Austin Carr

Carr, O'Shaughnessy among league-high four Patriots claimed on waivers

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Carr, O'Shaughnessy among league-high four Patriots claimed on waivers

FOXBORO -- Sunday served as a reminder that just because you may not have been chosen to make the 53-man roster in New England, that doesn't mean you can't make it somewhere else. 

The Patriots had a league-high four players claimed off of waivers to land on active rosters around the league. Undrafted rookie receiver Austin Carr was claimed by the Saints, sixth-round rookie offensive lineman Conor McDermott was claimed by the Bills, undrafted rookie corner Kenny Moore was claimed by the Colts, and tight end James O'Shaughnessy was scooped up by the Jaguars. 

Carr became a fan favorite this summer for his performance in preseason games, during which he caught 14 passes for 153 yards and two touchdowns. Following the preseason finale, he told reporters that cut-down day would be "emotional" and that he hoped to stick around. 

McDermott, one of four Patriots draft picks in the spring, was beaten out for a spot by undrafted rookie Cole Croston. The Patriots also chose to keep both of their veteran backup tackles: LaAdrian Waddle and Cameron Fleming. 

Moore had an impressive summer, particularly early on, as he seemed to make a play a day as a defensive back. When Matthew Slater went down with an injury early in camp, Moore was used as one of the team's top gunners on the punt unit. 

O'Shaughnessy was acquired in a trade with the Chiefs during draft weekend. He provided the team a pass-catching option and a special-teams presence, but he was beaten for a spot by undrafted rookie Jacob Hollister.

The Ravens, Dolphins and Vikings each had three players claimed. The Patriots, who were last in line for waiver claims, were not awarded any players via waivers. 

Belichick on final cuts: Always hard, but it can't work out for everybody

Belichick on final cuts: Always hard, but it can't work out for everybody

FOXBORO -- Bill Belichick feels for players at this time of year because he knows what it's like. He knows what it's like to empty the bucket, give yourself over to a job, and then get fired. 

He also knows he's going to have to be the man who swings the sword, so to speak, when he cuts his roster down to 53 players before this weekend's deadline. It's not something he enjoys. 

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"It’s always hard to have to release players, yeah," Belichick said following Thursday's preseason finale. "Personally, that’s always tough. Guys gave you everything they got and, I mean, we have 90 players and we have to get down to 53, so it will be hard to tell whoever it is – I don’t even know who it’s going to be – but whoever it is, it will be hard to tell some of those players that we won’t be able to keep them.

"We all knew that situation at the beginning. There’s nothing new with that. It’s just hard. Guys put a lot into it and they give it their best and it can’t work out for everybody. But I’ve been on the other side of the table, too."

Despite having one of the most talented rosters in the league, there are a handful of players who represent "bubble" options for the Patriots. The receiver position, in particular, is an interesting one now that the team knows it will be without Julian Edelman for the entirety of the 2017 season. 

Does that mean there's room for an extra receiver to be brought aboard? What about a pass-catching tight end?

We spoke to a few of the standout players from Thursday's game about dealing with their uncertain futures and the pressures of the unknown. 

Devin Lucien, second-year wide receiver, who caught five passes for 96 yards and a touchdown: "I thought it went OK. It's that time of the season where you start to figure out the reality of the situation. They pushed back the cutdowns so you get kind of lost in everything thinking you're going to be here the whole time, but you really don't know. I just hope I was able to put on a good performance this last game . . . 

"I'm not going to sit here and lie to you and say it's not on my mind. It's on my mind all the time. But, you know, when you're in practice that's kind of the time to let go of that and just practice. If you think about that while you're on the practice field, you're going to just start messing up. You start messing up, you're really going to be far from staying on the team like this. That's another thing I really wanted to prove. I want to be here. Being on a team for the whole year on a practice squad and then winning the Super Bowl. You see Tom Brady, the GOAT, Julian Edelman make the catch like that. Danny make the touchdown. Malcolm's making catches and all you want to do is you want to be the next one up."

Cody Hollister, undrafted rookie receiver, who caught a nine-yard touchdown pass: "Me and [twin brother Jacob Hollister] have talked about it all the time. Control the controllables, and leave the uncontrollables up to God. I feel like we've done that. Go out there asnd control your attitude and your effort, and then leave the rest up to the Lord. That's what we did today, I feel like. There was mistakes, and there was good plays but we controlled what we could control. We trust in the coaches and their decisions, and we trust God with the stuff we can't control."

Jacob Hollister, undrafted rookie tight end, who caught four passes for 26 yards and a touchdown: "It's unbelievable [going through the process with Cody]. Just being able to lean on each other is just crazy. Having your best friend out here, it's such a blessing. It's been an awesome few months being here together. It's just crazy how it worked out."

Austin Carr, undrafted rookie receiver, who caught three passes for 48 yards and a touchdown: "Emotional. No matter what, there’s going to be highs and lows. It almost feels like draft day all over again where you don’t know where you’re going to end up. Again, I’m praying and trusting God. I know that I left it all out there and I’m hoping for another shot."

When the scrum of reporters around Carr began to dissipate following his question-and-answer period, he said, "Hope to stick around."

Curran: There’s no 'plugging in' a replacement for Edelman

Curran: There’s no 'plugging in' a replacement for Edelman

People bristle around here when it’s suggested that Patriots offensive success is because of the system and the scheme.

It feels like a whack at the singular talent of the players. It suggests that what’s gone on in New England for nearly two decades isn’t because Tom Brady, Wes Welker, Deion Branch, James White, Shane Vereen, Chris Hogan or Julian Edelman (I could go on) are excellent players but simply landed in the right spot.

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It’s the NFL version of “check your privilege.” If you play for the Patriots, you were born on third base, don’t think you hit a triple.

There are seasons, games and players that bolster the argument. Matt Cassel’s 11-5 season in 2008 when Brady blew out his knee is Old Reliable when it comes to painting the Patriots as a machine and the players as nuts, bolts and washers.

The fine print on that season was that the ’07 team won 18 games and would still be viewed as the greatest team ever assembled if it got to 19 wins. All 11-5 seasons aren’t created equal and 2009 was a pretty steep dropoff without Brady.
  
Edelman’s 2009 performance standing in for Welker is another trump card lapped down when “the system” conversation arises.

In Week 2 of that season, Welker sat with a knee injury. Edelman – who never played wideout at any level before being drafted in the seventh round four months earlier – caught eight passes for 98 yards and was targeted 16 times in a 16-9 Patriots loss. In the final game of the regular season, after Welker blew his knee out in Houston, Edelman caught 10 for 103 on 15 targets. And he was the only one that really showed up the next week in an embarrassing 33-14 playoff loss to the Ravens, making six catches for 44 yards and two touchdowns.  
With Brady, playing slot receiver was so easy even a converted dual-threat quarterback could do it.

What we didn’t realize then and are probably about to fully realize now is that Edelman is unique. Full disclosure, I wrote a book with Edelman in the offseason. Maybe I’m suffering from some recency bias. But there were reasons he was able to do what he did in 2009 and there are even more reasons he’s been one of the NFL’s best receivers since 2013. The system is barely half of it.

Edelman didn’t get invited to the 2009 NFL Combine but his 20-yard short shuttle of 3.91 seconds was so eye-popping scouts at his Pro Day made him run the drill twice. Since 2009, just three wideouts have run faster than 3.91 at the Combine – Brandin Cooks being the fastest at 3.81. Odell Beckham was just behind Edelman with a 3.94 in 2014. How important is the short-shuttle to the Patriots? The Patriots have employed three of the five players with the fastest short-shuttles recorded at the Combine – Kevin Kasper (3.73 in 2001), Deion Branch (3.76 in 2002) and Cooks.

Combine that God-given and player-honed natural quickness with the seven seasons Edelman spent playing quarterback and learning defenses before he got to the Patriots and sprinkle in his willingness to be a crash-test dummy and you can better understand why he did what he did.
Why did it take him five seasons to emerge fully for the Patriots? The full story is in the book but the abridged version is he was locked in behind Welker, the Patriots offense changed in 2010 with Gronk and Aaron Hernandez, Edelman was dogged by injury and he had some growing up to do.

Is Edelman in the best possible system to spotlight his skills? Absolutely. The Patriots have not been a perimeter passing team since 2009. The day they traded Randy Moss and re-signed Deion Branch, they got back to their “find the mismatch” roots. Edelman in the middle of the field – like Welker before him – is a matchup headache because his quickness requires a defender-and-a-half.

There’s a stat wonk perception that a controlled passing game relying on option routes and yards-after-catch is gaming the system. Basing your offense around a “take the top off the defense” wideout means you have hair on your chest. Throwing short and giving your wideout a chance to make YAC is using an offensive cheat code, like laying up on a 480-yard par-5.

The reality is, you need an inside receiver with the quickness to separate and the courage to trust his quarterback to keep him out of harm’s way. He also needs the physical makeup to absorb violent hits and the mental makeup to put fear in a box on a high shelf. And he needs to understand what the quarterback is looking at.

There are fewer of these guys available than 6-2, 210-pounders who can run a sub 4.5. And Edelman is the best of that crop.

Meanwhile, Brady is at the top of the food chain when it comes to quarterbacks who know what the hell they are looking at with the smarts to manipulate a defense before the snap and the accuracy to throw into tiny windows after it. Put two unique players together and the results will be unique. Especially when they’ve thrown together so often they see things identically and finish each other’s football sentences like an old married couple.

I took this circuitous route to make this declaration: there’s no replacing Edelman in the Patriots offense. Undrafted rookie Austin Carr – despite all his production at Northwestern and in this preseason – isn’t going to do it. He’s not as physically gifted as Edelman is (or was in 2009). Even with the injury to Edelman, Carr is touch-and-go to make the team because other options at other positions may afford more insurance. D.J. Foster, for instance. The second-year running back was a terrific pass-catcher at Arizona State, is outstanding in space and has ridiculous quickness. Which offensive player had the best 20-yard shuttle at the Combine in 2015? Foster (4.07).

Danny Amendola is – at this stage – not even playing the same spot in the offense Edelman does. He’s brilliant in the flat because of his hands and explosiveness are absurd and his ability to turn and make the first man miss is terrific, but he can’t run inside like Edelman does or he’ll be turned to sawdust. Malcolm Mitchell is too high-cut to work inside and – to an extent Chris Hogan is as well. The longer the legs, the harder it is to make those waterbug moves on option routes that Edelman makes.

Cooks probably could work inside similarly to Edelman and it will be interesting to see if he gets some of those reps and whether he has the belly for that punishing duty.

Expect Hogan to get the lion’s share of Edelman’s targets and – after that – it’s going to be trial-and-error including running backs like Foster.

It will take weeks for the Patriots to find their post-Edelman identity on offense. A prediction? They won’t look like who they are going to be until mid-October. And even then, the loss of Edelman’s loss will be lamentable until the Patriots play their last game.