Game week. Thank goodness.
After a weekend where New England witnessed more transactions than Ted Wells’ credit card at a Village People costume convention, the team seems to have more or less settled on their 53 for the 2015 season opener. You can check out a current depth chart on Patriots.com.
Some thoughts on who’s around, and why, below.
Every Silver Lining’s Got A Touch Of Grey: Wow. Let’s consider Jonas Gray’s meteoric Patriots career for a second or two. In 2014, he had 33 rushing attempts leading up to his breakout game at Indianapolis, where he carried the ball 37 times for 201 yards (5.4 avg) and four touchdowns. The next week, after he slept late, New England signed LaGarrette Blount. Gray had 20 carries for the rest of the season (not including his lone tote vs. the Colts in the playoffs, for four yards). What a weird, difficult turnaround, especially considering Blount’s suspension for Thursday’s game.
Looks like the Pats feel content with James White, Dion Lewis, and Brandon Bolden, who have shined during the preseason. Not bad to have Tavaris Cadet aboard as well, as he can catch the ball out of the backfield or the slot.
In terms of personnel, perhaps the rushing game was most affected by…
Between The Develin The Deep Blue Sea: Some difficult decisions left in the wake of fullback James Develin’s season-ending leg injury.
Develin (6-3, 255 pounds), a former defensive lineman at Brown, makes us hearken back to the traditional New England fullback days of Marc Edwards. Edwards (6-0, 245) played in all 32 games in his two years in Foxboro (2001-2002), carrying the ball 82 times for 237 yards and catching 48 passes for 362 yards. More importantly, he blocked for Antowain Smith, who averaged 1,000 yards per season in those two years. After Edwards left, the Pats signed Fred McCrary, who got hurt during the 2003 season.
McCrary’s injury may have led Coach Bill Belichick to believe that he could survive without a traditional fullback, as the next year Corey Dillon ran for 1,635 yards (4.7 avg) with none other than 217-pound Patrick Pass taking on lead-blocking duties. In ensuing years, defensive ends like Richard Seymour, offensive linemen like Dan Connolly, and linebackers like Junior Seau would take turns as backfield blockers. It’s a testament to how much Belichick appreciated Develin that he revisited the role 10 years later. Now, maybe the tight ends will take some reps in the backfield.
Get well soon, Develin. In the meantime, we’ll watch this run against the Texans.
Safety Dance: Ah, a reference to the days when music really meant something. In any case, maybe we shouldn’t feel surprised at the Patriots holding on to six safeties. It seems like they have been looking for larger, run-supporting defensive backs. They did, after all, draft linebacker/safety hybrid Matthew Wells in the sixth round (then traded him to the Bears for lineman Ryan Groy). They also brought on undrafted rookie safety Brandon King (before cutting him Saturday). It seems they’ve gotten newfound appreciation for Tavon Wilson’s abilities recently. Now in his fourth year, Wilson had 15 tackles in four preseason games and showed consistent field awareness that he seemed to lack in his first two seasons.
New England added rookie Jordan Richards and still have Devin McCourty, their best overall defensive back. Safety doesn’t look like it will be a problem.
Logan’s Run: Well, despite our uncertainties stated in a previous post, it looks like Logan Ryan will continue his career in Foxboro. Not that he’s bad; he’s just inconsistent. After cutting Robert McClain – not a huge surprise after a disappointing performance in the fourth preseason game – New England’s down to four cornerbacks. (As of Sunday, Daxton Swanson had made the practice squad). Look for the Patriots to address this position via free agency over the next week; or, possibly, over the course of the season.
Move … Get Out The Way, Get Out The Way: After letting go of Tim Wright, it looks like the Patriots weren’t looking to hold onto the “move” tight end position this season. We had some hope for rookie Jimmay Mundine, but he got waived before final cutdowns. New England traded for Asante Cleveland, who ended up on the practice squad. Cleveland looks like a decent pass-catcher; his blocking, however, has seemed ineffective (we’ve nicknamed him SPF Zero). Plenty of moves to come over the course of the season, but gaining a smaller, quicker tight end doesn’t seem to make the list.
The Aaron Of The Grievances: Time for receiver Aaron Dobson to step up and become the player the Foxboro front office hoped they’d get in 2013’s second round. Maybe Dobson can still contribute – he did have 37 catches his rookie year. Heaven knows the Pats could use the help, but additions haven’t come easily in the wake of Brandon LaFell’s injury. Reggie Wayne felt about as comfortable here as a Colt quarterback during the playoffs. Josh Boyce can now add his name to receiving draftees who never fully fit in Foxboro. It’s not just about learning the offense, it’s about learning how Tom Brady wants you to learn the offense. That familiarity and comfort had to be the main reasons for the return of current practice squad receiver (and past Patriots hero – Unicorns! Show ponies!) Kenbrell Thompkins.
Speaking of undrafted rookies who figure it out, how about this Chris Harper kid? Fifteen receptions for 150 yards and a TD over four preseason games, showing precise routes and consistent hands. He also returned punts. You can’t predict a career over the preseason, but he seems like the multi-faceted type of player who has the potential to stick.
So, what’s the secret? What makes guys like Harper seem smooth after a few months, while Boyce has a three-year rough patch? Why Kent State’s Julian Edelman in the seventh over Florida’s Chad Jackson in the second? If you figure it out, tell me. And only me. And together, we shall be rich.
The Rufus, The Rufus, The Rufus On Fire, We Don’t Need No Water (Etc.): Well, congratulations to Rufus Johnson, a 2013 pick of the Saints who flashed enough to warrant making the opening day roster. He deserves extra kudos considering the pass-rushing position at Gillette got as crowded as the pro shop during a Goodell Dartboard giveaway. The Tarleton State alum adds more youth along with rookies Trey Flowers and Geneo Grissom. The numbers bumped seventh-rounder Xzavier Dickson off the roster, which disappointed us because we kinda-sorta predicted the Pats would draft him (see: “Alabama Guy”). Glad that he made it to the practice squad.
This season, New England has added Jabaal Sheard and the above youngsters to their pass-rushing crew. Could get interesting in opponents’ backfields.
The Ghost Is The Machine: Just a little reminder that kicker Stephen Gostkowski has remained awesome. That’s it.
Enjoy your Thursday, people. Should be a banner night.
Chris Warner can be tweeted: @cwarn89