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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Michel production surging, but yardage still there to be had

Michel production surging, but yardage still there to be had

FOXBORO -- Sony Michel was coming off of his second-career 100-yard game. He'd just helped his team beat the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs. And yet, he was relatively dour in his postgame back-and-forth with reporters.

"Everything was the o-line," he said. "There was holes. It's probably hard from you guys' perspective, but there was holes down there. 

"Yes, we made some plays. But I think we left yards out there. There were some that I thought could've been even bigger plays, but that's football."

Michel's production has surged of late, as has his workload. He carried 24 times against the Chiefs for 106 yards. Against the Colts he carried 18 times for 98 yards and caught a pass for 12. Against the Dolphins, he had 25 attempts for 112 yards.

Still, there's clearly room for improvement. Michel will tell you that. So will Bill Belichick.

"Yeah, definitely," Belichick answered when asked if he concurred with Michel's postgame comments. "I would agree with that, absolutely. Yeah, I agree with that."

Is the missed yardage Michel has accrued a result of his missing time in training camp and preseason? 

"No, I think it’s part of playing at a high level of competition against good players with good players," Belichick said. "All players get better when they come into this league after two or three years. I don’t care how good they are coming in. When you play at a higher level with higher competition, I mean, it forces you to get better. If you work hard, it forces you to get better, and basically they all do."

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One area where Michel could boost his output would be by limiting some of his stuffed runs. He had nine runs go for two yards or fewer against the Chiefs. He had nine more against the Colts, with one being negated by a Patriots holding penalty. He had 11 more against the Dolphins, and six more runs for three yards. 

In all, 41 of Michel's 91 attempts (45 percent) have gone for two yards or fewer. That's partly on the offensive line as well, but Michel focused internally when asked how he'd try to take his game to another level.

"Watch the film," Michel said, "correct it, criticize yourself. See what you could've done different and apply it in practice."

 Given where the Patriots stand with their running back depth -- there are three backs on the roster between Michel (37 snaps versus Kansas City), James White (33) and Kenjon Barner (five) -- Michel will continue to be relied upon in the Patriots offense. 

He's a critical piece to the operation, and though he has not been a factor in the passing game lately (two targets in his last three games), he has opened things up for the Patriots through the air via the threat he poses on play-action.

The question now is not whether he'll improve or not. That seems likely given Belichick's commentary, and Michel shows flashes when it appears as though he's already made significant strides.

The question now is how he'll hold up moving forward. With 91 carries through five games (18.2 per game), he's currently on pace to see more carries (272) than he ever saw at Georgia if he plays all 10 remaining regular-season contests. 

Michel's knee is still limiting him in practice, and there doesn't appear to be any reinforcements coming New England's way as far as between-the-tackle runners go. Jeremy Hill is done for the year on injured reserve, and Rex Burkhead is on IR as well but could return later this season.

For now, Michel is taking a day-to-day approach with his health and maintenance, looking at how he can get himself to feel as fresh as possible from practice to practice, not necessarily how he can get himself to feel as fresh as possible for the end of the season. 

As long as he's good to go, it looks like the Patriots will continue to ride him, in part because they don't have many other options. He'll continue to see carries, and he'll hope to continue to see incremental improvement as he goes. The same goes for his head coach.

"He’s got a long way to go," Belichick said. "He runs hard, he’s tough, so we’ll see."

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Khalil Mack (ankle) misses second straight day of Bears practice

Khalil Mack (ankle) misses second straight day of Bears practice

FOXBORO -- Will all the praise of Khalil Mack be for naught? Day after day this week, whether it's Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels or Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots have heaped compliments on the Bears pass-rusher, and now it's looking like he may not play.

For the second straight day, Mack sat out of Bears practice with an ankle issue. The Bears will have one more practice Friday in advance of Sunday's game with the Patriots. His coach, Matt Nagy, has described him as day-to-day.

Should Mack miss the game, the Bears would be without their top-flight pass-rusher. He's one of the best in football, particularly when paired with a front in Chicago that allows him to better accentuate his talents. It's harder to devote  everal pairs of eyes to Mack when players like Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman are having strong seasons.

If there's not a significant amount of healing that occurs over the course of the next few days, the matchup on the offensive right side for the Patriots could look totally different. That's where Mack typically lines up, and it's where Marcus Cannon has played 276 snaps this year. Cannon missed his second straight day of practice on Thursday due to a concussion.

Should Cannon be forced to miss time, then LaAdrian Waddle -- who matched up with Mack for the majority of the Patriots Raiders matchup last season in Mexico City -- would likely get the starting nod on the right side.

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