The New England Patriots’ regular season opener officially is less than a week away, but it’s time to look back to the summer one last time.
Patriots beat writers Doug Kyed and Zack Cox name their summer superlative and awards.
Doug Kyed: Anthony Johnson
— Johnson has played just seven regular season games since going undrafted out of LSU in 2014, and he split his time in 2015 between the practice squad and being out of football. He then beat out NFL veterans Terrance Knighton and Markus Kuhn for a roster spot in New England — not too shabby for a player who couldn’t generate headlines over Jon Bostic when he signed.
Zack Cox: Anthony Johnson
— It has to be Johnson, whom I admit I’d never heard of before the Patriots brought him in a few months ago. Honorable mentions here for me would be Marcus Cannon, who’s looked very good at right tackle, and — on the other end of the spectrum — Rob Ninkovich, who was suspended four games last week after testing positive for a banned substance.
Kyed: Terrance Knighton
— Patriots fans, assisted by us media types, worked themselves into a tizzy when Knighton signed, believing he would be the second coming of Ted Washington. He wasn’t, and he was released after just three preseason games. Sorry.
Cox: Terrance Knighton
— Another obvious pick. Knighton was supposed to be a starter — or, at the very least, a key reserve — on the Patriots’ defensive line. Instead, he didn’t even make it to final cuts.
ROOKIE OF THE SUMMER
Kyed: Joe Thuney
— Malcolm Mitchell had the potential to take this spot, but he injured his elbow early in the preseason. Thuney is projected to be the Patriots’ starting left guard and looked very solid in the preseason.
Cox: Joe Thuney
— Mitchell flashed before his injury, and quarterback Jacoby Brissett showed tremendous improvement over the course of the summer, but this can’t go to anyone but Thuney, who’s looked like the Patriots’ best offensive lineman for months now.
BEST VETERAN ADDITION
Kyed: Chris Long
— Long is healthy and looked like his old self in the Patriots’ preseason games. The signing worked out great, since he looks like the favorite to fill in as a starter during Ninkovich’s four-game suspension.
Cox: Chris Long
— A change of scenery and a return to full health appear to have done wonders for the former St. Louis Ram, who turned out to be one of the Patriots’ best defensive players in the preseason. My runner-up here would be Chris Hogan, who could be on the verge of a breakout season.
COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE SUMMER
Kyed: A.J. Derby
— Derby missed all of last season, and most of the spring and summer, with an undisclosed injury. He entered the summer a long shot for the roster and came out looking better than Martellus Bennett at times.
Cox: A.J. Derby
— Tyler Gaffney was another candidate for this honor, but he failed to make the team. Derby led all Patriots pass-catchers in receptions and receiving yards this preseason after entering camp as a relative afterthought.
BIGGEST BREAKOUT OF THE SUMMER
Kyed: Trey Flowers
— Flowers received first-team reps during the preseason with Jabaal Sheard and Ninkovich out, and he looked like a starter. He should rotate for pass rushing snaps with Sheard, Ninkovich and Long all season. He’ll do some damage while on the field.
Cox: D.J. Foster
— Flowers and Johnson both easily could have won this award, but for the sake of variety, I’ll go with Foster, an undrafted rookie running back who showed enough in just two preseason games to earn a roster spot.
HAPPIEST TO BE HERE
Kyed: Chris Hogan
— Hogan kept repeating how “excited” he is for the season to start while speaking to the media Sunday. And why wouldn’t he be? He’s primed for a starting role, and he’s out of Buffalo.
Cox: Clay Harbor
— I went a different direction with this one. With Derby emerging as the Patriots’ clear No. 3 tight end option, most assumed Harbor would be shown the door on cutdown day. Instead, the Pats chose to keep four tight ends, and the veteran got to stick around.
Kyed: Jamie Collins
— The Patriots’ linebacker was consistently dominant during training camp practices and preseason games. He’s in a contract year, and he looks primed to take home some serious cash through an extension or new contract.
Cox: Jamie Collins
— NFL fans who don’t know Collins’ name will after this season. He’s a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate.
Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images