Neil’s NFL Daily: July 30, 2013

Neil Hornsby continues his training camp tour with a stop at Gillette Stadium -- and the Patriots could be on the verge of some significant defensive changes.

| 4 years ago

Neil’s NFL Daily: July 30, 2013

Monday, July 29 — Patriots Camp (Gillette Stadium)

Monday with the Patriots was a little different from the more traditional practices I’ve seen so far but there was good reason. New England played inside Gillette Stadium itself following what was a tremendous ceremony inducting linebacker Tedy Bruschi and radio play-by-play man Gil Santos into the Patriots Hall of Fame. It was extremely well done and Bruschi produced one of the best acceptance speeches I’ve heard, detailing his career with heartfelt thanks to all who had played a key role.

Finally Bill Belichick spoke and told the Patriots faithful that of all the players he had worked with none defined the words “football player” better than Bruschi — an incredibly significant statement.

Then it was onto the practice itself, and while the action was still toned down I felt it was by far the most physical of the five sessions I’ve seen to date. Here’s my observations.

Dime Not Nickel?

I don’t know if they have a nickel package and practice it on other days, but all I saw yesterday was base and the dime scheme I’ve detailed in the revised chart below. The minor exception is that yesterday Alfonzo Dennard started outside, opposite Aqib Talib, but as Ras-I Dowling is unlikely to be suspended in Week 1, I’ve stayed with him.

Perhaps it’s the addition of Adrian Wilson that’s allowed them to change (if indeed they have), because from what I saw when they went to six defensive backs Wilson was used more in the role of a linebacker, close to the line of scrimmage and coming forward on rushes as often as dropping back. That left Devin McCourty and 2012 holdover Steve Gregory playing deeper.

Up front, the usual manifestation of personnel left the package as a 3-2-6, with Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones flanking Vince Wilfork, alternating with each other — one hand up, one down. As expected, Jerod Mayo and Dont’a Hightower were the two linebackers.

In 2012 they played base on 39% of snaps (this year expect a lot of 3-4-4 with Tommy Kelly as the LE, Jones at RE and Spikes pairing with Mayo at ILB), nickel on 40% of plays and dime on only 11%. I’m guessing that last number rises significantly this season.

Cannon Takes up the Mantle

Last year the weakest link on the offensive line was right guard Dan Connolly, but he still opened camp as the incumbent. It wasn’t that Connolly played particularly poorly, but in comparison to the rest of the star-studded unit he stood out in the wrong way. His grade of +0.2, with slightly negative grades in both run and pass blocking being mitigated by excellent discipline (he only gave up a single penalty), was 17.5 points below the next lowest member of the group.

Enter Marcus Cannon, who played predominantly tackle last year, to compete for the role. His one start (Week 12 against the Jets) was a success, grading +3.6 in that game, so it was no real surprise when he was promoted above Connolly for the last few days.

Obviously Connolly’s cap number of $3.3m this year, rising to $4m in 2014 is unhelpful to his cause, but that won’t be the deciding factor. If Cannon can continue to play as well as he did in limited opportunities last year it will become a very simple football-only decision.

Other Notes

— RT Sebastian Volmer and LOLB/DLE Rob Ninkovich stayed on the field practicing against each other a good 15 minutes after everyone else had left the field. Throughout the evening Volmer had rotated snaps with Will Svitek, but given the huge chasm in ability between the two I’m sure this was a precautionary measure due to the issues with Volmer’s back that have dogged his career.

— It’s difficult to get a handle on the Patriots receivers because of the overt rotation, but Aaron Dobson looks to be the next man up after Danny Amendola. An unusual name that appeared further up the rotation than I assumed was Kenbrell Tompkins so maybe its worth watching him for at least a roster spot.

— With Rob Gronkowski out, Daniel Fells was the clear No. 1 tight end and he underlined that with a nice catch in the seam from an uncharacteristically mediocre Tom Brady.

NB: I’ve amended the New England depth chart accordingly, added in the position battles in purple and the update is below:

Other editions of Neil’s NFL Daily can be found HERE


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Neil founded PFF in 2006 and is currently responsible for the service to the company's 22 NFL team customers. He is constantly developing new insights into the game and player performance.

  • Fabio

    Hi Neil, really enjoying your work here from Brazil. What would it be Dennard´s grade? Thanks

    • PFF_Neil

      Thank you Fabio – If Dennard plays, based on last year, I’d go above average.

  • joof

    Was Tavon Wilson replaced by Gregory? I thought he moved ahead as the nickel S

    also, is Jake Ballard on the field at all? I know he was a decent new te a few years back before he had a severe injury

    • PFF_Neil

      It was Gregory on the vast majority of nickel snaps. As for Ballard he was out there and is probably 2/3 TE at the moment with Hoomanawanui

      • joof

        ok thank you.

    • Ben

      Last year T. Wilson was playing the role it sounds like A. WIlson is playing now. In Dime the Pats have a “Money” position (4th CB) that’s replacing the Mike (hence, “_M_oney”) and they like to use a safety there since he has all the same responsibilities of the middle linebacker in base defense, just that they are expecting to need a guy with better coverage skills.

      Fun Fact: The nickel corner is called the “Star” since he replaces the Sam LB in much the same way

  • D.S.T.

    Considering that Talib should easily hit Above Average this year, Dowling’s never had a full season, Dennard may win his appeal, Dobson should be an Average/Above Av. starter, and Boyce is projected to beat out Jenkins, this depth chart should be very solid by camp’s end.

  • Ben

    Dan Connolly has been replaced by Marcus Cannon due to Connolly’s offseason shoulder surgery, it’s not based on performance. …yet.