Monthly Archives: November 2017

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The New England Patriots made only four draft picks in 2017, with only three of them making the team. Four undrafted players round out the team’s rookie class. Here is a midseason review of their contributions:

Derek Rivers, LB, third round: He tore his ACL in a joint practice with the Texans in mid-August. Grade: Incomplete

Tony Garcia, OT, third round: He got off to a slow start in training camp, fell behind, and later was put on the non-football illness list. Grade: Incomplete

Deatrich Wise Jr., DE, fourth round: He has been the team’s top rookie, playing a surprising 51.4 percent of the defensive snaps and providing a pretty consistent pass rush. Grade: Above average

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Jacob Hollister, TE, undrafted: One of the surprise stories of training camp, the Wyoming alum made the roster and has served as the No. 3 tight end. He has played 6.7 percent of the offensive snaps, contributed on special teams coverage units and has three catches for 37 yards. Grade: Above average

Harvey Langi, LB/DE, undrafted: The most highly touted of the team’s undrafted class, he played in one game (Week 2 vs. Saints), with his primary contributions coming on special teams. He later landed on the non-football injury list after being involved in a car accident. Grade: Incomplete

Adam Butler, DT, undrafted: The Vanderbilt alum came out of nowhere and has become an invaluable part of the defensive-line rotation, with a maturity beyond his years. The 6-foot-5, 300-pound Butler has played 39.5 percent of the defensive snaps and has 12 tackles and one sack. Grade: Above average

Cole Croston, OL, undrafted: He has been inactive for all eight games,

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New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick isn’t lack for praise, but he deserves credit for releasing Cassius Marsh on Tuesday afternoon regardless of the optics involved in the transaction. The Patriots gave up fifth- and seventh-round draft picks for Marsh less than three months ago. Even at the time, it seemed like a lot to give up for one year of a reserve edge defender/special-teamer who never recorded more than three sacks or started more than one game in a season with the Seattle Seahawks. Marsh finished this nine-game stint with the Patriots with 19 tackles, one sack and a forced fumble. Marsh always appeared to struggle to set the edge against the run. Sunday against the Oakland Raiders, Marsh only was on the field for two defensive snaps. The Raiders rushed for 25 and 7 yards on those two plays. It’s fair to lump Marsh in with some of Belichick’s other uneven moves this offseason. He traded a second-round pick for Kony Ealy and a third-rounder just to release the defensive end before Week 1. He gave up a fourth-round pick for Dwayne Allen and a sixth-rounder. Allen has caught just three passes this season. Mike Gillislee, who the Patriots acquired as a restricted free agent for a fifth-round pick, has been a healthy scratch two straight weeks. Cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who the Patriots signed to a five-year, $65 million contract this offseason, has played well in his last three games but struggled through the first four weeks of the season and missed three games with a concussion. The Patriots also traded quarterback Jacoby Brissett for wide receiver Phillip Dorsett. Dorsett has six catches for 101 yards, while Brissett has shown promise as a starting quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts. Only one Patriots draft pick, fourth-round pick Deatrich Wise Jr., will play for the team this season. Third-rounders Derek Rivers and Antonio Garcia are out for the season and sixth-rounder Conor McDermott is on the Buffalo Bills. Of course, the Patriots made some solid acquisitions over the offseason, as well. They traded for wide receiver Brandin Cooks, who has been the deep threat the Patriots expected when they acquired him. They signed running back Rex Burkhead and Lawrence Guy as unrestricted free agents and traded for linebacker Marquis Flowers and cornerback Johnson Bademosi. Flowers and Bademosi were expected to strictly play special teams, but both players have found roles on defense. Burkhead and Guy have been valuable role players. Flowers and linebacker Trevor Reilly should continue to see their roles as hybrid edge defenders increase with Marsh gone. Flowers played 32 defensive snaps Sunday and recorded four tackles with a forced fumble. It was the second most defensive snaps Flowers ever has played in a game. Reilly played 13 defensive snaps, a new season-high, Sunday with a tackle. Linebacker David Harris and defensive lineman Adam Butler also could take on greater roles with Marsh gone. The Patriots also signed defensive end Eric Lee off of the Bills’ practice squad to fill Marsh’s roster spot. The Patriots played their best game of the season with Marsh on the field for just two snaps, so it’s unlikely the team will miss him on defense. But the lack of fifth- and seventh-round picks could hurt the Patriots in the future either in the draft or in their inability to make other veteran acquisitions. While it hasn’t been the best nine months for Belichick the general manager, the Patriots still are 8-2 despite the moves thanks to Belichick the head coach. Thumbnail photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images Have a question for Doug Kyed? Send it to him via Twitter at @DougKyed.

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We should know better than to question Bill Belichick’s football genius. It’s almost exactly one year since the New England Patriots head coach traded linebacker Jamie Collins to the Cleveland Browns in exchange for a third-round draft pick. It’s a move that still defies conventional thought 12 months on. Collins appeared at the Pro Bowl months earlier after recording five forced fumbles, five sacks and 51 solo tackles in the 2015 regular season. “The best defensive player we’ve got, the most athletic guy on the team,” is how former Patriots team-mate Dont’a Hightower described him.

None of that controversy mattered in February. No one asked whether Belichick had made the right call to trade Collins. Belichick was the coach behind the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history and the Patriots had won another Lombardi Trophy, the team’s fifth under his leadership. Questioning Belichick is not a smart move.
Garoppolo trade to 49ers was part of a ‘complex situation’ says Pats’ Belichick
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Yet the decision to send Jimmy Garoppolo to the San Francisco 49ers in exchange for a second-round draft pick leaves New England remarkably exposed. The wisdom of Belichick’s move is questionable – at the time of writing the Patriots only have one recognised quarterback on their roster. That quarterback just happens to be Tom Brady, arguably the best at his position ever, but suddenly the Patriots’ season hinges on the health of a 40-year-old in a brutal sport. The situation is at odds with everything about the Patriots. Quarterback injuries can end seasons in an instant, just ask the Green Bay Packers. Just what is Belichick’s plan if Brady gets hurt?

Make no mistake, no backup can be expected to play at the level usually enjoyed by fans in New England. Brady is playing some of the best football of his career this season and leads the league in passing yards with over 2,500 through eight games. With Brady at the helm the Patriots are top of the AFC East at 6-2 and look likely to be contenders in the postseason.

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But Garoppolo represented both a credible backup and a possible long-term replacement option for the future Hall of Fame quarterback. With Brady serving his Deflategate suspension at the beginning of last season, Garoppolo started the first two games of the year. The Patriots won both and their back-up quarterback threw for five touchdowns and no interceptions. Overall at the Patriots, Garoppolo recorded an average QB rating of 106.2 and completed 67% of his passes. He certainly showed potential in New England, with the caveat that those wins at the start of 2016 were the only two games Garoppolo has started in the regular season. His entire career consists of 94 passes – Brady has 8,533. Having said that, while it is difficult to make any firm predictions about Garoppolo’s future, in a league short on talented quarterbacks he was undeniably an asset in New England.

The Patriots have signed journeyman Brian Hoyer as a backup for remainder of the year. Hoyer, who spent three years with the Patriots between 2009-2011, lost all six games he started in San Francisco at the beginning of this season, completing just 58% of his passes. Some have also suggested that Colin Kaepernick could, and should, be given an opportunity to return the NFL with New England. But that’s a liberal fantasy. Team owner Robert Kraft donated to Donald Trump, while Brady and Belichick are friends of the president – and his opinion of Kaepernick and the protests he started last season are well documented. Besides, purely from a football standpoint, Kaepernick hasn’t played since New Years Day and would be forced to learn the Patriots’s offensive midway through the season. Hoyer was the 49ers starter less than three weeks ago and has experience of being on a Bill Belichick roster. Regardless, both are notable downgrades on Garoppolo.
Building the next Brady: Jimmy Garoppolo by the men who coached him
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The decision is even more remarkable if reports that teams enquired about the availability of Garoppolo in the off-season are true. Cleveland are said to have offered New England a second-round pick in the summer but the two clubs couldn’t reach agreement. New England were seemingly reluctant to trade away, aware of his value to the franchise. So something has changed. Garoppolo’s rookie contract is due to expire at the end of the year and contract renewal negotiations between the two parties may have broken down. If so, Belichick made the decision to get a draft pick rather than get nothing.

“We probably had the best quarterback situation in the league for the last two and a half years, its just not sustainable given the way that things are set up,” said Belichick on Tuesday. “We explored every option possible to try and sustain it, but just at this point felt like we had a to make a decision.”

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Brady’s form through the first eight games of the year has also likely surpassed expectations in New England and Belichick may now believe he can play for even longer than he’d anticipated. Brady himself has been vocal about his desire to play until he is 45. With almost all other quarterbacks this would be a laughable assertion. And while, with Brady, no one would put it beyond him past examples aren’t encouraging. Warren Moon, Vinny Testaverde and Doug Flutie all played past the age of 40. None enjoyed great success. Peyton Manning’s arm strength fell drastically in his final year in Denver. He was 39. In his new book, The TB12 Method: How to Achieve a Lifetime of Peak Performance, Brady makes some highly questionable claims about “TB12 electrolytes”, maintaining his body’s “alkalinity” and sleeping in “bioceramic recovery wear” each night. But time catches up to the greats eventually – even those of us who take TB12 electrolytes.

Of course, if Brady can stay healthy this season and lead the Patriots to another Super Bowl win, no one will question the logic of Belichick’s decision to trade away Garoppolo. But even geniuses can make mistakes.

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The New England Patriots are currently on their bye but will return to work later today, starting preparations for their week 10 matchup on the road against the Denver Broncos. The Broncos, despite getting blown out 51-23 by the Philadelphia Eagles yesterday, feature one of the league’s most talented defenses and New England’s offense needs to be on the top of its game to hang points on it.

The venture starts up front: The Patriots’ offensive line, which has struggled at times over the first half of the season, will be asked to block against star defender Von Miller and company. A player to watch on New England’s side of the ball will therefore naturally be quarterback Tom Brady’s blindside protector, left tackle and Colorado native Nate Solder.

On a line that has been up and down this year, Solder has arguably been the most up-and-down player. As of late, however, the 29-year old has improved his play according to his position coach, Dante Scarnecchia. “He’s playing really well over the last two weeks,” Scarnecchia told ESPN Boston’s Mike Reiss recently. “He’s done some things with his pass-protection stuff that has helped him improve.”

Scarnecchia, an offensive line guru and owner of four Super Bowl rings, has worked with Solder since the former tight end entered the NFL as a first round draft pick in 2011 (the exceptions being 2014 and 2015). The 69-year old apparently likes how his pupil developed over the course of the season: “On the punch, his hand use is much more violent, much more physical and less reactive/more proactive.”

“Those things have helped him a great deal. He started really emphasizing that two weeks ago at practice and carried it through the next game and then last week,” Scarnecchia noted. A look at the numbers reflects how Solder has improved certain areas of his game: In weeks one to six, the veteran surrendered a combined three sacks (0.5 per game), six hits (1.0 per game) and 14 hurries (2.3 per game).

Over the last two weeks, against the New York Jets’ and Los Angeles Chargers’ talented defensive fronts, Solder did not allow a single sack. And while the number of hits per game did not change and the hurries actually went up to 4.0 a contest, Solder was able to keep his negative plays at a minimum – which is not a surprise if you ask his coach: “I think this guy is really driven to be a good football player,” Scarnecchia said.

The veteran coach added that Solder has worked on the parts and intricacies that can be fixed. “He’s working hard to improve, and that’s all I can really ask from him,” Scarnecchia said. The work is slowly paying off: Solder, who has been his usual reliable self as a run blocker all year long, improved his pass protection and bounced back from a rocky start to the season. Scarnecchia’s final assessment is therefore not a surprising one: “I love the kid.”

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Dont’a Hightower leaves a big hole in the New England Patriots defense and his teammates know it.

Following the news that the linebacker tore his pectoral muscle and is out for the remainder of the season, Devin McCourty was left answering questions about how the defensive unit is set to wage out without one of their cornerstones.

“It’s a tough loss,” McCourty said of Hightower during his Thursday press conference. “I mean, obviously, he’s a guy who’s been out there for a lot of years now, played multiple roles on the defense, different spots, communication, everything. I mean, he’s a huge part of what we do.

“We’ve been out there for a couple games without him, so we know what that’s like, but it’s always the same thing – when a guy like that goes down, a bunch of guys have to step up and kind of try to fill that role, and in this case, a bunch of different roles. It’s a tough loss for us defensively, but it’s something we’ll have to overcome. ”

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Hightower’s loss does come at an unfortunate time as New England’s defense did look like they had turned a corner holding the Falcons to just seven points in Week 7. While that part is tough, McCourty doesn’t get frustrated at that aspect of losing Hightower. Simply, he feels bad for his teammates.

“It’s a part of the game,” he admitted. “When a guy gets hurt for a year, I never kind of look at it like, ‘Oh, man, what are we going to do defensively?’ Like my instinct is to feel bad for that guy. We all give a lot of time, sacrifice time with our families and doing different things, so when your season ends and now you’re back and the only thing you have to look forward to is rehab and recovery, that’s what I think about first.”

He continued: “As a team, we’ll always figure it out. I firmly believe our coaching staff spends a lot of hours in here figuring out what we need to do personnel-wise, who needs to play here, what works, what won’t work, so we’ll figure it out. Whether that takes a quarter or two quarters, it’ll happen.”

For more Patriots news, follow Tyler Sullivan on Twitter: @TylerSully