Tag Archives: Chris Harper

New England Patriots: The Deepest Roster In Years

The New England Patriots have had a long run of exceptional success. The Bill Belichick-Tom Brady link has a lot to do with the dominance they have over the rest of the NFL. This year, despite losing Brady for the 1st four games (no comment necessary), they have what could be the deepest, if not most skilled, roster in years. Despite missing some key players early due to injury, fans will be rockin’ as the 2016 Patriots evolve.

Are there still areas of concern? Definitely… but all positions are filled with strong, talented young players chomping at the bit to replace seasoned vets. Think about it. The lack of training camp transactions and difficulty in selecting who will be among New England’s 53 man roster opening day this deep into camp is a strong indication that the back-end will have skills needed to survive the long season.

COMPETITION IS GOOD FOR EVERYONE 

After two pre-season games, the competition for playing time is fierce. And, let’s face it, that’s good for everyone. Shoot, even Tom Brady, arguable the best QB in NFL history, can’t find playing time when he wants to. OK, I know, he was playing with scissors and cut himself, keeping him out of game #2, which he was scheduled to start. But the point is, someone has stepped in and done the job. You may not be a fan of Jimmy Garoppolo as the “long-term” answer when TB retires, but he has shown the ability to hold things together while Brady is out. Let’s take a quick look at what we could see on offense opening night, September 11, in Arizona.

Jimmy Garoppolo looked good against the Bears . (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Jimmy Garoppolo looked good against the Bears (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

QB: (2) This one’s a no brainer,( so I qualify), and my prediction -ta dah- unequivocally: the two slots are owned by Goroppolo and rookie Jacoby Brissett. How’s that for stepping out on a limb. It is doubtful the Patriots will sign a veteran back-up QB for the 1st four games unless one of those two get injured. Brady does not take up a roster spot until game 5.

WR: (6) Who needs a real deep threat when you have a roster full of good hands, elusive players battling it out for a limited number of positions. The days of Randy Moss are long gone, so, as they say in certain circles, “forgeddabout-it.”

  • Veterans include Danny Amendola, Jules Edelman, Nate Washington, Chris Hogan, Keshawn Martin, Aaron (yep, he’s still here) Dobson and old faithful Matthew Slater.
  • Young and looking to step in players are Chris Harper, Malcolm Mitchell, DeAndre Carter and Devin Lucien.

Injuries will factor in the final six. The availability of Amendola and Mitchell are the two question marks. If healthy they are locks, along with Edelman, Slater, Hogan and Harper. That leaves Washington, Martin, Dobson, Carter & Lucien on the outside looking in. If either Amendola or Mitchell can’t go, look for Martin to fill their slot.

TE: (3) Like QB, the first two are easy – Rob Gronkowski & Martellus Bennett. After that is a big question. Do you want a blocking, athletic or flexible player filling that role? Based on his performance to-date, I’m going with AJ Derby (FB James Develin is capable of filling the blocking TE role). As of 8/21 veteran Clay Harbor is listed ahead of Derby on the Patriot’s unofficial depth chart.

8-18 AJ Derby (Photo courtesy patspulpit.com)Rookie TE AJ Derby (Photo courtesy patspulpit.com)

RB: (5) BULLETIN – CSNNE is reporting Dion Lewis needs more surgery. James White has looked good in that role, but lacks Lewis’ elusiveness. LeGarrette Blount has impressed in pre-season, but is vulnerable with the emergence of Tyler Gaffney. Branden Bolden’s value on special teams will be the determining factor for him, leaving Joey Iosofa and D.J. Foster with little chance. As mentioned under TEs, James Devlin’s flexibility as both a blocking back and TE make him seem a certainty.

Final five – Gaffney, White,  Devlin, Bolden Blount. Would not be shocked if either Blount or Bolden were cut. It seems like every year Belichick makes a surprise cut, so either Blount or Bolden could be this year’s shocker.

OL: (9) As in all but a few predictions, health is the determining factor. Sebastian Vollmer is out & Tre’ Jackson is hurt. A decision on Jackson needs to come shortly. (A player must open training camp on PUP in order to be eligible to be placed on the reserve/PUP list to open the regular season).  His leadership will be missed, but the offensive line is gradually revolving into a young aggressive group, with rookie Joe Thune at left guard and Shaq Mason (broken hand) looking at more playing time. Center Dave Andrews beats out Bryan Stork at center,  leaving veterans Nate Solder, Cameron Fleming, LaAdrian Waddle & Josh Kline joined by youngsters Ted Karras & Tre’ Jackson. If Jackson isn’t available (heaven forbid). add Marcus Cannon (ugh) to the list. No sense at all about Jonathon Cooper, who has been suffering with foot problems since the 1st padded practice. Probable IR candidate.

DEFENSE COMING MONDAY 8/22)

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New England Patriots: The Final Roster Is Never Final

As the final cut down date in the NFL passes everyone tries to analyze who the Patriots cut and who “made the team.”  Before you set the roster in stone remember, there will still be some fairly significant moves before kick-off Thursday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers. It is rare (like never) that the original roster stays intact going into game 1. There’s a good chance that by the time you read this article moves will already have occurred.

Who Is Still At Risk?

Those currently still on the roster have outperformed others to reach this point…but, hopefully they won’t relax too quickly.  Before going out and buying that luxury SUV or sports car, many need to realize life in the NFL can be very short.

Chris Harper hauls one in against the Saints (Photo: Keith Nordstrom/Patriots.com)
Chris Harper hauls one in against the Saints (Photo: Keith Nordstrom/Patriots.com)
  • Chris Harper – WR: Reggie Wayne showed he doesn’t have it anymore and asked to be released before he was unceremoniously cut. Sorry Wayne supporters, but Bill Belichick doesn’t keep you if you can’t help and, if he felt Wayne would have, he’d still be a Patriot. With Brandon LaFell on the PUP list and not available until week 7, Harper is hanging on to that final spot. The 21 year old rookie free agent impressed everyone this pre-season, but it is likely at some point the Patriots will try to slip him through waivers and get him on the practice squad.
  • Dion Lewis/James White/Travaris Cadet – RB: LaGarrette Blount is suspended for the season opener, so the question is who gets the shot Thursday night to show he can fill the big shoes left by Shane Vereen’s departure.  When Blount returns, one or two of this trio will be gone, and right now it’s a crapshoot who should stay…and who should go. The surprise cut of fan favorite Jonas Gray left the door open.

To this point Cadet hasn’t been able to see the field because of injuries, White (a 2014 4th round draft pick) has looked better in his second camp and Lewis has risen to the top when given a chance.   The injury to James Develin really doesn’t impact this trio, but it did allow a longer look-see for the coaching staff. Right now the only power running back on the roster is Belichick favorite Brandon Bolden.

This Year’s Surprise Cut

Indianapolis, IN - 11/16/14 - (4th quarter) New England Patriots running back Jonas Gray (35) adds an emphatic pose after pounding his way into the end zone for a fourth quarter touchdown. The New England Patriots take on the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, IN. - (Barry Chin/Globe Staff), Section: Sports, Reporter: Shalise Manza Young, Topic: 17Patriots-Colts, LOID:7.4.3659348687.
Bye-bye Jonas Gray, we hardly got to know you(Barry Chin/Globe Staff)

Bill Belichick is known for his “surprise” cuts and this year’s edition was Jonas Gray. After last year’s dazzling performance against the Indianapolis Colts, Gray literally disappeared and Blount came back to town. Most predicted he was a lock this year, but it looks like he never really escaped Belichick’s doghouse.

Don’t be too shocked if there are more moves to come as the team brings possible additions through the swinging doors at Gillette Stadium. Moves in the secondary still seem likely to occur and the fate of many will be in the hands of the best Head Coach in the NFL. The good news is, no matter what, the Belichick-Tom Brady connection is still intact and ready to punish the doubters.

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New England Patriots: Finally A Game That Means Something

The first two pre-season games mean little to nothing.  They are an opportunity to shake the tree and see what falls out that may be a surprise among the newcomers.  The experienced vets play little and undrafted free agents and draft picks get their opportunity to catch the eye of the coaching staff…and most of all Head Coach Bill Belichick.

Now game three…that’s a different story!

New England vs Carolina: Finally A Game That Means Something

Pre-Season Game 3

Friday night’s Patriots’ game at Bank Of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC is important for many reasons. It will give fans their first chance to see most of the veterans in action and evaluate how things are expected to evolve when the season starts against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday, September 10 at Gillette Stadium.

What to watch for Friday night:

  • How much playing time Patriots’ QB Jimmy Garoppolo gets with the first team unit against the Carolina Panthers first
    Luke Kuechly grabs Rob Gronkowski in the famous last play non-call loss (Photo: sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com
    Luke Kuechly grabs Rob Gronkowski in the famous last play non-call loss (Photo: sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com

    team. Although most teams don’t “game plan” for preseason match-ups and keep things pretty vanilla this will be a true test against an always strong Panther defense featuring former Boston College Eagle Luke Kuechly. Last season the Middle Line-Backer was voted to the Pro Bowl and selected to the NFL All-Pro First Team for the second consecutive season.

Although Garoppolo took a huge step forward in last weeks comeback win against the Saints, every Patriot fan in the world is hoping Tom Brady is the starting QB when the opening bell rings. That said, the Patriots have to be ready if his suspension is upheld and Belichick is the best in football having his team prepared for every contingency. Sure Tom Terrific will play in this game and may get the majority of snaps…but this will be the only chance Garoppolo has to play with the offensive unit that will start the season and against an opponent who will also be using most of their “A” units on both defense and offense.

  • By 4 p.m Tuesday (9/1) all clubs must cut their rosters to 75 players on the active list.

That means many of the names you see on the current team roster will be gone shortly after this game. Those on-the-bubble players will be showcasing their talents in hopes they catch the eye of another team.  With limited playing time in this game they have to make every minute they are on the field count.

  • This will be a test of the evolving Patriots’ secondary and defense.
Malcom Butler makes the play in pre-season vs New Orleans (Keith Nordstrom Patriots.com photo)
Malcom Butler makes the play in pre-season vs New Orleans (Keith Nordstrom Patriots.com photo)

When starters have played against starters this pre-season (a small sampling at best) the Patriots secondary has been (I’m being kind here) challenged and, with the exception of Malcom Butler, have not met that challenge very well. Both the Packers (Game #1) & Saints (Game #2) seemed to march up and down the field with ease. On the positive side, as has been the case throughout most of the Belichick years, the team seemed to suck-it-up once the opponent got inside the Pats 20 yard line. The healthy return of Dont’a Hightower and Jerod Mayo will be critical to this years defensive unit along with the addition of Jabaal Sheard and continued development of Jamie Collins. 

  • Gronkowski, Chandler and Wayne could see playing time

For the first time we could have a good look at Scott Chandler as he teams up with Rob GronkowskiAdd in the possible sighting of newcomer Reggie Wayne and it could make for an interesting mix despite the continued absence due to injury of Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell. The playing time for Chris Harper will also be an indication of his likelihood to stick with New England while so many WRs are still hurting.

  • The annual shuffle on the offensive line continues

The return of Ryan Wendell should help quiet down the jitters of rookies Tre’ Jackson and Shaq Mason, who have both shown promise but also weaknesses that need to be worked on.  With Nate Solder and Sebastion Volmer back and the continued development of second year center Bryan Stork this unit should start to jell shortly.

  • The Shane Vereen question

As training camp started most (myself included) experts (did I just refer to myself as an expert? Surely not!) felt the Patriots would be hard pressed to replace the 3rd down efficiency of Shane Vereen.  Although his replacement has not yet been determined, a few leading candidates have stepped up and made themselves known. Last years 4th round pick, James White, has taken a gigantic leap in his second camp and is the favorite to step into the role. Keep a close eye on 24-year-old Dion Lewis who has bounced around since being a 5th round pick by Pittsburgh in the 2011 draft. He was out of football last year (leg injury) but has displayed some explosiveness, especially last week against the Saints.

Other developments will occur during the game, so enjoy this one all the way to the end.  Next week  the “locks” will sit while the bubble players will get most of the playing time before final cuts are made. The 1st and 4th games are usually the sloppiest and hardest to watch, so it’s nice to finally have a game that means something!

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New England Patriots: Lots Of Questions, Few Answers

We’ve now reached the halfway point in the pre-season (1-1) after the Patriots defeated the New Orleans Saints 26-24 Saturday night behind Jimmy Garoppolo…and few of the Patriots questions have been answered. Let’s take a quick look at where the team stands as regular season quickly (yes, I’m smiling) approaches.

Jimmy Garoppolo

Jimmy Garoppolo leads Pats to comeback win vs The Saint (Photo: Keith Nordstrom/NewEnglandPatriots.Com)
Jimmy Garoppolo leads Pats to comeback 26-24 win vs The Saint (Photo: Keith Nordstrom/Patriots.Com)

The jury is still out (oops, bad choice of words there) on Jimmy G. At times he looks like the QB of the future. Saturday night’s scramble leading to a TD pass as the 1st half wound down is an example of him at his best. Unfortunately, in the same game, his interception was an obvious mistake that hopefully he will learn from. As highlighted in the Patriots.com post game Game Notes– “When he came in to replace Tom Brady he executed a two-minute drill prior to halftime and completed 5-of-5 passes for 65 yards, including a 24-yard touchdown pass to WR Chris Harper.

Patriot fans need to take a step away from the immediacy of the team need (re: Brady possible suspension) and realize this is just his second year in the NFL. Very few QBs are instant successes and the growing pains can be frustrating for both the player and the rabid team followers.

“Last week the pressure got to me a little bit, and it’s never good to get sacked or hit that many times,”

Defensive Secondary

The only things that seem certain at this stage are:

  • All the worry when the Patriots lost Revis Island, Kyle Arrington and Brandon Browner was justified
  • Malcolm Butler still seems like the real thing. His limited play in the pre-season games is an indication Head Coach Bill Belichick has seen enough of him in practice to feel confident in him and needs to look at others in game situations. How things have changed for Butler since “the play”, going from a question mark that others gave up on to the Patriots best corner!
  • CB Tarell Brown made his Patriots debut after missing the first preseason game against Green Bay with mixed results
  • Devin McCourty, an above average safety, is a below average CB. He has acknowledged he isn’t comfortable at his old position.

Commenting on his play Saturday night in New Orleans he was honest (tsk, tsk, a Patriot player actually saying something) when he said “It didn’t feel great and I don’t think it looked great.” He also acknowledged he doesn’t have much say in where he plays “You can’t control where you play. Everyone’s playing a position for the team, and overall, what’s best for the team. I don’t think what you think or feel matters.”

Devin McCourty breaks up a pass intended for Brandon Coleman in the first half of Pats win (Bill Feig-AP)

Offensive Line

  • Like last season at this time, the offensive line is still a work in progress. The return of Sebastion Volmer and Nate Solder to game shape will give rookies Shaq Mason and Tre’ Jackson a chance to breathe as they adapt to the speed of the NFL.  Neither Mason nor Jackson has yet made that step-up expected of them, but give them time as both show promise and are still learning the game at a whole new level. The hope is that the unit jells as the season progresses, as they did in 2014.
  • Saturday night rookie free agent David Andrews made his second straight start at center

Receiving Depth

Chris Harper against the Saints (Photo: Keith Nordstrom/Patriots.com)
Chris Harper against the Saints (Photo: Keith Nordstrom/Patriots.com)
  • With wide receivers dropping like flies my early optimism for this year is quickly getting clouded with question marks. Brandon LaFell still hasn’t played a down, Brian Tyms may be out for the season with a foot injury, Aaron Dobson’s return to health was an illusion, Josh Boyce continues to shine in practice and disappear at game time. Key players (Julian Edelman-injury/Rob Gronkowski/Scott Chandler-injury) continue to watch from the sidelines, so it is hard to have a true evaluation of just how strong/weak the Pats are, but rookie Chris Harper has taken the ball and run with it in their absence. Seven year veteran Brandon Gibson has looked good, but also was injured late in the game.

The depth looks so bad now that Mike Reiss wrote in his Sunday columnIf (Kenbrell)Thompkins doesn’t stick with the Raiders, I could see the Patriots having interest in his return” In addition the Pats reportedly brought Reggie Wayne in for a physical (read my Reggie Wayne article written just before Training Camp)

There’s more, but that’s enough for now to keep fans thinking. No panic, but concern, is in the air. Just keep thinking, Bill Belichick is the best Head Coach in the NFL and he finds ways to win. That’s a fact that can’t be denied.

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