Belichick: Brady was once protected from cuts

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Belichick: Brady was once protected from cuts

New England's tight schedule of three preseason games in 10 days has had an interesting effect on roster cuts.
Bill Belichick explained Thursday on his conference call.
"When you're playing once a week then you have a chance to practice everybody and play everybody in different increments during that game. The advantage of that is you get to see those players -- let's just say you did it in all three games -- in three different schemes, three different types of match ups with the other team, where we played kind of a split squad thing in the last three weeks. Probably the amount of plays is about the same, close to the same, but it was more segmented.
"I think overall it worked out to about the same number of plays, but you just didn't see some guys against Philadelphia and you didn't see some guys against Tampa, and you didn't see some guys against the Giants just compared to last year's preseason games. Practice-wise, some of the same things."

If having an extra day between preseason Game 4 and Friday's 9 PM cutdown deadline has any impact on the decision making, Belichick said it's "marginal." The coaches have been aware of date for months and have been evaluating accordingly.
Though there's a lot to think about.
"When you get to a certain point of your roster you look at whatever the number is, say 46, those are the guys that are going to go to the game, those are the guys that are going to play. Probably in that group you have a couple of players that may be injured, so to start the season maybe they wouldn't be able to play, but eventually you think they will be healthy and able to play.
"Maybe it's 50 players. Somewhere over 46 and somewhere less than 53, whatever that number is. Then you have basically depth and insurance for your team. So, you can have a player on your team that is on the 53 man roster, but he's not going to play on the team until you get to the 46, and then whatever the criteria that would get him to the 46 man roster-- is it special teams, is it injury, is it development of him because if it was just inexperience, do you feel like he could potentially grow into that role -- and then you need players on the practice squad, whoever they are."
Belichick pointed to OL Nick McDonald, who was picked up last September after being released by Green Bay, and Dolphins waiver Matt Kopa as depth players who joined the team from other sources. The value of such practice squad players is high because they're in the meetings and learning the system just like everybody else.
"You've seen them be activated as late as Saturday afternoon for a Sunday game," said Belichick. "It comes down to a question of where you want to carry your depth, in terms of what it costs -- what it costs financially, what it costs in terms of opportunity. You keep a person for depth here, does that leave you shorthanded somewhere else? Of course it does. So which players can you control? Well, you can control the ones on the 53, you can control the ones on the practice squad, not totally, but to some degree."
Not knowing what the team will need, or when the team will need it, is the very basis of what makes cuts so complicated. But maintaining some semblance of control is huge.
Take quarterbacks for example. In the past, the Patriots have kept as few as two. This season they will likely keep three in Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, and Ryan Mallett.
Could there be any conceivable reason to hang onto four? In 2000, there was.
"Kind of a unique situation, we had really two third quarterbacks between Brady and Michael Bishop. One of them could have been on the practice squad. In any case, we could have carried one of those guys on the practice squad, but, again we had 53 players and if you're going to have the inactive group anyway . It really doesn't matter whether the guy is on the practice squad or the 53 man roster -- if he's inactive, he's not going to play in the game.
"So then the question is, as an organization, which players do you want to protect? You can protect the ones on the 53, to some degree you can't protect the ones on the practice squad. In that particular case, that's why we didn't put Brady on the practice squad -- we wanted to make sure we had him, not so much for that year, but for the following year."
Turns out that was a wise move.
Belichick is hoping his judgment is similarly sound this week. There's just no way to know until the Patriots, and every other team in the league, is knee-deep in the season.
"There are a lot of considerations that come into play. We'd like to keep more than 53. We keep 61 when you add the practice squad. There's other players we'd like to keep working with, but we're just not going to be able to do that. We have to decide, what do we do that's best for the team?"

Malcom Brown already considered a leader for Patriots in second year

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Malcom Brown already considered a leader for Patriots in second year

FOXBORO -- Late last year, Bill Belichick went out of his way to explain just how far then-rookie defensive lineman Malcom Brown had progressed over the course of his first professional season. 

From the sounds of it, the first-round defensive tackle's on-the-field growth was atypical. 

"I think he’s really come on through the season, which isn’t always the case with first-year players," Belichick said on Dec. 30. "It took him a while to get to that point through training camp and the early part of the season, but he’s become much better and more consistent in every phase of the game – running game, passing game, play recognition, communication, adjustments – just everything. It seems like every week he just builds on it.

"He’s really hit a good slope, good incline. He’s worked hard. There is a lot on every rookie’s plate. There’s a lot on his plate as a rookie in the different situations that he plays in and the number of things that we do on the front, so it’s not easy, but he’s improved his techniques, his fundamental play and he’s improved his communication and overall understanding of the multiples that are involved. It’s been good."

Brown finished the year as the Patriots interior defensive lineman with the most snaps played (his 517 snaps trailed only Jabaal Sheard, Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich among defensive linemen), and he established himself as a trustworthy option in the team's steady rotation on the interior of its front. 

According to one of Brown's newest teammates, free-agent acquisition Terrance Knighton, Brown is now serving as a leader on the interior of the defensive line. Though he's only in his second season, Brown's understanding of the Patriots defense gives him a leg up on players who may have more experience in the league but are new to New England. 

"Malcom Brown has basically been leading the group," Knighton said after an OTA practice last Thursday. "Being in his second year, he's probably the most experienced guy in it right now as far as this team. I'm picking his brain to see how things are done around here."

 

Knighton acknowledged that once the Patriots have Alan Branch back on the field -- Branch was one of 17 players missing from Thursday's OTA -- they'll get another player with a sound understanding of the defense. But right now, Brown is looked to as a source of information for veterans like Knighton and Markus Kuhn as well as rookie fourth-rounder Vincent Valentine. 

"Young guy, obviously played at a high level last year and you can tell he's feeding off of that," Knighton said of Brown. "He's only continued, from what I've seen on tape to now. That's one of the things I try to talk to about with the young guys is being on the up, and not going up and down in your career. That's something I've been through in my career so I just try to share knowledge and help guys out."

Brown, who turned 22 in February, certainly ended last season "on the up." In the early going this offseason, it seems as though he's on track to continue that trajectory.

Patriots making contract statements with OTA absences?

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Patriots making contract statements with OTA absences?

Malcolm Butler was one of many not spotted during OTAs on Thursday when the media got a looksee at one of the practices.

Butler wasn’t the only one. But he did stand out as a missing player who hadn’t (to my knowledge) had a surgery but did have a contract that needs addressing. Another one? Rob Gronkowski. If we really want to extend it out, throw in Duron Harmon and Logan Ryan.

This is the point where it’s important to point out that these workouts are voluntary – VAW-LUN-TERR-EEEE! Players don’t have to be there. Additionally, I’m not even sure Butler or Gronkowski (or Ryan and Harmon) weren’t at the facility. All I know is they weren’t on the field. And, per usual, nobody’s tipping his hand as to why.

But we do have this, relative to Butler. ESPN’s Mike Reiss wrote Sunday that he “wouldn’t be surprised if it was related to his contract status.” Reiss said that Butler “told teammates and friends he plans to push for an adjustment to his contract before the 2016 season, and staying off the field in voluntary workouts would be a decision that limits injury risk and also could be viewed as a statement to the organization that he's unhappy with the status quo and/or the movement/specifics of contract talks.”

In the same vein, I wouldn’t be surprised if Gronkowski opted out as well for the same reason, especially since he threw out a tweet that signaled dissatisfaction with his pact in March.

But in terms of a statement, not going to OTAs is more of a throat-clearing than a noisy proclamation.

Not to minimize the move if Butler, Gronkowski or anybody else is actually staying away because of business. The Patriots usually enjoy almost perfect OTA attendance. Also, there hasn’t been much contract strife around here for the past five seasons.

Money matters were an annual issue for the Patriots from about 2003 through 2010. Lawyer Milloy, Ty Law, Richard Seymour, Rodney Harrison, Ty Warren, Logan Mankins, Vince Wilfork, Randy Moss, Adam Vinatieri, Mike Vrabel and – quietly – Tom Brady all had their contract dances back then. But the only one that got hairy in the recent past was Wes Welker.

It’s still too soon to know if any of these will get contentious. When will we know? When either a player or his agent spouts off. Or, when someone’s a no-show at mandatory minicamp beginning June 7.

That would amount to a shot across the bow. Of all the players likely to take that shot, Butler seems a reasonable bet. His base pay this season is $600K after a Pro Bowl campaign in 2015 that saw him check the opposition’s best wideout on a weekly basis. He’s a restricted free agent at the end of the year. He deserves longer-term security than he currently has. Gronkowski has a lot less to kick about. He may make less than lesser players, but he also was the league’s highest paid tight end when he was missing scads of games due to injury.

After Butler, Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower would figure to have the strongest cases to want new deals and want them snappy. Ryan and Harmon would be right behind those two. Then Jabaal Sheard.

Sheard, Hightower and Collins were all on the field Thursday. 

Can the Patriots get all these guys reupped? Will they even try? How do they have them prioritized? If the guy who howls loudest gets to the front of the line, the time to make some noise is close.

But we have yet to hear any of these players loud and clear.