Patriots

Giardi: Even though cuts are looming, Pats need to add

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Giardi: Even though cuts are looming, Pats need to add

There’s a “Help Wanted” sign just outside Patriot Place. I assumed it was for one of the retail shops but after last night’s preseason finale for Bill Belichick’s team, maybe it was Bill himself who put that sign along Route 1.

PAPER THIN FRONT SIX/SEVEN: An unimpressive summer from bottom end of the roster players trying to make an impression. Defensive tackle Darius Kilgo got more snaps than any lineman. He didn’t make the most of them. We saw a lot of Caleb Kidder. He was the skinny end getting pushed around versus the run. Kidder’s already been released (injury designation). Josh Augusta is only noticeable because of his overall shape (it’s messy). That leaves Woodrow Hamilton as the best of the bunch. Very sound against the run throughout the preseason but not someone who makes you feel all warm and fuzzy should something happen to the quartet of Alan Branch, Lawrence Guy, Malcom Brown and Vincent Valentine. 

On the edge, the combo platter of Rob Ninkovich’s retirement, Kony Ealy’s failure to fit in (or scouting’s inability to project him as a bad fit) and Derek Rivers torn ACL has left a lot of questions and very few secure answers. The “easy” fix is to let Dont’a Hightower play more on the edge than ever before. One problem: we didn’t see him for more than half of camp and Hightower didn’t take a snap in the preseason. Can he hold up outside? Can he help make up for the loss of production caused by the departures of Nink/Jabal Sheard/Chris Long? Hightower is a terrific football player but removing him from the middle may actually cause as much harm as putting him on the edge may help. Plus, he’s definitely more outside linebacker than defensive end. 

Undrafted rookie Adam Butler had a nice camp and got elevated status in the final preseason game, not having to play. But can you count on him for a full and productive season? In my best Belichick voice, ‘I’m not saying it can’t, but I’m not saying it can.’ The Pats will surely mix and match the likes of Kyle Van Noy and Shea McClellin (assuming he doesn’t end up on IR with an undisclosed injury) but there are obvious limitations with those players. And don’t get me started on Geneo Grissom, an excellent looking athlete but not one that’s ever proven to be a productive defensive player.

PUNT RETURN PROBLEMS: Yes, i feel bad for Cyrus Jones. The non-contact knee injury that knocked him out the Giants game Thursday night was tough to watch. And just when he was making strides. Assuming Cyrus is done for the year, and with Julian Edelman already lost, the Pats most experienced punt returner is Danny Amendola. He ran back 18 a season ago. But exposing  him to those extra plays seems like a recipe for disaster considering the depth at wide receiver. So then who? Patrick Chung was the only other roster player who field a punt in a game last season, and he did that exactly once. DJ Foster dabbled in the preseason last year (three times) and another undrafted kid, Will Likely, got a shot last night; he was the Big 10 Returner of the Year two years ago. This situation to me reeks of 2015 all over again. An inability to consistently handle kickoffs led to a mid-September trade for Keyshawn Martin. Problem solved. I see a repeat here in 2017, though with a massive amount of cuts forthcoming, a player for player deal -- your soon-to-be-cut for mine - would seem a real possibility.

WONDERING AT WIDEOUT (AND TIGHT END FOR THAT MATTER): My, oh my, how a deep group suddenly has as many questions as answers. What’s with Malcolm Mitchell and that knee? Can he make it though 16 games and the playoffs healthy? Hell, can he be ready for Week 1 after his stop-and-start summer? Inquiring minds want to know. Amendola is always a health risk. He plays like his pants are on fire but his body has betrayed him more than a couple times. Brandin Cooks is a proven player, and, at 23, appears to have his best days ahead of him. But Cooks proved himself in New Orleans. As complex a system as that is, the Pats' isn’t easy to grasp either. How quickly will he climb Tom Brady’s trust tree? That leaves Chris Hogan as Mr. Reliable, and he caught 38 passes last year. Now he’s being projected for 70-plus all across the internet. Hogan’s had a great camp and a leap is inevitable, but he’s never been asked to be that guy in his NFL career. So we shall see. 

Does that mean the Pats should keep everyone’s darling, Austin Carr, an undrafted rook out of Northwestern, or second-year pro and former seventh-rounder Devin Lucien? Maybe, if Mitchell’s availability is in question, but I think both players remain developmental projects and the idea of them assuming a heavy amount of snaps seems unlikely. Cody Hollister is better than you think. Skinny, but there’s a reason he didn’t get released and hit with an injury designation after Jacoby Brissett did his best to ruin the kid’s shoulder with an errant pass (he caught it, by the way). Hollister also does more on special teams than the other two. He might be the sneaky pick. Or he too could easily find himself getting through waivers and hanging out on the practice squad, just in case. Bet here is seeking out a veteran wideout who can also run back punts. Two birds with one stone.

Julio Jones presents Johnson Bademosi opportunity to prove he's not niche player

Julio Jones presents Johnson Bademosi opportunity to prove he's not niche player

None of us thought Johnson Bademosi would be starting this past Sunday at MetLife Stadium against the Jets because -- well -- that’s not what we perceive the 27-year-old to be. He’s a special teamer. It’s how he’s made his mark in the NFL dating back to 2012 with Cleveland. So why would that change in mid-October for a team he’s only been with for six weeks? Because Bademosi is -- and has always been -- intent on proving he’s more than a niche player.

“I see myself as a football player,” he said, “and whatever position they put me in, I’m going to try to be the best because that’s how I operate and who I am as a person. Whether that’s as a cornerback, on special teams, if they ask me to play wildcat quarterback. Whatever…”

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Bill Belichick and his staff asked for Bademosi to go on the field and not come off. He played 73 defensive snaps in addition to his usual core four special teams duties. 

“I felt like I played a whole game,” Bademosi joked, before saying, “I love playing football so I’m going to go out there and empty myself.”

He did just that, getting targeted only two times in the 24-17 win over the Jets. It was hoped that Bademosi would return to his normal specialist role, but with Stephon Gilmore still out with a concussion, it now seems more and more likely that the sixth year pro will have to be an ironman again Sunday night in primetime against the Falcons. Historically, the Pats have defended bigger receivers. That means Bademosi may be responsible for one of the most dangerous players in the league, Julio Jones.

“He’s an amazing player," he said. “We all know what he’s capable of. As a defense, we have to be prepared for him.”

The Pats were on Super Bowl Sunday and Jones still made a couple of ridiculous plays with either Logan Ryan or Eric Rowe in coverage with safety help over the top.

“He’s fast. He’s physical. He can jump. He can run. He’s smart. He’s everything you want in a wide receiver,” said Bademosi without blinking an eye. That’s the kind of confidence you want from a player at that position and facing this type of challenge. 

“You gotta believe in yourself,” he said “ I’m confident in my abilities. I work hard and trust my preparation.”

Being an elite athlete certainly helps. Bademosi was a scholarship football player at Stanford -- “some guy named Jim Harbaugh called” -- before ending up in the NFL. But it’s Bademosi’s willingness to go all in in the film room that impressed safety Devin McCourty. 

“…I think, honestly, the most work he did was probably with just himself jumping into the film, watching more stuff to exactly see,” said McCourty Thursday. “You know, when you’re a backup more, you’re kind of trying to see everything because you don’t know what role you might be thrust upon once you’re in the game. But, I think once he knew he was starting, it was kind of like, ‘Alright, let me focus in on this.’ I thought he did an awesome job of just being ready and competing.”

Bademosi will have to compete his ass off Sunday night, even against what has been to this point a physically compromised Jones. Based on what he did several days ago, there’s no reason to believe the Pats cornerback won’t bring everything he has, trying to prove again that he’s more than just a special teams whiz.

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