New England Patriots: James Develin

Some leftovers from Patriots OTAs

May, 31, 2014
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Emptying out the notebook from the Patriots' organized team activities Friday:
  1. Something that stood out to me late in practice was second-year linebacker Steve Beauharnais leading the defensive huddle with authority in 11-on-11 drills. I watched him put his hands on a teammate after barking out the play-call in a take-charge type of manner. Beaurharnais, the seventh-round pick from Rutgers, is a candidate to elevate into a Dane Fletcher-type reserve role in 2014.

  2. The Patriots were light at tight end, with only Michael Hoomanawanui and undrafted rookie Justin Jones on the field. Rob Gronkowski and D.J. Williams were present but not taking part in practice, while undrafted rookie Asa Watson was at the required Rookie Premeire event. Energetic assistant coach Brian Daboll was working the tight ends hard. Jones stands out with his height (6-8, 277) and he seems to have reliable hands. Because he's so big, fluidity with footwork in tight spaces (e.g. sharp cuts in cone drills) looks like it can be a challenge for him.

  3. With the light tight end crew, fullback James Develin broke down with the group and went through pass-catching and blocking drills with them.

  4. There was a quick tempo to the early part of practice, with coaches urging players to get lined up quickly as the offense went through some of its plays. Things eventually slowed down, but it was a good example of how the Patriots want to have the ability to play fast and the coaches created mental stress for the players. Along those lines, there was also plenty of signaling by defensive players, and the use of headsets by the coaching staff.

  5. Linebacker Jerod Mayo (torn pectoral muscle, Oct. 13) was on the field for most of the practice, a sign that his recovery has progressed well, as was expected after he met with reporters earlier this month.

  6. Just as we saw in the AFC-East clinching victory in Baltimore in December, second-year player Josh Kline lined up at left guard. In this case, it was because Logan Mankins wasn't present.

  7. Receivers Danny Amendola, Reggie Dunn and Kenbrell Thompkins, and running back Roy Finch, were a few players taking reps as punt returners. There were several parts of practice devoted to special teams, as is often the case.

  8. While more of the practice was about teaching, receiver Julian Edelman seemed to have a productive session with several catches. At one point, after a missed connection with Tom Brady along the right sideline, he was upset with himself and showed his frustration outwardly. With Edelman and Amendola paired together at times, the Patriots still seemed to be lacking that taller outside presence on sideline and downfield throws.

  9. Practice finished with players called over to a hill behind the second practice field, which they had to run multiple times. As Tom Brady noted later Friday night, it's an uphill climb for the team to get where it wants to go.

  10. The next organized team activity open to reporters is Thursday.

Patriots positional review: RB

January, 24, 2014
Continuing our positional review/offseason preview, here’s a look at the Patriots running backs:

Stevan Ridley
Age: 24
2013 status: Led backs in snaps (28 percent), started 6 games.
2013 highlights: Ran for 773 yards and scored seven touchdowns, though his season will be in many ways remembered for a string of three straight games with a fumble that led to being inactive for a game. Ridley has the most pure running talent on the team, but he must overcome ball-security issues.
Current contract runs through: 2014 season

Shane Vereen
Age: 24
2013 status: Second among backs in snaps (24.3 percent), started 1 of 8 games active
2013 highlights: Missed 8 games because of a Week 1 wrist injury, but became a pass-catching force in his return. Had 47 catches during the regular season, establishing himself as a top pass-catching back in the role previously held by Danny Woodhead. Had some critical drops, but realized potential in third pro season.
Current contract runs through: 2014 season

LeGarrette Blount
Age: 27
2013 status: Third among backs in snaps (23.3 percent), started 7 games
2013 highlights: Came on like a freight train late in the season, surpassing 300 total yards during the regular-season finale. A bruiser who bounced back after a disappointing 2012 season in Tampa Bay. Not always electric, but flashed big play explosiveness down the stretch. Had 8 rushing scores in last four games (playoffs included).
Current contract runs through: Free agent

Brandon Bolden
Age: 23
2013 status: Fourth among backs in snaps (23.2 percent), started 2 of 12 games played
2013 highlights: Was a part of the running back rotation during the middle of the season, playing a critical role in the Week 12 win against Denver. Made more pronounced impact on special teams as a core coverage player.
Current contract runs through: 2014

James Develin
Age: 25
2013 status: Played 25.8 percent of offensive snaps, starting 6 of 16 games at fullback
2013 highlights: A hammerhead who brought unique toughness to the offense this season and was roundly respected by his teammates. Made his contributions primarily as a lead blocker in two-back sets, though he also chipped in with a rushing touchdown against Houston.
Current contract runs through: 2014

Others on the roster: Jonas Gray, Sam McGuffie (RB/WR)

Positional need: New England’s approach at running back has often been by committee, and 2013 was no different. Vereen cemented himself as the go-to option when the team pressed the up-tempo button, while Ridley and Blount were more of the bellcow types. While Blount’s performance late in the season makes him a player of interest to bring back, NFL teams are becoming judicious in paying big bucks to backs because of their "replace-ability." That being said, bringing Blount back would solidify the depth at the position, with three quality starter types and Bolden as insurance.

Rapid Reaction: New England Patriots

January, 11, 2014

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Sharing thoughts on the New England Patriots' 43-22 divisional-round playoff victory Saturday over the Indianapolis Colts:

What it means: The Patriots advance to the AFC Championship Game for the eighth time in Bill Belichick's 14 years as head coach, which continues a remarkable run of success for Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady. Many of the faces around them have changed over the years, but Belichick and Brady have been the constants, and one could make a case this has been their most impressive season as a tandem. The Patriots have been hit as hard by injuries as any team in the NFL, but they've willed their way to put themselves in position to win their first Super Bowl championship since the 2004 season.

Running game sparks attack again: For the third consecutive game, the Patriots' ground attack was the difference-maker, led by hard-charging LeGarrette Blount (franchise-record four rushing touchdowns). The Patriots split snaps at running back evenly among Blount, Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen, and sliced up the Colts with strong work up front by the offensive line -- left tackle Nate Solder, left guard Logan Mankins, center Ryan Wendell, right guard Dan Connolly and right tackle Marcus Cannon -- as well as tight ends Michael Hoomanawanui and Matthew Mulligan and fullback James Develin. When the Patriots run it like this, it brings back memories of the 2004 Super Bowl championship team for which bruiser Corey Dillon was the lead back.

Injuries to monitor: Punter Ryan Allen left the game in the second quarter with a shoulder injury and did not return. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski handled the punting duties, and Brady handled the holder responsibilities as part of the field-goal operation. If Allen is unavailable in the AFC Championship Game, the Patriots would almost certainly bring in another punter. Former Patriot Zoltan Mesko isn't an option, as he punted for the Bengals in the playoffs and isn't eligible to join another team. ... Elsewhere, rookie receiver Kenbrell Thompkins left the game in the fourth quarter with a head injury (presumably a concussion) and did not return. Veteran Austin Collie was his replacement.

Stock watch: Jamie Collins -- up. The Patriots' top pick in the 2013 draft (52nd overall) was thrust into an expanded role, in part because linebacker Brandon Spikes was placed on season-ending injured reserve earlier in the week. Collins had played just 25 percent of the defensive snaps during the regular season, but he didn't come off the field and made his presence felt as a tackler, pass-rusher and in coverage with an interception. He was all over the field in what was a coming out party for the ultra-athletic defender from Southern Mississippi.

What's next: The Patriots will play in the AFC Championship Game against the winner of Sunday's game between the visiting San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos (4:40 p.m. ET). If Denver beats San Diego, the AFC Championship Game will be played in Denver. If San Diego beats Denver, the AFC Championship Game will be played in New England. Regardless of location, the game will be played at 3 p.m. ET next Sunday.

Groupings: TE & FB show their value

December, 27, 2013
One of the things that will be charted on a weekly basis is the positional groupings used by the New England Patriots' offense, as they reveal player value and take us deeper into the X's and O's of how coordinator Josh McDaniels is attempting to attack the opposition.

The biggest takeaway from last Sunday's 41-7 win over the Ravens is that the Patriots ran just 19 of their 69 snaps (27.5 percent) out of their base three-receiver package. The season average entering the game was 59 percent of the snaps out of the three-receiver package.

So why the change?

A big part of the Patriots' approach was to establish a physical presence at the line of scrimmage, which is why they played with more multiple-tight end packages (28-of-69, 40.6 percent) and more two-back packages (23-of-69, 33.3 percent). This gave them a little more power up front, and with that came an added wrinkle of some empty formations with that personnel on the field that kept the Ravens' base defense honest.

When it comes to front-line Patriots performers, fullback James Develin and tight ends Michael Hoomanawanui and Matt Mulligan aren't often mentioned. But their hard-nosed approach, and how their strengths as players were utilized by the coaching staff, stood out on Sunday.

For the season, here is a simplified breakdown of the team's 1,127 offensive snaps (including penalties, not kneel-downs):

3 or more WRs: 644 of 1,127
2 or more TEs: 279 of 1,127
2 backs (mostly RB/FB combo): 278 of 1,127

There is a 74-play overlap, which accounts for snaps in which there was a combination of 3 WRs/2 backs and 2-3 TEs/2 backs.

Picked-up pieces from 1st-quarter review

December, 23, 2013
Picked-up pieces from reviewing the first quarter of the New England Patriots’ 41-7 win over the Baltimore Ravens:

1. Offensive lineman Logan Mankins talked after the game about the Patriots having success with zone runs, which displaced the Ravens' sturdy defensive front, as defenders were often over-pursuing. This was evident on LeGarrette Blount’s 11-yard run (1:50 remaining) as the Patriots created a strong side to the left with tight ends Michael Hoomanawanui and Matthew Mulligan and ran in that direction, with Blount hitting the cut perfectly as the left side sealed things off and right guard Dan Connolly got enough of nose tackle Terrence Cody to create enough of a crease. That was the type of run play in which the Patriots had great success throughout the day, and the key seemed to be getting the big Ravens defenders moving east-west at the snap.

[+] EnlargeLeGarrette Blount
Patrick Smith/Getty ImagesLeGarrette Blount's runs in the first quarter, including one for a TD, owed much to the Patriots' offensive line.
2. The overall offensive line play was solid, although right tackle Marcus Cannon seemed to be the primary breakdown with two negative runs – defensive tackle Arthur Jones crossed his face to bring down Stevan Ridley for a loss of 2 yards (7:03 remaining) while Cannon missed a block on Terrell Suggs when Blount was brought down for a loss of 3 yards (1:18 remaining).

3. The first offensive play foreshadowed what was to come the rest of the day in terms of the Patriots’ approach. Out of their 2 WR/2 TE/1 RB package, the Patriots aligned tight ends to both sides (in more of a pass set) and brought receivers Aaron Dobson and Julian Edelman in tight to the formation to constrict the defense. The Ravens countered with an eight-man box and Connolly pulled to deliver one of several solid blocks on Blount’s 5-yard run over the left side. An opening play can sometimes be described as an “attitude” play, and that’s how we’d view this one.

4. Marquice Cole, playing the role of gunner on the punt team, drew the penalty on Jimmy Smith that led to the Ravens starting their initial drive at their own 7.

5. When the Patriots’ running game is discussed, much credit goes to the offensive line, tight ends and backs. But receivers shouldn’t be overlooked. Patriots receivers are willing blockers, and they were involved in run-blocking Sunday, as evidenced on Blount’s 14-yard run (12:18 remaining). Dobson half-motioned into the line of scrimmage and blocked down on Suggs before getting up on linebacker Jameel McClain. Good effort, and you also see Edelman doing his part, knocking safety Matt Elam on his backside in front of the play.

6. More physical play – fullback James Develin plowing through the hole and pancaking linebacker Josh Bynes on Blount’s 1-yard touchdown run.

7. Develin was also a factor on the Patriots’ second red-zone touchdown, his vertical route helping create traffic so McClain had to go around him to cover running back Shane Vereen. Great design and execution, which came after CBS analyst Phil Simms said, “Of course they didn’t give us any details last night, but I think the Patriots have a lot of stuff up their sleeve [in the red zone], ways to get guys singled up so they can make plays a little easier. No Gronkowski for the jump ball. No big, tall receiver on the outside to throw the fade to in the corners. Gotta find a different way.” Simms’ timing, like the Patriots’ execution, was perfect.

8. For such a flag-happy game, one detail stood out on the play in which Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan intercepted Joe Flacco: Ravens left tackle Eugene Monroe isn’t on the line of scrimmage, as it’s noticeable that the left side of the Ravens’ line is fanned out in a way that gives them an unfair advantage in pass protection. That should have been an illegal-formation penalty from our view.

9. Defensive tackle Vince Wilfork once again accompanied the team on the trip and was seen jotting down notes after Ryan’s interception. Looks like the Patriots have an addition to their staff: Coach Wilfork.

10. Cornerback Kyle Arrington can be a lightning rod of sorts among Patriots followers because of his occasional struggles on the outside, but one aspect that coaches have to appreciate about him is his toughness when playing in the slot. On Bernard Pierce’s 5-yard run (3:41 remaining), Arrington set the edge against tight tackle Michael Oher, forcing Pierce to cut the run back. Tale of the tape – Arrington (5-foot-10, 190 pounds) vs. Oher (6-4, 315). Those are little effort things that showed up throughout review of the game -- the Patriots getting more of those type of plays. The run wasn’t defended particularly well on the backside, but Arrington more than did his part.

11. One change for the Patriots in their rush front was keeping Chandler Jones outside, with Andre Carter instead rushing from an interior position. Probably just a case of the Patriots attempting to dictate specific blocking matchups, but it was a switch from the norm.

12. Edelman’s first quarter: 34-yard pass-interference penalty drawn, 5-yard illegal-contact penalty drawn, one incomplete pass, a 17-yard reception and an 11-yard punt return. It’s the type of production we regularly saw from Wes Welker in 2007-2012. No doubt, this is as well as Edelman has played in the NFL. He's their go-to guy right now in the passing game.

13. Vereen came out of the game after pulling up on a second-and-13 incomplete pass in his direction (44 seconds remaining) as he was running down the left sideline with McClain in coverage. Vereen left for the locker room but later came back to the sideline (although he never re-entered the game). As of late Sunday night, it wasn’t considered anything serious with Vereen; it was more of a precaution. There was a penalty on the play for an illegal shift on receiver Danny Amendola.

Ups and downs for the Patriots

December, 1, 2013
HOUSTON -- A look at New England Patriots players whose performance was "up" against the Houston Texans, and those at the opposite end of the spectrum:


James Develin: Fullback's 1-yard touchdown run is reflective of his career path from Brown University to the Arena Football League, the United Football League, an NFL practice squad and then an NFL roster -- a gutsy never-give-up effort.

Julian Edelman: Comes up big for the second week in a row and is currently the team's most reliable and consistent receiver.

Stephen Gostkowski: Two field goals from 53 yards in the second half are clutch.

Rob Gronkowski: Tight end continues to round into form and is a big factor in the passing game with another day over 100 yards receiving.

Offensive line: Solid protection for quarterback Tom Brady for much of the day as J.J. Watt isn't heard from often.


Kyle Arrington: Cornerback is in coverage on a 66-yard reception by receiver DeAndre Hopkins in the fourth quarter. Arrington was excellent in the slot last week against Wes Welker and the Broncos, but his struggles against Houston came on the outside.

Dont'a Hightower/run defense: Linebacker is one of several defenders to struggle getting off blocks and making tackles, as the Texans have success on the ground.

Kickoff coverage: Opening return of the game for the Texans got them started on the right foot.

Rapid Reaction: New England Patriots

November, 18, 2013

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A few thoughts on the New England Patriots' 24-20 loss to the Carolina Panthers:

What it means: Great game as Cam Newton outdueled Tom Brady. Brady brought his "A" game but this was Newton's night. He had some dazzling runs against a defense that couldn't make the stop at the critical time. The Patriots fall to 7-3, and they will look back at some lost opportunities as this game was there for the taking. This was a limited-possession game -- the Patriots had just seven offensive drives -- which magnified mistakes on both sides. The Patriots had more of them early and trailed 10-3 at the half before the teams combined to play an exciting second half. A third-and-1 incomplete pass through the back of the end zone forced the Patriots to settle for a field goal to go up 20-17, which set up the Panthers' game-winning touchdown drive. The Patriots fought to the finish, but their final drive fell short with the clock also working against them. Should a penalty have been called on the final play? Fair question.

Aqib Talib vs. Steve Smith: This was the matchup within the matchup and the win goes to Smith, the Panthers' veteran receiver. The two were jawing from the get-go and had to be separated several times after plays. Talib appeared to lose his cool early. Smith beat Talib for a 42-yard gain down the left side in the first quarter, which was a tone-setter of sorts for a one-on-one battle that was especially fun to watch. Talib ultimately left the game in the fourth quarter with a hip injury and didn't return.

Stock watch: Patriots running back Stevan Ridley's ball-security issues resurfaced. He fumbled on the team's second drive and was kept on the sideline for 18 snaps before the coaches went back to him. Ridley runs hard, but if he continues to struggle holding on to the ball, it will likely lead to a drop in his playing time.

Injuries to monitor: Patriots No. 2 tight end Michael Hoomanawanui left the game in the second quarter with a knee injury and did not return. In his absence, five-year veteran Matthew Mulligan bumped up the depth chart and fullback James Develin was utilized a bit more. Also, as noted above, Talib left with a hip injury in the fourth quarter.

Leg whip by Cannon draws scrutiny: Patriots tight tackle Marcus Cannon's leg whip on Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson, which knocked Johnson out of the game with a knee injury, wasn't penalized. But Cannon will likely hear from the NFL in terms of a fine.

Turnover streak snapped: The Patriots had forced a turnover in 36 straight games entering the night, which was the longest active streak in the NFL, but that came to an end.

What's next: The Patriots return home to host the Denver Broncos on Sunday night. Another Brady versus Peyton Manning matchup will be a top storyline, along with receiver Wes Welker's return to town. Welker sustained a concussion in the Broncos' win over the Chiefs on Sunday and his status will be monitored closely.

Quick-hit thoughts after first quarter

September, 12, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – After 15 minutes of play, the New England Patriots lead the New York Jets 10-3. Passing along quick-hit notes and observations from the first quarter:

1. Offense starts fast. No Amendola, Gronk and Vereen? No problem, at least to start, as Tom Brady found rookie wide receiver Aaron Dobson for a 39-yard touchdown on the team's opening drive. Dobson was untouched and uncovered on the play, taking his first career catch for a score. The offense started with two backs and two receivers on the field, with fullback James Develin getting some early offensive run.

2. Talib forces Hill fumble. The Jets looked to have a big play on their hands when quarterback Geno Smith hooked up with Stephen Hill up the seam, but New England cornerback Aqib Talib saved his defense by forcing a fumble that was scooped up by Devin McCourty and returned deep into Jets territory. The end result: a chip-shot field goal by Stephen Gostkowski to put the Patriots up 10-0.

3. Jets claw back. The Jets, briefly, cut the lead to 10-6, though a touchdown throw from Smith to Clyde Gates was called an incompletion after a video review. Smith deserves credit for putting together an impressive drive, standing tall in the pocket and delivering a couple of solid throws.

4. Connolly, Gregory each banged up. Both eventually returned to the game, but right guard Dan Connolly and safety Steve Gregory had to receive medical attention during the first quarter. Hard to tell specifically what they were dealing with, but it looked like a left-hand issue for Connolly. Marcus Cannon stepped in for Connolly, while rookie Duron Harmon took Gregory's place.

5. Penalty box. The following Patriots were flagged for penalties during the first quarter: offensive tackle Nate Solder (holding; declined) and defensive end Chandler Jones (roughing the passer).

Source: FB Develin to be re-signed

September, 5, 2013
The New England Patriots will re-sign fullback James Develin, a league source confirmed.

Develin, who finished the 2012 season on the team's active roster, was released earlier this week. A Brown product, he had a stint with the Bengals after spending time in the United Football League.

The Patriots created two roster spots earlier Wednesday by releasing tight end Matthew Mulligan and center Braxton Cave.

Develin adds versatility to play fullback and some tight end, as he did during training camp, as well as on special teams.

The Patriots now have one more open roster spot on their 53-man roster.

Nick Underhill of first reported the news.

Putting a wrap on Monday

September, 2, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Another busy day with the New England Patriots, who practiced for the second straight day, this time in light shoulder pads and helmets. There is no scheduled practice Tuesday.

Here is a recap of some of the big news of the day.

Who's in: CB Marquice Cole; TE Matthew Mulligan (not official, but expected to be after he tried out for the team)

Who's out: FB James Develin

Thoughts on moves: One day after waiving Cole, the Patriots brought him back. It looked like a case where the intention was to bring him back regardless and they just needed a roster spot for a day. There have been a lot of moving parts on the roster with waiver claims and there is an element of strategy in play when it comes to putting together the practice squad.

Following up on Gronkowski: For the second straight day, tight end Rob Gronkowski joined his teammates at the start of practice. He once again went through warmups. After practice, Bill Belichick said, "He's definitely moving forward." Yet when asked if he viewed Gronkowski's presence at practice the last two days as a significant step, Belichick wouldn't go that far. He simply called it the "next step."

One spot open on practice squad. The Patriots finalized the signings of receiver Quentin Sims and offensive tackle R.J. Dill to the practice squad. They join the previously announced signings of safety Kanorris Davis, cornerback Justin Green, defensive lineman Marcus Forston and linebackers Je'Gared Davis and Jeff Tarpinian. The Patriots have one open spot on the practice squad, which could go to guard Josh Kline should he clear waivers.

Locker room feel: Running back LeGarrette Blount, receiver Kenbrell Thompkins, linebacker Jerod Mayo, cornerback Aqib Talib and safety Devin McCourty were among the players drawing larger media crowds. Blount's potential presence as the Patriots' top kickoff returner was notable, especially after the release of Leon Washington. There aren't many 250-pound kickoff returners in the NFL. Blount and rookie receiver Josh Boyce are two of the team's top options.

Mayo brings the humor. Mayo kept things light, standing on the chair in front of his locker and announcing his presence. When media members were slow to make their way to his locker, he considered leaving, joking that it was similar to when a substitute teacher wasn't on time for a college class and students elected for a quick exit. That set the tone for an interview that was light-hearted at times. Mayo was asked if he remembered his first game as a rookie, and he couldn't come up with any details. "Who did we play the first game of '08?" he asked. When told it was the Chiefs, and that it was a game many Patriots followers prefer to forget because of Tom Brady's knee injury, Mayo stopped in his tracks. "Oooooh, you're right. We don't talk about that," he said.

Looking ahead. Belichick and coordinators Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia will hold conference calls Tuesday afternoon.

Source: Patriots waive FB Develin

September, 2, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The Patriots have waived fullback James Develin, a league source confirmed.

Develin, signed to the team's practice squad on Sept. 1 of last season, eventually landed on the active roster in late November, providing special-teams value.

He worked at tight end during portions of training camp this year, and with the team down to just three tight ends on the active roster -- one of which is the recovering Rob Gronkowski -- there was a feeling that he might earn some reps as an H-back type player to provide offensive versatility.

The Brown graduate entered the league in 2010 when he was signed to the Bengals' practice squad after a stint in the United Football League.

The Patriots' roster is now at 52 players. During his Monday afternoon news conference, coach Bill Belichick suggested that the team would remain active with its roster tweaks.

"There are probably going to be roster moves over the next few days," he said. "I don’t even know what they are but it’s just that time of year. Between the practice squad and the roster, there’s a lot of transition. I don’t know, there could be."

Nick Underhill of first reported the news.

Sharing some midday cut-down thoughts

August, 31, 2013
Sharing non-Tim Tebow-based thoughts on some of the Patriots' roster moves today:

1a. The change at punter, with Zoltan Mesko out and rookie Ryan Allen in, has many layers. Both showed this preseason that they are deserving of punting in the NFL this season and that's why I took the unconventional approach of keeping both on a final 53-man roster projection (the idea being that maybe it would have been easier to slide Allen to the practice squad after a few weeks). Allen's upside is obvious; his leg is a bit stronger than Mesko's. But Mesko's control and directional punting seemed a notch above over the course of training camp and the preseason. However, Allen's three second-half punts on Thursday might have been the clincher, which showed his potential when it comes to control and directional punting.

1b. Economics shouldn't have been the primary reason for the decision to go with Allen over Mesko, but it has to be a consideration. Mesko was due to earn $1.3 million in the final year of his contract. Allen has a three-year contract and is due to earn $405,000 this season.

1c. There is a trickle-down effect when it comes to the field-goal operation, as Mesko has served as the primary holder for kicker Stephen Gostkowski. Allen didn't hold at Louisiana Tech, but he's worked on the skill since joining the Patriots. Allen will likely become the primary holder, although backup quarterback Ryan Mallett could also be a consideration for the role.

1d. In 2005, the Patriots released rookie kicker Robbie Gould after an impressive camp and later regretted it when Adam Vinatieri departed in free agency the following year. I wondered how much that experience might have played a factor in this decision.

1e. Mesko goes down as one of the players who was most fun to cover. He also seemed most genuine and his farewell message to fans was most classy. One of my favorite personal memories of Mesko was how he was brought to tears after receiving the team's community service award in 2012. It meant so much to him and the emotions took over.

2. The biggest surprise has come among the reserves at defensive end, with Justin Francis, Marcus Benard and Jermaine Cunningham all being cut. They projected to the 3-4-5 spots on the depth chart. Health was likely a factor with Francis and Cunningham, as they have been sidelined. There is always the possibility for them to return if not picked up elsewhere, but an initial thought is that 2013 seventh-round pick Michael Buchanan (previous film breakdown) has impressed to the point that the coaching staff felt comfortable letting go of more experienced depth at the position. Buchanan was impressive on Thursday.

3. Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui was scheduled to earn $1.3 million, but he's agreed to reduce the salary this year with the chance to recoup some of the earnings in incentives, which helped him stick on the roster. Hoomanawanui's smarts, professionalism and dependability made an impression on the coaching staff last season. That he was the last tight end standing among the group of himself, Jake Ballard and Daniel Fells is a minor surprise.

4. The release of defensive tackle Marcus Forston was a mild surprise from this viewpoint. This could mean that rookie defensive tackle Joe Vellano is the top backup behind Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly. Vellano caught the eye early in training camp, but still didn't think he'd top Forston at this point.

5. Still waiting to hear the fate of presumed bubble players like Vellano, safety Adrian Wilson, running back Leon Washington, linebacker Jeff Tarpinian, fullback James Develin and linebacker Steve Beauharnais.

Could fullback be making a comeback?

August, 24, 2013
One of the common refrains heard around the NFL in recent years is that the fullback position is on the verge of becoming extinct.

Here in New England was no exception. In 2011, for example, the Patriots didn't carry a pure fullback on their roster as the plan was to build around a two-tight end attack.

Heath Evans
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesThe Patriots haven't regularly featured the fullback position since Heath Evans' heyday.
Over the years, it's been Sam Gash ... Marc Edwards ... Heath Evans and then a big gaping hole. Sometimes the Patriots have used a tight end in that role (Michael Hoomanawanui last year). Other times, it has been an offensive lineman.

But could the pure fullback be on the verge of making a comeback with the Patriots?

That was one question that came to mind after watching hard-nosed James Develin play some meaningful first-unit snaps in the team's past two preseason games, as the Patriots worked on their two-back sets.

Then you consider that if the Patriots are going to be without tight end Rob Gronkowski early in the season, maybe they're looking for different ways to make up for his strong blocking presence in the running game.

And there was also 2012, when the Patriots brought three fullbacks to training camp -- Spencer Larsen, Tony Fiammetta and Eric Kettani -- which seemed to reflect some desire to re-introduce the position into the attack. It didn't work out, but the intent was there.

So the topic was broached with Bill Belichick on Friday.

And boy, did he take the football and run with it.

The question was on the difference between a personnel grouping of "12" personnel (1 back, 2 tight ends) and "21" personnel (2 backs, 1 tight end).

We'll step out of the way and let Belichick take over:

[+] EnlargeJames Develin
AP PhotoJames Develin could be in line to make the roster if Bill Belichick wants to feature a fullback on offense.
"Fundamentally, when you have one back in the backfield and you have four on-the-line receivers, that gives you an ability to get into the defense potentially with four people. Or even if it’s three of them, sometimes the defense isn’t sure which three of them it is. One tight end could be in it and the other guy could be in protection, that type of thing. I think you’re able to attack the defense from the line of scrimmage a little bit quicker and with a little less predictability, depending on who those players are, of course. That's certainly a factor.

"But as far as your running gaps, I mean, you can put more width at the formation by having a [second tight end] on the line, whether it’s four on one side and two on the other side of the center or three and three. You just have a wider front, which there are some advantages to that.

"By having [a fullback] in the backfield, you can create that same four-man surface or three-man surface after the snap so the defense doesn’t know where the four-man surface or three-man surface is. The fullback has to -- he can build that from the backfield. And then there are also, let’s say, a greater variety of blocking schemes with the fullback in the backfield because he can block different guys and come from different angles. He's not always behind the quarterback. He could be offset one way or the other and create different blocking schemes and angles that it’s harder to get from the line of scrimmage.

"Also, depending on who your tight end is, it can be a little bit easier to pass protect seven men because two of them are in the backfield instead of us having one in the backfield. And then when you start running guys up the middle in the gaps and things like that. I think fundamentally it’s a little easier to pick them up when you a have a guy in the backfield that can step up and block him from the fullback position as opposed to a tight end in the line of scrimmage who probably isn’t going to be able to loop back in and get him, so the line is probably all going to have to gap down or not gap down if the guy drops out and all that.

"It just creates a different ... it creates some advantages, I think, and it also creates some things you have to deal with. You just have to decide how you want to deal with them.

"Obviously when you have a guy in the backfield, it’s harder to get those two receivers vertically into the defense in the passing game. They’re usually running shorter routes to the flat or checking over the ball or those kind of things, short crossing routes -- versus having that fourth receiver on the line of scrimmage who can run some downfield routes, again depending on who the individual person is. The skill definitely changes what you can do with that guy.

"So, I mean, I think those are the things that come into play. Some teams are very settled in one type of offense or another, so all of their plays and their rules or their adjustments come from that particular set. And other teams use multiple looks to, say, run the same plays or the same concepts to try to give the defense a different look. It’s harder for them to zero in on what they’re doing. But they’re able to do similar things from different personnel groups or different formations. That's a long answer to a really short question, but hopefully that helps a little bit."

Sure does. Thanks much.

It only piques the interest that much more on if the pure fullback might be making a comeback in New England.

Picked-up pieces after 2nd-quarter review

August, 23, 2013
After reviewing the second quarter of the Patriots’ 40-9 preseason loss to the Detroit Lions, here are some picked-up pieces and observations:

[+] EnlargeJoe Vellano
Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY SportsJoe Vellano is one of five undrafted free agents to make the Patriots' 53-man roster.

1. Looking for signs of life from any of the Patriots’ reserve defensive tackles because of the team’s shortage of depth, I had a few thoughts on the 23 first-unit snaps played by rookie Joe Vellano, who started in place of Vince Wilfork. The highlight came on a second-and-goal rush early in the second quarter on which Matthew Stafford threw incomplete into the end zone, as Vellano (aligned as a 3-technique, outside shade on guard) showed nice initial quickness to beat veteran left guard Rob Sims on a one-on-one rush to the inside. He caught Sims lunging and made him pay. That’s one area in which Vellano has flashed at times in camp -- first-step quickness as a rusher in tight spaces. But other times, Vellano’s relative lack of size (6-foot-2, 300 pounds) was evident against the Lions when he was more easily blocked in the running game (e.g. Montell Owens’ 6-yard run with 7:05 remaining in the quarter). The Patriots are thin at defensive tackle, and Vellano, at the least, looks like a strong practice-squad candidate.

2. The Patriots didn’t have a good night rushing the football, but there were a few positive flashes when fullback James Develin was in the game. Stevan Ridley’s 4-yard run with 12:55 remaining in the quarter came out of the two-back set, as did Ridley’s 5-yard run on the next drive. One of the downers out of the two-back set was a Ridley rush for a 1-yard loss on first-and-10, on which left end Jason Jones was unblocked (likely a busted assignment somewhere). Develin played nine snaps with the first-unit offense and also was inserted on the first-unit kickoff return unit in the wedge. He’s built some momentum over the past two weeks in terms of potentially earning a roster spot. Running out of a two-back set, as compared to a two tight-end set, gives the defense a different look and seems to be something coordinator Josh McDaniels has been interested in incorporating into the attack since his return.

3. Coming into the game, there was plenty of talk about the Lions’ strong defensive tackle duo of Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, and they came as advertised. But it was actually the ends who might have produced more havoc, as it was an off night for Patriots tackles Nate Solder (left) and Sebastian Vollmer (right). It’s rare to see Vollmer beaten so cleanly, as he was by Jones with 4:58 remaining in the second quarter. That seemed to be an example of how a simple technique error can lead to a play being blown up, as Vollmer’s pass set didn’t appear deep enough, which gave Jones a clear path to Tom Brady, who had taken a seven-step drop on play-action. The play never had a chance because Jones was there as Brady completed his play-action fake. The Patriots were relying on Vollmer to handle Jones one-on-one because right guard Will Svitek and center Ryan Wendell had doubled Suh. Overall, there seemed to be a lot of pressure off the edges, forcing Brady to step up, where Suh and Fairley were mostly waiting.

4. More of a general point, but we heard Bill Belichick talk last week about how the Patriots have more versatility at cornerback this season than in the past in terms of players who can play inside and outside. A good example of this came on back-to-back series in the second quarter when the Patriots were in the nickel package (five defensive backs). On one series, rookie cornerback Logan Ryan lined up outside, while Kyle Arrington was in the slot. On the next series, Ryan was in the slot (playing competitively on tight end Tony Scheffler) and Arrington was outside.

5. Remember how tight end Rob Gronkowski first broke his forearm, playing the wing position on the field goal protection unit? One line of thinking is that perhaps a different player could fulfill the assignment so as not to subject a top player to additional risk of injury. Belichick, however, hasn’t changed his thinking since Gronkowski’s injury as the Patriots had Chandler Jones in that role on Thursday night.

6. The Patriots were stopped short on fourth-and-1 late in the second quarter when Develin was stopped for no gain. That was the one play of the half on which the offense went with three tight ends (Jake Ballard, Michael Hoomanawanui and Zach Sudfeld) and then two backs (Develin and Ridley). Sudfeld couldn’t hold his block on Ziggy Ansah, who crossed his face and crashed down the line to make the tackle. We touched on Sudfeld’s blocking earlier in the day as the area to watch for him to become a more complete tight end, and this play stood out as one he’d like to have back. In the regular season, perhaps the Patriots will turn to an offensive lineman as an eligible receiver on that type of play. Also, in fairness to Sudfeld, there was no certainty that Develin would have made the first down had he held his block. The Lions had pretty good push across the board.

Leftover thoughts from Pats' loss

August, 23, 2013
DETROIT -- Some leftover thoughts and observations from the Patriots' 40-9 loss to the Lions:

1. It seemed like incumbent punter Zoltan Mesko had created some separation on rookie Ryan Allen leading into the game, and that was reinforced after the game as well. Mesko punted three times, while Allen punted twice (both were 53-yarders, but one was mishit). Mesko also held on kicker Stephen Gostkowski's lone field-goal attempt. Hard to imagine Mesko losing the job at this point.

2. Fullback James Develin's inclusion on the first-unit kickoff return could bode well for his chances to make the roster. Develin lined up in the wedge position opposite defensive end Marcus Benard (he was on 3 special teams units). Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui had been used there in the first two preseason games, which could signal that he's on shaky ground to stick. As a fullback, Develin played nine snaps with the first-unit offense. One downer to his night: Not being able to pick up a first down on a fourth-and-inches carry late in the second quarter.

3. Working on the dime package (six defensive backs) seemed to be a top priority for the Patriots, and we saw safety Adrian Wilson move down to a linebacker-type role in that grouping. He was involved in Reggie Bush's 67-yard catch-and-run, taking a bad angle that helped spring Bush free, and didn't seem to be entirely comfortable reading and reacting to what was unfolding in front of him. The Patriots started Devin McCourty and Steve Gregory at safety, which seems to be viewed as their best coverage-type players at the position. Wilson came on in the second half.

4. Tough night for the offensive line, as the Lions -- powered by Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley at tackle -- won the battle at the line of scrimmage. The Patriots had 18 carries for 32 yards at the half and had been turned one-dimensional on offense, which is never the way they want to play. Then add in two penalties (Logan Mankins false start, Sebastian Vollmer holding) and two sacks of Tom Brady and it just wasn't their night.

5. Coaches often like to see how a player responds to adversity and while it's easy to look at receiver Kenbrell Thompkins' stat line (8 catches for 116 yards) and conclude he was a top performer, that overlooks one aspect of his night. Thompkins dropped what would have been first-down reception that ended the team's second drive. His ability to move on to the next play was evident as he proceeded to make some big plays for the team the rest of the way.

6. Rookie safety Duron Harmon served as the personal protector on the punt team. As the coaching staff considers which 46 players to dress on game day, special teams can be a big factor for a reserve safety like Harmon. He was also part of the top kickoff coverage unit and on the punt return unit.