Patriots

Pats make quite the catch in Rex Burkhead

Pats make quite the catch in Rex Burkhead

FOXBORO -- Trying to cover Rex Burkhead here in training camp is a little like trying to catch a bee with a fishing net. Not impossible, but not likely either.

Just ask linebacker Elandon Roberts or safety Brandon King. Both had the unenviable task of trying to corral the quick Burkhead during one-on-one pass catching drills Thursday. Both found themselves looking quite foolish. That continues a week-long trend here at Patriots training camp -- Number 34 getting into space and creating even more.

MORE PATRIOTS

“I’m trying to reach the expectations every day of excellence,” Burkhead said, as if he just created a slogan for the back of a t-shirt.

Burkhead broke into the league five years ago with the Cincinnati Bengals. He earned his way by being an ace special-teams player, but eventually saw an increase in his role offensively a season ago, both running and catching the football. Word is Burkhead was chased by Bill Belichick and Bill Belichick alone. You can see why, with the Pats wanting to create even more uncertainty for opposing defenses. 

“Hopefully, this year, we’ll have a little more balance between the running game and passing game,” Belichick said. “Again, [the departed LeGarrette Blount] was primarily a runner. He didn’t have a lot of receiving production. The reverse is true of James White. So hopefully with our backs this year we’ll have a little more balance and be a little less predictable from that spot.”

That’s one of many areas where Burkhead can factor in. 

“It’s something growing up, my dad -- he was a coach, he played football -- he always told me, ‘You can’t be a one-dimensional player. You’ve have to be able to catch the ball as well,’ ” Burkhead said. “It’s always been something I’ve taken pride in. I want to make sure I can do it well.”

The Pats haven’t been shy about trying Burkhead in short yardage situation down at the goal line either. Running backs coach Ivan Fears is on record saying the team needs to find it’s power back and while Mike Gilislee is probably the lead dog in that area, Burkhead is bigger than you think, right around 210 pounds. That’s not Blount beef, but that doesn’t mean the Texas native can’t get it done.

“Find the creases and see the reads. You don’t want to have your head up with a guy 50 pounds or 100 pounds bigger than you, so you try to find those creases where you can really lower your pads and get on in there,” adding, “I can fit through some cracks that some normal - or bigger backs - can’t get through.”

If Burkhead keeps showing up and showing out in every practice, he’ll get plenty of opportunities to impact the Pats in all facets and pay off Belichick’s faith in him.

QUICK SLANTS PODCAST: Belichick ignoring noise? Or trying to change the narrative?

quickslantspodcast_clean.jpg

QUICK SLANTS PODCAST: Belichick ignoring noise? Or trying to change the narrative?

3:00 Why has Bill Belichick been so surprisingly positive of his team’s performance in tight wins?

6:30 Phil Perry breaks down what grades he gave the Patriots on his report card following the win over the Jets

15:00 Reaction to the Austin-Seferian Jenkins overturned touchdown, and what changes need to be made in the NFL replay system. 

23:00 Why was Patriots offensive line much more effective against Jets?

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

25:00 Patriots-Falcons preview, how did Falcons blow a 17 point lead to the Dolphins?

What's missing from Patriots? A defense that has a clue

What's missing from Patriots? A defense that has a clue

FOXBORO - We’re not quite at the point of fire and brimstone coming down from the skies, or 40 years of darkness, or even dogs and cats living together, but this Patriots season isn’t headed down the right path, despite a 4-2 record and the top spot in the AFC East. 

There are several elements that appear missing at this juncture - chief among them a defense that actually has a clue. Please don’t celebrate holding the Jets to 17 points - I’m looking at you, Dont’a Hightower. Josh McCown threw for just 194 yards against the Cleveland freakin’ Browns for goodness sake, but he got you for 354 and two scores?! Even the 2009 Patriots defense is offended by that.

MORE

We’d be foolish to think the Pats can’t get this leaky unit fixed for reasons so obvious I won’t state them in this space so as not to waste my time or yours. We also know - long before Bill Belichick’s 6 1/2-minute explanation on the Monday conference call - that it's not supposed to be perfect right now. Actually, it’ll never be perfect. That’s not how this game works. 

Yet week after week, we see uncommon breakdowns and one defender looking at the next as if to say, “I thought you had him?” or more to the point, “what the hell were you doing?” It started Sunday at MetLife on the third play of the game. Malcolm Butler, playing 10 yards off Robby Anderson, looking as if he’s never played the position before, inexplicably turning his back on Anderson even though the wide receiver makes no real move to the post. That results in just about the easiest completion of McCown’s life, a 23-yarder on third-and-10. 

On the same series, on another third-and-long, the Pats rushed four and dropped seven into coverage. Defensive end Cassius Marsh continued his season-long trend of rushing so far upfield he ended up in Hoboken. With Deatrich Wise ridden outside on the opposite edge, McCown wisely stepped up and found prime real estate with New York City views. He wanted to throw and could have when the Pats fouled up a crossing route from the backside of the play. But with that much room to roam, McCown took off, scooting for a quick 16 yards and another first down.

Fittingly, that drive ended with a Jets touchdown on yet another dumb play, this one courtesy of Mr. Hit or Miss, Elandon Roberts. Channeling his inner Brandon Spikes, the second-year pro blew off his key and responsibility on third-and-goal from the 1, charging hard to the line. This, despite one of the most feeble play-action fakes you’ll see. In fact, I’m not even sure it was a real play-action fake. Anyway, score it as a touchdown to Austin Seferian-Jenkins and an indictment on David Harris, who apparently can’t vault past the erratic Roberts on the depth chart.

Similar to the week prior in Tampa, the Pats found better footing after that. They forced three straight three-and-outs in the second quarter and then helped turn the game when Butler intercepted an ill-advised throw by McCown just prior to the half. They got another turnover to start the third, with Butler coming off the edge on fourth-and-1 and forcing McCown into panic mode. The veteran QB fired an off-target throw to - get this - a wide open receiver who went uncovered on a drag route and Devin McCourty was gifted an interception.

But this group frowns on prosperity. It took a little-seen rule to prevent a Seferian-Jenkins touchdown in the fourth, and on the game’s final drive, the Pats allowed a 32-yard completion on fourth-and-12. Then, on what turned out to be the Jets final play, the Pats let Tavaris Cadet leak out of the backfield and run unchecked 20 yards down the field. Had McCown not soiled himself again, Gang Green would have had a first down and at least one crack at the end zone. Then, who knows what the heck happens?

It was just a season ago that the Patriots led the entire NFL in scoring defense. If you’ll recall, we spent a better part of the year wondering if that defense was championship quality. Turns out they were. Right now, we’re wondering once again if this defense is of that ilk, but through an entirely different prism. It’s on the players and staff to change the current outlook, or those cats and dogs will have to figure out their shared space.