Thursday, August 10, 2017

Patriots' Team Building Process On Full Display Against Jags

We've all heard it a thousand times.

When asked about the progress of any player at this point in the team building process, we usually get a canned response from New England Patriots head ball coach Bill Belichick, something to the effect of a combination of "He works hard", "He's a smart kid" and the ever popular, "We'll have to see."

But on Tuesday when asked about second-year quarterback Jacoby Brissett, we got something straight from the depths.

"He's a work in progress." Belichick deadpanned to the glee of bored beat writers.

When Brissett is in the game on Thursday night against the Jaguars, it will most likely be with all manner of position battles happening all over the offensive line, so we are going to be able to witness first hand if Brissett has made that essential second-year progression in regard to his mechanics.

You see, the North Carolina State alum has a penchant for throwing off his back foot when being pressured up the gut, a natural knee-jerk reaction that produces overthrows without much on them, especially up the sidelines, making them ripe for interceptions by centerfielders in the worst-case scenarios, and wasted downs in the best-case.

Thus far in camp, it's obvious that he still has the issue and has thrown the aforementioned high ball off of his back foot release and it seems as though he is trying to compensate for the poor mechanics rather than correcting them.  It will be interesting to see if Jacksonville makes it a point to pressure him up the middle to force those floaters, and also to see if they align a single-deep safety as a ball hawk to pick him off.

This is what camp and preseason are for.  Brissett has an absolute rocket for an arm when he can step into throws and does have good accuracy on the intermediate and short throws, making him an adequate short-term backup, but the issues with his mechanics make him a poor choice as a long-term fill-in, as teams would easily be able to game-plan against his weaknesses.

Needless to say, tonight's game is going to be important to his future with the team.

Other players we will be watching closely:

Dion Lewis - From all accounts the "Human Joy Stick" is back to his old elusive self, breaking ankles and causing would-be tacklers to grasp at thin air.  How much he used in the preseason - and even early in the regular season is anyone's guess, but it makes sense to limit the demure all purpose back's exposure to things that might rip his legs apart, so if he does play, we really can't expect it will be for very long.

Rex Burkhead - On the other hand, we will probably see plenty of Burkhead, who has a little bit of every type of running style known to man inside of him.  He can play the power guy, he can catch the ball, he can protect the passer - which may turn out to be a godsend to Patriots quarterbacks in the preseason - and once he's in the open field, he looks like a newborn fawn trying to find it's footing, with elbows and knees everywhere.  Regardless of how it looks, he's been effective with it in the past.

Devin Lucien - Lucien has generated plenty of press clippings the past few weeks, and now it's time to see if he's just a workout warrior or if his star rises when the bright lights come on.  You can read more about the Arizona State product here...

Jacob Hollister - The Patriots generally carry three tight ends, but the third guy is normally more of an inline blocking machine than what Hollister presents, but his receiving skills can't be ignored.  Of the candidates for the roster spot, the Wyoming product is far and away the best pass-catching prospect, but he offers little from a blocking perspective, certainly less than what the other candidates bring.

For that very reason, Hollister is going to have to bring the "Wow" factor in the preseason if he wants to make this team.

Conor McDermott - Does the athletic McDermott have the sand-in-his-pants anchor to play the blindside protector?  Either Brissett and/or Jimmy Garoppolo is going to find out on Thursday night when the UCLA product goes up against names like Yannick Ngakoue and Dante Fowler.

Blessed with a basketball player's size and slide step, McDermott looks every bit a tight end - but one can't help noticing that he is a far more effective blocker on the move in the running game pulling into the interior on a "wham" assignment, using a killer cut block to take down rogue linebackers while his set and slide technique screams "tackle" in pass protection, he just doesn't have the anchor - or does he?

We'll probably get to see tonight...

Deatrich Wise - The Jacksonville offensive line is a hot mess everywhere except at the pivot, so the Patriots coaches should reasonably expect to see their defensive linemen dominate - but in a preseason game in which the coaches are looking at form and technique, domination is not always going to be apparent to the naked eye, nor will it necessarily show up on the stat sheet.

With Wise, who has long arms and enormous hands, he should be rag-dolling tackles early in the game with a savage initial punch, and bull rushing him back into the pocket.  Like Trey Flowers before him, Wise dominated as a defensive end at Arkansas with uncommon strength, but unlike Flowers, he's not quick-twitch so a lot will depend on his pad level as the game wears on.

If he plays into the late stages of the game and he's still stacking up tackles like cord wood, it may be an indication that the Patriots have struck gold twice in drafting hogs.

Derek Rivers - Rivers was an All American defensive end at Youngstown State, but in the pros, his best destiny is at strong-side linebacker, as his size and skill set whispers "Jamie Collins".

Rivers has been working on his pegs on both sides of the second level all through camp, and when rushing in tandem with Wise, who has worked exclusively as a down lineman, they have been nearly unblockable.  Rivers' issue is that he has zero experience as a stand-up linebacker, so the learning curve is protracted - but if his production in camp is any indication, he's well ahead of that curve.

Cyrus Jones - Naturally, everyone in the civilized world and Canada will be watching with a blood-lust to see if Jones muffs a punt or makes some sort of crazy, knee-jerk decision of some sort that will result in a turnover, but Jones seems to have regained much of his confidence on fielding kicks, so in addition to his special teams play, he will be getting some reps at corner, perhaps a bunch.

Damarius Travis - strong safety Jordan Richards is in the fight of his career for a roster spot, but every kid in the mix that gets injured makes him closer to a lock to hold on to his spot for a this season.  The only player left in his way?  Damarius Travis.

Travis is an undrafted box safety with a reputation for going after the big hit, eschewing proper wrap-up technique required for run support.  He also is reported to have issues with handling tight ends on seam routes, which belies his extraordinary height (6' 2") for the position.  That said, we'll be looking to see if the Jaguars can cause those deficiencies to manifest, of if he has taken to professional coaching.

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