5 takeaways from the Patriots-Panthers game

Forget the score. Preseason games are all about what you can learn about your team and this week there was just a few things we had our eyes on as the Patriots took on the Carolina Panthers.

The Patriots continued to mix up the combinations of offensive and defensive players with roster spots and playing time on the line. With the first cuts just days away (Aug. 26), that’s the main focus of our takeaways.

1. Has Patrick Chung taken the lead? — If you’re like me, and you were zoned in on the Patriots safeties, you know that the competition has not been one of the easiest to decipher. Whether it’s judging by snap counts or quality play — even 1s vs. 1s in the preseason— it’s been hard to get a gauge on who the Patriots want to play opposite of Devin McCourty. For Chung, who has made two starts in the team’s three preseason games, there may be an all-too-quick negative reaction to his abilities, particularly in pass coverage. There’s never been a knock on him for his physicality or his nose for the football. But Patriots fans have too many memories of missed tackles, poor angles, and deep passes on his watch in his first stint with the team. Despite all this, it appears that he has taken the lead at strong safety over Duron Harmon and Tavon Wilson — but with a caveat. The Patriots showed us a wrinkle in Friday’s game against Carolina, which could help explain how the team views each player. Chung played in the base defense while Harmon came onto the field in sub defenses, usually the nickel, to help with pass coverage which is his strength. While minimizing Chung’s weakness in pass coverage, Bill Belichick and company appear to be utilizing Harmon’s strengths in what will likely be a safety-by-committee role. (Wilson was marginalized.) Could these specialized roles be the answer for the team? For right now, that would make the most sense. Of course, we’ll just wait till teams start targeting one or the other to see if they are forced to adapt.

2. Expect Jordan Devey and Josh Kline to make the team — We watched Jordan Devey play right guard and left tackle Friday night, and left guard earlier in the preseason, so we know he has the versatility that Belichick craves. The same for Kline, who we’ve seen at right and left guard, but has also subbed in as an eligible tight end to help in power packages. There’s an allure to both of these two, who may not be the most polished players, but are certainly cheap and useful. Once the Patriots decide which offensive linemen they’re going to keep, they can be moved around at will if any injury arises. There’s an attraction there that I don’t think the team will want to pass up.

For the rest of my takeaways, view the original post on Boston.com’s Extra Points blog.

New football league, FXFL, coming to Boston

Boston is getting another professional football team.

And despite your obvious groans about more preseason football, the Fall Experimental Football League (FXFL) is expecting that its brand of football will be better than the semi-professional kind found in other leagues.

“I mean I’m getting inundated with phone calls and e-mails from guys on NFL rosters and their agents,” FXFL commissioner Brian Woods told Boston.com. “We’re not getting guys off the street or veterans. The on field product is going to be exceptional.”

Typically, the players who will play on FXFL teams will have been cut from NFL rosters out of training camp, Woods said. NFL teams begin making cuts Aug. 26 and again on Aug. 30 to trim rosters from 90 to 53 players.

The FXFL will open Oct. 8 with one of its inaugural teams based in Boston. The Boston Brawlers will join the Omaha Mammoths, Brooklyn Bolts, and Miami Blacktips to play a six-game season for the four-team league that will begin Oct. 8. The Brawlers will play its home games at Harvard Stadium on Fridays while the league will typically play on Wednesday night.

Read the rest of this article on Boston.com.

Updated Patriots depth chart

The Patriots third preseason game will be the final time a number of the team’s players — 15 to be exact — will get an opportunity to prove themselves.

The league’s first mandated trimming of rosters will be Aug. 26, just four days after the Patriots take on the Carolina Panthers. For the NFL, 53-man rosters won’t be due until Aug. 30, two days after the team’s final preseason game against the New York Giants.

So this is a time when tensions are high for those renting space at the bottom of the roster and those whose jobs are up for grabs. After Friday’s preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles, we have plenty of information to update our Patriots depth chart, which recognizes players that are virtually guaranteed to make the team (highlighted in green) and players that are most likely to get cut (highlighted in red). Everyone else is still in the competition.

See the new depth chart on Boston.com’s Extra Points blog. You can see my first version of the depth chart here. And here is the second.

5 takeaways from the Patriots-Eagles game

Here are some thoughts and observations from the Patriots second preseason game, a 42-35 win over the Philadelphia Eagles.

1. Nothing is safe at safety — Kyle Arrington started at safety for the Patriots opposite Devin McCourty. Arrington’s play and toughness has often been referenced by Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who he has used both as a starting cornerback, a slot corner and now back deep, a new and different look for all involved. Belichick actually addressed Arrington’s possible use at safety early on in the week.

“I think Kyle has a really good skillset to play anywhere back there,” Belichick told reporters Monday. “He’s fast, he’s tough, [and] he’s a good tackler, which your safeties need to be. Not that your corners don’t need to be, but I’d say it’s even more important at safety. He tackles well, he runs well, he’s a very athletic player. So I’d say his toughness and his tackling are similar to Devin [McCourty], same type of player who played corner to safety with similar type skills – speed, range, toughness. Those assets you need at safety, and Devin has them and Kyle has them.”

Arrington, who is waiting to see how he looks on film before declaring whether or not he was comfortable, has disrupted the training camp competition at the position. Along with Logan Ryan, who got his first snaps at safety Friday, the Patriots appear to be uncomfortable with Duron Harmon (two tackles, one interception), Patrick Chung (one tackle), and Tavon Wilson. Wilson sat out of Friday’s game with an injury after starting last week against Washington.

What’s more, with the integration of Alfonzo Dennard into the Patriots lineup after his injury, the emergence of cornerback Malcolm Butler, and both Arrington and Ryan’s versatility, the Patriots may not need the plethora of defensive backs they have now. The select few — McCourty, Arrington, Dennard, Ryan, Butler, Darrelle Revis, and Brandon Browner — are ahead of the rest of the pack. And now, it appears the coaches view an all cornerbacks secondary (including McCourty) as an option that can’t be passed up. Others will certainly feel the squeeze.

2. Ryan Mallett shows growth — Call it baby steps. But it did appear that backup quarterback Ryan Mallett improved over his last outing, finishing 7 of 11 passing for 92 yards and a touchdown Friday against the Eagles. His touchdown strike, a 17-yard pass on a fly route to Brian Tyms, was precisely the kind of bold decision making that he had lacked in previous outings. And for once, he put the ball in a position where a number of receivers could make plays. (Tyms had another opportunity to catch a pass from Mallett in the end zone that was dropped.) And then he gave us some added value by showing off his (limited) mobility. He ended up with nine yards rushing after taking two sacks. But he also had a 6-yard rushing touchdown. It was a win-win for Mallett on Friday despite entering the game after rookie quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (who continued to impress). Mallett’s journey is all about small wins now. He needs to have as many good outings as possible for his next job and he’s got only two more opportunities left.

Read the rest of my takeaways on Boston.com’s Extra Points blog.

Cary Wiliams reverses course, apologizes to Bill Belichick

Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Cary Williams was in a position to boast Friday night and chose not to.

Williams had a good outing against the Patriots, a team two weeks ago he called cheaters in reference to Spygate, the Patriots 2007 video taping scandal that rocked the NFL. (Last week, when asked about those very same comments, he stood by his remarks again.)

But after picking off Tom Brady and returning the interception 77 yards for a touchdown in the Eagles’ 42-35 loss, Williams was singing a different tune. He spoke with Patriots coach Bill Belichick in the team’s postgame handshake and made sure to apologize.

“It was just mutual respect between two guys,” Williams said. “Coach Belichick respected me and I respected him. I respect the organization and I told him I was sorry for the words that I said. That was just pure emotion and sometimes you say things that you don’t really think about.

Read more of Cary Williams’s comments on Boston.com’s Extra Points blog.

5 takeaways from the Patriots preseason opener

LANDOVER, Md. — The Patriots lost to Washington 23-6 Thursday night in their preseason opener.

Here’s five takeaways from the team’s first exhibition game:

1. Hello Jimmy Garoppolo — First and foremost, wow. (Stands and claps at computer.) In 12 training camp practices, I had yet to see Garoppolo look as impressive as he did on Thursday night against Washington. He showed some escapability, scrambling for opportunities to throw and pick up some yards, and he showed touch on his deep ball, something we knew he was capable of from his time at Eastern Illinois. But he also showed us that he can make anticipatory throws, the kind that NFL starting caliber quarterbacks are required to make on a regular basis. He hadn’t given us a whiff of any of that in practice. He had been struggling in 11-on-11s, operating indecisively, and throwing off the mark way too often. Typical rookie stuff. But Thursday night, he hit the out routes in stride, placed his deep balls with pinpoint accuracy, and found a rhythm that wasn’t apparent before. He was fantastic.

2. Brian Tyms’s chances haven’t changed much — Before everyone wakes up in the morning and starts looking to buy Brian Tyms’s jersey, take note that he still will not likely make the Patriots 53-man roster, barring some unforeseen injury or cosmic disturbance. Tyms was fantastic as Garoppolo’s wingman Thursday night. He caught five of six passes thrown his way for 119 yards, including the 26-yard touchdown he took with him all the way into Washington’s stands. His 53-yard catch was a beauty. But it was the one pass he didn’t get, the 38-yard touchdown that was called off after he was interfered with, that was the gem of the night. Tyms bobbled the pass after hauling it in before catching it again on his way down to the ground with Chase Minnifield all over him. It was a highlight play and likely could’ve been overturned had Belichick been interested in challenging the call. (No need with the pass interference, but still.) But all of his success Thursday night, and going forward in the preseason, won’t mean diddly squat because he has at least seven receivers ahead of him on the depth chart: Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Brandon LaFell, Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins, Josh Boyce, and Matthew Slater. Somebody has to go for him to make this team. And more than likely, two of those somebodies have to go with the talent on the roster. But hey, he’d be great for the practice squad.

See the rest of my takeaways on Boston.com’s Extra Points blog.

5 takeaways from the first 5 days of Patriots camp

We’re through five days of Patriots training camp, now at the team’s first day off, and there’s been quite a bit to digest. So here’s five takeaways from the team’s first four practices, including two padded practices, that sums up a collection of observations and notes from camp.

1. Revis worth the hype — Let the obvious stand pat. New Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis has so far been exactly who we thought he would be, a fantastically smart and tough cornerback. His crafty insights at the position have made life difficult for the Patriots wide receivers group, albeit a welcome challenge for those with a competitive spirit. Coupled with Brandon Browner — tall, long, and menacingly physical — there’s quite a bit to watch as the team’s wide receivers get ready for the season and the team’s secondary jells.

2. Another good group of tight ends — Rob Gronkowski’s back. So that’s your baseline. Michael Hoomanawanui is back (and feisty), so there’s stability. And then there are the relative unknowns who are quickly making a name for themselves. Justin Jones (6-8, 275) is surprisingly quick and agile for a man of his size. He’s a pure athlete. D.J. Williams, the four-year veteran tight end, has shown his receiving skills to be quite promising. In 2011, he was clocked at 4.59 in the 40-yard dash. That speed has been apparent in camp. And then there’s Asa Watson, both big and fast, who has promise as well. With Jones and Williams starring behind Gronkowski and Hooman in practice, Patriots camp has now seen for the second straight year an influx of talented, relatively unknown tight ends come in and make some noise

Read the rest of my takeaways on Boston.com’s Extra Points blog.

In Patriots wide receivers competition, eyes drift to the defensive backs

The beauty of training camp is that every year you go in with assumptions and perceptions that ostensibly get obliterated. Without fail.

Last year, the hyperbole surrounding tight end Zach Sudfeld led to an unnatural affinity for a rather unknown player, which ended awkwardly after he was put on waivers. But it was important at the time, we thought, because there was a hole to fill without Rob Gronkowski. There was nothing to indicate, at least in training camp, that a talented tight end like Sudfeld wouldn’t stick around for a long period of time. He made it out of camp, but not much further.

This year, with the focus on position battles and roster spots so evident and yet so subjective, there are immediate concerns to consider when looking at the roster. For example, the numbers game, as I like to call it, is the reason why the Patriots are going to have to make tough decisions in the wide receivers group. There are veterans and recent draft picks alike — Matthew Slater, Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce, and Jeremy Gallon — who have to somehow compete with the likes of Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, and Brandon LaFell for snaps. And then there’s the stud of July and August himself, second-year pro Kenbrell Thompkins, who has firmly planted himself among the Patriots top receivers.

That’s eight receivers. That doesn’t include bottom dwellers on the depth chart like Wilson Van Hooser and Derrick Johnson. (Greg Orton, who was carted off the field on Friday after suffering an unknown injury, was mostly projected as a practice squad player.) And it doesn’t take into account the injuries that have sidelined Dobson (foot) and Slater (unknown). Or, for that matter, that the team considers Slater more of a special teams player than an actual receiver. (How long is that going to last?) In the end, we’re sure based on history and the numbers of players expected to take up positions across each position group, that the Patriots will settle on six or seven receivers. And seven receivers is stretching it.

So with all of that swirling around the noggin, a long hard look at the team’s wide receivers group was warranted going into camp. We pegged this to be a battle between Thompkins, undrafted but talented, and Boyce, the 2013 fourth-round pick that is still relatively unknown as far as what he can offer.

But that’s when camp throws you for a delightful twist.

Read the rest of this post on Boston.com’s Extra Points blog.