Moving on to the defense…while being thankful the roster apparently has not changed in the last couple of days. Cuz, you know, Bill likes to consistently churn the back-end of the roster and mess us all up. Wait, I may be the only one who cares about the bottom of the roster. Anyway, here goes:
Locks: Trey Flowers, Kony Ealy, Derek Rivers, Deatrich Wise
In: Geneo Grissom
Way Out: Caleb Kidder, Rob Ninkovich (retired)
Comments: This is what I wrote in the first roster projection last year: “Flowers and Grissom don’t appear to be stars in the making.” Oops. At least on Flowers. Welp, I’ve been completely off before. And most assuredly will be again. Truth be told though, most people thought Flowers was on the fringe of the roster before the 2016 season. Now he is the unquestioned top defensive end on the team. So I wasn’t the only one. There have been plenty of whispers about Ealy early in camp. His attitude. His fit on the team. His “coachability”. And he has been on the sidelines quite a bit, from all reports. But the key phrase here is, “early in camp”. I’m not taking him off the lock list…yet. Rivers and Wise were two of their four draft picks. Not likely to go anywhere. And I am hearing Wise is running with the starters at this point. Grissom takes Ninkovich’s spot. It helps that he is a factor on special teams as well. Most were surprised at Nink’s sudden retirement. But maybe we shouldn’t have been. He’s getting up there in age and also wasn’t the same difference maker last year as in previous years…you know, before the PED suspension. Yup…
Locks: Alan Branch, Malcom Brown, Lawrence Guy, Vincent Valentine
Out: Woodrow Hamilton, Darius Kilgo
Way Out: Josh Augusta, Adam Butler
Comments: Pretty much cut and dried here. Branch re-signed on a nice deal. Guy was signed to a fat deal himself, kind of out of nowhere. May be a little push for Brown in his third year. But the Pats like to rotate their big guys anyway. Valentine showed enough last year to be locked in this year. Hamilton and Kilgo may find themselves on the practice squad and therefore may surface on the active roster at some point this season. And Augusta and Butler are “Way Out” for the simple reason that I’ve never heard of them. Good enough for me.
Locks: Dont’a Hightower, David Harris
In: Shea McClellin, Elandon Roberts, Kyle Van Noy, Harvey Langhi
Out: Jonathan Freeny, Trevor Bates
Way Out: Brooks Ellis
Comments: When I started putting together this column last week, I actually had Harris as only “In” and not a lock. Thought he may be that typical veteran who was a star elsewhere and then couldn’t adapt to the Patriots system/culture/etc. Seemed to be a prime candidate for that. Then I saw they gave him the green dot like 2 days into camp, leading the communication on the defense. I know, that is “early in camp” too. But I look at this development a little differently, right or wrong. McClellin, Roberts and Van Noy all bring different skills to the table so I figured they all stick for now. Langhi gets a nod here, simply because almost every year an undrafted free agent makes the squad out of the gate…and usually contributes. He is the early pick simply because they gave him the most dough. Freeny gets squeezed here, but wouldn’t shock me if he makes it, primarily for his special teams ability. Bates is from Maine and that’s nice. Ellis? Yup, no idea who he is.
Locks: Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler, Eric Rowe, Jonathan Jones
In: Cyrus Jones
Out: Justin Coleman, D.J. Killings
Way Out: William Likely, Dwayne Thomas
Comments: Here’s another thing I wrote in the first roster projection last year: “Cyrus Jones HAS to be better than any of the teams’ third cornerbacks last year, doesn’t he?” And I had Jonathan Jones as “Way Out”. Oops. And. Oops. But I can’t see them giving up on Cyrus after only one year. Wouldn’t be unprecedented though. Jonathan has been apparently playing the slot in camp. Add in the fact he is, yup, a special teamer…that makes him a lock. Seems to me they like Rowe a lot too.
As for Gilmore and Butler, that whole scenario in the spring still baffles me. Butler has done everything the team asked since he came out of nowhere 3 seasons ago. Played at an All-Pro level the last two years, playing for peanuts and didn’t utter much of a peep about that. I mean, he knows how this organization operates. But still. Then New England gives Gilmore a huge deal right out of the gate as free agency opened. Not typical Patriot behavior. Don’t blame Butler at all from being pissed. Wasn’t surprised there was the stuff about him working out a contract with the New Orleans Saints and hoping the Pats worked out a deal with them. Nothing materialized with the Saints (or any other team, for that matter) and Butler is still here without a long-term deal. And even since then, you haven’t heard much from him regarding all of it. And now I think most expect Butler to play with a chip on his shoulder and help himself in free agency next year. That will also benefit the Patriots of course. But did the team play this out right? Time will tell. But hope Gilmore ain’t a colossal bust…
Coleman could I suppose be a back-end guy, but there’s no room. Killings was I believe the 2nd highest paid undrafted free agent in the Pats pool, so maybe he gets on the practice squad and gets elevated at some point. Likely & Thomas? Maybe I should watch more college football, so I can know who some of these camp bodies are.
Locks: Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon
Out: Jordan Richards
Way Out: Jason Thompson, Damarius Travis, David Jones, Kenny Moore
Comments: Richards probably actually gets one more chance behind the three no-doubters and makes the squad when they break camp. Three safeties is kind of thin. But the other guys? You know what I am going to say.
Locks: Stephen Gostkowski (K), Ryan Allen (P), Joe Cardona (LS), Matthew Slater (ST), Nate Ebner (ST), Brandon King (ST)
Way Out: None
Comments: Nothing really to say here. Some are surprised Belichick did not bring another kicker to camp due to Gostkowski’s uneven year last year. I’m not. There are plenty of kickers “kicking” around (haha) and I’m sure Bill has one or two or three in mind if last year’s issues move forward into this year. No sense in wasting another camp spot on a kicker. Other than that, the six here are pretty obvious.
That’s about the size of it. I’ll wait until later in camp to project the practice squad and IR/PUP/NFI and other lists. Actually, I’d say no one actually starts on the PUP list this year. Only Hightower and Branch are currently on the preseason PUP list. Hard to believe they will miss the first six weeks of the season, but I suppose you never know…
Jamie Collins is gone.
Chandler Jones has been gone for a while.
Jabaal Sheard, Duron Harmon and Logan Ryan have regressed from last year. To the point of Sheard now getting benched for some reason. Perhaps regression can describe Malcom Brown and Patrick Chung as well?
Chris Long has been pretty invisible.
As has Rob Ninkovich. But I guess that’s what happens when you can’t juice anymore.
Throw in the fact they gave away Dominique Easley for nothing if you wish. I’m ok with even saying they let Akiem Hicks get away over short money. Hicks played pretty well after being acquired from the Saints last year.
And that’s just the defense.
Should we be worried? In the whole scheme of things, probably not. There are a bunch of cream puffs on the schedule going forward and the offense alone should beat all of them. But in reality, the whole thing is concerning.
Throw all the departures and regression from above and add in the high draft picks in recent years that have contributed very little on defense (Cyrus Jones, Jordan Richards, Geneo Grissom, Vincent Valentine, and probably still including Trey Flowers). Not to mention in-season acquisitions that have added zero (Barkevious Mingo, Kyle Van Noy and Eric Rowe…contributing negatively in Rowe’s case actually). So where is the talent now…and the depth?
The positive I suppose is that the Pats are actually 6th in NFL in points allowed with 163, only 11 behind league leading Minnesota’s 152. But this is kind of a bogus positive. The schedule has had plenty of cream puffs on it already.
The Patriots should once again cruise to the division title and still actually host the AFC Championship Game. But that is more of an indictment on the rest of the AFC really. The East is putrid and the South ain’t much better. The West has some teams with good records, but is anyone really afraid of Oakland or Kansas City? Denver, maybe. But their offense has taken several steps back. And I don’t know what is wrong with Pittsburgh at this point.
But it just doesn’t feel right. I don’t know what the game plan was against Seattle. That game was all lined up for a win. Seattle was on a short week. Travelling across the country. Their defense had spent a ton of time on the field in recent weeks and were missing Michael Bennett. Russell Wilson is a little banged up and doesn’t run as much now. The Seahawks running game was lacking. The Patriots were coming off a bye and were at home. And on and on. Seattle will always play everyone tough despite whatever odds. But it still should have been a win.
For years a lot of us have questioned the Patriots’ defensive methods. Defensive backs never turn their heads in coverage. They don’t blitz often. Years of “bend, but don’t break” mentality. Par for the course this year, but seemingly worse. How ’bout for once we try something different? Unleash Mingo or something…tell him to just make a beeline for the QB on every snap? Maybe play a little more man and not have opponents’ wide receivers running free all through the secondary? Stop carrying 85 special teamers and have some of those guys actually play a position capably. Stop giving away talent. Yeah, not likely. I’m not a defensive coordinator. But there has to be a better way. Very rarely should anyone question Belichick. But again, things just don’t feel right. Even if they are 7-2.
Sadly, I am a little worried about Colin Kaepernick looking like Joe Montana later today…
We’ve focused on the defense, but the offense isn’t necessarily as stout as it can be either. Sure, the first 4 games were helmed by backup quarterbacks. But that side of the ball doesn’t feel right now either.
Julian Edelman isn’t the same. They don’t seem to play Danny Amendola a whole lot for reasons unknown. Maybe they are managing an injury there too. Now Chris Hogan is banged up. Malcolm Mitchell has been hurt some as well.
Now Gronk is out…and who knows for how long? Martellus Bennett has been pretty good. But he isn’t 100%. I don’t know if AJ Derby can play in the NFL. But Denver thinks he can. And they gave him away to the Broncos.
The running game? LeGarrette Blount has been better than expected. But he is still…LeGarrette Blount. Dion Lewis is back. But let’s hold up on going crazy on that for now. Still not a fan of James White. And the offensive line doesn’t exactly open up a lot of holes…or give Brady a ton of time for that matter.
Tons of negativity here, I know. But 7-2 never felt so bad. This season was supposed to be a cakewalk to at least a Super Bowl appearance. And it may very well be still. After all, the NFL as a whole kinda stinks this year. But the decisions of the team and the head coach appear to be making it hard to see that now. It’s hard for me to see how the team gets better down the stretch, even if guys get healthy. The competition should be weak, so what kind of test will any of the games be for the team? Actually, with all of the above, maybe the games WILL be tests. And that is pretty scary. Because they shouldn’t be.
So watch Kaepernick be…Kaepernick later today and the Pats win something like 45-7. After posting this, I’m pretty much counting on it now. This is pretty much the first time in the Belichick era that I have had some doubts. Prove me wrong Bill…as always…