Field Goal Finish: Patriots Mini-Camp Updates and More

1. How are some of our primary contract concerns coming along?

This off-season, the big remaining New England Patriots free agent contract left on the table is for Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins. If he doesn't reach a deal by June 15th, his contract offer will be slashed greatly. Mankins most likely won't show his head around Gillette for a while, or at least until he receives a legitimate contract offer. He has no personal reason to play at OTAs and it appears that the front office hasn't given him a reason to change his mind.

However, looming behind Mankins' big contract lies and even larger one, which brings me to my first point. Tom Brady. Michael Silver of Yahoo! Sports has dedicated his weekly article to Tom Brady's off-season and how that might impact this upcoming season. Now I know everyone has mixed feelings on Silver- he usually chases big headline stories and he likes to play to the crowds and push hot buttons. That said, he does have fantastic connections and usually has a good idea of what he's talking about.

When giving a potential reason for why no contract has really been addressed as of yet, Silver said:

It would help if the two sides started talking, but right now there is insecurity in the air. With the specter of a work stoppage following the 2010 season looming, Brady’s situation seems entwined with the uncertain labor landscape, to the point where he could be angling toward prospective free agency after a new collective bargaining agreement is reached.

Now don't read this as Silver saying that Brady might be heading off into free agency- he follows this comment by saying there's little chance that President Bob Kraft will let Brady get anywhere near walking away. As a reader, however, we need to wonder if Brady won't be given a contract extension until more is known about the NFL post-2010. If Brady has to wait until more is known, what does that mean for the rest of the Patriots who want contracts?

As of right now, prior to the 2010 season, the Patriots need to give Logan Mankins a contract. However, we need to remember that ILB Gary Guyton also hasn't signed a contract yet. Guyton is a big role player who has potential versatility that the Patriots need at linebacker, which means he should receiver a contract as well- but most likely not until Mankins and, maybe, Brady.

After the 2010 season, the Patriots need to look at CB and ST ace Kyle Arrington, QB Brian Hoyer, RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB Kevin Faulk, K Stephen Gostkowski, LT Matt Light, RB Laurence Maroney, S Brandon McGowan, WR Randy Moss, RB Fred Taylor and RB Sammy Morris. Oh, and QB Tom Brady. Now none of these players stand out as must have players, but they all fill crucial roles on the Patriots that must not turn into holes. Just looking at these potential FAs, the Patriots are looking at all of their running backs and quarterbacks, as well as their #1 WR, their former franchise LT and their All-World Kicker.

All of these deals depend on how and when the Brady deal is made.

Let's go back to Silver's article.

Silver pokes at a worst case scenario:

Could things really get that ugly? Say no agreement on an extension is reached before the start of the 2010 campaign and Brady, as is likely, tables any contract discussions until the season is complete. Even if he wanted to leave via unrestricted free agency, the Pats would surely franchise him. At that point Brady could threaten to stay away until the 10th week of the season before signing his one-year tender, surrendering only a pro-rated share of his salary and potentially extending the stalemate into another offseason. It’s possible such a nightmarish state of affairs could compel the Pats to consider trading him.

...and then quickly follows by saying that he doesn't believe this will happen. As a Patriots fan, I hope Brady's contract never reaches this extreme and I hate Silver for even pointing out this unlikely possibility. But that's what it remains: a possibility.

Hopefully, Brady and the front office strike a deal that keeps Brady here until retirement. Hopefully they do it soon. Patriots fans everywhere await the news of a contract- and so does the Patriots locker room.

Two more points after the jump!

2. WES WELKER!!!! WES WELKER!!!! WES WELKER!!!! WES WELKER!!!! WES WELKER!!!! WES WELKER!!!! 

In case you haven't had a chance to read up, WR Wes Welker was partaking in drills at organized team activities (OTAs). Of course, this is huge news. I was under the impression that Welker wouldn't be ready to play until the middle of the season- and his appearance on the field may not change that time table. However, I wasn't even expecting him to be on the field, running routes and performing exercises.

Some links of interest:

RapSheet video of Welker on the field

Mike Reiss on Welker

Boston Globe on Welker

Judging by the reports, it seems as if Welker was performing at "around 75%" and was "rounding off routes." No one should be expecting Welker to be back at 100%, nor should anyone expect Welker to be flawless since he's regaining his sea-legs. It does seem that our hero is ahead of the public's collective schedule, which is definitely great news. I hope Welker doesn't push his return too quickly, to wind back up on the injured reserve. Having him on the practice fields is definitely great for younger players (read: Julian Edelman). Wes's presence adds to the team atmosphere and helps strengthen the locker room bonding, just by having as many players around as possible.

I hope to see some more great Welker news in the next couple of days!

 

3. OTA Notes

Here are some quick links summarizing today's OTAs. I highly recommend clicking all the links because I left things out on purpose- go read them!:

Patriots Football Weekly:

Bill Belichick ... left Bill O’Brien to seemingly run the offense and Matt Patricia ... the defense.

During some early reps of team work the defensive line consisted of Vince Wilfork on the nose with Ron Brace filling Warren’s left defensive end spot and Mike Wright on the right end.

Zoltan Mesko again handled, from what I saw, all the holding on Stephen Gostkowski’s field goal attempts. That left punter David King to serve as almost a ball boy retrieving the kicks. I didn’t see either guy do much, if any, punting. Interestingly rookie lineman Thomas Welch did some long snapping after practice, working with special teams coach Scott O’Brien while snapping to rookie QB Zac Robinson.

Bret Lockett had an interception...so he ignored at [least] two whistles. Seeing the defensive back ignore the call to end the play, [TE Aaron] Hernandez did likewise and swatted at the ball as Lockett went by, knocking it loss and tossing Lockett around a bit.

–The linebackers split up during one segment that included seven-on-seven work. Crable, Mayo, Guyton, Eric Alexander, Pierre Woods, Williams, Banta-Cain and Spikes remained on the field with the defensive backs and worked on coverage. Burgess, Cunningham and Ninkovich went to work with the defensive linemen.

I wonder how Pepper Johnson feels, with Patricia being designated as the front running defensive coordinator. Maybe Johnson was occupied with the tremendous quantity of new defensive line faces. Like Ron Brace at defensive end (did you like that transition?). Brace has the size (6'3, 330 lbs) to play DE, and definitely has the run stopping abilities. He struggled against double (and triple) teams while he played so moving him to DE may cut down on the quantity of double teams he faces. Hopefully he finds a place to succeed!

Look at the punters, with Mesko getting most of the holds, I have to think that King has just become a training camp body. Looking at Welch practicing long snaps, I think that means that Rob Ninkovich has become an extreme bubble player- Ninkovich has gotten by as an average player, but his variability on defense, special teams and as the back-up long snapper has made his roster spot secure. If Welch gets more looks at long snapper, that means that Ninkovich became much more expendable.

I also like the energy that Hernandez is bringing. We need more venom on offense and, hopefully, Hernandez can translate his OTA effort into NFL playing time.

The way the linebackers are being split up, I have to think that Burgess and Cunningham won't be asked to drop into coverage very often. Look for them to be ordered after the quarterback, or into the back field, at every possible opportunity.

Rap Sheet:

–Tom Brady looked sharp in passing drills...[and] was vocal and amped up, too, moreso than I remember.

– You gotta love when drills end and NT Vince Wilfork was sprinting out in front of the whole group. The big man can rumble.

– S Patrick Chung wore a non-contact red jersey (not that there was any contact). He had a splint on his right forearm.

– With Mankins out, it’s almost impossible to tell who would take his place. Nick Kaczur took some reps at his spot, while Sebastian Vollmer was at RT. But what does that mean?

Quick thoughts: I love the effort Brady and Wilfork are bringing to this team.

Hopefully Pat Chung's injury isn't too severe- I hope he doesn't have any major setbacks. I expect big things from him this upcoming season.

We all speculated that Kaczur would play guard, due to the emergence of Vollmer. I didn't expect it this quickly- nor did I expect it to be on the left side of the field. Hopefully the Mankins deal works out, but at least we know the team has confidence in Kaczur having a position on the offense.

Mike Reiss:

Fred Taylor struggles catching the ball. The veteran running back had at least four drops in passing drills, clearly looking rusty. He spoke after practice about taking offense to his performance, saying he’s always working toward improvement in that area.

Long way to go for Shawn Crable. When the top offense and top defense were on separate fields, it was notable that third-year outside linebacker Shawn Crable was running with the scout defense. One could view that as a sign that he has a long way to go to earn a roster spot.

Thomas Williams works at fullback. The Patriots don’t have a traditional fullback on the roster, and could fill that role with a hybrid running back such as Sammy Morris or BenJarvus Green-Ellis, or even use an offensive lineman in a power package. Another option came to light today with second-year linebacker Thomas Williams taking some reps at lead-blocking fullback. At the end of practice, Thomas Williams intercepted quarterback Zac Robinson in [a 7v7] drill [at linebacker].

If Taylor struggles at receiving, and a younger player like Chris Taylor or Pat Paschall emerges, I wouldn't be surprised if Fast Freddy was shown the door.

Bad Crable news isn't good. If he has only earned scout defense snaps, he's as good as gone. Hopefully Reiss is right and this initial placement serves as motivation and Crable earns a roster spot.

Thomas Williams seems to be eager to earn a roster spot and, judging by the positive news surrounding him, I wouldn't be surprised if he made it through the last roster cuts. At 6'1, 225 lbs, he seems too light to make the roster as a pure LB. He played some fullback in college, and was a special teams ace, so he has a high chance to make the roster as a unique situation player.

Boston Globe:

* As for the attendance ... Mankins was missing, as you know. And you know about Taylor Price's league-mandated absence too. Defensive linemen Ty Warren and Kade Weston were the only other two we believe were missing.

* Say this: TE Aaron Hernandez looks like he's ticketed for a significant role as a rookie. We all know why he fell to the fourth round, and if the kid has his act together -- as I've said in the past -- he could be a big-time steal. The offense rotated a bunch too, but Hernandez was with Brady's group a lot, and seems to be getting a lot of personal attention from the coaches. His fellow rookie TE, Rob Gronkowski, is working behind Alge Crumpler as the in-line tight end for now. Hernandez looks aware in recognizing coverage, sitting down in zones, and smooth running routes and catching the ball.

* LB Brandon Spikes is being coached pretty hard too, and with a purpose. Coaches seemed to be working on him as a signal caller. Told you back at the rookie minicamp that this guy's ability to diagnose plays and react was uncanny. Well, this is another encouraging piece to the puzzle -- The coaches feel comfortable enough with him, and his progress, to drill him on setting the defensive front. Not earth-shattering or anything. But worth mentioning, at least.

Mankins missed due to his contract issues. Rookie WR Taylor Price couldn't make the OTA due to not having graduated yet- which means the league prevents him from attending. Ty Warren is at school getting his degree (Ron Brace filled his spot during the OTAs). Kade Weston is the only question mark player that I haven't heard any reason for his absense.

Hernandez getting 1st team receiving snaps is a great sign, in my opinion. By no means has he surpassed Gronkowski- I think Gronk is getting some blocking lessons as blocking will be his first priority- but if Hernandez earns playing time as a downfield threat who creates mismatches, I'll be extremely happy. The earlier he gets a rapport with Brady, the better.

Maybe Coach Bill Belichick was onto something with his Florida draftees? While Pro Football Weekly stated that Guyton was getting the snaps next to ILB Captain Jerod Mayo, the fact that Spikes is being pushed so hard means that Guyton won't be getting a free starting pass. With Spikes being asked to do more, perhaps he'll be insurance if Mayo comes down with another injury- perhaps he'll be playing alongside him. The lack of news about Tyrone McKenzie leaves me with a couple question marks.

I'm looking forward to every piece falling into place as the summer progresses and a Super Bowl contending team emerging.

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