Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Patriots' 53: "Scavenger" Belichick Putting Together Roster Full Of Intrigue

Bill Belichick is football's version of a vulture.

Or at least it seems that way - mostly due to the success he's had poaching other teams' rosters for players that are being misused or underused and who have performed well in Belichick's rigidly segregated game plans. Segregated in that in his mind, every player has a specific job to do and if they just do that job, they will mesh with the other individuals on the field into one cohesive unit.

How many times have we heard him chide a player for trying to do too much, overlapping into someone else's responsibility? "Look, it's simple, guys." He bellows in one instance caught on camera during a certain championship game, "Just do your job! Don't try to make too much out of it, just do your job!"
Foster scores from 22 yards out

Some people just don't get the concept of leaving your individuality in the trunk of their cars when they go to work - but the ones that do, the ones who have a specific talent and will focus on their jobs and leave the accolades  - or the negativity - for the media to embellish are the ones that are successful, and Belichick is the master at swooping in and bringing them onboard.

It's not just veteran players, either.  A lot of people will look at Belichick's failures on draft day, especially with receivers and cornerbacks, and say that he isn't a great personnelman - and there is something to the lack of success in drafting players in those specialties - and all you really have to do is look at the projected roster below to see the evidence...

...because while a full two-thirds of his roster are players drafted or otherwise signed directly out of college by Belichick, only two of five receivers were drafted by Belichick - one being a college quarterback converted to a receiver - and just three of five corners (with two of them being undrafted free agents), he still manages to field a top offense and a top defense nearly every single season.

Same with running backs, as half of the Patriots runners are home-grown talents - in fact, besides the safety position, the roster is spotted with players brought in from other teams, and while those players rarely gain the big-time spot light, together they make up one championship team.

Does he have the makings of another title contender?


Tom Brady
Jimmy Garoppolo

In my mind, Jacoby Brissett came into Saturday night's game on the bubble, and I'm not sure he did enough to change that.

Both Brady and Garoppolo lost floaters along the sideline that were picked off by Texans' defensive backs (though Brady's was negated because the player landed out of bounds) as they both attempted to spread the field horizontally in order to open up the middle of the field to work with their backs and tight ends, so it goes to figure that they were both pressing the issue...

...something that you wouldn't see either do in the regular season.  If there's one play that sticks out from Patriots' quarterbacks on Saturday night, it was Garoppolo hitting Austin Carr with a laser beam on an out pattern that was reminiscent of Brady's throw to Danny Amendola during the overtime period of the Super Bowl.

Not saying Garoppolo is Brady, just saying that he has the arm to make the toughest throw - as does Brissett, but his poor mechanics get in the way...

Running Backs:

James White
Mike Gillislee
Dion Lewis
Rex Burkhead
James Develin

There is a certain protocol that is followed in preseason games, so when a guy is out there with the ones, plays a few snaps and then relaxes on the bench for the rest of the night, that means he has earned his keep.

James White has earned his keep.

Rex Burkhead was with the two's and he distinguished himself, as did Dion Lewis (who really didn't need to do much), as did D.J. Foster, who makes our list of 53 with an eye-opening performance against some of the Texans' two's and mostly their three's - but the only reason he's on the list in the first place was because of the ambiguity surrounding Mike Gillislee - but since Gillislee has returned to practice, it bodes ill for Foster's chances...


Julian Edelman
Brandin Cooks
Chris Hogan
Malcolm Mitchell
Danny Amendola
Matthew Slater (IR Designation)

Try as they might, the undrafted free agents from this year and the holdovers from last season are not going to make a dent in this receiving corps unless an injury besets them, which is always a possibility.

Of course, last Saturday night's contest with the Texans turned out to be getting the backs involved in the passing game, so only ten total targets found the wide outs, but this coming Friday we can expect to see a far more balanced attack - albeit french vanilla - with the starters playing until at least halftime.  It would behoove fans to pay attention to who is rotated in and out with the one's, because if a bubble-dweller gets a chance with them, it means he has a chance to make the roster.

The only reason there is a chance is because of Matthew Slater's doubtful availability.  If he starts the season on the IR, maybe one of the bubblers get a shot at the 53...

Tight Ends:

Rob Gronkowski
Dwayne Allen
James O'Shaunnessey
Jacob Hollister

...but my guess is the Patriots have enough receivers, and may go heavy on tight ends, which means if Slater hits the IR, there is a possibility that Belichick keeps four of them - and O'Shaunnessey and Hollister have been getting the reps.

Offensive Tackles:

Nate Solder
Marcus Cannon
Cam Fleming
Antonio Garcia
Conor McDermott

Fleming gave the left tackle position the old college try on Saturday night, but showed that he is a far better drive blocker than a pass protector.  He did ok, but also got shoved back into the pocket by a defensive end 40 pounds lighter, and doesn't have the kick-slide to match speed.

Waddle is better on the left, as is Garcia but they are both injured - but the good news is that Solder practiced in full on Tuesday...

McDermott deserves a closer look on Friday, as he was serviceable on the right side, featuring a mean cut block and a decent kick-slide, though he allowed Garoppolo to get murdered on a screen play by not selling the pass play.

Interior Offensive Line:

Joe Thuney
Shaq Mason
David Andrews
Ted Karras

JJ Watt abused Andrews on an inside stunt early in Saturday's game, but he does that to everyone. Together, Andrews, Thuney and Mason comprise an excellent young interior that has gotten better through failure in pass protection, but can always improve - and they will the more they play together.

The depth in camp is atrocious, however, so Karras will win a roster spot simply by process of elimination.  His best spot is at center, but he can fill in at both guard spots.

Defensive Line:

Malcolm Brown
Alan Branch
Trey Flowers
Vincent Valentine
Kony Ealy
Lawrence Guy
Deatrich Wise
Adam Butler

The Patriots played a ton of three man line rotation against the Texans, and it will be interesting to see if that becomes a trend.

Flowers and Wise never saw the field, but that was due to concussion and preservation, respectively, Guy appeared to tweak something in his right leg early on, and Valentine had the trainers come out an check on him, so those are situations worth monitoring - so it was fortunate that Matt Patricia had his charges in a 3-4 to begin with.

With all of the injuries, keep an eye on third-year special teamer Geneo Grissom, who is making a push for a roster spot at defensive end despite being inactive for the game.

Dont'a Hightower
Kyle Van Noy
Shea McClellin
Derek Rivers (IR - out for the season)
David Harris
Elandon Roberts
Harvey Langi

While the Patriots were working in a 3-4, Undrafted free agent  and resident Swiss Army Knife Harvey Langi took on a role normally reserved for Dont'a Hightower, as sort of a chess piece on the second level, but mostly aligning on the strong side, where injured rookie Derek Rivers had been lining up.

Langi has a puppy-like manic style that may need to be toned down a bit, as he tends to overrun gap responsibilities at times instead of holding his ground and forcing plays to the inside, but that will come with experience in the pro game.  Harris has turned out to be a Godsend for New England in the middle with Roberts constantly getting dinged up, and Van Noy has continued his strong play on the weak side.


Stephon Gilmore
Malcolm Butler
Eric Rowe
Jonathan Jones
Cyrus Jones

The beginning of the turn around for Cyrus Jones has begun, and it's not all that surprising.  Jones tends to get down on himself and lets negative reports in the press exasperate that, but the opposite is also true, where he becomes encouraged by positives, and the way his teammates rallied around him after some decent returns in the kicking game and some solid work in coverage, they are trying to feed him all of the positivity they can muster.

In truth, this is a pattern with Jones that has followed him from High School and college where he started off with some rough outings, got down on himself, grew a huge chip on his shoulder, then broke through the crust to play some amazing football.


Devin McCourty
Patrick Chung
Duron Harmon
Nate Ebner
Brandon King
Damarius Travis

Jordan Richards has been getting a lot of playing time, but it isn't translating to what the Patriots need from their strong safety - mainly, good pursuit angles and steady tackling.  He looks to have bulked up over last season and maybe he can't carry the extra mass as a safety, and it would be intriguing to see his fit as a linebacker, but the time for experimentation for the third-yard player is up.

Chung, on the other hand, looks to be revitalized as a human missile in run support and has shown an awesome instinct as a trail-technique on tight ends - which is wonderful news as undrafted rookie free agent Damarius Travis isn't ready for the role yet, but looks to have the upper hand on all other comers.


Joe Cardona
Ryan Allen
Stephen Gostkowski

All three are solid, though Cardona had a couple of low snaps to Allen in the punting game, one disrupting Allen's timing and nearly causing a blocked punt by the Texans.

Timing is everything in the kicking game, and angles are everything in covering kicks - and both areas need some work before the regular season starts.

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