Patriots

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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Tedy Bruschi gives his prediction on where Tom Brady will play next season

Tedy Bruschi gives his prediction on where Tom Brady will play next season

It's hard to fathom Tom Brady playing for an NFL team not named the New England Patriots, but it's a possibility with the 42-year-old quarterback's contract expiring in March.

Brady and the Patriots could come to an agreement on a new deal before that point, but he does have the ability for the first time in his career to test the open market as an unrestricted free agent this offseason.

One of Brady's former teammates, Tedy Bruschi, was asked to predict on Wednesday's episode of "NFL Live" on ESPN where the six-time Super Bowl champion will play in the 2020 season. The former Patriots linebacker and current ESPN NFL analyst predicted Brady will return to Foxboro.

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Check out his take in the video below.

For what it's worth, DraftKings has pegged the Patriots as -335 betting favorites to be the team Brady plays for in Week 1 next season.

Many other players, both active and retired, have weighed in on Brady's future.

Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu hopes Brady takes his talents to the NFC. Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward also is hoping Brady leaves the Patriots because "he's terrorized the AFC enough." 

But perhaps the most interesting take on Brady's future came from San Francisco 49ers legend Joe Montana. The Hall of Fame quarterback's advice for Brady was to not leave the Patriots. He stressed that transitioning to a new team is not an easy task.

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Steelers star has the least surprising take on Tom Brady's free agency

Steelers star has the least surprising take on Tom Brady's free agency

Ask anyone associated with the New England Patriots, and they'll tell you Tom Brady should stay put.

Ask any Patriots opponent, and they'll tell you Brady should leave -- and never come back.

Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward joined 98.5 The Sports Hub's "Zolak & Bertrand" from Radio Row in Miami on Wednesday and was asked where he thinks Brady may sign in free agency this offseason.

His answer shouldn't surprise you.

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"I hope not with New England anymore," Heyward said. " ... Let the NFC deal with him for a while. That'd be nice. He's terrorized the AFC enough."

Heyward would know. Brady's Patriots trounced his Steelers 33-3 in Week 1 of the 2019 season and have beaten Pittsburgh in six of their last seven meetings, including playoffs.

New England also has reached the Super Bowl in four of the previous six seasons and made the AFC Championship Game in eight of the last nine seasons, annually crushing the postseason dreams of AFC rivals like the Steelers, who won 10 or more games in four straight seasons from 2014 to 2017 but never reached the Super Bowl in that span.

So, you can see why Heyward (and Kansas City Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu) would appreciate Brady getting out of his hair.

Unfortunately for the AFC, that doesn't look likely: The Patriots are the odds-on favorite to re-sign the 42-year-old QB in free agency, followed by three AFC teams: the Los Angeles Chargers, Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans.

But Heyward still appreciates Brady's greatness, even if the 20-year veteran doesn't grant his wish.

"I think he understands the game at a different level," Heyward said of Brady. He knows when to hit you with pace. He knows when to make you feel uncomfortable, and he's gonna exploit you."

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