Just two days after knocking off the Jets and moving to 7-0 on the season, the Patriots had two new faces at practice on Wednesday. In moves officially announced earlier in the day, the team traded a second-round pick for receiver Mohamed Sanu and signed free agent special teams ace Justin Bethel.
Both players should immediately jump into the mix and give a boost to the offense and special teams respectively.
Sanu's former Rutgers teammate Devin McCourty was excited to welcome him into the mix.
"I love him because he's always been tough," said McCourty at his Wednesday press conference. "He's been a really good receiver in the NFL but I always said, he came into Rutgers as a safety, I was a corner, I was excited. You get a big kid who can run and hit, and I think he's taken that to the offensive side. Physical guy, each time we play him we talk about him being a bigger guy that will line up in the slot, line up outside."
Head coach Bill Belichick was ready to get a first look at Sanu in the team's walkthrough, but wasn't penciling him into some kind of major role, in the slot or otherwise, just yet.
"He's a very experienced receiver, he's had a lot of production," said Belichick prior to practice. "Excited to have him, we'll see how it goes with him."
Sanu figures to immediately be thrust into the mix at receiver, a process the Patriots have had some experience with given past in-season acquisitions at the position like Josh Gordon. Belichick said the main focus is on the upcoming game and not trying to start over on page one of the playbook with the new player.
"It’s really what we’re doing this week, what the Browns do, what their coverages are, what our game plan is, what our assignments are, what adjustments do we have to make, and so forth," said Belichick. "You can go back and talk about things that happened earlier in the year. There’s a time for that and we certainly have a lot to catch up on, but most important thing for a player coming onto the team is the immediate game, the upcoming game, so we’ll focus most of our attention there."
As for Bethel, he's a player that fellow special teams stud Matthew Slater was well familiar with.
"Great quickness, he really knows how to play to his strengths," said Slater. "The way he plays, he's got a good sound mind for the game, you can kind of already tell that just from sitting around him in the meeting room today. Obviously the aggressive nature is there, he likes contact. Not afraid to throw his body in there. When you add all those things up, what you've got is one of the best players we've seen at that position in the last decade.
"It's exciting," continued Slater. "The more good football players you can have on your team the better. I think Justin is definitely a great football player. We're excited to have him here. Anytime you can add a guy like that it's a good thing. It takes some heat off me."
Browns coach Freddie Kitchens, who spent time with Bethel in Arizona, was asked on his conference call with the media about the special teamer's strengths.
"His size and his speed, the combination, and his ability to get down the field and be physical at the point of attack. His instincts on special teams is second-to-none, and Justin's a very good player. They've got a hell of a player with him."
Even at 7-0 the Patriots continue to find ways to improve every facet of their football team and the two new additions look like they'll make an immediate impact doing just that.
Gordon to IR
Per Field Yates of ESPN, the Patriots moved Josh Gordon to Injured Reserve, effectively ending his season. It's an unfortunate development given that Gordon initially appeared to be okay after he went down awkwardly while trying to make a tackle against the Giants. Gordon was at the team's walk through on Wednesday but apparently the injury was significant enough for him to end up on IR.
This makes the acquisition of Sanu an even bigger focus and puts additional pressure on rookie first rounder N'Keal Harry to return from injury. Harry is eligible to return to game action next week against the Ravens and there's certainly a need for a big outside receiver now.
It's a disappointing end for Gordon, who was developing into a solid outside receiver for the Patriots. He's due to hit free agency this offseason and it will be interesting to see if the team would like to bring him back for a third season or more.
Still, the bread and butter of this offense has always been guys like Edelman and, hopefully, Sanu. The door is open for Harry, but the team won't live or die based on his production. With Phillip Dorsett and Jakobi Meyers emerging into solid options there's enough firepower to figure things out.
Practice & Injury Report
The Patriots held a walk through on Wednesday as they continued to be in catch-up mode after their Monday night win over the Jets. Matt LaCosse was the lone practice absence, while Ryan Izzo and Josh Gordon returned to practice after missing practices last week. The optimism around Gordon would be short lived.
Newcomers Mohamed Sanu and Justin Bethel were also in attendance, while Michael Bennett returned from suspension.
The injury report however gave a less-rosy view of the Patriots overall health as Izzo and new addition Shaq Mason (ankle) would not have practiced had it been an actual football practice instead of a walk through.
The other ailments limiting players also continue to linger. The full Wednesday report:
DID NOT PARTICIPATE
WR Josh Gordon, Knee/Ankle
TE Ryan Izzo, Concussion
TE Matt LaCosse, Knee
G Shaq Mason, Ankle
RB Rex Burkhead, Foot
S Patrick Chung, Heel/Chest
WR Phillip Dorsett, Hamstring
WR Julian Edelman, Chest
WR Gunner Olszewski, Ankle/Hamstring
Locker Room & Press Conference Sound Bites
Devin McCourty on Sanu's extra talents:
"The really cool thing is he's still throwing the ball. In college he was doing all that crazy stuff, kicking field goals and throwing the ball. I think his QBR's pretty high."
Who's the better QB, Sanu or Edelman?
"Sanu. Because he went to Rutgers."