that carried over to the season. He never made an impression defensively and his season was about missed opportunity.


Cyrus Jones had ball security issues in 2016. (SBalestrieri photo)

Jones has a lot of work to do in 2017, the Patriots used a 2nd round draft pick (60th overall) last season on him and ball security should be at the top of his list. His judgment wasn’t great either, and that was the cause of his being inactive for five of the team’s final six games.

Bill Belichick needs to work with Jones early this year….OTAs is a prime spot and build up Jones’ confidence. That’s mainly what his problem was in 2016, a confidence issue and not an ability one. He knows how to play football and has been successful at the pinnacle of the college football world. Once his return issues are resolved, his play on defense should be markedly improved as well. He’s the guy we’re picking here as our selection as the most improved player in 2017.

Other second-year players include Elandon Roberts, Vincent Valentine, Woodrow Hamilton and Jacoby Brissett. In Brissett’s case, we may not see a big jump in play in Year 2 strictly because of logistics. With Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo under center at QB this season, there are only so many snaps to go around. And Brissett may not get a ton of work.

The Patriots will have plenty of new faces to integrate into the system, beginning this week for the OTAs but we’ll be keeping focused on seeing how the 2nd year players perform this spring/summer. Getting off to a quick start is always a good sign for having a good regular season. For Thuney, Mitchell, and Jones that all begins today.

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

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New England Patriots Free Agent Profile Alan Branch

Steve Balestrieri
February 16, 2017 at 9:30 am ET

The Patriots will enter the beginning of the 2017 league season with several important decisions to make in regards to free agency. While the team has the third most salary cap room in the NFL this season, they have a slew of free agents including several who are either starters or important role players.

We’ll be doing profiles on each of the free agents in the upcoming days and give you our take on whether they return or move on. One of the starters and a very important piece is defensive lineman Alan Branch.

The Patriots picked up Branch during the 2014 Super Bowl run after Chandler Jones injured his hip in midseason. The Buffalo Bills released Branch after a DUI arrest earlier that year. He then played very well but sparingly down the stretch for the Patriots and was an integral part of the team that defeated the Seahawks.

He was even more valuable this time around, being arguably the Patriots best interior defensive lineman all season long being a two-gap run stuffer inside and providing outstanding support against the run and the occasional pocket push against the pass.

Branch was originally drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in the 2007 NFL Draft and played four seasons for the Cardinals before playing well in two seasons for the Seahawks. Branch spent 2013 as a member of the Buffalo Bills. After playing well for Buffalo that year, he was given a three-year contract extension and paid a $3.1 million dollar signing bonus.

But like Michael Floyd this season, he let a lapse in judgment cost him. But since his release by Buffalo, he’s been a solid teammate and a veteran presence on the team providing very solid play next to two younger players inside with Malcom Brown and Vincent Valentine.

Alan Branch was a tremendous run-stuffer for the Patriots defense in 2016. (SBalestrieri photo)

Why Branch Will Return: The Patriots don’t have a lot of depth inside with just Branch, Brown, and Valentine along with Woodrow Hamilton and the three players have little experience. Brown finished his 2nd season and the latter two were rookies in 2016.

Branch at 32, shouldn’t break the bank in terms of free agency. After the last Super Bowl run he signed a two-year deal for a moderate sum ($5 million-dollar range). If he is willing to accept a similar deal again, it would be easy to see the Patriots paying him around the same amount of money with weight and playing time incentives worked in.

The Patriots are happy with his play the past few years as Branch has been a very solid performer both on the practice and playing fields. There is no reason to think he couldn’t continue to perform at a high level for the next season or two and provide the big immovable object inside, eating up two gaps which allow the linebackers to come in and make plays.

The 6’6, 350-pound Branch while an immovable force inside is quite athletic for a big man and enjoys skateboarding since he was a kid in New Mexico. He didn’t panic after a slow start in Super Bowl LI by the Patriots defense. Instead, he said, the players just trusted in themselves and the process.

“Honestly, we just started finally executing,” he said after the game. “We were on the field and we knew what we had to do, but we weren’t getting it done in the first half. When we came into halftime, we talked to each other. We weren’t down, we didn’t give up. We weren’t talking about rolling over or anything. We just started talking about being on our job, being more positive, having fun out there.”

Branch actually leapfrogged Brown this season on the Patriots depth chart and played more snaps than the 2nd year player after Brown in his rookie year, led the defensive line in snap percentage in 2015. Branch played just under 60 percent of the snaps after playing in under 40 percent of them last year.

Why Branch Won’t Return: Branch has won a pair of Super Bowls with New England and may be wanting to cash in one final time. There are always teams looking for veteran run-stuffing help inside and it is possible that a team will pony up more money than the Patriots will feel fits his value. In that scenario, one could easily see Branch leaving for one final payday in the sun.

It is possible that the Patriots will want to get younger at the position and bring in a rookie player that can stuff the run and play for about 20 percent of what they’d have to pay Branch to return.

Branch is at that age when the big men begin to break down and perhaps the coaches will feel that they’ve already gotten the best that they can ask for from Branch at this stage of his career and be prepared to move on. Remember, they did much the same thing with Vince Wilfork after Super Bowl XLIX.

Bottom Line: The Patriots coach Bill Belichick was asked about Branch earlier during the playoffs and praised his size and athleticism. The Providence Journal quoted Belichick as saying this about Branch:

“How unique is it? I mean, yeah, guys that weigh 350 pounds and are athletic and long like he is — I mean they don’t grow on trees,” Belichick said. “They’re hard to find. Ted Washington had that kind of length and size. Ted was 6-5, but Alan moves better than Ted does, or did at that point in his career. We’ve had some other longer guys like Richard Seymour or guys like that, but they weren’t 350 pounds. There’re not too many of them. Gerard Warren was a big guy that ran well. Money [Warren] was a very athletic player who wasn’t quite as long as Branch, but moving into that range.”

“It’s hard to measure the disruptive plays but he’s certainly got his share of those. He’s played very well for us in the running game. He’s given us a presence in the pass rush of a long, physical player in the middle. That’s all been really good, and he’s played more plays, so all of that is good.”

It will be interesting to see how this scenario plays out. Branch is a very valuable member of the defense. He was a key cog in a Patriots defense that was very solid against the run and his presence inside allowed players like Hightower and Roberts at linebacker to flow and make plays.

If the money is right, it is easy to see him returning for a final contract that will allow him to retire as a Patriot. He’s been very happy here in Matt Patricia’s defense and that factor may sway him to remain. But other teams love to pluck players off of Super Bowl-winning rosters to provide that type of presence and mentorship to their younger players. If someone ponies up the cash, he could bolt. Right now, I’d say it is even money that Branch returns in 2017.

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 DL Faces Questions With Alan Branch Suspended

Steve Balestrieri
November 21, 2016 at 8:04 pm ET

The Patriots defense took another hit as they will be without one of their top defensive players and a starter on the defensive line for possibly four games.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter has reported that defensive tackle Alan Branch has been suspended four games for violating the NFL’s drug policy. Apparently, Branch tested positive for marijuana. Branch is appealing per Schefter’s report.

Branch has been playing some of his best football since becoming a member of the Patriots in 2014. He’s been a valued anchor on the defensive line with Malcom Brown on the interior. This leaves the Patriots thin at the position with just Brown, and rookies Vincent Valentine and Woodrow Hamilton, both of whom have missed time this season due to injuries.

So what is in store for the Patriots who have upcoming games against the Jets, Rams, Ravens, and Broncos during Branch’s league imposed vacation? The good news in the short term is that his appeal won’t be heard until next week, so he’ll be able to play against the Jets.

But until Branch is eligible to return expect the Patriots to add another big body to the inside. Who is available?  Scouring the free agent market, there are a few names that could be of interest to the Patriots. Former Dolphin and Cleveland Brown Randy Starks, Ishmaa’ily Kitchen who spent some time with the Patriots, Kenrick Ellis as well as two players who spent training camp with the team, Terrance Knighton and Markus Kuhn.

With the Patriots defense struggling in recent weeks and facing teams that like to run the football, this could be a costly suspension. The rookies will be looked at to step up in the interim and play some valuable snaps.

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 Defense Keys 19-17 Win Over Carolina Panthers

Steve Balestrieri
August 26, 2016 at 11:38 pm ET

“Secondary provides solid coverage in win over NFC Champs

The Patriots defense was very good in a winning effort over the Carolina Panthers 19-17 on Friday night in Charlotte. On a night where both offenses looked sloppy and wilting in the heat, it was the play of the defense that carried the day.

New England’s strategy of holding Cam Newton in the pocket and making him hit throws downfield worked on this night as the reigning MVP was frequently off target and was victimized by drops by his receivers when he did find them.

The Patriots got strong games from their edge players especially Chris Long and Trey Flowers. What makes Newton so effective is his ability to take off and run when a play breaks down. When he makes plays with his feet the Panthers offense takes off. Long and Flowers did a great job of keeping him in the pocket and not allowing him to break containment.

The Patriots secondary, especially the first team corners of Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, and Cyrus Jones did an outstanding job in coverage. Early in the game, Newton had all day to throw and could find nothing open. The corners were mirroring the receivers and the safeties were rolling the coverages over the top right where they needed to.

It’s interesting to note that Jones took 1st team reps tonight over Justin Coleman. That is a sign that he may have jumped over Coleman on the roster. Coleman’s roster spot is safe but he may have lost his starter’s spot. Cre’Von LeBlanc saw a ton of reps tonight against Carolina’s top offense, frequently matched up with WR Devin Funchess who has a huge size advantage over him. LeBlanc acquitted himself very well on the night and was physical and competitive. He’s seemingly pulling ahead for that final cornerback slot on the team.

Another intriguing move was ILB Elandon Roberts seeing a ton of reps all game against the excellent running team that the Panthers are. Roberts, a 6th-round draft choice from Houston is an undersized thumper in the running game and he played very well, taking reps from Jonathan Freeny.

Defensive tackle Terrance Knighton seems to be truly on the bubble. Early reps went to Vincent Valentine and Markus Kuhn, both held up well in the running game. Later in the game, Joe Vellano and Woodrow Hamilton saw the field before Knighton. He’s struggled in his 2-gap responsibilities and he got pushed around against the Bears a week ago. Kuhn or Anthony Johnson may end up stealing his roster position.

The Patriots got three turnovers from the secondary, two on picks from Cam Newton. One was on an outstanding play by Long, he dropped in coverage and dragged across the line of scrimmage. He got a hand on a Newton pass, deflecting it high into the air and into the arms of Devin McCourty. Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon each had picks as well.

The Patriots defense flustered Newton who finished just 13-29 for 100 yards with 0 touchdowns and 2 INTs. Trey Flowers registered a sack, but the Patriots had other chances with Geneo Grissom, Jamie Collins, Rufus Johnson and Markus Kuhn having opportunities but the Panthers’ QB is a very hard man to bring down.

The Panthers were just 5 of 17 on third down but many of those conversions were late in the game with Joe Webb in at QB who added two very late garbage time scores. The Panthers rushing attack was held to 92 yards on the ground. And their QBs were a combined 24 of 55 for 253 yards for only a 4.5 yard per attempt average.

Overall it was a very impressive night for the Patriots defense who looks like they are ready for Week 1 of the NFL season. The offense….not so much.

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 Training Camp Primer – Defensive Line

Steve Balestrieri
July 20, 2016 at 6:00 am ET

Deep, Talented Group Preps for a Big Year

The Patriots head into training camp next week and there should be no shortage of competition at a number of spots. As a lead-in to the beginning of camp, we’ll break down the positions and give our take on who is a lock, a near lock for the 53-man roster and who is on the bubble. Next up is the Defensive Line.

Bill Belichick likes to say that the spring’s OTAs and Minicamp is a learning exercise and that the real competition begins in training camp. While that is true to an extent, with 89 players on the current roster, a minimum of 36 of these will be cut. That doesn’t take into consideration the tweaking that goes on during the season after the initial 53-man roster is completed.

So next on deck are the defensive linemen. The Patriots lost three of their linemen from a year ago. They traded Chandler Jones to Arizona, lost Akiem Hicks in free agency and released former first-round pick Dominique Easley. But the team is poised to be very good and is deep along the front four.

After years of trying to search for an undersized penetrator in the interior to beef up the pass rush, the Patriots and Belichick made a shift in their approach in 2016. The interior players that they brought in via free agency and the draft are all big men that are space eaters and run stuffers first. It is clear that the pass rush will come from the edge guys who are versatile and can slide inside on obvious passing downs.

They added Terrance Knighton, Frank Kearse and Markus Kuhn in free agency. Picking up Vincent Valentine in the draft and Woodrow Hamilton as a UDFA adds a lot of beef to the interior of the line.

On the edge, the team brought in Chris Long who has the last two seasons end in injury but is healthy in 2016 and is this season’s reclamation project. Jabaal Sheard will take Chandler Jones’ previous starting spot opposite Rob Ninkovich.

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

Roster Locks: Jabaal Sheard, Rob Ninkovich, Malcom Brown, Terrance Knighton, Alan Branch, Chris Long, Trey Flowers, Vincent Valentine
Sheard and Ninkovich, who played LB in the spring are the starters on the edge. They are both productive and set the edge in the running game extremely well, (something Jones’ game lacked in his time here). Long will be the dedicated pass rush specialist, something that should keep him fresh this season. He and Flowers provide the depth.

Malcom Brown Malcom Brown had a solid rookie campaign and should be a key cog of the defense for years to come. (SBalestrieri Images)

The interior will feature a mixture of Brown who in his second season is primed for a big year, Branch and Knighton. Branch has played some of his best football as a member of the Patriots and provides that veteran leadership. Valentine by virtue of his draft position is a lock. Pot Roast came over from Washington and gives the Patriots that big (6’3, 354-pounds), immovable object inside, like Vince Wilfork.

One of the things the Patriots liked to do in Big Vince’s time was to play a hybrid scheme that Knighton should fit well in. Knighton will line up on the center and two gap his area on either side of the center. The strong side defensive end, (Ninkovich) will two-gap his area. The other side with Brown and Sheard will be a traditional 4-3 one-gap attacking style. It will also open up opportunities for the linebackers to blitz in openings on the outside as well. Lots of versatility and flexibility with this group as well as a nice mix of youth and experience.

On the Bubble: Geneo Grissom, Frank Kearse, Markus Kuhn
These three are competing for one or possibly two spots if the Patriots opt to keep 10 linemen on the defensive side. Grissom is a big guy who seems larger in person than his listed 6’4, 265 pounds. He brings the element of versatility and athleticism to the table. He can play special teams, something that always resonates with Belichick.

2-Grissom Geneo Grissom made the team out of training camp as a rookie but the team will have to find a niche for his talents. (SBalestrieri Images)

Both Kuhn and Kearse are big guys who will be looking to add some depth inside. Kuhn saw a lot of reps this spring and that may bode well for him this summer. He came over from the Giants and was considered a favorite of coach Tom Coughlin although his numbers didn’t translate on the field. Kearse is a 6’5, 310-pound defensive end who projects to move inside here with the Patriots. He’s spent time with the Panthers, Cowboys, and Redskins (2014-15) and will look to latch on as a backup.

The competition here should prove to be spirited. All of these players are worthy of a roster spot but it may come down to a simple numbers crunch unless the inevitable injury or two occurs in training camp.

Outside Looking in…. Longshots: Woodrow Hamilton, Anthony Johnson, Joe Vellano
Odds are long for Joe Vellano this season to make the cut. He’s one of those guys that you can’t help but root for. After being signed as a UDFA from Maryland in 2013, he made the team out of training camp and played in all 16 games with eight starts. But in 2014 he played in just four games with a single start and one playoff game. He was hurt early in training camp last season and will have a tough time to garner the reps this summer.

Johnson was signed by Miami as a UDFA in 2014 and appeared in seven games. He was cut by the Dolphins and spent part of 2015 as a practice squad player for the Redskins. The Patriots signed him to a free-agent contract in May.

Woodrow Hamilton is a big interior lineman from Mississippi. The 6’3, 319-pound tackle faces long odds. He and Bryan Stork were tossed from practice during minicamp for throwing punches at one another. That may set up something to watch this summer.

Check out our earlier primers on the running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, and the offensive line. And be sure to keep tuned into PatsFans.com during training camp as we’ll post daily updates from down in Gillette.

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 UDFA Class Has Some Intriguing Prospects

Steve Balestrieri
May 2, 2016 at 8:00 am ET

There is usually at least one UDFA  who rises to make the team

The Patriots have finished the 2016 NFL Draft and have brought in their initial undrafted free agent (UDFA) class. Malcolm Butler was one of those players just two years ago, and the Patriots always seem to have at least one UDFA player that will make the 53-man roster.

So far these are the players that have been signed and there are a few intriguing prospects that could have a shot at sticking around and making the team.

DJ Foster, RB/WR, Arizona State:
Foster is an undersized running back at 5’10, 193 pounds that moved to slot receiver for his senior season after being in the backfield for the first three years for the Aztecs. In 2015, he chipped in with 280 yards rushing as well as catching 59 passes for 584 yards and three touchdowns.

He finished his college career with 444 carries and 222 catches in the passing game for combined 4813 yards from scrimmage for 32 touchdowns. His skills at wide receiver are in the neophyte stage but brings an element of versatility that could be productive. He ran a 4.47 in the 40 Yard Dash, a 6.75 time in the 3-Cone Drill and has a 36-inch in the Vertical.

Jonathan Jones, CB Auburn:
Jones is an undersized (5’9, 186 pound), cornerback from Auburn. He was an All-SEC Selection in 2014 before seeing his production step back a bit last season. He is gifted athletically and ran a blistering 4.33 in the 40 at the NFL Combine as well as a 7.25-second three-cone, 36-inch vertical leap, and 123-inch broad jump. Strong for his size, he did 19 reps on the bench press …two more than 3rd round draft pick, 329-pound Vincent Valentine.

He notched 129 tackles, seven interceptions, and 24 passes defended over his Tigers career. We ran a draft profile on him earlier in the spring.

Steven Scheu, TE, Vanderbilt:
Scheu is more of a “move TE” than a traditional in-line one as he doesn’t have the blocking skills to move the pile at 6’4, 250 pounds. Scheu caught 39 passes for 525 yards and four touchdowns in 2014 before seeing his numbers plummet to 26 catches for only 231 yards due to poor QB play.

While he doesn’t have the speed to attack the seams ala Gronk or Bennett, Scheu has soft hands and a huge catch radius to be able to work the underneath routes to be effective.

C.J. Johnson, DE/LB, Ole Miss:

Johnson is a 6’1, 234-pound linebacker who has the versatility of playing at either linebacker or with his hand in the dirt at defensive end. Johnson finished his career having notched 180 tackles with 27 for loss, 13.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.

His senior season was cut short due to a torn meniscus and was able to play in only four games. He’s a bit too light to be a defensive end in the NFL and will project to be an inside linebacker for the Patriots.

V’Angelo Bentley, CB, Illinois:
Bentley is another corner who will get some early reps to see if he can stick. Not the biggest guy at 5’10, 190 pounds, he brings like 2nd round draft pick Cyrus Jones the ability to return kicks.

Had good production with 46 tackles, 3.5 TFL, one INT, 815 kick/punt return yards in 2014 and 2015 with 54 tackles, three TFL, sack, 743 kick/punt return yards. He was the only player in school history to score on a kick return, punt return, interception, and a fumble.

Cre’Von Leblanc, CB, Florida Atlantic:
Leblanc is the third smaller, quicker corner that the Patriots brought in as a UDFA. With the smaller size of 5’9, 194 pounds, he too has special teams expertise, returning 29 kickoffs for 556 yards in his career.

He’s a stocky, muscular defender who former head coach Carl Pelini said was recruited specifically for his versatility as a cover man/run stopper/blitzer. He doesn’t have great top-end speed (4.65 time in the 40) but did run a 6.91 in the 3-Cone.

Woodrow Hamilton, DT, Ole Miss:
Hamilton is a 6’3, 312-pound defensive tackle that played in 47 games with 23 starts at nose tackle. He tallied 83 tackles, seven for loss, and three sacks in his career. At his Pro-Day on March 28, he benched 29 times and ran a 7.90 in the 3-Cone Drill as well as a 4.88 in the Short Shuttle, showing decent quickness for a big man.

De’Runnya Wilson, WR, Mississippi State:
Wilson is a huge, 6’5, 225-pound WR/TE who is a big target in the red zone with an enormous catch radius. His career totals of 133 catches for 1,949 yards and 22 touchdowns over three seasons with the Bulldogs shows he can be productive. He improved each year and in 2015 caught 60 passes for 918 yards and 10 touchdowns.

He’s not fast, (4.81 time in the 40), but is quick off the snap and has good hands as well as he aforementioned catch radius as well as big leaping ability. Still raw, he’d project to be a red-zone target that could be very intriguing if he can catch on.

Devonta Burns, Safety, Texas A&M:
Burns is a 5’10, 203-pound safety from A&M who ran a 4.52 in the 40 with a 7.07 in the 3-Cond Drill at his Pro Day. He has experience playing the nickel back as well as at safety. He’ll have to earn his way onto the special teams unit with the logjam at the safety position.

The Patriots also offered tryouts to RB Shaquille Powell from Duke, and linebackers Kris Frost and Justin Garrett from Auburn.

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