Some thoughts on the local footballers as we prep for the third game of the 2015 preseason – often referred to as the “full scrimmage” of the four-game summer slate. So far, the Patriots have lost to Green Bay and beaten New Orleans, all of which means next to nothing. In terms of individual performances and positions, though, their upcoming scrimmage at Carolina could provide some answers.
Speaking of which…
No Wright Answer: When New England waived tight end Tim Wright in June, a few local pundits scratched their heads. (We agreed with ESPN.com’s Mike Reiss calling it “a mildly surprising move.”) Wright had solid, if unspectacular, production for the Patriots last year with 26 receptions, making his mark in the red zone with six touchdowns. It seems that the higher-ups at Foxboro figured they could do better. Of course, when you’re starting out with over 13 feet and a quarter ton of tight end between Scott Chandler and Rob Gronkowski, maybe there’s some leeway for the “move” TE.
We certainly liked the potential of rookie A. J. Derby (you can read our draft review here), but with him on injured reserve, the outlook becomes less shiny. The team traded for Asante Cleveland, who got tossed around vs. the Saints like a stuffed animal at a play date. The Pats used him mostly as a blocker, but after watching that game, I wondered if Cleveland could block a one-man play about FDR.
Could they consider Jimmay Mundine? Maybe. He’s smaller (actually listed as a fullback on NFLDraftscout.com) and quicker than Cleveland. He also had experience in Kansas under former Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis. Plus, it’s always fun to say Jimmmaaaaaaayy. Or, they could eschew the “move” TE role and look for a bigger receiver instead. Still curious as to why they let Wright go so early.
Dealing With A Sense Of Shane-lessness: Last year, Shane Vereen caught 52 passes for 447 yards and three touchdowns. While no one running back might replace those numbers, the Pats did well to draft James White, who has looked the part in two preseason tilts with five reception for 72 yards. Dion Lewis got into the act last Saturday, catching five balls for 36 yards and one rushing TD. Veteran Travaris Cadet has gotten back on the field and may have a chance to show what the team’s been missing for the past few weeks. Though seemingly not as efficient a blocker as the other two, Cadet has gotten positive reviews for his receiving skills.
In any case, it seems that letting Vereen go to the Giants (where he will absolutely thrive, by the way) won’t hurt the Patriots all that much. At least until he lights them up in the Super Bowl. God damnit.
Boyce Will Be Boyce: Oh, poor Josh Boyce. So athletic. Such a standout practice player. Just can’t seem to get it together on the field. With myriad injuries to New England’s receiver crew, Boyce had a chance to take over this summer and rule the preseason. Instead, the past two games have showcased names like Chris Harper (12 receptions, 117 yards) and Jonathan Krause (nine for 75). Brandon Gibson looked sharp (12 for 97), but his season-ending knee injury – plus the fact that Brian Tyms got put on IR – would seem to open up Boyce to even greater opportunities as a fourth or fifth receiver.
Except for one thing…
Blame It On The Wayne: Now, the Pats have brought in Reggie Wayne, for more than just swapping age-appropriate stories with Tom Brady, we assume. Friday night could provide a window into New England’s intentions for Wayne, be they as a short-yardage pass-catcher, third-down conversion specialist, red zone target, or all of the above. Fun to find out how much Wayne has left in the ol’ Batmobile.
Yeah. Boyce. Maybe they’re saving him for something, but if I were his friend, I’d keep him away from any Magic 8-Balls: “Outlook Not So Good.”
Interior Motives: The preseason starting offensive line, which – if there is a God and He is just – will NOT make up the starting front in September, has provided some ups and downs for the offense. Undrafted rookie David Andrews has spent many snaps at center in Bryan Stork’s absence, showing solid potential if not current readiness. The rookie guard set of Shaq Mason and Tré Jackson has provided some spotty support with more room for improvement than an abandoned warehouse. Veteran Ryan Wendell reportedly got back on the practice field Tuesday, which should provide some much-needed stability.
In any case, interesting to see what Bill Belichick goes with for his starting line on Friday night.
Uncon-Vinced: Oh, Vince Wilfork. We miss you every time you show up on “Hard Knocks.” Talking your talk, dispensing advice, always seeming to have a good time. After watching Vince, by comparison, J. J. Watt seems like a total stiff. While Wilfork emits sincerity and couldn’t care less about having the cameras around (filing rough patches on his feet, squishing his shoes so that sweat bubbles up out of the tongues), Watt seems super conscious of people seeing and hearing him. (Drew Magary touched on this in his “Why Your Team Sucks,” 2015 Houston edition.)
Anyway, New England went with youth, so watch the kiddoes on their D-line. Dominique Easley and Malcom Brown both come up several cookouts shy of Wilfork’s weight (at 285, Easley’s missing about half a cow), but each has shown some strengths so far this preseason. After suffering a knee injury last year, Easley appears to have gotten back some of his trademark quickness, while Brown has demonstrated occasional field savvy that has helped him break up plays. See if they can show improvement on Friday.
I Was Ryan When I Met You, Now I’m Tryin’ To Forget You: You know, Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner signed elsewhere this off-season.
Hey, who’s dead horse is this? And why are we hitting it with axe handles?
We won’t spend too much time on this (maybe we’re already past “too much”), but beyond Malcolm “Go” Butler, the tryouts for starting defensive backs have seemed a bit hit or miss. Logan Ryan has been talked up as a potential starter opposite Butler, and his output has proved about as consistent as a drunk bartender’s Long Island Iced Teas. On one play he’ll reach in and knock away a third-down pass. On the next series, he’ll get burned for two consecutive first downs.
As the Patriots go with something close to game conditions for their third preseason game, let’s see if Ryan can mix it up with receivers and make things flow smoothly. Because, you know, their defensive backfield personnel is different this year. *sigh*
A Means To An Ends: Once again, rookies. Trey Flowers might be back from injury after a solid first game vs. Green Bay. Geneo Grissom has been moved around more than that Patrick Nagel print you’ve had since college. Xzavier Dickson has ended up at the right places when he’s gotten to play. Considering New England already has a starting rotation of Rob Ninkovich, Chandler Jones, and Jabaal Sheard to platoon (or not?), these rookies will have a tough road to playing time. It starts now, and the more they can do, the more flexibility this defense will have.
And Coach Belichick likes his defense more flexible than the numbers from an Exponent report.
Wait, how did we end up here?
A Final Note On Deflated Footballs (Not Likely): One question amidst all the hullaballoo. How does this make football better? In our July column on getting rid of the PSI rule (called “That Song By Queen And David Bowie”), we pointed out the merits of leaving a football’s air pressure up to the ref’s discretion before and during a game. As this insanity continues, we still wonder how it helps to take measures (pun intended) to ensure proper air pressure. No one has ever cared about this. No one should ever care about this.
In 2006, Brady and Peyton Manning lobbied for QBs to be able to bring their own doctored footballs to away games. In the following years, both Brady and Manning have broken NFL records for passing touchdowns. Remind me how this is a bad thing?
Oh, it’s not? Right.
Ditch the rule, dump the silliness. Now let’s play football.
Chris Warner can be emailed at email@example.com or tweeted at @cwarn89