Patriots

Pats have history of acquiring players they face in joint practices

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Pats have history of acquiring players they face in joint practices

Now is when things get interesting. 

On Wednesday, the Patriots finished up their joint practices with Houston. Last week, they wrapped up three days of work with Jacksonville before their preseason opener. They have a one-day walkthrough scheduled with the Lions next week, but for all intents and purposes their joint practices for 2017 are over.

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So why is now when things get interesting? Because now we can start taking stabs at which Jaguars and Texans will someday be Patriots.

If history is any indication, at some point Bill Belichick and his staff will be more than willing to work with players who participated in the joint sessions. Just have a look at Patriots joint-practice opponents year by year. Using the practices as a chance to do a little advanced scouting, they've plucked at least one player from every joint-practice opponent they've seen since 2010

Last year, the Patriots worked against the Saints and the Bears. No one remembers former Bears tight end Rob Housler's brief tenure with the Patriots after he signed a future deal with the club last winter. But how about Brandin Cooks? The Patriots got their second close look at Cooks in 2016 -- he was with the Saints during joint practices with the Patriots in 2015 -- and then traded a first-round pick to acquire him the following offseason.

Here's a full rundown of the Patriots joint-practice opponents who were eventually acquired by New England . . .

2016 vs. Saints: WR Brandin Cooks, acquired in a trade in 2016.

2016 vs. Bears: TE Rob Housler, signed to a future contract in 2016.

2015 vs. Saints: DL Akiem Hicks, acquired in a trade in 2015; LB Ramon Humber, signed as a free agent in 2016; Cooks.

2014 vs. Redskins: DL Frank Kearse, signed as a free agent in 2016; CB EJ Biggers, signed as a free agent in 2016.

2014 vs. Eagles: CB Bradley Fletcher, signed as a free agent in 2015.

2013 vs. Buccaneers: LB Jonathan Casillas, acquired in a trade in 2014; TE Tim Wright, acquired in a trade in 2014.

2013 vs. Eagles: S Patrick Chung, signed as a free agent in 2014; WR Damaris Johnson, claimed on waivers from Houston in 2015; CB Bradley Fletcher, signed as a free agent in 2015.

2012 vs. Saints: RB Travaris Cadet, signed as a free agent in 2015; Casillas; LB Ramon Humber, signed as a free agent in 2016;  DL Akiem Hicks, acquired in a trade in 2015.

2012 vs. Buccaneers: RB LeGarrette Blount, acquired in a trade in 2013; CB Aqib Talib, acquired in a trade in 2012; Biggers; LB Dekoda Watson, signed as a free agent in 2015.

2011: No joint sessions following NFL lockout.

2010 vs. Saints: Humber; DE Will Smith, signed as a free agent in 2014.

2010 vs. Falcons: WR Michael Jenkins, signed as a free agent in 2013.

Of course there's no guarantee the Patriots will ever snag any of the Jaguars or Texans they practiced with this summer. But here's a look at a handful of players Belichick and director of player personnel Nick Caserio could be interested in trading for or signing down the line.

CJ Fiedorowicz, TE, Texans: The Patriots would probably have to pay up to land Houston's top tight end, but Fiedorowicz is in the final year of his rookie deal and Houston just re-upped with tight end Ryan Griffin on a three-year contract. Maybe the Texans would be OK with the future of their tight-end group without Fiedorowicz if they got something of value in return. The Patriots seem set at the position now with Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen and perhaps one of James O'Shaughnessy, Matt Lengel and Jacob Hollister to round things out. But as we saw last season, that depth can evaporate quickly should anything happen to No. 87. The Patriots hosted Fiedorowicz on a visit when he was coming out of the draft in 2014, and he played at Iowa under former Belichick colleague Kirk Ferentz.

Lerentee McCray, OLB, Jaguars: The 6-foot-3, 250-pounder is pretty far down the depth chart in Jacksonville behind Dante Fowler, Yannick Ngakoue, Calais Campbell and Mallciah Goodman. He's in his fifth year out of Florida and currently on a relatively inexpensive one-year deal that he signed this offseason. McCray seems like a low-risk option to give the Patriots some depth not only on the edge but also in the kicking game, where he has a wealth of experience going back to his days with the Bills, Broncos and in college. In last week's preseason game against the Patriots, he made a tackle on Jacksonville's kickoff team, stuffed DJ Foster for no gain, recovered a Foster fumble, and sacked Jacoby Brissett. 

Hunter Dimick, DE, Jaguars: Here's another option from Jacksonville if the Patriots want some depth up front -- which they could be seeking. Dimick went undrafted this spring out of Utah despite leading the nation in quarterback pressures with 83, according to Pro Football Focus. He doesn't offer much as an athlete, and he's essentially the closest thing in this year's draft class to the opposite of Derek Rivers in terms of flexibility. But maybe the Patriots saw something in the 6-foot-3, 265-pounder's game during practices that will allow his college production to transfer to the NFL. He had two hurries in last week's preseason game.

Ufomba Kamalu, DE, Texans: With the Patriots hurting on the edge, Kamalu isn't a perfect fit, but he may be worth a closer look. The 6-foot-5, 295-pounder has 35-inch arms that could make him an intriguing match, in a similar mold to 6-foot-4, 305-pounder Lawrence Guy. Kamalu seemed to showed up with effective reps in one-on-one work this week against the Patriots, and during an 11-on-11 period on Wednesday he broke through the Patriots line to sack Jimmy Garoppolo. In last week's preseason game against the Panthers, he recorded a quarterback hit, per Pro Football Focus.

Avery Williams, LB, Texans: Bill Belichick has long liked Texans linebacker Bernardrick McKinney's game, but don't expect the Texans to be willing to part ways with him any time soon. If the Patriots are looking for some depth at that spot and in the kicking game, Williams showed them some things during this week's joint practices. He dominated a punt-team drill where he put both Patriots Nate Ebner and LeShun Daniels on their backs after squaring them up one-on-one at the line. Williams wasn't an eye-popping athlete coming out of Temple this spring, but he was productive, earning second-team all-conference honors. Dylan Cole, an undrafted rookie linebacker out of Missouri State, is a better fit for the Patriots in terms of his athletic profile, but Cole seems to have impressed coaches at Texans training camp and may not be going anywhere for a while. 

Breno Giacomini, OT, Texans: On a one-year contract in Houston, the Patriots could be interested in the veteran tackle who hails from Malden, Mass. Belichick's club has been hurting at tackle lately with Nate Solder, Tony Garcia and LaAdrian Waddle all missing time injured. The Texans have an intriguing rookie, Julien Davenport, who is currently listed as the team's backup left tackle, and whenever Duane Brown returns from his holdout, Giacomini could be the team's fifth tackle on the depth chart. Giacomini started for the Jets in Week 12 against the Patriots last season, played every snap, and held his own. 

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Jalen Ramsey's right: Jags should have trusted Bortles against Patriots

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Jalen Ramsey's right: Jags should have trusted Bortles against Patriots

It’s easy to debate whether the comments to GQ Magazine made by Jaguars corner Jalen Ramsey were “appropriate.” 

But don’t get completely caught in the weeds on that. Because more than a little of what Ramsey said is accurate.

He took a verbal flamethrower to guys like Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan and especially Bills rookie Josh Allen. Then, when asked the merits of his own quarterback, Blake Bortles, Ramsey criticized the Jaguars' offensive approach in the second half of last year’s AFC Championship.   

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“Blake do what he gotta do . . . ” said Ramsey. “I think in crunch-time moments, like last year's playoff game -- not as a team, because we would have trusted him -- but I think as an organization, we should have trusted him more to keep throwing it. We kinda got complacent and conservative. And I think that's why we lost. We started running it on first and second down, throwing it on third down, every single time we were out there. [The Patriots] caught on to that.”

Yeah, they kinda did. In stark contrast to the aggressive offensive style the Eagles showed in the Super Bowl, Jacksonville turtled in the second half of the AFCCG, which they eventually lost, 24-20, by blowing a 10-point lead in the final 10 minutes. 

Jacksonville was up 14-3 late in the first half before the Patriots narrowed the score to 14-10 with a James White touchdown. By that time, Jags running back Leonard Fournette had run 11 times for 40 yards and Bortles was 13-for-15 for 195 yards. 

In the second half, Fournette ran 13 times for 36 yards. They ran him 10 times on first-and-10 while they had the second-half lead. He gained 25 yards on those carries, with 14 coming on one of those. 

The Jags’ strategy was obvious. To everyone. They were going to run the ball so that every position ate some clock. But by handing off over and over and running a big back into a defense stacked against him, the Jags were continually asking Bortles to make something out of second-and-long. 

The Jags tried to sneak out of Foxboro with a win. Going bold against the greatest quarterback of all-time (especially for a huge underdog) was probably the better strategy.  

What about Super Bowl 51, you say? Good point. Former Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan will forever be criticized for being too aggressive and allowing the Patriots to come back from a 28-3 deficit. 

But that game was an avalanche of huge plays by New England on both sides of the ball in the second half, which left Shanahan searching for answers and making desperate decisions. 

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The Jags started playing scared before halftime when they took a knee on first down with 55 seconds left and two timeouts.

The way the final two games of the Patriots 2017 season unfolded may have been a teachable moment for the rest of the league. It’s fight or flight. 

You can be afraid of the Patriots, play scared and allow your nightmare to be realized, as the Jags did. Or you can fight them, like Philly did. 

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NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Pod: Panicking over the Patriots wide receivers; Red Sox continue to win

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NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Pod: Panicking over the Patriots wide receivers; Red Sox continue to win

1:23 - Marc Bertrand and Phil Perry join Trenni Kusnierek on Early Edition to discuss Tom Brady’s comments after today’s practice, and they compare this year’s wide receivers to the receivers on the 2006 team.  

6:39 - Evan Drellich phones in to break down the Red Sox 2-1 win over the Phillies and how this team doesn’t seem to ever lose close games. 

10:24 - Tom Giles, Kevin Duffy, Hardy, and Phil Perry give their panic meter rankings for the numerous Patriots injuries sustained during training camp practices. 

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