Camp Confidential: At midway point of preseason, here are five up and five down for Patriots
|08.18.13 at 11:56 am ET|
Two weeks into camp and with two preseason games complete, here’s a look at five players who are on the rise, and five players who need to have a good week to bounce back in the wake of Friday’s game against Tampa Bay.
Brandon Spikes: The electric linebacker, who is always interesting, gave the New England defense an early jolt on Friday night with some big plays. He was extremely disruptive in the running game — as usual — but also showed a nice flair for getting to the passer Friday night. While both of his sacks came on non-traditional pass rush situations, Spikes, who has one career regular-season sack, created havoc in the backfield which led to negative plays for the Bucs. He upended Doug “Muscle Hamster” Martin on one play where the undersized back tried to block him, and that ended up in a sack. He added another later in the first half. If he can continue his evolution from two-down linebacker to more of a complete threat (and stay healthy), he could be in for a truly great year.
Zach Sudfeld: The undrafted rookie out of Nevada has gone from anonymous free agent to quaint underdog story to someone who is continuing to put together consistent performances. He had a pair of catches Friday against Tampa, including a touchdown grab on a pass from Ryan Mallett and a reception from Tom Brady on a two-point conversion that was a really sweet pickup. While he still is a work-in-progress when it comes to his blocking on the NFL level, at this point, it would be unfathomable if he didn’t make the roster. He’ll face another challenge in his development next week against the Lions.
Tom Brady: Frankly. the quarterback has been stunning in his two preseason outings. In 39 snaps, he’s a combined 18-for-20 for 172 yards, two touchdowns and no picks — about as well as you could play, considering the massive turnover at the offensive skill positions. On Friday against Tampa, he orchestrated a masterful opening scoring drive that went 15 plays and 80 yards and took 6:48. Along the way, Brady and the Patriots were able to overcome a pair of penalties on the New England offensive line (Logan Mankins and Ryan Wendell), and ended up punching it in on an impressive 26-yard pass play from Brady to Danny Amendola. His performance must be taken with a grain of salt because the calendar hasn’t yet turned from August to September, but if there were any questions about his physical well-being (no problem with the left knee on Friday, his mental health (after losing his favorite target in Wes Welker) and overall passion for the game (just ask the offensive linemen who got cussed out after the penalties), the quarterback has left no doubt: He’s all in.
Logan Ryan: The rookie defensive back out of Rutgers continues to climb the depth chart, and had one of the best moments of the preseason for any first year player when he picked off a pass Friday night against the Bucs. It was similar to a situation in practice earlier in the week when he was able to read the play and jump the route, a nice play that displayed vision and ball skills. He’s not quite a starter, but he’s certainly done enough to rise to the level of backup, and a good, consistent series of practices — as well as two more good outings in the preseason — should cement a spot with the No. 2 defense on the depth chart by the start of the regular season.
Danny Amendola: While the rookies like Sudfeld, KenBrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce have gotten most of the headlines this summer for their work, Amendola has been the best and most consistent wide receiver for the team since the start of camp. He had an impressive outing in the Friday’s win over the Bucs, catching six passes for 71 yards and a touchdown. It’s clear that even though he and Brady are continuing to build chemistry, there’s no reason to think Amendola won’t catch at least 80 balls if he stays healthy.
Stephen Gostkowski: It’s been a rough start to the preseason for the kicker, who missed two field-goal attempts in the preseason opener against the Eagles and one Friday night against the Bucs. To be fair, the miss Friday was originally a 35-yarder that became a 50-yarder after a pair of penalties (and a timeout from his old sideline), but the misses are disconcerting nonetheless. Gostkowski can fall back on an impressive record — he has a better percentage of made field goals over the first seven years of his career than Adam Vinatieri did — and it’s clear he has the faith of his coach. (Belichick said Saturday Gostkowski was “one of the best kickers in the league.”) But it’s a situation that certainly bears monitoring.
Tavon Wilson: The defensive back — who started so well last season with four picks in his first 10 games as a pro — started to slide down the depth chart last season after the acquisition of Aqib Talib. (The pickup allowed the Patriots to shuffle Devin McCourty to safety, and Wilson’s snap totals slipped dramatically.) While he has had some nice moments in practices, he’s been inconsistent for much of the summer, and had a bad sequence toward the end of Friday’s game against Tampa Bay. Right now, he’s locked in a positional battle at safety, and while he does offer special teams value, he needs a couple of good weeks to solidify a spot on the roster.
Brandon Bolden: He got more run than LeGarrette Blount on Friday night — he was on the field with the starters in the first half — but didn’t do much, ending up with six carries for 38 yards (in his defense, it represented a team-high). He still remains locked in a battle with Blount for what’s likely the last roster spot among the backs, the job of primary backup to Stevan Ridley. With the third preseason game approaching — a contest usually reserved strictly for the starters, at least for the first two-plus quarters — it will be interesting to see who gets more reps behind Ridley. That should give us a clearer picture of who the coaches believe has a leg up in the competition.
Jermaine Cunningham: He always seems to be on the bubble at this time of year, and it’s no different this time around. He’s struggled with health, and has missed out on the last several practices, as well as Friday’s game against Tampa Bay. His status could be tied to that of defensive lineman Marcus Benard — Benard has been shuffled around a lot over the course of the last two weeks, and has occasionally flashed as an interior pass rushing presence in much the same fashion as Cunningham over the last year. While it appears that Benard isn’t quite ready for that job on a consistent basis, if he starts trending consistently in that direction, it could mean bad things for Cunningham.
Ras-I Dowling: Like Cunningham, he’s becoming a fairly consistent presence on the roster bubble, and has struggled to stay on the field over the course of the summer. He could be pushed by some of the younger cornerbacks on the roster, and needs to start stringing together some positive (and healthy) practices before he can be counted on to be a consistent presence come game day.
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