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.
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.
Jimmy Garoppolo’s strong play has made him into a viable NFL starter and will be starting in the 2016 season, but not for the Patriots.
Garoppolo was selected in the 2nd round of the 2014 NFL draft and was thought by some to be Tom Brady’s future successor at quarterback in New England. Garoppolo had a strong preseason his rookie year in 2014 but of course was no threat to Brady. Jimmy G was then put into the game in a blowout loss against the Chiefs where he performed well at the end of the game. The media hype grew even more on Garoppolo with some people saying that Tom Brady was done and that it was Garoppolo’s time to become the starting quarterback in New England. Garoppolo then struggled in the season finale against the Buffalo Bills going up against one of the top defenses in the NFL with a cast of backup players playing for New England.
After the harsh criticism of Brady by some members of the media he went on to have a fantastic rest of 2015 season and of course went on to win his fourth Super Bowl ring. And now with the never-ending “DeflateGate” scandal, Garoppolo may be the Patriots starting quarterback for the first four weeks of the regular season. Garoppolo has played well this preseason after a very inconsistent week one against the Green Bay Packers and has led two comeback victories in the preseason, improving his game each week.
I hated the pick of Garoppolo at the time and even with his improved play still do not see Garoppolo as Brady’s successor and the future quarterback of the Patriots. Though I do not see him as the future quarterback of the Patriots I think Garoppolo could be a good quarterback in the NFL and that he is currently probably better than a few starting quarterbacks on other teams and looks better than quarterbacks such as Blake Bortles and Johnny Manziel, who were selected before him in the 2014 draft. With New England losing a first round pick in the 2016 NFL draft it could make sense for the team to move Jimmy G for either an early second round pick in the 2016 draft and even potentially a first rounder in 2017. Brady and Garoppolo’s contracts both expire after the 2017 season. If Brady is still playing at a high level the Patriots would have a tough decision to make on who to re-sign if both were willing to re-sign with New England. Garoppolo may not be willing to re-sign after being a backup for four season and may look to go else where and if that’s the case why not attempt to move Garoppolo at a time when you are low on draft picks. New England may not move him during this season and don’t need to, but moving him after the season would be smart to do. They could trade him to a quarterback needy team like Houston or Cleveland who could have high second round picks which could be almost equivalent to the first rounder New England lost or a first rounder for the following year.
Garoppolo could be a starter in the NFL sooner rather than later and I think he will be a full time starter in 2016, but it won’t be for the Patriots.
Optimism exists in the heart of every fan regardless of what team they root for at the start of each and every NFL season. In some cases it would be ludicrous to think your team wasn’t a front-runner, such as the case with the Seattle Seahawks, Denver Broncos, or Green Bay Packers. For a Minnesota Vikings fan, Jacksonville Jaguar fan and especially a New York Jets fan, the beginning of the season is really the only time that you are allowed to be so assured of your team’s potential abilities.
The New England Patriots are used to being heavy favorites to compete for a Super Bowl title and this year in theory should be no different. Oddly enough, coming off a Lombardi Trophy win, the Patriots are a bit more of a wild card than one would typically expect. In the shadow of Deflategate many things have changed since the beginning of February. Under center we have a scenario like no other in Patriot’s history. Backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo probably pictured that he would gain the starting position job a bit differently than by a trumped up suspension of Tom Brady over a loss of air pressure. Garoppolo for better or for worse is currently the starting quarterback for the New England Patriots for the first four games of the 2015 season. If the suspension holds up this could either be a chance to shine or an unmitigated disaster.
During free agency the Patriots lost several key components to last year’s winning formula. The secondary was stripped clean with the losses of superstar cornerback Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner and Kyle Arrington. Vince Wilfork, the veteran run stopper on defense, now plays for the Houston Texans. Shane Vereen, a dynamic third down back, is now the New York Giants’ shiny new toy. Dan Connolly, stablizing offensive lineman, retired. Like with any team these are parts that can and have been replaced but the current mix of players lacks the former’s track record.
The injury bug has crept its way into the New England Patriots locker room as well. Popular slot receiver Julian Edelman and wide receiver Brandon LaFell have both been battling nagging injuries which have kept them off the field. Newly acquired wide receiver Brandon Gibson and dynamic receiver Brian Tyms Have both suffered season-ending injuries. Offensive line Center Bryan Stork has missed quite a bit of action due to injury, which has been hindering the offensive line during much of the preseason. As recent as Saturday night, the Patriots lost fullback James Devlin for an extended length of time. Granted, these are the more notable injuries but they do play a large part in the New England Patriots’ chances to repeat as champions.
Still there is room for plenty of optimism. The preseason football games are hardly a barometer for how well a squad will perform during the actual season. That being said, the Patriots defense has shown that the absences of top cornerbacks doesn’t mean they won’t go down fighting. Super Bowl hero, cornerback Malcolm Butler has looked exceptionally strong. Defensive end Jabaal Sheard looks as though he may have been the perfect free-agent pickup for this defense. Sheard’s fight and tenacity help make the defensive front seven a force to be reckoned with. The offense, once healthy and stable, has the potential to be world class. An angry and focused Tom Brady throwing to the likes of Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell, superstar tight end Rob Gronkowski, slot receiver Danny Amendola, tight end Scott Chandler and future Hall of Famer, Reggie Wayne could make an awful bit of trouble for most NFL defenses.
Do the 2015 New England Patriots have their share of doubters, when it comes to the burgeoning success of back to back championship seasons? Of course, but like the other 31 clubs you can’t tell their rabid fan base that this season doesn’t belong to them. Lest we forget, the month of September 2014 which at the time did not look so promising for the Patriots either. How did that season end again? So, let’s all just agree to be cautiously optimistic.
In the first half of the Patriots preseason week three matchup against the Carolina Panthers, the starters came out of the gates very slow on offense. Tom Brady did not have his key targets on the field in Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, and Brandon LaFell once again. He was left with players like Danny Amendola, Jonathan Krause, Michael Hoomanwanui, Aaron Dobson, Scott Chandler, and newly acquired Reggie Wayne to throw to.
For the better part of the half, all players had a tough time getting open leading Brady to scramble on multiple occasions. Once for a first down on a third down and three play. After Brady had set the Patriots up nicely with his first down scramble, Aaron Dobson spoiled the drive by dropping a nicely placed ball inside the ten-yard line into the hands of Panthers cornerback Charles Tillman.
Carolina then took the ball all the way down the field. However, they were stopped inside the five yard line when Devin McCourty blanketed Panthers tight end Greg Olsen on a third down in the end zone. It is safe to say McCourty proved Friday night that he belongs at safety. The starting secondary looked good as Tarrell Brown and Malcolm Butler made multiple pass breakups. That gives you confidence as a fan seeing how those are your two starting corners.
On the next possession by the offense, the unit was off the field quickly as Brady fired the ball into the hands of Panthers safety Kurt Coleman. The defense once again picked up the slack of the offense, thanks to two very nice pass breakups by Malcolm Butler. Nevertheless, the offense continued to struggle due to bad interior offensive line play by the three rookie starters, not allowing running backs to go anywhere.
Also, Reggie Wayne’s only target was a terrible drop on an easy seven yard pitch and catch play. Cam Newton then proceeded to take his team down the field in a drive that should have ended with seven points. However, Panthers wide receiver Corey Brown dropped a ball in the end zone that couldn’t have been placed anymore perfectly in his hands, after he broke the ankles of Malcolm Butler. The drive ended in yet another Panthers field goal, putting them up by a score of 6-0.
With little time remaining in the first half, the Patriots offense had yet to accomplish anything and were concerning fans due to their lack of production throughout the preseason. This would be the last time fans would see Tom Brady on the field until possibly week six.
Brady did exactly what he needed to do, he brought his team down the field feeding the ball often to first-year Patriots tight end Scott Chandler. The Patriots were looking like they were stalling once again, until Tom Brady hit Danny Amendola, who was wide open, on a post route that put them inside the red zone. Then, Brady lobbed the ball up to the 6-7 Scott Chandler on a fade route in the corner of the end zone for his first touchdown pass of the preseason. The Patriots lead going into the break by a score of 7-6.
At the start of the third quarter, it was obvious that Bill Belichick had told his starters in the locker room that their night was over. That was obvious for the Patriots defense, as Cam Newton took the Panthers right down the field and scored on a play action touchdown to Mike Tolbert in the flat. The coverage was awful, and they should have expected that play on third and two inside the five yard line seeing how that play is Carolina’s bread and butter. Panthers lead 13-7.
Jimmy Garoppolo then came into the game, and he started out a little bit to rambunctious. His first pass of the game should have been taken back for a touchdown by cornerback Bene Benwikere, on an out route intended for Jonathan Krause. Two plays later on a pass intended for Chris Harper, Josh Norman dropped a ball right in his hands that also would have been taken back for six. Those are mistakes the Patriots can’t afford for Garoppolo to make in the regular season. If that were to happen on opening night, they would be trailing early against one of the league’s top offenses. Not acceptable.
Later in the drive the Patriots were facing a tough third down and six situation. Garoppolo made a pro level play by stepping up in the pocket and firing the ball to Asante Cleveland right over the first down marker. Television broadcaster Dan Roche called the play, “Brady esque” which may have been a bit overzealous, but made some sense. However, on a fourth and four play a few plays later, Garoppolo made a another mistake throwing the ball to Jonathan Krause short of the marker where he was stopped. Not smart decision making on his part.
On the following possession by Carolina, back up quarterback Derek Anderson picked apart Patriots defensive backs Robert McClain, Nate Ebner, and Logan Ryan leading to a Panthers 39-yard field goal giving them a nine point, 16-7 lead. The Patriots were looking flat for the second week in a row, and Jimmy Garoppolo had to pick up the slack again.
Garoppolo took some time to get back into his groove. He under threw Aaron Dobson badly on a drag route across the middle of the field. Had he put it over his shoulder he would’ve been gone for a touchdown. He did bounce back, hitting Aaron Dobson down the sideline and putting the Patriots in the red zone. On the next play, running back Dion Lewis continued his stellar night by flexing out wide and running a slant route into the end zone where Jimmy put the ball right in his hands for the touchdown.
The Patriots then stopped the Panthers on their following drive thanks to tremendous pass break ups by Logan Ryan and Daxston Swanson, who had multiple on the night. The Patriots ended their next drive with a clutch 53-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski who has earned his money thus far this preseason.
The points did come with a price. James Develin looked like he suffered some sort of lower leg injury after catching a pass in the flat. He was carted off the field with his teammates, and coaches surrounding him. That is never a good sign. More than likely he will done for the year, which is a huge blow to the offense and he will be greatly missed.
The Patriots then made a very good stop on defense, and got the ball back with just over four-minutes to go in the game. Jimmy Garoppolo managed the offense very well handing the ball off and dinking and dunking the Carolina defense until the clock wore out. On a third down play with less than two-minutes to go, Garoppolo hit Zach D’Orazio on a screen play for a first down, sealing the Patriots victory.
In the end, the Patriots started off the game slow once again on offense Friday night, but Tom Brady’s final possession was very encouraging. The defense as a whole was solid. The starters made some great stops in the red zone, and are already living up to their reputation of, “bend don’t break.”
Next week against the Giants, we will hardly see any of the starters, therefore this was our last glimpse of the starting group before September tenth against the Steelers. That is not something fans should be over confident about, seeing how many of the same questions we had going into the preseason still remain. For example, will the secondary be able to hold up? Will the offensive line be able to protect Brady? I feel the same way about those situations now as I did going in. There are still starters that need to come back, but for right now I am a bit nervous as a Patriots fan.
The third preseason game for any National Football League team has annually been the, “dress rehearsal game.” It is the closest teams will get to a live action, regular season contest. The starters play throughout the first half and into the third quarter. In addition to the in-game level of play, the week lead up is very similar to a regular season game with strategy, film analysis, and most importantly who is going to start.
What Patriots fans should expect to see on Friday night in Charlotte is for Tom Brady to be on the field to start the game with as many starters as possible, that are healthy. Rob Gronkowski has not played in a preseason match up since 2012, mostly due to health. Due to this year’s circumstances, there seems to be a better chance that Gronkowski will play in this upcoming game.
More often than not in the third game of the preseason Tom Brady has played all through the first half. Bill Belichick in his press conference earlier this week finally hinted at, “Tom’s situation” being a factor in the game plan routine. Opening night is less than two weeks away and Bill Belichick still does not know who his starting quarterback will be. Belichick has to take precautionary measures and play both players equally with the starters.
When Jimmy Garoppolo finally gets out on the field Friday night, we will get a look at what he looks like with the first team players against a legitimate pro level defense. With players such as Luke Kuechly, Star Loutulelei, Charles Johnson, and Thomas Davis coming at him Garoppolo will get a taste of what it is really like to be the starter.
Since he was drafted in April of 2014, Patriots fans have been gushing over Garoppolo. He has not been criticized much by fans and some media members. It is almost as if he is being coddled because he, “shouldn’t be compared to Tom Brady.” Well that is too bad because thats who he is taking over for, and it comes with the territory.
Last week he came into the game in the second quarter with all second-team players on the field. He had a very good game bringing the Patriots back from a 21-0 deficit, to win by a score of 26-24. He went 28 of 33 on the night throwing precise passes to Chris Harper and Jonathan Krause. Also, when his down field reads were gone he made the smart decision of dumping it off to James White and Dion Lewis. That was the first time I saw him really control the offense with the poise of a starter.
However, the speed of the game in the second half of the second preseason game against back ups is much different than when you are going up against starters. Even the third game can’t even compare to regular season speed, but it will be the highest level we have seen Garoppolo play at.
Throughout training camp, Garoppolo’s biggest issue was holding onto the football. He would sit back in the pocket and scan the field too long to the point were he would have to throw it away in a real game, or he would force it down field and get intercepted. On Friday night receivers are going to get jammed up at the line of scrimmage or they won’t be open down field as quickly as they should. This is when we will learn what Garoppolo is made of.
What Garoppolo should do when everything collapses is use his biggest attribute, his legs. Use your instincts and run for the sideline, get some yards and get out of bounds. That is how he can make a name for himself because it is something that Tom Brady has never been able to do overly effectively.
In the end, I believe that Jimmy Garoppolo will be slightly upsetting for Patriots fans on Friday night. He has just never truly taken snaps in a real full-go situation against big time players. In addition, there will be a patch work offensive line in front of him trying to block one of the league’s best defensive fronts. I think that the pressure will get to him and force him to make bad decisions. I hope I am wrong, but I have a feeling that after Friday night fans won’t feel as good about the situation with Tom Brady if he does have to serve some type of suspension.
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
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
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.
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 Hightowerand Jerod Mayo will be critical to this years defensive unit along with the addition of Jabaal Sheardand 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 Chandleras he teams up with Rob Gronkowski. Add in the possible sighting of newcomer Reggie Wayneand 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’ Jacksonand 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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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.
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,”
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.”
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
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 Gibsonhas looked good, but also was injured late in the game.
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.
The New England Patriots won their first game of the 2015 preseason in New Orleans on Saturday night, with a 26-24 come from behind victory. The Patriots started off sluggish in all three phases of the game, falling behind 21-0. Those were the starters out on the field when the team fell behind that badly, and you can be sure head coach Bill Belichick will let his players know about it. However, young players trying to make a name for themselves brought the Patriots back into the game. Here are my evaluations and observations from preseason game number two.
Defensive Starters Underwhelm: With the exception of Dont’a Hightower and Jerod Mayo, the Patriots starters on the defensive side of the ball were all on the field for the first three series of the game. It is safe to say that they did not impress at all. On the first offensive play of the game for the Saints, Drew Brees hit Mark Ingram on a wheel route in which he toasted Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins. A lot has been made about Collins athletic ability and how he by far and away the most physically gifted on the field at all times.
However, he has had a lot of trouble covering running backs. Saturday night was not his night. Later in the quarter Collins was blown back by Saints guard Jahri Evans on a screen play, that lead to a gain of seventeen yards. In addition, the Patriots secondary looked just like what many fans have feared they would look all offseason, horrendous. Drew Brees moved the football up and down the field with ease, picking apart New England defensive backs.
Particularly Duron Harmon, and Devin McCourty who played at the cornerback spot opposite of Malcolm Butler. This was never more evident than in the first quarter when Saints wide receiver Brandin Cooks ran straight past McCourty and Harmon for a forty-yard touchdown. It was flashbacks of 2011’s cellar dwelling secondary for many Patriots fans. The secondary is a work-in-progress so fans needed to be ready for games such as this one.
Offensive Line Continues To Struggle: The offensive did not give up seven sacks like they did last week agains the Green Bay Packers, nevertheless they did struggle opening up running lanes for LeGarrette Blount and Jonas Gray at times. The starting line went from left to right Nate Solder, Shaq Mason, David Andrews, Tre Jackson, and Sebastian Vollmer. Cameron Fleming saw most of the time at tackle in place of Vollmer.
The interior players struggled the most. It seemed as if time after time in the first half and even into the second, the Patriots running backs were just running into brick walls. After having a solid game last week, Shaq Mason struggled on Saturday night as he was blown up often by Saints defensive lineman. David Andrews had many of the same problems. Also, Cameron Fleming had some mental errors setting up in the wrong formation, which lead to a loss of yards for his team.
The pass protection was solid which was encouraging. Now if the unit can string together a good mix of both the run and pass protection next week against the Panthers, fans should feel good about their offensive line heading into week one.
Garoppolo Has Flashes of Promise: After the Tom Brady lead offense went three and out on three straight series, Jimmy Garoppolo came into the game and looked very flustered at first like he did last week. However, at the end of the first half with just over a minute to go Garoppolo was in position to prove himself in a critical situation with his team trailing 21-0.
Jimmy took his team down the field, capping off the drive with a great hustle play that resulted in a touchdown. The pocket collapsed on Garoppolo, but he managed to break free of a Saints defender, rolled out of the pocket and fired the ball into the back of the end zone to Chris Harper, who had a great game.
At the start of the second half, Garoppolo had his best series of the game. It was a five and a half minute drive that incapsulated eleven plays for 55 yards, that ended with a Dion Lewis eleven-yard touchdown run. Throughout the drive, Jimmy connected with players such as Chris Harper and Jimmay Mundine on key third and fourth down conversions.
There were some growing pains with Garropolo however. Early in the fourth quarter he made a terrible decision throwing the ball off his back foot to Brandon Gibson who was double covered. The ball was intercepted by Pierre Warren of the Saints. That is a Drew Bledsoe type mistake. He is moving the ball up and down the field looking good, then all of sudden he makes a dumb throw like that one. Also, later in the fourth Garoppolo dumped the ball off to Brandon Gibson on a third and long play. Gibson did not even come close to the first.
Jimmy Garoppolo’s most important drive of the game came with two-minutes to go in the game with the ball at the Saints forty-five yard line down 24-23. Garoppolo made essentially one play, and thats all he needed. On the first play of the series he fired the ball down the middle of the field to Jonathan Krause who made a very impressive catch with a New Orleans defender draped all over him. The catch put the Patriots at about the twenty-four yard line, setting up Stephen Gostkowski for the game winning thirty-five yard field goal.
In the end, Jimmy Garoppolo went 28 for 33, for 269 yards, with one touchdown pass and one interception. Not a bad game at all. Fans should feel encouraged about the progression from last week until now, and still be cautious that there is much more for Garoppolo to prove.
Miscellaneous Notes: Cornerback Bradley Fletcher stuck out for the first time all season, making two big pass breakups late in the game. Undrafted wide receiver Chris Harper was one of Jimmy Garoppolo’s favorite targets throughout the night, and he also had a huge punt return late in the game setting his team up with great field position. Malcolm Butler continued to impress, not so much with his coverage skills but with his physicality. He came up on two run plays in the first quarter and layed the wood down on two Saints players, one being Brandin Cooks.
The team as a whole has a lot to work on, especially on the defensive side of the ball. next Friday’s match up against the Carolina Panthers will be the most important of the preseason as the starters will see the majority of the reps. As fans we will get much more of a decent evaluation against a playoff caliber team.
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