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…
Made you look! The answer is…of course not! That would be colossally stupid on the part of Robert Kraft and the New England Patriot organization.
I have to tell you though, some of the coaching decisions made since the team started out 10-0 this year have left me scratching my head. Based on reactions from the general public discussed in print, talk radio, donut shops and everywhere else, I am not alone.
We all know Bill is an arrogant S.O.B. (my Steeler, Giant and Jet “friends”, among others, remind me of this often). There are certainly times he acts as if he is smarter than everyone else. I will allow for that. The fact is, he IS often smarter than everyone else. But the last 2 months or so, he may have just been outsmarting himself.
Look, the better team won this past Sunday. Well, the Denver Broncos were/are not necessarily the better team overall, but they sure as hell were a few days ago. There is no disputing that fact. The Pats played about as poorly overall as I can remember them ever playing…in the Brady/Belichick era, that is. They of course played much worse during the Rod Rust season and several other prior years as a whole. We don’t need to be reminded of that. Or actually, do we? The Pats have been generally great for a couple of decades now. Too many people have forgotten what a doormat this franchise was for its first 3-4 decades of its existence. But I digress…
The Broncos were a big part of the reason the Pats played poorly. Many locals are overlooking that fact. The makeshift offensive line had absolutely no answer for their pass rush. Even if they did provide Brady more time, would he have been able to find Julian Edelman more? Not sure. Chris Harris Jr. seemed to have Jules under wraps. And the complete non-existence of a rushing game made it possible for the Broncos to just completely play the pass. I’m not one of these guys that thinks it’s necessary to “ground and pound” and to have complete 50/50 pass/run balance. But 70/30 maybe? 75/25? Not 100/0 or 95/5, which is what the Patriots had Sunday. Absolutely no one had any fear of Steven Jackson, Brandon Bolden or James White rushing the ball (I wouldn’t either). So the Broncos could tee off on Brady. Would LeGarrette Blount have made a difference? Not necessarily, but more than the aforementioned three. Dion Lewis may have. Either way, it would have been nice to have SOMETHING back there.
Back to Bill and his decisions though. As poorly as the Patriots played, my feeling is that if the game was in Foxborough, they would have won…by double digits at least. As soon as they lost the last regular season to an inept Miami Dolphin team, I was lamenting the fact that they would have to go through Denver to get to the Super Bowl again. Sorry, I was not buying the Steelers, Texans, Chiefs or Bengals (especially without Andy Dalton) as real competition. It is well chronicled how the Patriots and Brady have struggled there historically. It’s just a place that a lot of teams do not want to play at. Knowing this as well as he surely knows it, why did Bill not fight harder for the #1 seed?
Let’s look back at specific decisions by Bill that still get under my skin. And I can assure you, they did very much at the time too:
*Having a rookie (Chris Harper) who barely plays return punts in the hostile environment of Denver in the 4th quarter with a 2 TD lead. Sure, no Edelman or Danny Amendola took away your first (and maybe only reliable) options. But Keshawn Martin had plenty of experience (though not here…as of that point) returning punts. Patrick Chung also had caught one previous punt in the game. Harper had juggled a punt or two beforehand. SOMEONE just catching the punt and then running a few plays taking some time off the clock…maybe ices the game. A mistake may kill you. It did…or helped immensely anyway. Don’t put the kid in that position.
*Rugby kicks against the Philadelphia Eagles. Yup, that’s “kicks” in plural. Up 2 TD’s against a team that was about to quit on not only the game, but the season. No need to screw around. Play it straight and all the other crap that happened in the game doesn’t happen.
*Deferring the kickoff in OT against the Jets. Sometimes if the weather is a factor, this may actually be a good move. It worked for Belichick in the past. But no need to do it in this instance. The weather wasn’t a factor. And…IT’S THE FREAKIN’ JETS!! I don’t care what their record was this year and that they almost made the playoffs. They still suck. And proved it by losing the last regular season game the following week to the Bills to eliminate themselves from the playoffs. Take the ball.
*EVERYTHING against the Dolphins. Terrible team, lame duck coach, cornerback’s wife ripping the QB, one foot on the bus for the winter, etc. I don’t care if Miami has also been a difficult locale for the Pats historically. This game should have been a cakewalk, especially considering the circumstances. What the hell was the game plan? It was like they were trying not to win. Consistently running the ball into a brick wall? I get giving Jackson some carries to see where he was at. But only 5 passes in the first half? A lot of injured players sat out. Fine. But if your goal was to protect injuries, why were Brady, Gronk, McCourty, Chung and other key or banged up guys out there for the whole game? Granted you can’t sit everyone, someone has to play. But in this case, absolutely not Brady or Gronk and maybe others. This whole game plan was just mystifying to me.
*Last Sunday. Winning the toss and NOT deferring surprised me, but I was ok with that actually. Theoretically going down and scoring right off the bat would have been beneficial, no doubt. But Malcolm Butler seemingly playing 20 yards off Emmanuel Sanders on an early third and long to prolong a drive? Not kicking a field goal with about 6 minutes left to cut the lead to 5? Seemingly not helping out the overwhelmed offensive line? It’s not Bill’s fault Stephen Gostkowski missed an extra point for the first time in 45 years, but a lot of the small decisions after that just added up.
Of course, coming up with second guesses after the fact is pretty easy. But I think a lot of people were in the same boat as the plays/games were actually happening. Like…what is Bill thinking? I mean, if Bill gets a ton of credit for not taking a timeout before Butler’s interception in the Super Bowl last year…inexplicably letting the clock run down as people like myself were screaming at the TV to take the timeout…and then it works out and it looks like he is a genius, shouldn’t he take some heat for some of these decisions that didn’t work out and look even worse after the fact? No, certainly not to fire him. But make him a little more accountable? Usually, as long as the Pats win, Bill can be as big an arsehole as he wants and generally owes no one any explanations. That’s pretty much how I feel. This time just feels different…
Especially since within the last couple of days a couple of assistant coaches got canned. So they were the problem? Dave Deguglielmo (yup, I just looked up the proper spelling) may have had tough shoes to fill after Dante Scarnecchia’s departure. And maybe he does suck as a OL coach. What do I know? But here’s what I do know: the OL was in shambles from Day One this year. Last year’s Super Bowl winning line? Nate Solder only played a handful of games. Dan Connolly retired. Bryan Stork played less than a half a season. Ryan Wendell played 13 SNAPS. Sebastian Vollmer played most of the year, but some at the opposite tackle, and some he was clearly banged up. Throw in a few rookies in Shaq Mason, David Andrews and Tre’ Jackson getting tons of snaps. Starters for most of the year, but better suited as backups in Josh Kline and Marcus Cannon (if EVEN a backup for Cannon). Practice squad guys like Cameron Fleming playing key roles at times. Centers playing tackle for the first time ever (Stork)…and on and on and on…yikes!! How was the sieve that was the OL all “Gug’s” fault? Bill gave him the players. And then some of the better ones were hurt.
Maybe the injuries were too much? We will never know. We do know a great deal of the team was hurting. But how bad? This is where Bill could come clean a little more now. There are no more games and he doesn’t have to be secretive anymore. Yes, I know that if he/the team are honest, people will look at it as them making excuses. Since every NFL team has many players playing hurt. But we’d all love to know. After all, Jerod Mayo’s “shoulder” injury apparently was a torn pectoral muscle. Sssssssoooo…who else was that bad?
Regardless, the season is over. All in all, I suppose it was a good one. But…can both teams lose in the Super Bowl now?