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Logan Mankins is ‘ecstatic’ about his new contract with the Patriots

08.14.11 at 5:57 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Speaking for the first time since agreeing to a six-year contract extension worth an estimated $51 million, Patriots Pro Bowl offensive guard Logan Mankins said he was relieved the process is over and can now focus on playing his best for the Patriots.

“I don’t know. Stuff just falls into place sometimes,” Mankins said following Sunday’s practice.

Mankins and the team came to terms last Wednesday, just after owner Robert Kraft said Mankins would have a new contract if Kraft “had any say” in the matter. The contract, to carry him through the 2016 season, will pay him a guaranteed $30 million, inlcuding a $20 million signing bonus.

Is he happy with the money and terms?

“Yeah, I’€™m happy with it, I’€™m ecstatic,” Mankins beamed. “This doesn’€™t feel real yet, so I don’€™t know how to take it yet, but I’€™m very happy to be here. Looking forward, I’€™m hoping to have a good season and hopefully I can help this team win games for the next six years if I make it that long.”

All of this doesn’t happen without owner Robert Kraft stepping forward and making sure that one of the best offensive guards in football stays in Foxboro.

“It’€™s great. I’€™m really happy to be staying here for hopefully the rest of my career,” Mankins said. “I want to thank the Krafts and their family, coach [Bill] Belichick, and the guys upstairs. I’€™m glad this is done with; I am very happy.”

Mankins also took the opportunity Sunday to say how grateful he is to be playing the next six seasons in New England, including this campaign for long-time offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia.

“I think a lot of people probably take Dante for granted,” Mankins said. “He’s, in my opinion, the best O-line coach in the league. I’m glad I get to play for him a while longer. He works the dog out of us but we’re always in great shape during games so we really appreciate his work.” Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: 2011 training camp, Bill Belichick, Dante Scarnecchia, Fresno State

Sunday Patriots practice report: Still no Albert Haynesworth

08.14.11 at 5:05 pm ET
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FOXBORO — While the Patriots coaching staff maintains that he is making steady progress toward returning to the practice field, defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth again was a no-show on Sunday at a lengthy practice in full pads on the grass fields behind Gillette Stadium.

Also missing were receivers Julian Edelman and Taylor Price, with Edelman in shorts, as well as rookies Ras-I Dowling and Shane Vereen, defensive lineman Mike Wright and running back Kevin Faulk.

The practice was a long one but in unseasonably cool conditions as the coaching staff is clearly working at building up conditioning, a point Logan Mankins made to reporters after practice.

It was a good day to watch Tom Brady hook up with Chad Ochocinco, once on a long pass over the middle, beating safety Patrick Chung in down-and-distance work. Ocho later beat corner Devin McCourty cleanly in 7-on-7 drills a short while later.

Rookie Nate Solder was reminded of the attention to details Bill Belichick and the rest of the coaching staff demand as he jumped offside and ran a lap around the field midway through down-and-distance work. Steve Maneri took his place momentarily at left tackle. Also on the first-team offensive line were Mankins, Dan Koppen, Dan Connolly and Sebastian Vollmer.

The reason Maneri was called upon is that Matt Light has not yet been placed in full offensive line practice mode. Light attended practice for the second straight day and was again limited mainly to one-on-one and individual skill work while being kept out of group situational work.

Belichick worked closely with his second and third units on Sunday, watching Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett work with the second team offensive line.

While the group work was taking place on the West practice field, Steve Gostkowski was showing that he still has a strong leg, attempting three from 60 yards. The first one hit the crossbar. The second fell about 15 yards short before back-up Chris Koepplin raised his two arms in approval on the third, prompting a Washington Redskins “Smurf” style celebration from Gostkowski, holder Zoltan Mesko and snapper Matt Katula.

Read More: 2011 training camp, Matt Light, Nate Solder, New England Patriots

Pepper Johnson says he can’t believe what he’s read about Albert Haynesworth

08.14.11 at 2:00 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Pepper Johnson wanted to make it clear in his briefing with reporters on Sunday that he has no preconceived notions about working with Albert Haynesworth. As a matter of fact, the Patriots defensive line coach said he couldn’t be happier to work with the man who came to New England in late July with a checkered and unflattering reputation as a troublemaker.

“He’s very unlike a lot of what you read about,” said Johnson, who took the place of coach Bill Belichick in the team’s daily press briefing. “I was thinking, ‘What am I really going to have to deal with?’ I’m coaching whatever player comes up in here, it doesn’t matter to me, but Albert is a great guy. It’s kind of hard to see some of the things you hear, negative about him, coming from that person.

“You need to know both sides of the story,” Johnson added. “I think Albert is a great person. He’s been trying to work his way out on the field. He’s been tremendous in the classroom to date. I’m expecting a lot from him.”

Johnson told reporters that his responsibility is to get the players along the defensive line ready to play the defense that Belichick wants to run. Johnson said that hasn’t been a problem with Haynesworth.

“I think he’s excited about being here,” Johnson said. “He’s excited about playing football, and of course, he’s one of the best defensive linemen in the league so I’m quite sure he’s going to make a big difference.”

Read More: 2011 training camp, Albert Haynesworth, Bill Belichick, New England Patriots

Patriots add LB depth by signing Niko Koutouvides

08.14.11 at 1:44 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Adding more depth to their corps of linebackers, the Patriots Sunday announced they have signed veteran free agent Niko Koutouvides. Terms of the deal, which puts the Patriots at the 90-man roster limit, were not disclosed.

Koutouvides, at 6-foot-2, 238-pounds, has played seven NFL seasons with the Seahawks (2004-07), Broncos (2008) and Buccaneers (2010). He originally entered the NFL as a fourth round draft pick (116th overall) of Seattle in 2004 out of Purdue. After four seasons with the Seahawks, he signed with Denver as an unrestricted free agent in 2008. He was released by Denver after the season and signed with Tampa Bay in the 2009 offseason.

Koutouvides has played in 103 games with two starts and registered 101 special teams tackles and 54 total tackles on defense. He has also played in eight postseason games, including Super Bowl XL while with Seattle.

Koutouvides also has New England roots, as he was born in Plainville, Connecticut and attended Plainville High School, where he was a letterman in football and was named the team’s Most Valuable Player. He was also an All-Conference selection, and an All-State Honorable Mention selection. Koutouvides attended Milford Academy, in 1999 and was a student and a letterman in football. leading the team in sacks and finishing second on the team in tackles.

Read More: 2011 training camp, Denver Broncos, New England Patriots, nfl

Fantasy Football 2011: Rookie Running Backs

08.14.11 at 2:29 am ET
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Today we break down the rookie running backs for redraft purposes and for long term purposes. For those who may not know, redraft leagues draft fresh teams every year and have no carry over players from the prior year’€™s roster. Redraft leagues are, by far, the most common league type.

The 2011 NFL draft featured a large group of very talented tailbacks. This is one of the reasons that many of them went so late in the draft. Why spend a first rounder on what you can get later?

We see at least ten backs that have legit NFL skills and plenty more who can stick on NFL rosters. It’€™s a good year for talented backs. The downer is that most of them went to teams with established talent that must be beaten out or in some cases, like Kendall Hunter’€™s or Alexander Green’€™s, ridden out.

Here’€™s a look at our ten most talented rookie running backs. As I mentioned, there are more talented runners to discuss, so check us out over at Rotobahn.com next week, when we will release our comprehensive Rookie Reports.

Mark Ingram, RB, Saints

We like him in redraft leagues and he’€™s our top rookie running back for the long term too. The former Heisman winner is a good back and he’€™s multi-skilled, so he fits with the Saints offense perfectly. We doubt he totally dominates the touches in 2011 as Payton likes to rotate a lot, but do we think he gets more than any Saints’€™ back has since the days of the Deuce McAllister. It’€™s all about location and Ingram caught a real break going to the Big Easy. He’€™s a good player to target in all formats. Right now, we’€™d recommend backing him up with Pierre Thomas if your league’€™s roster limits allow it.

Roy Helu, RB, Redskins

In dynasty and long term formats, we are all over this guy, but it might take some time for him to reach the top of the depth chart. It’€™s frustrating, because we think he is ready to roll right away, but Washington seems to be going with veterans Tim Hightower and Ryan Torain for now. Helu is a potential bust-out as soon as he gets the chance.  He has everything we look for in a back. He’€™s fast and he hits the hole. He breaks tackles and has good field vision. The former Cornhusker is one of our favorite backs in the 2011 draft. The fact that he’€™s in Mike Shanahan‘€™s offense is an added bonus.

Ryan Williams, RB, Cardinals

Williams will have a role as a rookie and that helps a lot all leagues. We like him as a dynasty player, but there is the Beanie Wells issue and Wells comes into the 2011 season motivated and healthy. Williams will either have to clearly out-play Wells or wait for an injury. If and when he is the lead back, we like his chances of posting good numbers. There’€™s no doubt that he has NFL ability. Don’€™t bank on him being great right away, but we like his long term. He is a player to watch in preseason action. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: 2011 Fantasy Football,

Matt Light understands the Patriots’ tackle situation, whatever it may be

08.13.11 at 5:41 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Patriots offensive tackle Matt Light returned to the practice field after coming off the physically unable to perform list Saturday, and afterward had the opportunity to explain the communication he had with Bill Belichick prior to inking his two-year-deal on July 31.

The Patriots’ coach noted Saturday morning that he had discussed the team’s tackle situation — the Pats drafted Colorado tackle Nate Solder 17th overall and have All-Pro right tackle Sebastian Vollmer — with Light, and that the two came to an understanding.

So what was said in this meeting?

“Most of it was transcendental meditation,” Light cracked, “and I can’t really get into a whole lot of that, but it was pretty deep. [Transcendental meditation founder] Maharashi Mehesh Yogi ‘€¦ it’s pretty deep.”

Taking a more serious tone, Light reflected on what it was like knowing the team that had spent a first-round pick on his eventual replacement wanted him to stick around.

“Like anything else, you go through a process,” Light said. “That time in any guy’s career is one where you’ve got to make some serious decisions. You’ve got to understand both sides’ expectations. Look, Bill’s always been straightforward. He kind of says it like it is, and he doesn’t hold anything back. I know what his expectations of me, and vice versa, so we’re all good.”

Given that Light was on the PUP list for the preseason opener, the 10-year veteran watched Solder start at left tackle in his place. Solder, a 6-foot-8 former tight-end, a very encouraging preseason debut, playing the first 10 offensive drives of the team’s 47-12 win over the Jaguars.

“I obviously watch that position. Look, Nate’s a big guy. Physically gifted and hard to get around just due to his size,” Light said of Solder. “I think he’s shown really good footwork. He came in, he knew the system, he knew the offense, he’s a smart guy, so I think he played pretty well. Again, it’s not my job to rate him, but at the end of the day, I think he’s hanging pretty well with that first group.”

Coming out of college, Solder was viewed as a raw talent with big potential. As such, one could interpret Light’s return as a sign that Solder will ease his way into a starting role over time. The 33-year-old Light figures to be in his usual position protecting Tom Brady‘s blindside when the season opens, but he admitted Saturday that as he returns from offseason shoulder surgery these day, he’ll be taking it slow.

“Just try to make sure that I can go out there and get as much done without actually going through a lot of the physical end of this,” Light said of his plan now that he’s back on the field. “Unfortunately, I can’t just jump right back into it given what surgery I had in the offseason, so right now a lot of it’s mental, trying to keep the physical side of it going to what extent I can, and hopefully be out there going full tilt sooner than later.”

Read More: 2011 training camp, Matt Light,

Will Yeatman trying to force his way in crowded Patriots’ tight end picture

08.13.11 at 5:35 pm ET
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FOXBORO ‘€” The Patriots have a crowded picture at the tight end spot. Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez both return after stellar rookie seasons, while practice-squadder Carson Butler also returns and rookie Lee Smith tries to make the most out of limited reps. And that doesn’€™t include the possible return of veteran Alge Crumpler, who was part of the mix last season and could still return in 2011.

But doing his best to stand out is 6-foot-6, 270-pound rookie Will Yeatman. The former collegiate lacrosse star is in camp this summer with the Patriots, trying to land a spot on the 53-man roster as a tight end. The massive Yeatman is tough to miss ‘€” he’€™s every bit as imposing as his fellow tight end Gronkowski (6-foot-6, 265 pounds).

And Yeatman has certainly made his presence known on the field. In the preseason opener against the Jaguars, running with the No. 2 offense, he had a pair of impressive run blocks and caught a pair of tough passes thrown his way for 14 total yards. (He was targeted three times overall.)

“Right now, it’€™s honestly been a big growing experience. A big learning experience. There are some wonderful coaches here and I’€™m learning a lot,” Yeatman said.

“I don’€™t know if there have been many surprises. I’€™d say it’€™s just been a big growing experience for me. I’€™ve got to learn the playbook as fast as I can and that’€™s been something that I have to continue to grow at. Other than that, just the overall physicality and talent of the players out here has been great.”

The 23-year-old Yeatman, who was born in Naples, Italy, hasn’€™t taken a traditional route to the NFL ‘€” he didn’€™t play much college football. Instead, a highly touted high school lacrosse star, he transferred from Notre Dame to Maryland. (The process may have been accelerated by a some scrapes with the law, including a suspension for an arrest in 2008.)

While with the Terps, Yeatman did play some football, but really made his bones as a lacrosse star ‘€” he was a former All-American who was part of the U.S. National Team tryout pool selection team in 2010. He likely landed on Bill Belichick‘€™s radar screen because of Belichick’€™s well-known love of lacrosse, as well as the Yeatman’€™s connections to Notre Dame. (He was with the Irish when former Belichick lieutenant Charlie Weis was the head coach at Notre Dame.)

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Read More: 2011 training camp, Aaron Hernandez, Alge Crumpler, Bill Belichick
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