Patriots

Patriots Roster Reset: Odds J'Mar Smith, Brian Lewerke make it in Patriots quarterback room?

Patriots Roster Reset: Odds J'Mar Smith, Brian Lewerke make it in Patriots quarterback room?

The Patriots are embarking on the Great Unknown in 2020. Kinda. 

They’ve had to roll without Tom Brady before, of course. There was 2008. But no one knew ahead of time Brady’s knee would be wrecked before Week 2.

There was 2016. But everyone knew Brady would be back after four weeks.

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This time around, Brady will not be suddenly ripped from Bill Belichick’s plans. This time around, Brady won’t be swooping in to save the day after a month away. This time around will be different.

Maybe it’ll be Jarrett Stidham’s show from start to finish. Maybe Brian Hoyer will see some early work.

However it plays out, the people occupying the Patriots quarterback room will have a gargantuan task at hand: make it their own. 

LOCK ‘EM IN

Here’s what we know about Stidham: His head coach was encouraged by his development throughout his rookie season; his head coach opted not to draft a quarterback or sign one (other than Hoyer) in free agency; Stidham’s teammates respect his approach, his demeanor, and the physical talent he showed last season; he had the best rookie preseason of any Patriots quarterback in the Bill Belichick era.

We also know he’ll be on the roster. How he’ll perform if and when he’s asked to be the player to replace Brady? That’s less certain.

ON THE BUBBLE

Brian Hoyer looks like a lock. He probably should be a lock. Is he a lock?

I believe he will be on the Patriots roster in 2020. I believe his value as a veteran to help shepherd Stidham along will be significant. I believe New England’s lack of investment at the position on draft weekend all but assured Hoyer of a roster spot. But we know he’s on a low-money deal that includes no guarantees. We know his upside is what it is. We know Cam Newton remains a free agent. And we know the Patriots have long kept just two quarterbacks on the active roster in order to max out their depth at other spots.

If we had to put someone on the bubble — and we’re identifying bubble players at each position group in this series — Hoyer is basically the only choice...

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LONG SHOTS

...Because as talented as J’Mar Smith appears to be, the undrafted rookie still has to land here. Smith, out of Louisiana Tech, is a fascinating study.

Drafted by the Padres as a catcher in 2015, with a quick release and a strong arm, Smith is built more like a catcher than a prototypical NFL passer. He’s 6-foot-1, 218 pounds and has a knack for extending plays. Not necessarily a scrambler or a designed-run quarterback, he’s someone who has plenty of experience throwing off-platform.

The results weren’t always great — those inconsistent results along with a two-game suspension last season likely led to him going undrafted — but his skill set might make him a good option to function as a scout team quarterback for the Patriots.

The Patriots took a second undrafted rookie quarterback in Michigan State’s Brian Lewkerke. He’s a better runner than Smith, but his arm isn’t as live when asked to go off script. These two will likely be competing for one practice-squad spot by the end of the summer, unless one or both shows out in preseason games. If they do, perhaps they push for a roster spot. Whether that’s in New England or elsewhere is to be determined. 

NEWCOMER TO WATCH

The newcomer to watch here is Smith. The reason? Same reason he looks like a good scout-team quarterback option for the Patriots this year: his off-platform work. In 2020, Belichick will have to come up with plans for creative, off-platform throwers including Sam Darnold, Russell Wilson, Kyler Murray, Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, possibly Tyrod Taylor and possibly Tua Tagovailoa.

Last season it was Stidham who took on that scout-team role, at times wowing his teammates with his arm talent. But if Stidham is getting starter snaps in practice, the Patriots might want someone with a little electricity in his arm to run the scout team when prepping for teams like Kansas City or Seattle. Hoyer could do it. Smith might be better.

X-FACTOR

New Patriots offensive assistant Jedd Fisch has not had his job title officially announced. But he’s a member of the Mike Shanahan tree, having coached in Denver as Shanahan’s receivers coach in the late 1990s. In 2013, he was named Jaguars offensive coordinator and used some distinctly Shanahanian concepts: two-back sets, wide zone runs, boot-action passes. Since then Fisch has worked under Jim Harbaugh at Michigan and Chip Kelly at UCLA.

For the last two seasons, he worked with the Rams under Sean McVay (another member of the Shanahan tree). All that is to say, Fisch has enough experience to be a real find for the Patriots. And if they lean on his background as a Shanahan guy, it could make a sizable impact on theIr quarterback room.

That style of offense is considered very quarterback friendly and has helped turn good passers (Jimmy Garoppolo under Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco, Matt Ryan under Kyle Shanahan in Atlanta, Kirk Cousins under Mike and Kyle Shanahan in Washington and Gary Kubiak in Minnesota, Jared Goff under McVay in Los Angeles) into prolific ones for stretches.

Jason, Devin McCourty put pressure on NFL over uncertain 2020 season

Jason, Devin McCourty put pressure on NFL over uncertain 2020 season

Like many players, Devin and Jason McCourty have lots of questions. And the NFL hasn't given them sufficient answers.

The twin brothers and New England Patriots defensive backs wrote a guest column for Sports Illustrated's "The MMQB" in which they voiced their concerns about the 2020 NFL season amid the coronavirus pandemic and urged the league to address these concerns before training camps begin later this month.

"So many questions with virtually no answers, all three weeks removed from a potential start to training camp," the McCourtys wrote.

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While other professional sports leagues hashed out detailed return-to-play plans prior to restarting their seasons, the NFL has yet to share details of what the 2020 season may look like, all while keeping the same timeline, save for reportedly eliminating two preseason games.

The start of the regular season still is almost two months away, but with players returning to their cities to prepare for training camp, the McCourtys want answers from the league.

"Will we have an option to opt out of the season? Will we be making our full salary? What if there is a COVID outbreak within the league?" the McCourtys wrote. "It's so hard to make a decision of whether we will play or not without knowing what the exact plan is."

The twin brothers, who both have families with young children, also expressed hesitation about signing on to play a season with so many unknowns.

"Will we be able to have meetings in the building? Or will the meetings still be done virtually? Will testing be a few times a week or will it be every day?" they wrote. "As players, how do we decide what is best for us and our families when we don’t know what we’re walking into?"

The NFL and NFL Players Association has formed a joint committee of doctors and trainers to develop protocols that can help players safely prepare for the season. Based on the McCourtys' column, though, it sounds like the league and that joint committee still have plenty of work to do.

"We face a whole lot of unknowns, a whole lot of question marks, and overall are dealing with unsettling feelings about how to handle the two major topics that have hit our entire country hard this year," the McCourtys wrote, referencing COVID-19 and the racial justice movement reinvigorated by the death of George Floyd. 

"The year is only halfway done, so the verdict is still out on whether we can get some answers moving forward."

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NFL Rumors: How Cam Newton, N'Keal Harry's first Patriots workout came together

NFL Rumors: How Cam Newton, N'Keal Harry's first Patriots workout came together

A bit of good luck allowed Cam Newton to throw passes to Mohamed Sanu just days after joining the New England Patriots last month.

But the new Patriots quarterback apparently has been taking matters into his own hands since then.

Newton "initiated" contact with second-year wide receiver N'Keal Harry to set up last week's workouts in Los Angeles, ESPN's Mike Reiss reported Sunday.

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Newton and Harry spent "a couple of days together" working out, per Reiss, the first of which was a two-hour session that included fellow Patriots tight end Devin Asiasi and Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.

It's a good sign for Harry and the Patriots that Newton is eager to work with the 22-year-old wide receiver, who has mostly been training in Houston and Arizona but gladly traveled out to Southern California to link up with his new QB.

Newton also gave Harry some love on Instagram over the weekend, commenting, "DØĒ•ßØ¥‼️😂 -1ØVĒ🤟🏾" on the wideout's post from a workout in Beverly Hills.

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Relentless‼️

A post shared by N'Keal Harry (@nkealharry) on

Julian Edelman and Sanu are projected to be Newton's top two wide receivers in 2020 -- assuming the QB beats out second-year Jarrett Stidham for the starting job -- but Harry has plenty of upside.

While New England's 2019 first-round draft pick appeared in only seven games during an injury-riddled campaign, Reiss pointed out Harry could develop a similar rapport with Newton as Kelvin Benjamin did in Carolina.

The 6-foot-4, 225-pound Harry and the 6-foot-5, 245-pound Benjamin have similar frames, although Harry is working to get more agile and run sharper routes this offseason.

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