Sunday NFL Notes: What’s a reasonable level of expectation for Dominique Easley this season?
|08.10.14 at 6:00 am ET|
1. Given the fact that Dominique Easley has missed all 11 training camp practices to this point in the summer, what can he be expected to contribute as a rookie this season? Easley is one of two first-round picks who have not practiced at all with his teammates over the course of camp — Giants first-round pick Odell Beckham, Jr. (taken 12th overall) has not practiced with New York since the start of camp because of hamstring woes. (For what it’s worth, Beckham practiced some during OTAs, a little during minicamp and half a practice during training camp before aggravating his hamstring. He’s been out since.) The defensive lineman out of Florida, who tore his ACL last September and had surgery in October, was on the field for the final practice of minicamp in June, and appeared to have no issues when it came to cutting, getting a good push out of his stance and changing direction, but he has yet to take the field with the rest of his teammates since the end of July. On and off the record, his teammates say that Easley is doing well and diligent in his approach. “He’s working. He’s working just like I am — stacking days,” veteran defensive lineman Tommy Kelly said of Easley in June. “He’ll be all right. He’s a very hard worker. When he gets out here, I’ll be just as excited as you all.” One Herald report indicated he could hit the field with his teammates as soon as this weekend, but even if he does get on the field, he would still be behind the rest of his teammates when it comes to getting up to speed. Ultimately, Easley’s rookie year could be similar to that of Jamie Collins, who struggled to get acclimated to the game over the first half of the year, but came on quickly down the stretch and was a key contributor late in the season. He’s not on the field yet, but if Easley’s 2014 arc follows Collins’ 2013 performance, the Patriots will likely be very happy with the results.
2. Overall, the Patriots were whistled for 19 penalties in the 2013 preseason, not counting the ones that were offset or declined. (In last year’s preseason opener, the Patriots and Eagles combined for six total penalties, with one on New England and five on Philadelphia.) Three of those fell under the umbrella of this year’s point of emphasis — one defensive holding, one illegal contact and one illegal use of hands, all committed by defensive backs. In the opener against the Redskins Thursday night, New England was flagged for nine penalties in all. One (an illegal contact call against Brandon Browner) set up a Washington first down, while two other calls that went against the Patriots (which were ultimately declined) saw Logan Ryan getting whistled for a defensive holding call and Nate Ebner getting caught for illegal contact. It’s a small sample size — and soon we’ll know more about how the Patriots are dealing with the increased points of emphasis, as the referees will be in camp for a few days this week at practice — but it appears that there will be an uptick in calls when it comes to defensive backs in the passing game.
3. One group that apparently didn’t have an issue with the increased scrutiny in its first game was the Seahawks defensive backs. Some allege that the new points of emphasis this year sprung directly from the play of the Seattle secondary, a skilled group when it came to blurring the line between stirring physicality and outright illegal play. (Richard Sherman has said that officials can’t throw a flag on every play.) While the Seahawks-Broncos game was bogged down by 25 penalties, former NFL head of officiating Mike Pereira noted on his Twitter feed that there were only three defensive holds and one illegal contact called, all of them against Denver. The Seattle defensive backs said they knew what was coming, and were ready to tweak their games. “We knew that the emphasis would be on making sure they called penalties, to let us know they’re not playing this year,” said Seahawks safety Earl Thomas. It will be interesting to see how the Seattle secondary plays when the regular season begins, but to this point, it appears they have done some adjusting.
4. Everyone is getting used to the new points of emphasis for defensive backs, but it appears the Browns are really thinking outside the box when it comes to trying to get its secondary to stop clutching and grabbing. Cleveland corners and safeties have been wearing boxing gloves during practice in hopes of deterring the hands-on approach favored by most corners, an approach that will likely get you flagged for illegal contact or defensive holding these days. The smaller gloves, used by kickboxers and in mixed martial arts, are designed to make sure corners can’t get their hands on receivers. “You’ve got to get guys out of that habit,” said Browns coach Mike Pettine when asked about the decision to add gloves. “It’s more the mentality that they know they have to be able to cover more with an open palm than grabbing and restricting, especially if the rule is going to be called as tightly as we’re told it is.”
5. This sets up to be another big week in the return of Rob Gronkowski. The tight end, who missed the three joint practices and the preseason opener in Washington against the Redskins, is expected to take part in the practices this week with the Eagles. To this point in the summer, it’s apparent that he’s been able to hit all the key points in his rehab process — while he hasn’t been involved in any 11-on-11 work with his teammates over the second half of most practices, he’s been frequently seen working off to the side with quarterback Tom Brady and cornerback Darrelle Revis, running routes, catching passes and breaking a good sweat as he continues to build up his fitness level. Now, the next step figures to be live 11-on-11 work. While it’s not clear what his level of involvement will be this week against the Eagles, it’s worth noting that when he came back in 2010, Wes Welker was held out of the preseason opener against the Saints and had his first game action that summer in Week 2 against the Falcons, when he got six snaps. In Week 3 against the Rams that summer, it was another six snaps for Welker against the Rams. Given the similar length between Welker and Gronkowski’s respective injuries and the start of camp (Welker suffered his knee injury in January, while Gronkowski was hurt in December), it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Patriots utilize the same rehab timetable they did with Gronkowski as they did with Welker four years ago.
6. The fact that the Patriots lost Chris Jones midway through Thursday’s preseason game against the Redskins and Sealver Siliga over the course of the week — Erik Frenz of Boston.com reported Siliga was spotted at CBS Scene Saturday in Foxboro with a cast on his left hand and his arm in a sling — could shake up their depth along the defensive front, at least in the short term. It all depends on the severity of the injury, but backup interior linemen like Marcus Forston and Joe Vellano could see an uptick in reps this week as a result of what happened to both Jones and Siliga. (In hindsight, this makes the recent news of Armond Armstead‘s retirement even tougher, given the fact that the recent events might have created an opening when it comes to playing time. In addition, the fact that veteran Kevin Williams was apparently close to signing with the Patriots makes you wonder what might have been.) As for current free-agent possibilities, there’s not much out there on the market. Isaac Sopoaga is still available, but based on the way things ended last season, it’s probably a long shot that he’d return. At this point, it’s likely the Patriots stay the course with what they have. It’s worth monitoring Jones’ training camp attendance in the coming days, as well as whether or not Forston and Vellano see more action in hopes of getting those two up to speed as full-time backups as fast as possible. If they are out there more often, it could be a sign that New England will be relying on them more down the road.
7. By way of a refresher, here are some key upcoming dates on the NFL calendar:
Tuesday, Aug. 26: First cuts. Prior to 4 p.m. EST, clubs must reduce their rosters to a maximum of 75 players on the active list.
Thursday: Aug. 28: Final preseason games are played.
Saturday, Aug. 30: Final cuts. Prior to 4 p.m. ET, all teams must reduce rosters to a maximum of 53 players on the active/inactive list. In addition, teams that have players on the PUP or NFI list must classify those players as one of the following: place player on Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform or Reserve/Non-Football Injury or Illness, request waivers, terminate the contract or trade the contract.
Sunday, Aug. 31: Waiver claims and practice squad designation. Claiming period for players placed on waivers at the final roster reduction will expire at noon, EST. Beginning at that time, teams may start to establish a practice squad of eight players by signing free agents who do not have an accrued season of free agency credit or who were on the 46-player active list for less than nine regular season games during each of any accrued seasons.
Tuesday, Sept. 2: The first day a player can be assigned a Designated for Return IR label. After 4 p.m. EST, a club is permitted to place a player on Reserve/Injured as Designated for Return.
Wednesday, Sept. 3: At 4 p.m. ET, all player contracts, tender offers and other miscellaneous must fit within the 2014 salary cap,
Thursday, Sept. 4: Regular season begins.
Sunday-Monday, Sept. 7 and 8: First full week of Week 1 action.
8. After eight years in the NFL, veteran safety Steve Gregory called it a career Saturday. The 31-year-old, who played eight seasons in the league, spent the 2012 and 2013 seasons with the Patriots, and in 26 games in New England, he had 81 tackles and three interceptions. Over the last two years, Gregory was accorded by several of his teammates as one of the smartest guys they had ever played with, with several of them noting that Gregory would make a good coach when his playing days were done. Gregory himself alluded to the idea of coaching sooner rather than later in his retirement announcement, saying that “it is my hope to continue in football as a coach.” If he does go into coaching, he would be the latest in a long line of former Patriots who have ended up roaming the sidelines.
a) On defense, former New England linebackers Mike Vrabel (linebackers coach with Houston) Larry Izzo (assistant special teams coach with the New York Giants), Bryan Cox (defensive line coach in Atlanta) and Roman Phifer (assistant linebackers coach with Denver) have reached the NFL level. In addition, former Patriots defensive lineman Rick Lyle (assistant strength and conditioning coach with San Diego) and Anthony Pleasant (assistant strength and conditioning coach with Houston) can now call themselves NFL assistants. In addition cornerback Otis Smith has spent some time as a coach at a few different stops, including Kansas City.
b) On the other side of the ball, former Brady backup Kliff Kingsbury (head coach at Texas Tech) and offensive linemen Adrian Klemm (run game coordinator and offensive line coach at UCLA) have enjoyed success at the college level. Meanwhile, offensive lineman Joe Andruzzi (assistant strength and conditioning coach with New England) has been a fairly reliable presence around Gillette Stadium since his playing days ended. And former running back Kevin Faulk and offensive linemen Dan Koppen and Grey Ruegamer have recently taken high school coaching gigs as well.
9. The tablets that were used by coaches throughout Week 1 of the preseason had mixed results. When it comes to the Patriots, coach Bill Belichick sounded happy about the fact that you could get all your information in one easy package, but questioned the consistency of the system, particularly when it comes to maintaining a Wi-Fi connection throughout the game. The Giants coaches liked them — including the fact that down, distance and time remaining were automatically included in the screen grab — but added there’s one other potential problem: glare. To this point, the preseason games have been at night. When games are played at 1 p.m. in the regular season, seeing the images under the sun could become difficult. “There are some reservations that they provide you with even before you start out,” said Giants coach Tom Coughlin. “Things that have to do with the sun and that type of thing, but we didn’t have any issues in that first one.” When it comes to maintenance and rules, the league will own and operate the tablets, providing each team with 25 tablets for each game — 13 for the sidelines and 12 for the coaches’ box. However, the league will take steps to make sure they are tamper-proof, as well as protected: tablets are locked in a cabinet between games. In addition, the tablets cannot view video, and they do not have Internet access. (A league spokesman indicated they will also keep the printers for traditional images on the sidelines, just in case.) According to the Associated Press, the tablets will be locked in a temperature-controlled cart when not in use, and they operate on a secure network so no one can hack in and intercept the images.
10. No surprise here, but old friend Chad Johnson is making headlines in the CFL. The ex-Patriot got off to a good start with his new team, the Montreal Alouettes, with four catches in his first five games, including a touchdown where he ended up hugging an official at the end of the play. But he’s struggled a bit since his good start, and the revelation from Montreal head coach Tom Higgins this week that Johnson occasionally enjoyed preferential treatment didn’t go over well in the locker room. This week, an anonymous teammate ripped Johnson, saying he wasn’t putting in the effort worthy enough of being a starter. “We’re trying to win here. This isn’t some slap-d— vacation league,” the player said when asked about Johnson and his place on the team. “Put the best players on the field that want to play.” Johnson responded by saying, “I do all the work everyone else does,” and Montreal receivers coach Erik Campbell added that Johnson “works well in the classroom and the field.” Johnson has always made for compelling theater, and this year seems to be no exception.