The start of Patriots Training Camp is just days away and there has been a lot of change in the team’s roster than how it looked in February when the team won their sixth Lombardi trophy. The Patriots have a lot of depth throughout the roster and should be a couple compelling battles throughout camp for a spot on the final 53-man roster.
Quarterbacks (3)- Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Jarred Stidham: The Patriots selected Stidham in the fourth round of this year’s NFL Draft and don’t think they’d be comfortable having him as the only option behind Tom Brady, especially with veteran Brian Hoyer on the roster.
Running Back (6)- Sony Michel, James White, Damien Harris, Rex Burkhead, Brandon Bolden, James Develin (Fullback): The first three guys listed and Develin are locks to make the roster and expect all three to contribute this year, and with his contract I expect Bolden to be a lock as well and be a key contributor on special teams. The only potential question when it comes to this grouping is Rex Burkhead, who the team could choose to cut or trade due to his injury history and depth at the position, but expect the team to hold on to.
Wide Receiver (5)- Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, Phillip Dorsett, Braxton Berrios, Dontrelle Inman, Demaryius Thomas (PUP): The wide receiver battle in training camp and preseason is going to be an interesting one to watch as really no one besides Edelman and Harry are true locks to make the roster. Dorsett has been a solid contributor and a very consistent player when given the opportunity the past two seasons and expect him to make the team. After that the team could go in several different directions. Berrios had an impressive minicamp and hopes to become the heir slot receiver to Julian Edelman that the Patriots have struck out on finding the past few off-season’s with guys like Austin Carr and Riley McCarron. Inman didn’t have a good minicamp but has been a steady veteran his whole career and could add some size to the Patriots receiving core. The team could keep both, one, or neither Berrios or Inman and instead keep a player like Maurice Harris who had a good minicamp or Jakobi Meyers, who the team signed as an undrafted rookie free agent. Demaryius Thomas has reportedly been making positive strides towards being ready to play week one but I expect the veteran wideout to be placed on the Physically Unable to Perform list to start the seaosn to fully recover from a torn achillies he suffered in December. Also, maybe a hopeful and potential Josh Gordon reinstatement at some point?
Tight End (2)-Matt LaCosse, Ryan Izzo, Ben Watson (Suspended): The position with the most change following Rob Gronkowski’s retirement. Izzo has no NFL experience and LaCosse has virtually no experience, and with Watson being suspended the first four games for a PED violation I don’t see the tight end position being one to have any impact during that time.
Offensive Line (8)-Isaiah Wynn, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, Ted Karras, Yodny Cajuste, Hjalte Frodholdt: 2018 first round pick Isaiah Wynn is likely to fill the big shoes of Trent Brown who signed with the Raiders this offseason. Wynn is recovering from an achillies injury he suffered that forced him to miss all of last season. Karras and Froholdt both have the ability to play guard and under center, while Cajuste is likely to be the teams backup tackle. Cole Croston is a name who could also make this list depending on how many lineman the team decides to keep.
Defensive Line (8)-Adam Butler, Danny Shelton, Deatrich Wise, Michael Bennett, Chase Winovich, Mike Pennel, Lawrence Guy, John Simon: I loved the Patriots pick of Chase Winovich, who was great at Michigan both against the run and as a pass rusher despite being a little undersized. Both Winovich and Wise should be solid contributors at defensive end opposite Michael Bennett, who the team acquired this offseason in a trade with the Eagles.
Linebacker (5)-Donta’ Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Jamie Collins, Elandon Roberts: This is the best the Patriots linebacking core has been in several years entering the season. Kyle Van Noy had a fantastic 2018 season and looks to continue that in 2019. The team brought back Jamie Collins this offseason after spending the last few seasons in Cleveland and he reportedly looked great during minicamp. Bentley was the star of training camp and preseason last year and got off to a good start in the regular season before suffering a torn biceps in week 3 that ended his season. If Bentley can get back to the form he was showing last year he could be in line for a great season.
Cornerback (7)-Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, J.C. Jackson, Joejuan Williams, Jonathan Jones, Duke Dawson, Keion Crossen: The best depth the Patriots have by far is at the cornerback position. Keeping seven corners is a lot but you can never have enough good corners in the NFL. I can’t wait to see the progression of J.C. Jackson and how good of a corner he could be building off his great rookie season. The selection of Williams in the second round of this year’s draft was somewhat surprising given the depth the team had at corner; but Williams is a big, physical corner who can also lineup at Safety and also be a potential Stephon Gilmore replacement in the future with his cap number being over $18 and $19 million in 2020 and 2021 or if the team decides to not bring him back when his contract is up after 2021 with the young pieces they have at the position. The Patriots may have the best cornerback group in the NFL.
Safety (4)-Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Nate Ebner: Ebner gets the nod over Terrence Brooks and Obi Melifonwu due to his special teams play. Melifonwu has a lot of potential as a former second round pick just two years ago and the team could see enough promise and potential in him to keep him on the roster.
Special Teams (5)-Stephen Gostkowski, Jake Bailey, Joe Cardona, Matthew Slater, Brandon King: At one point Ryan Allen was actually in the conversation for Super Bowl MVP against the Rams, but with the Patriots moving up in the draft to select Bailey there must be something that they see in Bailey that they like. Releasing Allen would also save the team $1.4 million in cap space.
The Patriots will take on the Giants tonight in the teams preseason finale before starting up the regular season. Before the start of the regular season comes roster cut-downs, which takes place Saturday, where the Patriots have to cut down the 90-man roster down to 53. The team has already made some cuts releasing wide receiver Eric Decker and safety Eddie Pleasant earlier in the week. It is assumed that most, if not all starters will not play tonight leaving bottom of the roster and roster bubble guys to show what they can do, and make one final push to make the final 53-man roster.
Riley McCarron and Devin Lucien
The Patriots wide receiving corps has gotten a lot of attention this summer as it is one of the weakest the team has had in recent years. With Julian Edelman slated to miss the first four weeks of the season due to suspension, the Patriots seem to only have three wide receivers who are locks to make the roster and contribute early on in the season in Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, and Cordarrelle Patterson. Only having three wide receivers is weak enough as it is, but having Dorsett as your number two and Patterson at your three is a sign of concern for many different reasons. I find it hard to believe that the Patriots would only carry three receivers and would add a fourth if not strictly for depth purposes incase of injury and expect that battle to come down to Riley McCarron and Devin Lucien. Both guys had good training camps, but have gotten limited action in the preseason so far. Lucien had a good performance against the Redskins having four catches for 71 yards, and then had no catches in the following two games in very limited action. Meanwhile, McCarron had no receptions against Washington and only one catch against Philadelphia and then four catches for 49 yards against Carolina and had gotten some snaps on the field with Brady, as well as contributed as a returner on special teams. If it comes down to these two I would expect McCarron to make the roster due to his special teams contributions, as well as a better fit into the offense as a true slot receiver. I would also expect the Patriots to try moving rookie Braxton Berrios to the practice squad to develop more after not playing in the previous two preseason games.
The defensive line is one of the biggest strengths and area of depth that the Patriots have, which makes it even harder fight for Davis to earn a roster spot. Davis has seen a lot of reps with the first team defense during the preseason as a situational pass rusher. Davis shined against the Eagles picking up 1.5 sacks and applying constant pressure. Davis was then quiet the following week against the Panthers where the Patriots seemed to struggle in every area of the game. In a game where I would not expect to see Trey Flowers or Adrian Clayborn, Davis should get plenty of opportunity to show why he is deserving of a roster spot.
Cyrus Jones and Jason McCourty
By now everyone knows the struggle Cyrus Jones had his rookie season and then tore his ACL prior to the start of his second season. Jones got his first action of the preseason last week where he contributed as on defense and as a returner. The talent is still there with Jones and has yet to be seen as both a corner and returner and could be too early to give up on the third year player. McCourty was one of the teams big offseason acquisitions, and has looked terrible up to this point in the preseason. After getting beat for a bad touchdown against the Eagles in week 2, McCourty played at both corner and safety last week against Carolina where he again struggled. As it looks McCourty might have a better shot at making the roster as a safety rather than a corner due to the depth the team has and how bad he has looked there. I want to see both of these guys get a lot of reps tonight as I believe they are potentially fighting against one another for a spot on the final roster. Something that wouldn’t be surprising is if the Patriots did release McCourty prior to the final 53-man roster cutdown and then brought him back at a lower salary.
With the news of first round pick Isaiah Wynn tearing his Achilles and likely being out for the year the Patriots are going to have to look elsewhere to fill the fourth offensive tackle position. The team has a number of journeyman and castoff veterans who are now fighting for that spot including Ulrick John, Matt Tobin, Cole Croston and Luke Bowanko. I give the upper edge to John, who has been a veteran in the league and had flexibility to be able to play both inside and outside on the offensive line. Croston spent time with the Patriots last year and due to familiarity between him and the team could earn the spot.
Today was day three of Patriots training camp and the first day where players were allowed to be in full pads and make contact. While today’s session was less physical and fast paced as previous years there were several players and areas that stood out.
Defensive backs Duron Harmon and Ryan Lewis both had very good days with Lewis making several nice pass breakups in the beginning parts of the day. Harmon had a good first two days of camp and continued to build on that today picking off Brian Hoyer in the end zone, which in a game situation likely would have been a pick six, as well as intercepting a pass from Tom Brady in the back of the end zone that was intended for tight end Rob Gronkowski. These sessions were far from perfect as both the entire offense and defense ended up taking a lap for mistakes, as well as rookie running back Sony Michel taking a solo lap for a fumble down towards the goal line. All three quarterbacks were not sharp today as rookie Danny Etling struggled for the majority of practice, and Brady and Hoyer throwing the aforementioned interceptions.
One thing that really stood out to me today was the play of the Patriots wide receiving corps. This is an area where the team has a lot of questions with heading into the season, which is a problem the team hasn’t had in several years. Earlier this week I discussed how the battle at wide receiver is one that is going to be interesting to watch, and over the first three days of training camp that stands true. Devin Lucien made maybe the play of training camp so far making a tremendous catch in the end zone over a heavily contested Jason McCourty and made sure to drag both feet down before falling out of bounds. Offseason acquisitions Jordan Matthews and Cordarrelle Patterson both had very good days of camp working with both Tom Brady and Brian Hoyer. Patterson made a very nice catch in the end zone from Brady during 11 on 11 drills, and Matthews got some good work in with Brady making several sideline catches during 11 on 11 drills and seems to be looking more comfortable with Brady and the offense. Riley McCarron also had a nice day at camp making some catches and showing off his route running ability. With Julian Edelman suspended the first four games of the season the Patriots are going to be looking for guys to step up in his absence, and I’m looking forward to seeing all of these guys more throughout training camp and the preseason to see who will win out a spot on the final 53-man roster and potentially make a big impact this season.
Other guys who had good practices today were Trent Brown and Deatrich Wise Jr.. Brown has been starting at left tackle the first three days of camp, but with no contact the first two days was tough to get a true read on how he and all the lineman on both sides of the ball were looking. Brown did a great job of setting the edge on both running and passing plays and looks to be fitting in to his new role at left tackle quite nicely. Wise made some nice plays throughout the day, including a play where he absolutely crushed running back Jeremy Hill. Wise has had a good three days of camp so far and looks to improve on his good rookie season and take on a bigger role in the Patriots defense.
Late during the practice session defensive end Trey Flowers left the field after a big hit during a goal line play. Flowers stayed on the ground for a few seconds before getting back on his feet. A few players grabbed him by his face mask and looked into his face, from where I was sitting looked like they were looking for possible concussion signs. Flowers went off to the sideline and took his helmet off and talked with trainers before jogging off the field, and later reported that he suffered a cut on his face and had a towel covering his eye while jogging off the field, which is a much better sign than any possible concussion symptoms if that is indeed the case.
W’re only three days into camp and will be a lot more to see and watch for as physicality and level of intensity picks up over the next few weeks.
The Patriots start game action tomorrow in their preseason opener against the Green Bay Packers. Though it’s preseason and it isn’t very likely to see many starters playing and getting significant time, its still better than watching the Red Sox. Lets take a look at things to watch for during the Patriots preseason opener.
Tom Brady has been receiving all of the first team reps at quarterback before Tuesday when he was preparing for his meeting with Commissioner Roger Goodell and Judge Richard Berman in an attempt to exonerate his four game suspension handed down by the league. With Brady missing yesterdays practice and being in New York today I wouldn’t expect to see Brady in the preseason opener. If Brady does not play I would expect Garoppolo play the whole first half and some of the third quarter before newly signed QB Ryan Lindley sees the field. It is important for Garoppolo to get as much playing time and experience that he can during the preseason just incase Brady ends up missing time due to his suspension. Garoppolo also knows the New England playbook with more than a year of studying under his belt, Lindley has about two days under his belt and the Patriots would likely use a lot smaller playbook focused more on the run with Lindley under center.
Health has been a big concern for the Patriots early in camp and it will be interesting to see who ends up playing in tomorrow’s game. The Patriots offensive line and wide receivers have been plagued the most by the injury bug with Julian Edelman, Nate Solder, Ryan Wendell, Sebastian Vollmer, Brandon Lafell and Matthew Slater among notable names that have missed time. LaGarrette Blount left last weeks practice with an apparent knee injury but suffered no structural damage to his knee and I wouldn’t expect to see Blount suit up against Green Bay. It will also be interesting to see if linebackers Jerod Mayo and Donta Hightower see playing time. Mayo was placed on injured reserve last season after a torn patellar tendon and Hightower an offseason shoulder surgery, have been active in training camp in both contact and non-contact drills but practiced and games are different and the Patriots could choose to hold the linebackers out or limit their playing time.
RICHARDS AND ROBERTS
Two guys who have been making a name for themselves so far in training camp have been second round pick Jordan Richards and seventh round pick Darryl Roberts. To be honest I didn’t like the pick of Richards in the second round, I thought he was a good player and was a good fit for the team but thought the team reached for Richards and could have taken him later in the draft and wasn’t even watching the draft in the seventh round when the team drafted Roberts. Throughout offseason mini camps and OTAs Roberts was making plays and getting strong recognition from coaches and media. Richards could only learn the teams playbook and couldn’t participate in OTAs due to Stanford’s late graduation. Once training camp kicked off, Richards made up for his lost time and Roberts continued to shine, both looking like they could be big contributors to the Patriots defense this season. Tomorrow will be the first NFL game action the two see, and though they likely wont be going against Aaron Rodgers or either of the Packers star receivers in Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, one thing I will be looking to see is how the two perform in real game action. Last year, a player I was high on during camp and had high hopes for was Malcolm Butler and wrote about it in articles at this time last year, if these guys can contribute and play as well as Butler did his rookie year and continues to do so during camp, the Patriots again may have found a few diamonds in the rough. The only reason I’m not mentioning Butler as someone to watch is I’m not sure how much playing time the Packers receivers and Rodgers will see, I’m confident in Butler against any of the backups, the real test would be him matched up against Nelson or Cobb with Rodgers at quarterback.
These are things that I will be watching for when the Patriots take the field tomorrow night. It’s only the preseason but Patriots football is back and that is something we can all be happy about.
After having the day off on Sunday, the Patriots were back on the practice field on Monday afternoon. It was an overall solid day for the defense, and yet another sloppy performance by the offensive units. Here are my breakdowns and evaluations from day number ten of Patriots training camp.
Key Players Return To Practice: A nice surprise for the Patriots fans in attendance on Monday was the return of multiple key players including Julian Edelman and Brian Tyms who were injured during camp last week. Also, Matthew Slater and Alan Branch made their way onto the practice field in pads for the first time this season. Slater and Tyms were wearing red non-contact jerseys.
Edelman was considered a full-participant at practice, but the team seemed to be taking it easy with him holding him out of most eleven on eleven drills. He did look like he was moving around and running routes smoothly without much trouble from his ankle.
Brian Tyms was wearing the red non-contact jersey, but he was receiving a lot of reps in live team drills working with all three quarterbacks on the roster. Tyms is now part of what is a developing multiple player battle for the fourth wide receiver spot on the roster. Furthermore, LeGarrette Blount was seen running hill sprints and it was reported by Pro Football Talk that there is no structural damage in his knee, after it was reported that he had suffered an MCL sprain.
Malcolm Butler Continues To Impress: Monday was yet another day of Patriots training camp where Malcolm Butler proved why he should be the team’s number one cornerback. He has been a nuisance for Tom Brady to deal with throughout the past couple of weeks, and that was no different on Monday.
Early in practice during seven on seven work, Brady targeted Jonathan Krause deep down the sideline. Krause was blanketed by Butler who went up and deflected the ball out of the air, and proceeded to bop his head up and down signaling the crowd. The so called, “swagger” that Butler possesses has been a big reason why he has stood out this summer.
Later on in practice Butler made a very nice pass breakup on a play action pass intended for Josh Boyce. As always, Butler let Brady know that he got the best of him on that play. It is safe to say that as of right now, Malcolm Butler has a strangle hold on the number one cornerback spot.
Miscellaneous Notes: Monday marked the first day for Ryan Lindley in a Patriots uniform. You can tell that the coaching staff is expecting to use Lindley for a substantial amount of time Thursday night against the Green Bay Packers, because he received a vast majority of the reps at the end of practice.
Overall he was not much different from the last time we saw him against the Carolina Panthers in the wild card round of last years playoffs where he threw two bad interceptions. He has a big arm, but he overthrows his targets much too often.
The Patriots offense continues to have slow starts to practice that set the tone for a stressful and lack luster practice for Tom Brady and the coaching staff. This was most apparent early on at practice Monday when Brady targeted Brian Tyms on a quick crossing pattern.
Tyms did not look for the ball fast enough, and by the time he did the ball had already ricocheted of his chest and into the waiting arms of Dont’a Hightower. Brady showed his frustration by shouting the four-lettered word that he commonly uses on game day.
Furthermore, Jerod Mayo took a nasty shot at Rob Gronkowski when he caught a pass over the middle of the field form Tom Brady. It is the kind of physicality you like seeing from your defensive leader, just don’t target it towards arguably your teams most valuable player. The hit caused for some boos from fans, and a sigh of relief when Gronkowski walked away okay.
Lastly, an interesting sight during eleven on eleven work with the second and third team groups towards the end of practice, was the installation of the wildcat offense with undrafted rookie Zach D’Orazio taking the snaps at quarterback.
The Patriots will be back at it on Tuesday, and I will be attending, therefore stay tuned for more training camp updates and analysis form Goal Line Gazette.
Day one of New England Patriots training camp is officially in the books. Fans piled into the practice field stands and the famous hill, to watch their favorite team take the field for the first practice of the summer. Many fans most likely had a very tough time telling which players were which, because in typical Bill Belichick fashion he sent his players onto the field without jersey numbers. The only thing the casual fan could tell was that quarterbacks were in red, offense in gray shirts, and defense in blue shirts.
I was in attendance at practice, and because I spend too much learning every minute detail of these players, I did not have an overly tough time deciphering which players were which. Seeing how the players were in just shorts, t-shirts, and helmets there was virtually zero contact.
The lack of physicality made it very difficult for defensive players and offensive lineman to stand out. Therefore, I really limited myself to evaluating some of the skill position groups that were really on display. This meant predominately quarterbacks, wide receivers, and slightly tight ends and running backs.
The running backs that were out on the field today were Brandon Bolden, Travaris Cadet, Tyler Gaffney, Dion Lewis, and James White. When it came to first team reps with Tom Brady and company, Brandon Bolden received almost all of the snaps when the offense was in shot gun, (which was almost every snap).
Furthermore, in goal line drills, the Patriots lined up in the jumbo set with six offensive lineman, with Gronkowksi and Chandler on the end, and Jonas Gray running the ball behind James Develin in the, “I” formation. Jonas Gray was big to begin with, now he looks significantly thicker, and Josh McDaniels seems to be looking to get him involved in the passing game.
Patriots fans got their first glimpse of Tyler Gaffney today, and it was in a limited role. He received decent reps, but mostly just running the ball in simulated goal line situations. He also got some special teams work in.
The wide receivers were harder to tell apart. Obviously Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola are easy to tell apart, but players such as Josh Boyce, Brandon Gibson, and Chris Harper are not as easy. Amendola and Edelman looked impressive as always. Brady targeted Edelman more than any other receivers, connecting every time they attempted, with the exception of one post corner route in the back of the end zone, dropped by Edelman.
Both Aaron Dobson and Brian Tyms saw a lot of time on opposite sides of the field. Dobson was with Brady and the first team, and Tyms with Garoppolo and the second team. Garoppolo targeted Brian Tyms a total of six times throughout the day during team drills, going four for six, based on my observations, and as expected they were all fade routes and skinny posts. Dobson was on the field a lot with Brady, but the ball did not come his way very often.
At tight end, there are few words to say other than, Rob Gronkowski is a freak. He caught multiple passes in traffic from Tom Brady, the most impressive being a skinny post route in which he caught the ball while shaking off Tavon Wilson like he was nothing, and spiking the ball in the process. In addition, Jake Bequette did not impress at tight end. He has the physical stature to be a beastly blocking tight end, however he has stone hands, dropping passes on multiple occasions.
Quarterback was by the far the easiest position to evaluate, given the fact that there was only two quarterbacks on the field. Tom Brady impressed as he always does in training camp. His passes were pinpoint and he also showed a little bit of athleticism. Early on in practice Brady caught a fade in the corner of the end zone from Julian Edelman. Then later on he caught another pass down the sideline from Julian Edelman on a reverse pass, this time he only needed one hand.
Many were probably expecting to see a slightly improved Jimmy Garoppolo from the one they had seen in December. If you went to Patriots training camp with these expectations, you left disappointed. His first pass of the day was an interception to rookie Matthew Wells or Jordan Richards. He simply can’t throw the ball down field and he seems to be afraid to even try it. Brady certainly does not have a cannon for an arm, but he makes decisions quickly and gets rid of the football. Jimmy panics when his first read is gone, looks around and then dumps it off to James White. If it were a real game situation he would be put in the turf fairly quick.
I hope to attend training camp more in the coming days, so stay tuned for more updates and analysis of the Patriots practices.
Now more than ever in the past fifteen years, the Patriots back up quarterbacks will be assessed during training camp this summer. With Tom Brady’s four game suspension currently standing, you have to believe there is a good chance that Brady will miss some game time this season. With that being said, Matt Flynn and Jimmy Garoppolo will be two players to keep a close eye on throughout camp, and they are the newest installment in our training camp battles.
Matt Flynn is going into training camp this summer with virtually zero pressure or expectations. The vast majority of Patriots fans and media are all aboard the, “Jimmy G” hype train. Nobody is giving Flynn a legitimate shot at the back up job. The reality is, he should have just as much of a chance to land the job as Jimmy Garoppolo. Flynn is a much more proven pro quarterback.
Now Matt Flynn is no superstar himself. He has made a boat load of money over his career based off one spectacular game in week seventeen of the 2011 season. Against the Detroit Lions he went 33 of 49, for 518 yards, and six touchdowns. That lead to Flynn inking a three-year, 26 million-dollar deal with Seattle, only to be beat out in training camp by rookie Russell Wilson. After 2012 Flynn bounced around from Oakland, to Buffalo, and eventually back to Green Bay were he once again proved to be a reliable fill-in for Aaron Rodgers.
This summer, Flynn will have to prove that he can digest another teams playbook, which he has had trouble with over his career. He can move around the pocket well, his decision making and ability to control the offense will determine whether or not he can take over the back up role. Reps in the pre season will be huge for Flynn. In addition, he is familiar with Brandon LaFell as they were both apart of the 2008 BCS National Championship team at Louisiana State. Just something to keep an eye on.
Jimmy Garoppolo on the other hand, has a lot of pressure on him going into training camp. He has barely seen any NFL game time and most fans are proclaiming him as the second coming of Steve Young. Garoppolo can move around the pocket well and take off when the pocket collapses. It is a skill that Tom Brady doesn’t have, which could be key with a young offensive line.
However, his flashes last season of making plays with his legs masked the fact that he had difficulty throwing the ball down field and making smart decisions. For the most part when his first read is taken away, he just runs around like a chicken with his head cut off.
Luckily for Garoppolo he has three huge things going for him in 2015. He has spent the most important offseason of his career healthy, he has had more than two months already to prepare as a starter, and his targets on offseason are some of the best in the league. When you have a unanimous All-Pro tight end in Rob Gronkowski, and an elite receiver such as Julian Edelman it is tough for any quarterback to not have success.
All in all, Jimmy Garoppolo will end up winning the back up job at the end of training camp this year. The reasoning for this is for multiple reasons. The most important being he is Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels special project. They drafted him high with the expectations that he could start one day. He is the type of player Josh McDaniels has always liked at quarterback.
Also, Matt Flynn has never proven that he can win a quarterback battle. He couldn’t do it in Seattle when he was given the money, or in Buffalo. Even in Oakland he was shipped out for Matt Schaub and Derek Carr. Patriots fans should feel uneasy if either of these players have to start early in the season, but Jimmy Garoppolo will give them the best shot to stay in it.
For the New England Patriots, their tight end situation as it is currently constituted has two definite starters with All-Pro Rob Gronkowski and newly acquired Scott Chandler, along with multiple players fighting for the third spot.
Jake Bequette is trying to make the transition from defensive end to tight end to help salvage his career. It is hard to believe that he will be anything more than a fourth string tight end if he makes the roster. The real competition for the third tight end spot will come between veteran Michael Hoomanawanui and rookie sixth round pick AJ Derby.
Michael Hoomanwanaui has been a very accountable player since he joined the Patriots in 2012. He is one of the best examples of a Patriot that follows the model, “Do Your Job.” When asked to be a fill-in fullback he can do that, also he can be a serviceable blocking tight end.
However, “Hoo-Man” has for the most part been irrelevant in the passing game during his tenure with the Patriots. He has good hands but is very slow and runs stiff routes.
His inability to be open for Tom Brady has been the reason for his lack of targets. In addition, Hoomanwanui has a 1.5 million-dollar cap hit for 2015. That number is high for a blocking tight end. The Patriots can fill his role with James Develin at a cheaper price.
AJ Derby will be one of the more intriguing players this summer. Drafted 202nd overall out of Arkansas by the Patriots in this past draft, Derby looks to have the athletic ability to play tight end, but his skills are still raw due to his lack of experience at the position.
Derby was a middle linebacker turned quarterback for most of his time in Fayetteville, only to switch to tight end in his final season. In the Patriots system, I can picture Derby playing in a, “move tight end” role given his 6-4, 255 pound frame.
He doesn’t have the size or strength to be an in-line blocking tight end, although he has the hands and speed to catch the ball all over the field. Josh McDaniels will give Derby his chances during training camp, he may just be a work in-progress because of how little he has played at tight end.
In the end, AJ Derby will end up winning this battle because Michael Hoomanwanui’s price tag is too high. Hoo-Man is a replaceable player, and Derby could be a late-round gem. Stay tuned for more training camp battles as we get closer to July 30th.
With the Patriots set to open Training Camp Thursday July 30th, lets take a look at things to keep an eye on during training camp.
With the decision of quarterback Tom Brady’s suspension appeal still not made, and could still be no decision made by the time New England opens training camp it will be interesting to see how much work each of the teams three quarterbacks see with the first team offense. With Brady and Garoppolo both splitting reps during the teams OTAs I would expect Brady and Garoppolo to continue splitting reps if there is still no decision regarding Brady. The Patriots need to be prepared if Brady’s suspension is not completely exonerated and he accepts the punishment handed down to him by the league and doesn’t fight the decision in court. Getting Garoppolo reps with the starting offense will be important for building a chemistry with the offense and so that the offense doesn’t miss a beat and continues to be a high powered offense with Garoppolo under center. It will also be interesting to see how recently signed quarterback Matt Flynn performs and if he takes any reps with the first team offense and challenge Garoppolo for the replacement starter/ backup quarterback position.
Another area to watch in training camp would be the team’s running back position. With Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley both gone, New England will need to replace both backs that have a very different style of play. Vereen was a receiving back that could play out of the backfield or be split out in a receiver role and will be harder to replace than Ridley. Vereen had a great chemistry with Brady and that showed in the Super Bowl when Vereen recorded 11 receptions. James White and Travaris Cadet are expected to be the main competitors for Vereen’s job. Another name to watch for will be Dion Lewis, who drew praise from both Brady and Belichick during OTAs. Ridley was inconsistent throughout his career in New England, at times showing he could be a top back in the league and then other times his fumbling issues and struggled to get on the field. Ridley started to get overshadowed by Blount during the 2013 season and after Blount left for Pittsburgh in the offseason, Ridley was back as starter for the 2014 season. After a torn ACL and a Blount return to New England it was pretty obvious that Ridley would not be in the teams plans for 2015. Blount is the veteran in New England’s backfield and has the experience in New England’s system and is expected to be the team’s main feature back, but is suspended for week ones matchup against Pittsburgh. With Blount out week one, Jonas Gray and Tyler Gaffney could be in-line to start week one and potentially going forward if they have a good camp and make the most of their opportunities. Gray burst on the scene after an incredible 200 yard 4 touchdown performance against the Colts then found himself in coach Bill Belichick’s doghouse after his alarm didn’t go off and showed up late for practice and saw very limited action the rest of the season. Gaffney was drafted in the 6th round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Carolina Panthers. After tearing his ACL at the beginning of training camp the Panthers placed Gaffney on waivers hoping he would clear waivers and the team would be able to put him on season-ending injured reserve, sadly for the Panthers Gaffney was claimed by the Patriots on waivers and was later placed on injured reserve. Bill Belichick has praised Gaffney and his work ethic, we will finally get to see Gaffney on field and see what he can do once training camp starts.
The Patriots drafted two offensive linemen in this years NFL Draft who could be ready to contribute right away. The team selected guard/center Tre Jackson from Florida State and guard Shaq Mason from Georgia Tech. Jackson played along side Patriots center Bryan Stork who the team drafted the year before and played great during his rookie year. Stork’s early success could help Jackson’s chances of being a week one starter or at least seeing significant time during his rookie season. Mason is a terrific run blocker but needs to develop more as a pass blocker. Mason played for Georgia Tech who was primarily a run team and didn’t throw the ball too often. Mason needs a little more time to develop and improve his game compared to Jackson. If Mason can elevate his pass blocking to the same level as his run blocking, he could become one of the better guards in the NFL. Last year’s starter Dan Connolly is currently a free agent and is reportedly considering retirement according to reports. With one starting spot on the line currently open it will be interesting to see if either of the rookies step up and earn the job or if someone whose been around like Cameron Fleming or Marcus Cannon will the win the second starting guard spot opposite last years starter Ryan Wendell, who may not be a lock for a starting position entering the 2015 season.
The Patriots drafted defensive tackle Malcolm Brown in the first round of this years NFL Draft. Brown was drafted to help a Patriots run defense that has struggled the past few seasons and to replace longtime Patriot Vince Wilfork, who signed with the Houston Texans this offseason. All eyes will be on Brown to see if he is the real deal and the new anchor of the defense after the departure of Wilfork. Another player to watch would be Jabaal Sheard, the Patriots biggest free agent signee this offseason. Sheard is a pass rushing DE/OLB and will be interesting to see where the Patriots line him up on the field.
The cornerback position is one that has widely been talked about after the departures of Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner and Kyle Arrington, who were key pieces to the Patriots secondary last season. Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler and third year man Logan Ryan are expected to be the teams starting corners heading into 2015. Both have shown signs of promise in their short careers and it will be interesting to see how each performs in training camp and see if either can transform themselves into the number one corner that the Patriots secondary is currently missing.
With less than three weeks until training camp kicks off these are things that I and many others will be looking forward to see when the team takes the field and prepares to defend their Super Bowl Championship.
Before last year with Darrelle Revis and the early 2000s with Ty Law the Patriots pass defense has tended to struggle and lacked a true shutdown corner. With Revis leaving New England and returning to the New York Jets the Patriots may again go into the 2015 season without a shutdown corner. Last season, New England ranked 17th in pass defense but the numbers didn’t really show how good and effective the Patriots secondary and defense as a whole was in 2015, with the Patriots often leading early in games and by a good margin teams were forced to throw the ball the whole game. Lets take a look at the Patriots pass defense throughout the Belichick era both with and without a shutdown corner and what we could expect to see out of this years defense.
In Belichick’s first year as coach the team ranked 21st in pass defense allowing 220 passing yards per game. The league wasn’t as big of a passing league at the time compared to how it is now. The secondary was lead by cornerback Ty Law and safety Lawyer Milloy who each led the team in interceptions with two a piece during the teams disappointing 5-11 season. The team also ranked 21st in rush defense, which is a compelling reason why the team finished at 5-11 with a poor pass and rush defense.
The following season is one all pats fans will remember, the year the franchise won its first Super Bowl championship, the year our franchise quarterback took the realms and the dynasty in New England started. That year the Patriots ranked 24th in pass defense but allowed less yards per game than it did the year before allowing 218 yards per game. Again, the league was more run oriented compared to the way the NFL is today. The team was again lead in the secondary by Ty Law and Lawyer Milloy and despite the low ranking in pass defense allowed less yards than the year before and had 22 interceptions as a team, returning 5 for touchdowns. The high interception total showed how with a top safety and corner the team was able to be more aggressive in play making.
The Patriots suffered a Super Bowl hangover in the 2002 season missing the playoffs for one of the three times in the Belichick era. Despite not making the playoffs the teams pass defense increased tremendously improving to the 11th ranked pass defense in the league allowing 198 yards per game. Where the Patriots increased in pass defense they decreased in rush defense ranking 31st in the league allowing 137 yards per game.
The Patriots secondary had a new look to it in the 2003 season compared to the seasons before. Veteran safety Rodney Harrison and cornerback Tyrone Poole both signed with the team in the offseason, drafting safety Eugene Wilson in the second round, cornerback Asante Samuel in the 4th round and releasing veteran safety Lawyer Milloy prior to the start of the season. Milloy signed with division rival Buffalo Bills and started off the year by beating the Patriots 31-0, which I’m sure made the Patriots question their decision to release Milloy. The team ended up ranking 15th in pass defense at the end of the year allowing 202 yards per game. The teams run defense had a huge improvement from the year ranking 4th in rushing yards allowing only 86 yards per game. Behind the teams strong defense the team went on to win their second Super Bowl in three years.
2004 was a tough season for the Patriots secondary suffering many injuries, which forced wide receiver Troy Brown to the defensive side of the ball to play corner. Brown played well and better than I and I’m sure most people expected and was the model of the “Patriot Way”, doing anything you can to win. Brown ended up finishing tied second on the team in interceptions with 3, with his first coming against former Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe. The only member of the secondary to play in all 16 regular season games was safety Rodney Harrison. The team ranked 17th in pass defense allowing 212 yards per game despite all the injuries and went on to win their third Super Bowl ring in four years and started the Patriots dynasty.
Veteran cornerback Ty Law left the team in free agency, which made the Patriots bolster a new look secondary for the 2005 season without Law. Without Law the teams secondary struggled ranking 31st in the league in pass defense allowing 231 yards per game. The teams rush defense also struggled in 2005 ranking 25th in run defense. With Law leaving in free agency the Patriots struggled with not having a true shutdown corner despite Asante Samuel playing well and molding into a future number one corner.
After the defensive struggle in 2005, the team improved in both pass and rush defense ranking 12th in pass defense and 5th in run defense in 2006. The defense was led by corner Asante Samuel who had 10 interceptions on the year and became a dangerous threat for opposing quarterbacks to throw at and taking away one side of the field. Injuries again hit the Patriots secondary in the 2006 season with a variety of injuries to multiple members of the defense.
The Patriots had their famous 16-0 Regular Season and rewriting the whole record book while doing so. With Tom Brady and the offense setting new records every week and gaining the majority of the attention, the Patriots defense had one of if not their best defense statistically in the Belichick era. The team ranked 6th in passing allowing 190 yards per game and the run defense ranking 10th allowing 98 yards per game. Harrison and Samuel were again leaders of the New England secondary. Sadly what this team will be remembered for will be for falling just short of the perfect season with their only loss coming against the New York Giants in the Super Bowl. As well as the defense played all year they struggled in the Super Bowl against the Giants. The defense as a whole struggled and the offense didn’t play as well as they did all year long. If it also wasn’t for a miracle helmet catch by Giants receiver David Tyree the Patriots may have ended up winning the Super Bowl and completing the “perfect season”.
Coming off a devastating loss in the Super Bowl the Patriots were looking to return and were the early season favorites to win the Super Bowl in 2008. Then quarterback Tom Brady went down in the first quarter of week 1 with a torn ACL and MCL. The offense was now set to look different without their MVP quarterback. In free agency that year cornerback Asante Samuel left New England to join the Philadelphia Eagles. Safety Rodney Harrison only played in 6 games before being injured and out for the year. The defense was now led by rookie linebacker Jerod Mayo and 2nd year safety Brandon Meriweather and cornerbacks Deltha O’Neil (who was terrible at this point in his career), the inconsistent Ellis Hobbs and Jonathan Wilhite. With all the injuries and lack of a true number one corner the Patriots defense was better than ultimately expected. The defense ranked 11th in passing allowing 201 yards per game and 15th in defense allowing 107 yards per game. Even with the multitude of injuries on both side of the ball the team still finished at 10-6 but missed the playoffs after the Jets lost in week 17 to the Dolphins, which sent Miami to the playoffs. This helped show how great of a coach Bill Belichick is, doing as good as he did with the amount of injuries the team had and after losing arguably its best defensive player in free agency and still play well.
Veterans Tedy Bruschi and Rodney Harrison retired prior to the 2009 season, which left New England with a loss of leadership and two key members of the teams defense, as well as trading star defensive lineman Richard Seymour to the Oakland Raiders. The team was also playing with Leigh Bodden, Jonathan Wilhite and Shawn Springs at cornerback, which is not very good to say the least. Wilhite struggled since the time he was drafted and Springs and Bodden were older veterans that were past their prime and weren’t nearly as productive as the team was hoping they would be when signed in free agency. Despite the lack of star power, especially in the secondary the team wasn’t too bad as a whole on defense ranking 12th in passing allowing 210 yards per game and ranking 13th in run defense allowing 110 yards per game. Again this showed that Belichick doesn’t need a “star” corner to lead his team.
The Patriots 2010 defense was ugly to say the least. The team ranked 30th in pass defense allowing 259 yards per game. One bright spot was rookie cornerback Devin McCourty, who had 7 interceptions on the year and looked like he could be the shut down corner New England was missing the past few seasons. Despite the terrible pass defense the team played fairly well against the run ranking 11th in the league allowing 108 yards per game.
New year, same problems, the 2011 Patriots were again TERRIBLE against the pass ranking 31st in the league allowing 293 yards per game. It was ugly to watch, I remember watching the game against the Peyton Manningless Indianapolis Colts and Dan Orloksky was at quarterback and they just kept driving up the field and scoring. I remember my dad and I yelling at the TV and asking each other “are we really going to lose to the f***ing Colts?” before he threw the TV remote at the ground and broke it out of anger. The lone bright spot from the year before, Devin McCourty had a huge sophomore slump and couldn’t have covered me if I was out on the field. The defense was so bad andlacked depth that wide receivers Julian Edelman and matthew Slater were both playing in the secondary, and were playing better than just about all the other members of the secondary. New England played in way too many shoot-outs and close games this season. The offense would get up big to start the game and then the defense would play a prevent zone and just couldn’t stop anybody, it was painful to watch. Despite the terrible defense the Patriots still made it to the Super Bowl after a heroic pass deflection by Sterling Moore and a shanked Billy Cundiff field goal in the AFC Championship game against the Baltimore Ravens. New England again went onto lose to the Giants in the Super Bowl after a Wes Welker drop that would have sealed the victory for New England and another lucky pass by Eli Manning where his receiver again made an amazing catch bailing out Manning.
Yet again New England’s secondary struggled against the pass in 2012. Devin McCourty continued to struggle at cornerback, which prompted the team to move him to safety, where he has played great since, and make a mid-season trade for cornerback Aqib Talib. Adding Talib was huge for New England giving them a true number one cornerback and someone who could take away an opposing teams top receiver. Despite the acquisition of Talib the Patriots still ranked 29th in pass defense allowing 271 yards per game. If Talib was never acquired the rankings surely would have been lower. Talib was good during his time in New England besides constantly being banged up, especially in the big games. The Patriots ended up losing to the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship after a Talib injury sidelined him and forced Devin McCourty back to corner halfway through the game and forcing Kyle Arrington, a slot corner, to cover wide receiver Torrey Smith, a speedy deep threat.
With having a full season of Aqib Talib the Patriots pass defense improved drastically ranking 18th in the league allowing 239 yards per game. With Talib at corner allowed McCourty to play the center fielder role and roam around the secondary. Talib played like the top corner in the NFL for most of the 2013 season. Another bright spot for New England’s defense was rookie cornerback Logan Ryan. Ryan led the team with 5 interceptions and showed a lot of promise for the future as a playmaker and potentially improving into a number one corner for the Patriots. Talib was again injured during the AFC Championship game against the Denver Broncos and the Patriots went on to lose to the Broncos and be eliminated from the playoffs.
And lastly we have last years 2014 pass defense. Last years pass defense was great and the best that I have seen and can remember the Patriots having. Darrelle Revis was, well Darrelle Revis, he shut down any receiver he was matched up against. Brandon Browner provided the physicality and swagger that the defense needed, always giving big hits and being physical with the receiver he was matched up against even if it would draw the occasional pass interference call. Kyle Arrington played a key role as the teams slot corner and did it very well most of the year. Second year rookie Logan Ryan, like Devin McCourty, had a sophomore slump and didn’t play nearly as well as he did during his rookie year. He was constantly getting beat by receivers and didn’t play the ball as well as he did the year before. Then there was Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler who played well when he was on the field and was a good depth player. Butler is now most popular for his Super Bowl interception, throughout the year Butler was impressive in limited action and showed very good man coverage skills. And with this secondary with the shut down corner in Revis and great complimentary number two corner in Browner the Patriots went on to win their 4th Super Bowl.
Based on the past teams during the Belichick era the team has won their Super Bowls with a top, shutdown corner. After losing Revis, Browner, and Arrington in free agency the secondary is set to look a lot different than it did in 2014. The current cornerbacks on the Patriots roster who are expected to make the roster and potentially play key roles for New England’s defense this upcoming year are Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, free agent signee Bradley Fletcher, Robert McClain and Derek Cox, as well as safety Devin McCourty who some have suspected could make the switch back to corner with the current cornerback depth.
Ryan and Butler have spent time in New England and are expected to be the team’s two starting cornerbacks to start the 2015 season. Ryan is looking to bounce back after struggling last year and go back to the form he showed as a promising rookie in 2013 when he recorded 5 interceptions and played a big part of the teams defense. Butler will look to continue to shine after his game-winning interception in the Super Bowl. Butler already has high expectations heading into the 2015 season and time will tell if he will live up to the hype that has surrounded him since the Super Bowl.
Bradley Fletcher spent the 2013 and 2014 seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles after spending his first 4 seasons in the league with the St. Louis Rams. Fletcher was inconsistent last season with the Eagles, with not much safety help over the top and would occasionally be beat on the deep ball with a lack of safety help. With safety Devin McCourty giving hep over the top to corners Darrelle Revis and Aqib Talib the past few seasons, McCourty could also look to help Fletcher and transition Fletcher to potentially be a number one corner for New England. The Patriots are hoping that with the help of McCourty he could transition into that and not be the corner who was beat repeatedly by Dez Bryant and was seen crying on the sidelines at one point after constantly being targeted by Romo and beat by Bryant.
Robert McClain is a smaller corner at 5’9 and has primarily been a special teamer throughout his career. He played more defensively last year after injuries to Falcons corners. McClain could be used as a slot corner to replace Kyle Arrington, who was released by the Patriots this offseason and signed with the Baltimore Ravens. With McClain’s experience at both corner and special teams gives him a better chance to make the Patriots roster with Bill Belichick’s love for versatile players.
Derek Cox has been a journeyman throughout his NFL career playing for the Jaguars, Chargers and brief stints with the Minnesota Vikings and Baltimore Ravens. Cox was a member of the Ravens briefly last year and didn’t see the field before being released by the time. Cox is a bigger corner like Fletcher (Cox 6’1, Fletcher 6’0) and has been inconsistent throughout his career, like Fletcher. Cox is said to be more of a zone coverage defender than a man defender off the line of scrimmage. Cox role in New England is still unknown and isn’t a roster lock by any means but could provide nice veteran depth to the Patriots secondary.
Without a true number one corner to start the year the Patriots defense will look to rely more on their pass rush then the team has the past few seasons. The team is also expected by many people to switch to a zone defensive scheme rather than a man scheme like they have the past few seasons when they had a top corner.
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