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WEDNESDAY NIGHT LIGHTS
Last night I took a trip to Foxboro for their annual season-ticket-holders-only evening practice. I, of course, got to the stadium late because everyone who has ever worked for the Mass Highway Department is completely useless and should be killed. Closing a lane on 128 during rush hour is like spiking a lung cancer patient with a dodgeball just because you know he isn’t going to move. Nevertheless, I was able to finally see the 2012 Pats put the pads on. Here are a few quick thoughts on what I see and where I see this team going.
Jermaine Cunningham – Belichick, Mike Reiss, and everyone in between have been raving about Cunningham’s transformation this offseason. The Florida DE looked like pure garbage in the limited snaps he saw last season before going to IR. In Reiss’ notes he had Cunningham taking a step back last night despite his hot start earning first team reps. Reiss noted that he had trouble with Marcus Cannon and took a penalty lap for jumping offsides. Either way, let me say this; I saw a much different Jermaine Cunningham last night than I did last year. I saw a DE playing aggressive and putting his abilities to use like he wants a job in the fall.
Struggling First Years Put It Together – Two disappointing things that have popped up in various camp reports this year have been the early struggles of Marcus Cannon and Shane Vereen. I don’t want to get ahead of myself but after seeing them in pads for myself I think they might have started to sort out whatever the problem is. Vereen was hitting the hole with conviction. There was talk that Brandon Bolden might be leap frogging him on the depth chart, but from the amount of carries he got last night I think he’s working his way back up. Bolden did look good in his limited snaps though. Cannon, meanwhile, put a very large Trevor Scott on his ass during a two minute drill.
Bobby Carpenter– The former Buckeye has been this year’s camp surprise and has grabbed a few high profile INTs. Whitebread continued to impress last night. Before you start making Puff Paint Bobby C jerseys let me say something. Yes, I saw Bobby Carpenter pick off 2 passes last night… 2 INTs with no one blocking him, touching him, and no tackling. On one of them the DE beat a 3rd sting OT and would have had a sack and Mallet gave up on the play. But yeah, write it down Bobby Carpenter had 2 INTs in practice. The exact same amount of career interceptions he has after being drafted 18th overall just 6 years ago. Just keep that in mind for a guy whose main concern playing linebacker in the NFL has been a critical lack of physical play. Otherwise, yeah he looks great. I’m honestly pretty disappointed that Carpenter is getting Dane Fletcher’s defensive snaps though. Fletch didn’t make the jump that a lot of us thought he could last year, but I wish they would have given him another chance.
Why is Josh Barrett Still On the Roster? – Really, why? He should have been cut before he even went to IR last year. The safety position got 100% better after Barrett left and the secondary still sucked. I didn’t have to wait long to see #30 back to his old tricks. During a Red Zone drill Barrett drew Hernandez in the endzone. He saw the ball coming Hernandez’ way, bellyflopped in pursuit and gave up an easy touchdown. The photo above was taken right after. If you’re Inhedigbo what do you even say to him, “Bro, maybe try not to fall?” This has been every single clutch situation with Barrett since he got here: you can count on him to blow it. Mike Reiss has him as one of the 3 players working all 4 special teams units. We have how many special team specialists specializing in never being able to play a defensive snap on this roster right now? Honestly, I don’t see the point of risking ever having to put him in a coverage situation again.
Chandler Jones – Looks fast. Looks big. Is practicing with a lot of intensity. And had by far the biggest smile on his face during autographs. By the time I left he had already traveled halfway around the perimeter of the stadium signing autographs for the fans.
Donta Hightower – I’ve been hearing a lot about how he’s been killing it coming off the edge so far in camp. Last night he looked to be primarily working in the middle of the field. It looks like Belichick is ready to get his money’s worth out of his All-SEC front 7.
Ras I-Dowling – I’m seeing a completely different Ras I-Dowling in this year’s camp than the few looks we were able to get this time last year. He’s active. He’s comfortable. And he’s right in the mix of things. This leads me to believe that 1. He was never completely healthy last year. We know he rushed himself back from an injury last summer to do a last minute workout before the draft. 2. Belichick expects to put him out there early on. He worked almost exclusively on the outside all night which is where he’s meant to be. He got burnt once getting caught off guard by the snap, but otherwise looks pretty comfortable. Edelman crossed his face for a goal line grab at one point, and Dowling drilled him one… in a non-contact drill. Edelman, of course, didn’t mind one bit.
Jabar Gaffney – It was tough to keep track of all the receivers even with Brandon Lloyd taking the day off. One thing that definitely did catch my attention was Gaffney aligator-arming a pass across the back line of the endzone because he saw Patrick Chung coming. Pat Chung looks like he’s doing his thing, and I certainly wouldn’t want to get blasted by him. But it was a non-tackle drill. What the hell was he afraid of? I know Gaffney is just coming from the last team desperate enough to employ Joey Galloway, but I assure you there is no room on this team for Joey Galloways. None. There’s a real good reason why Wes Welker is a Patriots icon, and Jabar Gaffney is a guy we let walk away 4 years ago.
Two Minute Drill – The practice ended with a 2 minute drill which was a huge disappointment all around. Brady and the first unit had a lot of trouble moving the ball save for a big leaping grab by Hernandez with Inhedigbo clinging to his jersey. Brady couldn’t connect with Welker across the middle of the field and exited looking noticeably pissed off. Brian Hoyer entered and things didn’t get any better. Fourth and Long’s Jesse Holley torched Ross Ventrone by the sidelines and was in prime position for what should have been a lengthy touchdown. Instead Hoyer put the ball about 10 yards out of bounds. In the final seconds of the drive, with the Pats about 25 yards out, Hoyer forced a pass across the middle for what would have been a 5 or 6 yard gain at best. A pissed off Tom Brady is a productive Tom Brady though and overall I’m encouraged by a lot of things I saw last night.