Patriots

Belichick provides scouting report on 'impressive' Bucs opponent

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Belichick provides scouting report on 'impressive' Bucs opponent

FOXBORO -- Bill Belichick's standard operating procedure is obvious by now: Emphasize the positive when it comes to a given week's opponent. Prepare your players for the worst in that regard, and do the same when behind a microphone so that there's no doubt in anyone's mind as to how highly you think of the other team.

This week, a short week for the Patriots as they prepare for the Buccaneers, was no different. Belichick ran through Tampa's top players on both sides of the ball, detailing their ability to impact the game. His scouting report given to the media wasn't necessarily a full scouting report, though. 

Here's what Belichick had to say about the Buccaneers on Tuesday, with some editor's notes to round out the current picture on that particular player.

On quarterback Jameis Winston: "Good. Look, good quarterback, very good arm, accurate. Gets the ball to all of his receivers. Uses the tight ends well, the receivers well. Strong, can stand in there against the rush. Moves well in the pocket to create a little extra time. He’s a hard guy to tackle, hard guy to bring down. He can throw the ball with people hanging all over him and he can throw it accurately and throw it pretty far, too. He stretches the field on you, sideline to sideline, vertical passer, 5,000 yards the last two years offensively, 50 touchdowns. They’ve had a lot of production on offense in two years. Coach [Dirk] Koetter has done a great job with him. He’s done well. For a guy in his third year he’s had extraordinary production. Not many guys that have more than he has, and we've had some pretty good quarterbacks."

Editor's note: Winston is clearly one of the better young quarterbacks in the league, though he's not without his flaws. He's the No. 10 quarterback in the league in terms of rating. He has a 2-to-1 touchdown to interception ratio. He's sixth in the league in yards per attempt. He hasn't been consistently accurate, though, completing 63 percent of his passes this year (19th in the NFL) and averaging a pick per game so far. In 2016, he was a middling quarterback -- 23rd in rating, 16th in yards per attempt, 25th in completion percentage -- but he's on track to best all of those numbers in his third season.

On receiver DeSean Jackson: "I mean, he's a great big-play threat," Belichick said. "He’s had tremendous production in that area through the course of his career, as good as any player in the history of the league. He’s a very explosive guy, short catch-and-run plays, vertical speed, good intermediate route runner . . . One of their many options in terms of playmakers."

Editor's note: To this point, Jackson hasn't quite worked out as the Bucs (or Jackson) had hoped. He signed a three-year deal for $35 million in the offseason, missed OTAs, and thus far has nine catches for 143 yards and a touchdown. He's been targeted 20 times in three games, and he's been pretty openly frustrated with how he's produced. 

On receiver Mike Evans: "Yeah, big, fast, can really go up and get the ball," Belichick said. "They throw a lot of high balls to him and he goes up there and can take it away from the defenders. He's strong. He’s a big target, catches the ball well. He’s tough."

Editor's note: Pretty much spot-on here. Not much to dislike about Evans' game. Even when he's covered, he's not. He's averaging almost 12 yards per catch on his 19 grabs through three games. He's being targeted more than 10 times a game on average, and he has two touchdowns. He's also doing this to people.

On tight end Cameron Brate: "Yeah, I mean, their tight ends are good. Brate’s done a good job for them. He’s done a good job in the passing game. He’s caught a lot of touchdowns in the last two years, more than any other tight end, so a good receiver, very dependable, knows how to get open. They’ve got a lot of confidence in him. They go to him in critical situations with option routes and in the red area, things like that. He’s been productive for them. I’m sure they like him. I can see why. He’s done a good job."

Editor's note: The Harvard product has 10 scores since the start of last season, and he came up with a big one last weekend against the Giants, putting the Bucs up five with just under eight minutes left in the fourth quarter. Brate is more of a pass-catching tight end than a blocker, and he's seen first-round rookie OJ Howard play more snaps (122 to 99) through three games.

On linebacker Lavonte David: "Well, he’s second in production to [Luke] Kuechly in everything except tackles-for-loss, and he’s second to [J.J.] Watt in that. He’s a very explosive player, good blitzer. That’s probably the one difference between him and Kuechly is he blitzes more than Luke did, although, Kuechly blitzed, too. Fast, athletic, good instincts, good nose for the ball, finds the ball, good tackler, strong, strong tackler, runs well."

Editor's note: David missed Sunday's win over the Giants with an ankle injury. He did not practice on Tuesday, and it's looking like the Bucs may be without one of their best defenders Thursday night. Starting linebacker Kwon Alexander (hamstring) has missed the last two games injured as well, so perhaps the Patriots will be targeting the linebacker level -- with rookie Kendall Beckwith and Adarius Glanton -- when their offense hits the field in Tampa. 

On defensive lineman Gerald McCoy: "Thirty-three sacks in the last -- whatever -- four years, an explosive guy, quick, good athlete, good balance, smart, plays blocking schemes well, recognizes protections well, instinctive player, strong tackler, good against the running game. He’s got a lot of negative plays, good pass rusher, good leverage, rushes with power, has quickness, a tough guy to block."

Editor's note: Belichick hit the nail on the head with this one, too. McCoy is one of the most disruptive three-techniques in all of football. He didn't notch a sack against the Giants, but he had four total pressures and three defensive stops last week, per Pro Football Focus. He'll be a headache for Patriots interior offensive linemen.

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With Butler's departure inevitable, Patriots' corner search is on

With Butler's departure inevitable, Patriots' corner search is on

Before free agency kicks off, and before we dissect the top college prospects entering this year's draft, we're taking a look at the Patriots on a position-by-position basis to provide you with an offseason primer of sorts. We'll be analyzing how the Patriots performed in 2017 at the position in question, who's under contract, how badly the team needs to add talent at that spot, and how exactly Bill Belichick might go about adding that talent. Today, we're looking at the position group that received more attention than any other during Super Bowl 52: Cornerback. 

OTHER ENTRIES IN THE SERIES

HOW THEY PERFORMED


No single position group experienced as many dips, climbs and dives as Patriots corners did during their rollercoaster season. In September alone, the communication was a mess, Malcolm Butler got benched, Stephon Gilmore got benched, and Eric Rowe suffered a serious groin injury that allowed Gilmore to quickly get his job back. Second-year special teams standout Jonathan Jones might've been the team's best cover man at that juncture. Then, as soon as Gilmore started to find his footing, he was diagnosed with a concussion. The group started to put it together in the second half with solid performances against the Raiders in Mexico City and the Bills in Buffalo. Gilmore was particularly strong as the season wore on, showing the man-to-man cover skills and the knack for getting his hands on footballs that made him one of the highest-paid players at his position last offseason. But in the end, in the Super Bowl, with Butler benched again, the group (outside of Gilmore, who played well against Philly) had too many letdowns in what was arguably the team's worst defensive performance of the season.

WHO IS UNDER CONTRACT FOR 2018?
Gilmore, Rowe, Jones, Cyrus Jones, Ryan Lewis, Jomal Wiltz

WHO ISN'T?
Butler, Johnson Bademosi

HOW DIRE IS THE NEED?

The Patriots played Rowe in prominent roles in each of the past two Super Bowls and he seems to be first in line to take over No. 2 duties with Butler certainly headed on to a new chapter in his career. Jonathan Jones showed in spurts that he could be an effective slot corner, but he suffered a season-ending injury in the Divisional Round and it's unclear what the Patriots will be expecting from him in 2018. Cyrus Jones is coming off of a torn ACL, and even before his injury, it looked like he may have a hard time cracking the regular rotation. This is one position -  like tackle  - that the Patriots don't want to be left thin. If we had to rank it, the need for another capable body would probably come in at about a 7 out of 10. 

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN FREE AGENCY?


There are a handful of relatively big names who will be on the market come March, including Butler. Trumaine Johnson of the Rams figures to be at the top of the class. Vontae Davis of the Colts is 29 and often injured, but in a corner-needy league, he shouldn't have much trouble finding a team. EJ Gains of the Bills could leverage his inside-out versatility to come away with a deal worth almost $10 million per year. Aaron Colvin of the Jaguars, Patrick Robinson of the Eagles, Nickell Robey-Coleman of the Rams and Leonard Johnson of the Bills give teams in need of slot help some options. Kyle Fuller of the Bears and Morris Claiborne of the Jets are two former first-rounders who've had up-and-down careers but showed last season they have still value on the outside. 

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN THE DRAFT?

It feels like the best athletes at the high school and college levels are getting smarter. Or their coaches are. Once again, there's a deep group of athletes peppering the incoming draft class at corner, which is, of course, one of the highest-paying positions in football. (Why so many top-tier athletes are still playing running back, on the other hand, is beyond me.) Alabama's hybrid star in the secondary Minkah Fitzpatrick will be long gone by the time the Patriots pick. Same goes for Ohio State's undersized burner Denzel Ward and Iowa's ball-hawking 6-foot-1 cover man Josh Jackson, in all likelihood. At the bottom of the first round, though, players like Auburn's Carlton Davis (who has drawn comparisons to Richard Sherman because of his length and ball skills) and Colorado's Isaiah Oliver (a one-time Pac-12 decathlete with a 6-foot-1 frame) could be available. Would the Patriots want to invest a first-round pick at that spot? If they feel like they have good depth at the position already on the roster but want to take a flier on a mid-round selection, they could hope Louisville's Jaire Alexander (who dealt with injuries in 2017 that will probably hurt his draft stock) lasts into the third round. 

HOW CAN THE PATRIOTS ADDRESS IT?


One name that's sort of intriguing on the free-agency market is Davis'. You've heard tales similar players ending up in New England before. He's spent the majority of his career without much of a shot at a title - though his Colts made the AFC Championship Game in the 2014 season. He should be low-cost. He had season-ending groin surgery last year, was released in November and went unclaimed. He'll be 30 before the start of next season, but he may be worth a roll of the dice to help a relatively young Patriots secondary. If he doesn't pan out, no harm done. Hard to envision Belichick and Nick Caserio investing big money into this position with Gilmore on the roster, but maybe they'll deem one of the free-agent slot options worth a shot if he's cost-effective. Otherwise, the Patriots may try to take advantage of a draft that seems - at least right now - as if it's deeper at corner than it is at some other spots on the defensive side of the ball, like on the edge.

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Report: James Harrison could return to Patriots

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Report: James Harrison could return to Patriots

James Harrison was a larger than life figure during his time in Pittsburgh. 

It was as if God molded him to be a member of the Steelers: massive, physical, and an absolute bruiser.

But at the end of the day he is a football player. And athletes in this sport don't particuarly like time on the bench.

Mike Tomlin and the rest of the Steelers organization were reminded of this fact in a very harsh manner.

At the end of the December, Harrison made a late season move to sign with the Patriots. It left his former teammates in Pittsburgh frustrated, and his former fans confused.

But at the end of the day he just wanted to be on the football field again. And that's exactly where Belichick put him.

Harrison had the opportunity to appear in many more situations, and had several sacks at the end of the season.

Now there is a new report from Christopher Price of the Boston Sports Journal that he could re-sign with the Patriots in 2018.

A source close to Price and Harrison said "there's a reasonable chance" that he could be on the roster next year.

He will be playing this upcoming season at age 40, and has previously stated he'd like to play one or two more seasons.

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