LONG SHOT: Croston finds himself in crowded offensive line room in Year 2

LONG SHOT: Croston finds himself in crowded offensive line room in Year 2

Each day, following Patriots training camp practice, we'll highlight one intriguing "long shot" to make the roster. What might that player bring to the table for Bill Belichick's club? Who's he competing with for a spot? And what does he have to do to make the club? 

FOXBORO -- Cole Croston was active for just three games as a rookie, but it's clear the Patriots liked him. Otherwise he wouldn't have been on the roster. 

Undrafted out of Iowa, Croston made the 53-man roster at the end of last year's preseason slate, getting the nod over Ted Karras (who was later re-signed to the active roster and played all 16 regular-season games) and sixth-round selection Conor McDermott. 

With good length and the versatility to play guard or tackle, the Patriots rolled with Croston even though they knew there was a chance he'd be inactive almost every week. 

"We covet three things when we look for offensive linemen: They have to be smart; they have to be tough; and they have to be athletic enough," Dante Scarnecchia said late last season. "I think [Croston] fits the bill on all three of those things. We know he fits the bill on all three of those things. Just how fast he'll develop will determine how well he does going forward in this league. We're glad we got him."

Croston played more snaps (56) than any offensive player for the Patriots other than Brian Hoyer (59) in last week's preseason opener, yet he may not be a lock to make the roster.


There's plenty of competition on the line, especially after the Patriots drafted Isaiah Wynn with their first pick in the first round. Like Croston, Wynn has the versatility to play inside and out. Wynn's making the roster. It looks like Trent Brown, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon and LaAdrian Waddle will be part of the initial 53 as well. 

Veterans like James Ferentz, Matt Tobin, Luke Bowanko, Ulrick John and Brian Schwenke give the Patriots even more to think about up front.  

"We have several players that have had two, three years experience in the league that are very competitive for position on our team," Bill Belichick saidFriday. "We drafted one player and one of our players didn’t re-sign with us in free agency. We only carried eight offensive linemen last year. So, there’s definitely a lot of opportunity overall at that position and we have a lot of players that I think are pretty close in the competition, both inside and outside, and we tried to give everybody a good look [Thursday], as we have through camp."

Where does that leave Croston? 

The team could keep him as the eighth linemen, but would they instead look at someone like Karras, who can back up all three interior spots, including center? Would they go with someone with more experience than Croston? Or would they look to add depth at another position entirely?

Right now it looks like a difficult choice -- even with Cannon missing practice time with an injury lately. 

It'd be understandable if the Patriots were reluctant to part with Croston, a player in whom they invested an active roster spot for a full year, but if it's "best for the team..." Luckily for them, they don't have to make that call for another couple weeks.

Preventable Patriots controversy is the last thing Bill Belichick needed

Preventable Patriots controversy is the last thing Bill Belichick needed

The Patriots locker room was choked with media Wednesday afternoon. We mostly milled in small crowds of three or four with nothing to do but chat until a player stopped long enough to signal a willingness to chat. 

Then, like ants on a dropped popsicle stick, we’d swarm. Inevitably, a question about what happened in the Cleveland press box last Sunday would be lobbed up. The answer would be some variation of, “Not my department,” accompanied by a shrug. 

Away from the throngs, I buttonholed two different Patriots starters. 

I asked how much the swirl caused by an independent contractor for Kraft Sports Entertainment shooting video of the Bengals sideline from the Browns press box was impacting the team.

“F--- that shit,” said one. “I’m thinking about playing good on Sunday. I’m thinking about the Bengals. I have enough to think about. Not a concern.”

The other just shook his head and offered a pitying smile as if to say, “You don’t really think that’s on our plate, do you?” 

It wasn’t technically Bill Belichick’s department either, but it has very much been on his plate all week. 

If any of the 31 other franchises made headlines for doing what the Patriots did Sunday, the general reaction would likely be along the lines of, “Wow. That seems boldly stupid given the nuclear fallout from the Patriots sideline filming in 2007.”

For the Patriots to do it, given the nuclear fallout from their sideline filming in 2007? 

It was like an SNL skit. It couldn’t be real. 

Not surprisingly, Belichick is beside himself about it for a couple of reasons. 

First, he tolerates the intrusion of Kraft Sports Entertainment because he grudgingly understands that promoting the brand is important to the owner. As long as it doesn’t get in the way of anything he’s doing with, you know, the actual football team, he’ll scowl but bear it. 

But spending time entertaining questions about what he knew and when he knew it in the wake of a second consecutive loss to an AFC division leader? Those are brain cells suddenly occupied by something that not only has nothing to do with football, but which puts him in an awful light. 


And that’s the second reason Belichick is so angry. He understands that a huge swath of football-watching fans and commentators stand at the ready, waiting for a chance to dredge up SpyGate, the jaywalking offense that was prosecuted like a felony assault on professional football. It’s the second time in five years Belichick’s had to stand up and say, “I know nothing…” about some alleged impropriety and he knows the response from too many will be, “Sure you don’t…” 

At 66, he’s a living coaching legend. His involvement and enthusiasm in the NFL’s Top 100 Players production feels like an embrace of that. It’s obvious he’s flattered by it and he was willing to share the best side of himself in each episode. 

But this very preventable controversy in which he had no part means a dredging up of past sins, both real and imagined. Stern words from Roger Goodell about a “thorough investigation” and the inevitable penalty — whatever it is — is a scratch on a legacy that won’t be buffed out for those that want to fixate on them because they don’t like the man. 

So of course he’s livid, furious, and any other adjective you’d like to use that’s a synonym for monumentally pissed off. 

You can blame the Kraft Sports Entertainment personnel in Cleveland last Sunday for bad judgment in that instance. 

But you can’t blame ownership for trying to promote and advance its brand, which is what the “Do Your Job” videos do. With a salary cap near $200 million projected for 2020, every team needs to exhaust its revenue streams. Mini-docs on the inner workings of the famously clandestine Patriots are a layup idea. The execution on this one was … off.

How will the NFL react? It’s probably a boon for the Patriots that NFL owners were meeting this week in Dallas. That allowed Robert Kraft to explain directly to Goodell and fellow owners what precisely happened face-to-face. Maybe that minimizes the number of teams who ring up Goodell to demand the full weight of discipline land on the Patriots regardless of the details. 

The NFL doesn’t need this issue hijacking its season. The Patriots have already been in the headlines enough for off-field drama this offseason between Kraft’s incident in West Palm Beach and the Antonio Brown saga. 

The league as a whole would be best served if its investigation is quick and transparent. A reasonable punishment that hits the team with a fine and leaves football out of it would be the best way to tie it off tidily. 

But there’s no guarantee personalities involved at the league level aside from Goodell — league counsel and Patriots antagonist counsel Jeff Pash, for instance — could be looking for another pound of flesh from the Patriots' hide. 

Confiscating some of Belichick’s precious draft picks would surely make the coach apoplectic especially since it’s the business arm of the organization that did the deed. And while some of his ire would be directed at the league, most of it would probably be directed in-house. 

So there’s a lot of tiptoeing past the coach’s office going on right now. 

MORE CURRAN: Week 15 AFC Power Rankings>>>>>

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Patriots' Mohamed Sanu gives huge praise to Julian Edelman's toughness

Patriots' Mohamed Sanu gives huge praise to Julian Edelman's toughness

Julian Edelman is one of the best wide receivers in the NFL, and you'd have a difficult time finding many offensive players who are tougher mentally and physically than the 33-year-old veteran.

Edelman arguably is the most valuable player of the New England Patriots entering Week 15. The Patriots offense has struggled mightily of late. In fact, New England is the third-lowest scoring team in the league since Week 9. The passing attack has been hampered by new additions, who lack both experience with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and a firm grasp of the offense, as well as injuries. The wide receiver corps has two rookies, N'Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers, playing prominent roles right now. Two of the veteran wideouts, Mohamed Sanu and Phillip Dorsett, have both battled injuries in recent weeks.

Edelman has been one of the few constants for the Patriots offense, both in terms of production and availability. It hasn't been easy for Edelman to be on the field every week in 2019. He has been on the injury report most of the year, but he's battled through all of these ailments to play in every single game.

“Man, you all don’t understand how tough Jules is,” Sanu told reporters Wednesday. “That dude’s tough. He’s a tough son of a gun, and he goes out there every day. Whether there’s something aching, something biting or whatever the case might be, he gives it all he’s got. Even when they tell him not to, he’s still out there, and that’s what I love about him. I love to compete with him, man."

Sanu added: "You can see how tough he is in his play. They don’t call him ‘squirrel’ for nothing. He’s a bad man.”

Edelman has caught 90 passes for 1,010 yards and six touchdowns this season. He's on pace to set career highs in receptions and yards, and it's possible he breaks his career-high in receiving touchdowns (seven) as well.

His status for Sunday's matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals is uncertain. He missed Wednesday's practice and was listed on the injury report with knee/shoulder issues. The Patriots might be wise to give Edelman a day off against the Bengals given the importance of having him as healthy as possible for the playoffs. The Bengals have a league-worst 1-12 record, and even though the Patriots have struggled to score points over the last five weeks, they shouldn't need Edelman to leave Cincinnati with a win.

Roger Goodell gives first public comment on Pats-Bengals investigation>>>

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