Exploring some hot-button New England Patriots topics in the form of a mailbag:
@MikeReiss a report came out earlier today that Rex would be eased in Sunday. I remember last year he was kind of eased in the first game on few snaps. Do you project his touch count Sunday to be more like the end of last year when he was effectively used or kid gloves status?— Justin Smith (@JustinSmithFoF) September 6, 2018
Justin, the first thing is to note that running back Rex Burkhead, who didn't play all preseason, is cleared for action and not even listed on the injury report. So I wouldn't say he will be treated with "kid gloves" as much as the Patriots are hoping to ease him into the mix from a conditioning standpoint and getting him acclimated to contact. That's just good management of a player who didn't have the benefit of doing that in the preseason, and who has dealt with multiple injuries since first joining the team in 2017.
As for the Patriots' running backs in the opener, captain James White should get plenty of time on the field (43 snaps in last season's opener). Jeremy Hill projects as the power back. And with rookie Sony Michel (knee) still limited in practice, I'd project that he is more likely to be inactive at this point.
So you're most likely going to have three running backs on the game-day roster (Burkhead, White, Hill), and if we estimate 70 total offensive snaps in the game, the idea that Burkhead would get around 20-25 of them seems reasonable to me. I'd project him to be part of some early-down work and a two-RB "pony" grouping with White, with his playing-time total dictated by how the game unfolds.
@MikeReiss any thoughts on other players the pats will extend/should extend? Flowers should be a top priority if you ask me— Steve Femia (@NFLDraftGuru315) September 4, 2018
Steve, after the Patriots signed starting right guard Shaq Mason to an extension, it's timely to look at some other players who enter the final year of their contracts in 2018: punter Ryan Allen, defensive end Trey Flowers, kicker Stephen Gostkowski, wide receiver Chris Hogan, offensive tackle Trent Brown and cornerbacks Jonathan Jones and Eric Rowe.
The biggest thing about contract extensions, as we saw with Mason, is that it takes two sides to make it work. Mason, by cashing in one year early, opted for financial security over potentially maximizing his earnings if he made it through the 2018 season healthy and performed well. And the team obviously was willing to invest in him at that level.
So if any of the aforementioned players are open to doing something similar, it makes sense to explore the possibility. Gostkowski is still one of the best in the NFL at his position, and with salaries for kickers not close to the same level as defensive ends, receivers and offensive tackles, that might be the wisest place to look first.
Specific to Flowers, who led the team with 6.5 sacks last season, he isn't the traditional 4-3 defensive end and that could make his market a challenging one to gauge. That's why I could see the sides waiting longer to let that play out.
@MikeReiss any details on Bret Bielemas involvement with the pats this year?— chris wendy (@chriswendy8) September 5, 2018
Yes, Chris, Bret Bielema is working with the team's defensive linemen even though his title is "consultant to the head coach." Bill Belichick has been complimentary of his work.
"He's dealt with a lot of different players, situations, and he's primarily worked on defense as an assistant coach [in his career], so he's given us some help there between the defensive ends and tackles," Belichick said on WBZ-FM 98.5 The Sports Hub in mid-August. "He's also been somebody that I've used and has helped me with some overall head-coaching-type responsibilities -- planning and team management, things like that. He's been a good addition to our group. He's fit in well with everybody -- a great guy, easy to get along with. Everybody likes him."