Patriots

Gilmore ready to move on from injury talk, possibly contribute Sunday

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Gilmore ready to move on from injury talk, possibly contribute Sunday

FOXBORO -- If you were looking for answers from Stephon Gilmore about his late scratch prior to the game at MetLife versus the Jets with a concussion, the sixth-year pro wasn’t about to go into too much detail.

“You just never know,” he said when asked about not being on the injury report prior to that Saturday, less than 24 hours from kickoff.  “Just listen to the doctors and go from there.”

Gilmore has practiced on a limited basis over the last couple of weeks prior to the bye but wouldn’t say whether or not he had cleared concussion protocol.

“I don’t want to talk about injuries the whole time,” he said. “They told us not to talk about injuries. I feel good. We’ll go from there.”

In Gilmore’s absence, the Patriots defense has found a higher level. Coincidence? Probably, but also not something that can be ignored. Johnson Bademosi, normally a special teams maven, stepped in that afternoon against New York and has been sound ever since. Communciation has improved.Those big plays that were a recurring nightmare over the first month of the season have - for the most part - vanished.

“He did good,” said Gilmore when asked to assess Bademosi’s performance. “He made some plays. All the guys did good. Malcolm [Butler] Jon Jones. [Devin] McCourty’s good. They did good. All  of them guys played good roles.”

It was pointed out to me by an NFL scout that without Gilmore in the lineup it was no surprise “Malcolm was Malcolm” again. Butler has long embraced the role of lead dog, and Gilmore’s signing - and all that went into it - seemed to have a negative impact on the team’s best corner in each of the last two seasons. Now Butler’s play has improved while Gilmore has had to take a step back and try to process information and improve even though he has had very little physical involvement.

“I’m still locked in,” he said. Stayed studying, went over the game plan like I was still playing. It was good to see how the guys played and go from there.”

Communication has been a big buzzword for the defense starting way back in week one and remains at the forefront. Chemistry is also critical, and Gilmore seems to have gained an appreciation for what his teammates have been doing while he was sidelined.

“It’s big,” he noted. “Guys love to play the game, love to do whatever it takes to prepare to win. These guys, day in and day out, work hard, the coaches have a great game plan and it’s on us to execute.”

Should Gilmore be cleared and active Sunday in Denver, eyes will be on him and that secondary to see how they operate as their big money offseason acquisition works his way back into the mix. For the Patriots to be the best version of themselves, it seems certain Gilmore needs to be at his best, but as the last few weeks have shown us, sometimes it takes more than talent to have success.

Brady's tossing the football around in Monaco

Brady's tossing the football around in Monaco

There has been plenty of discussion surrounding the New England Patriots this offseason.

Is there tension between Brady and Belichick? Are the Patriots finally starting to crack?

There is no confirmed proof of either, but Brady missing OTAs has only fueled speculation

Some may have figured he just wanted to spend more time with family. But we've found out he's had a full list of things to do outside football.

Many wouldn't have guessed this list included throwing footballs yacht-to-yacht with a competitor in the Monaco Grand Prix.

The man who caught the football was Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull Racing. He would go on to win the Monaco Grand Prix.

Everything that Brady touches turns to gold.

Brady serves as a brand ambassador for TAG Heuer. Red Bull Racing started using TAG Heuer branded Renault engines a few years back.

This part of the trip is certainly important for the Tom Brady brand.

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Hightower’s presence at OTAs leads to a look at linebacker depth

Hightower’s presence at OTAs leads to a look at linebacker depth

FOXBORO - Dont'a Hightower was among the missing during Tuesday's OTA that was open to reporters. He was prominently featured on the team's website as a participant in Thursday's OTA, though.

It's a positive development for one of the Patriots best and most versatile defenders. Hightower tore his pectoral in October and missed the remainder of the 2017 season, leading to some shuffling of personnel both at the second level and on the edge. 

Hightower snagged one of the team's photos of his participation in Thursday's workout and slapped it on his Instagram page. 

Hightower's presence on the turf behind Gillette Stadium, even if he was limited in the practice, allows our minds to wander a bit and look ahead to what the Patriots depth chart might look like at linebacker with him in the fold. 

The Patriots are consistently altering their fronts and Hightower's adaptability allows his role to change with whatever scheme Bill Belichick deploys. 

Hightower can play on the line or off. He can be used as a "Sam" linebacker at the second level in a 4-3 or at the end of the line of scrimmage in 3-4 looks. He played on the left end early last season - a spot we identified yesterday as a potential landing spot for Derek Rivers. And if the Patriots needed Hightower to play as a "Mike" linebacker, he has the ability to do that as well. 

Sub packages, base packages . . . Hightower can line up in a variety of front-seven spots for the Patriots regardless of the situation, which is why when healthy he's been able to serve as an every-down player. (He played 92.4 percent of Patriots defensive snaps in 2014 and 83.1 percent of the snaps in 2016.)

How might the rest of the Patriots linebacker corps slot in if Hightower is a full go for training camp? Let's take a look . . . 

MR. MIX AND MATCH


Kyle Van Noy is probably the closest approximation to Hightower that the Patriots have on their roster. When Hightower went out last season, it was Van Noy who moved around the front seven and handled a variety of responsibilities. He's probably best suited as a "Will" linebacker, someone who can use his athleticism to make plays in different areas depending on the situation, but Van Noy's ability to handle multiple responsibilities in New England's defense is part of the reason why the team likes him as much as they do. He was handed a two-year extension early last season. 

LIKE "MIKE" 


Elandon Roberts often handled the "Mike" responsibilities in the Patriots defense last season. The third-year player out of Houston might have the inside track on this role in 2018, but he could be pushed by rookie fifth-round selection Ja'Whaun Bentley out of Purdue. Both players seem like they're at their best against the run game, unafraid to fill their lanes as prideful "thumpers." What may separate this duo is which player can more consistently cover the correct gaps on first and second down, and which player more effectively communicates the defense to their teammates around them. Whether either player can contribute on special teams could also alter how the workload is distributed here. 

WHEN THERE'S A "WILL"


Van Noy would likely be the first choice here for the Patriots, but there are a few others who could be angling for time here. Marquis Flowers re-signed with the Patriots this offseason after an impressive end-of-the-season run where he showed up as a pass-rusher with enough athleticism to be trusted to run with backs in the passing game. Flowers was also a key contributor on special teams last season. Rookie sixth-round pick Christian Sam could also compete for "Will" reps. A defensive back in high school, Sam bulked up at Arizona State but remains a good athlete and could be a fit behind Van Noy. Special teamers Nicholas Grigsby and Brandon King work out with the linebackers and could be options here if they were ever called upon defensively.

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