Perry's five Patriots mini-camp observations: Who's building momentum?

Perry's five Patriots mini-camp observations: Who's building momentum?

FOXBORO — With Patriots mini-camp now in the books, let’s highlight a few of our observations from the team’s three days of work... 


All eyes were locked on Tom Brady last week as he undertook his first spring practices with the team. Fair or not - because players are in shorts and tees, and because this isn't thought of as a competitive camp - his every throw was closely scrutinized. The results? Fine. It certainly didn't look like he'd taken two months off. He also didn't exactly light the world aflame. He was fine. We tracked his play through the first two days of minicamp here and here. On Day 3, it was a mixed bag. Brady sailed three passes early in a 4-on-3 period - the last of which, intended for Chris Hogan, forced Brady to half throw his arms in the air out of frustration. Later in the practice, he had another attempt to Hogan broken up by Ryan Lewis, and another pass landed incomplete when he threw behind Rex Burkhead. Brady had a handful of very accurate throws as well, including a long pass dropped by Jordan Matthews, a deep strike to Jacob Hollister fit in between defenders, and a low and accurate strike to James White at the goal line where only White could get it. So, in summary, how'd Brady look, a question I've heard several times from Patriots fans the past few days? He was fine, but even he would probably admit there's plenty to fine-tune, as there always is in spring practices. The difference this year is he's left some of that fine-tuning for his teammates to handle without him. 


As is the case with any player - Brady and Rob Gronkowski included - judging performances at this time of year is perilous work. But people are hungry for information. They want to know how these players look, and so we do our best to relay what we can while providing all the important qualifiers: there are no pads; many practice periods are not competitive - even when the offense and defense align across from one another; this isn't real football. That said, Gronkowski looked spry. He caught what was thrown to him, even passes that were a touch off the mark. And almost every completion in an offense-versus-defense period resulted in some kind of celebration. It was a little over the top at times, but consider Gronkowski's answer to a question I asked him at the end of his press conference last week: When you don't feel good, the game can be "awful"; when you do, the enjoyment is "off the charts." He clearly feels good, and he doesn't care who knows it. That's excellent news for the Patriots. Don't be surprised, though, if when the competition ramps up a bit in training camp defensive players don't fire right back with wild celebrations of their own. This has happened in the past, when the offense and defense -- especially when Gronkowski is involved -- try to one-up each other with the post-play reactions. Bill Belichick has often let that stuff go, unsurprisingly, as it can't help but contribute to the competitive nature of the sessions. 


While Brady will garner the most attention of the three Patriots quarterbacks, Brian Hoyer and Danny Etling are worth watching closely as well. If only because how they play in training camp and preseason could shine a light on how the Patriots opted to handle that position in this year's draft. By waiting until the seventh round to draft a quarterback in what many considered a deep class at that position, they passed on what could have been an opportunity to take one in the first few rounds. They had two first-round picks to play with, and signal-callers from our "Prototypical Patriots" series lasted into the fourth round. Belichick said back in 2014, after the team drafted Jimmy Garoppolo, that he didn't want the Patriots to be like the Colts when the Colts lost Peyton Manning to injury. Should anything happen to Brady in 2018, the decision to go with Hoyer and Etling behind Brady will obviously be revisited. Both Hoyer and Etling fumbled on Day 3, leading to laps for both, and both had accuracy issues at points.


Even though Belichick is always quick to point out that spring work is more of a "teaching camp" than a "competition camp," that doesn't mean that there aren't consequences to how players handle their responsibilities on the field. Belichick sent the entire Patriots offense for a lap after a substitution penalty on Day 3, then gathered the team around him for a few moments before getting back into the practice. Dante Scarnecchia was also unafraid to let players have it, tearing into the left side of his line - guard Isaiah Wynn and tackle Trent Brown - on Day 2. And Brian Flores could be heard from across the field admonishing players, and briefly pulling one linebacker from a practice period when an assignment was botched. This is how business has been done in New England for a long time now, and players understand it. It's interesting to see how that method is viewed in Detroit with Matt Patricia now running the show. 


Jacob Hollister missed Day 1 for undisclosed reasons, but he was among the standouts on Day 2 and 3. He showed a good connection with Brady in the reps they took together, making impressive catches over the two days despite close coverage from the likes of Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon. He also shook rookie linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley in a 4-on-3 drill that had his offensive teammates roaring...Bentley's work in the pass game, outside of that rep on Hollister, wasn't bad. A self-proclaimed "thumper," he is viewed as a traditional "Mike" linebacker and could project to the NFL as a player who sees the vast majority of his work on first and second down. His instincts in the passing game, though, flashed on occasion in minicamp as he got his hands on passes on multiple occasions. He's seen some work alongside Kyle Van Noy and Dont'a Hightower this spring, and he could compete with Elandon Roberts as a middle-of-the-field presence in base packages...The cornerback spot opposite Stephon Gilmore will draw plenty of eyeballs in the last OTA session open to reporters on Thursday. Jason McCourty did not take part in team work in mini-camp, and Eric Rowe often worked across other corners last week, leaving undrafted rookie JC Jackson to take on the bulk of the reps with Gilmore. Jackson seemed to hold his own, breaking up a pair of passes on Day 3. With seventh-round rookie Keion Crossen rehabbing an injury, Jackson and Lewis both picked up valuable reps. If everyone's healthy, there could be a good competition brewing between young Patriots corners that carries over to training camp. 


Patriots offense aces test, defense…not so much

Patriots offense aces test, defense…not so much

FOXBORO - The Patriots knew what their plan would be against the Chiefs, both offensively and defensively. 

Offensively they didn't see much, if anything, they weren't expecting and it showed. They ran it when and where they wanted to. Power out of their I-formation. Power out of the shotgun. Fullback isolations. End-arounds. And they found mismatches against Kansas City's man schemes all night. 

No gimmicks. Easy pickings for Tom Brady. Unless you confused him a tad, he was going to end up leading an offense that approaches 500 total yards. They hit that number on the button Sunday night. 


Defensively the Patriots wanted to take away Travis Kelce. His size and athleticism made him a big play waiting to happen, and Patrick Mahomes goes to him in critical situations. So what did Bill Belichick and Brian Flores' defense do? They took Kelce away, often sending two defenders at him in coverage. He finished with five catches for 61 yards -- all of which came in the first half. 

But the Patriots didn't devote the same types of resources to Tyreek Hill, and he ended up burning them to the point that the Patriots allowed 40 points to an Andy Reid offense for the third time since 2014. 

This week's Report Card, like the high-scoring outcome at Gillette Stadium, is a tad predictable. Good grades for throughout the offense. Not so much for the defense. Let's get to them...


Tom Brady's fumble in the third quarter was perhaps his worst play of the season. He seemed to acknowledge as much on WEEI Monday morning. But he made enough plays against a horrid Chiefs defense to slide him into the honors conversation. His scrambling touchdown, his on-the-money throws to Chris Hogan and Rob Gronkowski late, his touchdown floater to Julian Edelman were all worthy of high marks. Aside from the turnover, though, how is he not in the "A" conversation? He missed an open Hogan on back-to-back attempts early in the third quarter -- never saw him -- forcing the Patriots to kick a field goal. He also nearly threw a pick in the third that was broken up on a nice play by Josh Gordon, who'd been woefully underthrown. 

Sony Michel cracked the 100-yard mark for the second time in his career despite having 10 of his carries go for 3 or fewer yards (not including a goal-line plunge). He admitted after the game he feels as though he's still leaving yardage on the field, but he continues to be productive back there. That's opened up the play-action passing game, which has accounted for chunk plays in recent weeks. As a receiver, James White continues to be Mr. Dependable, as he picked up a 17-yard catch-and-run on the game's final drive to keep things moving. He also ran six times for 39 yards, showing that he can run between the tackles if defenses are going to go light and let him mosey through the box. Kenjon Barner gave this group a little jolt early as he ran three times for 16 yards, including one carry for 10 yards where he broke a tackle. 

Julian Edelman's touchdown catch in the second quarter was one of the easier scoring grabs he's made -- Kendall Fuller almost fell down as Edelman breezed by on his way to the corner of the end zone -- but it obviously ended up being critical to the outcome. It came as some surprise that the Patriots didn't try to pepper Edelman with more targets, but the Chiefs opted for coverage over pass-rush in several key spots, forcing Brady to go elsewhere. Hogan's late grabs were clutch . . . and they helped make up for moments in the third when Brady seemed to overlook Hogan for potential scores twice. Josh Gordon and Brady still aren't quite on the same page with the back-shoulder throws they've attempted in recent weeks, but he played 63 snaps of a possible 78 (only Edelman played more), and he showed good effort throughout the night. He fought for a deep attempt that drew a pass-interference flag in the end zone. He also broke up a potential interception that could've led to a longer Patriots drive had Brady not been strip-sacked.


Rob Gronkowski's usage at the end of the game just goes to show what he can do as a receiver when called upon. On his long catch-and-stiff-arm-and-run jaunt, he created yards after contact like few can. On his final grab of the night to set up the game-winning field goal, he got a great release off the line -- not bad for a guy with a bad ankle -- and reeled in Brady's dime. He created some subtle separation by hand-fighting down the field, but not enough to pick up a penalty. He finished the night with three catches and 97 yards. Gronkowski was also, once again, a force as a run-blocker. In those power runs out of shotgun we mentioned off the top, he would pull with a guard to help cave in the edge of the defense. They ran the same play (to opposite sides) early and late in the first quarter. Both resulted in gains of 10-plus yards. Both featured Gronkowski moving people. James Develin also had himself a day, playing 33 snaps and clearing room on isolation calls, allowing Michel to follow him into holes and work off of his blocks.

This group deserves a great deal of credit for what the Patriots were able to do on the ground (173 yards on 38 carries). They had to work for it, too. The longest Patriots run of the night was 15 yards. They also played smart, not accumulating any penalty yardage. Brady's goal-line run was particularly interesting to watch because the Chiefs only rushed three. Hard there for the line not to try to find someone to block down field there when Brady starts scrambling, but they had to play it straight on the off chance Brady might flip it forward into the end zone. Even if they look like they're spectating on that snap, it's better than picking up a penalty in the red zone. David Andrews (and Sony Michel) had a rough go in pass protection on Chris Jones for one snap, allowing a Brady sack. But this group only allowed two hits (not including the one Brady brought upon himself before fumbling), and Shaq Mason and Joe Thuney were forces in the run. 

This is a brutally tough grade. The kick coverage would likely get an "F" is that was all we looked at. But the 97-yard return allowed -- "Brutal," said Matthew Slater -- only counts as a portion of the overall mark, though. Same goes for the Patriots squib kick gone wrong early in the game. How to weigh those against the 50-yarder Stephen Gostkowski drilled to make it a seven-point game in the fourth quarter? To the open end of the stadium, no less? He made five field goals and four extra points by the time the night was over. And the Patriots needed all of them. No punts from this group Sunday, but what they put on tape was only the definition of a mixed bag thanks to the kicker who didn't miss. 

Lawrence Guy and Danny Shelton were asked to step up in the absence of Malcom Brown and they provided some resistance against the run. The Chiefs, however, still averaged 5.5 yards per carry. Woof. What this group needed, in particular in the second half, was more in the way of a pass-rush. Adrian Clayborn provided a pair of pressures in the first half that resulted in third-down failures by the Chiefs, but they couldn't generate much in the way of pressure in the final 30 minutes. Patrick Mahomes wasn't sacked, and he was hit three times by this crowd. 

Dont'a Hightower couldn't be corralled by the Chiefs early. He dropped into coverage, he jammed Travis Kelce at the line of scrimmage, he rushed the passer. He picked Mahomes on the second Chiefs drive of the game. Then he put a hit on Mahomes (after jamming Kelce) that forced the young quarterback into a red-zone pick. He also blew up a short play-action pass to the flat for a loss. Elandon Roberts appeared to have one of his better games as a member of the Patriots, knocking down a pass to force the Chiefs to settle for a field goal in the third quarter. He also came up with a pair of run stuffs on the night and wasn't targeted in 10 coverage snaps. Kyle Van Noy missed a tackle on Kareem Hunt early, and he whiffed on another in space on Tyreek Hill -- which, in fairness, is a difficult task for a player about 50 pounds lighter than Van Noy. But the Patriots could've used some better tackling from this level, which is why their grade is where it is. 

Upon re-watching some of the game's most critical plays, it was fascinating for me to see so much focus on Kelce. I know how talented he is, but he doesn't have the game-breaking ability -- the athleticism to outrun an entire team 75 yards for a touchdown -- that Hill does. Focus on Kelce in the red zone, as the Patriots did on Hill's 14-yard score? Makes sense. But in the middle of the field late in the game, which is what the Patriots did when the doubled Kelce and allowed Hill to sprint through the defensive backfield unencumbered? Less clear on why that would be the choice. So perhaps a portion of this grade should go to the coaching staff. Bill Belichick didn't hold back when asked about Hill's long score on a Monday conference call, skewering players and coaches alike for the result there. But we can't highlight the players' ability to adjust on the fly in order to prevent big plays -- which they'd been good at through five weeks -- and then not point out when the opposite happens in prime time. Any other week, the plays that Stephon Gilmore and Duron Harmon made in the red zone in the second quarter would've helped make this grade respectable, but as a unit, they nearly erased all the positive they showed in the first half to lose the game. The Patriots won't see a group this athletic for the rest of the season. The regular season, at least. For a more detailed breakdown on the secondary's night -- good and bad -- head here.


Patriots ban beer-throwing fan, Foxboro police reportedly charge him

Patriots ban beer-throwing fan, Foxboro police reportedly charge him

The Patriots have identified the fan who threw a beer at Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill after his 75-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter Sunday night and Foxboro police reportedly will charge the 21-year-old man from Marshfield, Mass., with disorderly conduct.

Here’s the statement from the Patriots:

NBC10 reported that the beer-tosser will be charged with disorderly conduct and throwing an object at a sporting event:

Here's a slow-motion look at the incident, via NFL Network’s Marc Istook:

Hill's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, said they are talking to the NFL and the NFL Players Association about taking action against the fan, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported:

Hill’s touchdown and the ensuing extra-point tied the score at 40 in a game the Patriots would go on to win 43-40 on Stephen Gostkowski’s last-second field goal, handing the Chiefs their first loss.