Patriots

What's the path for Patriots tight end Michael Roberts to make an impact?

What's the path for Patriots tight end Michael Roberts to make an impact?

It's going to be hard for anyone in the Patriots tight end room to feel comfortable any time soon. At the moment, the team is simply devoid of players with the kind of talent that would warrant their names being scribbled on the 53-man roster in ink.

That means there will be tinkering, and we know Bill Belichick isn't averse to tinkering year-round. He continued to shape-shift his tight end group on Thursday by trading for Lions tight end Michael Roberts, sending Matt Patricia and Bob Quinn a conditional seventh-rounder for 2020 in return. 

Does acquiring Roberts give the Patriots a clearer plan in terms of how they'll replace Rob Gronkowski? Nope. But it does provide the group with more depth as well as more competition for training camp next month. 

Gauging the overall effectiveness of the tight end position during Patriots minicamp was a bit of a fool's errand. Pads weren't involved. Blocking, other than a few periods focused on run-game assignments, was essentially an afterthought. 

It was Matt LaCosse, who caught a career-high 24 passes last season, who took snaps with Tom Brady and other projected starters late in the week of mandatory spring practices. Ben Watson looked comfortable in the passing game, but the 38-year-old will be suspended for the first four games of the regular season. Ryan Izzo was quiet as a receiver and heard it from coaches after apparently bungling a snap during a goal-line run-game period. Stephen Anderson was smooth but appears to be more receiver than true tight end, checking in at 230 pounds -- two more pounds than rookie receiver N'Keal Harry weighed at this year's combine. Undrafted rookie Andrew Beck worked out with the fullbacks, and while he could have a valuable role in backing up James Develin, he doesn't look like he'll factor into the tight end mix. 

So where does Roberts fit in? Why go after him? Of all the buzz we've heard about how the Patriots might go about replacing Gronkowski, Brady may have had the best explanation immediately after the team's final minicamp practice. 

"That’s got to be a position of strength even if it’s not one player but multiple players doing different roles," Brady said. "There were times in my career before that where we had similar approaches. No one’s going to make any excuses for our offense. We’re going to do everything we can to be the best we can be, score every time we touch the ball, and the tight end position’s a big part of our offense. Those guys are going to have to do a great job for us."

There is no tight end on the Patriots roster who can take the field in every situation and, as Gronkowski did, assert himself as among the best in the league at whatever it is he's called to do on a given snap. But as they try to piece it together with "multiple players doing different roles," we can try to make more sense of the Roberts acquisition beyond calling it depth.

It appears as though Roberts will be an option as a true "Y" tight end in the Patriots offense. At 6-foot-5, 265 pounds, he becomes the heaviest tight end on the roster, and could be a fit as a true in-line player. In his two years with the Lions, according to Pro Football Focus, of his 379 total snaps, 243 (64 percent) came as a blocker. 

Though Roberts reeled in 45 catches, including 16 touchdowns, for 533 yards as a senior at Toledo in 2016, his frame, his length (33-inch arms) and his hand size (11.5-inch hands) make him ideally suited to take on blocking duties. He had 13 catches for 146 yards in his two seasons in Detroit. 

What does this mean for the rest of the position group in New England? It could put a player like Izzo on notice. When he was drafted, the seventh-rounder out of Florida State was described as an "on-the-line-of-scrimmage player, very tough" by director of player personnel Nick Caserio. If his role for the Patriots is going to be tied to his ability to create space in the running game, perhaps Roberts will push him in camp with one of the two winning out as the top options to fill the blocking role previously filled by Dwayne Allen.

It's hard to say with much certainty what Roberts will do for the Patriots until he's able to practice with his new team, but even if he's a blocking specialist, that would carry plenty of value for the Patriots as they piece together a tight end room that will have to feature — at least early on — some specialist types now that their do-it-all option is retired.

Check out Phil Perry's post-minicamp 53-man roster projection>>>>

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How Julian Edelman let Cam Newton know about Patriots' complex playbook

How Julian Edelman let Cam Newton know about Patriots' complex playbook

Remember when Cam Newton jokingly compared the Patriots' playbook to "calculus" after signing with New England last month?

Turns out that wasn't his own assessment. (Not yet, anyway.)

Rather, it was Julian Edelman who made Newton aware of what he was dealing when the quarterback called his new Patriots wide receiver for the first time.

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"We were both excited just to be on the phone with each other," Newton told reporters Friday in a video conference. "Then all of a sudden he just said, 'Hey bro, this (explicit) is calculus.'

"He said it and it was just funny. From that whole 15-minute conversation, that's the only thing that I just remembered: Calculus."

The Patriots playbook that Tom Brady spent 20 years mastering is notoriously complex and has stumped talented veterans like Chad Ochocinco and Reggie Wayne. Edelman has dealt with that playbook for a whole decade, so it's no wonder his comparison stuck with Newton.

Not that the 31-year-old QB is intimidated by learning a challenging offense after nine seasons with the Carolina Panthers.

"At the end of the day, football is still football and you just can’t make too much on it than what it already is,” Newton said of the playbook. "(Offensive coordinator) Josh (McDaniels) has been there every step of the way as well as (quarterbacks) coach Jedd (Fisch). Just been hammering away. All the quarterbacks have been trying to learn this whole system from what it is."

Newton admittedly faces a tall task picking up the Patriots' offense in short order without the benefit of the on-field workouts of a traditional training camp.

The three-time Pro Bowler has his means of getting up to speed, though: Newton is a "visual learner" who famously relied on a large three-ring binder in Carolina stuffed with notes on the Panthers' offense.

"We all have our different methods of how we (learn) and go about different ways to retain as much information as possible,” Newton said. "I don’t think the binder is actually here, but some type of retention methods have adapted towards New England."

Newton has a few more weeks to study, but his first test -- the Patriots' 2020 season opener against the Miami Dolphins on Sept. 13 -- is rapidly approaching.

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For Josh McDaniels, adapting offense means tapping into Cam Newton's superpower

For Josh McDaniels, adapting offense means tapping into Cam Newton's superpower

Josh McDaniels wouldn’t trade his time with Tom Brady for anything.

But the Patriots offensive coordinator did point out Friday that those times Brady wasn’t at his disposal are very valuable right now as the Patriots offense does its post-Brady pivot.

“I’m thankful for the experiences that I’ve had when I didn’t have Tom,” McDaniels said on a video conference call. “Believe me, no one was happier to have him out there when he was out there for all the years I was fortunate to coach him.

"But I would say I did have some experience with the Matt Cassel year (in 2008), which I learned a lot about how to tailor something to somebody else’s strengths, we had to play that four-game stretch (in 2016) with Jacoby (Brissett) and Jimmy (Garoppolo), I thought that was helpful. And I was away for three years. So trying to really adapt … it’s not changing your system, it’s adapting your system to the talents and strengths of your players.”

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How will the Patriots offense change now that Brady’s gone has been a dominant topic of discussion this offseason. The six-time Super Bowl winners' strengths are well-documented and hard to replicate – absurd accuracy, poise, pocket-presence and the ability to decipher and manipulate defenses at will. Part of the reason they’re hard to replicate is that it took him a dozen years of monkish devotion to get where he was. Nobody’s got time for that.

So, after a couple of decades building a tower out of wooden blocks, the blocks are knocked down and scattered. And McDaniels starts building again. Same blocks. Different-looking structure.  

“(We need to) adapt (the offense) to the players that we have,” said McDaniels. “So, again, you just have to keep telling yourself, ‘Do I really want us to be good at this? Or are we good at this?’ There’s a fine line between really pushing hard to keep working at something that you’re just not showing much progress in vs. ‘Hey, you know what, we’re a lot better at A, B and C then we are D, E and F, why don’t we just do more A, B and C?” I think as a staff we’ve really had a lot of conversations about those kinds of things.”

McDaniels has discussed in past seasons how developing an offense is a trial-and-error process. The difference this year is there is no chance for the “trial” portion. No joint practices. No preseason games. Obviously, no OTAs or minicamps.

“We can’t make any declarations about what we’re good at yet because we haven’t practiced,” McDaniels acknowledged. “I think everybody’s chomping at the bit, eager to get out there and start to make a few decisions about some things that we want to try to get good at, and if we’re just not making a lot of progress then we just have to shift gears and go in a different direction.

“But I’m going to lean on my experience and then I’m going to lean on the staff, coach Belichick, just to, (say), ‘Let’s be real with ourselves. Yeah, we used to be good at that. We’re not doing so hot at it so let’s just scrap it for now and move in a different direction.”

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Obviously, a direction they’ll move in will most likely be powered by the mobility of whoever the starting quarterback is, Jarrett Stidham or Cam Newton.

McDaniels pointed out that a player with the size, power and mobility of Newton does change things.

“It’s certainly not something I’m accustomed to using a great deal but you use whatever the strengths of your players that are on the field allow you to use, to try to move the ball and score points,” he said. “So whatever that means relative to mobility at the QB position, size and power, quickness, length, height with receivers … you go through the same thing many different times.”

Newton, said McDaniels, is the same as any other player who brings a unique talent.  

“I remember when you get a new receiver group … our receivers have changed quite a bit in terms of some of them were bigger … Randy Moss was a bigger guy and then we’ve had some smaller guys like Wes Welker and Danny Amendola, and then you have tight ends that are more fast straight-line players and then you have guys like Gronk and those kinds of players,” he pointed out.

“Regardless of what the position is, I think you try to use their strengths to allow them to make good plays and if that’s something we can figure out how to do well and get comfortable doing and feel like we can move the ball and be productive then we’re going to work as a staff to figure out how that works best, and try to utilize it if we can.”

In other words, when you have a player with a superpower - Moss' speed, Welker's quickness, Gronk's size, Brady's brain, Newton's power - , you tap into said superpower. ASAFP.