Winners and Losers of Patriots' Offseason So Far
As the New England Patriots begin their mandatory minicamp experience Tuesday morning, the second half of the offseason will commence. In late July, 90 players will report to Foxborough for training camp. Prospective Patriots have already begun staking their claims.
Some youngsters have made names for themselves at OTAs, while various veterans have already started to fit in.
Not every player has been so lucky. Poor play is hard to pick out without pads on, but players unable to suit up have lost valuable opportunities to practice, learn and impress their coaches. Here are winners and losers of the nascent offseason so far.
Winner: Josh Boyce (WR)
It would seem that the last thing the New England Patriots need is another short wide receiver. Josh Boyce's speed, however, is bringing a different gear to the offense.
Mike Reiss from ESPN.com sang Boyce's praises during OTAs:
The speedy Boyce (5-foot-11, 205 pounds) flashed the ability to make plays in limited action last season, appearing in nine games (179 offensive snaps) and totaling nine catches for 121 yards. He also had nine kickoff returns for 214 yards (23.8 average) with a long of 41 yards.
After being used sparingly through the first 11 games of the season, Boyce was thrust into a greater role in early December, but any momentum he had built was stunted by an ankle injury sustained Dec. 15 in a road loss to the Dolphins, which landed him on injured reserve.
Healthy again, he’s back on the right track and has been taking repetitions as a top kickoff returner in OTAs, while also showing up in the passing game. (We counted 3 TD catches on Thursday.)
While it is only 7-on-7 practice without pads, Boyce is still getting open against a talented secondary and gaining the eye of Tom Brady. It will be interesting to see how much playing time he'll garner behind Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola.
Loser: Aaron Dobson (WR)
Aaron Dobson's molecular makeup might give him a unique size/speed blend that nearly guarantees him the "X" receiver position when healthy. However, his lack of health has prevented him from building chemistry with Brady this offseason.
Michael David Smith from Pro Football Talk has the unfortunate details:
Patriots receiver Aaron Dobson had foot surgery on March 10, and at the time, his recovery was expected to take 2-3 months. Now we’re more than three months beyond that surgery, and Dobson isn’t all the way back.
According to Nick Underhill of MassLive.com, Dobson is doubtful for this week’s mandatory minicamp.
Meanwhile, Boyce, Brandon LaFell and a host of others are making in-rows with Brady and perfecting their grasp of the playbook.
For Dobson's sake, hopefully the Patriots are trying to be overly cautious with the foot, rather than rushing him back for a June minicamp. If he misses the start of training camp, it is time to start worrying.
Winners: Steve Beauharnais (LB) and Jamie Collins (LB)
Experience is a funny thing. Quarterbacks can get it just by watching and listening, and nobody bats an eye, but defenders rarely do. Jamie Collins was baptized by fire as a rookie and responded well, playing his best football at the end of the year.
Steve Beauharnais, however, played only a snap. However, he has been singled out as a player who looks to have greatly improved—in his play and in his leadership—during OTAs.
Mike Reiss from ESPN.com was one of the members of the media who took notice.
Something that stood out to me late in practice was second-year linebacker Steve Beauharnais leading the defensive huddle with authority in 11-on-11 drills. I watched him put his hands on a teammate after barking out the play-call in a take-charge type of manner.
Beaurharnais, the seventh-round pick from Rutgers, is a candidate to elevate into a Dane Fletcher-type reserve role in 2014.
With Brandon Spikes and Dane Fletcher on new teams in 2014, Beauharnais joins a crowded group comprised of James Anderson, Josh Hull, Chris White and Ja'Gared Davis competing to be the first linebacker on in sub-packages.
Loser: Armond Armstead (DL)
While Beauharnais and Collins are building on their experiences from last year, Armond Armstead's mercurial injury status has prevented him from making many strides. He was a no-show for the last OTA practice open to media, and his status for minicamp is unclear.
If he is able to get on the field, Armstead offers the versatility to play 4-3 defensive tackle as well as 3-4 defensive end. In college and the CFL, he has shown the ability to shed blocks and stop running backs as well as applying consistent pressure to opposing quarterbacks.
We can debate Armstead's possible value to this team until Bill Belichick smiles again, but there is a simple truth: A player can't make the team from the training room.
Winner: Julian Edelman (WR)
He got the long-term deal (four-year, $17 million). He gets to play with Brady. He gets to practice against Darrelle Revis. Things couldn't have gone much better for Julian Edelman.
While Edelman probably wanted a little more compensation, $17 million is a big payday for a former Kent State quarterback drafted in the seventh round. He'll also be able to make more in endorsements close to his loving New England fans.
Playing with Brady prevents Edelman from having to learn a new offense or establishing rapport with a new quarterback. He can just show up and do his job.
Practicing against Revis every day will be daunting—although Edelman has reportedly held his own in 7-on-7 drills—but there isn't a better way to hone your skills. With Revis' help Edelman just might earn the extra $2 million in incentives found in his contract.
Loser: Alfonzo Dennard (CB)
An arrest has marred each of the last two offseasons for Alfonzo Dennard. While he has kept his nose clean off the field, he hasn't been able to smell the grass on it either. Doug Kyed from NESN.com has some wonderings on why not:
It was difficult to find answers for why Dennard missed OTAs. He dealt with shoulder and ankle injuries last season, but unless he had surgery to repair either ailment, he would have been working with the limited players during OTAs.
Dennard was nowhere to be found, however, so it’s at least possible he outright skipped the voluntary sessions. We’ll try to find out why he was absent, and it will be telling either way if the third-year cornerback is on the field for minicamp.
If Dennard did skip the sessions, I can't think of a worse (legal) decision. With Revis, Logan Ryan and Brandon Browner locked into the top four cornerbacks, he will be fighting it out with Kyle Arrington for the last shred of major playing time.
Giving up multiple chances to improve your game and get on the good side of your coaches is bad business.
Winner: Roy Finch (RB)
Undrafted running backs have a good track record of sticking with the New England Patriots. BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Brandon Bolden have done it as of late, and Roy Finch might be next in line.
One of the reasons Finch could unseat a player such as Bolden from the 53-man roster lies in his hands rather than his feet. Jeff Howe from the Boston Herald mentioned Finch's pass-catching ability in some of his OTA notes, and when you get Finch in space, he can be dynamic.
With Shane Vereen still not 100 percent following his wrist injury last year, it would be wise to keep another dynamic receiving presence who can come out of the backfield.
Loser: AFC East Receivers
I took a lot of heat—rightly so—for prematurely proclaiming that Bill Belichick had built the best secondary in the NFL.
However, Richard Sherman—not a slouch himself, just ask—nearly agreed with me. Via Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald, Sherman ranked the New England Patriots' secondary in the top three:
Man, I think they improved tremendously. They knew what they wanted to do and went out and got the best players available, and some of the best players in the football league to do what they need them to do.
I think they’re going to have specific roles for each one of them, specific role for Darrelle and specific role for Brandon that is going to allow their talent to shine. I think they’ll definitely be a top 2, top-3 secondary in football.
Sherman highlighted the two big free-agent acquisitions, but the depth they create in Dennard, Ryan and Arrington playing further down the line is just as helpful.
Dennard has struggled on No. 1 receivers, but he has shone against No. 2 and No. 3 options. Ryan will now have the flexibility to play wherever—inside, outside, safety—he is needed, while Arrington can concentrate on the slot.
The AFC East isn't known for being a receiving hotbed—the Buffalo Bills are trying to make waves, however—and don't expect receivers to gain much yardage against New England this year.