The Patriots were an amazing 61-19 over the last five years despite the staggering amount of injuries the team suffered through. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady’s bunch traveled to the AFC Championship in each of the past five seasons despite their struggles with health. An amazing record considering all the adjustments the Patriots had to make.
Learning From Last Season’s Mistakes
Brady hasn’t lost his step (or arm) and seems to be ready for another dominant campaign. It’s still not known whether or not he will be the starting quarterback week one. If the suspension is upheld, Brady will have time to prepare and teach as much as possible to his younger backup Jimmy Garappolo.
For the Patriots, this year’s draft highlighted some of their weaknesses from the past season. With Brady’s increasing age, Belichick is stocking up his offense with plenty of options to choose from in camp.
It’s also great to see reports of Gronkowski and Lewis returning to practice. Interestingly enough, Lewis is not wearing a knee brace. That would suggest he is pretty far along in his recovery process, it’s likely that he has been working very hard to return.
Here's Tom Brady completing a deep pass to Martellus Bennett pic.twitter.com/ZHfHvIlgWY
— Mark Daniels (@MarkDanielsPJ) June 8, 2016
Martellus Bennett serves as an impressive replacement for Chandler. Marty has the ability to also help in the run game: Chandler did not excel at run blocking. With a dual threat of Bennett and Gronkowski, defensive units across the league will have their hands full. It’s reasonable to believe that New England has likely created the best tight end tandem in professional football.
There are multiple other tight ends vying to make the roster or practice squad. Michael Williams was one of them until he tore his ACL a few days ago. Some of the other names at tight end include A.J. Derby, Steven Scheu, and Bryce Williams. Clay Harbor is also in the mix.
Who Makes the Cut : Tight End
Most NFL teams keep three tight ends on the active roster. The Patriots will undoubtedly choose: Gronkowski, Bennett. The third is likely a toss up between A.J. Derby and Clay Harbor.
At the wide receiver position, both Edelman (foot) and Amendola (knee and ankle) continue to heal from their off-season procedures. Without specific details of the surgeries, it’s difficult to speculate how long each player’s recovery process may take. In the long run, it could serve the Patriots well. With both players missing more time, coaches will be able to give opportunities to some of the younger players.
— Around The NFL (@AroundTheNFL) June 7, 2016
Chris Hogan also joins the wide receiver group from Buffalo. Hogan is the type of wide receiver that Belichick admires: tough, physical, and Hogan can catch the football consistently. If Hogan is the player he’s advertised to be, he’ll be quite the upgrade from Brandon LaFell. JoJo struggled to even catch the most simple passes before being released this off-season.
Veteran receiver Nate Washington also signed with the Patriots for this upcoming season. Keshawn Martin, Chris Harper, and DeAndre Carter are all also in the mix. Rookies Malcolm Mitchell and Devin Lucien join the team after being drafted as rookies this April. Disappointing and often injured Aaron Dobson is still with the Patriots, and this could potentially be his last camp with the team.
malcolm Mitchell >>>>> pic.twitter.com/D3yTrgDt10
— Skrap Briles 🚀 #N’KealHarrySZN (@WestCoastNole) June 13, 2016
With a solid group of four wide receivers like Edelman, Amendola, Hogan, and likely Malcolm Mitchell, there will likely be a hard cut or two or three in this group. Nate Washington’s future with New England likely revolves on his health, and whether or not he still has speed. Aaron Dobson has been unreliable in his time with the Pats. With younger talent on board now, it’s possible the Patriots move on from Dobson. Carter and Harper are probably least likely to make the team. Martin provided some important production when Brady was out of targets last season. He was certainly more impressive than Harper.
Who Makes The Cut : Wide Receiver
Most teams will look to keep six active wide receivers, while some dress five. My top six would include: Edelman, Amendola, Hogan, Mitchell, Lucien, Washington. Any of the other players could potentially be signed to the practice squad. The Patriots will move on from Dobson unless he stays 100 percent healthy, and really impresses Belichick this summer. If not, the final roster spot is likely a toss up between Keshawn Martin and Nate Washington. That roster decision will likely depend on how much speed and agility Nate has left.
The competition is very encouraging to see at this position. The Patriots found themselves without reliable receivers downfield far too often in 2015. Hopefully this pushes the receivers to perform at an even higher level this upcoming season.
In the offseason, there was a rumor every week that a big name back was considering the Patriots. As usual those reports never came to fruition.
The Patriots resigned LaGarrette Blount to a new deal. It’s troubling that he is an older back that just had a hip procedure. However, Belichick wouldn’t sign a soul if he didn’t believe they could still perform. Dion Lewis returns from an ACL tear. Hopefully he proves to be more than a one year wonder. It’s always a crap shoot when running backs return from a major knee surgery. Behind those two are James White and Brandon Bolden. Both have proved they can catch and run, but they don’t possess much ability within the tackle box running north and south.
The Patriots didn’t add much at running back, so LeGarrette Blount may get a lot of touches in 2016.https://t.co/spURAzlJXb
— SB Nation NFL (@SBNationNFL) June 14, 2016
In the third tier of running backs there is Donald Brown, Joey Iosefa, Tyler Gaffney and UDFA fan favorite D.J. Foster. Everyone seems to be talking about Foster. He might be a prime developmental practice squad player to have in the organization until further notice.
If Blount can’t return to full speed, the Patriots will again be without a north-south back.
Who Makes The Cut : Running Back
Most NFL teams carry a total of four active runningbacks. It would pretty much seem to be a lock that the Patriots keep Lewis, Blount, White, and Bolden as their primary four. All have been extremely productive in their roles with the team.
It’s unlikely that Donald Brown, Joey Iosefa, or Tyler Gaffney makes the 53 man roster. D.J. Foster is someone I’d like to study more before counting out. If Belichick had to choose between White/Bolden vs. Foster, he’d almost definitely pick Bolden due to his special teams contributions.
Bolden and White provided so many options out of the backfield I have difficulty seeing Belichick drop either two. Brady likes quick passes and running backs that don’t drop the ball. These two guys are pretty good at catching and running.
One other wildcard to consider: Can Blount/Lewis still perform at the same level post procedure? It would completely shake up the running back competition if one or both struggle. And probably not in a good way.
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) June 11, 2016
Two years ago it was Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. Last year it became Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan. Ryan isn’t one of the best cornerbacks in the league, but he is very solid. Butler continues to get better and better, didn’t even miss a game last season. Many doubted that he had the ability to perform as a number one cornerback, and those doubters have now vanished.
It’s likely that Butler and Ryan are Belichick’s top two cornerbacks on the board. However, Ryan was mysteriously absent during practice and OTA’s. He is heading into the final season of his contract. At the NFL Draft, Belichick managed to land one of my favorite players available: Cyrus Jones. Jones is a student of Nick Saban at Alabama and is a very explosive player. You may remember more of Cyrus Jones from kick/punt returns than defensive play. He possesses the ability to be an NFL kick returner in the future. On the other side of the field, Justin Coleman returns for another year with the Patriots. From what I’ve studied in limited appearances, Coleman has looked good to me. He strikes me as a potential late bloomer. He is 23 and the Patriots are his third team. His scouting report is very impressive.
Cyrus Jones looks like a starter https://t.co/gV3FQ8jsr8
— Jeff Howe (@jeffphowe) June 14, 2016
The Patriots have a pretty solid level of competition at this position. The starters are likely locked in for the foreseeable future. The backup cornerback positions won’t be settled until well into the summer. Other cornerbacks listed on the roster include Jonathan Jones, Darryl Roberts, E.J. Biggers, Cre’von LeBlanc, and V’Angelo Bentley.
Who Makes The Cut : Cornerback
It’s obvious that Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan are likely the starting cornerbacks for the Pats this year. Also expect to see plenty of Cyrus Jones this season. Jones already possesses the ability to play right away. Justin Coleman will likely be the fourth cornerback dressed on game day.
Darryl Roberts was a media favorite during practices last year. Roberts landed on the IR right near the beginning of last season due to an injury. Some believe that he is the favorite to battle Coleman for the fourth cornerback position on the depth chart. There are also positive reports coming out of Foxborough about Jonathan Jones of Auburn. He was a rookie undrafted free agent this spring after the draft.
It’s difficult to predict what Belichick may do with certain positions due to special teams implications. Some of the rookies may have more special teams value over the other, which will of course open up a new roster spot for that player. Those players would be listed as their original position, like Matthew Slater and “wide receiver.”
— Charley Casserly (@CharleyCasserly) June 8, 2016
That’s right! The best, and most exciting position in the game, last. At this point in the season, line combinations do not mean much. Scar is still likely figuring out who works well together, and probably still doesn’t have all the rookies’ names memorized. I’ll attempt to piece together my own version of the line through tape and what I’ve previously seen.
Nate Solder returns from a very aggravating torn bicep injury that kept him sidelined for a good majority of this past season. Sebastian Vollmer is a proven NFL vet that usually plays on the right side of the line. Solder plays the left, Vollmer the right. That is at least pretty solidified.
Marcus Cannon returns for another year. Another ride on the roller coaster with this guy. Hopefully he can improve on his 2015 campaign, because last year couldn’t have been any worse. Cameron Fleming is also competing for a position. He is fighting to break through, and has previously seen work in heavy run packages. LaAdrian Waddle was a player who broke through as a starter last year, to only be injured shortly thereafter. He’ll look to bounce back this season and capitalize on new opportunity. Keavon Milton is perhaps one of the bigger longshots to make the roster right now. He has bounced around team to team a few times already.
After tackle, it will be extremely interesting to see who wins the center starting job. Bryan Stork led the Patriots to a Super Bowl win as a rookie. David Andrews was forced to replace him the first few games of last season. Andrews played so well that Stork ended up playing some tackle at times.
— NFL Total Access (@NFLTotalAccess) May 27, 2016
Josh Kline and Joe Thuney can both snap and play center. Ideally they will be at guard if the season goes as planned. Kline is an NFL vet, while Thuney was just drafted this year. Thuney plays all three offensive line position but his frame is most well suited for playing guard in the NFL.
At the guard position, sophomore guards Tre Jackson and Shaq Mason will have the opportunity to set themselves apart from the new players and rookies like Jonathan Cooper, Ted Karras, and Chris Barker.
Some teams play with as little as seven lineman dressed, some with up to ten. Usually somewhere around nine.
Who Makes The Cut : Offensive Line
There is no doubt that Solder starts at left tackle, with Vollmer at right. This is when it becomes much more complicated, especially with a new offensive line coach in Foxborough.
I’d have Bryan Stork was my starting center. Take the guy who has experienced and won a Super Bowl. David Andrews is very good though.
When Tre Jackson and Shaq Mason came into the league it was apparent that Jackson was a much more well rounded lineman. Mason was more of a mauler, his technique wasn’t as strong, and he was used to run blocking a majority of the time at Georgia Tech. Shaq’s nastiness is something I really like, but Tre Jackson wins one of the guard positions this season. If I had to name a second starting guard today, I’d pick Josh Kline due to experience and see how it would work out.
Look for the Patriots to trade either Andrews or Stork at some point. They are both text book centers. With Thuney’s ability to play multiple positions there is no need for two centers.
Ted Karras is a long shot to make the team. He looks like a developmental guy right now. Practice squad potentially. No idea what to think of Jonathan Cooper yet, haven’t seen enough of him Chris Barker, Milton Keavon, or LaAdrian Waddle.
More from Foxborough soon. Only 87 days until NFL RedZone.
Last season added insult to injury. Let’s take a quick look back.
Mile High Meltdown
After last season’s disappointing AFC Championship defeat, the Patriots packed their bags and moved on to 2016. Despite a strong grip on the AFC’s first seed, Bill Belichick downplayed the importance of home field advantage and allowed Denver to make a late push above New England in the standings. With a historically bad record at Mile High, many raised concern about such a conservative strategy. The decision would prove costly. At the same time, the Patriots injury bug continued to spread.
The Perfect Storm
— Broncos Selfie (@broncosselfie1) March 30, 2016
It was a perfect storm for Peyton Manning and the Broncos. Denver had struggled offensively but won many games in 2015 through strong defensive play. Most fans and analysts believed that Brady would be able to outscore Manning. Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski were healthy for their second matchup of the year. With an old, run down quarterback without an arm, Denver looked like they could be beat.
Sheriff’s Last Ride
But the Broncos had other plans. Their quarterback was on his final ride, trying to capture a ring on his retirement tour. Denver built a fearsome game plan to keep Patriots quarterback Tom Brady as uncomfortable as possible in the pocket as possible, while creating havoc on his offensive line. Brady would be hit a record 20 times throughout the game, according to Ben Volin of the Boston Globe. It was easily the most any quarterback was hit during the entire season.
Peyton Manning on second Super Bowl ring and when he plans to wear it.
— Phil Milani (@philmilani) June 13, 2016
The 2015 Patriots were a team capable of winning a Super Bowl, but many factors came together to halt the dream of repeating as NFL Champions. At first glance, it’s easy to blame injuries. But this is professional football; injuries are simply a part of the game. Coaches and general managers are required to build the most well rounded roster as possible, and take into account injuries as the season progresses.
Belichick’s Early Blunders
The head coach uncharacteristically swung and missed at important junctures of the season. Scott Chandler was signed in the off-season to play alongside Gronkowski. It was anticipated that Chandler could step in for the oft-injured Gronk if he was forced off the field. Brandon LaFell had finally seemed to prove he was a legitimate downfield option, having a career year during the Patriots Super Bowl run. Dion Lewis would come out of nowhere, and he found himself to be an instant fan favorite. Lewis would take over the starting job, and managed to consistently replace Shane Vereen’s production.
Patriots Mailbag: Logan Ryan, Scott Chandler Among OTA Standouts http://t.co/GnmqhJPGDk
— Doug Kyed (@DougKyed) June 12, 2015
Looking back to April 2015, the Patriots visited the draft looking to fill a massive gap in their defensive front. Malcolm Brown was drafted out of Texas and was looked upon to develop into the next Vince Wilfork. Some of the other most notable picks were at offensive guard. Tre’ Jackson and Shaq Mason were looked upon to provide new blood within the interior offensive line.
Patriots Appear Super Bowl Worthy Early on
When completely healthy, the Patriots looked like a freight train. Tom Brady was his usual self from day one. Brady had a full bunch of targets to choose from, and there was even premature conversation about the team going undefeated.
— Andrew Siciliano (@AndrewSiciliano) December 2, 2015
Despite the hot start, there were still plenty of warning signs that the Patriots would have difficulties further into the season. Ryan Wendell was elected captain of the offensive line would miss the first five games, and only manage to play in two other contests due to an undisclosed illness. Center Bryan Stork wouldn’t be able to return from a concussion until week eight. Brandon LaFell also would not be available for the first five games of the season. Unsung and underrated fullback James Develin would break his leg in fall camp, and be placed on season ending injured reserve. Aaron Dobson was placed on reserve after an ankle injury early in the season. The fourth/fifth wide receiver Brian Tyms also joined the IR alongside Dobson. The injuries were already piling before the season began.
Offensive Line Overwhelmed
The offensive line was immediately in question. The group had both young and veteran talent in addition to developmental players. Stork and Wendell’s injuries created playing time for younger players like Mason and Jackson. The early shuffling of Brady’s line was only the beginning. By season’s end, there would be 39 different offensive line combinations, 11 more than any other team.
In week five, left tackle Nate Solder tore his biceps and his season was instantly over. Solder is the sixth highest paid left tackle in the NFL. The injury would give substantial playing time to Marcus Cannon who was likely one of the Patriots’ worst players this past season.
Dion Lewis hopes to "have fun" in Sept. …Looks dwarfed here by the Patriots OL pic.twitter.com/FfQGJ06AF7
— Steve Balestrieri (@SteveB7SFG) June 14, 2016
L’Adrian Waddle was their only other option at tackle, and he also became injured by the end of the season. To make matters even worse, Sebastian Vollmer was carted off at one point during the season but luckily returned to play against Denver. Josh Kline would also fight in and out of the lineup due to a shoulder injury.
Despite all of the trouble at the tackle position, the Patriots hold a wealth of talent in the interior of the line. They drafted both Shaq Mason and Tre Jackson a year ago. David Andrews played exceptionally well when Bryan Stork was concussed. The biggest improvements need to come from the two tackles heading forward.
Injuries Begin to Snowball
VERY LOUD EXPLETIVE REGARDING #PATRIOTS, THEIR BAD O-LINE, POOR SECONDARY, AND LACK OF COMPETENT RECEIVERS.
— Jake Bryan (@CoachBryan21) December 27, 2015
What once appeared to be an all-time Patriots team, would quickly begin to falter as a result of the many different ailments that afflicted the roster.
While the offensive line was certainly one of the most affected positions, the injury plague would continue to sweep through the entirety of the locker room.
Running Out of Backs
James Develin’s injury is one of the most over looked out of the several season ending injuries in 2015. Develin proved to be an impressive running game specialist, often making important blocks in the season prior. He would not play a single down. Breakout star runningback Dion Lewis tore his ACL in week nine.
Good news for LeGarrette Blount: He did not need surgery on his season-ending hip injury, per source.
— Jeff Howe (@jeffphowe) January 27, 2016
Super Bowl champion LaGarrette Blount would take over duties and suffer a season ending hip injury in week 14. Veteran running back Steven Jackson was signed late in the season but never had a single impressive outing in his time with the Patriots. James White and Brandon Bolden lacked an inability to run between the tackles. Tyler Gaffney’s season was already over due to injury (but likely wouldn’t have seen significant time anyway). By the end of the regular season, what was once a formidable running game, became entirely non-existent.
Brandon Bolden played in 15 games, which was the most by any running back. James White was right behind Bolden at 14 games. Blount appeared in 12, and Lewis only seven.
Chandler Flops, Gronk Escapes Disaster
At the tight end position, the Scott Chandler experiment was a complete and utter failure. He was expected to make significant contributions to the Patriots offense but failed to deliver when his number was called. On November 29 against Denver, the entire season felt like it may have ended in one play. Rob Gronkowski was hit low in the knees, writhed in what appeared to be significant pain, and was carted off the field. Luckily the injury proved to be minor. The superstar tight end would return in time for the playoffs.
— Globe Sports (@Globe_Sports) December 5, 2015
Rob Gronkowski appeared in 15 games in 2015. Scott Chandler also appeared in 15 games, but he has since been released from the team.
With Gronk serving as perhaps the most important weapon in Brady’s arsenal, the Patriots had a wealth of offensive targets at receiver (or so it first seemed). No. 1 wide receiver Julian Edelman was in the middle of another outstanding season when he broke his foot on November 15. He would not return until the postseason. Danny Amendola served as perhaps the most durable and consistent pass catcher for Tom Brady until he fell to injury on December 20. Amendola would fight through the season with damage to his knee that required surgery this off-season.
— Ratty (@HeyRatty) October 26, 2015
LaFell returned to Foxborough last season after proving his worth during the Super Bowl run. LaFell never seemed to catch up to speed after beginning the year on the IR. He struggled to even catch the football during large portions of last season. Dobson and Tyms were placed on the injured reserve before the season began and couldn’t contribute. Wide receivers Brandon Gibson and Josh Boyce would also be on reserve before the season ended.
— Sean (@Seanlifi617) January 29, 2016
By the end of the regular season, Brady was throwing to previously unknown wide receivers like Keshawn Martin and Chris Harper. The injuries to kick game specialists like Edelman and Amendola forced Harper to serve an important role on the return team in Denver. Harper would muff a punt, and Denver would eventually recover. The muffed punt was a major momentum swing, helping the Broncos serve the Pats a loss on the road.
The Patriots’ defense had its’ own fair share of injuries. Athletically gifted and explosive linebacker Jamie Collins missed portions of the season with an undisclosed illness. With experience as a nine year veteran, Tarrell Brown was expected to be one of the Patriots starting cornerbacks in 2015. He would never fully recover from foot surgery and would be placed on injured reserve on October 17. Rookie Darryl Roberts impressed the media and coaches in camp but was on injured reserve with an injured wrist by September 1st. Defensive ends Trey Flowers and Rufus Johnson also went to the reserve due to injury. Tackles Dominique Easley and Chris Jones joined Flowers and Rufus, also out for the year. Dont’a Hightower battled through injury throughout the season and was only available for 12 of the regular season games. Hightower was a huge loss whenever he was not on the field. When healthy, Hightower has been one of the most vital parts of the Patriots defensive unit. 2015 was unfortunately the last go around for Jerod Mayo. For the third straight season, the team captain ended the year on injured reserve. Devin McCourty was also injured during the latter half of the season. He recovered from his high ankle sprain in just a few weeks.
— Thomas Emerick (@ThomasEmerick) January 21, 2016
Malcolm Butler did an outstanding job throughout the entire season as the number one cornerback. He managed to play in all 16 games along with other defensive players including Rob Ninkovich, Alan Branch, Logan Ryan, Malcolm Brown, Jerod Mayo (IR after game), Duron Harmon, and special team specialist/captain Matt Slater. Patrick Chung only missed one game, along with Chandler Jones (traded to AZ).
Last Man Standing
The only consistent feature of the offense last season was Brady. The veteran quarterback played in every single game, and took punishing blows as the team continued to unravel. Brady was the sole offensive player to start every contest. Even a quarterback who is considered to be one of the greatest to play the game, struggled to piece together the war torn Patriots toward the end zone.
Hobbling Toward the Playoffs
A total of 21 players would have season ending injuries that caused them to be moved to injured or season ending reserve.
The Patriots would soon find themselves completely unable to run the football. Their offensive line unit was decimated, and no one could replace Nate Solder. All of the tackles went through their own struggles at various inconvenient points of the season.
Man Games Lost, an injury tracking website, showed that the Patriots have had the third most injuries in the NFL over the past five seasons. Only the Colts and Giants had more players miss time. Over that time period, both teams combined for a record of 80 wins and 80 losses.