Cannon, Solder struggle again

854919.jpg

Cannon, Solder struggle again

FOXBORO - There's no reason to sugarcoat it. Marcus Cannon and Nate Solder played badly last week against the Saints and - after 10 days off and a rigorous week of practice - the second year tackles came out and played badly again against the Eagles.

Doesn't matter who else was out there next to them, across from them or behind them. Doesn't matter that it was just the second preseason game. After the Saints game, their lack of discipline and fundamental soundness was a flashpoint. They simply needed to play better and show improvement to quell the angst.

They did not.

The offensive line as a whole wasn't good - 2.1 yards on 29 carries; 15 for 37 passing with two sacks allowed and another wiped out by penalty - but the return of Brian Waters and Logan Mankins should settle three-fifths of the line. The other two-fifths - the tackle spots - were probably the biggest problem and Cannon and Solder were expected to be competent there. They haven't been.

On the second snap of the game, Cannon got called for a hold. On a screen in the first quarter, Solder got beat by Trent Cole which caused a screen pass to get messed up. Cannon allowed a strip sack. Solder got steamrolled by Cole later in the first. Solder allowed a sack by Cole that got wiped out by penalty.

Concern?

"The Eagles are a good team so we're concerned about everything," said Belichick when asked about the protection issues. "Just go out there and play. We had over 50 plays in the first half and we had a lot of snaps so we got a chance to evaluate a lot of things against the Eagles."

Eagles linebacker Brandon Graham was asked about his matchups with both players.

"I was getting up and under him a lot and that is probably the best thing," Graham said of Solder. "The challenges are that he is a big, long guy and you have to get his hands off of you. He is real strong and you have to stay on your game when you're playing him."

Cole was on his game in terms of bringing pressure.

Asked about Cannon, Graham said, "I feel like we should have gone at him a little more."

Solder, the 17th overall pick last year, was unfailingly polite (as he always is) when asked if he was concerned about the protection breakdowns.

"That's our job," he said. "I'm going to continue to improve my game. That's my focus. I don't know the specifics (of what he needs to work on). It will be what (offensive line coach Dante) Scarnecchia's telling me and all the coaches are telling me. I haven't been around long enough to know but I'll continue to work and do the best I can."

The look on Solder's face seemed to signal that he's as uncomfortable with how things have looked as anyone watching is. Probably more.

The phrases "try to get better", "look to improve" and "continue to work" are his verbal crutches. But he must feel in real time and he'll certainly see on tape that he's too often tentative and playing well below his physical capabilities.

His affable predecessor Matt Light brought an air of nasty to the position that helped him. Solder's going to need to tap that because he's a beacon of insecurity on Tom Brady's blindside right now and defensive ends and outside linebackers will prey on that when they see the film.

The conversation was loud after the first preseason game. After this one - regardless of how long the Eagles played their starters and the fact the Patriots barely played theirs - the noise will grow louder still.

"My focus is getting better and it's gonna be within these walls that we're gonna focus and get better," Solder declared.

There's reason to believe he will. Maybe both he and Cannon will. But time is running out.

Kraft on Brady: Patriots 'will continue to have Tom's back'

patriots-robert-kraft-072915a.jpg

Kraft on Brady: Patriots 'will continue to have Tom's back'

Patriots owner Robert Kraft said the organization "will continue to have Tom's back" in reference to Tom Brady's four-game Deflategate suspension being reinstated.

Here's an excerpt of what Kraft, speaking Friday night at the Patriots draft party in a video on the team website, Patriots.com, told fans: 

“Number one, there is no finer ambassador for the game of football, and the New England Patriots, than Tom Brady. We always have had and will continue to have Tom’s back, especially when he’s being treated unfairly and he knows that.”

"All the decisions that this organization and I personally have made throughout this ordeal have been focused on putting Tom in the best possible position for success.

“Number two, I have been in constant communication with Tom over the past 16 months and we’ve had numerous conversations this past week. We are both on the same page and he knows exactly where my allegiances, and the total team’s [allegiances] are, relative to the extremely unfair discipline that he has been subjected to.

“I share in our fans’ anger and frustration with the penalties the league has levied, and the entire process and how it was conducted. But please trust that I am always trying to do what I believe is best for this franchise, and pledge that I will always continue to do that.”

After the Second Circuit Court of Appeals decision reinstated Brady's four-game suspension imposed by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, it appears Brady is preparing to continue his legal fight against the penalty. 

Former Patriots players appear to have Brady's back, as well. 

 

Valentine will be plunked down in heart of Pats' defensive line

vincent_valentine_state_patriots.jpg

Valentine will be plunked down in heart of Pats' defensive line

FOXBORO – The Patriots used the 96th overall pick – a compensatory pick that came to the Patriots after losing Darrelle Revis – on a very large man. Vincent Valentine, a 6-3, 329-pound defensive tackle from Nebraska who is more space-eater than penetrator.

Though Director of Player Personnel Nick Caserio said Valentine has played all over the defensive line including 5-technique (outside shoulder of the tackle), he’ll likely be an early-down, middle of the defensive line player for the Patriots at the outset. How does the team go about getting him on the field?

Currently, they are pretty well-stocked with big bodies. Last year’s first rounder, Malcom Brown, is going to play a lot for a long time. Terrance Knighton, added as a free agent, figures to be a major component of the defensive line. And aging Alan Branch showed in 2015 that he’s still got plenty of plays left in him.

The other 300-plus pound linemen in the mix are Marcus Kuhn, a free agent brought over from the Giants, and Joe Vellano, who’s been with the team for four seasons as an end of the roster player.

Valentine had an injury-plagued final season with the Cornhuskers and will need to tune up his body and conditioning for the NFL. He’s not a project but neither is he a plug-and-play type who can be expected to walk in and make immediate contributions. With the 31-year-old Branch nearing the end, it’s reasonable to expect Valentine to be the successor to him in the Patriots interior rotation when they go heavy on early downs and in short-yardage and goal-line.

Examining possible Patriots fits going into Day 3

rff_0428161461995376549_3450k_1280x720_676787779544.jpg

Examining possible Patriots fits going into Day 3

The Patriots have eight picks remaining on the final day of the draft. While they may not use all of those selections -- they currently have 80 players on the roster, leaving them with only two slots for undrafted free agents if they use all of their picks -- they still have plenty of opportunities to take chances on talented athletes Saturday. 

Here's a quick look at some of the best players available after they spent their first four selections on a corner (Cyrus Jones, Alabama, pick No. 60), an offensive lineman (Joe Thuney, North Carolina State, No. 78), a quarterback (Jacoby Brissett, North Carolina State, No. 91) and a defensive tackle (Vincent Valentine, Nebraska, No. 96). 

The Patriots have one fourth-round pick, five sixth-round picks and two seventh-rounders remaining.

RUNNING BACK: KENNETH DIXON, LOUISIANA TECH

Listed as one of our top players available after Day 1, Dixon is still hanging around after nearly 100 picks have gone off the board. Perhaps his level of competition at Louisiana Tech has worked against him. Perhaps his fumbling issues have come back to bite him. Perhaps this is simply an indication of how the rest of the league considers this position. Only four backs have been drafted through the first three rounds. 

Other top running backs available: Jordan Howard, Indiana; Devontae Booker, Utah; Paul Perkins, UCLA; Jonathan Williams, Arkansas; Alex Collins, Arkansas. 

RECEIVER: DANIEL BRAVERMAN, WESTERN MICHIGAN

If ever there was a player who stood out as a potential Patriots pick, it would be Braverman. At 5-foot-10, 177 pounds, he is a prototypical slot receiver whose skill set resembles that of Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola or Troy Brown. He's very shifty in and out of his breaks, he does a great deal of his work while risking big hits over the middle of the field, he catches just about everything thrown his way, and he churns out yards after the catch with speed and good vision. 

Other top receivers available: Malcolm Mitchell, Georgia; Rashard Higgins, Colorado State; Devon Cajuste, Stanford; Keyarris Garrett, Tulsa; Keenan Reynolds, Navy.

LINEBACKER: JOSH PERRY, OHIO STATE

This Buckeye seems to fit the size profile the Patriots typically like in their receivers at 6-foot-4, 254 pounds. He runs well enough to be able to track ball-carriers from sideline-to-sideline, and he has a ton of experience coming downhill to make big hits in the running game. Perry will need some work before he's a reliable defender in coverage, but on first and second downs he could be a force. 

Other top linebackers available: Scooby Wright III, Arizona; Kentrell Brothers, Missouri; Stephen Weatherly, Vanderbilt; Blake Martinez, Stanford; De'Vondre Campbell, Minnesota. 

DEFENSIVE TACKLE: HASSAN RIDGEWAY, TEXAS

A college teammate of Patriots defensive tackle Malcom Brown, Ridgeway is considered by many to be more physically talented than Brown was when he declared for the draft. Injuries hurt Ridgeway's productivity last season, and there are some who question his conditioning, but he understands how to be a disruptive force on the interior, both in the running game and in the passing game. If he's in shape and can maintain the level of fitness that will be expected of him as a pro, he could turn into an immediate contributor.

Other top defensive tackles available: Andrew Billings, Baylor; Sheldon Day, Notre Dame; DJ Reader, Clemson; Dean Lowry, Northwestern; Justin Zimmer, Ferris State.