NEPD Editor: Oliver Thomas
The opening week of New England Patriots training camp is in the books. And as the pages turn to the next chapter on the fields behind Gillette Stadium, here are some leftover notes from the first four practices.
Tavon Wilson, Patrick Chung in Line for Third Safety Role
Based on their special-teams versatility and secondary reps next to Devin McCourty, Tavon Wilson and Patrick Chung might be battling for one safety spot. For whatever grain of salt reps are worth in the early stages of camp, both former second-round picks were given the chance to leave an impression.
The 24-year-old Wilson – who played 19 defensive snaps as a sophomore in 2013 after playing 476 as a rookie, per Pro Football Focus – showed signs of what got him to Foxboro, logging couple pass breakups as well as an interception. The 26-year-old Chung – who returned to New England after a disappointing year with the Philadelphia Eagles – was leading by example, according to McCourty, and looked comfortable in pass and kick coverage.
The two bring capability as third safeties who can spell for either McCourty or 2013 third-rounder Duron Harmon. Odds are, only one of them will get to do so.
Kanorris Davis Gunning for Special Teams
In the same safety vein, there is a dark horse to round out the group in Kanorris Davis. The former Troy linebacker received a call-up from the practice squad last season, entering into three games and registering one tackle on special teams.
That is his game. The 5’10”, 207-pound convert is only a safety in title.
While other positional drills were transpiring, Davis was spotted working with special teams assistant Joe Judge. For two consecutive practices, the two spent 10 to 15 minutes focusing on technique and releases. The meaning of that work may only be minor – the 24-year-old is a gunner on kickoffs and punts – but it seems there is a plan for him. Whether it be as a practice-squad promotion once again, or as someone who serves a core specialist role like 2012 sixth-round rugby standout Nate Ebner.
Brandon Browner’s Four-Game Suspension Leaves Doors Open
With Brandon Browner’s four-game suspension looming, the Patriots may elect to keep only four cornerbacks on the 53-man roster for that span: Darrelle Revis, Logan Ryan, the recently cleared Alfonzo Dennard and Kyle Arrington. If rookie sixth-round defensive back Jemea Thomas is unable to get back on the field soon – he hasn’t been in attendance since the first session – it’s hard to say what happens there. His flexibility as a safety, slot corner and special-teamer is notable, though the hard-hitter will need to showcase it on the field in the ensuing weeks.
In the meantime, Justin Green – an undrafted free agent who played corner and special teams for two games in 2013 – stood out in coverage and at the catch point. And first-year player Daxton Swanson – who left the team after the first practice due to the passing of his father before returning July 29 – is also one to monitor.
For their efforts in multiple phases of the game, Green and Swanson could be candidates to fill an uncertain fifth cornerback spot. Yet only time will tell. The practice squad is remains a potential landing spot for them.
Brandon Bolden, Roy Finch, Stephen Houston Rushing for No. 4 Job
Brandon Bolden’s camp has been an inconsistent one thus far. The third-year undrafted running back flashes by breaking off the big run, but his fumbles and dropped passes have pulled him under the microscope as the fourth ball-carrier. Special teams have been a venue for the Ole Miss Rebel, and his 5’11”, 220-pound build remains a reinforcement behind the slashing Stevan Ridley.
Yet also under the microscope is 5’7”, 180-pound undrafted rookie Roy Finch. Finch faces an uphill climb because of his diminutive stature in the company of Shane Vereen and fourth-rounder James White, but the Oklahoma Sooner was a prominent kick and punt returner during the first week.
He and the 6’0”, 225-pound Stephen Houston are possible runners in contention for a No. 4 spot or a practice squad spot. They are, even if their builds and skill sets are divergent.
James Develin’s Versatility Could Dictate Tight End Position
Not long ago, James Develin was making his way on New England’s practice squad. Yet as Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio said in Sunday morning’s press conference, “From day one to where he is now, he’s really improved.” Over the two years the 6’3”, 255-pound fullback has been a member of the Patriots, he’s gone from fringe player to virtual roster lock.
And it’s due to the time and effort he’s made to expand his role. Not only is the 26-year-old a lead blocker, he’s an auxiliary tight end and a special-teamer. Develin’s array of responsibilities could save New England a roster spot behind Rob Gronkowski and Michael Hoomanawanui this summer, particularly if three-receiver sets reign supreme.
D.J. Williams may present the group with a reserve “F” receiver, but even so, undrafted rookie Asa Watson has looked like an ideal candidate for the practice squad. The 6’8” Justin Jones has struggled blocking and getting off the jam, but while the rookie’s hands have been unsteady through traffic, his length has gotten him open.
Linebacker Depth in Fluid State
Although the alignment of linebackers Dont’a Hightower, Jerod Mayo and Jamie Collins has been a focal point, the back end of the position remains fluid as the second week of camp embarks. Veteran James Anderson is presumed as the fourth linebacker for his coverage strengths, but the former Carolina Panther and Chicago Bear will have to earn his keep on special teams, where he’s been an active participant in early practices.
Also in the mix is 2013 seventh-rounder Steve Beauharnais, who’s been vocal when given reps in the midst of the defense, and Chris White, who joined the team as a big-four specialist in 2013.
Vying to get into the picture as a sixth man is former practice-squad promotion Ja’Gared Davis, 2012 San Francisco 49ers draft choice Darius Fleming, and undrafted rookies Cameron Gordon, ‘backer-slash-fullback Taylor McCuller and Deontae Skinner. Few have been able to emerge from the pack. Beauharnais and Gordon ran penalty laps for jumping offsides in the fourth practice of camp. McCuller got into a stir with Hoomanawanui during a tackling drill along the sideline. And Skinner has been with the rehab group as he works his way off the non-football injury list.
Josh Kline Not Forgotten Along Offensive Line
The Patriots invested in center Bryan Stork, offensive tackle Cameron Fleming and guard Jon Halapio during May’s draft, but second-year guard Josh Kline was not overlooked during Week 1 of camp. The 2013 undrafted free agent, who played in five games and started one at left guard as a rookie, even took reps at right guard while incumbent Dan Connolly took reps at center.
The former Ohio Division I wrestling champion held up well there, and he also held his own in 1-on-1 drills along the far end zone. Things can change quickly, but the 6’3”, 295-pound Kent State product is on track to make the 53-man roster and perhaps more.
The second week of camp is the next step towards finding out. Things got underway Tuesday morning.
Tags: Patriots Training Camp