Observations from Patriots Training Camp

Observations from Patriots Training Camp

Monday night was the ceremony for Kevin Faulk’s induction into the Patriots Hall of Fame, as well as the annual closed practice held for season ticket holders and I was lucky enough to be in attendance. The ceremony was great. We got to hear Bill Belichick and Tom Brady speak about just what Kevin Faulk meant to this team in his time here. Faulk himself spoke for a while and detailed his journey to this great honor. It was a really fun ceremony and a great dive into Patriots history.

As for the practice, the team was in full pads on Saturday and Sunday, so they were back in shells for Monday’s session. Without full contact most of the practice focused on the passing game, as a result most of my observations will be focused on the offensive side of the ball.

  • The Patriots need to add a veteran QB behind Jimmy G

Jacoby Brissett was awful last night. He holds the ball too long, which is not uncommon for a rookie. He has the tools to be an effective passer in the NFL, but I am not confident that he could hold down the fort if Jimmy were to get hurt in the first four weeks.

  • If he is protected Jimmy will be fine

Jimmy can sling it and he reads the field pretty well too, that much is obvious in practice. He holds the ball a bit too long at times, but if the offensive line can protect him he should be effective in his stint as the starter.

  • Martellus Bennett is bigger than Gronk

I never thought I would see a tight end that is both taller and weighs more than Gronk, but Martellus Bennett makes the cut. He is just a bit taller even though they are both listed at 6’6 but he has 10 pounds on Gronk. These two are going to be a lot of fun to watch.

  • Mixed results from young receivers

Malcolm Mitchell is listed at 6’1 but looks longer than that when he runs and when he stretches for the ball. He has the perfect build to fill the role played by Brandon Lafell. Chris harper who flashed during camp last year, but made a huge mistake in the regular season game against Denver which cost the team home field advantage, still sucks. Harper tries to catch the ball with his pads too often and it resulted in a pick six for Devin McCourty after Logan Ryan was able to tip the ball. Another camp, another strong showing for Aaron Dobson. Dobson has the most natural talent of any receiver Bill has ever drafted, but he can never put it together consistently. Hopefully this is the year he figures it out because this is his last chance.

  • Offense struggles in the red zone

Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, and Chris Hogan need to get healthy quick. The offense struggled mightily in red zone drills with the exception of one Rob Gronkowski TD (he had another where it looked like he was out of bounds). The team desperately needs the receivers healthy for more viable options inside the 20s.

  • All veterans in the pass rush rotation

The pass rush rotation consisted of Rob Ninkovich, Jabaal Sheard, Chris Long, and Shea McClellin, with Don’t’a Hightower at times.  This makes sense but I thought Trey Flowers and Geno Grissom would at least see some reps.

  • Tons of three safety sets

It feels like the Patriots played almost exclusively with three safeties on the field last year. They did this because they lacked a consistent nickel corner. They drafted Cyrus Jones this year, but still spent the majority of the night in three safety sets, and even when they brought on a third corner it was usually Justin Coleman. This is something I’ll be watching the rest of camp.


Story Lines to Watch As Camp Starts

Story Lines to Watch As Camp Starts

Patriots training camp begins tomorrow and football season has now officially begun. I believe the patriots have the most talented roster in the NFL, but there are plenty of questions surrounding the team as the season starts. In no particular order here are the things I am looking forward to watching this year during camp and the preseason games.

1) What is the depth chart at running back going to look like?

One of the biggest needs entering this offseason was running back, and the Patriots made no changes to the position other than bringing in veteran journeyman Donald Brown and undrafted rookie free agent D.J. Foster. Dion Lewis was phenomenal last year before getting hurt, but he cannot continue to play 66% of the snaps if the team wants him to stay healthy all season. Behind Lewis the position is wide open, and running backs coach Ivan Fears knows it, saying today: “Yeah, we’re not going to make any decisions until we have to. Not until we have to. Until then we’re going to keep our minds open, keep watching, keep encouraging and see what they do.” Lewis is the only lock and I am very interested to see how it shakes out between Blount, Brown, James White, and D.J. Foster.

2) The Health of Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola

Both receivers had surgery in the spring and both were placed on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list to start camp. I’m not reading into this too much because any player who is a little nicked up usually starts camp on the PUP as a precaution incase anything happens to them in camp, they can be held out the first six weeks and not count against the roster. Reports are that Edelman is close to being a full go, and Amendola isn’t far behind. Having both players healthy is paramount if the team wants Jimmy G to succeed. Young, inexperienced quarterbacks need receivers who can consistently get open quickly, and you’d be hard pressed to find many better than these two.

3) Who Starts on the Offensive line

Dante Scarnecchia is back and it didn’t take him long to change things. Today he had this to say about the amount of moving parts on the offensive line: “I think that’s huge. I really do. They had so many guys playing multiple positions [last year], and we believe in continuity and trying to keep the same guys next to each other as much as we can you can’t always do that, [but] I think that was a huge deal last year and hopefully we won’t get into that situation this year. Keep working with the same guys day in and day out, and hopefully they will improve.” Well now that we know there won’t be a rotation at center and guard, there should be a great competition to lock down those starting spots.

4) The Rotation at Defensive End

When the Patriots traded Chandler Jones, they traded away their best pass rusher and leader in sacks last year. The addition of Jabaal Sheard last year helped take the load off of both Jones and Rob Ninkovich, and when healthy Sheard was probably our best pass rusher. Expect the team to continue with a rotational approach after adding veterans Chris Long and Shea McClellan to the mix. Second year players Trey Flowers and Geno Grissom also figure to get more snaps. Despite trading Jones there is still an abundance of talent here, so don’t expect the production to drop off, but there are not a lot of snaps to go around, and seeing who gets them will be a fun battle to follow.

5) The Play of Jimmy Garappolo

This one is obvious. Everything Jimmy does will be under the microscope, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be fun to watch. He has improved each year, but now it actually matters. He will no longer be going up against guys who are going to be cut, this is the real deal. How quickly can he build the chemistry with his receivers that will be necessary if the Patriots want to go into Arizona opening night and win? Garappolo is going to have an unfair amount of pressure on him, but they say good players shine brightest under pressure, and I for one cannot wait to see how he handles it.

The Patriots Offensive Line Has To Be Better

The Patriots Offensive Line Has To Be Better

The Patriots have an abundance of talent at the skill positions on offense, but football is not played 7 on 7. You can have all the talent in the world at quarterback, receiver, running back, and tight end, but none of that matters if your offensive line sucks. The Patriots offensive line has cost the team two Super Bowl appearances and at least one championship in the last three years. Both of those losses have come to Denver, who of course has the best pass rush that the league has seen in a long, long time, but that is no excuse. One of those losses came with Logan Mankins at left guard, and Dante Scarneccia as the offensive line coach, so don’t try to blame the Patriots terrible offensive line play on Belichick’s “arrogance” in trading Mankins, and definitely don’t think that Scar is a miracle worker.


The Patriots realize that the offensive line is a problem, and have addressed the issue in a variety of ways over the past few years. As a short term solution, they take advantage of the fact that Tom Brady has the ability to get rid of the ball in under two seconds on basically every snap. He’s able to do this because his receivers are so good at getting open quickly, but the team can’t rely on this when they run into teams that have elite corners that can play man to man and pass rushers that can get to the quarterback quickly (i.e. Denver). The team has also drafted three guards, one center, signed an undrafted free agent at center, and traded for another guard who just happens to be the 7th overall pick in 2013. They know it’s an issue, but it also can’t be fixed overnight. With that said, now is the time for the fix to be complete.


The three guards the Patriots have drafted in the last two years are all super athletic and have all been drafted in the first four rounds. They also happen to fit perfectly into the system that the team has put in place over the last 15 years. The thing that makes Dante Scarneccia the great coach, that he is universally known as, is that he is great at developing young offensive lineman. In his time as the offensive line coach he has developed Matt Light, Dan Koppen, Logan Mankins, Nate Solder, and Sebastian Vollmer, and those are just the guys who were drafted highly. Over the years the patriots have gotten by with undrafted free agents, and converted wrestlers at guard so Scar should be able to get these high draft picks at guard and center to where they need to be.


The rookies were actually really good in the run game last year, and Shaq Mason was one of the best lineman at pulling that I’ve ever seen, but pass protection is where they have struggled. As I said earlier you can get away with it when Tom Brady is your quarterback, but when you have someone who has never started an NFL game before playing the first four games you have to protect him. Lucky for the Patriots, both Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer are going to be healthy this year.


When the two tackles are healthy, the Patriots offense is good enough to survive with below average play on the interior line. The Patriots have enough talent inside to be above average, if Scar can coach them up, which I have no doubt he will be able to do. The offensive line has to be better if the Patriots want to get back to the Super Bowl, and it will be.

How the Patriots Should Split the Reps at QB?

How the Patriots Should Split the Reps at QB?

With training camp beginning next Thursday, football season is finally upon us. So, it is time to talk actual football here. There are plenty of storylines to watch going into training camp, but none are as interesting or as important as what the Patriots will do with the first team reps at quarterback.

Historically, Brady has essentially taken, and wants to take, every single first team rep in practice, and gets the majority of the first team reps in the preseason games. Obviously that’s not going to be the case this time around. The easy answer would be to give Jimmy all the reps because he has next to no experience playing with those guys, but it’s not that simple.

Jimmy Garappolo will not be the starter for the entire season which makes this a very unique situation. The Patriots have get a quarterback who has never started an NFL game ready to start the first four games of the season, but they also have to prepare their franchise quarterback for the rest of the season, a season they hope ends in Houston on February 5th.

In practice I would expect the reps to be split evenly, with Brady spending a ton of time doing side work with Martellus Bennett and Chris Hogan. Brady has full confidence in the guys like Gronk, Jules and Amendola, but he needs to become comfortable with Bennett and Hogan if they are going to play the important roles in this offense that are expected of them. The Patriots offense is entirely predicated on option routes, which require the receiver and quarterback to see the field with the same set of eyes. There is no way to build that kind of trust in the week leading up to Brady’s first game back, so he needs to get as much work in with those two players this summer as possible.

Unfortunately, at the same time, Jimmy Garappolo needs to get as much work in as possible with the key offensive players so that he is ready to go on September 11th in Arizona, which is why I said to expect the practice reps to be split evenly.

Even though I think practice reps will be split 50/50, I do not expect Brady to play a single snap in the preseason games. Preseason games benefit Jimmy far more than they do Brady. Game action will allow him to get reps with the first team against live competition at full speed, something that just can’t be replicated in practice. Also, there is no point in putting Brady on the field behind backup offensive linemen to get killed when he can get the work he needs done during practice.

Gronk hasn’t played a snap in the preseason since 2012 and he has been just fine. If I know Bill Belichick like I think I do, this is how he will split up the time at quarterback this summer.

Why Tom Brady Accepted His Suspension and What it Means for Him

Why Tom Brady Accepted His Suspension and What it Means for Him

The 18 month ordeal that was Deflategate is over. There are no more hypotheticals, no more speculation, it’s over, it’s done. It ended the second Tom Brady posted on Facebook that he would not be appealing to the Supreme Court, effectively accepting a four game suspension to begin the year. Tom Brady, the ultimate team player, made a decision that was best for the team, a decision that will trolls say is an admission of guilt. Obviously it is not. Innocent people settle when they’re faced with an unwinnable situation which is exactly what this was. Even if he was granted a stay while the court decided if they would hear the case, the overwhelming odds were that they would not hear it. This means that while he wouldn’t miss the first four games, he would likely miss games later on in the year in the middle of a playoff push. That does not benefit Brady, and it certainly doesn’t benefit the Patriots.

Now that we know he will be suspended, a lot of people are probably wondering what exactly that means. People keep saying that he is missing four games, and they could not be more wrong. He is missing far more than that. When an NFL player is suspended, that means they are not allowed on the facility for the entirety of their suspension. Not only that, but the player is also not allowed any contact with team personnel. How hard can that be to get around? The NFL can’t keep tabs on everything right? Wrong, the NFL is going to have all eyes on the Patriots and Brady for those four weeks and if there is any communication, bet the house that the team and Brady are made examples of for it.

Think about this for a second, on September 5th Tom Brady will walk out of the Gillette Stadium doors, and he will not be allowed back in or be able to have contact with anyone until October 3rd. It’s not like he’s injured where he can still be on the sideline and a part of game prep, he will be sitting on his couch watching HIS team play like the rest of us. I never in a million years thought that this would be a reality.

On one hand you have the issue of him being completely separated from the team for a month, but on the other you have to consider what this will do to his mental state. Tom Brady was drafted 16 years ago, and he still holds a grudge about how many times he was passed over. Now he has to sit at home for four weeks and watch someone else lead his team. As a Patriots fan you can’t help but be excited for how he’s going to play when he comes back. Last year we talked a big game about the revenge tour, and that came up short. In life second chances don’t come around too often, and this is one of those rare opportunities. Tom Brady is missing four games for something he didn’t do, he is going to come out guns blazing with the fire of a thousand suns. It is going to be a true scorched Earth tour. His first game back at Gillette will be October 16 against the Cincinnati Bengals, I will be there, and I for one can’t wait to see the reaction when he takes the field.

Martellus Bennett Changes Everything

Martellus Bennett Changes Everything

The Patriots revolutionized offense in the NFL in 2010 when they drafted Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Together, they terrorized defenses until Hernandez’s arrest prior to the start of the 2013 season. Sure the offense has still been exceptional in the time since then, but it has not been as good as it was when it boasted two of the five best tight ends in the league. According to Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston, the Patriots have run a total of 4,015 snaps with two tights on the field since 2010, the next closest team in the span is the 49ers with 3,173. Assuming an average 70 offensive snaps a game, which is just over the NFL average, over six full NFL regular seasons that is 60% of all snaps run with two tight ends on the field.

Having one great tight end is a matchup nightmare for teams, but two is a never ending horror story. The greatness of Rob Gronkowski speaks for itself, but Hernandez was unique because he was so versatile. You could line him up in the slot, on the wing, out wide, in the backfield, and of course on the line. He was a receiver in a tight end’s body. Having him, Gronk, and Welker on the field at the same time meant someone was going to be open on every play because all two of them require double teams to truly slow them down. The problem was he was a horrific blocker, making him pretty much one dimensional from the standpoint of what type of play would be run when he was on the field. This has also been the problem with Scott Chandler and Tim Wright, who were the first 2 attempts to replace Hernandez. Michael Williams on the other hand couldn’t run or catch. Not only did this make the offense predictable, it left them out to dry with no viable backup if Gronkowski was to get hurt (see 2013).

The answer to this problem? Trade for the tight end who’s skill set matches that of Gronk more than any other player in the NFL. Martellus Bennett is 6 foot 6, 273 pounds and is a freak athlete. He is not as shifty as Hernandez was, nor is he the same receiver as Hernandez or guys like Travis Kelce or Tyler Eifert are now, but he is a good receiving tight end and an outstanding run blocker. According to Reiss Gronk led tight ends with 28 receptions when lined up out wide and Bennett was tied for third with 19.  Unless you have some combination of Jamie Collins and Kam Chancellor on your defense good luck cover both Gronk and Bennett at the same time, and even then it still might not be enough.

The possibilities are endless for what the Patriots can run with Gronk, Edelman, Bennett, and Dion Lewis on the field at the same time. All of them are virtually uncoverable when healthy, but it’s not just about what they can do in the pass game. Adding Bennett means you can put 2 tight ends on the field and not give away whether it’s going to be a run or a pass. The Patriot’s offense was good before trading for Bennett, but now it has the potential to be all time good if everyone stays healthy this year.

Should The Patriots Give Malcolm Butler A New Contract?

Should The Patriots Give Malcolm Butler A New Contract?

Two weeks ago the Patriots held OTA’s, which are voluntary, and Butler was not in attendance. There have since been reports that Butler is unhappy with his contract situation. He is scheduled to make just $600,000 this year, which is far lower than his true value. If he is truly unhappy there is a chance he will not show up for mandatory minicamp which starts tomorrow, at which point he will begin to be fined by the team. The only problem for Butler is that he has zero leverage. After this season he will be a restricted free agent, which means that the Patriots have total control. If the Patriots chose to tender him, which they will, it will be at the first round level which is just under $4 million, and requires any team that signs him to give the Patriots their first round pick if the Patriots chose not to match the contract. If Butler plays next season on the first round tender, the team can then place the franchise tag on him which would pay him around $15 million for the 2018 season. Butler’s only real option is to holdout, but he has made less than $2 million in his career and doesn’t have the luxury of sitting back on his money.

The Patriots don’t have to give Butler a new contract until after 2018, but the question is should they. Malcolm Butler is absolutely worth more than the money he is making right now, and the money he would make next year on the first round tender. If the Patriots chose to wait it out they are going to have to pay him big money eventually. What I think they should do is come to him with a team friendly deal and see if he takes it. Something like 4 years and $32 million is where I would start. The top corners in the game make $14 million per year and Butler is a top 10 corner right now, but only has one year as a starter under his belt. He won’t be able to command top of the market money until he shows he can do it consistently. The team doesn’t have to do this and it would be a nice gesture to give him a bridge contract until he signs that big deal, and I think he would take it.