Notes from Day 2 of Pats mini-camp

Notes from Day 2 of Pats mini-camp

FOXBORO -- I know what you're all clamoring for: Mini-camp notes! Well here, you heathens. Have at them.
NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith and Assistant Executive Director of External Affairs George Atallah were at Gillette Tuesday. Don't fret -- the CBA allows the Players Association to make five unofficial visits in the offseason. As far as we know, this was one of them.
Jonathan Fanene, who had his left leg worked on by a trainer yesterday, missed Wednesday's session. Rookie running back Brandon Bolden was also unavailable, though he watched practice from the sideline. Jermaine Cunningham only showed face at about 1:14 PM, as he walked with Brandon Spikes and Myron Pryor out of the bubble.
Sebastian Vollmer, Rob Gronkowski, Logan Mankins, Tracy White, and Matthew Slater also continued their rehabilitation and running. Vollmer and Mankins rolled in about an hour after practice began. The pair had a brief chat with De Smith and Patriots owner Robert Kraft before starting rehab work.
Offense, wearing blue, and defense, wearing white, split up to start. The offensive line practiced against dummy 'D' while the rest worked on the running game. Defense practiced separately against the pass.
Tom Brady again did some passing drills against air. Aaron Hernandez, who seems to generally hate his helmet, actually put the thing on only while actually in the route. He made the grab.
When the Patriots mixed in some defense, a lot of time was spent with Brady and his backups working on seam routes and dropping passes in over DBs who hadn't turned around.
More work for Patrick Chung in the return game. Donte' Stallworth also got some special teams reps, as we saw in OTAs.
There were a few consecutively ugly series during 7-on-7. First, Ryan Mallett and Brandon Lloyd missed a connection. Then Hoyer had a bad throw. Brady followed up with a grounder to Joseph Addai in the flat. Had to be the rain.
We saw a couple different coverages practiced in the Red Zone (we're not at liberty report on scheme). Brady found Gaffney in the end zone on a sweet play -- Devin McCourty and Will Allen were left looking foolish. All the while, newly anointed defensive coordinator Matt Patricia knelt and watched his men. You have to wonder if they're happier when the offense completes the play, or the defense breaks it up. Probably depends on which coach you talk to.
Alabama fans will be happy to hear rookie linebacker Dont'a Hightower had a nice pick-6 during 11-on-11 against Brian Hoyer who underthew a crossing route. Roll Tide.
Sterling Moore had an impressive pass break-up against the old man Jabar Gaffney.
Donte Stallworth made a contested catch in the end zone against Ras-I Dowling, a play on which there was probably a little more contact than is ideal. Stallworth spiked the ball near Dowling after the play.
Tight end Bo Scaife looked pretty good today. He looked pretty mad when he went up for a high pass and got pulled down around the shoulders by Tavon Wilson. The guys on the sidelines heckled the play.
Again on the sidelines Wednesday were coaching assistants David Patten and Billy Yates, both former Patriots. Patten and Deion Branch spent a long time talking together.

Injuries opening up path for Donato to show what he can do

Injuries opening up path for Donato to show what he can do

In an ideal world the Bruins could have signed highly regarded prospect Ryan Donato to a two-year entry level contract, watched him develop his game deliberately at the AHL level and received two full years of service before the forward hit restricted free agency. 

But that doesn’t take into account the current injury situation for the Boston Bruins with a few weeks to go in the regular season, and it didn’t factor in Donato’s leverage as an NCAA player that could have chosen free agency, or going back to Harvard for his senior year, if he didn’t get what he was looking for in negotiations with the Black and Gold. Clearly it never got to anything approaching a hard ball level between the Bruins and a young player with plenty of B’s background in Donato, and now he’ll get to suit up for Boston and most likely make his NHL debut on Monday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets. 

MORE - Backes 'will be out for a couple games' with right leg laceration

Once he plays for the Bruins that will burn the first year on his two-year entry level contract, and it will also prohibit him from heading to Providence and playing for the P-Bruins through the rest of the hockey season. It’s the exact same situation Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson found himself in last spring when it was pretty clear after one game in Boston that he wasn’t quite ready for the NHL level. 

After Donato makes his debut it will be up to him and how NHL-ready he looks when he jumps into the Boston lineup, but it’s pretty clear they need some more dynamic top-6 bodies with Patrice Bergeron, David Backes, Jake DeBrusk all out of the lineup, and Anders Bjork done for the season as well as what could have been a good reserve option at the AHL level. 

None of those players are expected to return in the next couple of games or even in the next week most likely, so there may be an opening for Donato to dazzle if he's prepared to seize the opportunity. 

“Once [Harvard’s season] was over with I had an opportunity to speak with his family advisor and with the family and with Ryan himself. We just worked through what looked like the opportunity he was looking for and we were happy to provide that,” said Bruins general manager Don Sweeney. “We have some injuries and we’re at the point in the season where every game has a lot on the line. I think his being able to go over and have success at the Olympics this year really started to jumpstart his thought process that he was ready for the next challenge.

“I think Ryan might have looked at [the injuries on the NHL roster] as an even bigger opportunity for him to go in and possibly play as early as [Monday night]. From our standpoint, we had always been committed to providing the opportunity to Ryan if and when he decided to leave school. I think the two things just kind of lined up accordingly. We definitely are cognizant that the injuries are there, and they’ve mounted a little bit here coming down the stretch. It’s a testament to the group of players that we have [that led to the Tampa] win after losing [David] Backes early in the game and guys really playing well.”

Clearly Donato was ready for the next level after dominating college hockey to the tune of 26 goals in 29 games for the Crimson this season, and serving as one of Team USA’s best players in last month’s Olympic hockey tournament. Donato has a high hockey IQ that usually comes along with being the son of an NHL player, has a nose for the net for a young player that isn’t the biggest or strongest guy on the ice and has become a dangerous sniper with his NHL-level shot and release. The question now is whether all of those skills are “plug and play” at the NHL level, or if he’s more in the mold of similar NCAA players like Anders Bjork or Danton Heinen that needed some development time at the minor league level. 

“He’s a kid that’s got a confidence about himself, a talent level, and he’s got some details that he’s going to have to work on. All young players do, more importantly the inexperience part of it, but he’s a kid that has hard skill,” said Sweeney. “So we’re looking forward to having him join our team, get immersed, and get a taste, and then it’s up to him. He’ll take it with however far he can run with it, but he is welcomed to the opportunity.

“We’re not going to put any pressure on him to say ‘You have to produce.’ It’s like every player; he’s going to be another player that the coach will have an opportunity to play in situations, and the player himself will dictate how much time and circumstances they play in. We feel that, if we get healthy, we’re going to have a deep group. He’s going to add to that group. Then it’s up to him.”

It would be unfair to expect Donato to have an impact on this Bruins team like Craig Janney did coming out of college thirty years ago, but that’s what many are going to equate it to based on the circumstances. Instead it should be looked at as another talented young player that the Bruins are going to add to their embarrassment of young hockey talent riches, and a player that could possibly help them get through a current tough stretch of injuries and attrition. If Donato does anything more than that then it’s another great story in a Boston Bruins season that’s been chock full of them from beginning to end.


The Baseball Show Podcast: Should we be confident in the Red Sox rotation?

NBC Sports Boston Photo

The Baseball Show Podcast: Should we be confident in the Red Sox rotation?

0:21 - With less than two week before the beginning of the 2018 season, the Red Sox don’t have all of the answers for their rotation. Lou Merloni and Evan Drellich project their Opening Day rotation and discuss the lack of depth in it.

4:39 - Will Boston’s version of the ‘Killer B’s’ return in full force this season? Lou and Evan analyze the performances of Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Andrew Benintendi.

10:07 - Buy or sell? John Farrell will find another managerial position this season; J.D. Martinez will have a better season than Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton; Dave Dombrowski has put the best possible team out there for 2018.