Patriots

Which Patriots will benefit in training camp with Julian Edelman injured?

Which Patriots will benefit in training camp with Julian Edelman injured?

The news of Julian Edelman's thumb injury wasn't more than an hour old before the pig was hogtied and the lipstick uncapped.

This . . . might . . . actually . . . be a good thing for the Patriots? 

Before we get to some of the tangible benefits of Edelman's few weeks out, it's important to highlight the following: It's never a good thing to have your most important offensive weapon miss time. For any team. For any reason. And make no mistake, Edelman will be Tom Brady's top option on a down-to-down basis when healthy. 

The receiver is into his 33-year-old season, and the previous 10 have not been easy on his body. But he's coming off the performance of his life in Super Bowl LIII, which earned him the game's MVP honors and a new level of celebrity, and he's now almost two full years removed from the ACL injury that robbed him of his 2017. 

On an offense that will be without Rob Gronkowski, that still does not have Josh Gordon at its disposal, that will rely upon rookie first-round pick N'Keal Harry in the passing game, and that has questions at left tackle, Edelman — along with James White -— is one of the few sure things upon whom Brady will rely in the passing game in 2019. 

That Edelman won't be available for a few weeks in camp matters. It's a competitive time of year that is structured in such a way that the entire team can build on the previous day's practices and meetings. Not having the offensive unit's No. 1 receiver and longest-tenured player outside of Brady will likely hinder their growth in some ways during this critical time. 

It shouldn't take long for Edelman and Brady to get on the same page whenever Edelman does come back, but it will come as no surprise if the offense looked very much out of sorts early in camp. That's the likely result of the Patriots defense being pretty damn good, Gronkowski and Edelman's absences, and the running game being hard to gauge since there's no tackling.

But there's another side to this coin. A positive side. Time to doll-up this swine. 

MORE LOOKS FOR N'KEAL HARRY

The Patriots' first overall selection from this year's draft class was already running routes with Brady in minicamp, putting him in rarified air. It's not often Brady works regularly with NFL newbies in the receiving corps, but Brady's team has never selected a receiver in the first round before.

Harry will be given every opportunity to succeed. And not just because of his draft status. No Gronkowski and no Gordon means the team needs a down-the-field threat who can win contested passes. That should be Harry's game.

With Edelman out, even though Harry and Edelman are vastly different players, the rook should be further up Brady's list of go-to targets this summer. That could help accelerate Harry's transition. 

OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS FOR BERRIOS, HARRIS, OTHERS

The Patriots very clearly were after slot receiver help this offseason. Adam Humphries detailed his interactions with the team during free agency before choosing the Titans. Cole Beasley went public with New England's interest after he signed with the Bills. Both were near the top of the list of available experienced slots.

Why would Bill Belichick target that spot? Freeing Edelman from middle-of-the-field duties might allow the Patriots to take advantage of his versatility while also keeping him out of the most dangerous area of the field on an every-down basis and thereby prolonging his career. The Patriots didn't land a true slot to take over that gig, but they did add pieces who could help fill in.

Braxton Berrios didn't play at all as a rookie, but put together an impressive spring and could be the latest relative unknown to rack up numbers at a position that has always produced with Josh McDaniels coordinating the attack and Brady throwing the passes. Maurice Harris is an inside/out option who isn't built out of the traditional Patriots-slot mold but could take advantage of the reps voided in Edelman's absence. Undrafted rookies Jakobi Meyers and Ryan Davis — a big slot and a shiftier type, respectively — could also take advantage of the opportunity that just opened. Phillip Dorsett may see more targets as well, though the presumption was he would've been the No. 3 receiver on the field with Edelman and Harry even before Edelman's injury. 

It's the player who gets that third receiver spot in 11-personnel looks who stands to benefit now.

MORE PASSES TO GO AROUND AT TIGHT END

It looks like the Patriots will have to drastically alter their approach at tight end when it comes to the passing game. For the first time in a long time, one of their best options won't be found at that position.

Matt LaCosse caught a career-high 24 passes for the Broncos last season and could be the No. 1 option when the Patriots take to the air. Ryan Izzo has a shot at a role as a blocking tight end. Stephen Anderson is a "move" option who could augment what the Patriots have at receiver. Ben Watson will be available during camp, but he's suspended the first four weeks of the season and could at times find himself taking a back seat this summer in order for McDaniels and Belichick to figure out what they have.

No Edelman for a few weeks could mean a few extra middle-of-the-field targets for players like LaCosse and Izzo, which could be crucial for them as they try to prove they can be a reliable set of hands as safety outlets. 

A BIT OF A BREATHER FOR BRADY'S TOP TARGET

Training camp is one of those things that veterans almost universally loathe.

It's what sends some to retirement. It's exhausting. It's monotonous. It's the last thing they want to be doing in many cases.

By missing the first few weeks of camp, Edelman saves himself some of the physical grind that others annually dread. If that allows him to have a little more in the way of reserves come mid-season, then the hit the Patriots offense will take in August (and maybe even into September) might still be worth it.

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10 takeaways from Patriots vs Titans: Isaiah Wynn a wall in pass protection

10 takeaways from Patriots vs Titans: Isaiah Wynn a wall in pass protection

NASHVILLE – The product popped last week when the Patriots played the Lions in their preseason opener. This week in Nashville? Kinda messy.

The explanation for that is simple. Very few of the team’s best players took part on either side of the ball.

Among those on the DNP-CD list were: Tom Brady, Phillip Dorsett, Stephon Gilmore, Sony Michel, James White, Jonathan Jones, Devin McCourty, Rex Burkhead, James Develin, Elandon Roberts, Kyle Van Noy, David Andrew, Marcus Cannon, Joe Thuney, Shaq Mason, Michael Bennett and Lawrence Guy.

“A lot of the guys that practiced a lot (during the week) didn’t play tonight,” said Bill Belichick. “Guys that didn’t practice as much played a lot tonight so I think we had a really good evaluation of everybody.”

What was our evaluation? Come with! We’ll show you!
The Patriots left tackle position is going to be in unbelievably capable hands with ISAIAH WYNN. Playing in a game for the first time since blowing his Achilles last preseason, Wynn was a wall in pass protection, showed great feet in getting blocks at the first level and then looking for work further downfield and seems to just lock defenders up.  

I asked Wynn, “How did you feel you did out there?”

“Good,” he said. Then, as if remembering he better sound too satisfied, he added a beat later, “I still have plenty of things to work on though.”

The pace of the game was – at times – excruciating. It was a little bit of everything. An early PI challenge by the Titans (they lost as rookie Joejuan Williams was found to be on the right side of the law on a third-down pass breakup). A couple of injuries to Patriots (Derek Rivers hurt his knee and, sadly, it looks like it’s going to be a while for him. Again. Shilique Calhoun got dinged but appeared fine in the locker room). But more than anything else, it was the penalties. The Patriots had 12 called on them and the Titans had 10. That is attributable to less-experienced players on the field in some cases but the most significant penalty sequence of the night came late in the first half. First, tight end Lance Kendricks placed a Titan in a headlock when he was pass-protecting for Jarrett Stidham. The holding call resulted in a safety. Next, after the free kick, the Patriots had 12 men on the field defensively.

Speaking of defense, there’s a real collaboration going down on the Patriots sidelines. It appeared Steve Belichick called defensive plays in the first half and Jerod Mayo called them in the second half. Also, Patrick Chung – in uniform but not playing – was active in helping coach the secondary on a down-to-down basis, signaling in plays and seeming to help make calls.

Getting back to that free kick I mentioned? Jake Bailey, the Stanford rookie took it. And he hit it almost to Pluto, about 65 yards in the air. On Bailey’s only punt of the night, he hung it 54 yards and there was no return. Ryan Allen, God bless him, he’s not going down without a fight. He had a punt of 57 yards and dropped one of his two inside the 20. Bailey was the holder on field goals and PATs and Stephen Gostkowski missed his only attempt, a 40-yarder.

In two preseason games, Jakobi Meyers has caught 12 of the 14 passes sent his way for 151 yards and two touchdowns. And the balls he’s catching aren’t short little slants and outs. They are crossers in traffic and downfield passes as well. After watching him during practice and in two games, it’s clear he’s the real thing and he deserves to be a starter. Honestly, when N’Keal Harry returns from whatever’s ailing him and Josh Gordon joins the team and begins practicing, I’m going to be really interested to see if they can exceed what Meyers is doing. And not just exceed it for a time. Do it every day the way he has. It’s a fascinating story. During the game, longtime NFL personnel man Jim Nagy, who runs the Senior Bowl, stated plainly on Twitter that Meyers was “the best contested ball catcher in last year’s draft.” 

A great week of practice by Braxton Berrios was followed up by a modest game. He was targeted once and that pass was picked by Logan Ryan. The throw from Brian Hoyer didn’t have a lot of zing on it but Berrios was kind of floating upfield on his route as well which made it easy for Logan Ryan to undercut him for the pick.

Rookie running back Damien Harris worked his ass off with four catches for 23 yards and 14 carries for 80. He’s not an edge-of-your-seat kind of runner who’ll make spectacular moves but his meat-and-potatoes style is a nice fit. Reminds me a little bit of Benjarvus Green-Ellis.

I had no idea the Patriots had a player named Calvin Munson. But when No. 48 showed up on about eight straight plays defensively with pursuit, pressure or brilliant form tackling at linebacker I made sure to check. He was everywhere. And, mind you, that was against the Titans first offense.

How important to the team is Matt Slater? Both times the Patriots had a player spend an extended period on the field with an injury, Slater was the person who went out with the medical staff to – I’m assuming – lend some support to the player. Whether he was assigned that job or just took it on himself, I don’t know but nothing happens without the OK of Bill Belichick. He’s not going to sign off on guys just walking on the field whenever they want if someone is hurt. This is a role for Slater. Between this assignment and seeing Chung as almost a player-coach, it’s cool to see how empowering Belichick can be as a boss with some of his players.

Through two preseason games, Jarrett Stidham has performed exactly as advertised. He makes some incredible throws – a back-shoulder touchdown to shortish receiver Damoun Patterson was like a drone strike – and he gets a little skittish and can make some sketchy decisions. He had two near-picks that could have been taken the distance the other way.

Those throws and decisions can definitely be coached out of him if he’s willing. But the touch and accuracy? That’s a gift. I also liked his instincts on a pair of scrambles that picked up first downs. The issue he’ll deal with – as Jimmy Garoppolo did – is that the starters are better than the scrubs and if you find yourself on the field with them, they move faster and hit harder so spin-o-rama escape moves that work in August can put a quarterback in a sling in October.

The Patriots are off Sunday but back at it again on Monday and Tuesday getting ready for their first home game of the preseason. There are no more open practices this season so that party is over.

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Matthew Slater on Josh Gordon's return: 'Football is No. 2'

Matthew Slater on Josh Gordon's return: 'Football is No. 2'

Despite playing a sport that typically values third-down efficiency over empathy, Matthew Slater has no problem speaking up to be the voice of compassion inside the Patriots locker room.

Josh Gordon's reinstatement by the NFL on Friday is a complicated issue. How was it determined that Gordon is well enough to play? Is football what's best for him? How will the Patriots provide him with support when he returns?

But Slater broke it down more simply following his team's preseason win over the Titans in Nashville: When it comes to Gordon, football isn't what's most important right now.

"We are excited,” Slater said of Gordon's return. “I’ll say this: Football is number two. We want to see him first and foremost doing well as an individual, doing well as a man, and we want to support him however we can. We’re just going to take this one day at a time, which is all any of us can do. And we’ll see what tomorrow brings and then we’ll let the day after that worry about it when it comes around."

Gordon was a big-play threat any time he was on the field for the Patriots last season. He played in 11 games and led the NFL in yards per reception (18.0). He was suspended late in the year for violating the league's substance abuse policy, and though his NFL rights have remained with the Patriots -- they signed his restricted free-agent tender this offseason -- he hasn't been with the team for months.

Bill Belichick pointed that out in a statement released Saturday.

“For the past eight months, Josh’s situation has been entirely a league matter," Belichick's statement said. "When Josh returns to our program, we will evaluate the entire situation and do what we feel is best for Josh and the team."

Slater emphasized the point that he and others will welcome Gordon with open arms.

“I think having support is always a good thing, no matter who you are, no matter what life has brought your way," Slater said. "I think support is good, and hopefully he finds that he has support here. I think that’s really all I can say about it now. What’s good, what’s not good remains to be seen.”

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