Patriots Mailbag: Bill Belichick Could Shake Up Third-Down Pass Rush Roles

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New England Patriots training camp officially ended Thursday in West Virginia, which means Bill Belichick no longer has to worry about the media reporting on his practices.

The Patriots’ Week 1 matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers is less than three weeks away, but Belichick still has many important decisions to make before the season officially begins. The Patriots must cut down their roster to 75 players by Sept. 1 and again to 53 players on Sept. 5.

Check out which players could sneak onto the 53-man roster, and stick around for SummerSlam predictions in this week’s mailbag:

How about your top 3 “sleeper” players to make the roster? @DougKyedNESN
–@koomakipo

You can never put it past Bill Belichick to keep a random special-teams linebacker on the roster. Players like Chris White, Tracy White, Eric Alexander and Ja’Gared Davis have filled that void in the past. I can’t help but notice how much time the Patriots’ special teams coaches have spent working with safety/linebacker hybrid Brandon King in practice. The 6-foot-2, 213-pound Auburn product played safety and defensive end in college, but he has intriguing athleticism.

King ran a 4.49-second 40-yard dash at his pro day with a 38-inch vertical leap and 10-foot, 6-inch broad jump. King was one of just seven rookie free agents signed by the Patriots after the 2015 NFL Draft, and he’s one of four from that group still on the 90-man roster, so he must be doing something right.

King hasn’t received much pub in training camp, and while he’s certainly a long shot to crack the 53-man roster, if he excels in special teams during the preseason, he has a shot. He was a “core-four” special-teamer in the Patriots’ preseason opener, meaning he was on kickoff, kick return, punt and punt return coverage.

Running back Dion Lewis returned to Patriots practice before Travaris Cadet, so there’s a possibility he could win a job on the Patriots’ roster with some impressive preseason play.

The Patriots have carried offensive lineman Caylin Hauptmann on their 90-man roster all summer despite him being on the non-football injury list, and he was receiving a ton of snaps during organized team activities and minicamp, so it’s possible the Patriots like what they’ve seen in the past from him, as well.

@DougKyedNESN Who’s your pick to make the team this year as an UDFA?
–@HailtotheHoodie

As I said above, I think King has an outside shot as a special-teamer, given his size and athleticism, but offensive lineman David Andrews has the best shot.

The Patriots are using him at center and guard, and though he’s had some issues with muffed snaps, he played pretty well in the Patriots’ preseason opener. If Ryan Wendell stays on the physically unable to perform list to begin the season, then I believe Andrews has a better-than-50-percent shot of making the 53-man roster. If Wendell comes off PUP, then Andrews is battling Hauptmann, Ryan Groy, Mark Asper, Chris Barker, Chris Martin and Josh Kline for a roster spot.

Among other undrafted rookies, wideout Chris Harper and tight end Jimmay Mundine are an injury away from competing for a spot. Wide receiver Brian Tyms didn’t practice Thursday, and from what I heard from a source, it sounds like a trip to injured reserve is possible. That would nearly ensure Aaron Dobson and Brandon Gibson roster spots, but if Harper continues to impress in preseason games, then there’s an outside shot he could win the No. 5 receiver role.

@DougKyedNESN do you think Its possible for Jabaal Sheard to Start?
–@BOSSMAYNE_DEE

I think it’s possible, but still unlikely. There’s a much greater chance Sheard is the Patriots’ No. 3 pass rusher this year.

It’s difficult to remember now, but Ninkovich only played half of the Patriots’ defensive snaps in their Week 1 loss to the Miami Dolphins last year. Dont’a Hightower, Jerod Mayo and Jamie Collins stayed on the field for all three downs, while Ninkovich came off in nickel packages.

Injuries to Collins, Hightower and Mayo altered that strategy, but it’s at least possible we see something similar this season with either one of the linebackers or Sheard cutting into Ninkovich’s snaps in passing downs. I don’t necessarily agree with that potential plan, because Ninkovich played at a very high level last season, but it’s something to consider as the regular season looms.

@DougKyedNESN is there anything positive about the Patriots o line at this point? All I hear is injuries #mailbag
–@SebastianSeneca

The offensive line won’t look worse this season than they did in the first preseason game. Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, Bryan Stork, Ryan Wendell and Marcus Cannon didn’t play, which forced three rookies into starting roles.

Solder, Vollmer and Cannon are full participants in practice now, so they could suit up this Saturday against the New Orleans Saints, and it appears Stork will be ready for the regular season.

We’ll have a better idea of where Shaq Mason and Tre’ Jackson are at by the end of the preseason.

@DougKyedNESN I NEED some SummerSlam predictions.
–@Cam_McDonough

NESN.com’s own Mike Cole did a tremendous job previewing SummerSlam, but I can throw in my own brief predictions with the lines from Bovada.lv.

Dolph Ziggler (with Lana) (+110) vs. Rusev (with Summer Rae) (-150) in a singles match
— Those are fairly even odds, but I’ll go with the favorite in the Bulgarian Brute. This likely is leading to a mixed tag team match at Night of Champions that Dolph and Lana will surely win.

Team Bella (Nikki Bella, Brie Bella and Alicia Fox) (+180) vs. Team B.A.D. (Naomi, Sasha Banks and Tamina) (+450) vs. PCB (Paige, Charlotte, Becky Lynch) (-130) in a triple threat tag team elimination match
— Those are surprisingly good odds for Team B.A.D., since Sasha Banks is receiving a huge push right now, but I think PCB (what a terrible name for a stable) still wins.

Kevin Owens (-150) vs. Cesaro (even) in a singles match
— I think Cesaro wins this one. It seems like WWE is finally giving Cesaro the push he deserves, and smarky wrestling fans will whine that Owens is getting buried. I can’t wait for this match — or to read r/squaredcircle commenters complain regardless of the outcome.

Stephen Amell and Neville (-800) vs. Stardust and King Barrett (+400) in a tag team match
— Yeah, there’s no way Amell, who plays the Green Arrow on “Arrow” and Neville lose this match. I don’t know why King Barrett is Stardust’s partner, but this should still be fun to watch. Stardust cuts the best promos in WWE right now, and I’d love to see him enter the intercontinental title pictures.

The Prime Time Players (Darren Young and Titus O’Neil) (c) (+140) vs. Los Matadores (Diego and Fernando) (with El Torito) (+1100) vs. The Lucha Dragons (Kalisto and Sin Cara) (+450) vs. The New Day (Big E and Kofi Kingston) (with Xavier Woods) (+110) in a fatal 4-way tag team match for the WWE Tag Team Championship
— If someone could explain to me why Los Matadores or The Lucha Dragons are in this match, it would be greatly appreciated. I think The New Day wins. I hope The New Day wins. It would be hilarious if Los Matadores prevail, though.

Bray Wyatt and Luke Harper (+150) vs. Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose (-200) in a tag team match
— The rumor is Ambrose will be turning heel at SummerSlam. I, for one, love Ambreigns’ bromance far too much to hope for such a thing, however. I also have a hard time believing WWE would give up Ambrose’s merch sales so quickly. We’ll see. I have Ambreigns winning regardless.

Ryback (c) (-325) vs. Big Show (+600) vs. The Miz (+400) in a triple threat match for the WWE Intercontinental Championship
— Remember when Daniel Bryan was the intercontinental champion and that belt actually was fun and meant something? Ah, good times. This match is stupid and boring. Ryback will win. I will almost certainly talk through his entire match.

I’ll say this, though: The Miz is highly entertaining on both “Tough Enough” and “Tough Talk,” because he feels much more real. The WWE needs to figure out how to harness that Miz for regular WWE television.

John Cena (US Champion) (+160) vs. Seth Rollins (WWE Champion) (-230) in a singles match for the WWE United States Championship and the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
— I love John Cena and all, but even I’ll be a little mad if he comes away with the WWE belt. I think Seth Rollins wins, especially since WWE just started selling Cena shirts that say 15x champ on the back.

On that note, regardless of who wins this match, it was a horrible decision to begin selling that shirt less than two weeks before Cena is fighting for his 16th WWE championship. Dumb. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

Worst case scenario, however: Sheamus cashes in the Money in the Bank and takes the belt home. I might stop watching wrestling forever.

Randy Orton (+300) vs. Sheamus (-500) in a singles match
— I hate Sheamus. He will win.

Brock Lesnar (with Paul Heyman) (+150) vs. The Undertaker (-200) in a singles match
— The Undertaker is favored in this match?! Is he just going to repeatedly hit Lesnar in the groin, as he’s been doing on “Raw” lately? I hope Lesnar wins. The Undertaker is not convincing as a legitimate “sports entertainer” anymore, as sad as that is. I’ll pick Lesnar. I just don’t believe WWE wants their No. 1 superstar losing to a 50-year-old man.

Thumbnail photo via Chris Humphreys/USA TODAY Sports Images

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