Patriots DBs will have to find a way vs. 'unusually big' Jets WRs

Patriots DBs will have to find a way vs. 'unusually big' Jets WRs

FOXBORO -- The Patriots have had a rotating group of corners filling in alongside Malcolm Butler this season, with the team seemingly looking to play the hot hand on a week-to-week basis. 

In a Week 10 loss to the Seahawks, Eric Rowe was in the press box as one coach Bill Belichick's seven inactives. Last weekend against the Niners, Rowe was starting and Justin Coleman was the odd man out. Logan Ryan's playing time has fluctuated, but he appeared to gain some positive momentum with a sound performance against San Francisco's Jeremy Kerley. 

Against the Jets, the hot hand at corner may not mean much. The size of the body attached to the hand? That could be critical. 

Last season, against Jets receivers Brandon Marshall (6-foot-4) and Eric Decker (6-3), the Patriots allowed a combined 21 catches for 323 yards and three touchdowns in two games. Their size against the likes of Butler (5-10) and Ryan (5-11) paid dividends. 

Decker is out for the season on injured reserve, but in his place the Jets have turned to Quincy Enunwa (6-2), who presents a similar size mismatch. 

"The size of this group is – they’re big and they’re very I’d say unusually big," Belichick said. "We see big receivers throughout the course of the year. This team has a lot of them and so that certainly is a challenge to matchup against. They’re as big a group as we’ll see all year. 

"Enunwa’s really had a strong season the whole way through and so it was really him and Decker and Marshall, and then [Robby] Andersen has come on [and] gotten more opportunity when Decker went out. So he’s really been the fourth guy who’s now the third guy. Enunwa and Brandon Marshall, I mean, they’re really borderline tight ends. They’re that kind of big, and strong and physical."

It remains to be seen how the Patriots will try to match up with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick's bigger targets. Butler could take on their No. 1 in Marshall, but he typically sees smaller, shiftier wideouts. Ryan has often been tasked with more imposing targets. He saw his share of work against Marshall last season, with Butler taking Decker. 

This year, the Patriots have added a corner with some length in Rowe (6-feet), who may be suited to check someone like Marshall if Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia want to go that route. Whoever sees Marshall, the Patriots in all likelihood will use either Devin McCourty or Duron Harmon over the top to protect against any big-play opportunities.

"You’ve got to try to go out and compete and use some of your strengths because both of those guys are big, they’re physical, they play to their size," McCourty said of Marshall and Enunwa. "Whether it’s in the running game when they’re blocking and trying to take advantage of smaller guys, or balls down the field that are kind of up for grabs, you’ve got to really try to get good position and use that position. 

"For our guys, if you’ve got good quickness, use your quickness and use your different strengths trying to battle them for each ball that’s thrown to them."

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."