Patriots

#FridayBag: Bennett's back, and he brings a lot of questions with him

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#FridayBag: Bennett's back, and he brings a lot of questions with him

Every Friday, our Patriots guys answer your questions in a joint mailbag, or Friday Bag as they call it.You can it them up on husing the hashtag #FridayBag. Here’s this week’s installment . . . dominated, as you might expect, by Martellus Bennett:

That's the plan as of right now, Jay. The Patriots released Geneo Grissom on Thursday in order to make room for Bennett.

Can we start with catches, Doney? Or targets? He was targeted about four times per game last season. A lot of those came with Rob Gronkowski off the field. Between that, his shoulder, the fact that he's fitting in with some new pieces around him . . . I'd expect that number to drop from where it was in 2016.

Fun to watch? His game isn't really the kind of thing that will consistently rip people from their couches. If you like a good effective run block, or touchdown passes thrown to big targets in tight spaces . . . then yeah. Fun. Insofar as he should make the team better, that would make Bennett's addition fun for Patriots fans too. But I think what you're getting at is, will the team be more fun to follow now that he's here? The answer there is no doubt. The team lost a lot in the way of personality when Bennett, LeGarrette Blount, Logan Ryan, Chris Long and Rob Ninkovich didn't return for 2017. With Bennett in Foxboro, some of that is back. Players were very open about what Bennett brought to the team off the field last season, and they're now expecting him to do the same this year

If Tom Brady's evaluation is going to be year-to-year in Bill Belichick's eyes, you can bet that Bennett's will be the same. Couple of key things to consider when thinking about Bennett's future. 1) He's already said he's pretty sure he'll retire after this season. He has the right to change his mind, but oftentimes when you start to talk about retirement, you're not all that far off. 2) The Patriots aren't contractually bound to Bennett. He has no guaranteed money coming to him for 2018 and 2019 so even if he wants to continue to play, if the Patriots want to move on after this season they can without taking any kind of financial hit. 

Nope. That would happen after the fact. Can't get a look at a waived player in person until he's on your team. 

Rich, I think he’s once again been one of their most valuable players. He’s been asked to play closer to the line of scrimmage this year and has been fearless when it comes to sticking his nose in there and making a contested play or a tackle. McCourty’s intelligence and communication skills are unparalleled and the respect he commands in the room is second to none. He’s gotten older but I think the safety has aged well. 

https://twitter.com/whitekid28/status/928340992364875781

Dan, his name comes up frequently in my timeline. Landry’s a talented player and as tough as they come. Understandably, Miami coach Adam Gase is on record as saying he wants Landry to be in the team’s plans for a long time, but they did just cough up around 9 million per for Kenny Stills and selected Devante Parker in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Parker’s growth has been hurt by injury but you have to wonder if you can eventually pay all three. I doubt it, but this is why plenty of organizations are poorly run. Miami has been exactly that prior to Gase;s arrival. We’ll see how it develops going forward. I fully expect if Landry pops free, the Pats will make a call.

Ah, the fullback. Old school, Jacob. I like it. I can’t study every team and every game they play so I won’t make any declarations on whether or not Develin is the best. I will say that he’s been an important piece over the last couple of weeks and that his play has improved considerably since the beginning of the season. Develin is still good for a whiff or two but I don’t think there’s a 100% hit rate at that position. Bottom line, he’s a solid player, a contributor on special teams and well-liked and appreciated in that locker room. That’s worth a lot. 

Man oh man, Sharks, there isn’t much here from those two drafts. The Pats selected just four players in 2017 and only one, Deatrich Wise, is on the active roster. He’s been a nice piece for the them in a specialist role. Love his attitude and his energy, and the dude’s arms are freakishly long. Interesting player going forward. As for 2016. 6 of the 9 players drafted are still in New England. The top pick, 62nd overall, Cyrus Jones, is on IR after blowing out his knee in the preseason. Love Joe Thuney. He’s sound as a pound at guard. Athletic and smart, he will occasionally get overwhelmed by power but he’s a nice player. Belichick got linebacker Elandon Roberts in the 6th round so I’d call that a successful pick even though I think he’s incredibly inconsistent. Ted Karras remains a practice squad guy and a depth piece for the interior offensive line while two of the better players in that class, DT Vincent Valentine and WR Malcolm Mitchell are both on IR. Both have progressed to the point where they could eventually be brought back but with the Pats losing one of the two spots because of Shea McClellin’s status, the Pats will have to decide whether they want one more playmaker or some more beef on the DLine. As for the sports jacket, it’s 9 Tailors all day, every day.

Interested to see just how much support Jerry Jones has from other owners. Powerful as he is, feels like it'll be hard for him to get what he's looking for unless the support is there from a significant chunk of the other 31. 

Like this one. Inclined to go with Guerschon Yabusele as a tight end because of his size (6-foot-8, 260), but how can you not try to find a way for Kyrie Irving to contribute in some way shape or form. His size (6-3, 193) and quickness would make him a pretty ideal fit in the secondary. Could line him up on any receiver imaginable, and he has the speed to play safety. Think that's who I'd go with. Red Sox is a tough one. Let's put Jackie Bradley Jr. back there to field punts. May not give you much in terms of explosive returns, but at least you know he's catching everything. As for the Bruins, I'd make Brad Marchand a slot corner. Or stick Zdeno Chara out there as part of the field goal block unit. Can't teach 6-foot-9. Can't do it. 

Potentially, Chuck. The Pony set would give the Patriots some flexibility in that both Lewis and White can align in the backfield or out wide. If they're in the backfield, and you want to run it, and there are too many men in the box, all Brady would have to do would be to flex one out, make one of those defenders go with him, and open up some space. Don't forget about Phillip Dorsett. He should see an uptick in snaps if Chris Hogan can't go. The Patriots run too much 11-personnel (three-receiver sets) to abandon it altogether. 

In Foxboro, there are a few candidates. Rob Gronkowski is up there. Very football intelligent. I think Kyle Van Noy is probably deserving of a mention here. His teammates have praised his smarts since he joined the team last year. Danny Amendola is one of the smarter football players in that room, too. He plays in a multitude of situations, offensively and on special teams, and the mental mistakes are few and far between. 

Would be surprised to see Eric Rowe back this week since he only began practicing this week after missing about a month. Never say never, but I know he's been focused on just building back up to full speed. May be early for him.

By interacting so frequently with people like you on social media, Jensen. Also, I’m old. Happy Holidays!

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Most intense position battle: Wideouts to go at it

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Most intense position battle: Wideouts to go at it

Third in our series looking ahead to the opening of Patriots training camp July 26.

Figure the Patriots will keep five wideouts (not including special teams ace Matthew Slater) when they enter into Week 1 of the regular season. Even with Julian Edelman scheduled to serve a four-game suspension to start the year, even with that slot opening up the potential for a receiver on the bubble to make the club, this figures to be one of the most competitive positions in camp. 

 

 

Chris Hogan will be relied upon thanks to his experience and versatility. And figure Cordarrelle Patterson has a place on the roster as the entire league ventures into a post-kickoff rules change world. 

 

After that? Hard to say. 

 

COUNTDOWN TO CAMP - Gimme s'more: New additions to keep an eye on

 

Jordan Matthews should have the inside track on a role for an offense that will likely be looking for some help on the inside. He's the most experienced slot receiver on the roster after Edelman, but Braxton Berrios and Riley McCarron could make a run themselves -- particularly if the punt-return work is up for grabs and they snatch it. 

 

On the outside, the competition is tougher. There may not be room for Kenny Britt, Phillip Dorsett and Malcolm Mitchell on the same roster even though their skill sets differ. Britt has the size and athleticism to make good on the potential he showed as a first-round pick in 2009. Will being paired with Tom Brady help him finally break through consistently? Dorsett's size and speed may make him the closest thing on the roster to Brandin Cooks. Do the Patriots feel there's room for him to grow now that he's back for Year 2? For Mitchell, the question is always the same: Will he be healthy?

 

 

How those three questions are answered could determine who has a place in New England and who doesn't. The way their contracts are structured, none of them are locks. It'll come down to how they look during what Bill Belichick annually refers to as a "competition camp." Spring practices were for learning. Now it's time to go. 

Curran: Are Patriots fans wishing away the final years of a kicking savant?

Curran: Are Patriots fans wishing away the final years of a kicking savant?

SUDBURY – It’s the last Saturday before training camp and on this blue sky/no cloud/light breeze afternoon, Stephen Gostkowski is working a stopwatch at a youth football camp at Lincoln-Sudbury High School.

Paid, not paid, I have no idea (probably paid, though). Still, the second-longest tenured Patriot is giving the organizers their money’s worth in terms of involvement and enthusiasm. I snap a shot of Gostowski timing a pack of tweens leaning for the tape in a 40-yard dash and tweet it out. 

A total of two replies come back. The second one asks, “When are they gonna cut his bum ass? Lost them the AFCCG in '15, almost lost them the SB in '16, missed a FG in SB 52.” 

It’s Twitter so the “ACKNOWLEDGE MY BLOODTHIRSTY CANDOR!!!” factor enters into our friend’s ruthless panning of the third most accurate kicker in NFL history 

But @DrJones37 isn’t on an island either.

Gostkowski is a two-time All-Pro, four-time Pro Bowler who’s made 340 of 388 field goals and 593 of 599 PATs in the 11 regular seasons since 2006. He’s missed just 10 of 140 postseason kicks (field goals and PATs) . And plenty of New Englanders sneer at the mention of his name and can’t wait to see his allegedly bum-ass shrinking over the horizon.

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Gostkowski’s perceived sin against Patriots football isn’t really the misses DrJones correctly catalogued. It’s the absence of season-saving or Super Bowl clinching kicks that his predecessor Adam Vinatieri made. Even now, a dozen years after he fled for more money and kinder kicking conditions with the Colts, Hall of Fame-bound Automatic Adam throws a shadow Gostkowski can’t escape.

And there’s no way to change that. Vinatieri made the most memorable field goal in NFL history in the Snow Bowl and validated that kick with the OT game-winner a half-hour later. Two weeks after that, he creased a 48-yarder in New Orleans to win Super Bowl 36. Two seasons later, he clinched Super Bowl 39 with another relative bomb against the Panthers.

It doesn’t matter that he was an 82 percent regular-season kicker with the Patriots or that he was 1 for 3 on field goals in SB39 and 26 of 37 overall in the playoffs while here. Vinatieri’s makes were so massive that misses were forgiven and forgotten. With the “money on the table,” as the late Gil Santos would say, you could start packing up your stuff when Vinatieri was kicking.

It’s not supposed to feel like that. But since it once did, clutch-kicking nirvana is seen as a standard. Gostkowski’s never measured up to it.

In contrast to Vinatieri, Gostkowski’s PAT miss at Denver in the 2015 AFC Championship is probably his most memorable kick https://www.nbcsports.com/boston/new-england-patriots/gostkowski-sick-about-missed-pat-was-key-loss . Even though he hadn’t missed one all season in spite of the NFL’s pushing the kick back 15 yards in 2015 (with the Patriots hearty support), even though he held the NFL record for consecutive PATs made, that miss cost the Patriots dearly against noodle-armed Peyton Manning and – in large part – kept the team from getting a shot at the very vulnerable Panthers in the Super Bowl.

That miss begot a 2016 slump that was capped by an “Oh, shit!” PAT miss in the Super Bowl that was immediately followed by a botched onsides kick.

Those are the “Yeah, but…” trump cards slammed down in front of anyone who wants to argue the merits of Gostkowski.

And with the 34-year-old entering the final year of his current contract, the chance looms that the Good Riddance Gostkowski crew may realize its wish.

And then realize what it really feels like when every kick is closer to a coin flip than a layup.

For the past three seasons, 17 teams made more than 85 percent of their regular-season field goals. My math tells me that those 15 teams – nearly half the league – live in Puckertown.

Nine teams were under 80 percent last year. There were eight in 2016 and just three in 2015. By contrast, Gostkowski’s been south of 90 percent once since 2013 (84.4 percent in 2016).

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Even if Gostkowski hasn’t been as steady as a metronome, he’s a damn sight better at kicking field goals and PATs than 90 percent of the league. Not to mention the fact he’s accustomed to the kickoff nuances the Patriots demand as they consistently try to win field position.

On Saturday, Gostkowski acknowledged the passage of time since he was a rookie in 2006.

“It’s a good and a bad thing,” he said. “I have some white hairs in my beard now. Getting a little thin up top. It’s a blessing to think that I would have played professional sports for over a decade and going into my 13th year. I’ve got nothing but gratitude and thankfulness.”

Asked by ESPN’s Mike Reiss if he’s in a year-to-year mode at this point, Gostkowski answered, “I really don’t think like that. You reassess things every year. It’s easy to say after a year, ‘I might do this or I might do that…’ but as long as I’m happy, healthy and good I’m gonna do it.”

The Patriots report on Wednesday and camp opens for real on Thursday. This is his 12th camp – two more than Vinatieri was here for.

“It’s like the first day of school. Even though we’ll see how I feel three weeks from now. But I really do look forward to it,” Gostkowski said. “Sometimes having a little too much free time can be dangerous. When you play football you’re used to someone telling you what to do and where to be and you kind of miss that.”

It takes some perspective to appreciate that you’ve got it good even when it’s not always perfect. 

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