Despite Additions, Ninkovich Saw 1st Unit Reps
For the first time since February, the New England Patriots assembled on the field as an entire unit this past week as they participated in Organized Team Activities (OTAs) in Foxboro. For some it was the first time strapping on the flying Elvis, and for others, like Donté Stallworth and Jabar Gaffney, it meant a return to the Gillette Stadium practice fields.
It also meant the first chance of the offseason for the media to get a look at these players and get a small sample of them in a Patriot uniform. Based on some observations, here are some players whose stock should be going up.
For a defense that was so vulnerable to the pass a season ago, any positive notes in the defensive backfield would surely be welcomed.
Cornerback Ras-I Dowling was back as a full participant at Thursday morning's OTA session after spending all but two games last season on injured reserve with a hip injury. Health has always been a question mark for Dowling even before the NFL, so to see him already back on the field in full-action at these voluntary OTAs is a very promising sign.
According to Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston, at one point Dowling was even able to run stride for stride down the field with WR Brandon Lloyd, something Dowling should feel very good about at this point in his recovery.
Bill Belichick obviously thinks very highly of Dowling, starting him in both of his first two career games despite missing much of training camp. If he can remain healthy he should once again compete for a starting job in what appears to be turning into one of the biggest competitions to watch come training camp in July.
When defensive end Trevor Scott signed with the New England Patriots in March, not a lot of fans took note. However, at this point he is really the proven pass-rusher the Patriots can put out on the edge, something Bill Belichick apparently noticed.
Andy Hart of Patriots Football Weekly observed that Scott was often used at right end on the first defensive unit throughout Thursday's OTA session.
The Patriots may have drafted Jake Bequette and Chandler Jones to get after the quarterback, but until they show they are capable of that at an NFL level, Scott may be the benefactor. He was tied for the lead in sacks on the Raiders in each of his first two seasons. Now he will look to have early success once again with New England.
Gone are both Mark Anderson and Andre Carter (at least for now) so there are two roles to be filled. Scott, it appears, is at least going to get a crack at one of them.
With the Patriots adding many bodies to the defensive side of the ball this offseason, a name you often heard as possible collateral damage was Rob Ninkovich.
Though he played extremely solid and has grown as a player during his tenure in New England, the influx of talent made it appear as though Ninkovich's role would take a step back. At this point in the game, that has yet to happen.
Bill Belichick included Ninkovich at right end on his starting defensive line Thursday morning that included Vince Wilfork, Kyle Love and Trevor Scott according to Andy Hart of Patriots Football Weekly. Belichick seems like he is running the defense like a high school would—when in doubt give the spot to those with seniority.
The young players like Markell Carter, Chandler Jones and Jake Bequette are going to have to rip jobs out of the hands of players like Ninkovich and Scott to earn starting roles. Scott and Ninkovich may not start opening day, but for now, their stocks are looking good.
Brandon Lloyd was assumed to be a perfect fit in the Patriot offense after prior success working with Josh McDaniels. Thursday's OTA just showed everyone that assumption was correct.
According to Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald, Lloyd displayed something the team sorely needed last season—an ability to make plays outside the numbers.
Anyone who had questions as to whether he would fit in with this offense, even though he essentially already had the past three seasons, should be silenced now. Just ask Lloyd himself. During an interview after the session concluded, Lloyd was asked whether or not it would be a difficult system for him to pick up.
His very cut and dry response, "No."
To say the Patriots finally have the successor to Randy Moss may be a stretch, but Lloyd may be the second-best receiver Brady has ever had at his disposal on the outside.
Let's be honest here, Wes Welker's stock has never exactly been low, but with his contract dispute casting a shadow over his playing status for so long, the sheer fact that he was out there for voluntary OTAs was good to see for Patriots fans.
For a player viewed as a leader and such an essential part of the offense, things like OTAs are important. It is never good when the team goes into full-team activities missing its star players. Welker's presence keeps a key cog in place, and also gave the team a first chance to look at what the full receiving corps will look like in 2012.
Welker's stock and personal situation may not be any better going into future seasons, but at least for one more season, the Patriot offense will enjoy his agility and ability to move the chains.