Sunday NFL Notes: Earning Tom Brady’s trust big part of confidence game for James White
|08.17.14 at 6:00 am ET|
1. There’s a wide range of opinions when it comes to rookie running back James White. Many national analysts have expressed doubt about White and his chances to succeed in the New England offense, pointing to his performance in the first two games as proof (he averaged 2.7 yards per carry against the Eagles, and just nine yards on four carries against the Redskins). Meanwhile, those who have spent time around the team — as well as many of his teammates — believe that White has had a good summer, and while he may not unseat any of the regulars when it comes to playing time this year, he certainly has a place on the roster in 2014. From this viewpoint, it’s more of the latter for a few reasons, including the fact that quarterback Tom Brady has already managed to express a deep level of faith in the youngster. Brady has been effusive in his praise of White the last few weeks, telling Sirius/XM in July that “nothing seems too big for him. In the few practices we’ve had, he’s made an impression on everybody,” and adding earlier this month that White has “done a great job since he’s got here. He’s got a real maturity for someone who is just getting out of college.” It’s not Brady’s job to pump anyone’s tires, but in year’s past when he’s been asked about a player who has had issues, he’s turned the focus outward, spotlighting the woes of the team as a whole and not just the one player. On both occasions when asked about the rookie out of Wisconsin, he’s kept the focus on White, offering praise. That should tell you something about the confidence the quarterback has in the young running back. In the end, we don’t really know what the coaches think of the 5-foot-10, 194-pounder and his overall progress in the system — the numbers suggest that he may be struggling at times to pick things up. None of this is to suggest White is going to be the next 1,000-yard rusher in the New England system. Ultimately, it’s important to remember that when it comes to surviving in the New England offense, if you have the confidence of the quarterback, that can go a long way toward securing a roster spot.
2. Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones has been working more and more at dropping into coverage over the course of the summer, and had a chance to show some of that in the game against the Eagles Friday night. Operating in space is no easy feat for a defensive end/outside linebacker, and while Jones remains a work in progress, watching him try and do it made me appreciate what Willie McGinest did for several seasons with New England. The two are relatively the same body type — Jones is 6-foot-5 and 265 pounds, while McGinest was 6-foot-5 and 270 pounds — but there was a fluidity in McGinest’s game that’s still lacking in Jones. Of course, it’s a tough job: For a defender of that size who has been rushing forward to the quarterback for the bulk of his career, working in space represents a fundamental reset in their approach to the game. You not only have to be able to move forward at a high rate of speed as needed, but the position demands that you change direction quickly. You also have to work laterally, get a jam on pass catchers off the line, and run with them stride for stride in coverage. Whether it was getting after the quarterback or dropping into coverage as a big guy, McGinest had all of those skills, and managed to make it look easy over the course of his career with the Patriots. (For what it’s worth, Jones said he’s welcomed the chance to show off some versatility, saying, “I enjoy it. I really enjoy it.”) Jones has already professed to be a big McGinest fan — with the added responsibilities, he’d be well-served to go even deeper in his study of McGinest going forward.
3. Much was made this week of the fact that Philly wide receiver Jeremy Maclin beat Darrelle Revis deep on a ball during the joint practices between the Patriots and Eagles. While it was a smartly executed play on the part of the Philadelphia offense, it was a bit of a surprise to see Revis get beaten. He’s had an excellent summer to this point, and plays like that have almost been nonexistent. But speaking with him after practice about the situation, he didn’t seem too worried, sounding like a veteran who has the bigger picture in mind when it comes to reps over the course of training camp. “I’ve been doing this for a while,” Revis said when asked about letting up, “and sometimes you do that and sometimes you don’t. It depends on how everything’s going. But like I said, they’re reps. Even though I’m not maybe running that fast, or whatever, they’re reps and I know what I need to do during that play.” There have been many instances this summer where we’ve made the Revis-Randy Moss analogy, and this is another one. Both understand the teachable parts of camp, as well as the importance of working with teammates. But at the same time, they understand as Hall of Famers what they need to do to get up to speed in time for the regular season. Bottom line? Don’t read too much into the fact that Revis gave up the score to Maclin. It’s all part of the preparation process for the regular season.
4. Speaking of Revis, we were able to get his perspective this week on the semi-regular sessions off to the side of practice this summer that have involved Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski. Revis has been working with the pairing as Gronkowski continues to get up to speed throughout camp, offering him a look as a defender and providing some resistance for the big tight end as he goes through his progressions. To use a baseball analogy, it’s a little like Revis is a hitter being asked to step into the batter’s box with a bat while a rehabbing pitcher gets some work in. While it’s interesting watching three of the Patriots most important players working off to the side by themselves while the rest of the practices goes on on another field (sometimes, Bill Belichick wanders over to get a look at what’s going on), Revis said it’s simply a chance for Gronkowski to get some work in as the tight end continues his rehab. “It’s giving Gronk a look and giving Tom and Gronk a look and I’m just doing what Coach asks me to do,” Revis said. “He asked me to just try to cover him the best way I could and make sure Gronk got reps. It’s been going great, and we’ve been working hard.”
5. Two players who will be in the spotlight this week for the Patriots are Gronkowski and rookie defensive tackle Dominique Easley. Gronkowski took another step forward this week as he was in pads, but was still not part of any live contact involving the Eagles. It remains to be seen if the team wants to try and get him some physical contact between now and the start of the season — even if it’s just a handful of live action snaps over the next two weeks before Week 1 — but it would seem like minimal contact sooner rather than later would be the next logical step in the rehab process. One guy who is probably loser to live action is Easley. The rookie out of Florida wasn’t part of any of the 11-on-11 action with the Eagles over the course of the last week, but he did jump in on some pass rushing drills, and displayed a nice burst, as well as an ability to cut and change direction. It’s just a gut feeling, but from this viewpoint, Easley will see contact before Gronkowski does.
6. With 16 practices in the books and two preseason games now out of the way, here’s a look at the practice attendance to this point in the summer. (As we’ve previously stated, It’s important to remember in some cases, players like Tyler Gaffney, Greg Orton and Terrence Miller have been shuffled on and off the active roster since the start of camp – that’s one of the reasons why they don’t have more official absences than the ones we have listed here.
Wide receiver Jeremy Gallon
Offensive lineman Chris Martin
Wide receiver Aaron Dobson (foot)
Running back Tyler Gaffney
Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui
Defensive lineman Dominique Easley (knee)
Center Bryan Stork
Defensive back Jemea Thomas
Linebacker Cameron Gordon
Linebacker Deontae Skinner
Linebacker Ja’Gared Davis
Special teamer Matthew Slater
Tight end D.J. Williams
Defensive lineman Sealver Siliga
Defensive lineman Chris Jones
Safety Kanorris Davis
Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard
Linebacker James Anderson
Wide receiver Greg Orton
Offensive lineman Dan Connolly
Linebacker Chris White
Wide receiver Josh Boyce
Cornerback Brandon Browner
Tight end Terrence Miller
Defensive lineman Ben Bass
7. One interesting note that popped up on the radar over the last week was the fact that the Broncos lost linebacker Danny Trevathan for six to eight weeks because of a fracture in his left knee joint. Trevathan isn’t necessarily a marquee player, but he’s integral to the Denver defense on a few levels, including the fact that he’s an acknowledged team leader who finished with a team-best 124 tackles last season. Known for his ability to work in coverage, his loss for an extended stretch would certainly test the Denver pass defense, at least as it relates to short and intermediate routes. The Patriots and Broncos don’t meet until Nov. 2, but it will be interesting to see how the loss of Trevathan impacts the team over the first month-plus of the season, when Denver faces playoff teams in six of the first nine games from last year.
8. Intrigue coming out of Western New York, as it appears that separate groups led by Jon Bon Jovi and Jim Kelly have had conversations about joining forces in pursuit of the Bills. Both groups have run into issues in their attempts to buy the team, with Bon Jovi committing a series of PR missteps that has left football fans of Buffalo skeptical about the possibility of him landing the team and keeping it in Buffalo. (Not to mention the fact that Bon Jovi and Belichick remain friendly, which is enough to make any Bills fan more than a little suspicious.) Meanwhile, Kelly who remains a massive fan favorite in New York, has struggled to come up with the financing needed to close the deal. The theory is that Kelly would be the face of the franchise and vouch for Bon Jovi’s group when it came to keeping the team in town and not moving them to Toronto, while the Bon Jovi group could come up with the cash needed to make the deal happen. (For what it’s worth, it appears the current front-runners are Sabres owner Terry Pegula and his wife, Kim.) For a complete rundown of the latest, make sure to check out this story from our pal Tim Graham, who has been on the case from the beginning.
9. In something that may interest only the media, when reporters were let into the Patriots locker room for the first time since the end of the 2013 season, they found the locker room slightly altered. In year’s past, it had always been something of a numbers system — kicker Stephen Gostkowski (or whoever had the lowest number) was in one corner next to the equipment managers’ room, and for the most part, things went in a numerical fashion all the way around the room. Now, things have been changed a bit, with most of the players in what appears to be a random series of lockers throughout the room. For what it’s worth, Brady is still at his old locker, as well as linebacker Jerod Mayo, Gostkowski and punter Ryan Allen. And while the defensive backs still occupy the same neighborhood (with Revis taking Aqib Talib‘s old locker), much of the rest of the room has changed. For instance, Chandler Jones is where Logan Mankins used to be. On first glance, it appears the rookies are sharing lockers — Jimmy Garoppolo has White as his locker partner. (They dress at the same stall inhabited by Tommy Kelly last year — now, Kelly is across the room.) Things will change as cuts come down, as those who remain will more than likely get their own locker. In the postgame rush to get quotes, we didn’t get a take from anyone on the new layout, but we’ll make sure to ask about their thoughts this coming week. Just thought it was an interesting note worth passing along.
10. With the third preseason game coming up this week when the Patriots meet the Panthers at Gillette Stadium, here’s a quick look at how Brady has performed in the third preseason game of the summer since 2007:
2013: Last year against the Lions in Detroit, Brady was 16-for-24 for 185 yards and one pick in 45 snaps.
2012: He played 45 snaps against the Buccaneers, going until the end of the third quarter before yielding to Ryan Mallett. Brady ended by going 13-for-20 for 127 yards with one touchdown, one interception and two sacks in what turned out to be his final action of the preseason.
2011: Against the Lions in Detroit, Brady played 37 snaps and was lifted at 9:02 of the fourth quarter in favor of Brian Hoyer. Brady was knocked around pretty good in this game against a physical Lions front (he was sacked twice, fumbled once and was hit seven times), and ended up going 12-for-22 for 145 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
2010: That season was likely the finest preseason of his career, and the third preseason contest may have been the best of his career. Against the Rams in Foxboro, he took 30 snaps and finished an astonishing 18-for-22 for 273 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. (He was lifted with 12:30 left in the fourth quarter. That’s the deepest he’s gone as of late, but that game plan was likely altered by the fact that the Rams went on a 15-play, 76-yard drive that consumed 9:19 at the start of the second half.)
2009: This one will always be known as the Albert Haynesworth game. The future New England defensive lineman drove Brady to the turf on the final play of the first half, busting up the shoulder of the quarterback. While Brady wasn’t technically removed from the game, he didn’t play at all after the hit. Ultimately, he ended up playing 29 snaps and going 12-for-19 for 150 yards with two touchdowns, no picks and one sack.
2007: No snap count information is available, but Brady was able to step off the plane from Los Angeles — he missed a couple of days of practice following the birth of his son — and go 17-for-22 for 167 yards and two touchdowns. His night included an impressive 18-play, 80-yard drive right off the bat that went 9:43.