Patriots

Takeaways from Day 3 of minicamp: Belichick focused on details

Takeaways from Day 3 of minicamp: Belichick focused on details

FOXBORO -- The Patriots finished their third and final day of minicamp practice on Thursday. Here are a few quick notes from the mandatory session. 

* Tight end Michael Williams was the lone new absence to practice. He reportedly will be placed on IR after he tore his left ACL. He suffered an injury Wednesday and was driven off the field after walking over to a cart under his own power. 

* There were 15 players missing from practice in total: Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, LeGarrette Blount, Dion Lewis, Rob Gronkowski, Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, Josh Kline, Tre' Jackson, Shaq Mason, Logan Ryan, Duron Harmon, CJ Johnson and Nate Ebner. 

* Rookie receiver Malcolm Mitchell, running back Brandon Bolden and tight end Clay Harbor were back on the field for Thursday's work after missing from the field on Wednesday.

* Defensive end Jabaal Sheard spent some time early in the workout having his leg looked at while sitting down on the sideline. He eventually got back to his feet and seemed to participate normally in defensive drills.

* Sheard and Malcom Brown did a jersey swap for Thursday's session, with Sheard wearing No. 90 and Brown wearing No. 93.

* Bill Belichick the teacher went to work soon after the warm-up period ended, lecturing quarterbacks for a few minutes on the intricacies of the hand-off. That instructional session was followed by a hand-off drill where the quarterbacks and running backs worked to make their exchange at the proper depth in the backfield and from the proper angle. 

* Rookie running back DJ Foster spent some time working one-on-one with special teams coach Joe Judge early in the practice. Foster has seen plenty of reps as a punt returner, and Judge did his best to improve the Arizona State product's form. Rookie corner V'Angelo Bentley and receiver Keshawn Martin also saw some time as returners early in the practice. Rookie corner Cyrus Jones continued to see work as a returner on Thursday as well. 

* Foster sustained an apparent left hamstring injury mid-way through the practice and remained sidelined. 

* Former Patriots receiver Troy Brown was present at practice for the second time this week. He worked with both pass-catchers and punt returners. Brown could be seen sharing some tips with Jones after the rookie muffed a punt about an hour into the session. 

* Tom Brady lauded running back James White for a route that White ran in a passing drill early in the practice. The third-year running back has displayed good hands and crip route-running abilities this week. 

* Second-year tight end AJ Derby was spotted running a lap during a half-speed team offensive period. Offensive lineman Ted Karras was also sent for a lap in the first half of the session. 

* Jimmy Garoppolo spent time with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, tight end Martellus Bennett and receivers Aaron Dobson, Malcolm Mitchell and Nate Washington in a side session. Typically, it's Brady who is the quarterback involved in those off-to-the-side periods, but today Garoppolo was the signal-caller involved. 

* Mitchell had an opportunity to take some repetitions with Brady and tested Malcolm Butler deep down the sideline at one point. Butler found Brady's attempt and swatted it away before Mitchell could get his mitts on it. Mitchell later made the play of the day when he reeled in a leaping one-handed grab in the corner of the end zone on a well-placed throw from Jacoby Brissett. Several players on the Patriots sideline cheered audibly and tight ends coach Brian Daboll raised his arms over his head in celebration.

* It was a windy day at Gillette Stadium, making passes down the field and toward the sideline difficult to throw accurately. The wind seemed to play with Ryan Allen's punts as well and may have made the job of the punt returners a bit more difficult. 

* Dont'a Hightower picked off a pass from Garoppolo late in the practice. Soon thereafter, on the adjacent field, rookie linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill intercepted Jacoby Brissett. Both picks came during a hurry-up period near the end of practice. 

* Garoppolo threw another pick during a 2-on-2 portion of practice. Jones was the culprit this time around. The second-rounder out of Alabama has displayed good quickness and dependable hands (his muffed punt Thursday aside) throughout minicamp.

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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