New England Patriots: Early Rookie Progress Reports
All progress reports for the New England Patriots' rookies should say "incomplete" at this point of the process, as the newly signed players have only completed a brief stint at rookie camp and a handful of OTAs.
That said, some players have begun to distinguish themselves from their peers, while others have started to fall behind.
Here is a way-too-early progress report for each of New England's 2014 draft picks.
Dominique Easley was not in attendance for the portion of OTAs open to media, opening up speculation about whether his knee was the reason for his inability to practice. Another potential culprit could be his contract. Jeff Howe from the Boston Herald explains:
First-round pick Dominique Easley and the Patriots were closing in on a contract agreement last week, but negotiations have since hit a bump in the road, according to a source. It doesn't sound like a deal is imminent at this point.
Easley, like all draft picks, can practice without a contract until the start of training camp, so the snag in negotiations doesn't impact Easley's ability to be at the facility or on the field. He's been practicing on a limited basis since reporting to Gillette Stadium two weeks ago.
As Howe mentions, Easley's contract doesn't prevent him from practicing, but combined with the knee situation, it might be playing a part. That said, it could just be Bill Belichick creating some mystery by holding Easley out during the media portion of practice.
It isn't a good situation when a quarterback who could be the future at the position misses practice, but extenuating circumstances were in play with Jimmy Garoppolo's absence. Ben Volin from the Boston Herald excused Garoppolo from practice with this note:
No, Garoppolo wasn’t in Foxborough practicing with his Patriots teammates on Friday. And while he has been absorbing his new playbook and the Patriot Way nonstop since being drafted three weeks ago, that wasn’t what was keeping him busy the last few days.
Instead, Garoppolo was in Los Angeles with 35 of his fellow rookies to participate in the Rookie Premiere, an event organized by the NFL Players Association that serves as an introduction into the business side of football. Held from Thursday to Saturday, the event helped Garoppolo and his peers realize that they’re in the pros now, and money and image matter.
Garoppolo was reportedly a great leader during rookie camp, so he certainly has the chops to come back to the team and make up for lost time. The missed time might serve as a small setback, but the former small-school quarterback has overcome harder challenges in the past.
Even before practice started, it seemed that Bryan Stork would fit in just fine. Howe from the Boston Herald had an interesting talk with one of Stork's former coaches at Florida State, offensive line coach Rick Trickett:
He’s a Patriot kind of guy. Show up to work, do your job, keep your mouth shut, do what you’re supposed to do. He loves football. He’s a tough kid. He’s kind of a throwback guy. He’s one of those guys that once he learns the system and gets to where he can work his way in, hopefully he’ll do a real good job for them.
Stork has already made some progress toward a starting position. Ryan Wendell took the majority of the reps at practice, but the rookie was right there behind him. If Stork can catch up to Wendell in training camp, his cheap contract could be the deciding factor.
Like Easley and Garoppolo, Cameron Fleming was unable to attend practice. An injury or photo op wasn't the issue, however. This time, an obscure rule was to blame. Glen Farley from The Herald News had the reason for Fleming's absence:
"Among the team’s draft picks, fourth rounder Cameron Fleming, an offensive tackle from Stanford, was also absent from Friday’s OTA. NFL rules prohibit Fleming from practicing with the Patriots until his class graduates."
Once Stanford graduates—June 15—expect Fleming to try tocatch back up. Former Patriots receiver Taylor Price faced a similar situation and never was able to recover. While the situation certainly isn't that dire already, Fleming can't afford to fall further behind if he is going to be able to contribute this season.
Mike Tanier from SportsOnEarth.com mentioned the New England Patriots as the second-best offensive line in the NFL. The depth afforded by rookies like Jon Halapio made that possible:
Depth is the Patriots line's secret weapon. Stork is a well-regarded prospect. Marcus Cannon is a massive super-sub who played well in place of Vollmer and others last year. Guard Josh Kline played mistake-free and opened some holes in a spot start last year, and rookies Cameron Fleming and Jon Halapio ensure depth-chart competition. Some teams may boast a more talented top five, but none can offer a more prepared and capable top eight.
Halapio might be a depth player this year, but he doesn't seem content with the designation. He reportedly saw plenty of action in OTAs, working at the same position—right guard—as incumbent Dan Connolly. If their performances are close, Connolly's large contract might cause Halapio to see the field earlier than some might expect.
It has been tough to develop the pass-rushers New England has drafted lately. Shawn Crable and Jake Bequette have been high-profile busts, while Markell Carter and Michael Buchanan certainly haven't lit the world on fire. According to Zuri Berry of Boston.com, Zach Moore isn't wasting any time trying to get over the hump:
"The pride of Concordia St. Paul, Zach Moore, backed up Rob Ninkovich at defensive end. He has the appearance of one who can both get up field and drop back, which is precisely the value that Ninkovich provides."
Ninkovich—who always seems to be in the right spot at the right time—is a tough player to pattern your game off of. He is equally comfortable at 4-3 defensive end with his hand in the dirt as he is standing up at outside linebacker.
If Moore reminds anyone of Ninkovich at this point, that is a good sign.
Hearing that an undersized—5'8" and 184 pounds—receiver with underwhelming speed is making strides on special teams should sound like beautiful music to the fans of the New England Patriots. It was not that long ago that Julian Edelman was in a similar position as a seventh-round selection out of Kent State.
While Gallon has a long way to go to just make the 53-man roster—let alone produce like Edelman has—special teams will be the key to securing a spot. Gallon's vision and ability in the open field will give him a chance to supplant LeGarrette Blount—now a Pittsburgh Steeler—on the kickoff return team and perhaps even Edelman and Danny Amendola on the punt return team.
The duo of veteran receivers is far too valuable to risk injury on punt return. Both have had injury problems in the past, and fate should not be tempted. Edelman could be used when a big play is needed, but using a younger, cheaper alternative seems prudent at this point in his career.
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