Well, Tom Brady got suspended, so the world is safe from skullduggery. Pay no mind to former NFL players dragging their broken bodies and brains toward early deaths. The commissioner has sussed out and faced down the real issue facing the NFL in 2016: proper ball inflation.
Now that the Commissioner, who reminds us of Owen Wilson in a perpetual state of wonder, has made football safe, it’s time to get back to training camp.
Here are five topics we’re mulling over this week.
The Redshirt Class: The Patriots had lots of injuries last year, with the rookie class in particular getting hit hard with ailments. Tight end A. J. Derby, cornerback Darryl Roberts, and defensive end Trey Flowers all took an early path to the IR in 2015. Roberts was a starter in the one preseason game he played before injuring his wrist, while Flowers showed some pass-rushing ability in the same game, getting to Aaron Rodgers more decisively than a stupid comment. Derby got hurt in early August, making his potential intriguing after a year of settling in with his new team.
One Guy To Watch: Derby, for the reason listed above. The former QB with solid quickness would fit as a pass-catching tight end, giving some competition to Clay Harbor. Now that I’ve written this, I just hope he doesn’t get cut tomorrow.
The Backup Offensive Tackles: Rather telling that, as of Tuesday afternoon, only Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer are listed as tackles on the Patriots.com roster page. The rest carry the more vague title of offensive lineman, which an optimist would say means the remaining players have flexibility. But we ran out of optimism after Solder got hurt last year.
Seeing how last year Cameron Fleming got run around like a maypole and Marcus Cannon showed the foot speed of a dog on his hind legs, New England might have some trouble in this area, especially given the wear-and-tear on Solder (recovering from injury) and Vollmer (32 years old). LaAdrian Waddle has some experience but didn’t get to show much last year due to injury. Rookie Joe Thuney did a great job at left tackle in college but has been tagged as an interior lineman.
One Guy To Watch: Looking for another great achievement from head alchemist Coach Dante Scarnecchia here, let’s keep an eye on Keavon Milton, third-year man out of Louisiana-Monroe (Go Warhawks!). Milton measures 6-4, 320 pounds. He played tight end in college, much like Solder . He’s fast and athletic for his size, so he could surprise some people. I mean, a big, big surprise, but still. (Note: Rich Hill of Pats Pulpit had a piece on Milton Tuesday, which I of course noticed midway through writing this paragraph).
The Backup Inside Linebacker: This one’s a tough call for the best of reasons; namely, the starting inside linebackers for New England, Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins, make up one of the best tandems in the NFL. Free agent Jonathan Freeny came in and did decently, but had trouble holding up against the run. Like Freeny, Ramon Humber and Kevin Snyder register as special teamers more than positional backups. Free agent Shea McClellin has experience in the middle, but he will probably stick outside. Rookie Elandon Roberts, at 6-0, 235 pounds, looks like another special teams guy, as we said in our 2016 Draft Review.
One Guy To Watch: Roberts, largely due to his productivity in college, and also because of the Patriots’ diligence in getting bigger bodies onto the defensive front. Such bulk on the line might keep OLs off of a player like Roberts. The sixth-rounder ran a 4.60-second 40-yard dash at his pro day, the kind of speed that helped him tally 142 total tackles last fall, leading the nation with 88 unassisted stops.
The Return Man: The Patriots had some problems with punt returns last year, as Chris Harper, Keshawn Martin, and Danny Amendola all muffed kicks. Due to Amendola’s and Julian Edelman’s importance to the offense, both have seen their reps in the PR role limited.
One Guy To Watch: It has to be Cyrus Jones, right? The Pats’ premier pick averaged 12.6 yards per punt return last fall, escorting four home to meet his parents.* (You can see his work vs. Michigan State here.) As Amendola showed in the past, getting a chance to return the football can boost a part-time player’s confidence and get him into the flow of a game. Could be a boon for the rookie.
*And the search for the perfect return TD catchphrase goes on.
The Big Backup Back: New England has eight running backs in camp this week, not including fullback James Develin. It looks like LeGarrette Blount (250 pounds) projects as the top big guy, with Brandon Bolden (220) a steady backup and core special teamer. While fans appreciated the fill-in work of 245-pound Joey Iosefa (search for “Iosefa truck” and you’ll find this clip vs. the Titans), he doesn’t seem like a long-term solution. Tyler Gaffney weighs in at 220, but he’s had a hard time staying on the field.
One Guy To Watch: I’m not sure we’ve met New England’s backup bulldozer yet. Whether it’s Iosefa, Heath Evans, Mike Cloud, or Jonas Gray, the Patriots have a history of finding players to fill in as temporary Class 2 Vehicles. Rather than stick with Iosefa or hope Gaffney stays healthy, the Patriots could watch the waver wire and bring in a tough runner to round out special teams and see if he’s a fit for the fall.
Thoughts on the upcoming season? Relief that the scoundrel Brady will no longer have the opportunity to commit scientifically disproven violations on footballs? Please let us know in the comments below.
Chris Warner tweets like he’s the funniest guy in the room, a perk of doing so alone: @cwarn89