Patriots Preseason Thoughts Heading Into Game Three

Some thoughts on the local footballers as we prep for the third game of the 2015 preseason – often referred to as the “full scrimmage” of the four-game summer slate. So far, the Patriots have lost to Green Bay and beaten New Orleans, all of which means next to nothing. In terms of individual performances and positions, though, their upcoming scrimmage at Carolina could provide some answers.

Speaking of which…

No Wright Answer: When New England waived tight end Tim Wright in June, a few local pundits scratched their heads. (We agreed with ESPN.com’s Mike Reiss calling it “a mildly surprising move.”) Wright had solid, if unspectacular, production for the Patriots last year with 26 receptions, making his mark in the red zone with six touchdowns. It seems that the higher-ups at Foxboro figured they could do better. Of course, when you’re starting out with over 13 feet and a  quarter ton of tight end between Scott Chandler and Rob Gronkowski, maybe there’s some leeway for the “move” TE.

We certainly liked the potential of rookie A. J. Derby (you can read our draft review here), but with him on injured reserve, the outlook becomes less shiny. The team traded for Asante Cleveland, who got tossed around vs. the Saints like a stuffed animal at a play date. The Pats used him mostly as a blocker, but after watching that game, I wondered if Cleveland could block a one-man play about FDR.

Could they consider Jimmay Mundine? Maybe. He’s smaller (actually listed as a fullback on NFLDraftscout.com) and quicker than Cleveland. He also had experience in Kansas under former Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis. Plus, it’s always fun to say Jimmmaaaaaaayy. Or, they could eschew the “move” TE role and look for a bigger receiver instead. Still curious as to why they let Wright go so early.

Dealing With A Sense Of Shane-lessness: Last year, Shane Vereen caught 52 passes for 447 yards and three touchdowns. While no one running back might replace those numbers, the Pats did well to draft James White, who has looked the part in two preseason tilts with five reception for 72 yards. Dion Lewis got into the act last Saturday, catching five balls for 36 yards and one rushing TD. Veteran Travaris Cadet has gotten back on the field and may have a chance to show what the team’s been missing for the past few weeks. Though seemingly not as efficient a blocker as the other two, Cadet has gotten positive reviews for his receiving skills.

In any case, it seems that letting Vereen go to the Giants (where he will absolutely thrive, by the way) won’t hurt the Patriots all that much. At least until he lights them up in the Super Bowl. God damnit.

Boyce Will Be Boyce: Oh, poor Josh Boyce. So athletic. Such a standout practice player. Just can’t seem to get it together on the field. With myriad injuries to New England’s receiver crew, Boyce had a chance to take over this summer and rule the preseason. Instead, the past two games have showcased names like Chris Harper (12 receptions, 117 yards) and Jonathan Krause (nine for 75). Brandon Gibson looked sharp (12 for 97), but his season-ending knee injury – plus the fact that Brian Tyms got put on IR – would seem to open up Boyce to even greater opportunities as a fourth or fifth receiver.

Except for one thing…

Blame It On The Wayne: Now, the Pats have brought in Reggie Wayne, for more than just swapping age-appropriate stories with Tom Brady, we assume. Friday night could provide a window into New England’s intentions for Wayne, be they as a short-yardage pass-catcher, third-down conversion specialist, red zone target, or all of the above. Fun to find out how much Wayne has left in the ol’ Batmobile.

Yeah. Boyce. Maybe they’re saving him for something, but if I were his friend, I’d keep him away from any Magic 8-Balls: “Outlook Not So Good.”

Interior Motives: The preseason starting offensive line, which – if there is a God and He is just – will NOT make up the starting front in September, has provided some ups and downs for the offense. Undrafted rookie David Andrews has spent many snaps at center in Bryan Stork’s absence, showing solid potential if not current readiness. The rookie guard set of Shaq Mason and Tré Jackson has provided some spotty support with more room for improvement than an abandoned warehouse. Veteran Ryan Wendell reportedly got back on the practice field Tuesday, which should provide some much-needed stability.

In any case, interesting to see what Bill Belichick goes with for his starting line on Friday night.

Uncon-Vinced: Oh, Vince Wilfork. We miss you every time you show up on “Hard Knocks.” Talking your talk, dispensing advice, always seeming to have a good time. After watching Vince, by comparison, J. J. Watt seems like a total stiff. While Wilfork emits sincerity and couldn’t care less about having the cameras around (filing rough patches on his feet, squishing his shoes so that sweat bubbles up out of the tongues), Watt seems super conscious of people seeing and hearing him. (Drew Magary touched on this in his “Why Your Team Sucks,” 2015 Houston edition.)

Anyway, New England went with youth, so watch the kiddoes on their D-line. Dominique Easley and Malcom Brown both come up several cookouts shy of Wilfork’s weight (at 285, Easley’s missing about half a cow), but each has shown some strengths so far this preseason. After suffering a knee injury last year, Easley appears to have gotten back some of his trademark quickness, while Brown has demonstrated occasional field savvy that has helped him break up plays. See if they can show improvement on Friday.

I Was Ryan When I Met You, Now I’m Tryin’ To Forget You: You know, Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner signed elsewhere this off-season.

Hey, who’s dead horse is this? And why are we hitting it with axe handles?

We won’t spend too much time on this (maybe we’re already past “too much”), but beyond Malcolm “Go” Butler, the tryouts for starting defensive backs have seemed a bit hit or miss. Logan Ryan has been talked up as a potential starter opposite Butler, and his output has proved about as consistent as a drunk bartender’s Long Island Iced Teas. On one play he’ll reach in and knock away a third-down pass. On the next series, he’ll get burned for two consecutive first downs.

As the Patriots go with something close to game conditions for their third preseason game, let’s see if Ryan can mix it up with receivers and make things flow smoothly. Because, you know, their defensive backfield personnel is different this year. *sigh*

A Means To An Ends: Once again, rookies. Trey Flowers might be back from injury after a solid first game vs. Green Bay. Geneo Grissom has been moved around more than that Patrick Nagel print you’ve had since college. Xzavier Dickson has ended up at the right places when he’s gotten to play. Considering New England already has a starting rotation of Rob Ninkovich, Chandler Jones, and Jabaal Sheard to platoon (or not?), these rookies will have a tough road to playing time. It starts now, and the more they can do, the more flexibility this defense will have.

And Coach Belichick likes his defense more flexible than the numbers from an Exponent report.

Wait, how did we end up here?

A Final Note On Deflated Footballs (Not Likely): One question amidst all the hullaballoo. How does this make football better? In our July column on getting rid of the PSI rule (called “That Song By Queen And David Bowie”), we pointed out the merits of leaving a football’s air pressure up to the ref’s discretion before and during a game. As this insanity continues, we still wonder how it helps to take measures (pun intended) to ensure proper air pressure. No one has ever cared about this. No one should ever care about this.

In 2006, Brady and Peyton Manning lobbied for QBs to be able to bring their own doctored footballs to away games. In the following years, both Brady and Manning have broken NFL records for passing touchdowns. Remind me how this is a bad thing?

Oh, it’s not? Right.

Ditch the rule, dump the silliness. Now let’s play football.

Chris Warner can be emailed at [email protected] or tweeted at @cwarn89

That Song By Queen And David Bowie

Come on. You know what song I’m talking about.

As Roger Goodell and his NFL ilk try to figure out the ruling on Tom Brady’s appeal with the smallest amount of P.R. damage, it’s time to bring up the one aspect of this foolishness that hasn’t been called into question:

The NFL has to ditch the football inflation rule.

Listen, they can do whatever they want with the Brady appeal. They can present it to the masses like a commandment to be followed or make it into a paper boat and perform a mini Viking funeral. The rule, as it were, exists. If the NFL is willing to stick with the questionable figures of the Wells report and ignore the lessons of any ninth grade intro to physical science class, so be it. “More likely than not,” “generally aware,” etc.

But, moving forward, it’s time to get rid of – or at least greatly expand – the ball inflation parameters. A brief look at the task of enforcing this rule – which, as far as we can tell, had never been strictly enforced – tells us the reasons why.

Every football must have air pressure between 12.5 and 13.5 pounds per square inch (psi). The Wells report revealed the nonchalant nature in which these measurements take place, with officials using differently calibrated gauges while neglecting to write down measurements or numerate the footballs themselves.

All footballs must be numbered. All measurements must be recorded. All gauges must be calibrated. Sounds like we might need another official to take care of these matters.

The NFL must hire a Head of Football Pressure. He then must hire two PSI officials for every game, one for each team’s footballs (this will give each official necessary time to take halftime measurements).

Now, about that pesky science: we know that a football’s pressure in Miami at the season opener will have a different halftime reading than a football in Green Bay during Week 17. We need a physics-trained football official (PTF), one who can take game time outdoor temperature, humidity and/or dampness of each ball, time of possession (to figure time of exposure for each football), halftime indoor temperature, and – while the aforementioned PSI official takes measurements – come up with a “real” pressure loss or gain for each individual ball.

Keep in mind, the Wells Report took almost four months. But, if we can’t get a couple of people to figure this all out in 20 minutes, let’s just expand halftime another five or ten minutes and bring in another handful of officials to get it done. How about a PSI and PTF official for each football? Nothing like a few dozen extra guys milling about in a designated Ball Science room.

I mean, if they’re taking this seriously, can they stop at halftime? Don’t they have to repeat the process at the end of each game, for integrity and all that?

Yeah. Time to get rid of that rule.

Before this past January, very few people knew or concerned themselves with the specifics of football psi. Referees judged a football’s game worthiness by giving it a squeeze. Sometimes they’d pump it up themselves, sometimes with shaky results. Now, what if equipment managers could get the psi that their QBs wanted? What if they let the refs grip them before the game – right there on the sideline – and be done with it?

Ball seems too flat or overinflated? The officials say so and ask for a few pumps of air put in or taken out of the ball. During the game, if the ref finds a ball lacking, he tosses it back in and asks for another. It’s hard to see many difficulties with leaving the pressure up to the refs’ discretion. We already do that with the most important aspect of the game: spotting the ball.

Think about it: how closely can a human being determine the position of a football several feet away while it’s gripped by a runner getting knocked around by large men? If the official is off by one inch per play – which seems remarkably efficient – then by fourth and inches, maybe every one of those inches has already been accounted for. Maybe, in Perfectworld, it’s already first down.

That’s the game, though. We live with those potential inaccuracies because putting GPS locator devices in each ball and having a digital readout for each play would prove too costly and time-consuming. Kind of like hiring hundreds of new officials and building a science lab in every NFL stadium.

Some teams might try to take advantage of this non-rule by inflating footballs to under 11 pounds, making them easy to grab in harsh weather conditions. Again, officials’ discretion: if they feel a football is too soft, get another one. If they feel that the team in question continues to provide soft footballs, give a warning, then hit them with a delay-of-game penalty.

The NFL in general (and Goodell in particular) turned a silly rule infraction (that science has told us may not have occurred) into talk show fodder where the outrage seemed inversely proportional to actual football knowledge. That an improbable breaking of an oft-ignored rule became “-gate”-worthy is on them.

Getting rid of that rule would take off the pressure of trying to enforce it. But I don’t expect they will. If this fiasco has taught us anything, it’s that the NFL doesn’t really understand pressure.

Chris Warner tweets @cwarn89

Who’s The FA? UDFA! (2015 Edition)

A gander at last year’s column here, with notable mentions of linebacker James Morris and a certain West Alabama cornerback who may or may not have made one of the biggest plays in Patriots history. (Go on. Go ahead: Watch it again. We’ll wait.)

Lots of info out floating around out there regarding UDFAs. We tend to stick with NEPatriotsdraft.com for all our NFL undrafted rookie signing needs. Below is a rundown of fresh free agents the Patriots called to Gillette. Plus: high school fun facts!

Georgia On My Line: After picking up two guards in the fourth round (Tre Jackson and Shaq Mason), New England continued to add to the interior offensive line with center David Andrews from Georgia.

Why undrafted: At 6-2, 295 pounds, Andrews resides on the smaller side of offensive lineman. This was also a solid drafting year for guards and centers, taking on-the-bubble players like Andrews out of the action.

Why invited: He has three years of experience as a starter. Makes up a bit for his relatively diminutive stature with speed (5.12-second 40) and strength (27 bench reps). Showed consistency, playing in 50 games in his Georgia career. From a positive Pats perspective, he was given the Frank Sinkwich Toughest Player Award (named after Georgia’s 1942 Heisman winner). Also voted the Bulldogs’ “overall permanent captain.” Somewhere Bill Belichick let out a happy sigh.

High School Fun Fact: At Wesleyan High in Johns Creek, Georgia, Andrews was named the 2010 Gwinnett County Offensive Lineman of the Year.

Come On, Quarterbacks Can’t Play Receiver: Former Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner (6-3, 218) tries to follow in the footsteps of another QB-to-WR convert currently working in the Foxboro area.

Why undrafted: Julian Edelman notwithstanding, the aforementioned conversion fails more often than not. As a QB in 2014, Gardner threw for 10 TDs and 15 INTs. At his pro day, he ran a 4.65-second 40, which put him on the slow end of receivers. His 9-foot, 9-inch broad jump was less than explosive.

Why invited: The Pats aren’t exactly overstocked with larger pass-catchers, and Gardner did haul in 16 passes as a junior. He showed guts with his 2013 performance  vs. rival Ohio State (passed for 451 yards and four TDs). Also put up some solid pro day numbers beyond the 40 (Beyond The 40, by the way, should be the title of the book on New England’s draft strategy). He had 15 bench reps and a 6.96-second 3-cone drill.

High School Fun Fact: Gardner was teammates with former Wolverine and current Patriot linebacker Cameron Gordon at Detroit’s Inkster High.

Wait – Is That Pronounced “Hopper”? Well, now it is, sort of. Cal-Berkeley pass-catcher Chris Harper (5-11, 182) gets a shot with the Patriots, looking to add depth as a slot receiver.

Why undrafted: During this draft, teams had their pick of solid wide receivers (Draft. Pick. Get it?), especially those in the slot role. Even as a smaller player, Harper’s weight (or lack of it) could concern some teams. While he has decent stats (see below), nothing there stands out. A down year for 5-7 Cal, with no players drafted.

Why invited: Harper caught 52 passes for the Golden Bears in 2014 (second-highest on the team) for 634 yards (12.2 avg) and six touchdowns. He also served as their main punt returner (7.7 avg). He has decent speed (a 4.52 40 at his pro day), and quickness (a reported 7.03 3-cone drill). Also – and most importantly – he made this rather Gronkesque catch vs. UCLA last October.

High School Fun Fact: As a senior, Harper led the Serra League in receiving at Crespi Carmelite High. He also played cornerback and was ranked as the 12th-best corner in Southern California.

Come Back to the Nickel and Dime, Jimmy Jean, Jimmy Jean: Free safety Jimmy Jean out of Alabama-Birmingham adds some height to the defensive backfield at 6-2, 202 pounds.

Why undrafted: The NFL seems to overlook Conference USA a bit. More importantly, Jean had an unimpressive showing at his pro day, with a meh 40 (4.58), blah 3-cone (7.34) and yeesh bench press (seven reps).

Why invited: Jean did some of everything for the Blazers, compiling 42 tackles, one interception, six pass breakups, one forced fumble, and two fumble recoveries. He’s also got the height New England could be seeking this season.

High School/Junior College Fun Fact: After attending Blanche Ely High in Pompano Beach, Florida, Jean played two years at Arkansas Baptist Junior College, where he earned their Little Rock Touchdown Club 2012 College Player of the Year Award.

You Come At The King, You Best Not Miss: New England went after – and got – another bigger defensive back, strong safety Brandon King (6-2, 217) out of Auburn.

Why undrafted: Though he went into Auburn as a safety, ranked as one of the top junior college DBs in the country, it seems that King got moved around on defense for the Tigers. Didn’t compile many stats there. Ended up with just 12 tackles on the season last year.

Why invited: Took one for the team in 2014, as he was asked to take on a pass-rushing role (had two QB hits). Tested very well at his pro day, with a 4.49-second 40, a 10-foot-6 broad jump, and 19 bench press reps. Has similar size to draft pick Matthew Wells, which makes us think that Belichick is up to something with these safety/linebacker hybrid types.

High School Fun Fact: As a senior at Thompson High in Alabaster, Alabama, King racked up 116 tackles, including 21 tackles for loss.

While We’re Young: Looks like Shane Young out of Sam Houston State will try to get a chair at the increasingly crowded tight end table this summer.

Why undrafted: Not anything in particular. As in, not particularly fast (4.90 40), nor particularly quick (7.45 3-cone), nor particularly explosive (31.5-inch vertical). Young (6-3, 250) only played in three games last year, catching four passes. Sam Houston State runs in the Southland Conference, which is part of a lower division (FCS).

Why invited: Caught 11 passes for 151 yards and two TDs as a junior. Went to the FCS National Championship with the Bearkats that year. Can play H-back and fullback.

High School Fun Fact: A captain at Lago Vista (California) High, Young was named the offensive line MVP. He was also All-District in baseball.

He’s A Brick, House: Ah, the Commodores. Appropriate reference for Vince Taylor, a defensive lineman from Vanderbilt who manned the nose tackle spot.

Why undrafted: At 6-1, 306 pounds, Taylor seems a bit small for the position. Does not have much speed (5.40 40) or quickness (7.46 3-cone). Vandy went 3-9 last year, 0-8 in the Southeast Conference.

Why invited: We’ll refer again to the “Brick House.” At his pro day, Taylor bench-pressed 225 pounds 36 times, which would have led all defensive linemen at the NFL Combine and tied for second-best overall. Last fall, he had 43 total tackles, including 20 solo stops and three for loss (1.5 sacks).

High School Fun Fact: A First-Team All-State defensive tackle as a senior at Oak Grove High in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Taylor had 97 solo tackles (117 total) and returned a fumble 55 yards for a touchdown.