Patriots Mailbag: Stevenson, Harry, Walking Wounded and More

Patriot Maven tackles various issues, such as New England’s first-team defense and Patriots tight ends in this weekend’s question-and-answer session with fans.
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The New England Patriots are in the City of Brotherly Love to prepare for their second preseason game of 2021. New England is set to face the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday at 7:30pm ET at Lincoln Financial Field. Prior to their matchup, the Pats and Eagles will partake in joint practices on Monday and Tuesday. With only one preseason game remaining after this one, both teams will be looking to expand upon their plans to prepare for the upcoming season.

This weekend, Patriot Maven opened up our mailbag to answer your Patriots preseason questions. Here are some of the week’s best questions for #MavenMike:

Q: Do you think that Rhamondre Stevenson will have a bigger role in this upcoming game given his recent success last week?

From Joel from Hull (@joelshapiro20)

This is a great question, Joel. Stevenson clearly has the potential to be a dual-threat rusher with the Pats. As he showed on Thursday, the former Oklahoma Sooner nicely blends power and athleticism into his running style. Whether it be power sidestepping his way into the end zone, or showcasing his speed by breaking for a 91-year touchdown, the former Oklahoma Sooner is clearly a big part of the Patriots future at the position. It remains to be seen as to whether he will see significant snaps this Thursday evening against Philadelphia. Bill Belichick has said that the team plans to incorporate some new concepts and installations. If Stevenson logs any playing time against Philly’s top options, it may indicate that New England plans on using him more often. However, it should be noted the Pats usually take a temporant and planned approach to developing young running backs. Damien Harris and Sony Michel should still see the majority of time against the Eagles’ starters. Still, I’d look for Stevenson to see an increase in his workload this week.

Q: What is your take on how the first-team defense looked?

From Bobby Thompson (@BThomps81)

Thanks for the great question, Bobby. The Patriots first team defense on Thursday against Washington had a bit of a different look than expected. While most expected Davon Godchaux and Lawrence Guy to get the start at the interior tackle positions, seeing Akeem Spence get the nod at the end was a little surprising. Spence did not play poorly, but he was overshadowed by Carl Davis, in my opinion. Davis is really proving his value within the system as a two-gapping interior defensive lineman. That being said, I believe that the starting spots at defensive end will eventually be given to Deatrich Wise, Jr. and either Henry Anderson or Chase Winovich when the Pats employ a four-man front. Van Noy is the de-facto edge in the 3-4. Ja’Whaun Bentley got the start on Thursday, and I foresee him, along with Dont’a Hightower, and Matt Judon, as a fearsome trio of starting linebackers.

In the defensive backfield, J.C. Jackson continues to perform well. Beyond his services, New England remains a bit thin on outside cornerback depth. Jalen Mills will be a solid contributor, but is not a long term starter. In short, this team needs Stephon Gilmore to start the season. At safety, Adrian Phillips and Kyle Dugger put in a solid night of work. Once the regular season begins, Devin McCourty will be the regular at free safety, with Phillips playing the strong/box safety role.

Q: How many tight ends do you think make the roster, Mike?

From Clare Cooper (@clazzyclare)

Once again, the ‘Empress of Tight Endage’ delivers a great question. However, I fear that my answer might displease her. While the Patriots might employ the best tight end tandem in the NFL, I don’t believe that they will carry more than three on their active roster. While Henry has been briefly sidelined with a shoulder injury, Smith continues to show his abilities as a dual-threat tight end. Smith will likely take some time to recover from his ankle sprain. However, it looks like he has avoided serious injury, as well. Once healthy, the talented tandem will provide the Patriots with the chance to run two-tight-end packages that will give opposing teams headaches in the upcoming season. Devin Asiasi should have a stronger 2021 by getting the chance to show impressive athleticism and his upside as a route runner. Despite having a solid camp, both Matt LaCosse and Troy Fumagalli are likely casualties, due the need for roster spots at other positions.

Q: When do you expect the players on the physically-unable-to-perform (PUP) and non-football-injury (NFI) to come back?

From Miguel Benzan (@patscap)

As usual, this is a solid question, Miguel. With Chase Winovich having returned on Sunday, all eyes are now squarely set on Stephon Gilmore. While there is still a great deal of uncertainty when it comes to his return, I believe that both his health and his contract situation will be resolved by the start of the season. As for the remaining players on PUP (QB Jarrett Stidham, DT Byron Cowart and LB Terez Hall), I look for them to begin the season on the list, meaning that they will not return to action on the field for at least the first six weeks. My thoughts are the same regarding rookies Joshuah Bledsoe and Cameron McGrone as they relate to NFI.

Q: Do you think N'Keal Harry will be utilized more in preseason game two? After a good camp, he was rarely used in the first preseason game. Not sure if he was having trouble separating /getting open still?

From Tucker Con (@TuckerRossCon):

Thanks for the great question, Tucker. On its surface, it looks surprising that Harry was only targeted once on Thursday evening, despite being on the field for 36 snaps. After all, the former first-rounder has looked sharp, strong and engaged throughout training camp. However, he continues to struggle with getting open. Some may say that Harry simply cannot get separation. However, is much more effective if used in a package-specific role, making contested catches at the point of attack. Harry has the frame to work as a red zone and perimeter target, moving between the X- and Z-receiver roles. The problem is that Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne and Kristian Wilkerson have performed better than Harry outside the red zone. With Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry likely to see greater targets in that area, Harry will have to prove that he can operate outside his comfort zone. If he continues to have similar difficulties on Thursday in Philadelphia, things could get intriguing heading into the home stretch of the 2021 preseason.