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Just when the Patriots defense starts to take a step forward in their play, they just took two steps backwards with the news that linebacker Dont’a Hightower will miss the rest of the season due to a torn pectoral muscle. Hightower is not only the leader on defense, but also the team’s top player at their weakest position which is linebacker. The team will have some decisions to make on how they go about replacing their star linebacker, whether it be through inside the organization or outside of it through a trade or signing someone off the streets.
The productivity and level of play that Hightower gives, the Patriots likely won’t be able to replace with just one player and might have to make several roster moves going forward. One move that the team is almost certain to make is removing linebacker Shea McClellin off of the injured reserve list when he is eligible to be taken off. The first game McClellin would be eligible to play in is on November 12th against the Denver Broncos following the team’s bye week. McClellin’s presence should help the Patriots linebackers in coverage against backs and tight ends, an area where the team has struggled mightily this season. Given the lack of depth at the linebacker position McClellin should be able to step in and contribute right away.
One thing that might be overlooked with the Hightower injury is his pass rushing ability and how this affects the defensive line. The Patriots really only have two true defensive ends and pass rushers in Trey Flowers and Deatrich Wise Jr., as well as Cassius Marsh who has goes into the game in certain third down situations but is primarily a special team’s player. Kyle Van Noy has the ability to rush the passer but doesn’t quite have the consistency and skill of Hightower of getting after the quarterback. The Patriots could turn to a couple of familiar faces to help in this aspect of the defense including Rob Ninkovich, who announced his retirement this summer but didn’t 100 percent rule out a possible comeback, and free agent Akeem Ayers who was a member of the Patriots 2014 Super Bowl team and is someone the team worked out at the beginning of the season. It is unknown what either guy has left in the tank and what they would be able to contribute, but their knowledge of the defense would allow them to be able to step in and contribute right away.
While its unknown what players could be on the trade block, someone who the Patriots could be interested in is also another familiar face in Jonathan Casillas. Like Ayers, Casillas was acquired by the Patriots mid-season in 2014 and was part of the Super Bowl Champion team and has familiarity with the defense. Following the 2014 Casillas signed with the New York Giants, with whom he still plays for, but with their 1-6 record they could look to trade some players and rebuild in the offseason. If available Casillas is someone I would expect the Patriots to look into before the trade deadline October 31st.
The Patriots have had some injuries to some key players over the past few weeks, as well as having some guys perform better than expected let’s take a look at the second version of my 53-man roster projection after everything that’s transpired through the past few weeks of preseason.
Quarterbacks: Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett
It’ll be a tough decision whether the Patriots hold onto a third quarterback with Brissett, but I think the team will hold onto him after investing a third round pick in him just a year ago as well as using their IR-designated to return spot on him last year and kept him around the team. Another reason is that it’s extremely unlikely that the Patriots keep both Brady and Garoppolo on the roster next year, in that case the team will still be looking for a backup quarterback and I believe the team would feel more comfortable with Brissett than possibly going after a veteran or using another draft pick on a backup next year. Brissett hasn’t looked good this preseason but I think the team likes Brissett and thinks he can fit with the team in the long-term.
Running Back: James White, Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead, Mike Gillislee, James Develin
Dion Lewis and Brandon Bolden have both seen a lot of action so far in the preseason and could be fighting for a roster spot against one another, if that is the case the roster spot has to go to Dion Lewis. Lewis offers the Patriots so much more from an offensive standpoint that Bolden does, who has been used primarily as a special teamer throughout his career. Someone who is on the bubble and a name to watch for is second-year back D.J. Foster, who can make contributions on offense out of the backfield and lined up as a wide receiver, which he played in college. Foster has looked good so far in preseason and training camp and offers the team versatility on offense.
Wide Receiver: Julian Edelman (IR), Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, Malcolm Mitchell, Austin Carr
I don’t expect the Patriots to place Edelman on the Injured Reserve until after final roster cut downs, this will give them a chance to evaluate a few more roster bubble guys and also learn the full extent of Edelman’s injury and timetable he is out for, which will likely be the whole season. One of the most known and used phrases in New England “Next Man Up” strikes again and that man could be Austin Carr, who makes my 53-man roster projection after just missing the cut in my first version a few weeks ago. One man can’t just step in and replace a Julian Edelman, it will take everyone on offense to contribute a little more to try replicating Brady’s favorite and most dependable target in Julian Edelman.
Tight End: Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, Jacob Hollister
The tight end spot is one that could go a few different ways for the Patriots. Gronk is the best tight end in football and an obvious lock, but there is a lot to be questioned with the tight end position. Gronk and ofseason acquisition Dwayne Allen have had injury problems throughout their careers, as well as Allen having a very inconsistent training camp and preseason even he is not a lock to make the team.I believed that Matt Lengel would have won out the third tight end spot over James O’Shaughnessy and undrafted rookie Jacob Hollister, and then he was released yesterday (August 27th). Hollister provides the most upside at tight end outside of Gronk, even as just a vertical threat and not a traditional two-way tight end.
Offensive Line: Nate Solder, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, Tony Garcia, Ted Karras, Cameron Fleming
The starting five from last year are locks to make the roster, as well as Joe Thuney who was the top backup interior lineman last season and rookie Tony Garcia who will be the teams primary backup tackle. The last offensive lineman spot goes to Cameron Fleming, who was last year’s top backup tackle and has proven to be inconsistent throughout his career in New England. Nate Solder has been out for the past several weeks now and is a very important piece to get back as Fleming and La’Adrian Waddle have both struggled at left tackle in his absence.
Defensive Line: Trey Flowers, Alan Branch, Malcolm Brown, Lawrence Guy, Deatrich Wise Jr., Derek Rivers (IR), Vincent Valentine, Geneo Grissom, Adam Butler
The Patriots just released offseason acquisition disappointment Kony Ealy after unsuccessfully finding a trade partner for the third year defensive end. Derek Rivers is believed to have torn his ACL during joint practices with the Houston Texans, but there has not been much reported since the injury occurred. If his ACL is in fact torn the team will place him on Injured Reserve, ending his rookie campaign before it even started. (Rivers is not being counted towards the 53 number but being listed until placed on Injured Reserve.) Undrafted free agent Adam Butler has played great in the preseason so far and has been a real surprise with how well he has looked so far. With the loss of Rivers and release of Ealy, it seems more and more likely that Butler will make the Patriots 53-man roster that is struggling for depth at defensive line.
Linebacker: Dont’a Hightower, David Harris, Kyle Van Noy, Shea McClellin, Elandon Roberts, Harvey Langi
No changes from my first projection here at linebacker. Harvey Langi has continued to perform well for the Patriots and shown ability to both as a coverage linebacker and as an edge player and get after the quarterback, which the team desperately needs. Dont’a Hightower was taken off the PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) list last week and began practicing with the team. I expect the team to move Hightower more to the outside this year with the lack of pass rushers that the team has and see newcomer David Harris play majority of first and second downs as the inside linebacker.
Cornerback: Malcolm Butler, Stephen Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Jonathan Jones, Cyrus Jones, Justin Coleman
Butler has struggled so far in the preseason though I’m not concerned as he is one of the best cornerbacks in the entire league. The real question when it comes to cornerback is Cyrus Jones and if he is going to make the team. I don’t see them getting rid of Jones after just one season, even though that one season couldn’t have gone much worse. Six cornerbacks could be considered a lot to carry but with questions really outside of your top three corners I think the Patriots take the risk of carrying six corners.
Safety: Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Nate Ebner, Brandon King
With the Patriots carrying six corners it’s time to say goodbye to Jordan Richards. The third year safety has been awful this preseason and hasn’t shown much during his time in New England as a former second-round pick.
Special Teams: Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen, Matthew Slater, Joe Cardona
No surprises here and not much to say.
The Patriots have one preseason game left remaining to play and it will be interesting to see which guys make one final push in an attempt to crack a spot on the Patriots 53-man roster.
The Super Bowl champion New England Patriots kicked off training camp today in front of a massive crowd of fans that showed up to welcome back their beloved team. Quarterback and Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady was one of the first on the field for the Patriots and was welcomed by a loud uproar of screams and chants from the fans. Fans were also excited to see the return of tight end Rob Gronkowski, who missed the second half of the regular season and the playoffs after undergoing back surgery during the season.
With the first few days of camp being non-contact the team went through a lot of individual position drills, as well as 7-on-7s, 11-on-11s and special teams drills. The team started off with kickoff and kickoff returns, where Danny Amendola, Dion Lewis, and Cyrus Jones were fielding and receiving kicks. Cyrus Jones picked up the same spot he ended last season, dropping one of his first few attempts catching the kickoff and then fielded everyone cleanly after that. If Jones continues to have issues on special teams his job and roster spot could be in jeopardy.
All three quarterbacks participated in 7-on7 and 11-on-11 drills with Tom Brady primarily working with the first team offense, Jimmy Garoppolo working with all three units and Jacoby Brissett working with the third team offense and some snaps with the second team offense. Brady looked like his normal self; spreading the ball around to his many offensive weapons, connecting with offseason addition Brandin Cooks several times deep down the sideline. During these drills Rob Gronkowski looked like he was completely healthy and happy to be back on the field and was even trying to create contact with defenders and did his famous “Gronk Spike” after catching a pass in the end zone from Brady. Jimmy Garoppolo was inconsistent during these scrimmages, making some good passes including a deep ball to tight end Dwayne Allen. Garoppolo also made some bad passes and decisions, including back to back interceptions in the end zone by Eric Rowe and Jordan Richards. Jacoby Brissett looked good with the third team offense and had a good chemistry with second year receiver Devin Lucien, who made a great catch on a back shoulder fade in the back of the end zone, and undrafted rookie Austin Carr. Brissett showed improvement on the quickness of his decision making and getting rid of the ball, both of which were areas he struggled in last year.
Austin Carr is someone who stood out to me and had a great practice working as a slot receiver with the third team offense and was constantly finding a way to get open. Carr was a Biletnikoff award finalist during his senior season in 2016 and led the Big Ten in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns before going undrafted in the 2017 NFL Draft. With the Patriots depth at receiver it will be tough for him to earn a spot on the final 53-man roster and would be a great addition to the teams practice squad and continue to learn from slot receivers like Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, if he is not signed by another team.
Defensively the cornerback duo of Malcolm Butler and Stephon Gilmore looked very sharp. Early on in the beginning of drills Butler had played great coverage on Brandin Cooks and had a pass breakup in the end zone on cooks. One area of question this offseason was who is going to be the Patriots slot and nickel corner, and on the first day of camp that went to Jonathan Jones. Jones was a primary special teams player last season who played some slot corner on defense and appears as of now to be the team’s starting slot corner, with Butler and Gilmore on the outside, as well as Eric Rowe who can line up on the outside or on the inside against some tight ends because of his size.
There were several players who did not attend of participate in todays practice including; Dont’a Hightower and Alan Branch who were both placed on the PUP list earlier this week, as well as Rob Ninkovich, Kony Ealy and Joe Cardona. According to Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston Cardona’s absence is due to a commitment that Cardona has with the Navy. The absences of Ealy and Ninkovich have yet to be given a reason for. Ninkovich has been a name that has been discussed this offseason as a potential surprise cut or someone who will not make the final 53-man roster and his absence could be related to possible thoughts of retirement as he is set to enter his 12th year in the league.
The Patriots will continue to practice over the weekend with only partial contact before moving to full padded practices next week. Patriots football is back and ready to defend their title and be on the quest for their sixth Super Bowl championship.
The start of the NFL Draft is just under a week away. Currently the Patriots will not pick until the third round with the 72nd pick overall after trading their first round pick to the New Orleans Saints in exchange for wide receiver Brandin Cooks and their second round pick to the Carolina Panthers for defensive end Kony Ealy and the Panthers third round pick which is 72.
I did a seven round mock draft using the draft simulator on FanSpeak.com. While some players may not be around in the actual draft while they were in the simulation I selected the players who I thought helped fit the biggest needs for the Patriots.
Round 3, pick 72: Ryan Anderson, Edge Rusher, Alabama
Edge Rusher remains the biggest need for the Patriots after the offseason, even with the addition of Kony Ealy. The team lost Chris Long and Jabaal Sheard to free agency and have little depth at the position. Anderson is a very good pass rusher and can get after the passer standing up and with his hand in the dirt. One down side with Anderson is his size, only standing at 6’2 253 pounds he could face problems against bigger tackles. Given the relationship between Bill Belichick and Alabama head coach Nick Saban, Anderson is someone who the Patriots could definitely look to draft to help their issues at the defensive end/ outside linebacker position.
Round 3, pick 96: Sidney Jones, cornerback, Washington
While I don’t expect Jones to last near this long the Patriots should draft him immediately if he does. Jones would have been a first round pick if it wasn’t for the torn Achillies injury he suffered at his pro day. Jones is a very physical corner who possesses good speed, and also has a knack for finding the ball with his nine career interceptions during his time at Washington. Jones insisted that he would be ready in time for training camp, and even if he isn’t would still be a great pick at this point in the draft with the talent he possesses. If the Patriots do part ways with Malcolm Butler either this year or next, Jones could be a great replacement in the secondary.
Round 4, pick 131: Jake Butt, tight end, Michigan
Like Jones, Jake Butt saw his draft stock slide due to injury. Butt suffered a torn ACL in the Orange Bowl against Florida State and is currently rehabbing the injury. Butt wont burn you defenders with his speed but is a consistent, reliable pass catches and a very good blocker for the tight end position. When you watch Butt you can see flashes of Cowboys tight end Jason Witten in his game. The Patriots lost Martellus Bennett in free agency but acquired Dwayne Allen in a trade from the Colts to pair up with Rob Gronkowski. The issue? Both Gronkowski and Allen have had their share of injury problems since entering the league. Adding another tight end into the mix would be a wise move for the Patriots in the draft; and because of the deep tight end class and injury that he suffered Butt could be a potential steal for the Patriots in the fourth round.
Round 5, pick 163: James Conner, running back, Pittsburgh
Running back is not a huge position of need for the Patriots, especially if Buffalo does not match the offer sheet that the Patriots gave restricted free-agent Mike Gillislee earlier this week. But as of now Gillislee isn’t a member of the Patriots so James Conner is the pick here. Conner is a big physical back with a powerful running style, similar of LaGarrette Blount, who still remains a free agent. Conner could give the Patriots the big, physical back that the team is currently missing and has been a key piece to the offense over the past several seasons. Even with the addition of Gillislee, Conner could be someone who could find a place on the Patriots practice squad.
Round 5, pick 183: Erik Magnuson, tackle, Michigan
Magnuson has experience playing both guard and tackle while at Michigan. He has pretty good size at 6’6 305 pounds, but could bulk up a little bit if his full-time position is at tackle. Magnuson was named to the first-team All-Big Ten team this past season with the Wolverines and played well against good competition such as Ohio State and Wisconsin. Magnuson would be an upgrade over LaAdrian Waddle and Cameron Fleming as a backup tackle.
Round 6, pick 200: Bryan Cox Jr., edge rusher, Florida
The son of former Patriot Bryan Cox, Cox Jr. has the size to play defensive end and outside linebacker in the NFL at 6’3 265 pounds. Cox Jr. had a productive first three seasons at Florida before battling injuries during his senior year. Cox Jr. isn’t a very polished pass rusher and only ran a 4.89 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, but is a good run defender. During his best season as a junior, Cox Jr. had 10 tackles for a loss with 3.5 sacks. Adding Cox could give the Patriots another big body on the outside that the team currently does not have much depth in.
Round 7, pick 239: Fred Ross, wide receiver, Mississippi State
Wide receiver is not an area of need for the Patriots this season but could be later on down the road and drafting Ross could give the Patriots someone they could hold onto and develop more and maybe keep on the practice squad. Ross possesses good size and speed for the position, standing at 6’2 and running a 4.5 40-yard dash. Ross had a breakout junior season with Dak Prescott at quarterback, setting a school record with 88 receptions and surpassing over 1,000 yards receiving. His numbers slipped a little during his senior season without Presott, but had 12 receiving touchdowns. Ross also contributed on special teams for Mississippi State and could help the Patriots in that department as they struggled with Cyrus Jones returning kicks and punts last year.
Deflategate is a sham. Roger Goodell and the NFL took an equipment violation and turned it into the crime of the century. It’s all part of an effort to buy back trust and confidence from league owners after a tumultuous 2014.
The previous paragraph accurately sums up how the New England fan base feels about the debacle known as deflategate. It’s a bit one sided but not all together the worst summary of 2015’s biggest non story. The NFL and more than likely the other 44 states, look at this organizational massacre as one brand’s comeuppance for seemingly always skirting the rules.
Last week ESPN,which has hardly been in the New England Patriots corner during this mess, polled more than 100 NFL players asking them a variety of questions concerning their take on deflategate. While every fan and media member from around the globe has had their chance to jump on their proverbial soap boxes we have only heard from a select few actual colleagues of Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
The 13 question survey begins by asking if the player believed the accusations that the Patriots knowingly deflated footballs; 72% said yes and 28% said no. Given the Patriot’s history, this comes as no real shock. Where it gets interesting is when the players are asked if they are upset with the Patriots over the alleged deflation of footballs; 84% said no and only 16% said yes. Take a moment to let that resonate, 84% of their peers look at this alleged reaction as
The majority of people the Patriots play week in and week out aren’t upset with this supposed travesty of justice.
Questions three and four run a bit closer to a split decision but, none the less, still fall in the Patriots favor. Question three point blank asks if the Patriots are cheaters; 58% said no and 48 percent said yes. Question four asked if the outcome of the game could be impacted by deflated footballs; 52% said no and 48% said yes.
When asked how many games Tom Brady should have been suspended for, the most common answer was 1.5, more than four games was 3%, four games was 19 % and fewer than four was a resounding 78%.
Questions six and seven were once again far apart in results but both in Tom Brady and the Patriot’s favor. Question six asked if the Patriots would still make the postseason without Brady (85% yes, 15% no.) Question seven asked if Spygate still stuck in their craw (80% no, 20% yes.)
Possibly the most indicative of the league’s biggest problems, from a player’s point of view, is Roger Goodell handling player discipline. 88% of players feel Roger should not decide discipline, with only 12% okay with his current role.
What should come as no surprise, to anyone who has ever competed athletically, are the questions and results garnered from inquiries nine through thirteen. When asked if other teams illegally tamper with the footballs, 68% said yes and 32% said no. Mind you, these are actual, current NFL players indicating that most teams tamper with the footballs. When asked about the most common form of on field cheating, 55% of those polled said holding was the most egregious faux pas. The most outlandish form of cheating witnessed were cheap shots and deliberate injuries at 52% It’s safe to say Bountygate would register as a bigger offense to those polled when compared to under inflated footballs.
Question twelve asked the percentage of players they think actually cheat on field which came up at 30%. The final question asked the player if they thought their teammates had cheated; 71% said no, whereas 29% said yes.
Overall it seems that although not every athlete cheats, in the NFL skirting the rules and gaining a competitive advantage is not something that angers many players. Does this ESPN survey prove the Patriots are cheaters or that deflategate is overblown hyperbole? No, it just proves that for some “if you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying.”