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How will Bill Belichick use Akeem Ayers: ‘We’ll see’

10.22.14 at 10:55 am ET
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FOXBORO — Bill Belichick is understandably cautious when talking about throwing linebacker Akeem Ayers immediately into the mix of his 3-4 base defense, a defense that has lost Jerod Mayo (patellar tendon) for the season and Chandler Jones (hip) for a month.

There are several factors that create that approach.

First, Ayers, a pass-rushing specialist, had trouble getting on the field for the Titans, as he was inactive for five of Tennessee’s first seven games this season.

There’s also the matter of going from Ken Whisenhunt‘s 4-3 scheme to Belichick’s 3-4 base. Belichick wouldn’t speculate on why Whisenhunt wouldn’t play the linebacker on a defense in the lower third of NFL rankings.

“You’d have to talk to them about that,” Belichick said. “You’ve got the injury reports so you can look at all the injury reports this year.”

The injuries Belichick references has to do with the not-so-small matter of the 25-year-old linebacker’s knees. He had patellar tendon surgery on both knees in the space of two months this past winter.

So, what can Ayers do for the Patriots?

“We’ll see,” Belichick said Wednesday morning. “Start working with him today. He’s played linebacker, defensive end in sub situations. We’ll start working with him.”

Can the versatility bring a new element to the Patriots defense?

“I don’t know,” Belichick said. “We’ll see. I’d say he has some versatility but we’ll see. I’d say just the combination of us getting to him and him getting to know our – learning our scheme, learning our system and us evaluating him on the run and trying to figure out how he can best help us.”

Belichick and the Patriots had a chance to scout Ayers when he came out of UCLA for the 2011 draft as one of the fastest linebackers (between 4.7-4.76) in college.

“We did [scout and talk to] him coming out of UCLA,” Belichick said. “We spent time with a lot of players. That was a long time ago. I don’t think that’s really that relevant.”

Read More: Akeem Ayers, Bill Belichick, New England Patriots, tennessee titans

DL Chris Jones named AFC Special Teams Player of Week

10.22.14 at 10:15 am ET
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Patriots defensive lineman Chris Jones has been named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week, the league announced Wednesday.

Jones blocked a Nick Folk field-goal attempt at the end of regulation to help preserve New England’s 27-25 win over the Jets last Thursday. The 6-foot-1, 309-pounder is in his second season with the Patriots, and has 15 tackles and 1.5 sacks on the year.

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Tom Waddle on D&C: Bears QB Jay Cutler’s inconsistencies, struggles ‘just maddening’

10.22.14 at 9:39 am ET
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Tom Waddle

Tom Waddle

Former Bears receiver and current ESPN radio host Tom Waddle joined Dennis & Callahan on Wednesday to discuss the Patriots’ upcoming game against Chicago. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

During Sunday’€™s game against the Dolphins, there were problems for the Bears both on and off the field. The team was booed off the field by the home crowd, and after the game ended, wide receiver Brandon Marshall reportedly had a beef with some teammates, mainly quarterback Jay Cutler. This discontent in the locker room has many asking if there will be an effect on the team this week.

“It’€™s more likely it would galvanize than fracture,” Waddle said. “But my guess is it won’€™t have any effect on it at all. Here in Chicago and nationally it’€™s just crazy. The report was that Brandon Marshall called out Jay Cutler. I understand what happened, Brandon went to the locker room, he’€™s an emotional guy, the locker room is an emotional place win, lose or draw. He started yelling about different things. … I don’€™t think it’€™ll play a factor at all at Foxboro this week.”

As good as Cutler has been at quarterback, at times he has looked inconsistent. The hosts wondered if there is a way to determine which Cutler we’€™ll see before the game starts.

Said Waddle: “You see brilliance, then you see that ‘€˜boom goes the dynamite’€™ mistake as we like to call it in Chicago where you’€™re just like, ‘Oh my God, I can’€™t believe that just happened.’ It’€™s been a very disappointing year here because there were such high expectations. And those expectations on offense haven’€™t been met.”

Continued Waddle: “I think it’€™s on his decision-making, it has absolute nothing to do with his work ethic. Jay’€™s the first guy in the building, last guy to leave. Jay cares deeply about the game, despite what many may believe. … There are moments in a game you can almost feel it coming. You see the ball sail a little bit high and it ends up in the arms of a defender. And like I said, earlier in the game, you’€™ll see him make a throw only two or three guys can make. It’€™s just maddening at times because his ceiling is so high and he has so much ability.”

Marshall is a top receiver in the league, but this year his numbers are down across the board in just about every category. This is why many believe he was so angry last Sunday.

“Brandon is an elite player,” Waddle said. “Brandon’€™s an emotional guy. I’€™m sure part of his outburst in the locker room on Sunday was about him not participating enough or not getting the opportunity to do enough. That’€™s just the nature of the beast, so to speak, when you are talking about very talented wide receivers. I think there is some frustration there, but again, this offense scored 27 points [per game] the last year. Alshon Jeffery had 1,400 yards receiving. Brandon Marshall had 1,200 yards receiving. … You have to make adjustments, and the Bears haven’€™t made those adjustments.”

Read More: Brandon Marshall, Jay Cutler, Tom Waddle,

Patriots officially announce acquisition of LB Akeem Ayers

10.22.14 at 9:19 am ET
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The Patriots have officially announced the trade for linebacker Akeem Ayers. Here’s a portion of the release issued by the team:

The New England Patriots announced that they have acquired LB Akeem Ayers in a trade with the Tennessee Titans. Trade terms were not disclosed.

In addition, the Patriots released LB Ja’€™Gared Davis.

Ayers, 25, has been with the Titans since being drafted in the second round (39th overall) of the 2011 NFL Draft out of UCLA. He has played in 50 NFL games with 44 starts and has registered 254 total tackles, nine sacks, two interceptions 18 passes defensed, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. The 6-foot-3, 255-pounder, earned a starting position at linebacker as a rookie in 2011, leading all linebackers with 88 total tackles. He had a team-leading 110 total tackles with six sacks in 2012. Ayers played in two of Tennessee’€™s first seven games in 2014.

Davis, 24, was signed from the practice squad to the 53-man roster on Oct. 4, 2014. He was signed to the practice squad after being released at the end of training camp. Davis spent the majority of his rookie season in 2013 on the Patriots’€™ practice squad, but did see action in one regular-season game and both postseason games after joining the 53-man roster. The 6-foot, 238-pounder, was originally signed by Houston as a rookie free agent out of Southern Methodist on May 10, 2013. He was released by Houston on Aug. 27, 2013, and claimed off waivers and awarded to the Patriots on Aug. 28, 2013.

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RB Jonas Gray focused on penning next great underdog story with Patriots

10.22.14 at 5:30 am ET
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Jonas Gray (right) did enough in the preseason to end up landing with the Patriots. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Jonas Gray (right) did enough in the preseason to end up landing with the Patriots. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — It was a long journey to the NFL for running back Jonas Gray, and so when he reached the huddle with the rest of the offense last Thursday night against the Jets, he said he took a second to look around and fully comprehend what was happening.

Of course, you could excuse Gray for drinking in the moment. The undrafted free agent out of Notre Dame — who suffered a knee injury as a senior against Boston College in 2012 — had spent two years bouncing from the Miami practice squad to the Baltimore practice squad before signing with the Patriots in January.

He led the team in touches over the course of the preseason, but he was released by New England as part of the final cuts. The Patriots then brought him back via the practice squad, and after starter Stevan Ridley went down with a season-ending knee injury earlier this month, he was promoted to the active roster. That set the stage for his NFL debut on Thursday against the Jets.

“€œYou know what? I always look at it like I’€™m just writing a great story,”€ the 24-year-old Gray said after practice on Tuesday. “Writing one hell of a story — a page turner.”

For Gray, his story started to take shape in South Bend, where, as a collegian, he totaled 1,100 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns in 34 games with the Fighting Irish from 2009-2011. The latest chapter saw him finish his New England debut with three carries for 12 yards on 12 snaps. The numbers weren’€™t overwhelming, but enough to warrant praise from offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.

“He did a good job of running hard,”€ offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said of Gray. “€œHe runs behind his pads, stays low, not the easiest guy in the world to bring to the ground because he’€™s a thick guy with the ball. He stepped in there and picked up the blitz a couple times the other night.

“€œ[He’€™s] a young guy who’€™s eager to do whatever is asked of him, and we’€™ll continue to work with him and see if we can’€™t continue to build on what we did the other night with him.”

“It felt good to be out there in my first professional regular-season game,” the 5-foot-10, 230-pounder said after practice Tuesday. “I tried not to overhype myself or make the big lights seem too big. The first play I got in the game, I just wanted to make sure I was going downhill and be physical and try to set the tone. That’€™s pretty much what I’€™m going to try every week.”

One area where he was able to really distinguish himself was in blitz pickup. He said that was an area where he really felt prepared, thanks in large part to his work as a practice squadder.

“€œOn the practice squad, you’€™re kind of a full-go player as a running back, especially when you’€™re in full pads.”€ Gray said. “So going against the starters all the time, guys like Jamie Collins and Dont’€™a Hightower, they never give me a break, so that’€™s helped prepare me for opportunities I get in a game.”€

Of course, there’€™s no rest around Foxboro. The back, who says he tries to be the last one at Gillette Stadium every night, has multiple responsibilities on his plate this week. He’€™ll not only have to get into his playbook to prepare for the Bears, but because he’€™s the low man on the totem pole, he’€™ll be the one assigned to scout team duty to give the starters a feel of what they’€™ll be facing when it comes to Chicago’€™s Matt Forte.

“It’€™s crazy. I just do whatever I can with the opportunities I’€™m given,”€ said Gray, who has also played the role of Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson at practice this year. “My support staff and the people around me, they make sure that I don’€™t overhype myself and I just come out and prepare the same way.”

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Family Feud: Shane Vereen ready to mix it up with brother Brock as Patriots meet Bears

10.21.14 at 9:33 pm ET
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FOXBORO — When it comes to providing a scouting report on the Bears, Shane Vereen is better prepared than most of the Patriots.

When he lines up Sunday against Chicago, the New England running back will get his first crack at his brother — Bears rookie safety Brock Vereen — for the first time as professionals.

“I’m looking forward to it — it’s exciting,” Shane said after practice Tuesday. “It’s definitely going to be a good time for me and my family. But at the same time, you have to get down to the basics. It would mean more if we just came out on top and won the game as a team.

“Growing up, we talked about it a lot. But we were never on the field together at the same time because of our age difference. Now, we finally get that chance, and we’re both really excited about it.”

While he was interviewed by the Patriots prior to the draft, Brock ended up going in the fourth round to the Bears, and has 12 tackles in seven games in his first year with Chicago. The 5-foot-11, 199-pounder, who said he was looking to put a big hit on his brother when he reached the NFL, said in February that Shane was a big help to him throughout the pre-draft process.

“€œI’€™€ve been very fortunate as to always to have an older brother at the level I was trying to get to,”€€ said Brock in February. “When I was in high school, he was already in college, and now, the situation here. Just to have that insight, and to understand the ins and outs of certain things that some people might not find out until they’€™€™re actually in the NFL, it’€™€™s definitely a blessing.”

Of course, there’s also the chance to put a hit on your brother.

“I have not been hit by my brother. Not in pads,” said Shane with a smile on Tuesday. “I definitely think he is looking forward to it. So am I.”

Shane said there will plenty of family in attendance, but he said Tuesday that their mother, Venita, isn’t going to tip her hands as to who she’ll be rooting for.

“Last time I talked to my mother, she said she was going neutral — no colors,” Shane said. “We’ll see. I think that’s going to change.”

Read More: Brock Vereen, Shane Vereen,

Report: Patriots set to acquire free agent DL Alan Branch

10.21.14 at 8:10 pm ET
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Defensive lineman Alan Branch will apparently join the Patriots. (Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

Defensive lineman Alan Branch will apparently join the Patriots. (Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

The Patriots are expected to sign free-agent defensive lineman Alan Branch, according to Shalise Manza-Young of the Boston Globe.

The 29-year-old Branch, who was cut loose by the Bills in August following an arrest for drunken driving, is a 6-foot-6, 325-pounder out of Michigan who has played for the Bills, Seahawks and Cardinals over the course of his career. His best year likely came in 2012, when he started 16 games for Seattle and finished with 29 tackles and a sack.

Known as a run stopper, he should be able to provide some support for a New England run defense that has yielded 190 or more rushing yards in three of the first seven games of the season.

Branch has put together an impressive stretch over the last few seasons, but it is worth mentioning that he comes with some baggage — there was the August arrest, as well as the fact that the Patriots will be his fourth team in the last five seasons, which is always a red flag.

Branch would make the second defender the Patriots acquired on Tuesday — New England also reportedly swung a deal to acquire outside linebacker Akeem Ayers.

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