Patriots 9-pack: Gronk's injury, Deflategate fallout, is Collins overrated? and much more
Is there a looming Gronk situation?
The suggestion that Bill Belichick left Rob Gronkowski -- Hall of Fame-level tight end, recently-elected team captain and central part of the Patriots offense for a fledgling quarterback -- in Massachusetts as punishment is absurd in the extreme. But the possibility does exist that Gronk and Gronk Inc. are encouraging the player to step carefully and adhere to his “play when I’m 100 percent” qualifier he first mentioned last December. I still believe the most likely scenario is that it was a joint decision between doctors, trainers, Gronk and the coaching staff to give him another week off. But given the Gronk injury landscape and the involvement of his family and agents in his football/business affairs, the “sorry, can’t play yet….” Possibility has to be at least acknowledged.
How will Deflategate suspension affect the NFL’s balance of power in 2016?
This is a question that should bother every single fan, media member and advertiser. Hell, throw in elected officials. Roger Goodell and his minions -- with the prodding of at least a few of the Patriots rival owners -- conducted a slanted investigation, doctored testimony, leaked false information and handed down a ridiculously excessive suspension in an effort to punish the NFL’s marquee franchise for myriad perceived sins that had nothing to do with footballs. Such as? Perception the team got off easy in the 2007 video investigation, continued prickliness in dealing with the league office, Robert Kraft’s insistence that every team must dummy-up and take the medicine Goodell crams down its throat, general perceived shadiness in the form of “chatter” among rival teams which annually advanced a laundry list of perceived instances of New England gamesmanship. So for all that -- and certainly not because the NFL proved the footballs were deflated at the AFCCG -- the league’s best quarterback will sit. And other teams will benefit. Who and how much? We’ll see.
Is the secondary as good as it seems?
It’s been a looooong time since the Patriots had a Week 1 secondary as good as this one. Logan Ryan established himself as a better-than-OK corner in 2015, Malcolm Butler is a Pro Bowler, Patrick Chung had a brilliant year in coverage and run support and Devin McCourty is one of the smartest, surest tackling, rangiest safeties in the NFL. Add in second-round pick Cyrus Jones in the slot and the steady Duron Harmon as safety depth and that’s a fleet of good players. Can they pick up where they left off or even elevate?
Have we overrated Jamie Collins?
No Patriots defender is more apt to make a spectacular play than linebacker Jamie Collins. His coverage and leaping ability are absurd, his sideline-to-sideline speed is elite, he hits like a truck and is a serious weapon for Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia to tinker with. But he’s also been dogged by medical issues and the image of Owen Daniels scoring twice on Collins in the AFC Championship Game still dogs me. You can’t have your purported best defender giving up 14 points in a game to go to the Super Bowl. That Collins was dominant in the second half of that game actually makes the two gaffes that much more maddening. He’s too talented to make those mistakes. Or is he? This is an interesting season for Collins, whose deal is up at the end of the year. My suspicion is the Patriots get something done and he stays but is Collins the soundest investment?
Is Malcom Brown about to make a leap?
Second-year defensive tackle Malcom Brown doesn’t get a lot of attention on this team. Maybe it’s because there are a lot of defensive players we gravitate to before mentioning Brown as a key part of this defense. But he quietly had a very good second half to 2015 and just approaches the job with the kind of quiet professionalism that reminds me of Ty Warren, the 2003 first-rounder who had a great run in New England.
Will the Martellus Bennett laments be the same here as they’ve been everywhere else?
“Different” in our profession is often code for “difficult.” In the case of Martellus Bennett, different means different. He has not been shy about stating that football is only one of his interests and that it isn’t an end-all, be-all, personality-defining, life pursuit for him. That we deify those players who do worship at the altar of their job makes us almost reflexively frustrated with those who don’t. Or at least suspicious of them. Bennett doesn’t seem -- at least so far -- difficult but he does seem to want to do things on his own terms. If the Patriots can come to an uneasy truce with his approach -- and they’ve been able to do that with enigmatic players in the past -- good for them. If Bennett doesn’t sufficiently give the vibe that “football is important to him” whether by play, results or attitude, expect it to end in New England the way its ended everywhere else. Unfulfilled expectations.
Was Dion Lewis a flash-in-the-pan?
Pains me to wonder this, but you really have to consider that the little comet that ripped across the NFL sky before blowing out his ACL last season may not be the same as he was before that injury. Already, Lewis has had a setback that landed him on PUP for the first six weeks of the season. As opposed to the guy above -- Bennett -- the chances haven’t come easily for Lewis. When he finally got his, he was the most elusive back I’ve watched outside of Barry Sanders (and maybe on some plays, more elusive than him). When he returns, anyone who likes fun football and the character-revealing resiliency of a guy like Lewis should hold their breath that he gets back to where he was.
Is he the guy that neutralized the Chiefs’ pass rushers and rototilled defenders in the running game in the playoff last season? Or is he the player who was out-of-sorts and overmatched the next week in Denver? The Patriots refuse to give up on him and -- for a team that isn’t shy about admitting its mistakes and moving on -- there’s got to be a reason it won’t do so with Cannon. The reason is simple. His failures have nothing to do with ability and everything to do with focus and confidence. If Dante Scarnecchia can pull that out of Cannon, his rehiring will be perhaps the best move of the 2016 offseason.
Will the Patriots regret not making OT a priority?
The Patriots will play the opener without Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer. Solder will be back. Vollmer? Maybe not. Yet the Patriots have done almost nothing to stock their roster with position-specific tackles. Interior linemen? Stack those up like cordwood. Tackles? Yeah, no. So L’Adrian Waddle, Cannon and Cameron Fleming will man the flanks for Jimmy Garoppolotonight with one false move from them possibly ushering in the start of the Jacoby Brissett Era.