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Patriots Training Camp Primer – Cornerbacks

The Patriots head into training camp in just a few weeks and there should be plenty of competition at a number of spots. As a lead-in to the beginning of camp, we’ll break down the positions and give our take on who is a lock, a near lock for the 53 man roster and who is on the bubble.
Bill Belichick likes to say that the spring is a learning exercise and that the competition begins in training camp. While that is true to an extent, with 88 players on board, 35 of these current members of the roster now, at a minimum will be cut.

We’ve already looked at the Patriots offense and have now moved over to the defense. You can check out the links below:

Running Backs

Wide Receivers

Tight Ends

Offensive Line


Defensive Ends

Defensive Tackles



Next up for is the final section of the Patriots defense, the cornerbacks. No position on the Patriots roster will be under more scrutiny than the corners in 2015. After getting stellar play from corners Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner and Kyle Arrington last season, all three have moved on and now the big question is who will step up in their place.

Another thing on fan’s minds this spring and early summer is how does Bill Belichick replace Revis? The simplest answer is you don’t… A talent like his doesn’t grow on trees and you just can’t plug another player into his slot and expect him to do the same.

So if all hope lost for a Super Bowl repeat in Santa Clara next season? No, Belichick knows that he can’t replicate Revis’ talent at corner but with an improved pass rush from the front seven coupled with solid play from the corners that are here now, the defense should be in good shape.

So who is locked in and who is on the bubble?

Dobson Shouldn’t Be Lone Patriots WR Working With Brady This Spring

Aaron Dobson has stated he will travel to Calif. to work out with Tom Brady, but he should have company. (SBalestrieri/PatsFans photo)

Aaron Dobson has stated he will travel to Calif. to work out with Tom Brady, but he should have company. (SBalestrieri/PatsFans photo)

The Patriots don’t start Phase 1 of their OTA strength and conditioning workouts until April 16 and in the meantime got a bit of encouraging news concerning Aaron Dobson. Dobson told Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald that he plans of working out in California with QB Tom Brady and developing better chemistry for his second NFL season.

Dobson has been resting his left foot since sustaining a stress fracture about two-thirds of the way thru the 2013 season. Within the next two weeks Dobson should know if the rest was sufficient to heal his foot or whether he’ll need surgery. But at least on the surface it seems that things are pointing in the right direction with his planning on being with Brady to work out.

Dobson had the most productive rookie WR season during the Brady era hauling in 37 catches for 519 yards with four touchdowns in 2013. He played in 12 games, with nine starts. Dobson and the team are expecting much bigger things in his second year and working out with Brady will go a long way in developing that chemistry he’s had with other receivers.

Wes Welker and more recently Julian Edelman have been well-known to make the trek to California to do just that. Edelman even got a residence to be close to Brady to work out whenever the time availed itself.

What would be even better news for the Patriots would be to learn that the other second year wide receivers, Kenbrell Thompkins, Josh Boyce, Mark Harrison and TJ Moe as well as veteran Danny Amendola were all planning on doing the same.

While it can’t be official, as the NFL rules and the collective bargaining agreement state such, According to Articl 21, Section 2(a), prior to commencing the program:

(ii) players are not permitted to participate in Club-supervised workouts, Club-supervised practices, group or individual meetings with coaches, group or individual film study with coaches, or group or individual playbook study with coaches;

Much can still be accomplished while working out together, it builds chemistry, timing and most importantly…the vaunted trust factor with Brady. We’ve seen countless times Brady pass by receivers who seem to be open if he doesn’t trust them. This would be a prime opportunity to earn that. And get a jump start on the 2014 season.

With new pieces being expected to being added at the Tight End position and possibly a new veteran WR being added during Free Agency if Edelman doesn’t return, it is a great chance for these 2nd year players in the Patriots system to become integral parts of the offense.

The best wide receivers aren’t always the best physical specimens but frequently the smartest players who can think two steps ahead of the competition. Two great examples of this are Welker and Steve Largent who played for the Seahawks. Neither was blessed with particularly off the charts physical traits but could see and recognize what defenses were doing as quickly as their QBs.

Being able to anticipate how Brady will read of the defense and seeing the same thing, running the correct route and being in the correct place is a guarantee to have the ball thrown your way in the New England complex passing game.

Thinking alike, adjusting on the fly and adapting doesn’t involve any special elixir. It just comes with hard work, repetition and earning the trust of one another. Hopefully we’ll read about a “Patriots passing party” on the left coast this spring. It would be in all of these players’ best interest to do so…

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Steve Gregory To Be Released By Patriots, Opening Door For Harmon?

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Steve Gregory is to be released today by the Patriots. (SBalestrieri/PatsFans photo)

The first chip has fallen in the New England Patriots off-season veteran releases and for veteran Safety Steve Gregory today was the end of the line as far as his career in New England goes.

According to his agent David Canter, Gregory, 31 originally from Brooklyn, NY will be released today saving the Patriots an estimated $2.85 million against the 2014 salary cap.

During the 2013 season, Gregory played in 14 games with 11 starts and made 79 tackles with 1 sack. He missed two games with a thumb injury. Originally an undrafted free-agent from Syracuse, the nine year veteran Gregory was due in the neighborhood of $2.85 million in salary.

Once Jerod Mayo went down with a season ending injury, the Patriots gave the ‘green-dot’ communication device to Dont’a Hightower then for a time to Gregory. In his two years in Foxboro, Gregory was frequently a lightning rod for criticism but one must remember he was frequently playing out of his natural FS position and played a more SS role that the team needed him to fulfill and wasn’t overly suited for.

With Gregory’s release, this may open the door for Duron Harmon to start and he’ll probably be given the chance but it will not surprise anyone if the Patriots address the strong safety position in either free agency, the NFL Draft in May or both.

Gregory will hardly be the lone player released as many expect the team to jettison DL Isaac Sopoaga and others such as Adrian Wilson could also be let go as well.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Weds Patriots Links, Wrapping Up the Combine, Big Corners, DMac Extension

Devin McCourty under the watchful eyes of Belichick and Kraft will be soon looked at for a contract extension. (SBalestrieri/PatsFans photo)

Devin McCourty under the watchful eyes of Belichick and Kraft will be soon looked at for a contract extension. (SBalestrieri/PatsFans photo)

Here is the latest New England Patriots news from around the web on Wednesday 26 Feb:

ESPN Boston:

Thoughts on possible McCourty extension: Mike Reiss takes a look at Devin McCourty’s current contract and says it isn’t a question of “if” but when he gets a new extension. Reiss also takes a look at what the market will probably bear for his services.

And now for those non-combine Patriots: Field Yates writes about some of the more well-known Patriots who didn’t get invited to the Combine in years past and reminds us that there is plenty of talent out there once the Draft comes around in May.


Lucky Seven: Taking A Look At How Some Possible Patriots  Did In Indy: Chris Price writes about seven of the more popular names attached to the Patriots in many of the early mock drafts and how well …or poorly they fared during the Combine.

4 Things We Learned From the CombTomine Tuesday: Chris Price looks at some of the DBs who shined on Tuesday including Shane Vereen’s brother Brock. He also writes about a mixed market for bigger corners.


Michael Lombardi’s Combine Paperwork Causes Browns Fans To Freak Out: NESN’s staff saw Twitter all agog with Cleveland fans ticked that Michael Lombardi was still using his draft notes in Indy with Browns logos still on them.

Bristol County Sheriff: Aaron Hernandez Could Face More Charges After Jailhouse Fight: NESN also looks at the altercation between former Patriot Aaron Hernandez and another inmate on Tuesday which could result in further charges.


Sharing an engrossing study of 2014 TE class: Tom E. Curran wrote about the Patriots need for a complimentary TE for Gronkowski and offers a look at the best of the Class of 2014 and what they bring to the table.

NFL scouting combine 2014: Jason Verrett, HaHa Clinton-Dix, Keith McGill, tall cornerbacks among Day 4’s winners: Nick O’Malley writes about the best performances by DBs on Tuesday and who really shined in Indy.

NFL teams looking to follow Seattle Seahawks’ big cornerbacks blueprint will be hard pressed to find the next Richard Sherman: Nick Underhill writes that the NFL is a copy-cat league and now everyone will want to emulate the Seattle Seahawks defense. But finding another Richard Sherman in the draft…Not so fast.

Red Bryant A Patriot? Not This Time Either…

The Patriots pursued Red Bryant heavily in free agency in 2012. (USA Today image)

The Patriots pursued Red Bryant heavily in free agency in 2012. (USA Today image)

A lot of eyebrows went up in New England with the news of Sunday night that the Seahawks may cut DL Red Bryant in a cap saving move to re-sign DE Michael Bennett.

Most Patriots fans remember the team in 2012 tried hard to woo Bryant away from Seattle and made a serious offer before Bryant finally decided to stay put, where he won a Super Bowl this February over the Denver Broncos.

“The Patriots were interested and I definitely was listening. I thought it was a great opportunity for me, and the likelihood of me going there was high,” Bryant said.

Bryant decided to stay in Seattle citing family reasons, “I feel like my situation here, it was great for me and my family, and that’s what it basically came down to …my familiarity with Seattle, and the guys I’m playing next to,” he added.

Now a lot of analysts are saying that the Patriots will again be in the bidding (although expected to be much lower) and should be a favorite to pursue and to land Bryant once and if…he is released. Pump the brakes on that talk; it may not be in the cards this time either.

Bryant ended up signing a 5 year deal worth $35 million and is an $8.5 million dollar hit against the cap this season, by releasing him prior to June 1st; the Seahawks will save around $5.5 million.

On the Plus Side Versatility/Leadership:Bryant who will turn 30 in April, is a 6’4, 323 two-gap, run stuffer who plays mainly a 5 technique DE in Seattle’s complex base defense. With New England he would project to be an interior DT. But he has the versatility to play really anywhere if the Patriots chose to mix things up.

Bryant played in 46 percent of Seattle’s defensive snaps this season but was in on only 18 snaps in the Super Bowl as Pete Carroll went for a high octane pass rush against Peyton Manning and the Denver offense.

A defensive captain and unquestioned leader in the locker room, Bryant has always been a very positive role model for the younger players in the Seattle defense. Anyone who has spent time around the Hawks all rave about the respect he has among his peers. There could be little argument that he would fulfill a similar role here with the Patriots young defense, much like Andre Carter and Vince Wilfork currently do.

The thoughts of a healthy Wilfork, Kelly along with Bryant, Armstead and Siliga inside will make the Patriots run defense woes of 2013 seem like a distant memory.

On the Minus Side, Cost/Age/Roster: Although the market for Bryant should be much less costly this time around, he still won’t come too cheaply because there are plenty of teams (Jax/GB among others) who need help along the DL and Bryant is still performing at a high level. So don’t expect anyone to sign him for a veteran’s minimum.

But turning 30 this season, this is the time when big guys like he, Wilfork and Tommy Kelly begin to show their age somewhat. Wilfork prior to his season-ending injury was not playing his normal stout game. Could he have already been hurting? Possibly, but age could be a factor as well. With the latter two already on the roster, it may not make the most sense in a long term perspective to add another 30 year old body into the mix at the DL.

And with Wilfork, Kelly and CFL signee Armond Armstead all recovering from injuries this season and expected to be back as well as Sealver Siliga who played well down the stretch, the landscape for the interior line is different from when they initially attempted to sign Bryant in 2012. That year, after failing to land Bryant the Patriots signed Jonathan Fanene who had previously undiagnosed knee woes and never took the field.

Worth A Look, But Look to the Draft: The Patriots are nothing if not thorough in their preparation and especially when it comes to talent evaluation. They will most certainly kick the tires on Bryant, since they were so high on him in 2012 and one can imagine the rotation of DL with him, Wilfork, Kelly and Siliga inside being a nice one to watch.

The NFL is a copy-cat league and Seattle’s defensive rotation of keeping fresh legs on the field is something a lot of teams, including the Patriots may emulate. But with the Patriots salary cap situation still a work in progress; this may not be the time to go after Bryant. Although the team did make a big impression on him two years ago:

Asked how the Patriots tried to “sell him”, Bryant in a piece from Mike Reiss in 2012, “”It wasn’t so much a sell, as you know you’d have an opportunity every year to be playing for a championship,” he said. “You understand with that organization, the history that comes with it, and it’s a specific type of player that they like. I was honored to be one of those guys.”

He added, “I just feel like they don’t have to sell the Patriots. You know going into it the stability, from ownership on down. That alone was definitely enough for me to listen.”

But another factor to consider and a big one this season is the NFL Draft. The draft is full in 2014 with big, talented run stuffers that will come much cheaper than Bryant in May. And with the fiscal considerations in mind, I think Bryant won’t be wearing a Pats jersey in September.

Now if the team gets some cap relief from the Aaron Hernandez contract…that may change a lot of things, both in this situation and others.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Sunday’s New England Patriots Links, 2/23/14, Combine Ups and Downs, Potential Pats

Alabama QB AJ McCarron sees a lot of Tom Brady in himself and would welcome a chance to learn from Brady in the NFL. (SBalestreri/PatsFans photo)

Alabama QB AJ McCarron sees a lot of Tom Brady in himself and would welcome a chance to learn from Brady in the NFL. (SBalestreri/PatsFans photo)

The NFL Combine is in full-swing now and that and more are the popular themes concerning the Patriots that are appearing around the web on Sunday.

ESPN Boston:

Quick-hit thoughts around NFL & Patriots: Mike Reiss does an every Sunday Quick Thoughts column that is must reading for all Patriots fans. Grab your first cup of coffee and read this one. This week’s pieces include, the Patriots coaching staff, Free Agency, extended success of the team, hosting talk radio last week and roles of Michael Lombardi and Brian Daboll.

Explaining Schiano’s presence with Pats: Field Yates takes a look at the Greg Schiano’s situation and his presence with the coaching staff in Indy but says his coming to New England may not be a slam dunk.

Day 3 at the combine: What we learned: Field Yates takes a look at the Day 3 highlights of the Combine and specifically how the TEs and OL who shined. Michael Sam and Jadevon Clowney gave press interviews and handled them well.


Five Things We Learned At the Combine On Saturday: Chris Price highlights the struggles of the tight ends in on field work, Jadevon Clowney, the depth at OT as well as in the DL.

Minnesota DL Ra’Shede Hageman Talks About Transition To NFL And Possibility Of Playing For Patriots: Chris Price talks about one of the more intriguing DL in terms of the Pats and his possible fit with NE. Hageman has the versatility the Patriots covet and has played 0 technique and as far outside as 9 technique.


NFL Combine Saturday Winners And Losers: Taylor Lewan, C.J. Fiedorowicz Impress: Doug Kyed looks at some of the players who helped their draft stock with their performances on Saturday and some who may have took a hit.

AJ McCarron Models Game After Tom Brady, Wants To Be Patriots’ Backup: Doug Kyed has an interesting piece on Alabama QB AJ McCarron who sees some of Tom Brady in himself and would love to learn at the back-up position in New England.

Comcast Sports Net NE:

O’Brien’s probably not buying what Manziel’s selling: Tom E. Curran has a piece about QB Johnny Manziel and says if he’s trying sell himself to Bill O’Brien and the Texans for the 1st pick in the draft, he may want to re-think his strategy.

NE Patriots Draft:

2014 NFL Combine Preview: Potential Patriots at Each Position: Mike Loyko takes a look at each of the positions at the combine and whom the Patriots may target. Loyko does a fantastic job of reporting on the Combine and is a must follow on Twitter.

Ex-Oregon TE Colt Lyerla could be steal of NFL Draft if a team is willing to roll the dice: Nick Underhill writes about former Oregon Duck Colt Lyerla and he may be a huge pickup for any team willing to take a risk on a player with numerous off-field issues. Lyerla, Underhill writes would be a perfect fit for the NE offense, but this selection may be a little soon after the Aaron Hernandez fiasco.

Friday’s New England Patriots Links, 2/21/14, Combine Talk, Belichick Interview

Bill Belichick was a surprise speaker at the Combine on Thursday. (SBalestrieri/PatsFans photo)

Bill Belichick was a surprise speaker at the Combine on Thursday. (SBalestrieri/PatsFans photo)

With the NFL Combine starting this weekend, here are some of the top stories around the web concerning the Patriots.

ESPN Boston:

Patriots hire Mike Lombardi: Mike Reiss writes that it is now official; the Patriots have hired former Browns GM Michael Lombardi as a special assistant to the coaching staff. Reiss adds that Bill Belichick’s comments put Lombardi firmly under the coaching umbrella rather than in the personnel department.

TE Jace Amaro already creating buzz: Field Yates speaks about how many of the mock drafts have New England taking Amaro at 29 and asks him if he reads any of the mocks that are posted.

Bill Belichick combine transcript: Mike Reiss and Field Yates detail what Bill Belichick had to say at the Combine on Thursday afternoon.  As always with these type of scenarios, Belichick waxed historic on some of his comments from Combines past.

Wake-up call: Day 2 at the combine: Field Yates details all the highlights for Day 2 of the Combine and what we can look forward to on Friday.

Boston Herald:

Bill Belichick quick to adapt to changes: Jeff Howe writes that Belichick in his 30th year has seen lots of changes and has adapted to them. He also chats with UMass TE Rob Blanchflower and his return from a tough injury and what he ultimately would love to happen on draft weekend.

Boston Globe:

Bill Belichick talks little at NFL Scouting Combine: Ben Volin puts out his take on Belichick’s presser at the Combine and adds in his thoughts on the salary cap situation, free agency and the medical aspect of the Combine.

Arizona Cardinals GM Steve Keim says New England Patriots never called about Larry Fitzgerald Nick Underhill reports that the Patriots never contacted the Arizona Cardinals about acquiring WR Larry Fitzgerald last season.


Patriots Pick Big Pass-Rushing Defensive Lineman In 2014 NFL Mock Draft: Doug Kyed writes that the Patriots will be looking at the defensive line rather than drafting TE Amaro as most mocks have them doing.

ComCast Sports NE:

How do Patriots stack up against the salary cap?: Tom E. Curran writes about the Patriots situation with the salary cap citing PatsFans own Miguel Benzan in his piece about how they stack up.

Bleacher Report:

2014 Patriots Draft: Pre-Combine 7-Round Mock Draft: James Christensen of both B/R and NE Patriots Draft presents a 7 round mock that has some intriguing possibilities for New England. And a very interesting first round pick….worth the time to read it.

Patriots Focusing on ‘Aaron Hernandez Clone’ Jace Amaro at TE: Karen Guerigan of both B/R and the Herald writes the Pats are looking for AH “clone” and writes Amaro is the perfect example, citing Amaro like Hernandez is more a receiving threat than a blocker.

Wide Receivers the New York Jets Should Be Scouting at the Combine: Erik Frenz is reporting from the combine for both B/R and and he’s looking at the Patriots rivals from Jersey. Frenz lists some WRs that the Jets should be focusing on this weekend.


Wednesday’s New England Patriots Links, 2/19/14, Draft and Combine Talk Dominate the News Today

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Adrian Wilson is priming to make a comeback with the Patriots in 2014. (SBalestrieri /PatsFans photo)

Here are some of the top stories about the Patriots making the rounds today:

ESPN Boston:

What we learned about NFL draft: Mike Reiss writes about the 2.5 hour + conference call with Mike Mayock of NFL on the upcoming draft. Some of the highlights include tight end discussion, dearth of 4-3 ends, draft depth and pro comparisons.

DeAngelo Hall impact on Aqib Talib: Mike Reiss talks about the recent contract signed by the Redskins’ DeAngelo Hall and how his signing may ultimately affect the status of the Pats Aqib Talib.

Insider high on Pats’ improvement: Mike Reiss (busy Monday) cites the recent work by Mike Sando, NFL Insider for ESPN who wrote that the Patriots in 2014 should be a much better football team and is poised for improvement.

Behind the scenes at the combine: Field Yates sets the stage for the what will be a jam-packed event at the NFL Combine. Gives a great, detailed description on what will unfold in Indy.

WHICH QB DOES BEST JOB SPREADING BALL AROUND IN PASSING GAME? : Chris Price takes a look at who does the best job at spreading the wealth in the passing game as well as a look back at Tom Brady’s stats in doing so.

OFFSEASON UPDATES ON REST OF AFC EAST: Chris Price takes a look around the AFC East and what moves each of the Patriots divisional opponents (Bills, Dolphins, Jets) are making so far in the 2014 off-season.


Broncos’ Eric Decker On Free Agency: ‘It’s Not All About The Money’: Trevor Cullen wrote a piece on the Broncos free-agent WR Eric Decker, a possible target of the Patriots and how Decker says money isn’t the only factor in signing a deal, citing what’s best for his family.

NFL Draft Reset 2006: Patriots Take Running Back But Not Laurence Maroney:
Doug Kyed wrote a piece about re-doing the 2006 NFL Draft and how the Patriots would still select a running back but not Maroney, and Rob Ninkovich gets high marks in this piece as well.


New England Patriots rookie review: CB Logan Ryan: Nick Underhill gives his grades for 2013 rookie cornerback Logan Ryan. And Ryan, whose selection was met with some criticism during the draft, has put most of those fears to rest. Playing more than 700 snaps as a rookie, Logan Ryan garned high marks from Underhill in this article.

Boston Herald:

Adrian Wilson working to rejoin Pats: Jeff Howe says that Wilson is healthy and may be priming for a comeback bid with New England. And most of the Patriots secondary has joined Wilson in off-season workouts in Arizona. 

Storylines abound at NFL combine: Jeff Howe points out many of the great storylines that will highlight the combine this week. Johnny Manziel, Michael Sam, the Patriots silence and more are discussed here.

NE Patriots Draft:

2014 Patriots Seven-Round Mock Draft – February Edition: Oliver Thomas takes an early look at the 2014 NFL Draft for the Patriots and has a nice haul for New England. Some very intriguing picks in there and a must read for draftniks and Pats fans alike.


So Michael Sam Is Gay, Who Cares? Can He Rush The QB?

Michael Sam is the first openly gay player to enter the NFL, but he really should be judged on his football prowess and not anything else. (USA Today photo)

Michael Sam is the first openly gay player to enter the NFL, but he really should be judged on his football prowess and not anything else. (USA Today photo)

Michael Sam’s coming out that he’s gay has unleashed a torrent of rhetoric both for and against him and other gay people that has made this the #1 story of the day. But in the end, the reaction says much more about us as a people than it could ever say about him.

Sam is a talented if somewhat undersized DE for a very talented defense in Missouri and prior to this news had the label of a “tweener”, a player too short (6’1) to play defensive end in the NFL’s 4-3 defenses but without enough experience to play OLB in a 3-4 scheme. While he had an impressive 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss in 2013, he was considered a day two prospect behind his bigger and more highly ranked teammate Kony Ealy.

But now all eyes are on Sam and depending upon one’s point of view, he’s either a hero or an abomination by others who view homosexuality as a sin… Bottom line is, he’s really neither, while certainly brave to come out early and face the music as it were and risk his draft stock, he’s not a hero who rushes into burning buildings to rescue people in a fire or faces death on a daily basis in the mountains of Afghanistan.

Nor is he a devil who leads a life of sin as some intolerant, bigoted people will claim him to be. And his draft stock has changed; just today CBS Sports had him plummeting down their boards over 70 places. Shame on them. If he had plummeted down a week ago because their draft experts said, his skills don’t translate into an NFL where he won’t be a difference maker on Sundays, that’s fine. But their timing says otherwise.

And that’s the point,  people are still too hung up on race, creed and sexual orientation in our judgment of others. The Missouri Tigers obviously had no issue with Sam; his sexual orientation was well known this season by them and was of no consequence. They made no issue of it and put the issue of football and team more than anything else. His teammates and coaches speak of his character, professionalism and leadership. So if you want to judge Michael Sam, fine, judge him…as a complete football player.

While I personally applaud his courage for coming out as he did, his sexual orientation matters zero in the grand scheme of things here. Those of us here are paid to write about football not make social commentary and if Sam were to get drafted by the New England Patriots, our focus is to judge him by his actions on the football field.

We’ll look critically at how well he can rush the passer or cover tight ends and running backs and could care less about any other issues. And in point of fact, I’d rather have his teammate Ealy because I think he’ll be much better at getting after opposing QBs than Sam will, not because of any kind of bigotry but because it comes down to football skills.

But now the cat is out of the bag so to speak and we’re all in on what was once Sam’s secret. And many of us will root for him because of his courage and simply for the fact that many of us love an underdog story, so if the Patriots in the fifth or sixth round pick Michael Sam, we will cheer.

But all the trailblazing, and talk of being the first “openly gay player in the NFL” will wear off in about a minute under the watchful eye of Bill Belichick. Belichick has always been and always will be about “what’s best for the football team.” Raise your hand if you’ve heard that about 1000 times in Foxboro.

If Sam is lucky enough to be drafted in New England, Belichick will put all the talk to rest quickly and with little fanfare. If he could put the Aaron Hernandez and Tim Tebow “distractions” to rest early last training camp, Sam’s sexual choices will have zero impact. Of that I’m sure.

So whether you’re a fan of Michael Sam’s coming out of the closet or against it is your business. He obviously chose his timing of doing so to place the emphasis during the NFL Combine and the draft on his football skills. Judge him by those and not anything else that has little other consequence.

So….what is Sam’s three-cone time anyway?

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

2014 Patriots Need TEs Not More Wide Receivers

These three players are the future of the Patriots WR core, Thompkins, Boyce and Dobson. (SBalestrieri/PatsFans photo)

These three players are the future of the Patriots WR core, Thompkins, Boyce and Dobson. (SBalestrieri/PatsFans photo)

Much talk the past days since the Super Bowl for the Patriots has centered around free agency and what the team will plan on doing to better the team in 2014. While much of the fandom and media want the Patriots to go after Larry Fitzgerald, the fact of the matter is the Patriots really have needs in other areas much more pressing and they won’t be looking to make a splash at wide receiver.

Larry Fitzgerald, while one of the premiere WRs in the NFL would most certainly help the offense but he isn’t what’s needed. The team has invested in the wide receiver position and the players will reap better dividends in their second season with the team. Where the team needs to add players is the tight end position and go back to a balanced two TE attack.

Team Invested In WRs in 2013:With the Patriots spending two draft picks (Dobson Rd 2, Boyce Rd4) and signing a couple of undrafted free agents at wide receiver, they won’t be doing the same thing again without giving those second year players a chance to make their second year jump in production.

Aaron Dobson had a pretty solid first year catching 37 passes for 519 yards for a 14.0 average and 4 touchdowns in 2013. After a slow first half of the season, Dobson got increasingly more comfortable in his role and his production increased. A foot injury slowed him down the stretch but he has the size and frame that will make him very productive in New England. How much? In this offense, he won’t be “The Guy”, but a frequent target and seeing nearly double his rookie production isn’t out of the realm of possibilities.

Kenbrell Thompkins, like Dobson had his moments struggling in 2013 but also had an overall solid rookie season catching 32 passes for 466 yards and 4 TDs. He also had some injury problems, a hip issue that bothered him and a concussion which both caused him to miss some time. The UDFA turned heads in the spring and summer and a second year jump in production will likely follow as well.

Something to keep in mind about these two rookies is this, while fans want immediate production from their WRs, it takes time to develop them (a frequent complaint about NE) and Dobson had a more productive first season than former Patriot Deion Branch. Branch had 489 receiving yards as a rookie in 2002. Thompkins was right there as well.

Josh Boyce was a 4th rd draft choice out of TCU and perhaps has more upside than either of the previous two players. He played sparingly in 2013 but he is inline perhaps for the biggest increase in production. A smooth route runner with blistering speed, Boyce could find himself in the kick return game and if the team allows Julian Edelman to walk in free agency, he’s a guy who can step into that role.

Edelman’s contract is up this year and the team faces the decision on whether to keep him or let him walk. There is no easy answer with this dilemma however the team should make an effort to keep him in Foxboro but at a reasonable price.

Reports have Edelman making in the neighborhood of $6-7 million dollars per year this season during free agency. If that is the case, then the team’s best interest would be served by letting him walk. If he can be signed for half that amount, then Edelman should be brought back.

The Patriots invested heavily in Danny Amendola last spring and after tearing his groin away from the bone in the opener against Buffalo, it was an injury that caused him to both miss time and hampered him the rest of the season. Look for his numbers of 54 catches for 633 yards and 2 TDs to increase as well.

Danny Amendola will be looked to for more production in 2014. (USA TODAY Images)

Two other intriguing cases can be made for UDFAs Mark Harrison and T.J. Moe as well although neither took the field in 2013 due to injuries. Harrison is a big, physical, fast WR (6’3 230) who ran a 4.46 in the 40 before injuring his foot and missing the entire season. But he projects to be a big, red-zone target who has the speed to beat defensive backs outside the numbers.

Moe is a slot receiver who does the dirty work over the middle. He doesn’t have great speed but is very agile and has a 6’0 muscular frame to withstand the punishment. He had the fastest 3-cone time at the NFL Combine, a trait the Patriots have long coveted. While neither played a snap in 2013, both had the benefit of spending a year in the system and should know the offense quite well by spring mini-camps.

Tight Ends Other Than Gronk: Let’s face it, the spring and early summer for 2013 was a nightmare for the Patriots coaching staff. They made a conscious decision to let Wes Welker walk and base the offense on the two young tight ends whom they rewarded with long-term lucrative contract extensions.

But Rob Gronkowski needed back surgery on top of his numerous arm surgeries and then after only 7 games back was lost for the season tearing his ACL. Aaron Hernandez decided that being a football player with a $40 million contract was secondary to being a street gangster and is awaiting trial in jail for murder.

Early season production was non-existent and with Hernandez long gone and Gronkowski unlikely to be ready for football in September, this is the area where the Patriots offense needs to improve greatly.

They really need two tight ends, one in the Gronk mold, a big, physical blocking tight end who can catch the ball and another like Hernandez who is more a receiver than a true tight end. This is where the focus should be in free agency when looking outside the team’s own players.

There are plenty of good options in the tight end market, that won’t necessarily break the bank. One option that makes a lot of sense is Buffalo’s Scott Chandler. Chandler had 53 catches for 655 yards and 2 TDs last season. He’s very big, 6’7 and would offer a big red zone target for Tom Brady. While not possessing the speed of Gronkowski and the deep play ability, he’d still open things up in the middle and is a good but not great blocker.

The other tight end can be had in the 2014 NFL Draft. Depending upon how free agency goes and the way board breaks down the Patriots should be able to draft a good tight end in either the first round or during Day 2.

It is possible to even see Harrison in that Hernandez “flex” tight end role with the team. Hernandez was really a TE in name only and was much more of a receiver. With Harrison’s speed and size, he’d be big addition to that role as well. It will all depend on how the Patriots decide to utilize him.

Going back to a two-tight end approach however, is the best way for the offense to go. They are much harder to stop that way and having a good core of wide receivers and tight ends added into the Patriots running game will make the offense a very difficult one to game plan for.

Having a player of Fitzgerald’s caliber here is a double-edged sword. On one hand there is no denying his ability to produce, but then you must keep feeding him the ball to justify his immense salary. And that salary takes away from other areas that will help the team better. This team is better off without him.

Kerry Byrne from Cold Hard Football Facts published a great piece a few years ago on the “shiny hood ornament” as he calls WRs and has some compelling facts to back up his theory to state a championship offense doesn’t need to have a world class WR as its focal point.

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