New England Patriots: What We've Learned Through Week 4 of Preseason
We are less than a week away from the New England Patriots' prime-time kickoff of the regular season, and we finally have a ruling on Tom Brady's suspension for Deflategate.
It's an exciting time to be a Patriots fan.
The upcoming game against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Brady's suspension are not the only matters that surround the Patriots right now. Quite the contrary, there's a significant deadline for the cut down from 75 players to 53 that looms on Saturday at 4:00 p.m. ET.
There's also the matter of a few key injuries, some of which players are on track to recover from and others that the Patriots must figure out how they will respond to.
In either case, there are plenty of developments coming out of Patriots camp right now.
Tom Brady's Suspension Has Been Overturned
Justice has been served.
According to the Associated Press, Judge Richard Berman has decided to nullify the league's four-game suspension of quarterback Tom Brady in the Deflategate court case.
The Patriots will have their franchise quarterback in the fold for Week 1, which means that barring an injury, Brady will participate in all 16 regular-season games for the seventh straight year and will participate in his 14th straight regular-season opener (the longest active streak of any quarterback).
This isn't completely over yet, as the NFL has announced that it will appeal Judge Berman's ruling. For now, though, Patriots fans can let out a sigh of relief and celebrate that they will have their quarterback for the entirety of the 2015 season.
All those whispers of another team potentially unseating the Patriots atop the AFC East may have to die down once again, at least for one more year.
The Patriots Are Not Completely Content at Wide Receiver
With Brandon LaFell, Julian Edelman and Aaron Dobson all nursing injuries, and with Brian Tyms already on injured reserve, the Patriots are not standing pat (no pun intended) at wide receiver.
The Patriots traded a conditional draft pick to the New Orleans Saints for wide receiver Jalen Saunders as reported by Adam Schefter of ESPN, which indicates that the Patriots are less than 100 percent confident in the depth they have at wide receiver.
Of course, that's a point that is hammered home even further by the team's signing of wide receiver Reggie Wayne last week.
The Patriots cut ties with third-year wide receiver Josh Boyce, who had also been earning some opportunities on special teams, so Saunders' ability to return kickoffs and punts could be an added bonus to his acquisition. He also fits the archetype of a slot receiver, with a diminutive frame at 5'9" and 165 pounds and the quickness to run those quick-cutting routes over the middle.
That being said, he has to make the roster before any of that becomes legitimate discussion.
Julian Edelman Is Close to Returning
Wide receiver Julian Edelman suffered an ankle injury on August 2 and has not been seen at practice since then. According to Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald, though, "the feeling is he is really close to returning."
Edelman is the team's chief slot receiver and is arguably the most important receiver in the offense for his role, knowledge of the system and chemistry with quarterback Tom Brady. Thanks to his knowledge of the offense and his chemistry with the quarterback, it is much more important to get him healthy for the regular season than it is for him to get reps in the preseason.
Over the past two seasons, Edelman has caught 197 of the 285 passes thrown his way for 2,028 yards and 10 touchdowns. The Patriots do not have another receiver who even comes close to the total of receptions. The closest is tight end Rob Gronkowski with 121.
The Patriots offense is obviously much better off for having quarterback Tom Brady for the first four games of the year, but it won't operate at maximum efficiency until Edelman is back in the fold at 100 percent.
Michael Hoomanawanui Could Be the Man Who Fills the Fullback Spot
Fullback James Develin broke his tibia, and the team subsequently placed him on injured reserve. The Patriots didn't seem to value the fullback position very much, if at all, until Develin came around. So with Develin out of the mix, that should continue.
That being said, do not be surprised if tight end Michael Hoomanawanui mans the fullback spot from time to time. He filled in at fullback in the Patriots' Week 3 preseason game against the Carolina Panthers and has been spotted there in the past.
The Patriots have three capable tight ends in Hoomanawanui, Rob Gronkowski and Scott Chandler. Any of the three could be lining up in the backfield to fill that void in the offense, but as the third tight end on the depth chart, the fullback spot may be Hoomanawanui's best chance of getting onto the field.
Who knows what kind of workload that role will equate to, but it probably won't be much.
There Will Be an Odd-Man out in 3rd-Down RB Role
It feels odd putting this in "what we've learned" because we haven't truly learned who will be the odd-man out in the battle over the Patriots' third-down role at running back.
The only thing that's clear is that it will be someone. Between LeGarrette Blount, Jonas Gray, James White, Travaris Cadet, Brandon Bolden and Dion Lewis, there's no way the Patriots are keeping everyone. There's more excess weight at the third-down role than elsewhere, so that appears to be the spot where someone will be cut.
White was drafted in the fourth round as a potential heir to Shane Vereen, but he has struggled to make an impact. He carried the ball 17 times for 35 yards (2.1 yards per carry) in the first two preseason games and did not make an appearance in the third preseason game. He did, however, catch five passes for 72 yards in the first two preseason games. Cadet was earning reps as the third-down back earlier in training camp and the preseason, but he was sidelined by a hamstring injury in the first three preseason games.
Lewis has taken advantage of the shortcomings of both White and Cadet. That could mean one, or both, will be on their way out at the final 53-man roster cut down.