One of our favorite exercises last season was our regular series with NFL scouts where we would get their take on the Patriots. And so with the team-building process pretty much completed at this point, we asked an opposing scout to open up his notebook and let us know what he thought of New England’s offseason acquisitions, with a specific eye toward the acquisition of Brandon Lloyd, what they did in the draft and anything else that might have struck them as interesting. (Basically, what they think of the new guys.) As always, the scout’s take is in italics, and our notes follow:
“Brandon Lloyd gives them another weapon in their offense that teams have to prepare for. Not a legitimate deep threat, but sneaky and a good route runner that has been productive with whoever is throwing him the ball. It allows them to get in ‘12 personnel’ and have four productive receivers that can do multiple things to a defense. Donte Stallworth and Jabar Gaffney provide competition for vertical spot.”
The arrival of Lloyd gives the Patriots some versatility in the passing game, allowing them to get into 12 personnel -- one running back, two tight ends and two receivers on the field -- with receivers who can do multiple things. As expected, Stallworth and Gaffney will likely be going head-to-head for the spot of deep receiver.
“Chandler Jones gives them a guy with length and pass rush presence. He is very similar in stature and play style to Andre Carter, who they got some mileage from before the injury last year. Dont’a Hightower is a solid football player that has come up in the type of system and coaching that prepares him for New England. They made their defense better in the front 7 with those two picks.”
While the jury is still out on whether or not Carter will return in 2012, whether it’s for this year or next, the Patriots likely picked up Jones to be his potential replacement. (In terms of overall physical comparison, Carter is 6-foot-4 and 255 pounds, while Jones is 6-foot-5 and 247 pounds.) As for Hightower, there seems to be a belief across the league that his experience in the Alabama system -- run by former Bill Belichick assistant Nick Saban -- will leave him well prepared for what he will experience in New England.
“Will Allen is a vet player that still has some things he can do from the slot and was fairly productive in Miami, and the pick of Alfonzo Dennard in the seventh round gives them more qualified bodies to add to the guys that weren’t very good on paper but fit their system towards the end of last year.”
This is a surprise. The Allen signing was a relatively under-the-radar pickup, but it appears that some around the league view the 33-year-old as a high-quality addition. He’s certainly developed a rep as a good slot corner in recent years -- according to Pro Football Focus, he was in the slot for 419 snaps last season in Miami (tops in the league) and he yielded 0.81 yards per coverage snap for 3rd best in the league among slot corners. In addition, he allowed a catch once every 11.6 coverage snaps, a rate that was sixth best in the league at the position. (It also bears mentioning that he has played some safety in the two OTA sessions the media has had a chance to watch.) It’s also expected that Dennard will be asked to contribute more than your usual seventh-round draft pick.
“They still need some deep safety help.”
Most people who don’t work at Gillette Stadium aren’t sure what to expect when it comes to Devin McCourty and the safety position. If he does move from corner to deep safety in third-down and passing situations (as was the case in the regular-season finale and postseason), that would alleviate some of those issues. There’s also a belief that newly acquired Steve Gregory was out of position as a box safety with the Chargers, and could work there as well in 2012. Second-round pick Tavon Wilson has some positional versatility (he’s listed as a free safety on the team roster), while Sterling Moore was also back there last season before moving to corner.
“Fullbacks Spencer Larsen and Tony Fiammetta were both signings that hint that Bill Belichick has something up his sleeve in terms of personnel if either one of them pans out. Both are good enough as lead blockers and can be outlet options as receivers.”
The Patriots haven’t had a regular fullback for a full year since Heath Evans left following the 2008 season, and either Larsen or Fiammetta could provide New England with some interesting offensive wrinkles in 2012.
“Joseph Addai has something still left in the tank, and can benefit from being in the offense that has so many things for defense to be concerned about (some of the reason for his success in Indy). He can still exploit running lanes and be an option as receiver.”
The strong tone on Addai indicates that some in the league still believe the veteran running back could be a real presence this season in New England. The fact that he will not be asked to be the No. 1 offensive option will save his legs -- look for him to operate as a situational back, working occasionally as a third-down, change-up presence out of the backfield who can work in blitz pickup and as a pass catcher.
“Robert Gallery was a bit of a head scratcher, but they get things out of these kind of guys.”
Gallery does have some positional versatility -- he started his pro career as a tackle, but has played more guard the last few seasons. (He’s worked a lot at guard over the course of the two OTA sessions the media has been allowed to watch.) Around the league, the Patriots are known for their occasional head scratchers, taking chances on relatively inexpensive veterans late in their careers who are out of options for whatever reason in hopes they’ll re-invent themselves in the New England system. Sometimes, it works (Rodney Harrison, Andre Carter) and sometimes it doesn’t (Joey Galloway, Albert Haynesworth, Shaun Ellis). With Gallery, the jury is still out.