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Vince Wilfork: ‘I’m not ready to stop this year’

01.06.12 at 10:31 am ET
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FOXBORO — Vince Wilfork has seen more action this year at nose tackle than any year since coming onto the scene in 2004.

According to Pro Football Focus, he played in 978 of his team’s 1,134 snaps, a remarkable 86 percent of his team’s snaps. In Washington on Dec. 11, when he recovered a fumble in the end zone for a TD for New England’s first score, he missed just one of 75 defensive snaps.

You would figure fatigue would set in eventually. Not for Vince, not this season.

“I never look at it,” Wilfork said this week. “I know I’€™ve played a lot this year, but I think everybody even guys that have played 20 plays or 100 plays less than me probably feel the same way as me. It’€™s just a long season when you’€™re talking meetings, you’€™re talking walkthroughs, you’€™re talking practice, and you’€™re talking more meetings and then you’€™re talking about games. There are a lot of weeks we’€™ve put into this season, definitely don’€™t want it to end soon. This week is a big week for us, so we have to [use] the time to actually get some rest and you know that’€™s a big, big step for us, I mean, that’€™s a big, big ‘€“ for myself and I’€™m pretty sure everyone in this locker room, coaches included.

“You get a chance to be just around your family and kick back your heels; don’€™t have to wake up too early. You know, just sleep in for once and your body knows when you need it. And I think this bye comes at a perfect time for us, but at the same time we have some work to do. While we’€™re here we’€™ll work, but when we do get our chance to get off our feet and get a chance to sit back and kick your legs up and watch some football over the weekend, take advantage of it. Guys have to take advantage of it because I’€™m planning on playing for a long time. I’€™m not ready to stop this year, not yet.”

Still, Wilfork is going to savor this weekend of rest, sitting back as the Bengals and Texans do battle on Saturday and the beat-up Steelers travel to Mile High to take on Tim Tebow and the Broncos on Sunday. The Patriots will be playing either the Bengals, Steelers or Broncos a week from Saturday night at Gillette.

“You know that’€™s one thing that we can do now. We have no control over who we play. One thing we do have control over is how we can prepare to better this football team, things that we can work on that can help us, the strengths that we have, continue to get better. It’€™ just things that the New England Patriots can do with each other that can make us a better football team. That’€™s one thing that we want to try and accomplish with this bye, so with that and being able to get healthy. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Cincinnati Bengals, Denver Broncos, houston texans, New England Patriots

The short list to replace Bill O’Brien as Patriots offensive coordinator

01.06.12 at 12:54 am ET
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With the news that Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’€™Brien will take the head coaching job at Penn State, here’€™s a list of some replacements who could be polishing their resumes for a shot at the job.

Josh McDaniels: Currently the offensive coordinator in St. Louis, he cut his teeth with the Patriots as an assistant from 2001 until 2005 before becoming the Patriots offensive coordinator in 2006. He was OC in New England for three seasons before taking the head coaching job in Denver and then moving on to become the offensive coordinator in St. Louis.

McDaniels is currently under contract with the Rams for another season, but there is change in the air in St. Louis. If a new coach comes in who isn’€™t necessarily found of McDaniels or wants to get his own OC, McDaniels could be shown the door and be available. (For more on his situation with the Rams, check out this story.) But even then, there’€™s no guarantee he’€™d return to New England — he’€™s also in the mix in Kansas City as someone who could be a head coach in waiting. (There’€™s certainly a greater possibility for him to eventually become a head coach with the Chiefs — presumably as an eventual successor to Romeo Crennel.)

Brian Ferentz: The son of Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz (who worked with Bill Belichick in Cleveland), he started with the Patriots as a coaching assistant in 2008, moved to offensive coaching assistant the following year and became an offensive assistant in 2010. He was officially promoted to tight ends coach at the start of this season, and has helped youngsters Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez become two of the best young tight ends in the game. At 28, he is on the younger side, but age certainly didn’€™t prevent the Patriots from promoting McDaniels, who was calling offensive plays at age 28 as the quarterbacks coach. (McDaniels would get the official title of offensive coordinator when he turned 29.) If they feel he’€™s ready, the Patriots could do the same thing with Ferentz, giving him a year as the unofficial OC before bequeathing the official title on him in another year or two.
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Read More: Aaron Hernandez, Bill Belichick, Brian Ferentz, Chad O'Shea

Patriots Positional Playoff Preview: Wide receiver

01.05.12 at 1:55 pm ET
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With the Patriots off this weekend and the postseason ready to begin, we’€™ve got the Patriots Positional Playoff Preview, a weeklong, position-by-position look at the Patriots and how they look heading into the postseason. We’€™ve already broken down the running backs, quarterback and tight ends. Now, it’€™s the wide receivers.

Depth chart: Wes Welker (122 catches, 1,569 yards, nine touchdowns), Deion Branch (51 catches, 702 yards, five touchdowns), Chad Ochocinco (15 catches, 276 yards, one touchdown), Tiquan Underwood (3 catches, 30 yards), Julian Edelman (4 catches, 34 yards), Matthew Slater.

Overview: After beginning the season on a record pace, Welker dropped off a bit, but still had one of the best seasons of any receiver in NFL history and arguably the finest year of any slot receiver in the history of the league. He finished the season with 122 receptions, a total that is tied for the fourth-highest single-season total in NFL history. He led the league in yards after catch with 751. The 120-plus catch season was the second time in Welker’€™s career he has passed the 120-reception mark (123 in 2009 and 122 in 2011), joining Cris Carter (122 in 1995 and 122 in 1994 as the only players to have 120-plus receptions twice in career. In addition, Welker’€™s 1,569 receiving yards are the most in Patriots history, topping Randy Moss‘€™s previous mark of 1,493 receiving yards in 2007.

The Patriots offense is what drives this team. The passing game drives the offense. And the Tom Brady-to-Welker combination is the primary element of the passing game. While Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez have emerged as viable threats, if Brady and Welker cannot connect on a regular basis, the New England offense will struggle. Conversely, if the two are in sync, there are few (if any) defenses in the league that can slow them down.

While he doesn’€™t have the wheels that he used to, Branch remains an absolutely dependable target for Brady in big situations, and while he’€™s seen fewer looks lately because of the increase in two-tight end sets for New England, he will almost certainly play a role in the postseason. After that, things drop off dramatically — Ochocinco has had his moments (his touchdown catch against the Broncos, his big play against the Jets), but those have been few and far between this year to expect him to be a reliable threat in the passing game in the postseason. Underwood has had a few looks, while Edelman and Slater have bounced back and forth between wide receiver and defensive back.

Going forward, when it comes to pass defense, three of the top four teams in the league (Pittsburgh, Houston and Baltimore) are possible playoff opponents for New England.

One opposing scouts take on the Patriots’€™ wide receivers heading into the postseason: ‘€œIf there has been a chink in the armor, it’€™s the lack of big, one-shot plays by the wide receivers. All are efficient at the lateral, short to intermediate routes and catch the ball in traffic. They also have some ability after the catch, but lack size and can be disrupted at the line of scrimmage. If delayed off the line and without a proven vertical threat, they could have some issues if they get behind against a team that can run the ball and limit New England’€™s possessions.’€

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Read More: Aaron Hernandez, Chad Ochocinco, Cris Carter, Deion Branch

Bill Belichick: Marcus Cannon ‘great selection’ for Ed Block award

01.05.12 at 1:11 pm ET
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FOXBORO — One of the best ways to impress Patriots coach Bill Belichick is to show you can overcome adversity.

Marcus Cannon certainly fits the bill.

The Patriots rookie offensive lineman and cancer survivor was selected by his teammates as the recipient of the 2011 Ed Block Courage Award, as announced by the team on Thursday morning. The honor is voted on by teammates and bestowed annually upon the player who best exemplifies the principles of courage and sportsmanship while also serving as a source of inspiration. Cannon and award winners from the 31 other NFL teams will be honored at the 34th Annual Ed Block Courage Awards Banquet in Baltimore on March 13.

“Great selection,” Belichick said Thursday morning. “I had the privilege of working for a year with Ed and he is tremendous guy, real inspiration to all of us at the Colts.”

The Ed Block Courage Award is named after Ed Block, a long-time head trainer for the Baltimore Colts and a respected humanitarian dedicated to helping children. Recipients are often players who have overcome devastating injuries or tragedies in their personal lives to return to top-level competition in the NFL.

Belichick began his NFL career as an assistant on the 1975 Colts coaching staff.

“Marcus has gone through a lot this year,” Belichick added. “He’s certainly had to deal a lot more than a normal rookie would have to deal with, which is a big transition as it is, just coming into this league. And he dealt with a lot very maturely and unselfishly. He did what he had to do but at the same time he was always there for the team and was always doing what he could do to help the team, and he’s helped the team in a lot of ways. I’m proud that he’s on our team, what he’s accomplished and he certainly deserves to be recognized for it.”

Cannon was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma following his senior season at Texas Christian University just prior to the 2011 NFL Draft. He was selected by the Patriots in the fifth round (138th overall). After completing treatments, he began the season on the reserve/non-football injury list before being promoted to the active roster on Nov. 15.

Cannon made his NFL debut on Monday Night Football against Kansas City on Nov. 21, playing on the field goal and extra point units before entering the game at right tackle late in the fourth quarter. He played in a reserve role on special teams and at offensive tackle in the Patriots final seven games of the season, seeing significant time at right tackle against Miami on Dec. 24.

Cannon appeared in 49 games at Texas Christian, starting the final 36 contests that he appeared in ‘€“ 24 at right tackle during his sophomore and junior seasons and 12 at left tackle during his senior season. He did not allow a quarterback sack in 2009 or 2010, receiving First-Team All-Mountain West Conference honors in both years. He was named a Third-Team All-American by the NFL Draft Report and in 2010.

Officially formulated in 1986, the Ed Block Courage Award Foundation is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization that is sanctioned by the NFL and the Professional Football Athletic Trainers Society (PFATS). The Foundation is committed to heightening awareness of the plight of abused children in cities throughout the league. Proceeds from the annual Courage Awards event benefit the Foundation’€™s Courage House National Support Network For Kids.

Read More: Bill Belichick, Ed Block, Ed Block Courage Award, Marcus Cannon

Meet the new guy … No. 17, Britt Davis

01.04.12 at 5:26 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Britt Davis did not enjoy his time away from professional football. Asked Wednesday afternoon what he was doing over the course of the last few months while he was a free agent, he smiled.

‘€œBesides going crazy?’€ he laughed. ‘€œJust working out every day. That’€™s about it. … I contemplated (getting a job), but I just stayed busy with workouts and just hanging around my family, pretty much.’€

That was until he got the call from the Patriots late last month. The 25-year-old wide receiver out of Northern Illinois was contact by New England, came up to Foxboro for a workout, and he was officially added to the Patriots’€™ practice squad on Wednesday. (New England released tight end/fullback Garrett Mills as the corresponding move.)

‘€œI had worked out about a week ago, and I thought that it went pretty well — I got some good feedback,’€ he said. ‘€œI was definitely surprised. Whenever you get a call… you know, a playoff team and all that type of thing. I was definitely surprised.’€

A first-year player from Northern Illinois, he originally entered the NFL as a rookie free agent with the Jets in 2009 and spent part of that year on the New York practice squad. The 6-foot-3, 205-pounder was released by the Jets after training camp in 2010 and was then was signed by Denver where he began the year on the practice squad. Davis was signed to the 53-man roster on Dec. 13, 2010 and played in three games for the Broncos. He was release by Denver at the end of training camp this past summer.

Davis had some very definite preconceived ideas about the Patriots before he signed with New England.

‘€œIt’€™s like a machine. It’€™s like a well-oiled machine out here,’€ he said. ‘€œIt’€™s business. Come to work, bring your hard hat and do your job.’€

Davis, who will wear No. 17, said Wednesday that his professional background to this point was mostly on special teams, and acknowledged that he hasn’€™t talked much with the coaching staff about what his role will be going forward.

‘€œThat hasn’€™t been discussed. I’€™m just coming in here to do whatever I have to do to help the team,’€ he said. ‘€œWhatever that is. I don’€™t care.’€

Read More: Britt Davis, Garrett Mills,

Boomer Esiason on D&C: Mark Sanchez ‘like a chihuahua’

01.04.12 at 4:39 pm ET
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CBS Sports NFL analyst Boomer Esiason made his weekly appearance on the Dennis & Callahan show Wednesday morning to discuss a wide range of topics, including the New York Jets and their quarterback situation. Boomer has come under fire in New York for his comments on Jets QB Mark Sanchez.

When asked about the the possibility of Peyton Manning being traded to the Jets, Esiason responded, “Everywhere you look, that’s what they’re saying. But first of all, we don’t even know if Peyton’s able to play. If Peyton is able to play and the new general manager and whoever they hire to run that team out there decides to go without Peyton Manning, then I’m sure that the Jets will be sniffing around. Because that’s what the Jets do. They’re trying to find their Tom Brady. They’re trying to find their Aaron Rodgers. And I don’t think in their mind they think that they feel like they’ve found the kid. If you watched Mark Sanchez the last month of the season, he was like a chihuahua standing on Madison Avenue and 36th Street entering the Midtown Tunnel, eyes bigger than you-know-what, and just so shaky.”

Hear the entire conversation by clicking right here. Esiason’s comments on Sanchez begin at the 10-minute mark.

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Read More: boomer esiason, chihuahua, Dennis and Callahan, Mark Sanchez

Patriots Positional Playoff Preview: Tight ends

01.04.12 at 3:08 pm ET
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With the Patriots off this weekend and the postseason ready to begin, we’€™ve got the Patriots Positional Playoff Preview, a weeklong, position-by-position look at the Patriots and how they look heading into the postseason. We’€™ve already broken down the running backs and quarterback. Now, it’€™s the tight ends.

Depth chart: Rob Gronkowski (90 catches, 1,327 yards, 17 receiving touchdowns), Aaron Hernandez (79 catches, 910 yards, seven touchdowns).

Overview: In just over a year, the Patriots’€™ passing game has evolved from a system that had almost no input from the tight ends into one that has become more reliant on tight ends than any other passing game in the league. The combination of Hernandez and Gronkowski represents a matchup nightmare for almost every opposing defense in the NFL — Hernandez, who has the build of a wide receiver, can be used as an in-line blocker, in the slot or split wide, while Gronkowski’€™s size and catch radius make him one of the best and most dependable targets in the league.

Gronkowski set numerous marks this year: his 1,327 receiving yards were a new record for most receiving yards in a season by a tight end. In addition, he finished the season with 18 overall touchdowns (17 receiving, 1 rushing). His 17 overall touchdowns passed Curtis Martin (17 overall in 1996) for the second highest single-season total in Patriots history and the most in NFL history by a tight end. In addition, he was fourth in the league in yards after catch with 668.

It’€™s not just their pass-catching abilities that make them unique. In the case of Gronkowski, he has become one of the better blocking tight ends in the league, and over the last month, with the New England offensive line in a state of recent reconstruction, he has been utilized more as a blocker. Going forward, the Patriots will continue to face some elite pass rushers, and so it wouldn’€™t be a surprised to see Gronkowski used as a blocker more often. That would put more of a burden on Hernandez to step up his game, and down the stretch, he has certainly done that.

Best Moment: Both had several incredible moments over the course of the season, but our vote goes to Gronkowski’€™s performance in the Dec. 11 win over the Redskins in Washington, where he rumbled for an extraordinary 160 yards on six catches, including a Bavaro-esque 49-yard catch and run where he shook a handful of Redskins’€™ tacklers on the way to the Washington red zone.

Worst Moment: It’€™s almost nitpicking, but perhaps the worst of the season came late in the first half of the win over the Jets where Hernandez bobbled a Tom Brady pass on the goal line that would have given New England a touchdown. Instead, Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie snatched it out of the air and took it back to midfield at the end of the half. As for Gronkowski, he was the second-most penalized player on the team this season with six flags against him.

By the numbers, courtesy of Nuggetpalooza: A Patriots’ tight end caught at least one pass for a gain of 20+ yards in 15 of the 16 games this season. No other team’€™s tight end managed such a catch in more than 12.

Money quote: ‘€œThe skill set of both those players really allows us to be flexible. Not only are they good blockers, but they can catch the ball, too. You can run it behind them, you can play-action pass and then they’€™ve become pretty efficient in the passing game also, just to spread them out and be able to run them on different run combinations. They’€™re very good players.’€ ‘€“ Brady on Gronkowski and Hernandez

Read More: Aaron Hernandez, antonio cromartie, Curtis Martin, Patriots Position Breakdowns 2012 Playoffs
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