Friday Bag: Malcolm's in the middle of a confidence crisis

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Friday Bag: Malcolm's in the middle of a confidence crisis

FOXBORO -- Every Friday we take your Patriots questions on Twitter and answer them as a joint mailbag -- or a Friday Bag, as they call it. 

Got questions? Tweet the guys using the hashtag #FridayBag. But for now, have at the Patriots vs. Patriots South edition of the Bag . . .

Pete! What I see is a player who’s playing equal to -- if not better -- than the guy on the other side, Stephon Gilmore. I see the same passion I’ve always seen. I’ve seen the same willingness to stick his nose up in there on running plays. I see the same quickness. What’s missing may just be confidence. I think Malcolm lost it somewhere during the course of training camp -- I think it was that week in West Virginia with the Texans -- and he’s still struggling to get it back. He said all the right things yesterday. He’ll get plenty of snaps Sunday. Let’s see what it looks like.

Hey, Chris. Thanks for chipping in. My thoughts on Wise are well-documented, so in response to your question? What do I think that teams are game-planning around him? Smart. It's a small sample, but he already has seven total quarterback pressures (two sacks, four more quarterback hits, one hurry), which is one more than Clay Matthews, the same number as Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan, and one fewer than Oakland's Khalil Mack. He's not at the level of those players yet, but if you're a coach and you're ignoring that kind of production through a couple of games . . . that's on you. I think his length, the leverage he uses as a pass-rusher and his relentlessness should only continue to lead to more results. It looks to me that the Patriots have found a solid No. 2 to pair with Trey Flowers. Somewhere, Arkansas coach Brett Bielema is smiling.

Dave. Davey. David. Little premature, no? Solder missed all of the preseason, so the way I look at his play now is just that: It’s the preseason. He’s going to have to adjust to the speed and he’s going to have to make modifications to his technique. If this is still going on in a couple weeks, then the Pats may have a problem. It’s just too soon for me to go there now. 



Unless the Seahawks fall out of contention, I'd find it really hard to believe that they'd deal Graham during the season -- especially to another contender. Never say never with the Patriots, but the base salary ($7.9 million) and the cap hit ($10 million) also seem like non-starters to me. Then there's the scheme fit. Graham's talented, no doubt. But he might have to be used in more of a receiver role here in New England. He's improved as a blocker, but he still seems to fit the profile of a big wideout than a true tight end.

Vincent, the kid wants to play. I’d like to see him play. 



I'm still going wide receiver, John. I think Rob Gronkowski will lead the team in touchdown receptions by season's end, but I'm not sure he gets much help adding to that number from his fellow tight ends. Between Cooks, Dorsett, Chris Hogan, Amendola (who has been used extensively in the red zone the last few years) and Malcolm Mitchell if/when he returns, that group should still lead the pack.

Jacob, they should. It’s a no-brainer. We talked about it all summer, even after the Edelman injury. But then what did they do Week 1? The only sense it made was that Amendola was the one player creating real separation that night, but too bad. Come up with a better plan. Create more opportunities for the backs. That’s what they did in New Orleans. Hopefully they’ve learned their listen. Save that guy for January.



It's still very early in Dorsett's Patriots career, obviously, so I think it's hard to try to extrapolate what he's done in two weeks and say, "THIS is who he is." However, in my time talking to him since he's arrived, I'll say that he's struck me as someone who has worked diligently off the field to make sure he's up on everything he needs to be up on. Living at a hotel. Nose in the playbook. His best fit in this offense would seem to be in a Cooksian role, at the "X." He and Brandin Cooks are very similar in terms of their body types and athletic skill sets. I was interested to hear Tony Romo's take during the Saints game, when he said he thinks Dorsett might have a little more "wiggle" than Cooks. Maybe that leads to more work in the slot, where short-area quickness is paramount, but right now he looks like an outside-the-numbers guy with the ability to be a little bit of a gadget player -- jet-sweeps, some work out of the backfield -- due to his speed.

Yes, I do. It would appear as if that troublesome knee, one that gave him trouble back in college, is going to remain an issue for Mitchell as a professional. They could use him going forward. He works the boundary better than any player on the roster.



The Patriots could try to go heavy and run the ball. If Cameron Fleming is out there at right tackle, that would make sense as he looks to me like a superior run-blocker than pass-blocker. However, I think the plan is going to be similar to the one they used in last year's divisional round. I anticipate the Texans will load up the short-to-intermediate range of the field with defenders and force the Patriots to go outside and deep. It won't look pretty, but the Patriots will take what they're given. Expect a bunch of targets for Cooks, Dorsett, and possibly Gronkowski outside the numbers. Brady had a rough day against Houston in January, but was able to pick up yards with chunk plays and I think he'll have to do the same again this weekend.

See the above, Steven! And if you're interested in a little more detail about why this Texans defense is such a difficult matchup for the Patriots, both Tom E. and I have you covered. Curran wrote about why the Texans have the "blueprint" to make life tough on the Patriots. I took an in-depth look at one of Houston's toughest defensive packages, which we should see plenty on third down. 

I’d rather freeze my nuts off, Gary.

Report: Jacoby Brissett to start for Colts on Sunday

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Report: Jacoby Brissett to start for Colts on Sunday

Former Patriots quarterback Jacoby Brissett is expected to start for the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals, Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reports.

Brissett, traded by the Patriots on Sept. 2 for wide receiver Phillip Dorsett, will start over Scott Tolzien, who was benched in the fourth quarter of Indy's 46-9, season-opening loss to the Los Angeles Rams.

Colts No. 1 QB Andrew Luck is still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery and hasn't played this season.

Brissett, a second-year player from North Carolina State, was the third QB behind Jimmy Garoppolo and Tom Brady with the Patriots. He started two games last season - a 27-0 Week 3 victory over the Houston Texans and a 16-0 loss Week 4 loss to the Bills - when Brady was suspended and Garoppolo was injured. 


 

Garoppolo’s getting better, but will he get the chance to prove it?

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Garoppolo’s getting better, but will he get the chance to prove it?

FOXBORO -- The question had barely tumbled out of my mouth before Bill Belichick jumped on it. 

“Absolutely,” Belichick said emphatically when I asked if Jimmy Garoppolo was still improving as a player going into his fourth year.

Garoppolo agreed.

“Yeah, without a doubt,” he said. “Especially just the position of quarterbacking. If you’re not improving, you either have the wrong mindset or you’re just not getting any better. I think with quarterbacking, it’s a unique position where it’s not always the same for everybody. Everybody has a different path of how they get there and what works for them, so I think it’s just a constant state of improving and when you stop improving something is wrong.”

I felt the question was pertinent considering this weekend’s trade of Jacoby Brissett, leaving the Patriots with just two quarterbacks once again -- Tom Brady and an understudy who has learned enough and proven enough to have his own team.

But instead of Garoppolo getting dealt for a cadre of picks and/or players this offseason, when his value was the highest, it was Brissett, just a year removed from being a third-round pick, who finds himself in cram mode, trying to learn the Andrew Luck offense in Indianapolis.

When asked when asked why the Pats moved on from Brissett, Belichick said simply, “To acquire Dorsett.” Enlightening.

For Garoppolo, seeing a friend traded stung a bit.

“The last 24, 48 whatever hours is always tough, you know? You lose guys you get to know pretty well,” Garoppolo’s voice trailed off. “That’s the business side of it.”

The business side is something Garoppolo has become all too familiar with. His value around the league is high and may have been at its peak this spring. There was a ton of talk surrounding him during that period -- some of it very real. Yet, in the end, Garoppolo is left to do exactly what he’s done since the day he was drafted out of Eastern Illinois: Watch Brady play.

“It’s a weird situation,” he said. “This whole offseason. Rumors were happening. You never know what’s going to happen. You always have to be on your toes, I guess.”

Entering the fourth and final year of his rookie contract, Garoppolo didn’t appear to close the gap this summer between him and the 40-year-old Brady, at least to the untrained eye. The view of him elsewhere, including in the upper reaches of Gillette Stadium, remain as they were. His beginning to camp was -- at times -- eerily reminiscent of his rookie year. Erratic throws, dangerous decisions. Of course, there is a portion of camp to experiment, to see if this throw can make it into that window, or this receiver can pluck that back shoulder toss or let the cornerback outfight him for the football. That is acknowledged not just by Garoppolo, but by Brady and Belichick. How can you know unless you try? 

The one downside to this experiment is that many of these throws happened during practices open to the public, and a tent full of media members playing quarterback coaches. 

“Look, I think that there's not one player that hasn’t had their ups and downs through training camp and preseason games, or coaches for that matter,” said Belichick when asked about Garoppolo’s preseason. “I think that this isn’t a straight line for anybody, for any of us, as much as we want it to be. That’s just totally unrealistic. So you look at it from a broader stretch. You look at it from three weeks, or the first two weeks of preseason, or all four preseason games, or this preseason compared to another preseason that is comparable. And again, there are still factors there that are variable. They're not all the same. You do the best you can to make that evaluation but I’m sure we'll have varying opinions on different players and their performances. I understand that.”

Garoppolo has publicly stated he has improved, that he has made the most of his reps. He certainly appeared to turn the corner once the Jaguars came to town for joint practices, and he had a primo preseason opener. But then there was the what-the-hell-is-he-doing interception against the Texans, the last he would make in that game. Garoppolo lobbied to stay in the game, to clean up his mistake, but was told no, that his night was over, as scheduled. 

In his postgame press conference, the 25-year old was noticeably unhappy with himself. His facial features were contorted. He owned every mistake, even a strip sack that happened earlier in the game which, upon further review, belonged to someone else. Garoppolo wanted you to know -- his teammates to know -- that can’t and won’t happen again. 

“It sucks,” he told me of the pick. “You make a guy miss and I’m trying to throw it away but didn’t get enough on it. It’s one of those things that upsetting because -- I don’t know how to describe it -- it’s not a bad decision, but physically I didn’t put enough on in. That’s why it’s upsetting. You know exactly what happened and you wish you could go out and redeem yourself, but it’s the preseason. That’s what happens. Jacoby went in after and did his thing.”

If all goes according to plan, Garoppolo won’t get another game the rest of the way. That means another season wearing a baseball cap and an earpiece, unable to compete at the highest level, except on those days when practice really ramps up. And now that camp is over, those days are few and far between. That doesn’t mean Garoppolo can’t continue to improve, but it will be on him.

That was a question raised by 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Scott Zolak, the team’s radio color commentator and an NFL quarterback for eight seasons. He questioned Garoppolo’s approach during some of the training camp practices, saying it didn’t appear as though the backup was doing as much as Brady himself was, and when he did, it was just in response to Brady remaining on the field, working. Garoppolo was surprised by those comments.

“I mean, I’m never coming off the field early,” he said. “I think that’s the last thing. I’m putting in just as much time if not more this year. It’s a big year. A big year. It is what it is.”

As a savvy veteran would do, Garoppolo turned the attention to this team.

“There’s big opportunity for [us] and I think we’re trying to take advantage.”

I also asked him about his body language. Was he emoting less this summer? Was there an air of inevitability about his place on the team and what he was doing here, especially with Brady still acting and performing like, well, Brady?

“No, not so much,” he told me. “My body language . . . I’m pretty consistent. I try not to get too high or too low. I try to always be in the middle. I think as a quarterback you need to do that, you can’t get too emotional about that. I think I did a good job of that in camp and now we’re in the regular season and things switch up a little bit. It’s not different than any other year.”

Except it is. It could very well be the last year for Garoppolo in Foxboro. Or it could be the continuation of his growth and eventual succession of the man considered the greatest of all-time. There’ll be money. Lots of money, whether it’s here or somewhere else. Just like it was with the last signal-caller to get significant run as the Patriots quarterback.

“Matt Cassel -- when he played his fourth year after not playing at all his first three years -- performed at a very high level in the 2008 season, right?” said Belichick. “Yeah, so he was a fourth-year player. Some guys do it in the second year. Some guys do it in the third year. Some guys do it in the first year. I don’t know. I don’t think there’s any book on that.”

Maybe no book, but it’s rare to see a player this deep into his career finally get the keys and turn into a franchise quarterback. Oh sure, there are examples. Aaron Rodgers is atop the marquee. Kirk Cousins was a fourth-rounder who ascended to the throne after three seasons as a backup to injury-prone Robert Griffin, but even Cousins had nearly 400 pass attempts in his career prior to getting the starting gig.

Garoppolo doesn’t have that luxury.  

“I think as long as a player is improving then that’s a good thing,” said Belichick. “You always want the rate of improvement to be a little bit faster, but if the player is improving day-to-day, week-to-week, year-to-year then I'd say generally speaking you want to continue to work with that player because he’s continuing to get better. Once they’ve leveled off and they’ve reached the level that they’re going to play at on a consistent basis, then you have to decide how you feel about that level of play. Do you like it? Then great. If you don’t like it then you try to find somebody who can move ahead of him. If it declines then you replace it if you can. If you can’t then you manage it until you can replace it. I mean, it’s not that hard really. In terms of making the judgement of what to do, it isn’t that hard. Identifying the player’s progress and improvement, rate of improvement or lack of it, sometimes there are a lot of circumstances that surround that. Like for example, opportunity, that you don’t always have control over. You have to do the best that you can.”

That part is all on Garoppolo now, as he works and waits for an opportunity that may never come with the Patriots. Meanwhile, his buddy Brissett may end up starting games in Indianapolis as Luck’s body heals. Tough to digest, but there’s nothing normal about this situation. Or, for that matter, the player in front of him.

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