Patriots

In Year Two, where does Brissett fit into Patriots QB equation?

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In Year Two, where does Brissett fit into Patriots QB equation?

FOXBORO - Tom Brady is about to turn 40 and still playing at an elite level. Jimmy Garoppolo is the most talked about backup quarterback in football as he enters the final year of his rookie deal. So, where does that leave Jacoby Brissett? The physically impressive second-year pro is intent on inserting himself into the quarterback equation.

“I’m trying to close the gap every day,” he told me after Tuesday’s practice. “I just gotta go out there and do the best I can, do my job. Whatever else happens happens.”

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What’s happening is three players, all at different levels, pushing one another both on the field and in the meeting rooms. You might think that would be hard to do, what with the Greatest of All Time, Brady, as the lead dog. Not so fast, says Brissett.

“You go out there and compete against him,” he said. “Every day, he doesn’t allow us, Tom doesn’t allow us not to compete against him. I think that’s the standard we hold in our room. Jimmy, Josh [McDaniels], [assistant QBs coach] Jerry [Schuplinski], I think we do a great job making sure everybody knows when the time comes, you got to take the approach that nothing else changes.”

Brissett probably had his best day of this young training camp Tuesday and maybe delivered the best ball of the session with a dart deep down the left sideline to undrafted rookie free agent Austin Carr. That drew some oooooohs and ahhhhhs from a relatively small crowd in Foxboro and also got Brissett some love from a handful of players who, like him, are trying to work their way up the depth chart.

“Definitely kind of hard the first year [to take leadership],” said Brissett. “You don’t really know everything that’s going on. Year two, there’s no excuse to not knowing what’s going on.”

His coach, Bill Belichick, has noticed. In an interview with SiriusXM, Belichick spoke of Brissett’s growth.

"It will be interesting to see how it goes this year because his role is a little bit different,” he said. “He has a lot more experience and he’s certainly grown as a quarterback, but it will be interesting to see how that all manifests itself this year. I think he’s had a good training camp so far and it looks like he’s come back ready to compete and he’s definitely made some progress here in the last week or so. We will just see how that continues to go.”

Part of what makes it interesting in Belichick’s view is that Brissett has no clear-cut role to start the season, which is unlike last year. Health was also an issue, obviously, with Brissett ending up on injured reserve with a thumb injury for a period before being brought back late in the season.

“Jacoby is kind of in a unique situation," Belichick said. "When he started the year last year, we knew he was going to be the second quarterback with Jimmy, while Tom [Brady] was out. This year, that’s really not the way it is as we stand right now. Jacoby made a lot of progress through training camp and through the first month of the season, as you mentioned until he had the thumb injury. It took the wind out of the sails and then by the time he came back, even though he was participating, he had missed so much time. And at that point, Tom was back and Jimmy was in the No. 2 spot, so it really didn’t provide a lot of opportunity for Jacoby, certainly not the way the opportunity was there at the beginning of the year.”

Brissett didn’t necessarily agree with his coach on that point.

“I wouldn’t say so because you still get to sit back and watch and get to learn from those mental reps,” he said, adding, “but it definitely helps to be back out there.”
 

Patriots' first-round pick Isaiah Wynn out for season with torn Achilles

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Patriots' first-round pick Isaiah Wynn out for season with torn Achilles

There are loads of ways for an NFL team to stock its roster. Free agency, restricted free agency, undrafted free agents, trades, practice squad poaching. Gotta try ‘em all.  

So just because the NFL Draft is the most celebrated and extensively covered avenue, it doesn’t mean drafted players are inherently better. 

Which is good, because the Patriots have been getting kicked in the head by the top of the draft over the past few years. 

The latest instance? An Achilles tendon rupture suffered by first-round offensive tackle Isaiah Wynn Thursday night against the Eagles. Wynn, the 23rd overall pick out of Georgia, is done for the year. 

The Patriots had two first round picks this year and Wynn was kind of the “safe” draft pick. His Georgia teammate, Sony Michel, taken by the team with the 31st overall pick, was supposed to be the dice roll. Both Mike Mayock and Mike Lombardi -- Patriot friendlies -- reported in the days leading up to the draft that teams were concerned about Michel being “bone on bone” in his knee.

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Voila, Michel was there at 31. The Patriots drafted him -- despite the knee forecast -- because he’s really good and the team believes that the late-first and second-round picks are good times to spend selections on talented players that may have warning flags accompanying them. 

Michel has already had a procedure to have his knee drained and may not play in this preseason. 

Some might also mention here that second-round pick Duke Dawson missed Thursday night’s game with a hamstring and cite that as evidence that furthers the head-kicking the Pats have been taking. But that would be dumb because Dawson will be back soon and he’s performed really well in camp. As has fifth-round linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley. 

So it’s not like the Patriots go 0-for-April. They just have too many swings and misses on what should be fairly flat fastballs. 

Since 2012, the team has drafted 22 players in the first three rounds. 

Twelve are still with the team (Wynn, Michel, Dawson, Derek Rivers, Cyrus Jones, Joe Thuney, Vincent Valentine, Malcom Brown, Jordan Richards, Geneo Grissom, Duron Harmon, Donta Hightower). 

Of those, Hightower and Harmon are two that you would say have been vital players to the Patriots success. To a lesser degree, Thuney and Malcom Brown. 

Among the 10 who are gone, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jamie Collins, Logan Ryan and Chandler Jones are ones who also had strong impacts. 

So that’s six out of 22. And only two of those impact guys remain. 

Unmitigated misses in the first three rounds would be Antonio Garcia (third-rounder in 2017), Dominique Easley (first-round, 2014) and Aaron Dobson (second round 2013). 

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Some guys did a little and aren’t here anymore (Jacoby Brissett, Tavon Wilson). 

More guys are still here, haven’t done diddly and don’t appear on the verge of being impact players  (Cyrus Jones, Valentine, Richards, Grissom). 

For whatever reason, the Patriots tend to kick ass later in the draft. Trey Flowers, Shaq Mason, Nate Ebner, Cam Fleming, James White, Joe Cardona, Elandon Roberts and Ted Karras have either fulfilled expectations based on their role and draft position or exceeded it (Mason, Flowers, Ebner and White in particular). 

But at the top they just can’t make the connection. And still they win. 

Why’s that? A lot of reasons. The main one being that -- in 2000 -- they got it right in the sixth round with the 199th pick. It certainly hasn’t been because of Adrian Klemm (second rounder, 2000). 

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Brady plays the hits, largely steers clear of newer faces in first action

Brady plays the hits, largely steers clear of newer faces in first action

FOXBORO -- We really couldn't stop talking about it.

Ever since Tom Brady announced earlier this week that the plan was for him to play against the Eagles on Thursday night, it was only natural to wonder: How would he look with the new guys?

We discussed the topic on our shows. We wrote about it. We asked players about it when we could. We asked Bill Belichick what it was like to incorporate a new guy.  

It seemed pertinent, after all. The Patriots lost a 1,000-yard receiver in Brandin Cooks and their most clutch receiver of 2017 in Danny Amendola. Since then they've brought in a number of bodies to help replace that production. This would be Brady's first game action since the turnover.

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The 41-year-old has served as an on-the-field tutor for some of his new teammates. He's done extra work with others. But on Thursday, it was almost as though Brady told those in their Patriots infancy, "OK, time for the grown-ups to play now."

Instead of peppering Eric Decker (who only received a few snaps with Brady) or Cordarrelle Patterson with passes, feeding them the reps that might accelerate their understanding of the offense, Brady played favorites.

Chris Hogan received seven targets. James White saw six. Julian Edelman got five, and Phillip Dorsett had three. Patterson got two targets, as did 2017 practice-squadder Will Tye. Jacob Hollister got one. Decker didn't get a target until the third quarter, when Brian Hoyer had entered.

It seemed relatively clear that Brady was more concerned with moving the chains and sustaining drives, establishing his own rhythm and a rhythm for his offense, rather than worrying about the state of mind of his new receivers.

And that makes sense. But at some point, Brady can't go all-in aiding in the readiness of a new player if it means less work for the guys he really trusts, the guys he'll be relying on in the biggest moments. It's their preseason, too.

I asked Brady after the game how he balances ushering along guys like Decker and Patterson with doing what's best for him -- sustaining drives, moving chains, leaning on his most trusted teammates even though they have oodles of experience together already.

"I think the coaches are pretty good at that and they kind of decide a lot of those things," he sad. "There's a lot of rotations in practice and we're all watching film together, we're in the meetings together, we're in the walk-throughs and so forth. 

PATRIOTS 37, EAGLES 20

"This is one element to getting to know people and preparation and so forth, and there's a lot that goes into it. So, I'm in there a lot with a lot of other guys that may not be as much on the field, but those things -- we’ve still got plenty of time left in camp to, as things take shape, to figure out who's going to be out there and who's going to try to help us win."

Some, though, are starting to slip behind. One of the newbs, Braxton Berrios, did not suit up Thursday. Kenny Britt arrived to New England late last season and hasn't yet practiced in full in training camp. Rookie first-rounder Sony Michel, projected to chip in as a pass-catching back, has been out for weeks.

Can't blame Brady for wanting to use his preseason throws on players he knows will actually be in Foxboro when things get started for real. As he noted, there's plenty of other ways for him to get to know the bubble guys between now and whenever they've earned his trust: meetings, film, practice, walkthroughs.

Thursday wasn't the time. That was reserved for Brady to go to his favorites. And he made the most of it, going 19-for-26 for 172 yards and two scores. 

For those of us interested in how he'll connect with someone like Decker -- who has struggled but may end up with a role given the team's depth at that position -- we'll have to wait at least another week. 

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