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.
If nothing else, 2016 has been a season with many surprises for the New England Patriots. Some have been pleasant…and some haven’t turned out too well. Despite all the changes, this year’s team is once again a legitimate Super Bowl contender and are, at 10-2, right where most expected them to be. Here are my 5 biggest surprises as the season progressed.
#1 BRADY ACCEPTS 4 GAME SUSPENSION
He gave it a gallant fight, but TB finally got tired of deflategate and moved on. Many were disappointed, but it was time to play football. He never acknowledged any guilt despite the Brady detractors using his acceptance of the 4 games to claim it a “win” for the NFL. Nothing about deflategate was a win for anyone…the NFL, Brady, the Patriots or fans anywhere.
#2 – DEFENSE
As the season started fans and prognosticators (my $50 word for the day) were saying the 2016 defense would be top 5 caliber. In one way people were right. As of now they are tied with their next opponent (Baltimore) for 2nd in the NFL for least points allowed (17.2 PPG), trailing only the Seahawks.
The big surprise from that group has been the departure of Collins, benching of Sheard and under performance by all but Butler. Overall the defense has not been as bad as it seems to the naked eye, but it certainly still hasn’t proven itself to be an elite unit.
The team is currently ranked in the top 10 in 4 key categories, but considering the weak offenses they have faced, questions still abound :
#2 points allowed (207)
#9 total defense
#12 passing defense
#10 rushing defense
#9 yards allowed
It is a must for this unit to improve if the Patriots are to go far in the playoffs, let alone win the Super Bowl. Monday Night vs Baltimore will be a true test
#3 OFFENSIVE LINE
Shock would be the word I use to describe how well the OL has performed. Dante Scarnecchia’s goal coming into the season was to solidify a unified unit of 5 to play most snaps…and he has been highly successful with (LT) Nate Solder, (LG) rookie Joe Thuney, (C) UFA David Andrews, (RG) Shaq Mason, (RT) Marcus Cannon. Just how good has this group been?
Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett have been sacked just 26 times while throwing 417 passes
LeGarrette Blount has rushed for 957 yards and 13 TDs
Add in that Marcus Cannon, who I have been known to chastise in the past, just had his contract renewed and is having his best season ever in his 6th year as a Patriot = you have realize just how much of a surprise this unit has been. Thank you “Scar.”
#4 – ROOKIE WR MALCOLM MITCHELL
The Patriots drafting of wide receivers has been beyond bad, but this year they hit a home-run (sorry for the baseball analogy) with 4th round pick (112th overall) Malcolm Mitchell. He has quickly gained Brady’s trust and has grown game-by-game while exhibiting his toughness, route running, speed and sure hands. Just look at what he has done over the past 3 games:
8 receptions/82 yards vs Rams
4 receptions/98 yards/1 TD vs 49ers
5 receptions/42 yards/2 TDs vs J-E-T-S
This young man will only get better. He needs to continue to improve with the loss of Danny Amendola & Rob Gronkowski for the offense to control the game. Mitchell is this year’s Dion Lewis.
#5 – KICKING GAME
The inconsistency of the kicking game has truly been a surprise. This was consider an area of strength when the season began, but has been erratic throughout the first 12 games.
Stephen Gostkowski has been AFC special team player of the week twice, including last week against the Rams, but has missed 4 makeable field goals and 3 extra points…not good enough for the highest paid kicker in the NFL.
Ryan Allen (no, not Logan Ryan as identified during the Fox telecast Sunday) has given the Patriots great field position throughout his 4 year career in the NFL. This year he hasn’t been consistent, shanking some and leaving opponents in good shape. His net average is fractionally his highest ever (40.8 vs 40.4 for his career), but of his 52 punts only 17 have been inside the 20 yard line.
Playoff game are usually won and lost by field position (I have no data to prove this, but let’s net let facts get in the way of the story), so both Gostkowski & Allen need to be on-their-game as that part of the season rolls around.
The Patriots have been the kings of the AFC and the NFL for the past 15 years and will need this young defense to become elite to continue that in 2016.
It’s only August and the Patriots already have two major long-term injuries on the offensive side of the ball with news of running back Dion Lewis needing a second knee surgery to clean up his knee after a season-ending torn ACL last season and will stay on the Physically Unable to Perform list to start the season, and with offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer likely going to be placed on the season-ending Injured Reserve list. Both Lewis and Vollmer have been on the PUP list and yet to participate in training camp with the team prior to both these reports that surfaced Sunday.
Running back and offensive line were the two biggest issues the Patriots had last season and were still the two biggest issues the team faced heading into training camp, now these issues just got a lot worse before the season has even started. We all remember Marcus Cannon’s disasterous performance in Denver in the AFC Championship game and now it appears that Cannon will be the full-time starter at right tackle for the Patriots with the news of Vollmer likely going to be placed on IR.
On the surface many people will look to James White, LaGarrette Blount, Marcus Cannon or Cameron Fleming to try fixing these losses, but where you need to look is the defense. The Patriots have one of the youngest defenses in the league with loads of talent and loads of potential, and rather than a Marcus Cannon or James White, they are going to be what carries and powers New England through these injuries and to the top of the NFL yet again.
This Patriots defense has now drawn a lot of hype going into the season and is one that people don’t think of when discussing the top defenses in the NFL, and this year that will change. The Patriots have atlas five guys on this defense who could potentially make the Pro Bowl in Malcolm Butler, Jabaal Sheard, Jamie Collins, Donta’ Hightower, and Devin McCourty, the first four who are all in contract years which will give them a little something extra to prove. This is the core of the New England defense and should turn New England into one of the top defenses in the league, then you add second-year man Malcolm Brown who had a very good rookie season, corner Logan Ryan who is also in a contract year and played very well last season as the teams number two corner, Patrick Chung, Rob Ninkovich, Terrance Knighton, Duron Harmon and Cyrus Jones just to name a few guys and this is one of the best and talented defenses in the league with a lot of depth. This is a defense that shouldn’t allow more than 20 points per game at most and that is what will help and allow this offense to be successful, especially the first four weeks with Garoppolo under center.
The Broncos proved it last year, defenses win championships and had in my opinion, one of the best defenses of all-time. I don’t think the Patriots defense will be as good as Denver’s from last season and they don’t need to be. The defense has some questions as well at corner after Butler and Ryan but in my opinion are one of the most complete defenses in the whole NFl. They still have one of the top offenses in the league with Brady under center with Gronkowski, Bennett, Edelman and Amendola, but the losses of Vollmer and Lewis are huge and the way the Patriots will overcome these injuries and issues they face, as well as others that will come throughout the season is through the defense.
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.
The regular season is fastly approaching and with that comes roster cuts. Over the next few weeks the Patriots have to cut their roster down from 90 to 53, which won’t be easy with this being the most talented and complete 90-man roster the team has had during the Bill Belichick era. With only one preseason game played and a few weeks of practices here is how my Patriots roster projection looks
Quarterback: Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett. (Brady suspended first 4 games) (2) This ones pretty obvious, Garoppolo will be starting the first four games of the season while Brady is suspended and once Brady’s back he’s taking over. There was talk about the Patriots possibly bringing in a veteran QB with rookie Jacoby Brissett in the backup role but Bill Belichick shot those rumors down this week and the two QBs on the roster will be Garoppolo and Brissett.
Running Back: LaGarrette Blount, Brandon Bolden, James Develin, James White, Tyler Gaffney. (5) Let me start off by saying no Dion Lewis is not getting cut. Lewis is currently on the PUP list and has yet to practice after his season-ending torn ACL last season and I think the team leaves him on the PUP to start the season. There has been speculation that Blount could be cut but I don’t think that’ll happen, running back is probably the weakest position on the team right now and I don’t see them cutting the veteran and going into the year with a bunch of backs with not much if any NFL experience. White did a pretty good job after the Lewis injury last season and looked good in the teams first preseason game and can be the pass catching back out of the backfield until Lewis returns. Gaffney is finally healthy and looked pretty good in the first preseason game, breaking off a 44-yard touchdown run. If he can continue to look good in games and practice he could find a spot on the roster.
Wide Receiver: Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, Aaron Dobson. (5) The first four guys listed are obvious, Edelman and Amendola are your starters, Hogan signed a big contract this offseason and Mitchell was taken in the 4th round this year and has looked like a stud prior to his elbow injury, which thankfully he’ll only miss up to four weeks with and has been practicing with the team already in non-contact drills. Not listing Matthew Slater as a receiver because he never plays on offense and is a special teamer. Aaron Dobson is the luckiest man in the world and will somehow find a way to make the 53-man roster again. Dobson always shines in camp and the preseason but can never get it together in the regular season. Keyshawn Martin is still not practicing with the team due to an injury and though I’m a fan of Martin don’t think he’ll make the final roster if he can’t get healthy. Rookie Devin Lucien and Chris Harper I think will find their way to the practice squad.
Tight End: Rob Gronkowski, Martellus Bennett, A.J. Derby. (3) Gronk and Bennett are two of the best in their position in the entire league and are obvious roster locks. The third tight end spot will come down to either A.J. Derby or Bear Pascoe. The two are completely different players, with Derby being a receiving tight end and Pascoe being a blocker. Derby made a few nice plays in the first preseason game against the Saints which could help him earn a spot on the roster. Pascoe could take over the Michael Williams role from last year as pretty much being an extra lineman on the field. It depends which route the team chooses to go but right now I give Derby the slight edge.
Offensive Line: Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, Joe Thuney, Josh Kline, Shaq Mason, David Andrews, Ted Karras, LaAdrian Waddle, Marcus Cannon. (9) Jonathan Cooper was a tough cut here but with him being injured and his injury history it could be tough for him to make the team. Joe Thuney has looked like the teams best offensive lineman and like a steal selecting him in the third round of this years draft. Bryan Stork was a tough cut but with his concussion problems and inconsistent play it shouldn’t be a total surprise if he doesn’t make the team. With versatile players such as Kline, Karras and Thuney able to move to center and backup David Andrews, Bryan Stork could be replaceable on the line. I HATE HATE HATE HATE HATE Marcus Cannon but it doesn’t look like the team will be cutting him, even though he couldn’t block my 12-year old cousin. Tackle is really weak with Solder, Vollmer, Waddle and Cannon and the team could look to make a move. From what I’ve seen and heard I really like Ted Karras, he’s a guy who can play a few positions on the line and adds a toughness to the line. I think Tre’ Jackson starts the season on the PUP list to get completely healthy and see what they have Karras, if he struggles they could move him down to the practice squad when Jackson is healthy.
Defensive Line: Rob Ninkovich, Jabaal Sheard, Malcolm Brown, Alan Branch, Terrance Knighton, Trey Flowers, Geneo Grissom, Vincent Valentine, Chris Long. (9) The most complete area on the roster. No debates on who makes the team out of this group. Markus Kuhn is someone who Bill Belichick likes but I don’t see him beating out any of these guys for a roster spot. Ninkovich is already practicing after tearing his triceps and is unknown if he’ll be able to play week 1 but he’ll be on the roster. Heard is gonna replace Chandler Jones with the help of Trey Flowers who was electric against the Saints and was all over the place making plays. Brown, Branch, Knighton and Valentine will add some beef to this line that will be hard to run against.
Linebacker: Jamie Collins, Donta’ Hightower, Jonathan Freeny, Shea McClellin, Kamu Grugier-Hill. (5) Not too much depth at linebacker butCollins and Hightower are two of the best linebackers in the league and are obviously locks. Jonathan Freeny played well last year and should also be a roster lock. McClellin is a similar player to Ninkovich and can play both linebacker and defensive end, he doesn’t do anything great but can do a few things well. Grugier-Hill is a smaller linebacker and played defensive back in college and played well in pass coverage against the Saints. He could have a big role covering tight ends and backs out of the backfield. I expect to see a lot of two linebacker sets featuring Collins and Hightower if both can stay healthy.
Cornerback: Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, Cyrus Jones, Jonathan Jones, Cre’Von LeBlanc. (5) A very inexperienced group outside of Butler and Ryan. Cyrus Jones was the teams top draft pick taken in the second round this year and is a lock to make the team and looks like he will be the teams starting slot corner. Jonathan Jones generated a lot of buzz during OTAs and at the beginning of training camp. He got beat a few times against the Saints but also made a few nice plays and pass deflections. Cre’Von LeBlanc has also been generating some buzz in Foxborough after his amazing interception against the Saints. He had good, tight coverage throughout the game and performed well in joint practices this week against the Chicago Bears. Was tough to not include Justin Coleman because of experience over Jones and LeBlanc but he has not had a very good camp up to this point. Got beat a couple times against the Saints in the first preseason game and struggled this week in joint practices with the Bears. This is a young unit with a lot of potential, but also a lot of question marks.
Safety: Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Jordan Richards. (4) A very strong safety unit that could hopefully help out the young corners. McCourty and Chung are two of the best in the league with McCourty providing help to corners over the top and Chung playing down in the box and covering tight ends. Harmon is similar to McCourty providing help and creates a lot of plays in the secondary. Jordan Richards was very limited last year and will be interesting to see how he does this year and the different roles they could use him in.
Special Teams: Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen, Joe Cardona, Matthew Slater, Nate Ebner, Brandon King. (6) The best special teams unit in the entire NFL. Gostkowski is by far the best kicker in the league in my opinion, Matthew Slater might be the best special teams player of all-time, Ebner is back from the Olympics and who is another great special teams player, as well as Brandon King. Another big contributor to special teams is Brandon Bolden who I have listed with the running back group.
The day we’ve all been waiting for is finally upon us, Patriots football is back. The Patriots kicked off their season today with the start of training camp with thousands of fans in the stands to show support for their team. As always, today’s practice session was simulated and unpadded with no contact allowed.
The biggest storyline going into training camp is that quarterback Tom Brady will be serving his 4-game suspension, and third year man Jimmy Garoppolo will be the starter for the teams first four games. The big question heading into training camp is how the Patriots will divide up playing time during practices and preseason games for Brady, Garoppolo, and rookie Jacoby Brissett with the first team offense. When the team began 7 on 7 drills it was Brady who was under center with the first team offense going against the first team defense, with Garoppolo then coming in with the second unit and two would rotate throughout the drills. When the team got into its 2-minute 11 on 11 drills it was Garoppolo who got all the first team reps going 18 for 21, while Brady worked with the second unit.
Someone who stood out to me today was Aaron Dobson, which was a bit of a surprise. Dobson is on the bubble this year and will be fighting for his roster spot after disappointing during his first three seasons in the league. Dobson had two great catches in the end zone during 7 on 7 drills, one from Brady and a one-handed grab from Garoppolo. Chris Harper was someone who also made a few nice plays as well as rookie wide receiver Devin Lucien. With wide receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola starting off training camp on the PUP list the rest of the receivers on the roster should get a lot of reps in with Garoppolo and Brady and fight for their spot on the roster.
The teams biggest offseason acquisition tight end Marcellus Bennett had a very good first day of camp. It’s only the first day of camp and can’t really tell much from the practices being simulated and having no contact, but from what I saw pairing Bennett up with Rob Gronkowski is going to create absolute nightmares for defenses. Having two guys who are 6’6′ and as big and long as they are will cause a lot of problems for defenses and help out slot receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola.
Rookies Cyrus Jones and V’Angelo Bentley were the two who were returning punts and kickoffs during special teams drills. Jones, a second round pick out of Alabama, was one of the best return men in college football last season and showed a lot of speed when returning kicks. Hopefully Jones, and Bentley if he makes the roster, can help sure up a Patriots special teams unit which had it’s share of struggles last season.
Not present for today’s training camp session were wide receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, running back Dion Lewis, guards Tre jackson and Shaq Mason, tackle Sebastian Vollmer, tight end Clay Harbor who were all placed on the PUP list, defensive tackle Alan Branch who was placed on the Active?Non-Football related injury list, safety Nate Exner who is training with the U.S. Olympic Rugby team and linebacker Jamie Collins who showed up to camp yesterday but did not practice with the team today.
The first day of training camp is officially in the books and I’m happy to say that Patriots football is back.
It’s been a long six months but what we’ve all been waiting for is almost finally here with the Patriots set to open Training Camp Wednesday, with the first practice open to the public on Thursday. Here are some things I will be watching for once the Patriots kick off training camp.
Maybe the most obvious thing that will be mentioned on this list and for good reason as it will be the most important. As we all know Tom Brady ended his DeflateGate appeal snd will be missing the first four games of the regular season. As part of this suspension brady can not be around the team, practice with the team, be at the stadium, or even have contact with anyone from the team until his suspension is over. This puts the Patriots in a tough position of how they should split first team reps in training camp and preseason games between Brady, Garoppolo and even rookie third round pick Jacoby Brissett. Brady has been the leader of the team the past 15 years and has been playing with the core of the offense with the past three seasons, though he has the chemistry with Gronk, Edelman and Amendola you don’t want him not taking many snaps with these guys in camp then missing the first four games and have him come back where the guys could be out of chemistry and out of sync a little bit. Then you face the problem of having to make sure Garoppolo is ready to play in those first four games and can build up a chemistry with the first team offense. Garoppolo has yet to really play a true meaningful down in the NFL and getting him prepared is the biggest key for the team heading into the regular season. The team even has to mix Jacoby Brissett in for snaps just incase Garoppolo gets injured or isn’t playing well and the team has to make a change during the first four weeks of the season.
D.J. Foster is a name that is not known by many, but one people will be hearing a lot about this preseason. Foster is an undrafted rookie free agent out of Arizona State who is listed as a running back, but is more of a receiver than a running back which will help him and was known as more of an offensive weapon for the Sun Devils. It’s no secret that coach Bill Belichick loves versatility in his players and that a receiving back has played a huge role in the teams offense during the Belichick era. Dion Lewis will be starting training camp off on the PUP list which will give Foster even more of an opportunity to show what he can do on the field and fight for his roster spot. With running backs LaGarrette Blount and James White very much fighting for their own spot on the roster, Foster should get many opportunities to prove himself and earn a spot on the teams final roster.
The Patriots offensive line was absolutely terrible last year, partly due to injury and partly due to all around poor play. Long time offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia even came out of retirement because he couldn’t stand watching his offensive line play so bad anymore. The Patriots made a few offensive line acquisitions this offseason most notably Jonathan Cooper in a trade from Arizona and third round pick Joe Thuney from NC State. Cooper was the seventh overall pick of the first round pick back in 2013 and struggled in Arizona in large part due to injury, as well as the team trying to move him from guard to center. Cooper is known for having a little bit of a mean streak which is something that Dante Scarnecchia loves in his players and something that really all offensive lineman should have. Thuney played tackle during his time at NC State but said he sees himself as more of a guard in the NFL.Even with Thuney being more of a guard than a tackle at the pro level the versatility he can provide is something that the Patriots covet in him. With offensive lineman Shaq Mason, Tre Jackson and Sebastian Vollmer all being placed on the PUP list to start training camp Cooper and Thuney should get a lot of snaps with the first team offense and could very well be the week one starters.
The Patriots traded their top pass rusher this offseason to Arizona for a second round pick and the aforementioned Jonathan Cooper as Jones was entering the final year of his rookie contract and the team was unlikely to sign him after the season. Jamaal Sheard and Rob Ninkovich are locks to make the roster and be starters after both played very well last season. The team also added veteran defensive end Chris Long who was released by the St. Louis Rams this offseason. Long has taken a few steps back the past few seasons from his former Pro Bowl days at the beginning of his career. Long signed a very team friendly deal with New England because he wanted to go to a place where he could not only contribute but more importantly win. If Long can stay healthy and play in a limited role like Jabaal Sheard did last season, Long could have a very good season in New England. The Patriots will also look to second year men Geneo Grissom and Trey Flowers to step up and contribute to the teams pass rush this season. Both Grissom and Flowers looked good in preseason last year but saw very limited playing time during the regular season with Grissom only collecting one sack and Flowers only appearing in one game. Flowers is more of a true pass rusher than Grissom and can’t wait to see how they involve him in the defense once camp starts.The teams pass rush this year could be a weak spot on this defense or be quietly very good.
Cyrus Jones and Darryl Roberts
The Patriots secondary was very good last season and better than most people had expected. Malcolm Butler proved that he could be a true number one corner in the NFL and was named to the Pro Bowl for the first time in his young career. Logan Ryan went on to have a fantastic season and at times outshining Butler in the secondary and had a good 5-6 game span where he was dominant lining up opposite from Butler. Where the Patriots did tend to struggle last season was the slot corner. Guys were constantly being mixed in such as Justin Coleman and Leonard Johnson, and though they had their moments they often struggled. The team went on to draft Alabama corner Cyrus Jones in the second round, Jones has been deemed a little undersized but has very good speed and quickness as well as playmaking skills which could make him a great fit as the teams slot corner.Jones would constantly go up against some of college football’s top wide receivers playing in the SEC and would hardly ever get beaten. Jones should make an immediate impact in the secondary whether he be the teams slot corner or end up being a starter at some point throughout the season. Jones was also the top returner in college football last season and is expected to take over the kickoff and punt returning duties in New England. Darryl Roberts is a former seventh round pick out of Marshall who is entering his second season with the Patriots. Roberts was generating a lot of buzz for himself last preseason during training camp and was looked at as a potential starter to begin the season. Roberts ended up starting the first preseason game opposite Malcolm Butler against the Green Bay Packers, and then ended up breaking his arm on the second defensive series. He was later placed on season-ending injured reserve. Roberts should be easily 100% healthy entering training camp and will hopefully continue where he left off last year. If Roberts can come back healthy and looking as good as he can be, and Jones can step in and be a contributor the Patriots could build up a very good and very young secondary.
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