|07.24.14 at 7:00 am ET|
As training camp approaches, we’ve gone through each position and offered a spot by spot breakdown. With camp set to open Thursday, here’s our last positional preview, defensive back. (Check out the complete list here.)
Roster (stats taken from coaches film review): cornerbacks Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner, Alfonzo Dennard (42 tackles, 1 interception, 8 passes defensed), Kyle Arrington (60 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 quarterback hits, 1 interception, 12 passes defensed), Logan Ryan (41 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 quarterback hits, 5 interceptions, 1 touchdown, 10 passes defensed, 1 forced fumble), Malcolm Butler; safeties Devin McCourty (75 tackles, 1 interception, 8 passes defensed, 2 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery), Duron Harmon (30 tackles, 2 interceptions, 4 passes defensed), Tavon Wilson (2 tackles, 1 interception, 1 touchdown, 1 pass defensed), Kanorris Davis, Nate Ebner, Travis Hawkins, Shamiel Gary; defensive backs Jemea Thomas, Daxton Swanson, Justin Green
Overview: This was a pretty good group last year when everyone was where they were supposed to be: Aqib Talib as the alpha dog, Dennard as the No. 2 corner, Arrington in the slot, McCourty roaming center field and Steve Gregory at strong safety. The problems arose when Talib went down and everyone at corner had to take a step forward — instead of relying on depth, the whole house of cards came crashing down. Never was this more the case than in the AFC title game, when Talib went out early on and Peyton Manning scorched the New England secondary. (No one preaches team defense more than the Patriots, but Talib’s absence was the beginning of the end for New England.) After losing Talib in the offseason, the Patriots fundamentally approached the cornerback position using the same approach they did at wide receiver between 2006 and 2007, pushing all their chips to the middle of the table and going after Revis. Provided they stay healthy, the addition of Revis and Browner create an impressive layer of depth at corner — New England can now utilize Dennard as a nickel corner while keeping Arrington in the slot. As for safety, McCourty continues to play free safety at an elite level, but he will be forced to learn how to play alongside a new strong safety after Gregory was cut loose over the offseason. But despite the questions about strong safety, the secondary has become one of the positions of strength on the team, and allow the Patriots to stare down the rest of the top-shelf passing games across the league.
THREE THINGS WE KNOW
1. Darrelle Revis changes everything.
It is impossible to overstate the impact of Revis on the New England defense. At several points over the course of the spring, his new teammates (on both sides of the ball) commented on his approach to the game, his overall fitness as a teammate and his ability to affect almost every level of play on the defensive side of the ball. (Our favorite came from wide receiver Brandon LaFell, who gave a weary shake of the head when asked about Revis’ cover skills. ‘Man, Revis is … he’s a guy who has seen it all. None of your tricks are going to work on him.’ It might be unfair to say he’s going to be Revis, circa 2009, who had one of the great seasons for any cornerback in the recent history of the NFL. But if he can effectively take away the lead pass-catcher on a weekly basis and allow the pass rushers to get an extra two seconds to get after the quarterback, he’s done his job.
2. Brandon Browner will be sidelined for the first four games of the regular season.
The new corner will sit out the first month as part of a suspension for violating the league’s PED rules last season. As a result, the Patriots will likely push Dennard back into a starting role, at least on a temporary basis. One of the things New England has to feel good about is the fact that the ban comes at a time where it won’t be facing what could best be described as a top-shelf passing game — of the Dolphins, Vikings, Raiders and Chiefs, the biggest challenge might come from Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith. At the same time, provided Dennard is completely healthy at the open of the regular season, the Revis-Dennard corner combo should be enough to hold the fort until Browner returns to action.
3. Devin McCourty remains the leader of the secondary.
While no one dispute the fact that the Patriots added an elite cornerback in Revis, McCourty will still hold sway as the unquestioned head of the defensive backs. He hasn’t had the most seniority in the system — remarkably, that honor goes to Arrington, who arrived in 2009, one year before McCourty. But the rest of the defensive backs defer to McCourty, who has evolved from an All-Pro corner (second team) as a rookie to one of the better free safeties in the league.
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|07.23.14 at 6:38 pm ET|
Super excited to be back on the practice field with my teammates! Gotta keep on working if ya know what I mean!
— Rob Gronkowski (@RobGronkowski) July 23, 2014
|07.23.14 at 4:13 pm ET|
The Patriots announced Wednesday they re-signed first-year wide receiver Greg Orton and released rookie wide receiver Tyler McDonald.
Here’s a portion of the release issued by the team.
Orton, 28, was originally signed to the Patriots practice squad on Dec. 31, 2013, and was released by the team on May 22. The 6-foot-3, 199-pounder spent part of 2011 and all of 2012 on the Denver practice squad and went to training camp with Denver in 2013. He originally entered the NFL as a rookie free agent with the Cincinnati Bengals out of Purdue in 2009. Orton had stints with the Arena Football League’s Spokane Shock and the United Football League’s Omaha Knights before joining the Denver practice squad.
McDonald, 23, was signed by the Patriots as a rookie free agent on July 18, out of South Carolina State. The 6-foot-3, 190-pounder, had a career-best 51 receptions for 956 yards as a senior in 2013. McDonald finished his college career with 159 receptions for 2,389 receiving yards.
For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.
|07.23.14 at 3:51 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Bill Belichick couldn’t be happier that the next stage of the football season is upon us. As a matter of fact, in some ways, it’s the most important phase before actual games begin.
Starting Thursday, the Patriots will hold training camp and ramp up their practices and preparation for the 2014 season, which opens Sept. 8 in Miami. And to many Patriots fans, the eve of training camp is somewhat akin to Christmas Eve, the day before they get to see their team on the field for the first time since watching them lose the AFC championship game last January.
“Welcome to football season,” Belichick beamed. “We’re here. It’s always an exciting time of year ‘ the start of training camp. I thought that we had a real productive spring with a lot of our players, a couple new coaching staff members. We’re kind of pulling it all together. That’s really to put us in a position to start camp and we kind of get it going today with some conditioning stuff. We’re not in pads for a couple days and then we’ll roll into them by the weekend. It’s a good opportunity to get off to a good start. We’ll see how it goes.
“We obviously have a lot of work to do. We’ll just take it day by day and try to string some good days together and then see if we can get ready to go down and have good weeks against Washington and Philadelphia and into the preseason. From our coaching standpoint, I think it’s all going to happen pretty fast. Again, the spring preparation has been a really important part of this whole process. Now we’ll take it into the next step and hopefully get off to a good start these next couple days and getting into a good, solid week of work by ourselves and then be ready to work against two quality teams, two quality organizations.”
The Patriots will only be in shorts and shells in the first two days, with the first full pads practice expected by the weekend.
“I think this is where we really start finding out; a lot of teaching in the spring and the evaluations are more now,” Belichick says. “So, we’ll see. I think everybody has had their opportunity to participate in the spring workouts, to learn what we’re doing, to get in shape, to be ready to go and now we start competing and we’ll see how that turns out. I don’t know.”
More than anything, training camp is about conditioning as the team begins to work in pads for the first time. The running game is the one part of the offense that can’t be truly duplicated without seeing live bullets or in football terms – live pad-on-pad action.
“I think we’ll find that out after a week of training camp; start stringing some days together and see how we all look,” Belichick said of conditioning. “I know we’ve had guys here for a couple days but that’s not quite the full camp so we’ll see how it goes, take it day by day.
“It’s good to see all the players that are out there, out there. The ones that aren’t out there yet that are working hard to get back, we’ll look forward to seeing them as soon as they’re able to participate. We have 90 players on our roster and the ones that are out there actively participating, I’m happy to see all of them.
“We’re certainly not anywhere near where we need to be or will be, but I’d say we’ve already crossed part of that bridge in the spring. We had 13 practices together and at this time of year, as we do in the spring, we work a lot of different people in different combinations and let the competition sort itself out. I think that we’ve had good, productive communication at all the positions. There’s always going to be turnover. There’s turnover every year on every team. This is nothing unique. We’ll just see how it plays out. I don’t think that necessarily has to be a problem but it could be. I don’t know.”
|07.23.14 at 2:05 pm ET|
FOXBORO — WEEI.com’s Mike Petraglia and Chris Price preview the opening of training camp for the Patriots on Thursday outside Gillette Stadium. On Wednesday, head coach Bill Belichick announced that tight end Rob Gronkowski has been cleared to practice with the Patriots as camp begins.
|07.23.14 at 1:03 pm ET|
Let’s take a look at the top 50 wide receivers. I’d planned on ranking just the top 36, which would represent the starters in 12-team leagues, but this year’s group is so deep that more players merit a mention. If you are looking for an even deeper take on this year’s receiving class, go to Rotobahn and check out our Top 300, which includes rankings and comments for over 100 receivers.
Just to be clear, these rankings reflect standard or performance scoring rather than PPR (point per reception) scoring. For a PPR take on the receivers, you can check out my 2014 projections.
Tier 1 (1-6)
- Calvin Johnson, Lions
- Demaryius Thomas, Broncos
- A.J. Green, Bengals
- Dez Bryant, Cowboys
- Julio Jones, Falcons
- Brandon Marshall, Bears
These are the monsters. They almost always come through and they’re all healthy. These guys aren’t just WR1 fantasy options, they are high-end WR1 options. You can anchor your receiving corps with any of them. In fact, we think the top five all have a solid shot at being No. 1 by season’s end. While we don’t quite see that high a ceiling for Marshall, we love his high floor and consistency. He also has the complete trust of his quarterback. The Jay Cutler-to-Marshall connection dates back to their rookie season as Broncos in 2006.
Tier 2 (7-10)
There’s not much drop-off from the first tier, but you have some smaller receivers and Jeffery has just the single season of greatness. Nelson is on the cusp of Tier 1, but I still have some concerns about him staying healthy and don’t feel that his top end goes quite as high as the options in the elite tier.
Tier 3 (11-14)
Here’s another group that signifies a small drop-off from the prior tier. Arizona’s Floyd and Fitzgerald are on par with Chicago’s Jeffery and Marshall, but we give the Bears duo a bump because we like Cutler a bit better than we do Carson Palmer. Johnson still is elite, but his quarterback is not … and his offense is in a state of flux. Allen has the look of a potential star, but he has a rough schedule in 2014 that features four contests against NFC West teams.
|07.23.14 at 12:39 pm ET|
FOXBORO – Ever since Rob Ninkovich signed with New England prior to the 2009 season, he’s been one of the most consistent players on the Patriots defense. The defensive end has been durable and versatile — a player who can be depended on each and every week.
Ninkovich has been inactive for just one game in his five seasons, and that occurred during his first season. Including the postseason, he has played in 79 straight games.
For an eight-year veteran, training camp might be a tedious few weeks, but not for Ninkovich, who knows it’s the building block for having a successful season.
“You have to go through it to get to the ultimate goal, and that’s having a winning season,” Ninkovich said. “This is the time that you put in — the hard work, it all pays off. Being an older guy, I’ve been through the doubles, all the hard days before. I know what they are like, so I know what to expect. This is where you set the tone for the season.”
With the addition of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner to a team that is coming off an AFC championship game loss last season, expectations are high for this year’s team. This is nothing new for Ninkovich, who has played in nine playoff games in his career.
“I know what the expectations are, but every year there are always high expectations just because we’re on one of the best teams in the NFL,” he said.
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