If you’ll remember the final preseason game vs. the Giants that may or may not have taken place about seven weeks ago, you’ll recall fondly the commanding presence of quarterback Jacoby Brissett, who opened the night’s scoring with with a nine-yard dart pulled in by Cody Hollister in the end zone. Brissett kept the Pats close with a 14-yard touchdown toss to Austin Carr in the second quarter, then led a second-half comeback that included a well-timed, perfectly-arced 12-yard lob to Devin Lucien plus two late field goals to take a short-lived lead. New England ended up losing, 40-38, but everyone watching figured that, with such a performance (28 of 39, 341 yards, four TDs, one rush TD), Brissett had bolstered his NFL future.
By now, you all know the story: not one player I mentioned above was on the team’s 53-man roster as of Labor Day. Last Saturday, every league roster parred down from 90 players in a purge big enough to satisfy Stalin. As one savvy tweeter noted on Amy Trask’s page, within five years, the NFL will make this a broadcast event. It certainly had the same feel as the old-school, noon-Saturday-starting-time NFL Draft, as teams set over 1,100 players loose.
A brief rundown of how Bill Belichick and Co. trimmed their personnel, using last Thursday’s game as a backdrop. You’ll excuse me if I focus too much on back-end roster guys, as i’m always interested in how those decisions go down.
If You Love Somebody, Set Them Three: I will miss you, Mr. Brissett. It certainly felt comfortable having a viable play-caller in the number three slot, but the Patriots brass figured that adding a rabbity receiver would help them on offense more than a backup’s backup. Hence, Brissett goes to the Colts (where, as difficult as it may be, New England fans wish him well) while Phillip Dorsett comes to Foxboro. Dorsett hasn’t done much in Indy to live up to his first-round draft status, with 51 receptions in his two-year career (33 last year) and three total touchdowns. On the plus side? His 16.0 yards-per-catch average in 2017 approaches the rare atmosphere of New England’s Chris Hogan (17.9 ypc), signaling the possibilities of yet another deep threat to run alongside new Pats pass-catcher Brandin Cooks (15.0 ypc).
Though Dorsett has returned punts in his life (not since college, and then only sparingly), there’s little indication he’ll be doing so in Foxboro. For now, New England adds another quick receiver to help bolster the crew after losing Julian Edelman to injury. For the record, Dorsett ran a 6.70-second 3-cone at the combine, in the same quicksilver category as Edelman’s 6.62. You can watch a 2016 highlight reel of Dorsett here, where he uses his 4.33-second 40-yard speed to good use (and, unlike Edelman, almost never goes across the middle).
So, yes, a bummer to say goodbye to Brissett, while also intriguing to ponder the possibilities of the new guy. And speaking of new guys…
King Cole: Hunh. Cole Croston made it on the roster. We didn’t give the undrafted rookie lineman much of a chance, especially with sixth-round tackle Conor McDermott looking like a developmental project, but maybe our notes on last Thursday’s game should have told us something. McDermott failed to cut Giants defender Kerry Wynn on a slant pass, allowing Wynn to bat the ball, intercept it, and run it in for six points. The fact that cameras caught line coach Dante Scarnecchia tutoring McDermott (something along the lines of “that won’t cut it” crossing his lips) did not bode well. Croston, on the other hand, got very little air time, which proved a positive sign for the rookie lineman.
We mentioned Croston in our annual “Who’s The FA? UDFA!” column, which I heartily recommend as it covers not only the four UDFAs on the regular roster, but several of the players who made the practice squad. In any case, Croston played both left and right tackle at Iowa, and – fun fact – he punted in high school. For what it’s worth, you can watch a highlight reel of Croston as a junior playing right tackle vs. Purdue here.
Dude, Where’s My Carr? It’s tough to let certain guys go. Carr seemed like a solid choice to make the regular-season roster after collecting 14 passes for 153 yards and two touchdowns in four games. Carr had the potential to become a go-to guy – especially vs. zone defenses – but I guess he didn’t show the coaches enough in man-to-man coverage. CSNNE’s Mike Giardi said throughout the preseason that Carr lacked separation from defenders, an observation that held true against higher-end opposition. Interested to see what he does in New Orleans.
Of course, if Dorsett doesn’t catch on, and Carr has a few good games, then watch out for fan gripes – even though those two pass-catchers are about as similar as a cheetah and an ocelot. (Yes, we went to the zoo over the summer. Why are you asking?)
Aaannnd Twwwiiinnns! Funny how beer ad campaigns gain such momentum and then, just, die. You hear me, Budweiser frogs? Anyway, how about those Hollister boys? Tight end Jacob Hollister made the 53-man cut, while his twin brother Cody ended up on the Patriots practice squad. Jacob continued his strong preseason last week with four catches for 26 yards and a touchdown, compiling 12 receptions for 146 yards and a TD in August. I had blocking tight end Matt Lengel sticking on the roster, but it appears his injury and the need for a pass-catching TE got in the way. Jacob’s debut, a seven-catch, 116-yard effort vs. Jacksonville, actually meant something. And that could very well be the most meaningful performance by a Patriots tight end vs. Jacksonville since Benjamin Watson scored twice against them in the playoffs.
For his part, Cody caught two passes in two games, but the 6-4, 210-pounder has fought back from injury to add a bigger presence at receiver. On his last reception – the aforementioned TD from Brissett – the receiver snatched the ball and secured it like a grizzly nabbing a salmon. Good to see those two make it. They could force me to reconsider my opinion that twins are annoying, but they can’t make me overlook the duo on this season’s “Project Runway.” Indeed.
Four Play: All summer long, we heard about how the Patriots have a streak of signing undrafted rookies. We figured there’d be at least one (linebacker Harvey Langi seemed to fit, while Carr looked like a strong candidate); we never thought they’d bring in four. These include O-lineman Croston, tight end Hollister, Langi, and D-lineman Adam Butler. Looks like the “loaded” roster I’ve been talking about all summer needed a little extra loading from some unexpected sources.
Practice Makes Perfect? Though Carr and a few other heralded players got picked up by other teams (tight end James O’Shaughnessy to the Jaguars, cornerback Kenny Moore to the Colts), New England did manage to stock up their practice squad with solid backups and potential future contributors. One player that I thought got overlooked was rookie safety Demarius Travis out of Minnesota, who led the defense last week with 10 tackles, including a forced fumble that set up the Patriots’ first score. He’s a hard hitter who looked tough in run support and had 85 tackles for the Golden Gophers last season. You can see the entire Pats roster here and review the practice squad guys you’re happy they still have around. Offensive lineman Ted Karras (i.e., another reason why the Croston decision confused me) made it back to Gillette as an interior O-line backup. As for pass-catching running back D. J. Foster, I’ve loved that kid since forecasting him as a Seventh-Round Slot Receiver Guy for the Pats’ 2016 draft.
You never know how the P.S. will shape up over the next few weeks, but it’s nice to have players around who know the system.
Marsh, Marsh On Down The Field: Cripes, I forgot about the other trades. The Patriots swapped cornerback Justin Coleman for a Seattle seventh-rounder, then packaged that seventh with a fifth for Cassius Marsh, a special teamer/pass rusher who had three sacks in his third year with the Seahawks in 2016. The 6-4, 245-pound edge defender had 22 tackles last season and 28 in 2015. It will take a few weeks to see where he fits, but for now he can contribute on special teams and most likely use up some reps normally taken by 6-3, 250-pound linebacker Shea McClellin, who went on IR this week.
Here’s a highlight reel of Marsh’s remarkable day vs. Miami a year ago, where he had a special teams tackle, a blocked kick, and a strip-sack. Young man’s got a lot of potential. The Patriots thought enough of him to invite him for a pre-draft visit back in 2014. (Hat tip to Mike Reiss of ESPN for that tidbit.)
You Take The Good, You Take The Bademosi: There you have the facts of life – as Coach Belichick said, you have to give up something to get something. New England got defensive back/special teamer Johnson Bademosi for a 2019 sixth-round pick from Detroit, which seems like the ultimate Wimpy barter in putting off payment. For now, the Patriots have a special teams guy who totaled 22 tackles last year and also got his only career interception. The 6-0, 200-pound Bademosi came out of Stanford in 2012 and offered up a speedy 4.39 40 at his pro day, along with a 40-inch vertical.
High School Fun Fact: While at Gonzaga High in Silver Spring, Maryland, Bademosi was one of the top rugby players in the country, making the U-17 and U-18 national teams. Bademosi had to give up rugby to accept his scholarship to Stanford. Here’s a piece on Bademosi discussing rugby during the summer of 2016 when Patriots rugger Nate Ebner represented the U. S. in Rio.
Will these new Patriots even get on the field tonight? Tough to say. In terms of what team this will become, we won’t really know anything until about a month from now.
Just a few notes on the final preseason broadcast of 2017…
Here, There, Everywhere: Two beefs with Christian Fauria’s commentary, both involving young players. One, I lost track of how many times he said something along the lines of, “If they don’t make it on this team, they’ll have other opportunities.” We know, man. We’ve experienced NFL preseasons before. Two, it seemed like Fauria had a strange compulsion to praise Cyrus Jones, lauding him on one play despite his getting blocked to the inside and losing contain, commenting that he “didn’t give up on the play.”
You know what? I’ll stop there. Jones is done for the year. Let’s hope he heals up well and is ready to go in 2018. As for the Kraft Productions crew, some positive moments included Fauria’s analysis of the McDermott missed block (and showing the exchange between him and Scarnecchia), as well as Matt Chatham and Dan Roche combining for an exquisite Caddyshack reference with about five minutes left in the game.
I look forward to watching this group again. I’m sure, once we get into the regular season, I’ll be longing for their local color as I listen to CBS’ number-two or -three crew talk about how Edelman got hurt, or how Malcolm Butler went undrafted. And now for a gratuitous look at the Tyree catch… Yeesh.
Not It: Went to see Dunkirk over the weekend. An amazing film that will get nominated for many, many Oscars and will definitely win Best Sound. Harrowing and compelling narrative of a chapter of history I knew very little about. Anyway, before the movie I saw the preview for It, where a little boy’s toy boat goes into the street drain and Pennywise the clown is there telling him to go ahead, take it.
Nope. No. No, thank you, Pennywise. Keep the goddamn boat. Let me tell you – I never do this – but I actually took out my phone and looked at it to distract myself from this preview. I just – No. Not happening.
It’s gotten to the point where the term “scary clown” has become redundant.
Do It Again: If you haven’t seen “Do Your Job, Part II,” I’m jealous of you. It’s all impressive, but one part in particular stuck with me. Reviewing the Patriots’ defensive plays after Julio Jones’ superhuman catch that got Atlanta within field goal range, coordinator Matt Patricia explains his reasoning behind every call. First down? They’re going to run it. Devin McCourty wraps up Devonte Freeman for minus-one yard. Then, on the most controversial play call of the night – second and 11, 3:56 left, from New England’s 23-yard line – Patricia gets a sneaking suspicion that Atlanta is going to pass. As QB Matt Ryan would say later, “We play the way we play,” and that meant passing, which meant a call for pressure from Patricia, which meant a sack by Trey Flowers. (Said play resulted in my favorite YouTube Super Bowl reaction video featuring a gambler who questioned its wisdom.) And then …
… You know what? I’m not even going to tell you about how the coaching staff had prepped for their defensive call on third down. I can only call it remarkable that a penalty that seemed merely fortuitous by those of us watching had actually been foreseen due to this group’s preparation. These guys go into more detail than a Britains painter. Remarkable.
Talkin’ ‘Bout My Squirrel: While “DYJ2” provides an in-depth look at coaching prep that any football follower will appreciate (except maybe Falcons folks), the NFL Network offering of “America’s Game” seems like it was made exclusively for Patriots fans. Though I’m not sure about using Edelman’s children’s’ book “Flying High” https://julianedelman.com/products/flying-high-book (about a football-playing squirrel) as a narrative framework, the final 10 minutes – with its scenes of post-game realization, elation, and hugging – are a must-see for New Englanders.
And now, some commercials to review…
I’m Sure There’s A “Gronk Likes Double-Ds” Joke Somewhere: Not a huge fan of the latest Dunkin’ Donuts ad featuring Rob Gronkowski dancing with Odell Beckham, mostly because I get annoyed with the pretend coffee sips actors do on commercials, and Gronk is the main offender, here. I mean, everyone can tell that cup’s empty. Would it kill anyone to put some water in there? Plus, Dunkin’, your new slogan is “This Is Coffee”? What is this, Repo Man?
Feeling Blue: Have you seen JetBlue’s new ad that simply shows words across the screen saying, “Snackadelic,” then, “Enjoy free, unlimited snacks and soft drinks.” That’s all I need. Thank you, JetBlue.
See, Dunkin’? That’s keeping it simple while actually saying something. Not like, “This Is Plane.”
Dew Not Try This At Home: I know I’m getting old when I watch a Mountain Dew commercial featuring a skateboarder and my most pressing thought is Where is this kid’s helmet? But, seriously: kid should wear a helmet.
The Wreck Of The Fitzgerald: You’re not the only one broken up about Edelman’s injury. Here’s the chock-full-of-cameos Pats Fans 2017 season preview, aka “Sh!t Pats Fans Say.”Great to have you back, Fitzy. Now GFY.
Not Likely: Does anyone else think that, if they needed to give Dion Lewis a break, New England could switch in Will Likely and pull off a real The Eagle Has Landed switcheroo? Likely, a 5-7, 180-pound cornerback out of Maryland, wore number 33 on defense last week and looked a lot like the 5-7, 193-pound Lewis (for what it’s worth, Fauria agreed with me). The Pats cut Likely but might consider bringing him back for a try at punt returner, their signing of Demarcus Ayers to the practice squad notwithstanding.
Opponent Mascot Name Etymology: The Patriots host the Chiefs. The word originates from the Latin caput, meaning “head.”
Man, the more I do these things, I more I realize how spoiled Patriots fans are. I mean, who doesn’t want to be a patriot? Plus, it’s regional-appropriate.
Opponent Site Name Etymology: Kansas City and Missouri come from Native American languages. The Native American Kansa tribe (plural Kansas) come from that area, while “Missouri” is a Sioux word meaning “town of the large canoes.”
Mix Tape Song That May Or May Not Prove Relevant: “I Forget It All (When I See You)” by Wire Train, because after the 2016 banner comes down, the 2017 Patriots come out onto the field. Time to turn the page. Let’s Goooooooo!
Prediction: Listen, we all know Kansas City coach Andy Reid manages the clock about as well as Harold Lloyd, but he’s strong at game prep, and the Chiefs went 12-4 last season. The Patriots could start off slowly, having to come down from a real emotional high seeing that fifth banner hanging up in Gillette. Without Edelman, it will take some time for the offense to get going, but the Patriots should win a close, well-fought game.
Seven months after the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history, New England takes the field again, for real. Here’s hoping for another banner year.
Chris Warner will be busy over the next few weeks watching “Do Your Job, Part II” and “America’s Game” on a loop. You can email him at email@example.com or tweet @cwarn89.