Patriots

Taking a look at second-year 'leap' candidates for the Patriots

Taking a look at second-year 'leap' candidates for the Patriots

FOXBORO -- Sometimes it's Trey Flowers and whatever young defensive linemen he can round up. Sometimes it's Jacoby Brissett and his crew of young passing options on the Patriots 90-man roster

Sometimes it's Devin Lucien, who's the last man standing on the Patriots practice field.

The second-year receiver who spent last season on the practice squad was among the last off the field following Tuesday's OTA practice. He explained -- as Brissett did earlier this spring -- that there are days when the work he does after practice is a vital supplement to the work he got in during the scheduled practice.

"I just do little drills to try to keep my feet right," he said. "More than anything, I just make sure I'm catching the ball. I try to wet the ball and catch it. I struggled with trying to catch wet balls when OTAs started. Just little things to stay on my game. I don't get the most opportunities in practice so I try to make up for it after practice." 

Lucien is among the many players in Foxboro looking to make the often-talked-about "second-year leap" as the regular season approaches. Yet because this iteration of the Patriots is loaded with veteran talent, there may not be many opportunities for Year 2 types to put their imprint on practices.

Players like Lucien and running back DJ Foster, both of whom are in their second years out of Arizona State, have worked with all three quarterbacks at times this spring. But neither are exactly considered to be top-of-the-depth-chart options in deep receiver and running back position groups. 

Is it difficult not to think about the number of reps they get in a given workout, Lucien was asked?

"I definitely do," he said. "But the way I think about it is you can only control what you can control. We have a great team so if you're one of the guys that's able to make a play, try to make the most of that opportunity."

Lucien's fighting for work in a group that might be the most talented on the roster: Brandin Cooks, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, Danny Amendola, Andrew Hawkins all have had success in the league, and young players like Austin Carr, Cody Hollister and DeAndrew White are promising. 

Foster, meanwhile, was splitting work with James White, Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead during passing camp. Brandon Bolden and Mike Gillislee will also be more involved once the pads come on for training camp. 

"[I] just focus on what I can do. I learn as much as I can from those guys," Foster said. "Enjoy the process. Enjoy the relationships I have in those rooms because every year people come and go. Learn as much as I can from every guy in that room, and go out there and compete with them and have fun."

Here's a quick rundown of what we saw during spring practices from players hoping for that "second-year leap."

Trevor Bates, LB: A practice-squad player last season, it appears as though the second-year man out of Maine will be given a shot to show what he can do both in the kicking game and as an off-the-ball linebacker in training camp. 

Chase Farris, OL: A practice-squad staple on the offensive line last season, Farris was one of the regular second-unit guards this spring, playing opposite Jamil Douglas. 

Glenn Gronkowski, FB: Gronkowski bounced on and off of the practice squad last season and should have an opportunity to show more of what he can do when pads are introduced next month. 

Devin Lucien, WR: With good size (6-foot-2, 200 pounds), Lucien provides the Patriots with a bigger pass-catching option who has some experience in the offense. Carr and Hollister bring size to the position, but last year's seventh-round pick should have an edge on those two in terms of his understanding of the system. Lucien made an impressive diving grab on a short pass from Brissett on Tuesday.

Jacoby Brissett, QB: We've written pretty extensively on Brissett's important second season. He had an opportunity to finish up Tuesday's practice -- which Jimmy Garoppolo sat out -- with a long series of reps that provided plenty of teaching moments

DJ Foster, RB: Foster seemed to do nothing but help himself during passing camp, making a handful of impressive catches -- including one from Tom Brady at the end of a session that had the almost-40-year-old all kinds of fired up. Will he be able to build on that momentum in camp?

Woodrow Hamilton, DL: Another practice-squadder from 2016, he'll have an opportunity to compete for time on the interior of the Patriots offensive line once training camp rolls around. 

Cyrus Jones, CB: A dynamic punt-returner with the ball in his hands, muffs were an issue for last year's second-round pick during two practices that were open to reporters. Defensively, he had opportunities to work both in the slot and outside. He worked with a variety of defensive-back groupings. 

Jonathan Jones, CB: Maybe the top candidate to see the biggest "leap" in Year 2, Jones worked with the top group of defensive backs as the slot option for a large portion of spring workouts. A special-teams standout as a rookie, it looks like Jones will have a chance at more playing time defensively in 2017. 

Ted Karras, OL: Last year's sixth-rounder worked in as the backup center for the vast majority of spring work. He served as the primary interior offensive line backup (at both guard and center) last season and could be in line for a similar role this year with the starting offensive line unit pretty well set. 

Malcolm Mitchell, WR: Mitchell did not participate in practices that were open to the media. He was spotted getting some conditioning work in with Dont'a Hightower and Garoppolo during Tuesday's practice. 

Elandon Roberts, LB: In his first year out of Houston, Roberts was a force at times in the running game. Can his second pro season bring with it a significant jump in how he handles work in the middle of New England's sub packages? He'll have plenty of opportunities to show what he can do in camp, particularly if Hightower needs more time to get right physically. 

Joe Thuney, G: Thuney's the projected starter at left guard after winning that job last season and never giving it up. What would be interesting to see would be how Thuney would be used if the team ever needed help at another spot on the line. Last season, the Patriots were able to largely avoid injuries up front. Thuney played tackle in college and was at one point considered NC State's top center. 

Vincent Valentine, DL: Tough to get a feel for the trench guys during passing camp, but Valentine will be able to show how much he's grown as a player when training camp arrives. 

Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe miss Friday's practice

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Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe miss Friday's practice

FOXBORO -- It appears the Patriots will be without Stephon Gilmore and Eric Rowe again Sunday. 

Neither player was seen on the field for the media portion of Friday’s practice, capping a week in which neither Gilmore (concussion) nor Rowe (groin) practiced. Harvey Langi also remained off the field a week after his car accident. 

Assuming the Patriots are without Gilmore and Rowe, a secondary that has struggled this season will face an even bigger challenge against Atlanta’s passing attack Sunday night.
 

Belichick: Patriots preparing for everything from slumping Julio Jones

Belichick: Patriots preparing for everything from slumping Julio Jones

FOXBORO -- Julio Jones: He’s the best, right? No? No touchdowns this season? He stinks? He’s going to score against the Patriots because their defense stinks? Real breakout game for ol’ No. 11 in red? Who knows?! Lmao. 

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I’ll tell you what Bill Belichick knows: That Jones is not a one-dimensional player. While “deep threat” might be the first thing that comes to mind with ol’ No. 11 in red, Belichick said the Patriots are preparing for anything and everything from ol’ No. 11 in red. 

“Yeah, I wouldn’t say [he’s just a deep threat],” Belichick said. “I mean, he catches a lot of in-cuts, a lot of over routes, out routes, the one he caught against us last year. He’s good on catch-and-run plays, he’s hard to tackle, he’s strong, slants, so he’s pretty good on everything. You know, same thing, but I mean, they screened everybody. They screened the backs and the receivers and Gabriel, Jones. I mean, they all can get the ball. They’re not just going to screen to one guy and just key on that guy. They mix it up.”

The Patriots will mix it up with the Falcons Sunday night at Gillette Stadium. Jones has 25 catches for 367 yards on the season.