May and June are pretty terrible months for football fans. The NHL and NBA playoffs are wrapping up, and now all of us are chomping at the bit for football to get started again. Unfortunately, the only thing we get for the time being is relatively unimportant OTA and rookie camp sessions that we tend to over-hype and over-analyze. While these glorified flag football leagues supply fans and media members nearly nothing legitimate or concrete to talk about, they are important building blocks for teams. It’s at these sessions where rookies begin to learn what it’s like to play in an NFL system, and veteran free agents begin acclimating themselves to the systems of their new teams and bonding with teammates. The Patriots free agent signings have been the talk of the town so far in OTAs.
Rex Burkhead joined a crowded Patriots backfield this offseason with a one-year deal. He will be competing for a roster spot and playing time with James White, Dion Lewis, Mike Gillislee, and DJ Foster. As I mentioned in my discussion of the Burkhead singing, he is likely to make the roster thanks to his ability to make a significant contribution on special teams, along with his versatility in the backfield. It can be expected to see him on the kick off team, and potentially as a kick or punt returner to spell Julian Edelman and Dion Lewis. Burkhead made a splash this week working with the offense. He was one of Tom Brady’s most targeted options through the first couple days of OTAs. This does not necessarily mean that he will repave Super Bowl hero James White as the Patriots primary receiving back. However, having another running back who excels in pass catching provides the Patriots with depth, and allows them to experiment with their formations. The versatility of these running backs, as well as the Patriots receivers, will allow offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to devise new ways to attack each team.
Trading for Brandin Cooks was arguably the Patriots most explosive move this offseason. The 23 year old receiver has speed, catching ability, and route running precision that Tom Brady hasn’t seen since Randy Moss (sorry Julian, it’s true). He has been turning heads in his first few weeks working with Brady. He has been receiving a high number of targets from his new QB, including a number of beautiful touchdown throws. Both seem to be enjoying each others presence and are committed to making the most of their relationship. The pair stayed late after practice Friday to get more work in, which is a scary thought when you consider how good they’ve looked together already.
Some other key highlights of this week in Patriots OTAs:
– Dwayne Allen struggled this week, dropping a number of passes during practice. This isn’t necessarily something to be concerned about. Coming to New England can be a culture shock, particularly when you are running two-minute drills in the pouring rain in the first week of June.
– Jimmy Garopollo also had a difficult week. He completed under 50% of his passes and finished out the week receiving fewer reps than Jacoby Brissett. Once again, it is a little early to jump on Garopollo’s performance. His poor play is noticeable simply because of how well he played at the beginning of last season.
– Reports came out on Thursday that the Patriots and Julian Edelman, a free agent after this season, are working on an extension. This is a great news for Edelman, Brady, and the fans.
– Some would love to say that the Patriots have cheated their way to five Super Bowl wins in 17 years. I think it has much more to do with things like Bill Belichick screaming at his team during a June OTA practice being conducted in the pouring rain, the same team that is just a few months removed from the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history #NoDaysOff.
Until next time -B$
P.S. Just as a side note, I seriously wonder what Brandin Cooks’ mindset will be once he hits free agency after the 2018 season. He will have spent his entire career catching passes from Hall of Famers in Drew Brees and Tom Brady. Now obviously it makes sense for him to chase the money, but what if the highest paying team is someone like the Browns where the quarterback option is Brock Osweiler? He actually might be willing to take less money to find a higher quality quarterback situation (Patriots, Colts, Packers, Raiders, Bucs, Cowboys, to name a few).