The rain couldn’t keep Patriots Nation away today as the Patriots opened up for their first training camp session of the 2018 NFL Season. As always quarterback Tom Brady received a standing and cheering ovation as he made his way to the practice field, as well as wide receiver Julian Edelman, who missed the 2017 season due to a torn ACL, also receiving a loud ovation from the fans as he walked onto the field for the first time.
For the first two days of training camp players aren’t in full pads and there’s no contact allowed which can make it tough to truly tell how the players look, there were definitely some players who stood out more than others. Two players who looked really well today were tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Jacob Hollister. Gronkowski looking good shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone at this point as he’s the best tight end in the league when healthy. In simulated 11 on 11 drills Gronkowski was able to get free in the back of the end zone numerous times and catching everything that Brady threw to him. Hollister was someone who really impressed me today; making a tremendous catch in the back of the end zone that was contested by Eric Rowe and a perfect pass by Brady almost right in from of me. Later on in practice on the other side of the practice field he made another great catch in the back corner of the end zone from Brady which drew an applause from the crowd.
Someone who I wanted to keep an eye on today was rookie running back Sony Michel, who the Patriots selected in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. . Michel saw a lot of action with the first team offense during 11 on 11 drills and scored on a nice screen pass from Brady. The Patriots have a crowded backfield with Michel, Rex Burkhead, James White, Mike Gillislee, and Jeremy Hill; and can’t wait to see how Michel looks throughout the rest of training camp and the preseason and see if he can translate his success in college to the NFL.
While Michel was seeing some time with the first team offense today, the Patriots other first round pick Isaiah Wynn was running with the second team starting at left tackle. Like I’ve said it’s tough to tell how some players look during the first few days of training camp with no contact, this is especially true for offensive lineman. While Wynn started at left tackle with the second unit Trent Brown was the one taking reps at left tackle with the starters. The Patriots made a draft day trade to acquire Brown from the San Francisco 49ers, where he started at right tackle last season.
Something that I’m going to be paying attention to over the next couple weeks is the potential battle for a roster spot at wide receiver. With Julian Edelman suspended the first four games of the season, and the rumors of the Patriots moving on from Malcolm Mitchell look more and more true the wide receiver position could be one of need for the Patriots. After losing Danny Amendola to the Miami Dolphins this offseason the Patriots signed veteran Jordan Matthews, who on the outside looking in would seem to be a lock to make the final 53-man roster. The Patriots also re-signed Kenny Britt who spent some time with the Patriots towards the end of last season and the team likes apparently, who is starting off training camp on the PUP list. The team also has Phillip Dorsett who was with the team last season, but who I’m going to be watching are Riley McCarron and Braxton Berrios. McCarron spent time on the Houston Texans practice squad last year and has drawn some comparisons to Wes Welker, who coached him last season while in Houston. McCarron looked very quick and explosive during kickoff return drills and looks like a prototypical Patriots slot receiver. Berrios was a sixth round draft pick in the 2018 NFL Draft out of Miami, and while undersized at only 5’8-5’9 was a big time playmaker during his time with the Hurricanes. Both players were rotating around with the third team offense primarily, as well as returning kicks which could be the key for one of these guys to fight for a potential roster spot.
Day one is in the books and there will be plenty more to look for and see over the next couple weeks of training camp and preseason. But one thing thats clear is that the best time of the year is upon us as Patriots football is back!
The Patriots are now on their third week of training camp and set to play their first preseason game later this week against the Jacksonville Jaguars. The team has yet to make any roster moves outside of the retirement of veteran Rob Ninkovich. It may only be the beginning of August, but let’s take a look at what the Patriots 53-man roster could look like a month from now when the regular season begins.
Quarterbacks: Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett
Brady and Garoppolo are obvious locks to make the roster, there has been some talk on whether the Patriots hold onto Brissett and keep him on the 53-man roster or move on from the second year quarterback. Ultimately I think the Patriots hold onto Brissett, the team placed him on Injured Reserve with eligibility to return last year and traveled with the team during this time. There have also been reports on how much the team likes his toughness and leadership, both traits he showed last year as a rookie. Brissett still needs some time to develop and isn’t ready to be an NFL quarterback right now, but as a third round pick only a year ago shows a lot of potential and will stay on the 53 man roster, even though the team doesn’t necessarily need to carry a third quarterback.
Running Back: James White, Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead, Mike Gillislee, James Develin
Gillislee and Burkhead were both signed this offseason and look to play big roles with the team, especially Gillislee who looks to take over as the feature/powerback role previously held by LaGarrette Blount. Super Bowl hero James White was also given a contract extension this offseason and is a lock to make the roster. Dion Lewis has played great for the team when healthy and is capable of playing a few different roles on offense and can contribute as a return man on special teams. Brandon Bolden misses out on the 53-man roster in this projection, Bolden plays primarily as a special teamer and contributes little to the offense throughout the season. The roster having as much depth as it does makes it hard for Bolden to make the roster as a guy who primarily contributes on just special teams, which the team already has several of.
Wide Receiver:Julian Edelman, Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, Malcolm Mitchell
Probably the easiest position on the team to project for. It’s fair to say that all five of these guys are locks to make the roster. One question could be is would the team consider keeping six wide receivers? Undrafted rookie free agent Austin Carr was the very last guy who didn’t make the roster when I was putting this projection. Carr has had a very good camp so far and looks to capitalize during preseason games and fight for one of the final roster spots on the final roster and is someone the Patriots might not be able to sneak onto the practice squad. I did not consider Matthew Slater as a wide receiver since he just plays special teams.
Tight End: Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, Matt Lengel
Gronk is back and has looked great and healthy so far during training camp. Allen has been inconsistent so far and have been some reports that he has struggled to learn the offense, but is far too talented at a weak position outside of Gronkowski to not make the team. The third tight end spot could easily be a few different people but I give it to Lengel for now. Lengel played in limited action last year after the injury to Gronkowski and has familiarity with the offense, and was a big contributor towards the end of the season and during the playoffs last year for the Patriots. Lengel can contribute both as a blocker and a receiver, which can help add multiple dimensions to the teams offense when he is in the game. James O’Shaughnessy and Lengel are the top two guys competing for the third tight end spot, but rookie free agent Jacob Hollister could be someone who could make an impression during the preseason as he would provide the offense with more of a receiver-tight end role compared to more of a blocking tight end role like Lengel or O’Shaughnessy.
Offensive Line:Nate Solder, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, Tony Garcia, Ted Karras, Cameron Fleming
The starting five from last year are locks to make the roster, as well as Joe Thuney who was the top backup interior lineman last season and rookie Tony Garcia who will be the teams primary backup tackle. The last offensive lineman spot goes to Cameron Fleming, who was last year’s top backup tackle and has proven to be inconsistent throughout his career in New England and so far, in camp. In joint practices with the Jaguars, Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue was treating Fleming like a revolving door constantly beating Fleming in the absence of Nate Solder. Fleming gets the upper hand over LaAdrian Waddle, who was on the 53-man roster last season but was not active for a single game, and rookie Connor McDermott who the Patriots could look to put on the practice squad.
Defensive Line: Trey Flowers, Alan Branch, Malcolm Brown, Lawrence Guy, Deatrich Wise Jr., Derek Rivers, Vincent Valentine, Kony Ealy, Geneo Grissom
Flowers, Branch, Guy, Wise, Rivers, and Valentine are all locks to make the roster based on last year’s production, draft spot, and contract received this offseason. Wise has had a great training camp so far and could look to start at defensive end opposite Trey Flowers if he continues to impress during preseason action. Kony Ealy and Geneo Grissom are two guys who could be fighting for one roster spot on the Patriots defensive line depending on how the rest of training camp and the preseason goes. Ealy was acquired in a trade this offseason with the Carolina Panthers and was expected to play a big role in the Patriots defense this season. The start of training camp hasn’t been a good one so far for Ealy though, he missed the first day of training camp for unknown reason and when asked was told to ask coach Bill (Belichick) about why he wasn’t out there. He has also had his struggles in camp and hasn’t been able to beat offensive tackles and generate pressure on a consistent basis. Both of these factors could end up in Ealy not making the final roster.
Linebacker: Dont’a Hightower, David Harris, Kyle Van Noy, Shea McClellin, Elandon Roberts, Harvey Langi
Hightower is an obvious lock and so is former Jet David Harris, everyone else there could be a case why they should make the team and a case why they couldn’t make it. Van Noy, McClellin and Roberts all saw a good amount of playing time last season, they all had their ups and downs and were inconsistent at times but have shown enough to make the roster again in 2017. Langi is an undrafted free agent who the Patriots were high on during the draft process partly due to his versatility of being able to play both inside and outside linebacker as well as being able to rush the passer as a defensive end. Langi has had a good camp so far and should be able to build on it during preseason games and earn a spot on the final roster.
Cornerback:Malcolm Butler, Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Jonathan Jones, Cyrus Jones
Butler, Gilmore and Rowe are all locks to make the team and be part of a Patriots defense and secondary that should be one of the top in the league. Jonathan Jones played well in the slot late last season and so far, has the upper hand to be the teams nickel and slot corner and also contributes on special teams. Cyrus Jones had his struggles last season as a rookie and is looking to bounce back in his second season. Jones has a lot of talent and potential and was evident that his special teams struggles last season affected him mentally and on the defensive side of the ball. If the Patriots hold Cyrus off of special teams he could look to contribute in a positive way defensively.
Safety: Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Jordan Richards, Duron Harmon, Nate Ebner, Brandon King
The only real question out of this group is Jordan Richards, who hasn’t played too much over his first few seasons in New England after being selected in the second round. Richards has looked good so far early into training camp before having some struggles during joint practices with the Jaguars. Ebner and King and mostly special teams players who occasionally play and contribute on defense, but will make the roster due to their special teams excellence. Six safeties seem like it could be too many to carry but Ebner and King being primarily special teamers could earn Richards a spot on the final roster in case of any injury that occurs.
Special Teams: Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen, Matthew Slater, Joe Cardona
The only real surprise when it comes to special teams is that the Patriots don’t have any one in to compete with Gostkowski who struggled drastically last season and missed two field goals during yesterday’s first joint practice with the Jaguars.
The Patriots take on the Jaguars Thursday night for their first preseason action of the year. As preseason and training camp goes by I’ll continue to update my 53-man projection based on players performances and team needs going forward.
As the 2015 season wound down, Bill Belichick made some decisions that, looking back, turned out to be questionable (I know, that is heresy in New England, but look at the results). After winning their first eleven games the Patriots started to wilt. With a bunch of walking wounded, a beat up Tom Brady and the play-offs with home field in game-one guaranteed, he rested some key players and went to a non-existent running game against the J-E-Ts and Dolphins. For the 1st time in may years the Patriots seemed to be playing not-to-lose.
Well, as we all know (so why am I reminding you????) the Pats lost both those games and went into the play-offs having lost four of their last six games. They never completely recovered from those decisions. After winning a home play-off game against the Chiefs (27-20) they traveled to Denver and lost to the ultimate Super Bowl Champion Broncos (20-18) in the Conference Championship game.
How Different Is 2016?
Now, with two games remaining in the 2016 regular season, New England faces the same two teams, NY J-E-T-S and Miami, in a similar situation. The J-E-T-S are out of the race, but always give the Patriots a good fight…and the Dolphins continue to fight for a play-off spot.
So…why does it feel so different? Here are 5 reasons:
The 2016 Patriots are now playing their best football of the season, unlike 2015, when they were unsure if the defense or offense could hold up
Tom Brady won’t be going into these games already bruised & battered thanks to Dante Scarnecchia and a rejuvenated OL (yeah, I know he’s back to limited practice & on the injury list…but he’s still in better shape than last year)
The running game is at it’s peak, with LeGarrette Blount rushing for 15 TDs and over 1,000 yards…a healthy Dion Lewis..a solid #3 with James White and the impressive blocking of James Develin. Last year neither Blount nor Lewis were playing due to injuries
The defense is #1 in points against in the NFL. I’ll say that again, the defense is #1 in points against in the NFL
Bill Belichick seems completely confident in all aspects of the Pats game. He’s willing to trust his defense (say what?), offense or special teams to make the crucial play at the end of the game. That’s something that has been missing for many years
Same Decision = Different Results
So, that said, what if Belichick makes the same decisions this year that he did in 2015? If he does, the results should be completely different.This team is tough and in no way resembles the 2015 version of the New England Patriots.
They don’t have Rob Gronkowski or Danny Amendola and both are big losses. However, they do have a bruiser in Blount, a quick Lewis plus new heroes in Chris Hogan (highest yards-per-catch in the NFL) and the speed of rookie WR Malcolm Mitchell. Add in tough TE Martellis Bennett and, oh yeah, a well rested Tom Brady!
With a defense that is starting to click without Chandler Jones or Jamie Collins…but is lead by Trey Flowers, always reliable Rob Ninkovich, Chris Long and, suddenly rejuvenated Jabaal Sheard, Malcolm Butler, Devin McCourty, Dont’a Hightower and a host of others…they are a formidable bunch.
Congratulations to Brady, Slater, Hightower & McCourty on their selection to the 2016 NFL Pro-Bowl. Hopefully none will be able to play as they prepare for the Super Bowl
Condolences to Malcolm Butler, Blount and Marcus Cannon (can’t believe I’m saying this), who all deserved a shot too
The NFL is always fair & objective…just look at their recent “punishment” to the Giants & their Head Coach for being caught cheating! #Integrity
This has been an outstanding year for Patriot Coaches Belichick, Josh McDaniels, Matt Patricia and Scarnecchia
Tom Brady is being penalized again! Many are saying he doesn’t deserve the MVP because he has played 4 fewer games than the others in the running. King Goodell strikes again
The Patriots are the only team in the NFL who have not lost a road game this year. Despite that, the advantage of playing in Foxborough in the playoffs is huge.
Hard to believe, but, 14 games down (12-2) with just 2 more before the real season begins. This season has flown by.
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.
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 MatthewSlater.
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.
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.
One of the great things about being a fan of the New England Patriots is, when one season ends you always know that next season will be exciting, with another legitimate chance for the Lombardi Trophy. It’s really a thrill to look forward to what will happen next and have confidence that it all will work out fine.
Just think about it. How many fans of other teams in the NFL can legitimately make that statement? The answer is – zero!
The current Super Bowl Champion Bronco’s? Who is the QB again?
The runner-up Carolina Panthers? Hell, their fans are thrilled to just make the play-offs. Although they are the favorites going into the year (the Patriots are #2), they have to show they can perform year in and year out.
The Green Bay Packers? Close, but no cigar. Last year the were vulnerable all season and are rapidly deteriorating.
How about the Pittsburgh Steelers? The fans and former players are still griping about how they were
cheated out of a Super Bowl by….the Patriots…in the AFC Championship Game (No, not the Super Bowl)! That was 12 years ago, the Steelers lost 41-27 at home, and they are still crying about it. No looking forward there!
Seattle? With Pete Carroll making the final call 2 years ago the fans of the Seahawks were deflated (sorry, had to get that in). Carroll vs Belichick = a no brainer!
There are plenty of other teams that could be part of the conversation, Arizona, KC to name just a couple, but year-after-year, they haven’t proven good enough to carry the banner.
Another Year With The Two B’s
As we look ahead to the 2016 season we are, once again,
concerned that the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady combination may not be available to start the season thanks to the continued obsession of the NFL and Commissioner Roger “Integrity of the game” Goodell, to punish Brady for a “crime” they haven’t proven ever occurred. I refuse to get into that again other than to say “so what.”
Belichick will be there to start things and Brady will, at some point early in the season, return. With a growing, young defense the team should be just fine and maybe Tom will be better off starting the season a little later (I know that’s heresy), so by the play-offs he won’t be so banged up.
The offensive line will be better. Hell, it couldn’t be any worse. With the return of Dante Scarnecchia you know they’ll be better prepared. Rookies Tre’ Jackson and Shaq Mason will be in their second year and know their roll and the speed of the NFL better. Sebastian Vollmer and Nate Solder should be healthy. The addition of former 1st round pick Jonathan Cooper adds depth they lacked in 2015 when injuries destroyed any chance for consistency.
The two TE offense is back! Martellus Bennett is not Scott Chandler in any way, so please stop the comparisons. Provided he doesn’t tick off Belichick with his mouth, Bennett and Rob Gronkowski will ease the pressure on Brady (or Jimmy Garoppolo) and the red-zone offense with those two, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola (maybe), Nate Washington and Chris Hogan will be almost unstoppable.
Donta’ Hightower and Jamie Collins (both 26) are just coming into their prime years and are the key cogs in a defense that should be strong despite the loss of Chandler Jones.
BUF, MIA., NYJ, BAL, CIN, LA, SEA, HOU
BUF, MIA., NYJ, CLE, PIT, ARI, SF, DEN
Although game dates have not yet been released, there is no reason to believe the Pats won’t have another run at the ring in 2016.. Along with in-conference games against teams that did not make the play-offs last year (J-E-T-S, Dolphins & Bills) they play the clueless Browns, befuddled 49ers, sliding Ravens and homeless (???) Rams. That leaves Seattle, Houston, Pittsburgh, Arizona and Super Bowl Champion, but QB challenged, Denver as threats to a chance for ring #5 for Tom Brady, the oldest active non-kicker in the NFL.
So, no matter what, the best Head Coach/QB combo in the NFL and the New England Patriots are once again positioning the team for a run at the Lombardi Trophy and fans are having fun analyzing every move they make.
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