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Cosell: When it comes to identifying Patriots’ defensive front, mind the gap

03.26.12 at 11:09 am ET
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During the 2011 season, much was made about the Patriots’ apparent decision to move from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3. With the acquisition of veteran defensive linemen like Andre Carter, Mark Anderson and Albert Haynesworth — all defenders who appeared to be a better fit in a 4-3 — it certainly appeared Bill Belichick was making a seismic shift in defensive sensibility.

But it turns out that the idea of 4-3 vs. 3-4 scheme in New England wasn’€™t as simple as having someone on the edge put their hand on the ground instead of stand up. Greg Cosell of NFL Films, who serves as the executive producer of ESPN’€™s ‘€œNFL Matchup,’€ said that when it comes to the Patriots, the differences between a three-man front and a four-man front are more complex than you’€™d think.

‘€œYou have to understand one thing — fronts are not determined by who’€™s in a three-point stance and who is in a two-point stance. Fronts are determined by gap concepts,’€ Cosell said. ‘€œAnd I guarantee if you look at a lot of the Patriots’€™ ‘€˜three-man fronts’€™ in the past where there’€™s actually two linebackers standing up on the outside, you’€™ll see that they’€™re actually in four-man front principles.’€

Some of the versatility of defenders like Vince Wilfork and Rob Ninkovich allow the Patriots to present one front when they’€™re actually in a different look altogether.

‘€œWith the Patriots, it’€™s complicated. You’€™ll see a three-technique. You’€™ll see a nose shade, not a nose tackle. Sure, there were snaps where they played a true 3-4 with a true nose tackle or a zero technique and two ends who are five techniques. But just because you have three down linemen, it doesn’€™t mean you are playing a 3-4.’€

With the Patriots cutting Haynesworth and losing Anderson in free agency to Buffalo and the future of Carter uncertain because of injury, Cosell believes the Patriots won’€™t necessarily brand themselves a 3-4 or 4-3 team going forward, no matter who they might draft (or otherwise acquire), saying there’€™s ‘€œno need for them to make a delineation between 3-4 and 4-3. You don’€™t need to do that.’€

Instead, look for them to continue to add versatile linemen and keep people guessing.

‘€œIn Houston, Wade Phillips‘€™ defense is not a 3-4. It’€™s a 4-3. It just has the weak side defensive end — which was DeMarcus Ware in Dallas and was Mario Williams in Houston — stand up in a two-point stance. But every gap tells you it’€™s a 4-3,’€ Cosell said. ‘€œPeople immediately assume because you see three down linemen and you see two outside linebackers standing up, that’€™s a 3-4. No. Belichick is smarter than that.’€

Read More: Albert Haynesworth, Andre Carter, Bill Belichick, DeMarcus Ware

Upcoming schedule of notable Pro Days

03.26.12 at 8:38 am ET
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Per NFL.com, here’s a list of notable upcoming Pro Days:

March 26: Indiana State
March 27: Arkansas State, Coastal Carolina, Merrimack College, Stephen F. Austin, Washburn
March 28: Central Florida, Connecticut, Newberry, Northern Iowa, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Carolina State
March 29: Brigham Young, Georgia Southern
March 30: Bethune-Cookman, Dartmouth
April 3: Abilene Christian, Notre Dame, Stonybrook
April 4: SMU

Taking a closer look at what Chad Ochocinco’s restructured deal means

03.25.12 at 3:42 pm ET
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Chad Ochocinco isn’t stupid.

The wide receiver, who earned $6 million in salary and bonuses last season but only came away with 15 catches for 276 yards and a touchdown, was scheduled to make $3 million in base salary in 2012. However, the news that he has agreed to reduce his contract to a $1 million base salary for 2012 signals shows that he’s committed to doing as much as possible to make it work in New England.

When it comes to the wide receiver position, Ochocinco faces a far different situation than the one he encountered when he first joined the Patriots last summer. Now, he’s part of a far more crowded group at receiver — New England has spent the offseason treating the wide receiver spot like it did with defensive line last offseason, importing several veterans in hopes of trying to add depth and create some good positional battles at the spot. Brandon Lloyd and Anthony Gonzalez were acquired in free agency, as well as familiar face Donte Stallworth. In addition, figure that Wes Welker (provided he signs his franchise tender) and Deion Branch will also be in the mix. In all, the Patriots now have 10 receivers under contract, presuming Welker inks his tender.

As a result, Ochocinco can certainly see the writing on the wall. He’ll head into the 2012 facing a healthy positional battle on the outside, one that will include Branch, Stallworth and Lloyd. On a team that frequently utilizes two-tight end sets (as well as Welker in the slot), that likely means one outside receiver will be left out in the cold when it comes to regular snaps in 2012. Of course, this doesn’t guarantee him a roster spot, but the move means that any roster decision regarding whether or not to keep to cut Ochocinco won’t come down to his contract.

When Ochocinco did speak with the media over the last year, he’s always made it a point of saying it’s not about the money, but about winning. By agreeing to restructure his contract, he’s shown a willingness to put his money where his mouth is.

Read More: Anthony Gonzalez, Brandon Lloyd, Chad Ochocinco, Deion Branch

Resetting the complete list of the Patriots’ 17 unrestricted free agents

03.25.12 at 12:21 pm ET
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Here’s a quick update on the status of the 17 unrestricted free agents on the Patriots’ roster at the start of free agency:

Running back Kevin Faulk: Has yet to sign. Reportedly contemplating retirement.
Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis: Signed a three-year contract with Cincinnati.
Wide receiver Deion Branch: Signed one-year deal with the Patriots.
Wide receiver/Special teamer Matt Slater: Signed three-year contract with the Patriots.
Wide receiver Wes Welker: Receiver franchise tag, has yet to sign the tender.
Offensive lineman Dan Connolly: Signed three-year contract with the Patriots.
Center Dan Koppen: Has yet to sign.
Defensive end Mark Anderson: Signed four-year contract with Buffalo.
Defensive end Andre Carter: Has yet to sign.
Defensive end Shaun Ellis: Has yet to sign.
Defensive tackle Gerard Warren: Has yet to sign.
Linebacker Gary Guyton: Has yet to sign
Linebacker Niko Koutouvides: Signed one-year deal with the Patriots.
Linebacker Tracy White: Signed one-year deal with the Patriots.
Cornerback Nate Jones: Has yet to sign.
Cornerback Antwaun Molden: Has yet to sign.
Safety James Ihedigbo: Has yet to sign.

Read More: 2012 NFL Free Agency,

NFL Draft’s Potential Patriots: South Carolina CB Stephon Gilmore

03.23.12 at 4:04 pm ET
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WEEI.com will continue to offer daily insight and analysis regarding options that may be available to the Patriots when it comes to the 2012 NFL draft. Here is one is a series of profiles of players who could be on the board when it’€™s time for the Patriots to make a selection.

STEPHON GILMORE

Position: Cornerback

School: South Carolina

Height: 6-foot-0

Weight: 190 pounds

Achievements: Coaches All-SEC first team (2010), AP All-American third team (2010), Phil Steele Freshman All-American (2009)

What he brings: One of the draft’€™s second-tier cornerback prospects, Gilmore doesn’€™t have the numbers or pedigree of LSU’s Morris Claiborne or Alabama’s Dre Kirkpatrick, but his physical attributes and athleticism jump off the page. Standing a hair above 6 feet tall, Gilmore features prototypical size for the cornerback position, while maintaining elite speed and excelling in stopping the run. While the speed is a plus, Gilmore’€™s size, ability to match up with tall wideouts and play strong in the running game will please many Patriots fans still haunted by images of Darius Butler and Terrence Wheatley.

At South Carolina, Gilmore excelled when he was placed in press alignment against a receiver, particularly in man coverage, when he could use his size and aggressiveness to his advantage. However, Gilmore’€™s skills playing off a receiver and in zone coverage are spotty and his ball skills have been called into question. He projects to be a poor man’€™s Nnamdi Asomugha, where he could excel in a system just asks him to line up outside on a receiver but could struggle in zone systems early on.

Gilmore is also a talented ball carrier, seeing some duty at punt returner and quarterback in South Carolina’s wildcat package.

Where the Patriots could get him: Rounds 1-2

Notes: Gilmore’€™s time of 4.40 seconds in the 40-yard dash ranked third among cornerbacks at the scouting combine. He also performed well in the 3-cone drill that is so coveted by Bill Belichick and his scouting staff with a time of 6.61 seconds, fourth best among cornerbacks.

In his most recent mock draft, Mel Kiper Jr. had Gilmore going No. 23 overall to the Lions. However, other draft outlets gave Gilmore rated as low as eighth among cornerback prospects in the draft, showing the clustering of talent at the position once experts move past the top tier of Claiborne and Kirkpatrick.

Related articles:

The New York Times: The Fifth Down: Scouting the Draft: South Carolina’€™s Stephon Gilmore

Charlotte Observer: Former South Carolinal DB Stephon Gilmore hopes to make a real name for himself

Yahoo! Sports: Is South Carolina’€™s Stephon Gilmore the 3rd best corner in the draft?

Video: Here’€™s a highlight package showing Gilmore’€™s strengths and weaknesses over his career at South Carolina.

Read More: 2012 NFL Draft, 2012 Potential Patriots, Dre Kirkpatrick, Morris Claiborne

NFL Draft’s Potential Patriots: Wisconsin C Peter Konz

03.23.12 at 7:28 am ET
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WEEI.com will continue to offer daily insight and analysis regarding options that may be available to the Patriots when it comes to the 2012 NFL draft. Here is one is a series of profiles of players who could be on the board when it’€™s time for the Patriots to make a selection.

PETER KONZ

Position: Center

School: Wisconsin

Height: 6-foot-5

Weight: 314 pounds

Achievements: Rimington Award finalist (2011), AFCA All-America first team (2011), Media All-Big Ten first team (2011), All-Big Ten academic team (2011)

What he brings: Another monster, NFL-ready lineman from the Wisconsin program, Konz comes into the draft as the consensus No. 1 center prospect. At 6-foot-5, Konz is taller than most centers and could move to either guard position if necessary, but he possesses the proper technique and flexibility to use his large frame in the interior the offensive line.

While at Wisconsin, Konz was the leader of the elite Badgers offensive line and excelled in communication, making calls at the line while diagnosing defensive looks. A technician, Konz flourished in Wisconsin’€™s man-on-man power-running system, displaying excellent footwork, hands and power, though he remains a question mark in a zone running system like the one used by the Texans.

While his strength and power are solid, Konz severely disappointed in his bench press at the combine, recording only 18 reps of 225 pounds, a far cry from the 41 posted by Michigan center David Molk. Of course, if scouts are genuinely concerned about Konz’€™ strength, they should direct themselves to the game tape of this year’€™s Wisconsin-Michigan State game, when the center went toe-to-toe with projected first-rounder Jerel Worthy.

Where the Patriots could get him: Round 1

Notes: Konz was a favorite to win the Rimington Trophy (nation’€™s best college center) this past season, but that pursuit was derailed by a late ankle injury that forced him to miss three games, adding to his spotty durability. Konz missed multiple starts during all three years in which he was a starter.

Should he be drafted in the first round, Konz will be the first interior offensive lineman taken in the first round to put up less than 20 bench press reps at the combine in the past five years, according to Rob Rang of NFLDraftScout.

Related articles:

Baltimore Sun: Potential Ravens target Peter Konz enjoys being center of attention

AnnArbor.com: Wisconsin’s Peter Konz says David Molk’s criticism doesn’t bother him, ’cause I’m sexy and I know it’

Appleton Post Crescent: Former University of Wisconsin Badgers center Peter Konz of Neenah looks like good prospect for NFL Draft

Video: Here’€™s a highlight package of Konz in Wisconsin’€™s game against Ohio State during his final season.

Read More: 2012 NFL Draft, 2012 Potential Patriots, Jerel Worthy, Peter Konz

Examining the Patriots’ running game in the post-Green-Ellis era

03.23.12 at 12:57 am ET
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While the Patriots are not a run-first offense, with 190 touches (181 carries, nine receptions) no offensive skill position player had more touches in 2011 than BenJarvus Green-Ellis, so his departure will create some opportunities for the remaining running backs. Here’€™s a look at who New England has under contract, and how the Patriots’€™ running game could look in 2012.

Stevan Ridley: If you’€™re putting together a depth chart right now, the 5-foot-11, 225-pound Ridley is at the top of the list. Last season as a rookie, the 23-year-old demonstrated he has the size to consistently run between the tackles, as well as display the necessary burst to run away from defenders. He finished the year with 87 carries for 441 yards and one touchdown. (He didn’€™t have enough carries to qualify for a spot among the league leaders, but his 5.1 YPC would have had him tied for 10th in the league.) The late-season ball-security issues were certainly troubling, but as long as he stays away from putting the ball on the ground, there’€™s no reason to think that right now he’€™s not the lead back in the rotation.

Shane Vereen: Vereen struggled with hamstring issues at the start of the season and never really got on track. The 5-foot-9, 205-pounder out of Cal was active for just five games — occasionally due to injury, occasionally because of personnel decisions that rendered him a healthy scratch — and ended the year with 15 carries for 57 yards and a touchdown. (His season-best came in garbage time against the Chiefs when he had eight carries for 39 yards.) When he did get the ball last season, he didn’€™t appear to be a traditional between-the-tackles guy, but more of a speed back. He’€™ll be one to watch come OTA’€™s and training camp.
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Read More: Antowain Smith, BenJarvus Green Ellis, Brandon Jacobs, Cedric Benson
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