Mike Giardi

Camp Battles: Toughest foe for the big guys might be the heat

Camp Battles: Toughest foe for the big guys might be the heat

When you’re 6-foot-8, 370-some-odd pounds like Trent Brown, you don’t face too many formidable foes. But in training camp, there’s one consistently whapping the big fella on the noggin. That’s the heat. 

Thursday’s practice saw the mercury climb into the high 80s, and with the exception of an occasional breeze, there was precious little air to breathe. But Brown not only survived but thrived, continuing to look dominating while getting his work in.

“It’s not fun,” said the soft-spoken Brown. “But this is what we were working for all offseason.”

In large part, conditioning is what the offseason is all about. For guys such as Brown and rookie first-rounder Isaiah Wynn, some of what they could do was hampered by offseason surgery, but to their credit, both big men passed the conditioning run. In fact, as far as we know, every player on the roster did so.

The requirements vary by position, but the gist is a bunch of sprints with little rest between each rep. As Eric Rowe told me, “if you can’t pass it, you probably weren’t doing all you should do.” Of course, that’s easy for a cornerback to say, but the big bodies tend to labor more, especially in the heat. Marcus Cannon left practice on Day 1 (and again Wednesday) with heat thought to be the culprit. Still, those sights have been few and far between.

“It sucks,” said newcomer Danny Shelton, who’s lugging around 343 pounds on his frame, “but I take pride in being able to do what the coaches ask me and that was one of the things that has to be done.”

This camp had been a little slower paced than previous ones but it’s a credit to the linemen in particular that they’ve managed to stay on the field and do what’s required. Thus far, they’ve triumphed over the conditions, and have even managed to run the hills a couple times after practice. No doubt that makes Bill Belichick a happy man, though you probably won’t catch him smile.

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Camp Battles: Allen finds some punting competition

Camp Battles: Allen finds some punting competition

FOXBORO -- For the second time in three years, the Patriots postseason went awry in part because of special teams. 

Whether it was the failed extra point in the 2015 AFC title game in Denver or the shanked field goal in this past Super Bowl, kicker Stephen Gostkowski has been in the middle of that mess. So, you’d think perhaps the Pats would bring in some competition for the 34-year-old  kicker. You’d be wrong. Instead, it’s incumbent punter Ryan Allen who’s facing the challenge from undrafted rookie Corey Bojorquez. 

Allen has been fairly steady for the better part of his five-year career in New England. Yes, his yards per punt have come down from a high of 46.4 in 2014 to a career-low of 43.4 this past season but he did manage to drop 24 of his 58 punts inside the 20-yard line, the second-highest percentage of his tenure. Couple that dependability with his job as full-time holder for Gostkowski, and Allen would seem to have the inside track on retaining his job.

However, Bojorquez has what appears to be a bionic leg. He has boomed punts with regularity both in the spring and in the first week of camp. He’s outdone Allen with both hang time and distance, but his problem has been both consistency - he’s had a couple of shanks - and sometimes he’s displayed too much leg, which would have resulted in touchbacks. If he can find a more even approach, the New Mexico product might just unseat the vet. Bojorquez will also have to prove he can hold kicks as well as Allen has. That will certainly play a role in the final decision.

Camp Battles: A look at the front four competition at Patriots camp

Camp Battles: A look at the front four competition at Patriots camp

FOXBORO -- Lost amidst the conversation surrounding Malcolm Butler’s Super Bowl disappearance was that the Patriots run defense was also missing in action. They got gashed by the Eagles for 164 yards on the ground in that 41-33 defeat. 

That served as an imperfect bookend to the way the 2017-18 season started: a loss to the Chiefs that saw Kareem Hunt & Co. reel off 185 yards. With a coach that wants to commit fewer bodies to stopping the rushing attack and more toward eliminating big passing plays, Bill Belichick and his staff could never quite find the right formula or right players.

So, what did the organization do after those debacles? Get to work remaking the front four. They added veteran Adrian Clayborn via free agency and swung a trade for former first-rounder Danny Shelton. While it's early in camp, both have made an impact and should help solidify what was a porous group prior. 

Clayborn has fared okay in pass rushing drills and if he can man one end consistently, that should allow Trey Flowers to kick inside in passing situations and cause havoc on interior offensive linemen. But thus far what’s been more impressive about the former Falcon is his ability to hold his ground against the run. Perhaps it was too much time spent watching players such as Cassius Marsh try and fail a year ago but more likely, it’s just that Clayborn is a solid pro who can potentially be a third-down end. Wouldn’t that be nice?

As for Shelton, the 343-pounder has gotten consistent first-team reps alongside Lawrence Guy and over another fellow first-rounder, Malcom Brown. Considering the Pats declined to pick up the options on both Shelton and Brown, it seems like this isn’t just a competition for this year but for a future contract as well.

Shelton may have that early edge, displaying excellent lateral quickness for a man that size but also showing the ability to root down and be difficult to move. That’s something that Alan Branch did so well a couple seasons prior. Perhaps had Branch decided to, you know, actually show up last season, maybe the Eagles wouldn’t have sliced and diced the Pats defense...

As for other defensive linemen who have caught the eye so far, DE Keionta Davis has gotten plenty of reps with the second unit and has had his moments. At 6-foot-4, 280, he's an athletic freak but will it translate consistently? He missed all of last season with an injury. Defensive tackles Frank Herron and John Atkins have also been involved and while they're likely on the outside looking in for a roster spot, they could be in competition for a practice squad spot.

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