In not even one week, the New England Patriots will return to the practice fields for the start of their 2016 training camp. The battles for spots on the team will then officially enter the next round as by late August, each team has to start making its roster cuts.
Until then, players have to secure their spots on the team; they need to do their jobs (well) or someone else will. Over the course of the next few weeks, we will take a look at the men fighting for those spots on the 2016 New England Patriots. Today, we’ll continue the series with offensive tackle Cameron Fleming.
Name: Cameron Fleming
Position: Offensive tackle
Jersey number: 71
Size: 6’6, 320 lbs.
2015 review: Despite his relatively successful 2014 rookie campaign, the Patriots released Fleming three days prior to the 2015 season opener. However, the Stanford product went unclaimed on waivers and was signed to the team’s practice squad the following day. Four weeks later, after starting left tackle Nate Solder was placed on season-ending injured reserve, New England promoted Fleming to its active roster.
Once on the 53-man roster, he was active for every one of the team’s 14 games. But despite starting five contests – more out of necessity than production –, Fleming saw uneven playing time over the course of the season and was on the field for 469 of the Patriots’ 1,253 offensive snaps last season (37.4%).
When he saw the field, Fleming struggled to repeat his at-times solid rookie performance. He had issues sustaining blocks, was inconsistent and played with sloppy technique at times; both in pass protection and run blocking. Overall, Fleming gave up 29 pressures in 2015 – 4 sacks, 7 hits, 18 hurries – despite blocking on only 290 passing plays.
2016 preview: Even though Fleming’s 2015 season was rather mediocre, the team offered him an exclusive rights tender sheet, which he signed in March. Therefore, the former fourth round draft pick will be in a position to fight for one of a maximum of two backup tackle spots in the upcoming weeks.
His opponents in this fight will be Marcus Cannon, LaAdrian Waddle and Keavon Milton. Fleming has one advantage over Waddle and Milton, his experience playing on both sides of New England’s offensive line, and one over Cannon: his cap hit, which is approximately $4.1 million lower than Cannon’s. However, neither will help Fleming make the team if he is unable to perform on the practice fields – especially considering that the Patriots will likely keep only three offensive tackles.
If the 23-year old is able to build upon his rookie year performance and become a more consistent and precise blocker under coach Dante Scarenecchia, he has a solid shot of at least earning yet another practice squad spot. He might even be able to challenge Cannon and Waddle, who are both above him on the depth chart. If Fleming plays like he did last year, however, and is unable to grow as a a player, his chances of making the 53-man roster do not look good – just like his practice squad prospects.
Cameron Fleming has shown some promise in 2014 but was unable to make the second-year jump last season. If he is able to get back on the track he originally started his professional career on, Fleming might be able to earn a spot as the Patriots’ primary backup offensive tackle. Given his 2015 season, however, it seems more likely that he is once again destined for the practice squad – at best.