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James Ihedigbo: UMass football is now ‘on the map’

12.08.11 at 2:07 pm ET
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FOXBORO — James Ihedigbo is one happy and proud man.

The Patriots safety is in position to watch his college alma mater play football in his own office.

That’s because the UMass Minutemen will start playing their home games at Gillette Stadium in 2012 and they’ll have a new head coach, to boot.

After Thursday’s introductory news conference for new head coach Charley Molnar, the UMass program will hit the streets looking to position itself as New England’s third major college football program, behind Boston College and Connecticut.

“Them being able to play here and use that a marketing tool to recruit and get students to come here is huge,” Ihedigbo said. “It’s an opportunity for the players you can only dream of. You’re going to a great school to get a great education and you’re also going to be playing for a premier football team and a premier program. I look for only big things from here on out.”

Ihedigbo played for UMass from 2003-06, redshirting his freshman year in 2002. Now, assuming he’s on the Patriots in 2012, he’ll be able to leave a Saturday walkthrough at Gillette and go right down the tunnel to a UMass game.

“I’ll be able to sit right here on a Saturday and walk right out this locker room and watch them play, which will be great,” he said.

These are indeed heady days for the Minutemen. They have hired a head coach from a big time program, as Molnar was the offensive coordinator under Brian Kelly at Notre Dame, and previously the Cincinnati Bearcats.

They are joining the Mid-American Conference, a conference that has produced such Patriots as Julian Edelman (Kent State) and Taylor Price (Ohio). When Ihedigbo was there, he played two years for Mark Whipple before he left for the Steelers and Don Brown. Ihedigbo said Thursday that today is another big step in the process of moving to big-time college football. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Brian Kelly, Charley Molnar, Cincinnati Bearcats, FBS

In Focus: Charting the offensive opportunities for the Patriots’ skill position players through 12 games

12.08.11 at 1:47 pm ET
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Every week over the course of the 2011 NFL season, we’€™ll present a list of the Patriots’€™ ‘€œoffensive touches,’€ a running tally of which one of the offensive skill position players is getting the most looks. Like our weekly look at targets, it can occasionally be an inexact stat, but it remains a good barometer of how confident the coaches (and quarterback) are when it comes to the skill position players at their disposal. Twelve games into the season, here’€™s a breakdown of the New England offense for 2011:

BenJarvus Green-Ellis: 162 (156 carries, six receptions) seven touchdowns ‘€” 11 negative plays
Wes Welker: 96 (3 carries, 93 receptions) eight touchdowns ‘€” two negative plays
Danny Woodhead: 71 (57 carries, 14 receptions) zero touchdowns ‘€” two negative plays
Rob Gronkowski: 66 (1 carry, 65 receptions), 14 touchdowns
Aaron Hernandez: 55 (1 carry, 54 receptions), five touchdowns ‘€” two negative plays
Stevan Ridley: 51 (48 carries, 3 receptions), one touchdown ‘€” five negative plays
Deion Branch: 48 (0 carries, 48 receptions), four touchdowns
Tom Brady: 24 (24 carries, 0 receptions) 30 passing touchdowns, zero rushing touchdowns ‘€” 20 negative plays, all sacks. (Brady took a zero-yard sack Sunday against Indy.)
Kevin Faulk: 19 (13 carries, 6 receptions) zero touchdowns ‘€” two negative plays
Shane Vereen: 15 (15 carries, 0 receptions) ‘€” two negative plays
Chad Ochocinco: 12 (0 carries, 12 receptions), zero touchdowns
Julian Edelman: 6 (3 carries, 3 receptions) zero touchdowns ‘€” two negative plays, both runs
Tiquan Underwood: 1 (0 carries, 1 reception), zero touchdowns
Matthew Slater: 1 (0 carries, 1 reception), zero touchdowns
TOTAL: 627 touches (321 carries, 306 receptions) ‘€” 47 negative plays (excluding kneeldowns)

Read More: Aaron Hernandez, BenJarvus Green Ellis, Chad Ochocinco, Danny Woodhead

Why Tom Brady isn’t standing pat in the pocket

12.08.11 at 12:53 pm ET
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FOXBORO — You don’t have to be an NFL scout to notice something very significant about Tom Brady this year.

He is getting rid of the ball faster and faster with every passing game.

There are a number of reasons for this.

The Patriots offensive line has been in flux all season, with injuries to Dan Koppen, Dan Connolly, Sebastian Vollmer and Ryan Wendell, two rookies in Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon and opponents ganging up on Logan Mankins with occasional success.

Then, there’s the lack of a deep true deep threat downfield. With Wes Welker (team-leading 93 catches) and Deion Branch (48) getting open underneath, there has been little reason or motivation for Brady to look deep that often. The struggles of Chad Ochocinco and Taylor Price (now with the Jaguars) haven’t helped either, as both haven’t been able to consistently strike fear into opposing secondaries.

Tight end Rob Gronkowski is having a Hall of Fame and NFL record-setting season for the position, with 65 catches and 13 receiving touchdowns already.

Does Gronkowski get into his routes more quickly than a wide receiver does? Does that have anything to do with being able to get rid of the ball quickly? Let Professor Brady answer.

“Well, there’€™s more versatility in the inside part of the field because they can go in any direction,” Brady said. “If you’re an outside receiver and you’€™re split outside the numbers, there’€™re not many places you can go, so it usually takes a little more time to get in your route. When you’€™re an inside receiver, you have every direction available. So that’€™s why those guys typically have more catches probably for less yards because they have to deal with more people inside, but they also can catch the ball quick, short, intermediate, as well as down the field. So, there is just more route versatility within what they’€™re doing.” Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Adam Carriker, Brian Orakpo, Chad Ochocinco, Deion Branch

Nate Jones starting to settle in with the Patriots

12.08.11 at 12:41 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Nate Jones has finally allowed himself to take a breath.

The defensive back was signed by the Patriots on Nov. 30, and four days later, he was on the field with New England, playing 70 of a possible 74 defensive snaps in Sunday’s win over the Colts. He finished with nine tackles (six solo) and a pass defensed in his first action with the Patriots.

Now, with just over a week in the system, he’s just starting to get his bearings when it comes to life in Foxboro.

‘€œI’m settled down now,’€ he said before practice on Thursday. ‘€œIt’s life in the NFL — things happen fast, on the field and off the field. Wherever you are, you’ve got to be ready. I’m good now. Getting settled, learning the schedule, learning my way around. It’s not bad.’€

The 29-year-old Jones, a 5-foot-10, 185-pound defensive back out of Rutgers, was drafted in the seventh round by the Cowboys in 2004, and played four seasons with Dallas before making stopovers in Miami and Denver. His finest season came in 2009 with the Dolphins, when he played in 16 games (making four starts) and made 54 tackles (45 solo) with 10 passes defensed and two interceptions. He was cut by the Dolphins on Oct. 5, and signed by New England late last month.

Against the Colts, the Patriots used a lot of nickel coverage, and utilized Jones as a slot corner for much of the afternoon.

‘€œI thought Nate did a good job,’€ said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. ‘€œI mean, he wasn’€™t even familiar with what we were doing, so he had a steeper learning curve, but he’€™s a more experienced player, so there’€™s a tradeoff there. I thought Nate did a pretty good job for us. [He] played the defenses pretty well, was good in communication, got his hands on a couple balls, made a few plays. It was far from perfect, but I thought he did a good job.’€

According to Jones, the assimilation process has been relatively easy.

‘€œI think just playing football, you recognize certain things, certain concepts, certain techniques. But no scheme is going to be identical. It’s hard to really compare schemes. But just being a football player, you understand certain concepts of the game, no matter what team you’re on.’€

Read More: Bill Belichick, Nate Jones,

From Sean Taylor to the fans, Washington will always mean something special to Andre Carter

12.07.11 at 9:38 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Bring up his days in the nation’s capital, and Andre Carter – like he did on Wednesday – shines his sincere smile and has nothing but good things to say.

Even when the tragedy of a former teammate is broached.

Carter was in his second season of six-year, $30 million deal with the Redskins when 24-year-old Sean Taylor was gunned down in his Miami home and eventually died on Nov. 27, 2007. That season will always be with Carter, as the Patriots defensive end acknowledged Wednesday.

“Definitely, the 2007 season in regards to Sean Taylor and playing hard for him, that was by far one of the best moments,” Carter said. “We outplayed the Cowboys the last game of the season. We beat them by 21 points and Sean’s number was 21 so that was definitely a memorable experience that will always be cherished forever.”

Thanks to Carter and his teammates, the Redskins beat the Cowboys, 27-6, concluding a four-game winning streak that began after they lost to the Bills, 17-16, the game after Taylor’s death. That day, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams had no free safety on the opening snap, putting 10 men on the field to start the game in a tribute to Taylor.

“That was also special, too. It took a lot of guts to do that,” Carter said. “But hey, that’s one thing about Gregg Williams, he’s definitely hard-nosed and people think he’s misunderstood but he loved Sean Taylor the way we loved him and why not do one last play for him.”

That win over the Cowboys put the Redskins in the playoffs in 2007. They would lose in Seattle in the first round of the playoffs, the last time the Redskins have appeared in the postseason.

“Unfortunately, they haven’t been successful,” Carter said of Washington woes under the likes of head coaches Jim Zorn and Mike Shanahan. “But the fans, in general, have held on and definitely have faith in trying to turn that particular organization around. I’ve been glad and blessed to meet some of the greats, and actually was with some of the greats, especially Joe Gibbs. It’s just an amazing franchise. Hopefully, in due time, that organization will turn around because it was a great place to play in, holding 100,000-plus fans. It can get loud when things are really rolling.” Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Andre Carter, Gregg Williams, Joe Gibbs, New England Patriots

Pressure Points: Which New England defenders have done the best job of getting after the quarterback through 12 games?

12.07.11 at 6:06 pm ET
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According to official NFL gamebooks, opposing quarterbacks have 486 dropbacks against the Patriots through 12 games this season, and have been hit by New England defenders a total of 64 times, to go along with 27 sacks (16th in the league). Here’€™s a breakdown of who has been getting to the quarterback for the Patriots through 12 games:

Quarterback hits:
Defensive end Andre Carter: 19
Defensive end/linebacker Mark Anderson: Nine
Linebacker Rob Ninkovich: Eight
Defensive lineman Vince Wilfork: Seven
Linebacker Dane Fletcher: Four
Linebacker Jerod Mayo: Three
Defensive lineman Myron Pryor: Three
Defensive lineman Kyle Love: Three
Defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth: Two
Defensive lineman Gerard Warren: Two
Defensive lineman Shaun Ellis: One
Safety Pat Chung: One
Linebacker Brandon Spikes: One
Cornerback Phillip Adams: One

Sacks:
Carter: 9 (65 yards)
Anderson: 7 (49 yards)
Ninkovich: 4.5 (20 yards)
Wilfork: 2.5 (17.5 yards)
Love: Two (11 yards)
Chung: One (3 yards)
Pryor: 0.5 (4.5 yards)
Mike Wright: 0.5 (4 yards)

Read More: Albert Haynesworth, Andre Carter, Brandon Spikes, Dane Fletcher

Is Andre Carter seeing a lot more double-teams? ‘You know it!’

12.07.11 at 2:30 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The question had to be asked.

With his sudden falloff in sack and tackle numbers against the Eagles and Colts, has Andre Carter been seeing a lot more double-team coverage from opposing offensive lines?

“Yep,” Carter said in a response so fast and affirmative that he clearly knew the subject would eventually be addressed. “You know it! You know the answer to that question. As a player, you try to find a way to make those adjustments but I can’t get frustrated. I’m just happy to see other guys playing well and that’s what you do, you celebrate with your teammates because it’s a team sport.”

In his first 10 games, Carter had nine sacks and was tied for fourth in the NFL in that category. He came within 1/2 sack of setting the new franchise single-game record before a league statistician reviewed the film and determined that he “only” had 4.0 sacks against the Jets on Nov. 13.

Looking beyond just the sacks, Carter has also been held in checks in the tackle column as well, collecting just one solo tackle in each of the last two games after averaging six in his previous five.

But that didn’t keep Bill Belichick from raving on Wednesday about his veteran defensive end, who along with Brian Waters, has turned out to be one of the most valuable new additions to the 2011 Patriots roster.

“We need players that can play and he’€™s done a good job of that,” Belichick said. “Certainly, bringing a professional approach to the game, that’€™s great too. He’€™s done a good job at everything. He’€™s very attentive. He’€™s in excellent physical condition, he’€™s out there, he takes a lot of plays, he plays them hard in practice and the games. He’€™s very professional in his approach. We’€™ve asked him to do some different things, he’€™s embraced those and tried the things that he knows how to do, do; the things that are a little bit new or different for him, he’€™s tried hard to learn and understand how we want those things done.

“Very unselfish player that works hard [and] is consistent. You get the same effort out of him every day, seven days a week, whatever this is, [16] games or however many we’€™ve played. He’€™s really the same dependable player on a daily basis with a lot of consistency. All those are strengths. I don’€™t know how you rank them, but they’€™re all important. He does a great job at all of them. He’€™s been such a pleasure to have on this team and he’€™s added a lot to our football team in a lot of different ways.”

Read More: Andre Carter, Brian Waters, New England Patriots, nfl

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