New England Patriots: What We've Learned Through Week 2 of Training Camp
Two weeks of training camp practices have come and gone for the New England Patriots. The first preseason game is on the horizon. Bill Belichick and the coaching staff will certainly gain some knowledge of their players when they face off against the Washington Redskins, but they've already learned so much.
What rookies are impressing? Are free agents fitting in? Which positions have the fiercest battles for playing time? Who is working at multiple positions? Do the Patriots need to get help at a position?
All these questions—and more—have already begun to be answered after a few short weeks behind Gillette Stadium.
Here are eight things we've learned so far about Belichick's charges.
James White Most Impressive Rookie
Rookies—by design—aren't granted a lot of attention by Bill Belichick in the public forum. Any accolades they do receive need not be taken with salt. When Tom Brady starts praising you before you've even played a game, you might be doing some things right (per Jeff Howe, Boston Herald):
He’s got a real maturity for someone who is just getting out of college. He’s made a lot of really great plays out here. We’re all trying to work to get better, and we’re all trying to make improvements. We can all do it.
The young players need to come out here and keep working hard, and he’s one of those guys who has been out here every day so he’s been able to do that. He’s been able to make a mistake, get the correction, come out again and not make the mistake the next day, so it’s been great.
White's ability to learn from his mistakes will greatly appeal to a teacher like Belichick. Other rookies are still working on correcting their mistakes.
Jimmy Garoppolo has struggled over the first couple of weeks, while Dominique Easley is still working on getting into the mix after recovering from knee surgery. The three offensive linemen drafted have been a mixed bag—more on them later—but none seem poised to supplant any incumbent starter.
White, however, might just bully his way past veterans like Brandon Bolden to secure some snaps alongside starters Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen.
Options Abound on Offensive Line
The starting center and right guard for the New England Patriots remains one of the biggest question marks entering the season, but Bill Belichick has definitely seen that there are plenty of legitimate answers.
Joining veterans Logan Mankins, Ryan Wendell, Dan Connolly and second-year player Josh Kline are two rookies—center Bryan Stork and guard Jon Halapio—that look like they can develop into solid NFL players. How long that takes, however, remains to be seen.
If they take longer than a couple of preseason games, that might add to the job security of a player like Connolly. Mike Reiss from ESPN.com dispels the notion that Dan Connolly's cap number might cause him to be released:
I’ve wondered if Connolly’s $3 million salary might be too rich for the Patriots, especially with second-year guard Josh Kline coming on strong. But the picture changes if Connolly is ultimately viewed as the best fit at center, a tough-to-fill position that he played at a high level in 2011.
If Stork isn't ready to take over, but the Patriots want to get younger inside, there is an option. Have Mankins and Kline man the guard positions, while Connolly plays the pivot. Stork can take some time to learn, while Halapio can challenge Mankins and Kline in 2015.
Darrelle Revis and Bill Belichick Getting Along Smashingly
If you were wondering how a player who once called Bill Belichick a "jerk" would handle playing for him, Darrelle Revis—and Belichick—seems to be handling it quite well.
Nick Solari from NESN.com had some of Revis' comments on playing for his new coach:
Revis, who signed a contract for one-year, $12 million with the Patriots during the off-season, said Friday that head coach Bill Belichick is willing to listen to the 29-year-old’s suggestions anytime. “You know, Coach Belichick is very open about football,” Revis said after training camp on Friday night.
“It’s football talk. He’s very open about it, and you can go to him about anything.” Revis says he’s willing to do whatever it takes for the team to win, and that’s what talks between he and Belichick are centered around. “We’re just trying to get ready and get prepared,” Revis said. “Anything that’s best for the team, that’s going to put us in a position to win. That’s all we try to do: football talk.”
Revis and Belichick talking football can only result in good things for the New England Patriots. When one of the best cornernbacks of this millenium and a creative defensive mind like Belichick start scheming, opposing quarterbacks should start worrying.
Look for Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia to give Revis a lot of responsibility early on and let him earn his $7 million salary this year.
Tom Brady Doesn't Have It Easy in Practice This Year
As porous as the New England Patriots secondary has been over the last few years, it is no wonder that Tom Brady has struggled to stay sharp against top defenses in the league. This year, however, the tables have turned.
Doug Kyed from NESN.com had comments from Brady on playing against tough cornerbacks—Revis and fellow newcomer Brandon Browner—in practice:
Tom Brady was grilled on the star cornerbacks on Thursday after the Patriots starting quarterback threw a pick-six to Revis in practice. Brady is quickly realizing that he has less room for error in practice this summer. “They’re both great players, so when you make a mistake, they make you pay, and I think that’s the mark of a really good corner,” Brady said Thursday at Gillette Stadium after training camp.
“As a quarterback, you’re always trying to find the weak link in the defense, and neither of those guys are weak links. Sometimes, we’ve got to go after them, (and) we’ve got to try to see if we can make a play. But like I said, if you miss a little bit, they end making the play. It’s great work for us, and you understand what you’re up against.”
The mantra has always been that Brady's favorite receiver is the open one. This training camp is giving him practice in completing passes and making plays when none of his receivers are open. Few teams can boast guys like Logan Ryan and Alfonzo Dennard—two of the better young cornerbacks in the league—as their No. 3 and No. 4 corners.
When Patriots receivers are being covered by lesser corners during the season, the sharp edge that they will have acquired practicing against their own defense will come in handy.
Zach Moore Making Strides
Pass-rushers drafted by the New England Patriots after the first round haven't been living up to the hype as of late, with Jermaine Cunningham, Jake Bequette only the beginning of a long list of failures.
Fans want to see that trend change.
According to Lee Schechter of ESPN.com, sixth-round draft choice Zach Moore is doing just that:
With the starters watching from the sidelines for the bulk of practice, reserve offensive and defensive linemen took the reps. Rookie defensive end Zach Moore (6-foot-6, 275 pounds) showed his potential with an impressive speed rush under the arms of rookie Cameron Fleming.
He then followed it up with a powerful push to beat second-year offensive lineman Chris Barker while lining up on the other side.
While Moore has his work cut out to make the jump from Division II Concordia to New England and beat out the likes of Bequette, Will Smith and Michael Buchanan for snaps, it is encouraging to see that he is able to make plays against NFL-caliber talent.
Moore will likely spend the year as a healthy scratch, but the future is bright.
Change at Quarterback Could Be Looming
After spending two Day 2 draft picks to supplement Tom Brady at the quaterback position, you wouldn't think that the New England Patriots would be working out free-agent signal-callers. According to ProFootballTalk.com, however, Brady Quinn did just that.
“It went well,” Quinn said. “In this particular situation, though, they need something to happen in order for me to possibly be there.”
That "something" could be a trade or an injury.
As relayed by ESPN's Mike Reiss, Bill Belichick commented on his team's current quarterback situation and seemed pleased with what presently is in place:
We feel like we have a good quarterback situation. I think there are a lot of teams in the league that maybe don't feel that good about that position, and that’s not a good position to not feel good about. We feel very good about the players we have at that spot.
With Ryan Mallett a free agent after this season, Belichick could be looking to deal him for a late-round pick if the right situation arises. However, Jimmy Garoppolo has done nothing to show that he is ready to play in the NFL.
The Patriots would need to have a veteran quarterback like Quinn in place to be Tom Brady's No. 2 if Mallett were moved.
Patriots Embracing New Technologies
Therefore, when new technology makes it way into Gillette Stadium, I take notice.
While it probably wasn't Belichick's doing, Ben Volin of the The Boston Globe commented on some new technology that the New England Patriots fans will be able to use this season:
The Patriots will be one of 17 teams this fall to install Zebra Technologies’ real-time location system in the stadium, giving fans at the game access to real-time tracking information, such as a player’s position, speed, acceleration, and distance traveled. Players will have tiny transmitters placed inside their shoulder pads and will communicate with Zebra receivers installed throughout the stadium.
“It’s exciting to partner with an innovator like the NFL, where we will provide real-time data and information to coaches, broadcasters, and fans to enrich the game experience,” said Anders Gustafsson, CEO of Zebra Technologies.
With the new coaches offices, training facilities and meeting rooms available in New England, it will be interesting to see how Belichick and his staff integrate this or other technological advances installed. If there is anyone in the league who can leverage information into an advantage, it is Belichick.
Rumored Safety Work for Logan Ryan Comes to Fruition
With the departure of Steve Gregory this offseason, cornerback Logan Ryan was one name floated around as a possible contributor at safety across from Devin McCourty in 2014.
Adam Kurkjian of the Boston Herald tipped off fans to the fact that Ryan did see some time there:
Logan Ryan, coming into his second year with the Patriots' secondary, had some looks at safety at Wednesday's training camp session.
Used primarily as a cornerback as a rookie last season, Ryan, who led the team with five interceptions, sees no issue with the possible expansion of his role.
"Yeah, anything they throw at me, defensive back-wise I'm comfortable with. ... There's been wrinkles (of safety work) here and there, but nothing too significant."
As Ryan alluded to, his safety work looks more like emergency planning than job training at this point. Bill Belichick, who once practiced Troy Brown and Julian Edelman at corner, always like to be prepared.
With Brandon Browner serving a four-game suspension, Ryan will almost certainly start the season at corner. After Browner is integrated back into the scheme, however, Belichick can get creative with where he deploys the versatile Ryan.