Five Patriots whose names you'll know after tonight


Five Patriots whose names you'll know after tonight

FOXBORO -- There are 90 players on the Patriots roster at the moment. If you're like most consumers of Patriots media, there's no way you can name them all. And that's OK. 

But tonight marks the first preseason game of 2016 for Bill Belichick's club, and inevitably there will be a heretofore unknown who will put together a performance that make you sit up on your couch, raise an eyebrow and say, "This guy's a player!"

With that in mind, here are five names who may be unfamiliar to you for only a few more hours...

DeAndre Carter, WR: This 5-foot-8, 190-pound receiver has stood out in training camp despite his diminutive stature. He's shown good quickness, an ability to create separation with his route-running, and the quarterbacks seem to trust him with throws in traffic. Carter was signed to the Patriots practice squad in December and then re-signed on a future deal in the offseason, giving him a bit of a head start on some of the team's other new wideouts when it came to grasping the playbook. Belichick said recently that Carter, who was an All-American at Sacramento State in 2014, has a "Troy Brown type of build" and can compete both on the outside and in the slot.

"He’s done well," Belichick added. "He’s a good kid, he works really hard, has some return ability. Has pretty good playing strength for his size. He’s a shorter player, but he has some playing strength to him, so that compensates for it a little bit. He’s continued to kind of impress us as he’s gained more experience and really is a hard-working kid and a great kid to have on the team."

Rufus Johnson, DE/OLB: The Patriots appear to be very deep on the edge with Jabaal Sheard, Rob Ninkovich (out with a torn triceps muscle), Chris Long, Shea McClellin, Trey Flowers and Geneo Grissom all competing for reps. But don't forget about Johnson, who may have briefly grabbed your attention right around this time last year. He recorded two sacks, four quarterback hits and two pass breakups during preaseason play last summer and made the 53-man roster, but he was later placed on the reserve/non-football injury list, ending his season in October after dealing with an illness.

The 6-foot-5, 280- pounder was lauded by Belichick last season, who said Johnson "has a lot of things going for him." Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said last year that Johnson is "explosive, he’s long, he’s strong and he can create some problems for an opponent just with his combination of skill set."

Jonathan Jones, CB: Seemingly every year there is an undrafted rookie free agent who turns heads in training camp and ends up making the team. Last year it was center David Andrews. Two years ago it was corner Malcolm Butler. This year it could be Jonathan Jones. He's had up-and-down moments in camp thus far, but he's in competition for a potential roster spot that seems to have no clear-cut favorite at the moment. Jones, Justin Coleman, Darryl Roberts, V'Angelo Bentley, Cre'Von LeBlanc and EJ Biggers are all candidates to join Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan and Cyrus Jones in the cornerback meeting room this fall. What could help Jonathan Jones separate himself is his speed -- he ran a blazing 4.33-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine -- and a level of toughness that belies his 5-foot-9, 190-pound frame. 

"He’s a tough kid," Belichick said recently. "We saw that at Auburn. He tackled well. I’d say he plays big for his size, he’s not afraid, he’s a tough, competitive kid that’s willing to support in the running game and in the kicking game, very competitive on the ball. Again, his speed and overall awareness puts him in position to have the opportunity to play some balls. That’s half the battle right there, being in position to do it. He’s been very competitive on the ball and shown good speed, good toughness, as he did in college."

Ted Karras, OL: For those of you who geek out at the sight of old-fashioned offensive line play -- and I know you're out there -- keep an eye out for No. 75. The sixth-round pick out of Illinois has already shown a propensity for finishing plays with an edge and we haven't even seen him in a live game situation yet.

He's seen work at right guard with the first team with Jonathan Cooper out, and he served as a backup center when Bryan Stork was unavailable. He's even seen a handful of snaps at tackle. By the time the regular season rolls around, Karras could be the type of player the Patriots trust to sub in at two or three different spots in an emergency situation. He may not be quite as ready for starter reps as fellow rookie Joe Thuney, but there's value in what Karras brings to the table. 

Markus Kuhn, DL: When the first-team Patriots defense has taken the field during training camp, all the familiar faces have been there: Butler, Ryan, Ninkovich, Sheard, Dont'a Hightower, Jamie Collins, Patrick Chung, Devin McCourty and Malcom Brown. Oftentimes right next to Brown, however, has been a more unfamiliar figure at 6-foot-4, 315 pounds, and with long hair flowing out of the back of his helmet. That's Kuhn, the team's other German-born player who signed with the Patriots this offseason after being released by the Giants. Now that Alan Branch is back in the fold, Kuhn has jostled for reps with him as well as with Terrance Knighton and rookie Vincent Valentine, but he seems to be a player for whom the Patriots want to provide a legitimate opportunity. He's 30 years old, but because his collegiate football career at North Carolina State began late after he arrived from Europe, Belichick believes Kuhn is still improving.

"Markus is a young player in terms of experience," Belichick said earlier this week. "He’s a little older [in age] because of his situation, but a young player that’s still getting better. Works hard, smart, a good, tough kid. He has good playing strength. He played well for the Giants. We played against him last year and evaluated him prior to our game and also in our game. He’s very competitive out there with that group . . . The contact certainly in terms of the offensive and defensive lines is something we’ve seen a lot more in training camp, but it’s a little bit different in the game so we’ll see how that goes for everybody."

Reports: Patriots among NFL teams taking a look at Manziel

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Reports: Patriots among NFL teams taking a look at Manziel

Johnny Manziel said 10 days ago, "I'd go to New England in a heartbeat," when asked about the Patriots as a potential landing spot.

That seemed like wishful thinking at the time, but they're taking a look at him...along with 12 other NFL teams, according to ESPN's Eric Williams. 

Tom Brady's current backup Brian Hoyer is, like Manziel, an ex-Cleveland Browns quarterback. Manziel would again be competing with Hoyer for the Pats' No. 2 job should New England take a chance on "Johnny Football", the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner from Texas A&M, who's been out of football the past two years because of substance abuse and emotional problems.

FOX Sports' Bruce Feldman had it at 12 teams watching Manziel work out at the University of San Diego and said the Patriots gave Manziel a weigh-in.


Patriots re-sign offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle

Patriots re-sign offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle

The Patriots have agreed to re-sign offensive lineman LaAdrian Waddle, his agent Scott Casterline confirmed on Twitter.  Waddle hit unrestricted free agency when the new league year began and made a visit to the Cowboys earlier this week. In the end, though, he chose to return to the team that claimed him off of waivers at the end of the 2015 season.

Waddle, who turns 27 in July, appeared in 12 games last season for the Patriots. He was the first right tackle the Patriots turned to when Marcus Cannon suffered an ankle injury mid-season against the Chargers. He ended up playing 51 snaps against the likes of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram without allowing a sack. He then started the next three games against the Broncos, Raiders and Dolphins and held star rushers Von Miller, Khalil Mack and Cameron Wake -- all of whom rush primarily off of the offensive right -- without a sack. 

Injuries forced Waddle (380 snaps on the season) to split the right tackle position with Cameron Fleming (543 snaps), but he was the primary backup when healthy. Waddle started the Divisional Round playoff game against the Titans but suffered a knee injury and was removed for Fleming. 

Both Fleming and Waddle visited the Cowboys this week, and the fact that Waddle has re-signed with the Patriots may impact Fleming's decision moving forward. 

The Patriots went to great lengths to build tackle depth last season, and adding Waddle to the roster helps them retain some of that depth after losing their left tackle, Nate Solder, to the Giants via free agency. Waddle could be an option on the left side, but the vast majority of his work since entering the league as an undrafted rookie in 2013 has been on the right side. 

The Patriots now have Fleming, Marcus Cannon, Cole Croston, Tony Garcia and Andrew Jelks on their depth chart at tackle. Croston, Garcia and Jelks are all headed into their second years as pros. Croston remained on the 53-man roster all season -- an indication that the Patriots liked him enough not to expose him to the waiver system -- but did not see meaningful snaps. Garcia and Jelks both missed the entirety of the 2017 season on reserve lists. 

Once the Patriots lost Solder to the Giants, it seemed to be of paramount importance that the Patriots re-sign either Waddle or Fleming. Behind Cannon, there were simply too many question marks not to have one return. The Patriots could opt to draft a tackle, but this is considered an average year at that position in that there are few ready-made NFL players and several developmental types.

Before the Super Bowl last season, I asked offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia how the team was able to manage offensively with backups at right tackle for much of the season. 

"It's not like [Fleming and Waddle are] not good players," Scarnecchia said. "They are good players. Their skill set seemed to fit that position pretty well. They have the traits that we covet. And they're both really smart guys, very willing learners, and they're both driven to be good and they want to play good. And I think all those things have manifested themselves when they've been out there playing. And we've been very, very pleased with what they've done for us this year, essentially splitting that position."

Asked about the aspects of the game the Patriots worked on with both Waddle and Fleming last year, Scarnecchia said, "For us it transcends everything. Obviously run-blocking and pass-blocking. They're both good at those things. Are they great at those things? No. But they've been able to steadily improve over the last two years to the point where we put them out there and no one's worried. And it's been that way the whole season after Marcus got hurt. Yeah they've done a nice job for us."