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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

A closer look at the Patriots addition of fullback Spencer Larsen

03.22.12 at 8:46 pm ET
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The Patriots have reportedly reached an agreement on a two-year deal with fullback/linebacker Spencer Larsen. The 28-year-old Larsen, an Arizona product who has spent three seasons in the NFL, joins New England after four seasons in Denver with the Broncos.

In Denver, Larsen saw time on both sides of the football, as well as special teams. In his rookie year, Larsen played middle linebacker for the Broncos and had good numbers, especially against the run (according to Pro Football Focus). Since then, he’s spent more time on the offensive side of the football, where he evolved into the Broncos’ lead fullback.

At 6-foot-2 and 243 pounds, he’s pretty much your standard fullback. One thing about his stat line that does stand out (which was initially noted by Richard Hill of Pats Pulpit) is that over the course of his career, he’s caught all 14 of the passes that have been thrown his way over the course of his professional career. It’s not a colossal sample size, but it’s certainly enough to show that he’s a dependable presence in the passing game, when called upon.

Larsen figures to battle the 30-year-old Lousaka Polite for playing time. Polite, who was signed toward the end of the 2011 season, saw 24 snaps at fullback over the course of the regular season and playoffs, per PFF.

Read More: 2012 NFL Free Agency, Lousaka Polite, Spencer Larsen,

NFL Draft’s Potential Patriots: Oklahoma State S Markelle Martin

03.22.12 at 3:54 pm ET
By   |   Comments 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.


Position: Safety

School: Oklahoma State

Height: 6-foot-1

Weight: 198 pounds

Achievements: 2011 All-Big 12 first team (Coaches), 2011 AFCA FBS Coaches All-America, 2011 AP All-America, 2010 Alamo Bowl Defensive Player of the Game

What he brings: This big hitter can cover a lot of ground quickly and covers the sideline well. He led the Oklahoma State secondary in his senior season, helping the Cowboys to a 41-38 Fiesta Bowl win. He could be seen during games shouting instructions and adjustments for his team on the field.

Martin is an average athlete as far as draft talent goes and needs to improve on run defense, but he is an intelligent player who reads and understands the game well. The 21-year-old is one of the more adaptable safeties in the 2012 draft class due to his ball skills, positioning, speed and strength.

Martin is an aggressive player and can be intimidating on the field, but in the locker room, he is a team-first player regarded as a leader at Oklahoma State, making him a good fit for the Patriots’ rigid adherence to the team-before-me philosophy.

Where the Patriots could get him: Round 2

Notes: Martin has had injury issues. He missed spring practices for the 2011 season after having surgery on his left shoulder. Martin did not run or participate in position drills at the combine this year because of a knee injury that he said on Twitter was due to a pinched nerve and fluid on his knee. Martin also missed time in the 2009 season with a hip injury.

Martin finished his collegiate career with three interceptions, 179 tackles (74 of which came in his senior season), two forced fumbles and 39 passes broken up.

Martin won a team award for academic performance and majored in economics.

Related articles:

Bleacher Report: NFL Draft 2012: Oklahoma State safety Markelle Martin is ready to lead

College Football News: Oklahoma St’s Markelle Martin: Ready for NFL

Video: Here are some clips of Martin (No. 10) in a game against Arizona.

Read More: 2012 NFL Draft, 2012 Potential Patriots, Markelle Martin,

A closer look at the return of WR Deion Branch

03.22.12 at 2:37 pm ET
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In an offseason that’s seen a lot of additions at the wide receiver spot, the return of Deion Branch brings some consistency and familiarity to the position.

The 32-year-old (he’ll be 33 before the start of the 2012 season) Branch doesn’t have the same wheels that he used to, but his smarts, route-running ability and excellent working relationship with quarterback Tom Brady make Branch a smart re-sign for New England. When Chad Ochocinco struggled in the Patriots’ passing game last season, Brady leaned on Branch heavily as an outside presence and the veteran responded: In 15 games last season, Branch finished with 51 catches for 702 yards and five touchdowns.

For a historical comparison, think of what veteran Troy Brown was asked to do in 2005 and 2006. Those years, the new arrivals were largely unable to mesh with Brady, and so the quarterback continued to lean on Brown’s smarts and veteran savvy. Those two years, Brown caught 39 and 43 balls, respectively, and continued to prove his worth as a part of the New England passing game, even though he didn’t have the same physical skills he possessed earlier in his career.

While there’s no reason to think that this group of new receivers will have a problem connecting with Brady, the fact that Branch will be there — just like the ultra-reliable Brown was those seasons — should give the quarterback the same sense of comfort. Expect the same sort of production from Branch in 2012 that you saw from Brown those years.

Going forward, he joins a crowded group at wide receiver, one that includes Wes Welker (presuming he signs his tender), as well as newcomers Brandon Lloyd and Anthony Gonzalez and returnee Donte Stallworth. In 2012, expect Lloyd to be the primary downfield threat on one side, while Branch will likely compete for playing time on the other side with a group that includes Stallworth and Ochocinco.

Read More: 2012 NFL Free Agency, Anthony Gonzalez, Brandon Lloyd, Chad Ochocinco

NFL Draft’s Potential Patriots: Alabama OLB Courtney Upshaw

03.22.12 at 7:43 am ET
By   |   Comments 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.


Position: Outside linebacker

School: Alabama

Height: 6-foot-2

Weight: 265 pounds

Achievements: Coaches’ All-SEC first team (2011), AP All-America second team (2011), BCS national championship defensive MVP (2012)

What he brings: Upshaw was one of the standout talents on an Alabama defense that was among the nation’s leaders in scoring and total defense, a skill that was evidenced when the Crimson Tide shut out LSU in the BCS national championship game. He is a top-level pass rusher who seemingly always finds his way to pressure the quarterback. Upshaw has also been repeatedly praised for his defensive and pass rushing instincts that extends well beyond his natural talent and ability.

Where the Patriots could get him: Round 1

Notes: Upshaw’s college coach, Nick Saban, said that he believes Upshaw can play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense as well as defensive end in other schemes. En route to winning the game’s defensive MVP award in a game in which Alabama didn’t allow LSU to cross midfield until the fourth quarter, Upshaw had a game-high seven tackles, including a sack, and spent much of the night in the LSU backfield.

He has also been routinely praised for having a keen ability to not only pressure opposing quarterbacks, but also in stopping screens, draws and reverses. Upshaw’s athleticism has also been noted as a strength. He participated in the NFL combine and had 22 reps with 225 pounds on the bench press, the only combine test in which he took part.

Related Articles: Courtney Upshaw: Why I didn’t participate in all of the combine tests Upshaw draws energy from Saban, Indy visit

Video: Here’s Upshaw in his defensive MVP performance in the BCS national championship against LSU.

Read More: 2012 NFL Draft, 2012 Potential Patriots, Courtney Upshaw,

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady restructures contract

03.21.12 at 11:28 pm ET
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Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has restructured his contract.

Brady, who signed a four-year, $72 million extension in September 2010, was initially scheduled to make $5.75 million in base salary with a $6 million roster bonus and $250,000 workout bonus this season. Under the new agreement (first reported by Brian McIntyre of Mac’s Football Blog), Brady’s base salary was reduced to a fully guaranteed $950,000, with the remaining difference ($4.8 million) combined with the roster bonus and converted into a $10.8 million signing bonus that will be prorated over the three remaining years on Brady’s contract.

By restructuring Brady’s deal, the Patriots freed up $7.2 million in cap space.

This is not the first time Brady has restructured his deal. In the spring of 2007, he reworked his deal to allow for more cap flexibility when it came to adding wide receiver Randy Moss. On that occasion, Brady initially had a base salary of $6 million, but the quarterback and the Patriots did some shuffling, and redid the deal so Brady received a signing bonus of $5.28 million and had his base salary reduced to $720,000.

Read More: Brian McIntyre, Randy Moss, Tom Brady,

Mark Anderson talks about joining the Bills, his time with the Patriots and his future

03.21.12 at 6:14 pm ET
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Former Patriots defensive end Mark Anderson met the media in Buffalo shortly after agreeing to a new deal with the Bills. Courtesy of, here are a few highlights of his Q&A:

On what he liked about Buffalo and why he chose the Bills: That’€™s a good question because when you think of Buffalo you think of a nice, small blue collar town. The fans are great. When I was waiting at the airport I had fans coming up to me, a lot of fans with Buffalo Bills hats. A lot of them came up to me and asked about my free agent visit. I thought that was amazing that they keep up with everything that goes on around the league with this organization. I just love the whole college atmosphere and I feel that it’€™s what you need. You need that type of support in order to be successful in this league.

On how much Mario Williams had to do with him signing with the Bills: He played a big part but I knew Mario in Houston. I knew the type of guy he was. He played a big part. The whole defensive line played a big part, the coaching staff and the team. I’€™ve seen how hard the team worked last year. They were close. They had a few injuries along the way. Everyone seems like they’€™re back and ready to go. I’€™m just happy to be part of this organization.

On what went right last year in New England during his breakout year: It was confidence. Bill (Belichick) and that whole organization had confidence in me to come in and do what I do which is to rush the passer and be a playmaker for the team. I worked real hard with everything I had to do. Everything just gelled at the right time. Like I said, I thank God for everything. I’€™m in a blessed situation right now. I’€™m going to try and help the Bills and the Bills nation right now and try and take it to a whole other level.
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Read More: Mark Anderson,
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