Phil Perry

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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Patriots 53-man roster projection: Post-minicamp edition

Patriots 53-man roster projection: Post-minicamp edition

There are still three months to go until the Patriots open the 2019 regular season against the Steelers, but an important part of the team's roster-building process took place in Foxboro this week.

While not all players took the field, the Pats were in Foxboro for their mandatory three-day minicamp, with practices open to the media.

Practices weren't in pads, and there was no contact to speak of, but after watching the drills during the week, several players opened Phil Perry's eyes — and when you combine these workouts with other roster moves like the recent release of tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, there have been some changes to Phil's pre-minicamp roster projection.

Allowing for players who might be injured to start the season (Demaryius Thomas) or suspended (Josh Gordon), how does Phil see things shaking out at this point?

Click here for Phil Perry's post-minicamp Patriots roster projection.>>>>

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Patriots 3 & Out: Which player was most impressive at minicamp?

Patriots 3 & Out: Which player was most impressive at minicamp?

Between OTA's, minicamps, free agent signings, and potential contract extensions, there's no offseason for Tom E. Curran and Phil Perry. So every Friday, they're going to tackle three Patriots-related questions. It could be issues facing the 2019 team, it could be league-wide debates, or it could be something a little more off-the-wall. Here's this week's 3 & Out...

Tom Brady’s explanation of the “Tom Terrific” trademark kerfuffle makes perfect sense to me. Case closed. 

Curran: Pretty much. My initial reaction to the news was, “Why? Nobody calls him that, what’s the rush to market it?”

Now that he’s explained he caught wind someone was looking to use it and he was “trying to keep people from using it” and that “it wasn’t anything I was trying to do out of any disrespect or ill-manner or anything like that,” show’s over, as far as I’m concerned.

I understand fans of Tom Seaver taking offense but anything more than an eyeroll at the whole thing seemed an exercise in performative outrage.

But there’s a lot of that going around these days so I shouldn’t have been surprised that it grew legs, wings, a tail and flapped around like one of Dany’s dragons for most of the week.

Perry: I believe Brady believes this was a preventative measure on his part. But I also believe that the people who told him this was a preventative measure gave him some bad advice. 

I'm not an attorney -- I'm sure Sports Illustrated's legal analyst Michael McCann will be all over this soon -- but from what I understand, this isn't how trademarking works. To get a trademark approved and registered by the United States Patent and Trademark Office, you have to provide evidence you've used whatever it is you're trademarking in commerce.

If Brady's circle was looking to trademark "Tom Terrific" just to squash it altogether, they can't show they've used it in commerce, and they won't get the trademark registered. If the intent all along was to bury the nickname, this probably wasn't the best way to go about it.

All it's resulted in is a headache for Brady and some pissed-off Mets fans.

In light of Zdeno Chara playing in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final with a messed-up face, what’s the most memorable tale of pain tolerance you can recall from the Patriots?

Curran: I got Logan Mankins playing the 2011 season on a torn ACL

Not just some games. Seventeen of them. Through Super Bowl 46. He missed just one game all season. He had surgery in February 2012.

Also, anybody playing with cracked or broken ribs at any time? Hat’s off to that guy.

Perry: If we did a pain-tolerance top-10, it wouldn't shock me if Mankins had five of the spots secured. We just aren't aware of much else outside of the season-long torn ACL. He was a different breed.

Let's not forget he was a Pro Bowler and a Second-Team All-Pro in 2011. Ridiculous.

First thing that came to my mind? Drew Bledsoe. Back in 1998 he played with a broken finger on his throwing hand, won three games, then had a pin inserted and kept going. And it wasn't just any finger. It was his right index finger.

Pretty important when it comes to throwing the football, from what I gather. A few years later, Bledsoe played a series with a sheared artery in his chest, you'll remember. No questioning that guy's toughness. 

You know who really impressed me in this minicamp?

Curran: Isaiah Wynn. He was held out of team periods as he returns from the torn Achilles suffered last preseason, but in individual drills Wynn moved really well.

I watched Wynn closely on Thursday as the 2018 first-rounder went through a series of drills overseen by offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia. Working against other offensive linemen who were just giving a “look” as defensive ends, Wynn was smooth popping from his stance, delivering a punch to the blocking bag being held and shuffling into position to pass protect.

You couldn’t tell he was coming back from injury. And that’s big because, with Trent Brown gone and Jared Veldheer saying, “On second thought…” Wynn is very much needed at left tackle.

Perry: Maurice Harris. I wasn't sure what to expect from Harris coming into minicamp. I'd been told he wasn't the fastest guy, but that in Washington he kept his head down, kept his mouth shut, and worked hard. Sounded like a Patriots type... even if he wasn't athletically gifted enough to eventually make the roster. 

Well, this week proved to me that he's more than just a high-effort guy. There's still a long way to go, but Harris looked smooth in running his routes and he appeared to have a good idea of where he was expected to be on a snap-to-snap basis. That's no small feat for a new guy.

He high-pointed the football on a couple of occasions, and we saw him play both outside and in the slot. I saw him run with Brady's group -- along with Julian Edelman and Phillip Dorsett -- when Josh McDaniels called for 11-personnel late in the week, and he didn't look out of place.

He'll be on my radar for training camp as one of the top choices to end up on the Week 1 receiver depth chart along with Edelman, N'Keal Harry and Dorsett.

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