Jeff Howe superlatively spotlights the Patriots rookie class as they prepare for their first season in the NFL.
Immediate Impact: Because of his versatility, linebacker Dont’a Hightower figures to get plenty of opportunities to get on the field for the defense. Based on his skillset and deployment for the Alabama defense, Hightower looks as though he could play strongside linebacker in the 4-3, anywhere in the 3-4 and alongside Jerod Mayo in the nickel. Hightower is a prototypical inside linebacker, but he has the versatility to rush the passer off the edge, both standing up and with his hand in the dirt (or FieldTurf, if you want to be technical). Anyway, the Patriots ran into trouble last year when Mayo and Brandon Spikes struggled with injuries, so Hightower could play a key role on the defense in a few different situations right away.
Most Intriguing: It’s amazing that Google’s New England branch didn’t crash after the Patriots selected safety Tavon Wilson in the second round. And actually, when an older story of Wilson surfaced soon after the pick, that local Illinois paper’s website crashed due to an overload of traffic. Point is, few knew anything about Wilson. He’s another versatile player who can play both safety spots, and he can also line up in the slot, which makes him a candidate to earn playing time in sub packages. But when camp starts, plenty of people will watch Wilson to see what he’s all about. (... More...)
Christopher Price notes it wasn’t a great day for the Patriots’ rookie class, and presents four questions that could be answered this camp.
What exactly do the Patriots have in Alfonzo Dennard? Dennard is a fascinating case: As a collegian, he showed moments of real brilliance as a corner at Nebraska (check out the library of clips on YouTube), certainly enough to have him projected as a mid- to early-round pick. But there’s also enough baggage there -- including that infamous incident with a police officer outside a Nebraska bar that likely caused his stock to drop even more and an ejection from he Capital One Bowl -- that you can understand why teams shied away from him. There are some shifting parts in the New England secondary, and while he won’t be asked to be an every down contributor as a rookie, he will have a chance to play as a rookie if he does well in camp and in the preseason. After a tumultuous offseason, it’s about all he could hope for at this point.
Which UDFA will become this year’s Dane Fletcher? Every year, there’s one undrafted free agent who beats the odds and manages to make the final 53-man roster. A couple of years ago, that was Fletcher, who emerged from the relative obscurity of Montana State in 2010 to become a part of New England’s regular rotation at linebacker, even starting five games last season. Based on what we saw this spring, it appears that defensive lineman Justin Francis and offensive lineman Jeremiah Warren had the best shot, even after they were part of a group that failed their physicals on Thursday. In spring camps, Francis showed good burst and did not appear overwhelmed. As for Warren, we always judge how well a young offensive lineman is doing by how often he gets yelled at by offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, and while he was occasionally put on blast by the veteran coach, he managed to hold his own. (...More...)
- Patriots Today - Rookies report to Foxboro. (1.27 min. video)
- PFW in Progress - The PFW crew talk about the Dont'a Hightower signing and more with one week left until the start of Training Camp. (2 hour program)
- Christopher Price reports all the Patriots' rookies are present and accounted for at Gillette Thursday morning.
- Mike Reiss, Field Yates and Mike Rodak each pick a rookie they are most looking forward to seeing in action. (1.14 min. video)
- Field Yates focuses on Vince Wilfork and his heavy workload.
- Rich Levine mentions how Andre Carter 'gets it' and adds that it would be nice if the Pats got him back in uniform.
- Tom E. Curran notes the Patriots are keeping their options open with the 90th roster spot.
- Greg A. Bedard posts a review of the Patriots Safeties and Cornerbacks heading into training camp.
- Mike Rodak analyzes players on the roster bubble and where they may potentially fit in 2012: WR Deion Branch.
- Mike Reiss tells us why free-agent TE Visanthe Shianco makes sense for the Patriots.
- Kirk Minihane thinks everyone should just let Gronkowski be Gronkowski.
- Mike Reiss posts the transcript of his weekly online chat.
- Chad Finn reports Gino Cappelletti, Mr. Patriot, announced his retirement from the Patriots radio team.
- Stephanie Steinberg notes Tom Brady gets only a passing mention in the soon to be released Michigan football history book.
- James Walker (ESPN) Checking pre-training camp grades.
- Josh Alper (ProFootballTalk) Jets reportedly plan to use Tim Tebow as red zone quarterback. Ya think?
- Analyst Debate (NFL.com) Packers, Steelers, Giants have pieces to become modern dynasty. /Hmm... forget anyone guys?
- Mike Florio (ProFootballTalk) Pereira says replacement officials will compromise integrity of the game.
- Mike Florio (ProFootballTalk) Injury stats irrelevant to existence of bounty program.