NEPD Editor: Oliver Thomas
Cameron Fleming graduated from Stanford with a degree in aeronautics and astronautics in June. But it wasn’t rocket science when the fourth-round pick reported as an eligible tight end for the New England Patriots on Sunday.
It was straightforward power.
The 6’6”, 325-pound offensive tackle – in title – was in to block for all 25 of his snaps against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 2. And of those 25 penalty-excluding snaps, 22 turned out to be run plays designed for Stevan Ridley, Brandon Bolden and quarterback Tom Brady.
Stopping those run plays proved to be a different battle for Minnesota. A total of 81 rush yards and a goal-line touchdown were the byproduct when Fleming was called upon as a sixth offensive lineman for the second consecutive week.
The output wasn’t explosive. It wasn’t dominant. It was, however, steady. There was just one double-digit gain for the Patriots when Fleming was in accompanying starting tackles Nate Solder and Sebastion Vollmer. Yet there were also 11 carries for four or more yards, and zero carries for a loss of yards.
Every so often, though, another kind of play was called in New England’s huddle. A kind of play that’s less predictable to account for when over 1,800 pounds of blockers stand at the forefront of it.
The play-action pass.
The Patriots drew the defense in before going to the air a total of four times with Fleming in the game. And the end result was 3-of-3 passing for 38 yards and a penalty for defensive pass interference.
The deception began after New England’s offense opened the tilt with five straight run plays over the course of two series.
With jumbo “21” personnel on a 1st-and-10, the initial pass went to second-year wideout Aaron Dobson on a dig route. It picked up 13 yards over the middle, as the linebackers encroached on the gaps and vacated the second level just enough for Brady to anticipate a window.
It was revisited out of “22” personnel for another 1st-and-10 not long after.
This time, the play-action pass went to fullback James Develin, who slipped through the trenches and into the flat while the front seven monitored Ridley’s blitz pickup.
Unattended, the connection acquired an additional 13 yards, as Develin collected his second catch of the game after harnessing four in 16 games last season.
Then, from “12” personnel on a 2nd-and-3, Brady found his primary receiver in Julian Edelman.
The Vikings leaned eight into the box following the fake exchange. Edelman slanted across the middle for 12 yards and reeled in the spiral as he angled upfield.
With Fleming still in the game, Edelman was turned to again later on.
Via “12” personnel for a 2nd-and-8 situation, the fourth and final target found the “Z” receiver on an out-and-up pattern down the right sideline. But that final attempt concluded with the football, and the flag, hitting the turf, following interference from 2013 first-round cornerback Xavier Rhodes.
When Fleming had his number announced through the speakers of TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, the play-action pass was the end result on two plays in the first quarter, one in the second and one more in the third.
The Vikings heard the eligible-receiver announcement echo on the field as well, but the New England’s consistent return to the ground game left an element of unknown on the table. That worked symbiotically with the high-volume running attack Fleming helped forge.
And although the capacity in which the rookie has gotten on the field for the Patriots does not project as his long-term role, it has gotten him on the field.
It’s been down to two variables from there.