Taking a look at second-year 'leap' candidates for the Patriots

Taking a look at second-year 'leap' candidates for the Patriots

FOXBORO -- Sometimes it's Trey Flowers and whatever young defensive linemen he can round up. Sometimes it's Jacoby Brissett and his crew of young passing options on the Patriots 90-man roster

Sometimes it's Devin Lucien, who's the last man standing on the Patriots practice field.

The second-year receiver who spent last season on the practice squad was among the last off the field following Tuesday's OTA practice. He explained -- as Brissett did earlier this spring -- that there are days when the work he does after practice is a vital supplement to the work he got in during the scheduled practice.

"I just do little drills to try to keep my feet right," he said. "More than anything, I just make sure I'm catching the ball. I try to wet the ball and catch it. I struggled with trying to catch wet balls when OTAs started. Just little things to stay on my game. I don't get the most opportunities in practice so I try to make up for it after practice." 

Lucien is among the many players in Foxboro looking to make the often-talked-about "second-year leap" as the regular season approaches. Yet because this iteration of the Patriots is loaded with veteran talent, there may not be many opportunities for Year 2 types to put their imprint on practices.

Players like Lucien and running back DJ Foster, both of whom are in their second years out of Arizona State, have worked with all three quarterbacks at times this spring. But neither are exactly considered to be top-of-the-depth-chart options in deep receiver and running back position groups. 

Is it difficult not to think about the number of reps they get in a given workout, Lucien was asked?

"I definitely do," he said. "But the way I think about it is you can only control what you can control. We have a great team so if you're one of the guys that's able to make a play, try to make the most of that opportunity."

Lucien's fighting for work in a group that might be the most talented on the roster: Brandin Cooks, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, Danny Amendola, Andrew Hawkins all have had success in the league, and young players like Austin Carr, Cody Hollister and DeAndrew White are promising. 

Foster, meanwhile, was splitting work with James White, Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead during passing camp. Brandon Bolden and Mike Gillislee will also be more involved once the pads come on for training camp. 

"[I] just focus on what I can do. I learn as much as I can from those guys," Foster said. "Enjoy the process. Enjoy the relationships I have in those rooms because every year people come and go. Learn as much as I can from every guy in that room, and go out there and compete with them and have fun."

Here's a quick rundown of what we saw during spring practices from players hoping for that "second-year leap."

Trevor Bates, LB: A practice-squad player last season, it appears as though the second-year man out of Maine will be given a shot to show what he can do both in the kicking game and as an off-the-ball linebacker in training camp. 

Chase Farris, OL: A practice-squad staple on the offensive line last season, Farris was one of the regular second-unit guards this spring, playing opposite Jamil Douglas. 

Glenn Gronkowski, FB: Gronkowski bounced on and off of the practice squad last season and should have an opportunity to show more of what he can do when pads are introduced next month. 

Devin Lucien, WR: With good size (6-foot-2, 200 pounds), Lucien provides the Patriots with a bigger pass-catching option who has some experience in the offense. Carr and Hollister bring size to the position, but last year's seventh-round pick should have an edge on those two in terms of his understanding of the system. Lucien made an impressive diving grab on a short pass from Brissett on Tuesday.

Jacoby Brissett, QB: We've written pretty extensively on Brissett's important second season. He had an opportunity to finish up Tuesday's practice -- which Jimmy Garoppolo sat out -- with a long series of reps that provided plenty of teaching moments

DJ Foster, RB: Foster seemed to do nothing but help himself during passing camp, making a handful of impressive catches -- including one from Tom Brady at the end of a session that had the almost-40-year-old all kinds of fired up. Will he be able to build on that momentum in camp?

Woodrow Hamilton, DL: Another practice-squadder from 2016, he'll have an opportunity to compete for time on the interior of the Patriots offensive line once training camp rolls around. 

Cyrus Jones, CB: A dynamic punt-returner with the ball in his hands, muffs were an issue for last year's second-round pick during two practices that were open to reporters. Defensively, he had opportunities to work both in the slot and outside. He worked with a variety of defensive-back groupings. 

Jonathan Jones, CB: Maybe the top candidate to see the biggest "leap" in Year 2, Jones worked with the top group of defensive backs as the slot option for a large portion of spring workouts. A special-teams standout as a rookie, it looks like Jones will have a chance at more playing time defensively in 2017. 

Ted Karras, OL: Last year's sixth-rounder worked in as the backup center for the vast majority of spring work. He served as the primary interior offensive line backup (at both guard and center) last season and could be in line for a similar role this year with the starting offensive line unit pretty well set. 

Malcolm Mitchell, WR: Mitchell did not participate in practices that were open to the media. He was spotted getting some conditioning work in with Dont'a Hightower and Garoppolo during Tuesday's practice. 

Elandon Roberts, LB: In his first year out of Houston, Roberts was a force at times in the running game. Can his second pro season bring with it a significant jump in how he handles work in the middle of New England's sub packages? He'll have plenty of opportunities to show what he can do in camp, particularly if Hightower needs more time to get right physically. 

Joe Thuney, G: Thuney's the projected starter at left guard after winning that job last season and never giving it up. What would be interesting to see would be how Thuney would be used if the team ever needed help at another spot on the line. Last season, the Patriots were able to largely avoid injuries up front. Thuney played tackle in college and was at one point considered NC State's top center. 

Vincent Valentine, DL: Tough to get a feel for the trench guys during passing camp, but Valentine will be able to show how much he's grown as a player when training camp arrives. 

Bill Belichick liked what Cyrus Jones brought as a returner vs. Texans

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Bill Belichick liked what Cyrus Jones brought as a returner vs. Texans

Cyrus Jones brought back four punts for 58 yards during Saturday's preseason game with the Texans, showing the vision and burst that made him a dynamic return man at Alabama and helped make him Bill Belichick's second-round draft pick in 2016.

Two of those four returns -- he also had one kickoff return for 17 yards -- stood out as Jones made "something out of nothing," as Belichick put it after the game. 

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On the first, Jones caught a Shane Lechler boot at the Patriots 27-yard line with three Texans bearing down on him. He sidestepped Dylan Cole with a subtle move to his left, then turned on his speed. Using good blocks from Jordan Richards, Duron Harmon and Justin Coleman, Jones had himself a 32-yard gain. 

After the fact, Jones was congratulated by a large swath of his teammates on the Patriots bench. Jonathan Freeny, Jonathan Jones, Elandon Roberts, Brandin Cooks, Nate Ebner, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, James White and special teams coordinator Joe Judge all happily patted Jones on the helmet or shoulder pads to encourage the second-year corner. 

Jones has been open about how the difficulties he had holding onto the football as a rookie impacted him, but in the early going this year, ball-security has not seemed to be an issue. He muffed one punt on the first practice of training camp, he double caught another in West Virginia last week, but other than, he has handled his return responsibilities well. 

Defensively, he was involved on two long Jaguars touchdowns last week and opted not to speak with reporters afterward. Had his confidence been impacted, it didn't seem to last long. Belichick noted he liked the aggressiveness Jones showed as a returner, despite fielding one that turned into a loss of three deep in Patriots territory. 

"I though Cyrus did a good job in the return game, both in punts and kickoffs," Belichick said. "Ran hard. Ran aggressively. Made good decisions with and without the ball. Had a couple of situations where the ball either hit the ground or was going out of bounds. I thought he did a nice job."

The Patriots seem to have a solid top-four at corner with Malcolm Butler, Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe and Jonathan Jones. Cyrus Jones would seem to fall outside that group in competition for the fifth spot alongside players like Justin Coleman, Kenny Moore and DJ Killings.

But if Jones continues to show positive results in the return game, he could earn a roster spot for his abilities in that regard. Not only do the Patriots place a premium on the kicking game and the importance of field position, but if Jones could help take some of the load off of other returners like Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, there would be value in that as well. 

Perry: Garoppolo's accountability a winning sign in losing effort

Perry: Garoppolo's accountability a winning sign in losing effort

HOUSTON -- If Jimmy Garoppolo is destined to be a starting quarterback down the line, he showed one quality after the game that would seem to indicate he's just about ready.

He was accountable.

The strip-sack that nearly decapitated him and gave the Texans possession? On him.

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"The o-line did a great job tonight," Garoppolo said. "The sack-fumble was my fault. Can't let that happen . . . I'm the quarterback. It's just -- it's my fault."

His pick in the fourth quarter, a strange throw on the run that was out of reach for tight end Jacob Hollister? Well, yeah, no one else to blame there.

"You just gotta throw it away," he said. "Put more on it. Don't even give the guy a chance to do that."

It wasn't all ugliness in preseason game No. 2 for Tom Brady's backup. He hit DJ Foster on a quick toss over the middle that turned into a 25-yard touchdown. He climbed the pocket and drilled Austin Carr for a first down in the third quarter that started a streak of six straight completions, ending with Foster's score. He established chemistry with tight end James O'Shaughnessy, who had to sit during last week's game with the Jags. And he did it all behind the likes of Cam Fleming, Cole Croston, Jamil Douglas and James Ferentz.

One of Garoppolo's best plays of the night actually came on a sack. But instead of taking a vicious blow -- like the one he absorbed on the strip-sack -- he got on the ground just as the Texans were bearing down on him. He lived to see the next down, using an on-the-field awareness that may be tough to sharpen during practices when quarterbacks wear red jerseys and aren't allowed to be touched.

No, the final line wasn't sparkling, as it was a week ago. Garoppolo was 15-for-23 for 145 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He missed throws to O'Shaughnessy, Carr and Dion Lewis. He was nearly picked on a Brandon Bolden wheel route.

But the accountability Garoppolo showed after the fact is the kind of thing that doesn't go unnoticed by teammates, and it's one of the reasons he'll already have them won over if he ever gets another chance to start.

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