For a team that typically tries to keep a business-like low profile, the New England Patriots have had some rather noisy offseasons as of late. Last year, there was a ton of talk around the league about how the Patriots would prepare for a month without Tom Brady. This year, all the buzz has been about New England's free-agent and trade activity. There's a reason why the Patriots draw a lot of ...
For a team that typically tries to keep a business-like low profile, the New England Patriots have had some rather noisy offseasons as of late.
Last year, there was a ton of talk around the league about how the Patriots would prepare for a month without Tom Brady. This year, all the buzz has been about New England's free-agent and trade activity.
There's a reason why the Patriots draw a lot of attention from the collective football world, though. New England has an enigmatic head coach in Bill Belichick, one of history's all-time greats in Brady and is almost always considered a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Even in the offseason's dead period of July, there are stories buzzing around the Patriots.
With only a couple weeks remaining before training camp, we're here to examine some of the latest storylines and rumors surrounding the Patriots.
The Patriots didn't make a selection until the third round of the 2017 draft, and they used that first pick on former Youngstown State pass-rusher Derek Rivers. The rookie enters a crowded defensive-end rotation that also includes Kony Ealy, Trey Flowers and fellow rookie Deatrich Wise.
Rivers seems to know he'll likely be a role player in his first season, but he's eager to get onto the field.
“I want to play, obviously,” Rivers said, per Mark Daniels of the Providence Journal. “I definitely want to play, but I want to help. I want to get into my role and exceed at my role whatever that maybe. That’s what I want to do. I want to exceed in my role. I’m a competitor, and I want to win.”
If Rivers can get onto the field early and have an impact as a pass-rusher, it would be a major boon for the New England defense. While the Patriots did allow the fewest points per game last season (15.6), the team was tied for 16th in sacks with just 34.
Fielding a quality pass rush would make the New England defense even more dominant.
New England's big free-agent addition this offseason was cornerback Stephon Gilmore. The team signed the former Buffalo Bills standout to a massive five-year, $65 million deal—which means he's in line to be the team's new No. 1 corner, right?
Well, sort of. For now, Malcolm Butler is likely to remain the team's top pass-defender. If Butler leaves next offseason—he'll be playing on a one-year deal—then maybe Gilmore will move into that role. For now, though, Gilmore is likely to spend most of his time playing opposite Butler.
Gilmore, though, believes he may spend some time covering slot receivers, as Logan Ryan often did last season.
“I didn’t play the slot much,” Gilmore said of his time in Buffalo, per Andy Benoit of TheMMQB. “I’m pretty sure playing outside is harder. I’ll do whatever the coaches want me to do.”
In New England, cornerbacks tend to play a lot of man coverage. In 2016, Butler typically matched up with the opposition's No. 1 receiver, while Ryan covered the physical possession receiver. Sometimes, that took him to the nickelback spot.
Assuming Gilmore picks up where Ryan left off, he'll likely see multiple duties in New England's defense.
Because the Patriots rely on a lot of man coverage—and because the defense often utilizes numerous subpackages—opposing offenses will often try to confuse New England with the no-huddle offense.
Well, the Patriots defense is working this offseason to counteract other teams' no-huddle offenses. According to Mike Reiss of ESPN.com, Gilmore spoke at length on the topic during an appearance with 98.5 The Sports Hub’ Zolak and Bertrand program:
"Gilmore talked about the 'super-fast' pace in which the team practices. One example of this that showed up in spring practices: The no-huddle was a significant part of the agenda, as the coaching staff harped on players to substitute correctly and be on their toes mentally. When the defense struggled one day, unable to get the right personnel on the field quickly enough, they were sent on 'penalty' laps."
This is the benefit of having so much consistency in the Patriots organization. While other teams are busy installing new schemes or acclimating new players to the team, New England spends the early summer working on nuances.
The Patriots often keep opposing defenses on their heels with the no-huddle. It seems as if they want to make sure other teams can't do the same to them.
When the Patriots traded to acquire Brandin Cooks from the New Orleans Saints, they immediately added a new dynamic to the team's passing offense.
"Since I've owned the team, the only player that could make an impact like that at wide receiver was Randy Moss," Patriots owner Robert Kraft said of Cooks, per Mike Reiss of ESPN.com. "He doesn't have his height, but it looks like he has his speed."
Cooks joins an already talented receiver room that includes Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell and special-teams ace Matthew Slater. The team also signed Andrew Hawkins in free agency and added undrafted rookies Austin Carr and Cody Hollister.
Realistically, the Patriots are going to have to let a lot of wide-receiver talent go before the start of the regular season. Reiss believes that Cooks, Edelman, Amendola, Hogan, Mitchell and Slater are locks to make the roster. However, I wouldn't be surprised to see New England keep seven wideouts this year in order to hang on to the shifty Hawkins.
Guys like Carr and second-year man Devin Lucien should be candidates for the practice squad.
Everyone knows that Brady is one of the hardest-working men in the NFL. While he seems to be enjoying some downtime in early July, he's maintained at least some attention on football.
According to Kevin Dillon of MassLive.com, Brady brought wideouts Edelman and Amendola for "summer camp" in early July. While not all of the trio's activities appeared to be football-related, it appears—based on Edelman's Instagram account, anyway—that Brady and his teammates did spend some time working on a private practice field.
It probably shouldn't be all that surprising that Brady is finding ways to stay in the game even on vacation, considering how dedicated he is to his craft. However, it should make Patriots fans pretty happy that even while relaxing, their quarterback is finding ways to get his reps in.
Unfortunately, not every bit of buzz surrounding the Patriots has been positive. The early struggles of tight end Dwayne Allen—who was acquired from the Indianapolis Colts via trade—are a bit more worrisome.
According to Zack Cox of NESN, Allen struggled quite a bit during OTAs, both with adapting to the system and with drops. Allen himself has recognized his struggles.
"There's a standard of excellence," Allen explained, per Cox. "So when you drop a pass, that's not excellence. It's always frustrating when you don't do your best."
The Patriots brought in Allen to be a complement to star tight end Rob Gronkowski. This was supposed to be the role Martellus Bennett held last season before Gronkowski was lost for the year. Instead, Bennett became the team's top receiving tight end.
The problem is that Allen can only fill this role if he managed to adapt to life as a Patriots. His continued development in training camp will be a storyline worth following.