Patriots

Butler's exit signs continue to shine bright

Butler's exit signs continue to shine bright

FOXBORO -- Every Friday, Phil Perry and Mike Giardi will take your Patriots questions on Twitter and answer them as a joint mailbag -- or Friday Bag, as they call it.

Got questions? Tweet the guys using the hashtag #FridayBag. But for now, give the latest edition of the Bag a read.

Eddie!!! I’m putting the chances of his return at single digits and that was before this nonsense. His explanation seemed implausible to me. You could accidentally hit the retweet button but then you have to say yes to retweeting it. I don’t know. That’s never happened to me before and I tweet entirely too much. Liking something would have made more sense. Anyway, I think he’s been a pain in the butt and I think his play has suffered this year as he eyeballs free agency and a new contract.

Miguel checking in with a tough one off the bat. Let's eliminate specialists -- Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen, Joe Cardona -- from the equation. I think Gostkowski would be the clear winner if he was in the mix. He's impacted a lot of games in a positive way for them with his field goals and kick placement. If we go outside of that trio, the question gets tougher. Matthew Slater has been unavailable for much of the season. Nate Ebner is out. And the list of solid week-to-week contributors is long. I'm going to go with Jonathan Jones, who's been out there consistently and is one of their top players when it comes to covering kicks. The Patriots are among the best in the league when it comes to opposing starting field position, and it's because of players like Jones. Johnson Bademosi, Brandon King and Brandon Bolden all deserve honorable mention, but Jones is my choice. If Patriots opponents were more willing to allow the Patriots to return kicks, then Dion Lewis would be in the running as well. But he's taking a knee more often than not.

Rich, the Patriots ask their edge players to do a hell of a lot more than just set the edge. It’s why Rob Ninkovich was an ironman on that defense for a long time, why they drafted a player like Chandler Jones in the first round, and why they were quite confident in letting Dont’a Hightower expand his role in that regard before the injuries struck. The Pats also drafted Derek Rivers but lost him to a knee injury in the summer and made that ill-fated trade for Kony Ealy. One of the reasons Ealy didn’t work here was because he was unable/unwilling to handle some of those duties, which include dropping into coverage.

Let's set it at 6.5! Any more than two catches a game over the next three, I think, would be encouraging -- or it would mean someone's been injured. There's a lot to absorb for Britt, obviously, and he's competing with a pretty deep group of pass-catchers for looks. When Michael Floyd was here at the end of last season, he caught four passes in two games, and there were no Rob Gronkowski or Brandin Cooks to absorb targets. I'm taking the under.

The Malcolm Mitchell situation is a murky one. He's been in the building. He's been rehabbing. But as far as I understand it, even he's not entirely sure if there's a plan in place to bring him back this season. I think the Britt signing further muddies the picture.

He's nice depth if the Patriots are hoping to give Mitchell the full year off to heal and be an impact player for the foreseeable future.

Vincent Valentine is in a situation where he's also doing everything that's asked of him. He was encouraged by his progress midseason, and he stuck in Foxboro through the bye week to continue to stay on his rehab plan. What's happening now with Alan Branch -- who missed practice all week because of an injured knee and almost certainly won't be available Sunday -- could impact how the Patriots view a potential return for the second-year defensive tackle. Their defense has struggled against the run. They're allowing an average of 5.0 yards per carry, worst in the league. If Branch is going to miss some time moving forward, maybe that forces the Patriots to break glass on Valentine.

My answer might've been different a month or two ago. Back then, the concerns about Andrew Luck's shoulder weren't as alarming as they are now. Back then, Giants ownership hadn't yet made a big ugly mess of its quarterback situation. I still think there are going to be enough enticing opportunities out there for McDaniels to seriously consider taking one. His choice could be the Giants, who have talent in place and the perfect bridge quarterback ready to go. It could be the Bears, if he believes in Mitchell Trubisky. It could be the Browns, if McDaniels wants to go back to the Cleveland area, and if he can stomach the way ownership has handled things in recent years, and if he likes the idea of working with new general manager John Dorsey.

I don't think the opportunities are as shiny as they were earlier this season, but they are plentiful, and now may be as good a time as any for McDaniels to make his second run as a head coach.

Well, I’d say any quarterback who loses his top two options won’t be as good, right? Also, let’s give some credit to Miami. Defensive coordinator Matt Burke came up with a good plan and there were times where Brady was clearly unsure about what he was seeing. Combine that with receivers that had a hard time separating from press man coverage and you had the perfect storm Monday night. It’ll look a lot better this weekend in Pittsburgh. I’m going to go out on a limb and predict the Pats won’t go 0-for-11 on third downs.

I do think Derek Rivers will make an impact. First of all, if his knee can get right, and indications I've gotten are that rehab has gone well, he's athletic enough to make plays on the edge. Physically, his skill set should translate. We were starting to see flashes of that in training camp before he was injured. Second of all, it looks like he's going to have all kinds of opportunity. The picture on the edge could change depending on what the Patriots do in the draft and free agency, obviously, but after Trey Flowers, Deatrich Wise and Kyle Van Noy, there aren't many edge defenders who look like locks for roles in 2018.

Malcom Brown and Lawrence Guy have been very good of late, but they may be asked to play more if Branch can't go. How that impacts their legs late will be worth watching. Otherwise, the tackling at the second level needs to improve -- and it should. It's not often you see someone like Patrick Chung whiff in the hole to give up a big gain, which is what happened in Miami on one of Kenyan Drake's longest runs of the night. I don't think we'll see much in the way of drastic scheme change, especially since you can't sell out against the run and leave yourself vulnerable to the pass against the Steelers. If they clean up some technique, they'll improve. And remember, the Steelers haven't been very efficient running the football this year. Le'Veon Bell averages 3.9 yards per carry. That helps.

Jordan, you gotta figure this will be an area to address in the offseason, even with Rivers and Hightower coming back from their respective injuries. Also, Alan Branch hasn’t been the same player this year and Vincent Valentine has been on IR all season. I’d say depending on what happens at left tackle (Nate Solder’s in the last year of a two-year deal). this might be where a fair amount of resources are devoted.

The Patriots very rarely double with two corners unless it's a slot player and an outside guy. They also have been prone to using their second-best corner and a safety on an opposing team's No. 1. If they use Stephon Gilmore and Malcolm Butler on Antonio Brown, they'd be using their top two outside corners. I don't see it. What I could see is Butler underneath with a safety over the top. And in the red zone? I wouldn't be shocked to see Butler with a linebacker or a slot player bracketing Brown. Butler hasn't been all that great when it comes to excelling leverage-wise when he has help this year -- there's an art to the double team -- so I also wouldn't be surprised if Jonathan Jones saw some work as the underneath player on Brown. I'd deploy Gilmore on JuJu Smith-Schuster (who has become Pittsburgh's No. 2) and Eric Rowe on Martavis Bryant.

Sebastian, what do you mean? African or European swallow? I’ll wait for your answer . . . 

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Protoypical Patriots: What they want on the O-line - Smart, tough, athletic

Protoypical Patriots: What they want on the O-line - Smart, tough, athletic

Before the Super Bowl, Dante Scarnecchia spoke to a small group of reporters and laid out exactly what the Patriots look for in their offensive linemen.

"We covet three things when we look for offensive linemen," Scarnecchia said. "They have to be smart, they have to be tough, and they have to be athletic enough."

PROTOTYPICAL PATRIOTS - Previously in the series:

While there's certainly more to it than that, those are the basics. Check those off the list, and you'll have a chance. Someone like Cole Croston -- an undrafted rookie out of Iowa -- was able to spend the entirety of the 2017 season on the active roster with the Patriots because he met New England's criteria. 

The Patriots have a clear need for depth at offensive tackle after Nate Solder signed with the Giants, but are there players who can come in to be an immediate stopgap on the edge? If so, who are they? And if not, which developmental prospects could be fits?

Here are some names to keep in mind on draft weekend. These "prototypes" have what the Patriots typically look for in terms of size and athleticism up front:

PROTOTYPES IN RANGE
MIKE McGLINCHEY, NOTRE DAME, 6-8, 309


I've been told by evaluators that when it comes to this class of tackles, McGlinchey might be the only one who is truly ready for regular work in the NFL. That doesn't mean others can't develop into starters -- and do so quickly. But it sounds like McGlinchey is already there, particularly in the running game. He has the requisite size that the Patriots look for. Though he's not one of the top athletes in the class (his 28.5-inch vertical is a little under what the Patriots often like), he seems athletic enough (his broad jump, for instance, was 105 inches, which meets New England's criteria). That he comes from a pro-style blocking scheme could also make him a quick fit. Scarnecchia attended McGlinchey's pro day.  

KOLTON MILLER, UCLA, 6-9, 305


Length. Athleticism. Experience in a varied offense. Miller seems to have just about everything the Patriots look for. There seem to be some technique issues that Scarnecchia will have to work with to get Miller ready to go, but he's physically impressive. His 40 time (4.95 seconds) is more than quick enough. Same goes for his 31.5-inch vertical and his 121-inch broad jump. The jumps are significant because they show explosiveness, which for linemen -- who have to operate with force in tight spaces and explode out of their stances in pass protection -- is important. Miller told me at the combine he was scheduled to meet with New England. 

CONNOR WILLIAMS, TEXAS, 6-5, 296 


Williams has been deemed a guard by some because his size isn't necessarily ideal to play on the outside. And if he were drafted by the Patriots to play tackle, he'd be on the smaller side. But at 6-5 he's about the same height as Matt Light, and his arms (33 inches) are just a hair shorter than Sebastian Vollmer's (33 1/4). Athletically, he hits every standard. His 40 (almost five seconds flat) and jumps (34-inch vertical, 112-inch broad jump) were all very good. Belichick has a good relationship with Texas coach Tom Herman, and Williams reportedly paid the Patriots a visit during the pre-draft process. 

BRIAN O'NEILL, PITT, 6-7, 297 


O'Neill, like Miller, is another athletic prospect who will need some time. The former tight end is a little light compared to players the Patriots have drafted in the past. (Even Tony Garcia, whose knock against him was that he was light, weighed 302 pounds at the combine last year.) But athletically there are some eye-popping traits. He ran a 4.82-second 40-yard dash and had a 7.14-second three-cone drill. His jumps were good but not out-of-this-world (28.5 vertical, 107-inch broad). 

BRADEN SMITH, AUBURN, 6-6, 315


How much does arm length matter? If the answer for the Patriots is "a heckuva lot" then Smith may not be deemed a fit. His arms measured 32 1/4 inches, which would be shortest for any tackle they've ever drafted. Otherwise? He's just about what they're looking for. Trusted player in the SEC. Tough. Good height. Good athlete. He ran a 5.22-second 40, benched 35 reps, jumped 33.5 inches and broad-jumped 113 inches. 

IMPERFECT BUT INTRIGUING
TYRELL CROSBY, OREGON, 6-5, 309
 


Crosby measured in at 6-4 and one-half inch, earning him the "6-5" listing by a hair. And his arm-length (32 1/4 inches) are short. But athletically he's solid -- 30-inch vertical, 105-inch broad jump -- and he's considered to have good toughness. Late on Day 2 could be the right time to pounce if he's available. 

JAMARCO JONES, OHIO STATE, 6-4, 299


Jones is short but his arm length (35 1/8 inches) might make up for what he lacks in height. Athletically he's not outstanding. His 40-yard dash time is slower than what the Patriots typically like (5.5 seconds), and his jumps were nothing to write home about (24-inch vertical, 102-inch broad jump). But the Ohio State connection, where the coaching staff has obvious connections to New England and the offense is relatively balanced, could help him get drafted in the middle rounds. 

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