Armond Armstead (97) was a rare sight on the practice field for the Patriots after dealing with surgery to treat infection in 2013. (AP)

Armond Armstead (97) was a rare sight on the practice field for the Patriots after dealing with surgery to treat infection in 2013. (AP)

The mystery over Armond Armstead has ended in retirement.

The 23-year-old defensive tackle originally signed with the Patriots on Feb. 1, 2013, after one season with the Toronto Argonauts. The 6-foot-5, 305-pounder, who was brought in as potential depth along the defensive line, was placed on the Reserve/Non-Football Injury List on Aug. 26, 2013.

There was plenty of speculation about his future in New England before the move to place him on the NFI list and over the course of this offseason, including OTAs and minicamp. Armstead could never fully recover after surgery on July 29, 2013 to treat an undisclosed infection.

But all of that ended Wednesday, eight days before the opening of full training camp.

‘€œIt has been a pleasure being around Armond, as he gave everything he could to play for us,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Wednesday in a team-issued statement. “Armond worked extremely hard since joining us last February. He’€™s had a lot of adversity personally that he’€™s had to deal with ‘€“ unusual compared to most other players ‘€“ but he’€™s always had a great attitude, worked hard and really did everything we asked him to do. While it is unfortunate he will not be able to play football, Armond is an outstanding young man who has a very bright future in whatever path he chooses.’€

Armstead played for the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League after signing with the team as an undrafted free agent in 2012 out of the University of Southern California. He compiled 43 tackles, two special teams tackles and six sacks with Toronto. He was also named to the CFL All-Star game and helped Toronto win the Grey Cup. He started in 24 games at USC from 2008 through 2010.

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

According to a court filing (via The Associated Press), the District Attorney’s office claims that the fiancee of accused murderer Aaron Hernandez repeatedly lied to a grand jury and that it has “direct evidence” to prove it.

According to a court filing (via The Associated Press), the District Attorney’s office claims that the fiancee of accused murderer Aaron Hernandez repeatedly lied to a grand jury and that it has “direct evidence” to prove it.

Prosecutors say their evidence contradicts the testimony of Shayanna Jenkins, who has pleaded not guilty to perjury related to the 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd. Her attorney has attempted to have the charge dismissed.

At one point, Jenkins told the grand jury she could not recall where she disposed of a box that she put in a trash bag, covered with baby clothes, and that she was not hiding her actions. Hernandez allegedly directed her to get rid of the box, the contents of which are unclear.

Jenkins, who was granted immunity before testifying, is free on personal recognizance.

Blog Author: 
Jerry Spar
Stevan Ridley is heading into the last year of his contract. (AP)

Stevan Ridley is heading into the last year of his contract. (AP)

As training camp approaches, we’€™ll offer a position-by-position breakdown of the 2014 Patriots. We opened wide receiver and tight end. Now, it’€™s running back.

Depth chart: Stevan Ridley (178 carries, 773 rushing yards, 7 TDs), Shane Vereen (44 carries, 208 rushing yards, 1 TD; 47 catches, 427 receiving yards, 3 TDs), Brandon Bolden (55 carries, 271 rushing yards, 3 TDs; 21 catches, 152 receiving yards), James Develin (4 carries, 10 rushing yards, 1 TD), James White, Stephen Houston, Jonas Gray, Roy Finch.

Overview: While the passing game occasionally stalled out in 2013, the running game became one of the positions of strength down the stretch last season. While Ridley struggled with fumble issues (so much so he was benched for a December game against the Texans) and Vereen had health problems, it was LeGarrette Blount who provided a boost midway through the year. And after Vereen returned to full health and Ridley bounced back from his ball security issues, that trio formed an impressive group that powered the Patriots late in the regular season and into the divisional playoffs against the Colts. In particular, it was Blount who led the way — after being hooked up to the rejuvenation machine, he produced 431 yards in a three-game stretch (two at the end of the regular season and one playoff game), including 189 yards in the regular-season finale against the Bills. Bolden and Develin did well providing depth, with Bolden seeing an uptick in snaps when Vereen was on the shelf. And Develin provided one of the highlights of the season with his Csonka-esque TD run against the Texans. Going forward, Blount left for Pittsburgh as a free agent, but the Patriots used a fourth round pick on White, a Wisconsin product who fumbled just twice in 754 career touches as a collegian. In addition, they picked up Houston, Gray and Finch, with at least one of them likely ticketed for the practice squad.


1. When healthy, Shane Vereen is one of the most dynamic playmakers in the league.

Vereen played in just eight games last season because of a thumb injury, and while there were some ill-timed drops in the second half of the year, was still able to finish with 47 catches and 44 carries. It’€™s one thing to become a 40-40 guy — Kevin Faulk and Danny Woodhead were the last New England running backs to turn the trick. However, it was made all the more impressive by the fact that Vereen did it in just eight games. The full range of his impressive abilities were on display in the 2013 opener against the Bills where he had 14 carries and seven catches, and averaged 7.57 yards every time he touched the ball. If he can ever stay healthy for a full 16-game season, he has the potential to reach Sprolesian levels.

2. The Patriots believe in the fullback.

The last few years, New England had occasionally added part-time fullbacks to the roster, but players like Lousaka Polite and Lex Hilliard usually only ended up sticking around Foxboro for a few weeks before moving on. But in 2013, for the first time since they had Heath Evans on the roster in 2008, the Patriots employed a full-time fullback in Develin. He was one of 11 fullbacks to finish the year with at least 325 snaps over the course of the regular season, per Pro Football Prospectus. And while he didn’€™t post crazy offensive numbers — four carries, 10 yards and a touchdown — he was an effective member of the offensive game plan. In perhaps a nod to Develin’€™s effectiveness in 2013, according to Football Outsiders, the Patriots were one of the few teams to run better from two-back formations (5.0 yards per carry) than from single-back formations (4.6 yards per carry).

3. At running back, the Patriots are planning for the future.

New England entered the offseason as one of the deeper teams at the running back position — at least before the departure of Blount — but that didn’€™t stop them from using a fourth-round pick on White this offseason. In addition, they added three rookie free agents, including an intriguing prospect in Finch who impressed many in spring workouts. With Ridley and Vereen heading into the final years of their respective rookie deals, it’€™s hard not to look at the collection of youngsters and wonder if New England is guarding itself against the potential loss of one of both of them following the 2014 season. That’€™s not to suggest that White or any of the rest of the rookies aren’€™t capable of providing support this season. It just seems that in a perfect world, the Patriots might have their eye on White, Finch and the rest of the backs as potential contributors in 2015 and beyond.


1. Can Ridley keep ball security issues at bay?

Ridley had fumble problems throughout the 2013 season, and while he rounded into form late in the year — he had 63 straight touches without a fumble to end the year — people are still going to wonder about ball security issues. He fully admitted this spring that he’€™ll be in the spotlight this year when it comes to avoiding turnovers, and can erase any sort of doubts if he can hang on to the rock for the bulk of the 2014 season.

2. Can Vereen stay healthy?

Vereen was dogged by wrist and groin problems in 2013, with the former leaving him sidelined last year for eight games. (He was placed on IR-designated for return after the opener against Buffalo.) When he did return, the wrist likely played a role in the fact that he ended the year with a whopping nine dropped passes. He told ESPN Boston this past spring that his surgically repaired wrist still isn’€™t completely healed. As a result, his pass-catching skills will certainly bear watching when camp convenes later this month.

3. Which one of the rookies has the best chance to make the 53-man roster?

Probably White (more on him shortly), but Finch showed enough in OTAs and minicamp to indicate that he could make it tough for the Patriots to try and get him through waivers and to the practice squad. A 5-foot-7, 167-pounder out of Oklahoma, Finch was a multidimensional threat for the Sooners — as a collegian, he had 262 carries for 1,412 yards and eight touchdowns to go with 58 receptions for 442 yards and two touchdowns. He looked good through the spring sessions, showing a nice pair of hands out of the backfield.

By the numbers: In 2013, the Patriots were one of three teams to finish with at least 2,000 yards rushing and at least 4,000 yards passing. (Green Bay and Philadelphia were the other two.) New England has had good offensive balance in years past, but were almost always considered a pass-first bunch. (Frankly, when you have Tom Brady under center, it just makes sense.) But in a year where the Patriots needed the running game to assert itself, the backfield really did an impressive job stepping into the void.

Key new player: White. The 5-foot-10, 194-pounder — who appears to have an awful lot of Vereen-type of qualities — finished his Wisconsin career ranked No. 4 in school history with 4,015 rushing yards, including a career-high 1,444 yards on 221 carries (6.5 average) and 13 touchdowns. He also finished third all-time at UW in rushing touchdowns (45), which is tied for the eighth-most in Big Ten history. But the stat that really jumps off the page are his fumbles. Or back thereof. He fumbled just twice in 754 career touches as a collegian.

The skinny: The 2013 Patriots came within two wins of becoming the first team since the 1987 Redskins to win a Super Bowl while employing a running back by committee. (Defined as a team that had at least four different backs finish the year with 40 carries or more.) With the departure of Blount — and the expected return of Rob Gronkowski, which should give a boost to the passing game — don’€™t look for New England to spread the wealth in similar fashion in 2014. However, the Patriots will still rely on multiple backs to move the chains on the ground. Both Ridley and Vereen will be fascinating studies this year — both are expected to get the majority of work in 2014, but both are entering the final year of their rookie deals. How long will New England wait when it comes to potentially re-signing them? Will the fact that he doesn’€™t have a deal beyond this season be a distraction for Ridley? And how will Ridley respond if ball security issues become an issue again? The combination of questions will make the running back spot one of the most intriguing positions on the Patriots roster this upcoming season.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price

Sports Illustrated legal expert Michael McCann joined Dennis & Callahan on Tuesday to discuss the latest on former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez. To hear more from D&C, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

Sports Illustrated legal expert Michael McCann joined Dennis & Callahan on Tuesday to discuss the latest on former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez. To hear more from D&C, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

Michael McCann

Michael McCann

Court documents on Monday revealed evidence that prosecutors turned over to Hernandez’s defense in the Odin Lloyd murder case. The documents included interviews with Patriots personnel including Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft, and 33 pages of text messages between Belichick and Hernandez from February 2013 to May 2013.

“I think Hernandez is interested in developing some type of — at least potentially — some type of defense where maybe he lacked the mental capacity to commit first-degree murder, that he doesn’t have the sophistication or there are other mental defects, if you like, that would have prevented him from engineering the murder of Odin Lloyd,” McCann said.

“I don’t think there’s anything in those text messages that implicates the Patriots or Bill Belichick. I have a feeling that they’re going to be — and again, I’m speculating — something more along the lines of conversations about plays or other teams’ players that the Patriots may have interest in. I don’t think there’s going to be anything in there that damns the Patriots.”

The content of the text messages haven’t been made public, but McCann said he doesn’t expect there to be anything in the texts that would put the Patriots in a dicey legal situation.

“I think we would have already seen the Patriots, if not charged with a crime, some indication that that would happen,” he said. “It’s now been over a year; I would be surprised that Belichick would have been able to just continue to coach without any charges if he’s in any way implicated in this case. I could be wrong, there could be something in there, but I have a feeling it’s not going to be, again, as damning of Belichick.

“Now, there is a clause in the collective bargaining agreement, Article 21, that prohibits meetings between coaches and players during the offseason. Maybe that was broken through these texts, but that’s really an NFL issue, not a legal issue.”

McCann said the text messages likely will not be made public, although he said he wouldn’t be surprised in they got leaked. If the messages show that Belichick was aware that Hernandez was with the wrong crowd and tried to steer him away from those people, McCann said it could have an affect on the Patriots’ image.

“I think morally it would raise some issues about what the Patriots maybe could have done to better enforce rules against Aaron Hernandez, that maybe they tolerated him and they knew of his behaviors that were publicly endangering,” he said. “But I don’t think that would lead to civil liability for the Patriots, because it’s very hard to show that Aaron Hernandez was acting within the scope of his employment when he allegedly killed Odin Lloyd and the two other fellows. It’s really not part of his employment with the Patriots.

“So I don’t think it’s going to lead to any civil liability for the Patriots. But I do think it would raise moral issues, and maybe the NFL would take some type of action against the team.”

McCann said Belichick and Kraft might have to testify if Hernandez makes his character an issue at the trial.

“Now, generally speaking, character evidence is inadmissible in a trial unless the defendant wants to make it an issue,” McCann said. “That’s a dangerous move in some ways by Hernandez’s lawyers, because there’s a lot of reasons to think there’s some damaging information about his character in the past. But if he does do that, perhaps to argue that he wasn’t capable of committing first-degree murder, then Bill Belichick, and maybe to a lesser extent Bob Kraft, would be likely witnesses, because they would be familiar with his character, they would have worked with him in the time prior to Hernandez allegedly committing these acts. So I do think there’s a chance that Belichick could go on the stand, and maybe Kraft as well.”

Fall River Superior Court Judge E. Susan Garsh on Monday refused to throw out video surveillance evidence against Hernandez. McCann said that could be bad news for Hernandez.

“That is evidence that does not reflect well on him, there’s no question about it, and it’s going to be difficult for him to explain that away — unless he can say, ‘Well, I normally do that. I lock my house, I defend it,’” McCann said. “Maybe there’s some creative script they can come up with. But yeah, that’s a crucial piece of evidence.”

Blog Author: 
Nick Canelas
In 2014, Rob Gronkowski will attempt to play a full season for the first time since 2011. (AP)

In 2014, Rob Gronkowski will attempt to play a full season for the first time since 2011. (AP)

As training camp approaches, we’€™ll offer a position-by-position breakdown of the 2014 Patriots. We opened with a look at wide receiver. Now, it’€™s tight end.

Depth chart: Rob Gronkowski (39 catches, 592 yards, 4 TDs in 7 games), Michael Hoomanawanui (12 catches, 136 yards, 1 TD), D.J. Williams, Asa Watson, Justin Jones.

Overview: The Patriots have gone from a team that relied heavily on tight ends to one where the position became a relatively ancillary part of the passing game. (In 2011, New England tight ends had 169 catches on 237 targets. Last year, the Patriots got 53 catches on 92 targets from the same positional group.) That’€™s not to suggest that — when healthy — Gronkowski isn’€™t an absolutely vital part of the offense. In one impressive four-game stretch last year (from Nov. 3 through Dec. 1), he had 27 catches for 419 yards and four touchdowns. It’€™s just that with the removal of Aaron Hernandez and the injury issues suffered by Gronkowski, the Patriots have been forced to adapt. Hoomanwanui was a trusted piece of the puzzle in 2013, while New England also got quality snaps from Matthew Mulligan, who has since departed as a free agent to Chicago. Going forward, Hoomanawanui will help pick up the slack if Gronkowski is out for another stretch, while the possibility remains the Patriots will reach out to one of the available veteran free agents still on the market in Dustin Keller and Jermichael Finley. In addition, Williams is still on the roster, but was seen sparingly in workouts this spring, so it’€™s hard to get a handle on just where he is at this point. In addition, rookies Watson and Jones present themselves as possibilities as depth additions and possible practice squad pickups.


1. When healthy, Rob Gronkowski is a difference maker.

When he’€™s at 100 percent, there are few offensive players who are more dominant at their respective positions than Gronkowski is at tight end. (Calvin Johnson? Adrian Peterson?) Despite the on-again, off-again 2013 season, his campaign was highlighted by the aforementioned four-game stretch that was highlighted by a nine-catch, 143-yard performance against the Steelers (both season-highs) that included a touchdown grab. In addition, there was a six-catch, 127-yard game against the Texans that featured a sweet fingertip touchdown catch on a ball from Brady that was off the mark. When he’€™s healthy, no tight end in the game brings the skill set that Gronkowski can deliver.

2. Michael Hoomanawanui isn’€™t an elite tight end, but he’€™s an eminently reliable type of player you need on your roster.

Hooman doesn’€™t bring the thunder like Gronkowski, but he’€™s a better-than-average blocker and has some positional versatility (he can play some H-back in addition to tight end). Throw in a 63 percent catch rate (12 receptions on 19 targets) and a good level of familiarity with the offense, and it’€™s easy to see why the Patriots signed him to a two-year deal in the offseason. (He also had one of the prettiest catches of the 2013 season.) He figures to be a quality No. 2 tight end behind Gronkowski in 2014.

3. Brady trusts Gronkowski more than just about any pass catcher he’€™s ever had.

Gronkowski was on the field for just seven games last season, but according to NFL gamebooks, Brady targeted him a total of 66 times, an average of 9.4 targets per game, tied with Julian Edelman (151 targets over 16 games) for most average targets per game. By way of comparison, Shane Vereen was next on the list with an average of 8.6 targets per game, while Danny Amendola was fourth with an average of 6.9 targets per game and Aaron Dobson was fifth with an average of at 6.58 targets per game. He’€™s far and away the leader at tight end — Gronkowski was targeted 17 times in his first game of the 2013 season, an Oct. 20 loss to the Jets (the seventh contest of the regular season). Through the first six games of the year, the entire group of New England tight ends had been targeted a total of 15 times.


1. Can Gronkowski stay healthy?

The big tight end is a game-changer, but his health issues remain a problem. If you’€™re an optimist, you can point to the fact that there have been no surgeries (that we know of, anyway) for Gronkowski since the reconstructed knee work he had done in January. (By all accounts, he no longer needs his Hoveround to maneuver through Whole Foods.) And if he can stay injury free, he’€™s a transformative offensive presence who can help separate the Patriots from the rest of the AFC. If he’€™s sidelined for an extended portion of the regular season (or the playoffs), New England’€™s chances of a fourth title are diminished. That doesn’€™t mean it can’€™t happen — hey, the Patriots got all the way to the NFL’€™s Final Four last January despite the fact that Gronkowski, Dobson, Vereen, Amendola and Sebastian Vollmer combined to miss 33 games last season. It’€™s only to suggest that the impact of a healthy Gronkowski can’€™t be overstated.

2. Will the Patriots add a free agent tight end?

As of mid-July, both Keller and Finley were still available on the open market. It’€™s believed the Patriots kicked the tires on Keller earlier this spring, while their level of interest in Finley is unclear at this point. Both would likely represent short-term value in being able to offer support while Gronkowski works his way back to 100 percent. Both are coming off injury-plagued 2013 seasons — Keller suffered a nasty knee injury in the 2013 preseason which kept him sidelined for the year, while Finley suffered a spinal contusion last season and underwent neck surgery, bringing his 2013 campaign to an early end. However, the Patriots have never been shy about giving an injured tight end a little extra time to heal. (See Jake Ballard.) If they like what they see from Keller or Finley, it would be a surprise to see them try the same thing this time around.

3. Can one of the rookies make the roster?

Watson and Jones have fascinating backstories. Watson is the younger brother of former Patriots tight end Benjamin Watson and played in 36 games for North Carolina State, catching 29 passes for 351 yards with one touchdown. That despite the fact that he’€™s battled heart issues over the course of his life ‘€” they showed up late in his freshman year, and surgery caused him to sit out the 2011 season. (Watson has Wolff-Parkins-White Syndrome, which causes rapid heart beats.) As for Jones, at 6-foot-8 and 274 pounds, he’€™s a massive presence, one who had great measurables as a collegian at East Carolina. (He posted a 4.90-second 40-yard dash, a 6.88 3-cone drill and 38-inch vertical jump.) He had 52 catches for 598 yards and 12 touchdowns at ECU. Some of it depends on the other skill position areas. (Do the Patriots keep an extra wide receiver or running back?) And some depends on whether or not they decide to chase after one of the veteran tight ends on the market. But they do have some viable options at the back end of the depth chart.

By the numbers: Gronkowski opened his professional career with a string of 46 consecutive games played. Then, his forearm snapped while blocking on an extra point in a November 2012 win over the Colts. Since then, because of forearm, back and knee problems, he’€™s played in just nine of a possible 26 games (including the playoffs), with two in 2012 and seven in 2013.

Key new player: Williams. A fascinating prospect who has played for both the Packers and Jags, Williams had the quote of the year shortly after he was signed late last season. The former Green Bay draft pick said learning the New England offense was like trying to pick up an attractive Latin woman. “€œIt’€™s like trying to pick up Spanish. This offense is very attractive and if you found a very attractive Hispanic lady, you’€™d pick it up pretty quick,”€ he said. “€œI’€™ll get in trouble for that. Just have a good time. That’€™s all it is.”€ The 6-foot-2, 245-pounder played two games with the Patriots last year, but could be a part of the mix in 2014 if New England chooses not to sign one of the veteran tight ends still on the market.

The skinny: As we’€™re evaluating the Patriots’€™ tight ends for the coming year, there’€™s one thing to consider: No franchise prides itself on being more offensive flexible than the Patriots — witness what they were able to do in 2013, going from an offense in search of an identity to a group that became a pass-heavy unit throughout the middle of the season, and then ended the year as a team that boasted one of the stronger ground games in the NFL. Expecting them to go with plenty of two- and three-tight end sets just because it’€™s what they’€™ve done in the past is a mistake. That doesn’€™t mean that Gronkowski (if he’€™s healthy) won’€™t necessarily be the focus of the passing game. Only that when it comes to the New England offense, it’€™s dangerous to assume the Patriots will revert to the expected form just because it’€™s something they’€™ve done in the past.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price

Detectives working the Aaron Hernandez murder cases have interviewed Bill Belichick, Robert Kraft and Nick Caserio about the former Patriots tight end, according to multiple media reports.

Detectives working the Aaron Hernandez murder cases have interviewed Bill Belichick, Robert Kraft and Nick Caserio about the former Patriots tight end, according to multiple media reports.

The revelations were unearthed in documents filed in Fall River Superior Court. The filings, which were made public on Monday, list the evidence prosecutors in the Odin Lloyd murder case have turned over to Hernandez’s defense lawyers in advance of the trial. It includes the fact that Belichick and Kraft have made statements to authorities, as well as the fact that detectives have also interviewed director of football Berj Najarian and strength coaches Harold Nash and Moses Cabrera.

In addition, the filings revealed that prosecutors have turned over 33 pages of text messages between Belichick and Hernandez from February 2013 to May 2013.

Hernandez, who played for the Patriots from 2010 through 2012, faces two more murder counts in a July 2012 drive-by shooting in Boston.

For more Patriots news, check out

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price
Julian Edelman had 105 catches in 2013. (AP)

Julian Edelman had 105 catches in 2013. (AP)

As training camp approaches, we’€™ll offer a position-by-position breakdown of the 2014 Patriots. We open with a look at wide receiver.

Depth chart: Julian Edelman (105 catches, 1,056 yards, 6 TDs in 2013), Danny Amendola (54 catches, 633 yards, 2 TDs), Brandon LaFell (49 catches, 627 yards, 5 TDs with Carolina), Aaron Dobson (37 catches, 519 yards, 4 TDs), Kenbrell Thompkins (32 catches, 466 yards, 4 TDs), Josh Boyce (9 catches, 121 yards), Jeremy Gallon, Jeremy Johnson, Wilson Van Hooser, Reese Wiggins.

Overview: The wide receiver position was in a massive state of flux last year, as quarterback Tom Brady faced the challenge of incorporating a ton of new faces into the mix, all while Rob Gronkowski shuffled in and out of the starting lineup because of injury. Edelman did the best job stepping into the void for New England, putting together one of the finest seasons of recent vintage — his first month was as good statistically as almost any receiver Brady has ever had. Amendola struggled with health, and while he had two terrific games (the opener against Buffalo and the loss against the Dolphins in Miami), there were times when he dropped off the radar screen. Meanwhile, Dobson, Thompkins and Boyce progressed about as well as could be expected, but while they had their moments early, all three had problems down the stretch: Dobson played in two games after Dec. 1, due in large part to a foot injury that has cast his availability for training camp into doubt. Meanwhile, Thompkins caught just nine passes after Halloween, and Boyce’€™s season ended prematurely with a foot injury. Going forward, the group is joined by newcomer LaFell, a versatile presence known for his dependability and blocking skills, as well as a host of younger possibilities.


1. Julian Edelman is the closest thing the Patriots have to a No. 1 receiver.

Edelman caught a combined 69 passes his first four years in the league, and then had 105 in 2013, becoming just the third receiver to catch at least 100 passes in a single season from Brady. (Troy Brown and Wes Welker were the other two.) He was absolutely integral to the success of the New England offense last season, and the passing game in particular. While Edelman should get more help this season than last because of the addition of LaFell and the (presumed) development of the second-year receivers like Dobson, Thompkins and Boyce, he’€™ll be lead option in the passing game, at least until Gronkowski is back to something approximating 100 percent.

2. Danny Amendola is a bit of a mystery.

Amendola was terrific in some games, and absolutely nowhere to be seen in others. The Patriots probably wouldn’€™t have beaten Buffalo in the opener if he didn’€™t come away with 10 catches (almost 20 percent of his total for the season) against the Bills in September. He was banged up in that one, and a groin issue plagued him for much of the rest of the year. After a really impressive 10-catch outing in a December loss to the Dolphins in South Florida, he had six catches over the final four games of the season –€” three in the last two regular-season games and three in the postseason. (In the AFC title game, Matthew Slater was targeted as many times as Amendola.) It sparked questions as to whether or not the quarterback had lost faith in him. A strong summer, good health and a good start to the season would make a lot of those questions disappear, and give Brady another dependable target.

3. Brandon LaFell is a pretty good blocker.

As a member of the Panthers for four seasons, LaFell distinguished himself as a relatively dependable target who was versatile enough to play different spots. (Expect him to do some of that with the Patriots.) But the one thing that really stood out when talking about what he brings to the field are his blocking skills. Speaking at the owners’€™ meetings this past spring, Panthers coach Ron Rivera was effusive in his praise of LaFell and his blocking skills. “I love his tenacity. €œHe’€™s a willing blocker. He’€™s a want-to blocker. He wants to block,”€ Rivera said of LaFell, who signed a three-year, $9 million deal with New England. “€œHe won’€™t block because he has to. He’€™ll block because he has to. He’€™ll block because he wants to.”€ It will be interesting to see how the Patriots utilize that aspect of his game this year.

One more thing: He was underwhelming at times over the course of the season, but Dobson’€™s rookie stats (37-519-4, 12 games) certainly compare favorably to the numbers produced by Deion Branch as a rookie in 2002 (43-489-2, 13 games). Dobson’€™s receiving yards and touchdowns were the most for a rookie receiver in the Brady era.


1. How many receivers will the Patriots keep on the 53-man roster?

As we wrote here, when you compare the number of receivers currently on the roster with the number they usually carry, it seems like someone interesting could be left out of the mix in 2014. The Patriots had six wide receivers to open the 2013 season, five in 2012 and six in 2011, 2010 and 2009. While that number fluctuated throughout the season because of scheme and injury — and is variable when you consider the fact that Slater is a wide receiver in name only — it could get dicey at the back end of the roster. Of course, some of that is dependent on other positions. (They could carry an extra receiver at the expense of another running back or tight end.)

2. Can Edelman stay healthy?

Edelman was colossal last season, and part of that was because he played 16 games for the first time in his career. Now, the question is whether or not he can build on the success of last year, and become a steady, consistent No. 1 threat over the course of several seasons. As we noted here, history is littered with receivers who suddenly flower in their mid-20s. While some went on to bigger and better things over the course of their careers (like Joe Horn and Donald Driver, who clicked in their mid-20s after a few years in the league and went on to successful careers), there have been others who couldn’€™t sustain success. Guys like Washington’€™s Albert Connell (who was out of the league two years after catching 62 passes at the age of 25 in 1999), Carolina’€™s Patrick Jeffers (who had 63 of his 98 career receptions with the Panthers during the 1999 season at the age of 26) and Chicago’€™s Marcus Robinson (he had 84 catches with the Bears in 1999 at the age of 24, but never came close to those heights ever again) are cautionary tales for Edelman.

3. Can one of the rookies crack the roster?

Of the group, perhaps the most intriguing prospect is Gallon, a 5-foot-8, 187-pounder out of Michigan who put up insane numbers with the Wolverines. The seventh-round draft choice broke program records in 2013 for receiving yards in a single season (1,373 yards) and a single game (369 yards vs. Indiana). The 5-foot-8, 187-pound speedster also posted good numbers as a return man, compiling 589 yards on 27 kick returns in 2010, and 192 yards on 31 punt returns in 2011. He faces an uphill battle — especially considering the fact that he’€™s more of a slot guy, and the Patriots already have a pretty good one in Edelman. But New England has had pretty good success with seventh-rounders in the past (Edelman, David Givens, Matt Cassell, Alfonzo Dennard and Tully Banta-Cain), and Gallon could be the latest.

By the numbers: According to Football Outsiders, Patriots’€™ receivers dropped 38 passes in 2014, more than any team except Detroit. (One more: For all the talk last year of Brady being stripped of so many of his offensive options in the passing game, the Patriots head into the 2014 season in great shape when it comes to personnel carryover from 2013. In all, the Patriots lost 305 catches between the 2012 and 2013 season — 75 percent of the output in the passing game. This offseason, it was a far different story: From a percentage standpoint, when comparing New England’€™s 2013 lineup with the 2014 roster, the Patriots had a retention rate of 97 percent when it comes to catches — 370 of 380.)

Key new player: LaFell. The positional versatility is impressive, as well as the previously noted blocking skills. There’€™s a belief he could be moved around the offense like a chess piece, as his athleticism certainly opened some eyes during the spring workouts. The biggest key, by his own admission, is making sure he’€™s got his playbook down. He acknowledged this past spring that Carolina utilized a numbers system when it came to calling plays, while the Patriots operate using code words. It’€™s a challenge, but one LaFell feels he can overcome. ‘€œThe quicker I can learn this offense, the quicker I can go out there and be reliable to play fast and know what I’€™m doing,’€ he said this past spring. ‘€œNow, I’€™m kind of playing a half-speed because I’€™m thinking so much. The quicker I can learn this offense, the better it will be for me to get on this field and help this team.’€

The skinny: While things will be helped by the (expected) return of Gronkowski and the continued evolution of running back Shane Vereen (who had 47 catches in eight games last season), the success or failure of the New England passing game will again rise and fall on the wide receivers. Edelman should be a consistent threat, and while he shouldn’€™t be expected to produce another 100-catch year, a 70-catch season certainly seems like a manageable level of expectation. As for the rest of the passing game, another year together should provide a boost when it comes to the chemistry level between the quarterback and the receivers, and that familiarity will certainly insure that the opening of the 2014 season goes a lot smoother than the start of the 2013 campaign. And if youngsters like Dobson, Thompkins and Boyce can make the leap and Amendola can stay healthy over the course of a full 16-game season, it should mean good things for the New England offense.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price