|07.17.14 at 7:00 am ET|
Depth chart: T Nate Solder, G Logan Mankins, C Ryan Wendell, G Dan Connolly, T Sebastian Vollmer, G/T Marcus Cannon, C/G Bryan Stork, T Cameron Fleming, G Jon Halapio, G Chris Barker, C/G Braxston Cave, G Josh Kline, T Chris Martin, T Jordan Devey
Overview: Traditionally one of the strongest and deepest spots on the roster, in 2013, the Patriots offensive line showed a few cracks. There were times where they had issues, particularly in the early going when it came to pass protection. Some of the problems can also be blamed on the fact that, as a group, the offense as a whole was still searching for an identity and struggling with the acclimation of so many new faces at the skill position slots. (If you think of the offense as a series of chain reactions, Tom Brady has to hold the ball a second longer while a young receiver gains separation. That means an offensive line has to hold his block a second longer. When you are facing some of the most devastating defensive fronts in the league, that can be a challenge for any offensive line.) And some can be blamed on health issues — Vollmer missed eight games because of a leg injury, while Solder was out with a head injury and Mankins suffered several bumps and bruises along the way.
But don’t look for the offensive line to offer any excuses. It’s a proud group that continued to hold itself to an almost impossibly high standard regardless of the opponent and situation. Despite the fact that it lost Vollmer and Solder for a stretch, it’s important to remember Patriots were one of three teams in the NFL last year to rush for at least 2,000 yards and finish with at least 4,000 yards passing. You don’t put up those kinds of numbers without a strong, dependable and versatile offensive line.
THREE THINGS WE KNOW
1. Logan Mankins is one of the toughest guys in the NFL.
When it comes to toughness — both mental and physical — Mankins remains the gold standard for anyone who has ever strapped on a New England helmet. (‘I’ve coached a lot of tough guys,’ said Bill Belichick late last season after Mankins came back from injury. ‘I don’t think there’s any that I would put ahead of him. Maybe some on that level, but none ahead.’) Mankins, who played the entire 2011 season on a torn ACL, came back from an ankle injury late in 2013, and ended up playing the second-most snaps of any left guard in the league, according to Football Outsiders (1,164). He also managed to move from his traditional left guard spot out to left tackle after Solder went down with an injury. He may not have been at his best last season — the combination of injury, age and the fact that New England faced some of the most devastating front sevens in the league all contributed to that. But Mankins at 75 percent is still better than most of the rest of the league.
2. The Patriots feel pretty good about their left tackle situation.
If you could pick one spot on the offensive line where stability and consistency are most important, it would likely be left tackle. And when it comes to New England’s situation, they have to feel pretty good about where it stands with Solder, at least at this point in his career. The first-round pick out of Colorado in 2011, he’s done a good job stepping into the shoes of Matt Light. He’s started 44 of a possible 48 regular-games over the course of his career, and has consistently graded out as an above average left tackle. One more thing about Solder — when you consider the going rate for above average left tackles this offseason, the Patriots made the right move in locking him up for another year when they exercised the club option for 2015 on him at a cost of $7 million. In this era, considering Solder’s play in his first three years, it’s money well spent.
3. As camp dawns, there are questions about the interior, specifically right guard and center.
It’s telling that two of the three offensive linemen drafted by the Patriots this year were interior linemen — specifically, a highly-regarded right guard (Halapio) and center (Stork). When it comes to the Halapio/Connolly debate, the issue with Connolly is not so much his level of play. Instead, it’s whether or not he performs to the level of his contract: Entering the final year of a contract that is set to pay him $3 million, he could be a veteran cut if Halapio appears ready for prime time. (For what it’s worth, Kline also played well at guard in his lone start last season against the Ravens.) As for center, Wendell has performed well since taking over on a full-time basis in 2012, but he’s played a ton of snaps the two years. (Per Football Outsiders, he was fourth among all offensive linemen last year with 1,197 snaps, and second in the league with 1,231 in 2012, trailing only Solder.) However, Wendell was second on the team in 2013 with 42.3 snaps per blown block. Has he worn down slightly from overuse? Or is it the stress of having to deal with guys like Mo Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson and Haloti N’gata on a weekly basis? It’s debatable — the Patriots faced some of the best fronts in the league in 2013 season. But New England’s decision to use a fourth-round pick on Stork, as well as the fact that Wendell drew almost zero attention on the market as a free agent this offseason (he signed a two-year deal to return to New England), might not be completely coincidental.
|07.16.14 at 3:39 pm ET|
The mystery over Armond Armstead has ended in retirement.
The 23-year-old defensive tackle originally signed with the Patriots on Feb. 1, 2013, after one season with the Toronto Argonauts. The 6-foot-5, 305-pounder, who was brought in as potential depth along the defensive line, was placed on the Reserve/Non-Football Injury List on Aug. 26, 2013.
There was plenty of speculation about his future in New England before the move to place him on the NFI list and over the course of this offseason, including OTAs and minicamp.
But all of that ended Wednesday, eight days before the opening of full training camp. as it turned out, Armstead could never fully recover after surgery on July 29, 2013 to treat an undisclosed infection.
“It has been a pleasure being around Armond, as he gave everything he could to play for us,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Wednesday in a team-issued statement. “Armond worked extremely hard since joining us last February. He’s had a lot of adversity personally that he’s had to deal with, unusual compared to most other players, but he’s always had a great attitude, worked hard and really did everything we asked him to do.
“While it is unfortunate he will not be able to play football, Armond is an outstanding young man who has a very bright future in whatever path he chooses.”
Armstead played for the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League after signing with the team as an undrafted free agent in 2012 out of the University of Southern California. He compiled 43 tackles, two special teams tackles and six sacks with Toronto. He was also named to the CFL All-Star game and helped Toronto win the Grey Cup. He started in 24 games at USC from 2008 through 2010.
Armstead suffered a heart attack while playing for USC, a medical event which he has blamed on unsolicited injections of the pain medication Toradol. That led to a lawsuit against the USC team physician, University Park Health Center, and an unnamed pharmaceutical company for unspecified damages, claiming the improperly administered Toradol injections caused the heart attack and affected his NFL career.
|07.16.14 at 2:50 pm ET|
According to a court filing (via The Associated Press), the District Attorney’s office claims that the fiancee of accused murderer Aaron Hernandez repeatedly lied to a grand jury and that it has “direct evidence” to prove it.
Prosecutors say their evidence contradicts the testimony of Shayanna Jenkins, who has pleaded not guilty to perjury related to the 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd. Her attorney has attempted to have the charge dismissed.
At one point, Jenkins told the grand jury she could not recall where she disposed of a box that she put in a trash bag, covered with baby clothes, and that she was not hiding her actions. Hernandez allegedly directed her to get rid of the box, the contents of which are unclear.
Jenkins, who was granted immunity before testifying, is free on personal recognizance.
|07.16.14 at 7:00 am ET|
Depth chart: Stevan Ridley (178 carries, 773 rushing yards, 7 TDs), Shane Vereen (44 carries, 208 rushing yards, 1 TD; 47 catches, 427 receiving yards, 3 TDs), Brandon Bolden (55 carries, 271 rushing yards, 3 TDs; 21 catches, 152 receiving yards), James Develin (4 carries, 10 rushing yards, 1 TD), James White, Stephen Houston, Jonas Gray, Roy Finch
Overview: While the passing game occasionally stalled out in 2013, the running game became one of the positions of strength down the stretch last season. While Ridley struggled with fumble issues (so much so he was benched for a December game against the Texans) and Vereen had health problems, it was LeGarrette Blount who provided a boost midway through the year. And after Vereen returned to full health and Ridley bounced back from his ball security issues, that trio formed an impressive group that powered the Patriots late in the regular season and into the divisional playoffs against the Colts. In particular, it was Blount who led the way — after being hooked up to the rejuvenation machine, he produced 431 yards in a three-game stretch (two at the end of the regular season and one playoff game), including 189 yards in the regular-season finale against the Bills. Bolden and Develin did well providing depth, with Bolden seeing an uptick in snaps when Vereen was on the shelf. And Develin provided one of the highlights of the season with his Csonka-esque TD run against the Texans. Going forward, Blount left for Pittsburgh as a free agent, but the Patriots used a fourth round pick on White, a Wisconsin product who fumbled just twice in 754 career touches as a collegian. In addition, they picked up Houston, Gray and Finch, with at least one of them likely ticketed for the practice squad.
THREE THINGS WE KNOW
1. When healthy, Shane Vereen is one of the most dynamic playmakers in the league.
Vereen played in just eight games last season because of a thumb injury, and while there were some ill-timed drops in the second half of the year, was still able to finish with 47 catches and 44 carries. It’s one thing to become a 40-40 guy — Kevin Faulk and Danny Woodhead were the last New England running backs to turn the trick. However, it was made all the more impressive by the fact that Vereen did it in just eight games. The full range of his impressive abilities were on display in the 2013 opener against the Bills where he had 14 carries and seven catches, and averaged 7.57 yards every time he touched the ball. If he can ever stay healthy for a full 16-game season, he has the potential to reach Sprolesian levels.
2. The Patriots believe in the fullback.
The last few years, New England had occasionally added part-time fullbacks to the roster, but players like Lousaka Polite and Lex Hilliard usually only ended up sticking around Foxboro for a few weeks before moving on. But in 2013, for the first time since they had Heath Evans on the roster in 2008, the Patriots employed a full-time fullback in Develin. He was one of 11 fullbacks to finish the year with at least 325 snaps over the course of the regular season, per Pro Football Prospectus. And while he didn’t post crazy offensive numbers — four carries, 10 yards and a touchdown — he was an effective member of the offensive game plan. In perhaps a nod to Develin’s effectiveness in 2013, according to Football Outsiders, the Patriots were one of the few teams to run better from two-back formations (5.0 yards per carry) than from single-back formations (4.6 yards per carry).
3. At running back, the Patriots are planning for the future.
The Patriots entered the offseason as one of the deeper teams at the running back position — at least before the departure of Blount — but that didn’t stop them from using a fourth-round pick on White this offseason. In addition, they added three rookie free agents, including an intriguing prospect in Finch who impressed many in spring workouts. With Ridley and Vereen heading into the final years of their respective rookie deals, it’s hard not to look at the collection of youngsters and wonder if New England is guarding itself against the potential loss of one of both of them following the 2014 season. That’s not to suggest that White or any of the rest of the rookies aren’t capable of providing support this season. It just seems that in a perfect world, the Patriots might have their eye on White, Finch and the rest of the backs as potential contributors in 2015 and beyond.
Read the rest of this entry »
|07.15.14 at 11:10 am ET|
Sports Illustrated legal expert Michael McCann joined Dennis & Callahan on Tuesday to discuss the latest on former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez. To hear more from D&C, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.
Court documents on Monday revealed evidence that prosecutors turned over to Hernandez’s defense in the Odin Lloyd murder case. The documents included interviews with Patriots personnel including Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft, and 33 pages of text messages between Belichick and Hernandez from February 2013 to May 2013.
“I think Hernandez is interested in developing some type of — at least potentially — some type of defense where maybe he lacked the mental capacity to commit first-degree murder, that he doesn’t have the sophistication or there are other mental defects, if you like, that would have prevented him from engineering the murder of Odin Lloyd,” McCann said.
“I don’t think there’s anything in those text messages that implicates the Patriots or Bill Belichick. I have a feeling that they’re going to be — and again, I’m speculating — something more along the lines of conversations about plays or other teams’ players that the Patriots may have interest in. I don’t think there’s going to be anything in there that damns the Patriots.”
The content of the text messages haven’t been made public, but McCann said he doesn’t expect there to be anything in the texts that would put the Patriots in a dicey legal situation.
“I think we would have already seen the Patriots, if not charged with a crime, some indication that that would happen,” he said. “It’s now been over a year; I would be surprised that Belichick would have been able to just continue to coach without any charges if he’s in any way implicated in this case. I could be wrong, there could be something in there, but I have a feeling it’s not going to be, again, as damning of Belichick.
“Now, there is a clause in the collective bargaining agreement, Article 21, that prohibits meetings between coaches and players during the offseason. Maybe that was broken through these texts, but that’s really an NFL issue, not a legal issue.” Read the rest of this entry »
|07.15.14 at 7:00 am ET|
As training camp approaches, we’ll offer a position-by-position breakdown of the 2014 Patriots. We opened with a look at wide receiver. Now, it’s tight end.
Depth chart: Rob Gronkowski (39 catches, 592 yards, 4 TDs in 7 games), Michael Hoomanawanui (12 catches, 136 yards, 1 TD), D.J. Williams, Asa Watson, Justin Jones
Overview: The Patriots have gone from a team that relied heavily on tight ends to one for whom the position became a relatively ancillary part of the passing game. (In 2011, New England tight ends had 169 catches on 237 targets. Last year, the Patriots got 53 catches on 92 targets from the same positional group.) That’s not to suggest that — when healthy — Gronkowski isn’t an absolutely vital part of the offense. In one impressive four-game stretch last year (from Nov. 3 through Dec. 1), he had 27 catches for 419 yards and four touchdowns. It’s just that with the removal of Aaron Hernandez and the injury issues suffered by Gronkowski, the Patriots have been forced to adapt. Hoomanwanui was a trusted piece of the puzzle in 2013, while New England also got quality snaps from Matthew Mulligan, who has since departed as a free agent to Chicago. Going forward, Hoomanawanui will help pick up the slack if Gronkowski is out for another stretch, while the possibility remains the Patriots will reach out to one of the available veteran free agents still on the market in Dustin Keller and Jermichael Finley. In addition, Williams is still on the roster, but was seen sparingly in workouts this spring, so it’s hard to get a handle on just where he is at this point. In addition, rookies Watson and Jones present themselves as possibilities as depth additions and possible practice squad pickups.
THREE THINGS WE KNOW
1. When healthy, Rob Gronkowski is a difference maker.
When he’s at 100 percent, there are few offensive players who are more dominant at their respective positions than Gronkowski is at tight end. (Calvin Johnson? Adrian Peterson?) Despite the on-again, off-again 2013 season, his campaign was highlighted by the aforementioned four-game stretch that was highlighted by a nine-catch, 143-yard performance against the Steelers (both season-highs) that included a touchdown grab. In addition, there was a six-catch, 127-yard game against the Texans that featured a sweet fingertip touchdown catch on a ball from Brady that was off the mark. When he’s healthy, no tight end in the game brings the skill set that Gronkowski can deliver.
2. Michael Hoomanawanui isn’t an elite tight end, but he’s an eminently reliable type of player you need on your roster.
Hooman doesn’t bring the thunder like Gronkowski, but he’s a better-than-average blocker and has some positional versatility (he can play some H-back in addition to tight end). Throw in a 63 percent catch rate (12 receptions on 19 targets) and a good level of familiarity with the offense, and it’s easy to see why the Patriots signed him to a two-year deal in the offseason. (He also had one of the prettiest catches of the 2013 season.) He figures to be a quality No. 2 tight end behind Gronkowski in 2014.
3. Brady trusts Gronkowski more than just about any pass catcher he’s ever had.
Gronkowski was on the field for just seven games last season, but according to NFL gamebooks, Brady targeted him a total of 66 times, an average of 9.4 targets per game, tied with Julian Edelman (151 targets over 16 games) for most average targets per game. By way of comparison, Shane Vereen was next on the list with an average of 8.6 targets per game, while Danny Amendola was fourth with an average of 6.9 targets per game and Aaron Dobson was fifth with an average of at 6.58 targets per game. He’s far and away the leader at tight end — Gronkowski was targeted 17 times in his first game of the 2013 season, an Oct. 20 loss to the Jets (the seventh contest of the regular season). Through the first six games of the year, the entire group of New England tight ends had been targeted a total of 15 times.
Read the rest of this entry »
|07.14.14 at 3:57 pm ET|
The revelations were unearthed in documents filed in Fall River Superior Court. The filings, which were made public on Monday, list the evidence prosecutors in the Odin Lloyd murder case have turned over to Hernandez’s defense lawyers in advance of the trial. It includes the fact that Belichick and Kraft have made statements to authorities, as well as the fact that detectives have also interviewed director of football Berj Najarian and strength coaches Harold Nash and Moses Cabrera.
In addition, the filings revealed that prosecutors have turned over 33 pages of text messages between Belichick and Hernandez from February 2013 to May 2013.
Hernandez, who played for the Patriots from 2010 through 2012, faces two more murder counts in a July 2012 drive-by shooting in Boston.
For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.
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