What to look for: Patriots vs. Lions

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What to look for: Patriots vs. Lions

By Tom E. Curran
CSNNE.com Patriots Insider Follow @tomecurran The Patriots have allowed one offensive touchdown in two preseason games and that was against their scrubs. They've scored 88 points. They look really good. One can say "it's only preseason" but what else have we got to go on, hmmmm? Nothing. Saturday night in Detroit, the Patriots will play preseason media darling Detroit. The Lions have gone 2-0 in this preseason themselves. With both teams figuring to give an effort that approximates what we'd see in the regular season, this should be a nice pre-Irene appetizer.What to look for in no particular order. 1. Uncle Albert's Unveiling Two preseason games in and we haven't seen whether Albert Haynesworth poses a bigger threat to the opposition or the team he joined.This has led toSmarmageddon.Haynesworth represents low-hanging fruit to columnists like the Globe's Dan Shaughnessy and radio shriek shows like Tony Massarotti. Shaughnessy burped out a 950-word column - 250 of whichcame in the form of quotes -that concluded Haynesworthin a Patriots uniform represents the greatest threat to New England since the Pilgrims landed nearly 400 years ago.Anyone who doesn't see that is either dense, in denial or on the take. Sports fans who like sports understand that Haynesworth isn't going to be their friend and stop by the house for dinner. They don't have to buy his jersey. They can tell their kids that Haynesworth's been kind of a donkey in the past and they can then guide those innocent children away from building shrines to Haynesworth and direct them to Deion Branch or Jerod Mayo if they want a Patriot to claim as their "favorite."Sportswriters covering teamsunderstand that players with spotty pasts will be employed. Themost measuredway to proceed is to reconcile yourself to that fact and be vigilant for signs of recidivism so that then you can, you know, absolutely eviscerate the player, the team and the owner. Unless you need a column. Now, where were we? Right. Football. Keep an eye peeled to see how Haynesworth is deployed. Is he out there with Vince Wilfork and Shaun Ellis? That's a lot of beef. And what's his conditioning look like? Can hemake it to third down? Will he play at all?Last week in Tampa was all positive for the Patriots' front and the question was how daunting they'd appear with Haynesworth and Ellis. We maysee in Detroit. 2. How's Woodhead's Head?Smushed last week by Tampa's Devin Holland, the Patriots running back staggered off the field with an addled mind. He recovered quickly and, in the locker room after the game, he scoffed at the notion he'd be anything but fine. He returned to practice earlier this week. Despite his quick recovery, Woodhead suffered a concussion last January as well. At his size, he's not built to last. With his style, he'll be his own worst enemy. It wouldn't be a bad idea to sit the little fella down for now. 3. Which Means Vereen?If Woodhead doesn't go, this may mean Shane Vereen can get some extra reps. The rookie second-rounder from Cal just began practicing again this week after suffering a hamstring injury. Stevan Ridley has established himself a bit with the extra reps available. Now it should be Vereen's turn. Look for him later in the game, though, because blitz pickup is Job One for Patriots backs and he probably hasn't shown enough to be trusted yet. 4. Wideout WondermentBetween Taylor Price, Julian Edelman and Brandon Tate, are there enough roster spots at wide receiver? One would have to think Price has established himself during camp. Edelman to a lesser extent. Tate? He's got catching up to do since missing a huge chunk of camp with an injury. With new kickoff rules lessening the need for a guy whose got value in that area, Tate needs to show he's a valuable, reliable player. I'm not sure he has the time to do it. 5. Welcome Back, Carter? The star of stars in last week's preseason game was Jerod Mayo. Close second? Andre Carter. The defensive end was a nuisance off the edge in a way we haven't seen since... ummm... really, in a way we haven't seen. Bill Belichick said some of it was attributable to Tampa's offensive line mistakes. If Carter can back up last week's performance with a similar one this week, it will be hard to dismiss his impact. 6. Last Gasp Before Cutdown DayTeams are going to trim to 80 players from their current 90 on Tuesday. That means the guys in logjam positions - defensive line, secondary, wide receiver - who think they may be in trouble probably are. It's a big night, most likely, for corners Darius Butler and Jonathan Wilhite, players with ability who just don't seem to ever make plays. The clock's been ticking on both of them. 7. Tight End MaelstromRob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are set. But rookies Will Yeatman and Lee Smith continue to battle for the third tight end spot. Yeatman, an undrafted guy, has the edge on Smith, a fifth-rounder. The Patriots will certainly try to get the guy who loses the battle onto their practice squad. Gronk, meanwhile,hasn't caught a preseason football. Aaron Hernandez has nine receptions. 8. Ocho DramaLotta navel-gazing from Chad Ochocinco last week in Tampa. So much frustration and urgency that you wonder if the guy can keep it to himself and immerse himself in the offense without having to be in everyone's ear about it all the time. It will be interesting to see how often Tom Brady goes to him. Brady doesn't do needy well. 9. Left Tackle QuestionsMatt Light returned to the field this week as well. Does that bounce Nate Solder from the starting spot at left tackle? If so, are the Patriots planning to use a guy they signed to a two-year, 7 million contract as a backup?
Tom E. Curran can be reached at tcurran@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran

Garoppolo: Panthers offer ‘closest thing we’ll get to Week 1’

Garoppolo: Panthers offer ‘closest thing we’ll get to Week 1’

One throw could have very well changed the overall assessment of Jimmy Garoppolo’s performance last Thursday against Chicago. 

Garoppolo had looked completely poised, on rhythm and decisive, carving up the Bears on four straight drives, including an impressive march to open the third quarter. And then, on third down in the red zone, the Pats quarterback correctly read man-under coverage, with a single high safety floating. But with his first two reads covered, Garoppolo pivoted back to his right and threw almost sight unseen to James White. One problem: Bears linebacker John Timu was sitting in the passing lane and dropped what should have an interception.

“Yeah, the linebacker made a nice jump on it,” said Garoppolo. “It’s unfortunate what happened.”

What happened was the Pats escaped with three points and Garoppolo exiting to excellent reviews. But that was a gift from the football gods, though the third-year pro shrugged it off.

“It was just one of those bang-bang plays,” said Garoppolo. “In the red zone, there are tight windows down there, so sometimes you’re going to make throws that get tipped or whatever it may be. You don’t try to make those happen, but sometimes it happens down there.”

A deeper review of the Pats approach versus the Bears showed a greater emphasis on Garoppolo getting rid of the ball the moment those feet settled on repeated three- and five-step drops. That resulted in the best performance by the Pats signal caller since before that full practice scrimmage in which the QB on the other side - a fella by the name of Tom Brady - went 25-for-25. That day, Garoppolo waded into choppy waters and took nearly two weeks to find solid footing. 

“I think part of that comes with just learning the offense overall,” said Garoppolo when asked about his decision making. “Year after year, you’re going to be more comfortable in the system, whatever it may be. I think I’m progressing the right way. There’s obviously a long way to go, you always want to be as precise and decisive as you can be, but I think I’m working in the right direction.”

No denying that, although now comes another test, the preseason tilt Friday night in Carolina against the defending NFC champion Panthers. There may be a greater strain put on Garoppolo and the starters, but as for the idea this is the closest thing to a dress rehearsal for the regular season, Bill Belichick reminds you not to get it twisted.

“I think this is a good opportunity for us to compete against arguably as good as any team in the league. [With] all that being said, we’re not talking about a regular-season game here, “ he said. “We’re not talking about game planning and all of those kind of things, which I can’t imagine would happen in this game, but they’re going to happen in a couple of weeks so it’s a whole different ballgame. I don’t think you can compare this game to a regular-season game even though I’ve heard people try to do that. I’m not sure what game they’re looking at. “

Maybe the same thing as Garoppolo is…

“It’s pretty much the closest thing we’ll get to Week 1, so we’ll see how it goes,” he said.

 

 

 

 

 

Patriots trading for Browns OLB Barkevious Mingo

Patriots trading for Browns OLB Barkevious Mingo

The Patriots are in the final stages of trading for Browns outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo. 

Mingo, the sixth overall pick in the 2013 draft, is in the fourth and final year of his rookie deal as his fifth-year rookie option was not picked up by the Browns. It is not yet known what the Patriots will send to Cleveland in return for Mingo.

The LSU product was selected by the Browns when Michael Lombardi was the team's general manager in 2013. Lombardi was let go after one season in Cleveland and was an assistant to the Patriots coaching staff Patriots in 2014 and 2015. The Patriots have shown an affinity for other former Browns who overlapped with Lombardi, making moves to acquire Jabaal Sheard and Dion Lewis.

Mingo, 6-foot-4, 240 pounds, has played in all but two regular-season games over the course of his three years and has recorded seven sacks.

With the trade for Mingo, the Patriots have added some depth to what was already a deep position on their roster. Between Sheard, Rob Ninkovich, Chris Long, Shea McClellin, Trey Flowers and Geneo Grissom, it seemed as though the Patriots had a wealth of options to choose from. However, injuries have plagued the group of late: Ninkovich is dealing with a torn triceps muscle that has kept him out of practice in recent weeks; Sheard has what's been reported by the Boston Herald as a sprained MCL; and McClellin has also missed practice time lately as he has rehabbed an injury. 

At the moment, the Patriots still don't have much in the way of long-term depth at the position given that Sheard, Ninkovich, Long and Mingo are all in the final years of their contracts. McClellin, Flowers and Grissom's deals takes them through the 2018 season.

Before playing the Browns in a regular-season game in 2013, Patriots coach Bill Belichick commented briefly on the Browns defense and perhaps foreshadowed his eventual interest in a pair of their players. 

"Overall, I think they’ve been a pretty impressive team to watch on film," Belichick said at the time. "Defensively they’ve got a lot of good players. They’re very good up front. They’ve got good depth and a good quality of players there . . . Sheard and [Paul] Kruger and Mingo are very athletic. They make a lot of plays."

He added: "Kruger and Sheard have done a good job as edge rushers . . . They’re good in the running game, they definitely generate pressure on the quarterback. Mingo, the rookie, is mixed in there and creates some negative plays in the pass rush and [has] done a good job for them being disruptive."

According to Pro Football Focus, Mingo generated eight quarterback hurries, no sacks and no quarterback hits last season. In 2014, he had two sacks, five hits, 20 hurries, and he was graded by PFF as the 17th-best edge defender against the run.

The 2013 NFL draft class -- particularly at the top -- has been noted for its lack of impact players, but the Patriots have now traded for two of the top-10 players in that draft in the span of several months. Guard Jonathan Cooper, who was acquired by the Patriots in a trade with the Cardinals, was the No. 7 overall pick that year. 

Phil Perry contributed to this report.

Upside or experience? Belichick says, 'That's the $64,000 question'

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Upside or experience? Belichick says, 'That's the $64,000 question'

FOXBORO -- The Patriots roster doesn't have to be trimmed down to 75 players until Aug. 30., but they're already at 81 players, which includes the four on the physically unable to perform list at the moment. Five days before the first cut-down deadline, the Patriots are already close to where they need to be. 

The question is, why? Why not keep players around for a few extra days to see what they can do? If it's certain they won't make the team, why not release them and sign other long-shot free agents for what would essentially amount to a multi-day tryout? The Patriots turn over the bottom of their roster as frequently, if not more frequently, than any other team in the league. Why aren't they maximizing their roster space?

The answer is that they want to maximize the reps they can give to players who are already under team control. If the roster is crowded, that might mean less of a look at legitimate potential contributors in practice or against the Panthers in Carolina on Friday night. Having open spots on the roster early in the cut-down process also allows the Patriots to pounce on a player, or several, who may be released before the deadline.

Belichick shed some light on his thought process on roster moves at this time of year during a press conference earlier in the week.

"Well, we’re definitely going to have to trim it down," Belichick said. "We may release players before [Aug. 30], before the [Panthers] game. Again, there is a lot of personnel movement going on at this time of year. We could acquire a player, or two, or whatever if the situation was right. I really don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s not like I have five roster moves waiting back there in the office that are about to happen. That’s definitely not the case. But look, it could be in 10 minutes, I don’t know, or it could not be. 

"But the intent of doing what we’ve done with the roster is because of where we are, what we feel like is best for our team at this point in time -- although I think that some of the moves that we made are also best for some of the players as well, to be honest with you. Not that that’s the main reason that we did it, but it’s a part of the residual of doing what’s right for everybody. But yeah, we’ll just have to see how it goes.

"We could have 84 or 85 [players] by the end of the week or we could have 80 by the end of the week, 78, I don’t know. We’ll just have to see how it plays out. Obviously injuries, they’re a factor at this time of year for every team so there are some positions where you need depth, some positions where you have depth and you can’t play everybody. I think that’s definitely the case, and in some positions for us we have more players than we can really play against Carolina, so if we’re not going to play them, and then we’re going to have to release them at the 75 cut after the game, then there is an argument to just doing that now, which gives the player an opportunity that kind of clears it up for us a little bit. I think there is some of that."

The Patriots released a handful of veterans in recent days, including receiver Nate Washington, corner EJ Biggers, defensive lineman Frank Kearse and running back Donald Brown. In Brown's case, an injury forced him to lose practice time that he was not going to be able to make up. For the others, they were buried on the depth chart, and the team may have assumed that it would have been too tough for them to see meaningful snaps against Carolina given there were younger players at their positions who needed further in-game evaluation.

It's a tricky balancing act, Belichick explained, particularly when there are players of varying experience at the same spot. Do you keep the young guy who is the project, particularly if you think you might lose him to another team if he hits the waiver wire? Or do you go with the veteran to win in the here-and-now?

"That’s the $64,000 question," Belichick said. "That’s what it is. It’s been like that since the day I got into this league. From all of the personnel meetings I’ve ever been in it’s a [matter of] a player who’s more experienced [and] more ready to help the team now, versus a player that’s not as ready now but at some point you think the pendulum will swing in his favor. Will you do that? Can you do that? What are the consequences of making that move? What are the consequences of not making that move? How likely, as you said, is it that you could keep both players in some capacity?

"That’s what it’s about, trying to balance now with later. We’re going to field a team in November, we’re going to field a team next year, we’re going to field a team in 2018. Not that we’re getting too far ahead of ourselves, but we’re going to be in business in those years, so we have to sort of have an eye on those moving forward and a lot of the other factors that go into that. Those are all tough decisions. They’re all things that you really have to think about."

Every year there are examples of those kinds of choices. This year, one that comes to mind is a decision that could be coming at the tight end position.

AJ Derby, now in his second season, has been one of the team's most impressive players during the preseason, but if he makes the team he'll be buried on the depth chart behind Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett. If he doesn't make the team, it's likely another club will claim him on waivers. Clay Harbor, now in his seventh season, can play a variety of roles and might be more equipped to help the Patriots immediately. He was given $400,000 in guaranteed money this offseason to do just that. 

There is the possibility that the Patriots keep both, but the team may believe there's only room for one.

Even for Belichick and the Patriots, who have developed their program since 2000, there are no hard and fast rules. Though Belichick has the final say, the disagreements among individuals helping to make the roster decisions can be difficult to sort out. 

"Some people in the room want to have one opinion, other people have another opinion," Belichick said. "You kind of have a split camp there and both sides’ arguments are good arguments. It’s kind of your perspective. Is it today or is it tomorrow? I’m sure every team in the league is having a lot of those discussions."

Given their roster reduction over the last few days, the Patriots are apparently having some of those discussions a little early.