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State of the Patriots: Inaugural preseason edition

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A new feature of the 2016 season will include weekly reports on the team. Those reports will include injury statuses, standings around the league, and transition into the Patriots next opponent. These reports will be out two mornings after the Patriots games.

This will be the default picture for the State of the Patriots address. Because who doesn’t like Bill Belichick in a suit instead of a cut-up hoodie?

The Patriots are currently 2-0 in preseason with potentially up to 40 jobs locked for the 2016 roster. The remaining 13 jobs will be determined by the final two preseason games, which are this Friday against the Carolina Panthers and a week from Thursday when the Patriots and Giants have their yearly 4th preseason game hubbub. Preseason results don’t necessarily translate completely into the regular season, but I think at the minimum the Patriots will be one of the final four teams standing this year.

Injuries:

The week started off with bad news as the Patriots are down two offensive line starters in Right Tackle Sebastian Vollmer and Right Guard Shaq Mason in addition to human highlight reel RB Dion Lewis. Vollmer and Lewis are locks for the physically unable to perform list (PUP) and at the minimum look to be out until November. That means Josh Kline, Marcus Cannon, and James White need to step up and do their best job at keeping the offense afloat for how long they’re needed. In addition, the status of guard Jonathan Cooper is unknown as he battles plantar fasciitis as it could affect his regular season availability. Cooper and Mason both being out for extended periods of time has thinned out the guard depth considerably, even though 3rd round pick Joe Thuney has been a rock at left guard in the first two preseason games.

Jabaal Sheard, Shea McClellin, Donald Brown, Tre Jackson, Danny Amendola, Rob Ninkovich, and Malcolm Mitchell are the Patriots currently showing up to practice, but unable to fully participate with injuries. Jackson and Amendola are on PUP while Nink and Mitchell are likely going to miss early regular season time with their injuries suffered in camp and preseason. Trey Flowers’ emergence this year along with Chris Long having a resurgence has helped weather the injuries for the edge rushers. In addition superstar TE Rob Gronkowski was missing from practice, although his regular season availability isn’t really in question.

The Patriots do appear to be getting players back from injury, as RB DJ Foster and WR Keshawn Martin have started appearing in position drills. Both players are on the bubble and we all have heard the cliche “Can’t make the club from the tub”. The Patriots could use depth at both positions with Lewis out for a while and Danny Amendola still on PUP. Of those two positions, LeGarrette Blount, James White, Brandon Bolden, Julian Edelman, and Malcolm Mitchell (injured) are locks for the 53-man roster at this point. In addition Logan Ryan has shed the non-contact jersey, which is great news as the 4th year CB looks to build upon a strong 2015 campaign.

Camp Standouts on the Bubble:

The Patriots have had some great performances from Trey Flowers, AJ Derby, Cre’von LeBlanc, and Darryl Roberts in the preseason. Trey Flowers has almost completely locked up a roster spot with injuries affecting his position as well as preseason success. AJ Derby has turned heads as a receiver, although his blocking ability is still questionable. Derby is more of a pass catcher than a well-rounded player like Clay Harbor, but he has incredible athleticism and is a very fluid route runner. Depending on roster circumstances, the Patriots could wind up carrying both in September.

LeBlanc and Roberts are both fighting for potential one roster spot. LeBlanc had his moment in the first preseason game with an end zone interception and Roberts had his in the second with 3 pass breakups on 7 targets. On those 7 targets, only two balls were caught for a total of 11 yards. With this competition far from over, the next two preseason games will determine the winner.

Looking at Patriots Possible Week 1 Lineup:

With the injuries somewhat piling up, the lineup has changed a bit on both sides of the ball. The Patriots will likely get a couple players back between now and then, but his is the starting lineup I see.

What’s Next?:

The Patriots will face the NFC champion Carolina Panthers in their 3rd preseason game. The Panthers have been the Patriots 3rd preseason opponent for the 3rd consecutive year. In that game, we should see a lot of the starters in through the first half. I’m not sure what that means for Tom Brady, but to be honest there’s not much of a reason to play him since he’s on the shelf for four games. This will be a good opportunity for Garoppolo to test his game as he will face an opponent with one of the top defenses in the NFL. After that, the Patriots will face the Giants in the final preseason game.

The next State of the Patriots will come after final cutdowns. It will focus on the Patriots initial 53-man roster, the practice squad, roster cuts, and preview the season while making a prediction of the Patriots W-L record.