ALLEN PARK, Michigan — Now that the Patriots are through 10 training camp practices, it makes sense to roll through a few of the camp battles taking place between teammates.
There are several. They're happening along the edge of the defensive line and in the linebacking corps. They're happening at high-profile position groups (corner) and less-sexy position groups (defensive tackle).
But today we'll focus in on Patriots punters and find out who's offering what in a matchup that pits veteran Ryan Allen against rookie Jake Bailey.
TALE OF THE TAPE
Allen: Six-year veteran, 29, re-signed in the offseason, 6-2, 220 pounds
Bailey: Rookie fifth-round draft pick, 22, 6-2, 205
Allen: You could make the case that Ryan Allen was the best big-game punter in the league last year — has anyone ever had that argument? — after what he did in Super Bowl LIII, out-punting "weapon" Johnny Hekker to help the Patriots win the battle of field position in a low-scoring slugfest. The left-footed punter (long considered a strength by Bill Belichick) had six punts dropped inside the 20 during last year's postseason run, tied for the most with Hekker, and only four were returned for a combined . . . one yard. Allen has been the team's choice at the position since 2013 and he has three Super Bowl rings as a result. While he might not have the biggest leg in the league, he has been a reliable directional kicker on a team that has generally not found itself in many gotta-have-it, field-flipping situations over the years because it's rare the offense stalls deep in its own territory.
Bailey: We know far less about Bailey, but we do know this: When he gets ahold of one, he murders it. His punts sound different off his foot, and the best of the best hang for over five seconds with ease. Bailey, who is seven years younger than Allen, also has the ability to kick off. He's been used as the team's kicker in multiple kickoff periods through camp this year, including one on Tuesday. Having someone to handle those duties this year could be beneficial to the Patriots in a couple of different ways: a) He might save Stephen Gostkowski, 35, the wear-and-tear of swinging his leg as hard as he possibly can over and over again, allowing him to focus on his work as a field-goal kicker. b) The Patriots were last in the league when it came to opponent starting field position after kickoffs in 2018. (Back in May I wrote extensively about the struggles the Patriots and Gostkowski had kicking off last season and how Bailey might help them out.)
Allen: Not all punters are created equal, and not all punters get the same opportunities. Some are asked to boom it as high and far as possible. Some are asked to angle it out of bounds. Allen probably did more of the latter than the former last season. With all that said, here are some of his numbers from 2018, according to Pro Football Focus: 12th in cumulative return yards (255), 16th in average distance (45.1 yards), 21st in net yards (39.5), 22nd in punts inside the 20 (22). Those numbers don't scream for a replacement, necessarily, and the Patriots went out of their way to sign Allen to a new deal (one-year, $1.5 million) this offseason. But his $100,000 guaranteed figure doesn't tether him to the team, and soon after the deal was signed the Patriots traded up in the fifth round (where they've drafted special teamers Zoltan Mesko, Matthew Slater and Joe Cardona in the past) to take Bailey. If they were to keep Bailey and release Allen, it'd save the Patriots almost $1 million in cap dollars.
Bailey: For as strong as Bailey's leg appears to be, consistency has been an issue. Through eight camp practices at GIllette Stadium, it seemed as though for every bomb he hit with his right foot, another would be shanked. On Monday, he had an opportunity to kick five in a row to the Lions. Four of the five were skyscrapers. He mis-hit one that sailed sideways and out of bounds. Joe Judge has been in his ear about some of the bad balls — and Allen hasn't been immune to them either this summer — and we're still waiting to see him string together multiple days of consistent punting.
AND THE EDGE GOES TO...
Bailey. Between his draft position, his salary, his potential as a "weapon" to flip field position (an asset that might be viewed as more valuable for a team with an offense that looks like it might not be as potent as it has been in recent years), and his ability to kick off, Bailey seems like the logical choice. Even after Allen's big-time performance in Super Bowl LIII. But if Bailey can't prevent himself from spraying punts all over the field on every other attempt, as has been the case for much of camp, then the door remains open for his predecessor.
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