The 2013 New England Patriots kick off camp this month. Actually talking about football will be a breath of fresh air in Boston. With Aaron Hernandez recent arrest, the Bruins coming up short in the Stanley Cup and Doc leaving the Celtics. The best thing for the team and its fans is to move on.
With training camp coming up, its time to take a look at the players on the team. This is a 3 part series. First we will look at the offensive skill positions. The defense will follow in part 2. We will finish things off talking offensive line and special teams
The QB position starts and ends with Tom Brady. As he goes so will the team. Assuming Brady stays healthy the offense will be fine. For all the talk about losing Welker, Lloyd, Woodhead, Hernandez and the uncertainty of Rob Gronkowski the Patriots are still championship contenders. Losing so many targets is concerning yes, but this is Tom Brady. This is the QB who was within one game of the Super Bowl in 2006 with Reche Caldwell the leading receiver. The talent around Tom is better in 2013 then it was in 2006
Looking forward to his season Tom can move up the board on the all time lists in some significant categories. Brady currently ranks 9th all time in passing yards with 44,806 yards. With active players Drew Brees and Peyton Manning ahead of him, Brady can still move into 5th place with a typical season. On the touchdown list Brady ranks 5th and can move past Fran Tarkenton into 4th with with 9 TD passes this season.
Tom Brady is the reason to believe in the Patriots, but he does need help.
Ryan Mallett is the primary back up and if Tebow forbid anything should happen to Brady he could step in and at least keep things respectable. Drafted out of Arkansas in the 3rd round, the Pats have done a nice job developing him. So much so that last season they cut reliable back up Brian Hoyer. Mallett wont be the back up forever and that is what the Pats are counting on. With the new CBA players can not sign extensions until the end of their third season. This is reason to believe that this is the last year for Mallett. The hope will be for a solid training camp and preseason and then turning a third round pick into equal or greater value in next seasons draft. Developing quarterbacks is good business.
This brings us to Tim Tebow. While I do not believe that Tebow is an NFL caliber QB at the moment I believe he is on the perfect team. First thing Tebow needs is time to develop. With Tom Brady at the helm the Pats can keep him on the roster learning from the best. He will get great coaching from Belichick and McDaniels. That duo turned a quarterback (Matt Cassel) that hadn’t played since high school into a trade piece and a multi millionaire in Kansas City. McDaniels did draft Tebow however McDaniels was fired on December 6th 2010 before Tebow started his first game, December 12th. While McDaniels was quoted at draft time as saying “He has all the intangibles you look for” it remains to be seen if he can develop. This was a no risk decision for the Pats. If Tebow develops great if not they can cut him. The 2 year deal suggest they will take a wait and see approach.
Training Camp Battles to Watch.
Tom Brady is your starter until he tells you he’s ready to hang them up. It will be interesting to see if McDaniels can get the most out of Tebow. I still think Tebow was brought in to be a QB and nothing more. Ryan Mallett can really help himself and the Patriots with a strong showing. He has a cannon but his decision making needs to be faster. Ideally the Patriots hope they can develop Tebow to the point that trading Mallett next offseason is easy.
Ridley burst onto the seen his rookie year with a solid preseason and his first breakout game versus the Raiders. Fumbles were the issue, but he showed enough to let the team move on from Green-Ellis. Ridley repaid their faith by running for 1,263 yards and 12 touchdowns. He did only have 4 100 yard games though. Versus some of the better defenses he was stifled averaging 2.8, 2.1 and 2.6 yards per carry vs Baltimore, Seattle and San Francisco respectively. He showed that he can be a lead back. Watching him run I think of a young Curtis Martin, he’s got decent speed and takes what the defense gives him. “Don’t put him in the Hall of Fame yet.”
If you have ever listened to Patriots Goal 2 Go on CLNSradio.com you will know that Shane Vereen is a personal favorite of mine. While only rushing for 251 yards in the regular season, Vereen has shown a knack for making plays in the playoffs catching 7 balls for 105 yards and 3 total touchdowns in the playoffs. He was the first of the now classic double dip in the draft by the Patriots at running back. While his rookie season was spent mostly on the sideline he has shown me enough to be a factor. With the loss of Danny Woodhead I expect Vereen to split 3rd down duties with veteran Leon Washington. Vereen really should be listed as and OW offensive weapon on this team. He has shown a great knack for running and catching. Vereen looks to be a jack of all trades and could soften the blow of losing players such as Woodhead, Welker, and Hernandez Who can forget the sideline catch by Vereen against the Texans in the playoffs.
Last season on day 1 and 2 of training camp I took notice of a undrafted rookie free agent out of Mississippi his name Brandon Bolden. I noticed his large frame and his deceptive speed. His ability to catch the screen was also prevalent. In week 4 versus Buffalo he torched the Bills for 137 yards most coming on counters and misdirection runs. He was looking to provide a solid 1-2 punch with Ridley. Then the suspension for PED’s on November 9th and Bolden touched the ball just 13 times the rest of the season and none in the playoffs. A promising start a terrible finish. He will be in a dog fight with LeGarrette Blount to make the team.
Leon Washington makes this team for his return ability alone. Still one of the best returners in the NFL at the age of 30. Last season he averaged an astonishing 29 yards per return. For his career he has almost averaged 26 yards per return with 8 taken to the house. If for nothing else then to add a spark to the return game he makes this team. His offensive snaps has dwindled the last few years but that could change in New England.
LeGarrette Blount is going to be a player to watch. Sure a boxing match might break out with him on the field but there is no denying he has talent. In College he rushed for 1000 yards and 17 touchdowns as a Junior. The fighting incident against Boise state cost him most of his senior season and he went undrafted. Regardless he was able to gain over 1,000 yards with the Buccaneers his rookie season after being cut by the Titans. Last season he only carried the ball 41 times after the emergence of rookie Doug Martin. Blount isn’t a lock but if the Patriots decide to move toward more of a power run game then he is a good piece to have.
George Winn is an rookie free agent from the Cincinnati Bearcats. He did not emerge until last year when he carried the ball 243 times for 1334 yards. He was behind St Louis Rams 2012 2nd round draft pick Isiah Pead. While he is a bit buried on the depth chart a strong camp could help him unseat Washington, Blount, or Bolden. He is a bigger back at 5’11″ 218 lbs. Another reason I see a power run game in New England’s future.
Camp Battles to Watch.
There are many ways the Patriots can go with this group. Who becomes the third down back. Washington and Vereen could battle this out. I give the edge to Vereen as he has 2 years in the system, is younger and came on strong down the stretch. Figuring that Ridley is entrenched as the lead back that gives us Bolden vs Blount and Winn. While Bolden looked great vs Buffalo and Denver last season his PED suspension looms large. Blount while maybe an after thought to most pats fans can be a bull. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him line up in the full back position at points. His size can help him there. With Hernandez gone. The team needs a player that can lead block. I like Winn on tape but 1 college season doesn’t make an NFL star. I expect Bolden and Winn to both be roster cuts.
Perhaps no position will be watch as closely as the wide out position in New England this preseason. Brady will be breaking in an all new cast of characters. Gone from the team are Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Deion Branch and Donte Stalworth. Count me as one who is intrigued. The New England offense has not seen this kind of turnover since 2006 when Givens and Branch were lost from the 2005 team. Tom Brady helped lead that team to a 12-4 record with Reche Caldwell of all people being his leading wide receiver.
The most important man for the receiving corps is not a player but coach Brian Daboll. The last time the Pats had to develop receivers (Givens and Branch) Daboll was the WR coach. While he worked with the Oline in OTAs he might be used all over the place and wide out could use his expertise.
Amendola has been getting rave reviews from Tom Brady and the 2 have clicked. While I don’t see Welkeresque production out of him (and thats a good thing) I believe he can develop the chemistry with Brady that Deion Branch had.
Aaron Dobson is a big receiver with solid hands. He would not have been my pick at #59 but obviously the Patriots liked what they saw. Terrance Williams from Baylor, Keenan Allen from Cal and Markus Wheaton from Oregon State were all still on the board there. Obviously the Patriots do better scouting then myself but I look and see Dobson as a raw project. His measurables are great and he does have a sick set of hands
Julien Edelman is back on a 1 year prove it deal. He was starting to come along last year when he got hurt yet again. His punt returner skills are second to none and he is dangerous in open space. Brady trusts him which will go a long way into his stats this year. One thing about Julien is he can block. That will help if the Patriots move away from the all out passing game.
4th Round pick Josh Boyce out of TCU is a burner. He played all over the field for the horned frogs last season. He might project more as a slot guy in the pros but his speed is something the pats need to stretch the field. I actually think he will have a better rookie season than Dobson. Dobson will be the better pro though.
Mark Harrison comes with some baggage as a guy who trashed his hotel room at the combine. He is big 6’3″ 230 lbs. He had a great Sophomore season at Rutgers. His Junior season was bad with only 14 catches, but rebounded for a solid senior campaign. I think a position change to tight end is a smart football move. He has the size and strength to play there as well as split out wide. He could be a match up nightmare.
What do you want me to say about Michael Jenkins, he’s old, he’s slow and he’s big. But the Pats signed him. Sure he caught over 40 balls for the Minnesota Vikings last season, but his best days are behind him. I feel he is next in a long line of veteran signings at the receiver position who wont contribute.
I like Donald Jones. Another blocking style receiver coming over from Buffalo. He had some great game vs the Patriots. Is he going to set the word on fire no, but I do believe he can be a solid player for the next year while Boyce and Dobson get their feet wet.
Mathew Slater is a special teams wizard. Thats the extent of it. Not to down play his roll on the team but he has 1 catch for 46 yards in his career.
Levelle Hawkins is an intriguing prospect for the Pats. 2 years ago in his only season playing 16 games he caught 47 balls for 470 yards. He could add some depth and a change of scenery might do him well.
Perhaps the most boom or bust receiver prospect is Kenbrell Thompkins. He has a checkered past in high school being arrested multiple times. Since he was 19 he has lived the straight and narrow. He had decent college numbers catching 44 and 34 passes as a Junior and Senior. Both years he went over 500 yards. With injuries to Boyce and Edelman during OTAs he seemed to make a name for himself. Lets hope it transitions in camp.
Camp Battles to watch.
We can assume that Amendola is a lock. He has some familiarity with Josh McDaniels offense. His primary back up will be Julien Edelman and this is his make or break season. Slater while a WR is basically just there in name only Harrison and Thompkins should be fighting it out for 2nd team reps as UDRFA. The big battle becomes who can start opposite Amedola. Jones, Jenkins, Boyce, and Dobson will all get a shot. During OTA’s Jenkins ran with the ones but that might be a veteran thing. Ideally Dobson hits the ground running and never looks back. He has the ideal size to be a NFL playmaker. The Patriots have had good luck with Marshall receivers. Boyce I still think will shine if his foot injury is healed. While he doesn’t run the crispest of routes he has the speed the Patriots have lacked. Jones could become the odd man out if the rookies develop. the first week of camp will tell who came ready to play
What looked like such a strength at he beginning of the 2012 season has taken a hit. Injuries to both Gronk an Hernandez kept the duo off the field a lot. Now with Hernandez facing multiple bad guy charges he is no longer on the team. It’s up to some interesting choices to see what the Pats can do.
Count me as an optimistic Patriots supporter. I believe Gronk starts game 1 of the season. I don’t care that he parties. Thats Manny being Manny I mean Gronk being Gronk. Football fans in New England have gotten down on the all world Tight End because of the injuries he has suffered and subsequent surgeries and infections. I ask fans who are so outraged about our young tight end to remember he’s still a young man looking to have fun. Football is his job. The only difference between him and a 23 year old kid out of college is 70,000 people pay to watch him work. Still not convinced. Check out this scene from Fever Pitch
Somewhere along the line Gronk got labeled injury prone. He’s not. His first 2 seasons he played in all 16 games. In the playoffs in 2011 his ankle got rolled up on. He still played in the Super Bowl That same injury, high ankle sprain limited Terry Glenn to 9 games in 2007 and kept Aaron Hernandez out for 5 games last season. Yet Gronk taped it up and rubbed some dirt on it and played 2 weeks later in the Super Bowl. Last season was a freak injury to his forearm. He came back for the playoffs and had the bad luck of breaking it again. Lay off the kid, he’s the best Tight End the Patriots have had since Ben Coates and Russ Francis.
The Jake Ballard pick up looks great now. He came into his own before tearing up his knee in the Super Bowl vs the Patriots. In his only season as a starter for the New York Giants he caught 38 passes for 604 yards and 4 touchdowns. He looked healthy in OTAs and has a year learning the system. He’s a more traditional tight end and that could help soften the blow should Gronk need to start the season on the PUP.
In his first season in New England Daniel Fells under preformed. I expected more from him after the other tight ends went down. But he came away with only 4 catches. He is a bubble watch player. He has experience in the system but that can only go so far
Michael Hoomanawanui The Hooman had a decent season for the Pats. He lined up in the back field and was a solid lead blocker. Receiving wise 5 catches just wont do it. Another player who’s future is tied in with many other positions. He could be the odd man out if Gronk starts healthy or Blount is moved to a full back roll.
Zach Sudfeld. Each season the Patriots seem to find a player who makes the team even though they were not drafted. Sudfeld a huge TE out of Nevada has a good a shot as any to be that player. With other players out of OTAs at his position he played with the ones. He didn’t disappoint. Out of every player I really want to see more of this kid. His size and athletic ability could lead to mismatches. Time will tell but he could be a steal.
Training Camp Battles to Watch.
Gronk will start TC on PUP so the other 4 Tight Ends will have a fierce battle. Ballard will probably be brought along a little slow coming back from injury. Expect Sudfeld to be lined up with the first unit when camp opens. This is his shot and I expect him to make the best out of it. The TE position is tied into the running back position for how many are kept. Hooman and Fells look to be fighting to try to be the 4th tight end. With Hooman’s ability to play full back that gives him a slight edge.
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