FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – At this point in the preseason, established veterans are often let go by their teams in order to give them a fair chance to hook on with another club before the regular season. This could explain why incumbent punter Ryan Allen is no longer with New England.
Media reports indicated Monday night that Allen had been released by the Patriots, and a number of his former teammates confirmed the move Tuesday before practice.
At least one media outlet also reported that the Patriots put a waiver claim in for recently released Raiders punter Johnny Townsend, but the New York Giants, who were higher on the waiver list, scooped him up before New England could. In all likelihood, that move would have been an insurance policy for the Patriots in case something were to happen to rookie Jake Bailey between now and the start of the regular season.
So, for all intents and purposes, New England's punting job is now Bailey's – not at all surprising given that the reigning Super Bowl Champs invested a fifth-round draft pick in him. That reality, though, didn't lessen the sting for some of Allen's former teammates.
"It's difficult," observed long snapper Joe Cardona, "in that… there's going to be a change in our group dynamic, from a professional standpoint. Personal standpoint, Ryan's obviously a friend and that's not going to change. I just don't get to see him as often as I usually do, unfortunately. That's really the hardest aspect. We have to build that chemistry [with Bailey] and he's worked on that thus far. He's definitely put in the work, and we're going to keep building on that."
"I don't care how long you play this game," remarked Matthew Slater, the longtime special teams co-captain, "it's a part of the game that you never get used to, seeing friends come and go. As is the case with Ryan, it's difficult to see him go. You could easily say, 'Well, that's the business.' You can't forget about the human side of this business… It's very difficult, certainly, when you have a relationship with a guy and you spend a lot of time around him, you've gone through life with him. It doesn't make it easy."
Cardona referenced having to develop a new bond with Bailey, who will assume both the punting duties as well as the responsibility of holding kicker Stephen Gostkowski's placekicks. Bailey might also be asked to take over the kickoff chores. He kicked off in the preseason opener at Detroit, although Gostkowski reprised his customary role last week against Tennessee.
As difficult as it is to see one friend go, Patriots teammates say they're ready to embrace a new one in Bailey.
"Jake, he's a young kid that came in and was ready to learn, ready to receive coaching – obviously, immensely talented," Cardona continued, "but really, his professionalism in the building and out of the building has been really impressive. He obviously has done a good enough job to make an impression. I know he's going to continue to work hard.
"He's received coaching from Joe [Judge, the special teams coordinator] and Cam [Achord, the assistant special teams coach], and also the pointers he's picked up from Steve and Ryan himself. I mean, Ryan was such a professional in this whole process in helping Jake become a better, more refined punter. I don't think there's enough good to say about the guy."
It seemed like WR Demaryius Thomas took another positive step in his recover from an Achilles injury. The veteran pass catcher suited up Tuesday with teammates, the second consecutive day he's been spotted on the practice field.
It's unclear, however, why safety Patrick Chung and defensive lineman Michael Bennett were not seen at today's session. Both were in uniform on Monday.
Meanwhile, edge rushers Derek Rivers and Shilique Calhoun, both of whom suffered right knee injuries in Nashville over the weekend, missed their second straight practice.
Shelton savoring second chance
Defensive lineman Danny Shelton's first season with New England wound up being a relatively successful one. After an unremarkable three years with Cleveland, Shelton arrived in Foxborough by way of a trade with the Browns in March 2018. The former Browns first-round draft pick appeared in 13 regular season games last season and two postseason contests (the first of his NFL career), including Super Bowl LIII.
It seemed Shelton played his best football for the Patriots during the playoffs. Immediately after the season, he became a free agent, yet it wasn't until late May that New England finally re-signed Shelton.
"I was training my butt off all offseason waiting for an opportunity," he recalled Tuesday. "The phone call from Bill [Belichick], you know, was something that I was excited for. Bill's opportunity was the best opportunity."
By the same token, Shelton has been around the NFL long enough now to know not to take his job for granted.
"Going into my fifth year," he explained, "a lot of the things that younger guys think about… I've grown from. I'm blessed to have this opportunity to go into Year 5. That's what I'm focused on.
"It's more of a mindset of getting better every day here. Obviously, it's training camp, everyone's battling for jobs – that still plays a big part every day when we suit up for practice, knowing that we're going to be better players because we're pushing each other, whether it be here with the Patriots or any other 31 teams, we'll be prepared for the season."