|08.18.10 at 3:19 pm ET|
There are few people in the Patriots’ organization remaining who actually predate Bill Belichick — who took charge of the Patriots as head coach in 2000 — but running backs coach Ivan Fears and running back Kevin Faulk are two of them.
Fears is in his second tour of duty with New England – he was the Patriots receivers coach in 1991 and 1992, and returned in 1999 to again coach the receivers before moving to running backs in 2002. Meanwhile, Faulk arrived as a third-round pick out of LSU in 1999, and has stuck around ever since. The 2010 season will mark Fears’ ninth season as Faulk’s position coach, an eternity in the National Football League.
Along the way, the two have developed a unique relationship. Faulk said Wednesday he’s learned plenty of lessons from Fears, but the biggest and most important lesson is consistency.
“As a coach, he is very, very consistent,” Fauk said of Fears. “As a player coming in, you may not understand that or understand why or understand what he’s doing as a coach, but once you get older you understand it. He’s so consistent at what he does and he wants you to get better even if that means that he’s sacrificing his relationship with you. He wants you to get better as a football player.”
Faulk said he and the notoriously salty Fears have clashed on more than one occasion, but the running back said Wednesday that it’s all a part of the game.
“Of course, that’s life,” Faulk said of their relationship. “That is the nature of the game. Like I said, he is only trying to make you better as a football player.”
|08.18.10 at 9:50 am ET|
The Wall Street Journal has a story today about Patriots punter Zoltan Mesko, referring to the 24-year-old Romanian as “The NFL’s Most Interesting Man.”
“When I was 10 years old, I barely knew American football existed,” he told the Journal. “If you would’ve told me I’d get two degrees and a pro contract for kicking a ball in the air, I probably would have said, ‘Oh yeah? Are you going to disappear into thin air for your next act?”
John U. Bacon’s story details just how unlikely a journey Mesko has made to the NFL. Born and raised in Timisoara, Romania, Mesko grew up in the middle of a revolution in his country. Mesko spent Christmas Eve of 1989 on the floor of his parents apartment, ducking cross-fire. Eight years later his parents — both engineers — won the Green Card Lottery to America. Mesko was 10 years old.
After a short stint in Queens, the family moved Twinsburg, Ohio, a Cleveland suburb. It was there, in high school, that he discovered punting. At first he simply did not believe that it was possible to go to college — for free, no less — just because you could kick a football. But after flirting with Ivy League schools ( “We can’t guarantee you the NFL, but we can guarantee you Wall Street,” a Columbia coach told Mesko) he settled on Michigan, where he started four seasons and was named an Academic All-American (Mesko speaks five languages). He also graduated with two degrees and “no debt,” as he told he Journal.
A weak Senior Bowl performance was a concern, but a strong combine effort cemented his status as the top punting prospect in the 2010 draft. And on April 24 (the third day of the 2010 draft) Mesko’s phone rang. The “Unknown Caller” on the other end was Bill Belichick, welcoming Mesko to New England.
|08.18.10 at 12:34 am ET|
With each passing day — and with a move to injured reserve here, a waiver move there — elements of the Patriots’ 53-man roster are starting to come into sharper focus. But while some of the answers to our first series of players on the bubble have been resolved, other questions still remain. With that in mind, here’s the second edition of what will become a semi-regular feature: Bubble Watch. (Just a reminder — this list isn’t for back-of-the-roster unknowns, but for veterans who have made some sort of contribution in their time with the Patriots.)
Sam Aiken: Things have gotten a little easier for the wide receiver now that Torry Holt (season-ending injured reserve) and David Patten (retirement) are out of the picture, but with the continued emergence of the younger receivers and what appears to be a diminished role on special teams, Aiken could still be fighting for a job when cutdown day comes around. (Things could really change for Aiken on special teams this year — Pat Chung is being used more and more as the punters’ persona protector. Last season, that was Aiken’s job.) Last year’s special teams captain, Aiken’s spot on the team is almost certainly tied to how many running backs the Patriots keep on their roster — if New England decides to hold on to both Sammy Morris and BenJarvus Green-Ellis, then Aiken could be on the outside looking in come Week 1.
Sammy Morris and BenJarvus Green-Ellis: That leads us nicely into our next pair of players who might be on the bubble. If Aiken is kept as an extra receiver (and considering that the Patriots are a stone-cold lock to keep all three tight ends), then here’s where the cuts would likely come, and it stands to reason that these two most game-ready backs who are the lowest on the totem pole at this point. Based on how the running backs played in the preseason opener — Green-Ellis got the start — you would think that the Ole Miss product might have an edge. But there’s a danger in reading too much into the first preseason game. This situation certainly bears watching as the preseason continues — if Green-Ellis gets the same amount of snaps against the Falcons and Rams as he did against the Saints, then that’s another matter altogether.
Eric Alexander: As much as it pains me to say this — he’s one of the nicest guys in the locker room — this could be the end of the line in New England because of a numbers game. (We will always have the 2006 AFC Championship Game…) With the continued emergence of the younger and faster inside linebackers (Brandon Spikes, Tyrone McKenzie, Gary Guyton, the versatile Thomas Williams) and the ability of several other linebackers who have roughly the same skill set in the special teams game (Pierre Woods, Rob Ninkovich), it could mean that Alexander is out of a job with the Patriots by the end of the preseason.
Terrence Wheatley: The cornerback made it awful hard to keep him on this list with his play of late — a renewed physicality has shown up on the radar more than once, and the heads up play he made preventing a touchdown in the preseason opener was the sort of play the Patriots have been looking for on a consistent basis out of him since he was drafted out of Colorado in 2008. But with more and more play given over to youngsters like Devin McCourty and Darius Butler, it’s becoming increasingly evident that Wheatley is still a ways down the depth chart. One intriguing possibility was suggested by mloyko54 on Twitter — Wheatley could be traded.
Ron Brace: He took a step in the right direction this week just by returning to the field, but his long-term status with the team remains in doubt, so he stays on the list, at least for now. But it’s important to remember that no matter how bad things might get for Brace this year, it remains highly unlikely the Patriots would cut him — they waited two years before they released Chad Jackson, after all. And Brace’s pedigree and lack of experience along the defensive line make it likely that the numbers are in his favor, at least right now.
|08.17.10 at 4:30 pm ET|
Been waiting for a chance to post this since I saw/heard it earlier this summer, and with the Patriots set to play the Falcons this week, this is probably the best opportunity to post this. I know it’s just the preseason, but who does a better job selling football than Jules Winnfield?
|08.17.10 at 3:55 pm ET|
For years, the trio of Ty Warren, Vince Wilfork and Richard Seymour — the Patriots’ defensive front three — was as much a New England fixture as the Freedom Trail or Dunkin’ Donuts.
From much of the stretch between 2004 and 2008 (Warren was drafted in 2003, but assumed the role of full-time starter at left defensive end the following year), the threesome made up one of the best defensive fronts in the game. In that stretch, the three first-round picks accumulated a combined six Pro Bowl selections and a Super Bowl title, all the while serving as the bedrock of the New England defense.
But before the start of the 2009 season, Seymour was traded to the Raiders for a first-round selection in the 2011 draft. And with the news last week that Warren will now be lost for the entire 2010 season after being placed on season-ending injured reserve with a hip injury, it leaves Wilfork as the lone holdover from a golden era for New England defensive linemen, at least this season.
“Changes happen all the time around sports, not just football. Around sports, every year is different,” Wilfork told reporters earlier Tuesday. “I don’t have Seymour. I don’t have Ty right now. It’s going to be different. Nothing is going to be easy.”
While Wilfork does have some positional versatility — he has played defensive end on occasion with New England — the Patriots will likely rely on a combination of veterans and newcomers to fill the void. It looks like Gerard Warren will take the bulk of the snaps in place of Ty Warren, while Damione Lewis and veteran Mike Wright have been on the other side of Wilfork.
“I’m happy with what we have,” Wilfork added. “I can’t ask for any better guys than what I have. They are hard workers. They want to learn. They want to learn this defense. They don’t make any excuses. And that’s one thing I love: no excuses. We’ve started from rock bottom. We’ve started this whole thing over. It’s been a work in progress. But at the same time, we’ve been going in the right direction. So as long as we keep going in this right direction, I think we’ll be OK.”
|08.17.10 at 2:09 pm ET|
Here is the complete transcript of today’s Q&A between the media and Patriots guard Stephen Neal.
Q: How was it down in Atlanta this morning?
Stephen Neal: It was good. We have a lot of people working together. The Falcons are trying to improve. We are trying to improve. It was just a great practice.
Q: How has the last week or so been practicing with two different teams? How much do you guys feel like you’ve learned?
SN: It’s just different. We’ve been facing the same 3-44 [scheme] the entire time and now we have a different team and a different style of defense last week, and now this week. I think it is really good to get how they actually play. We get to practice against that before we see them in the game, so I think that’s really going to help us out.
Q: You have had a lot of moving pieces at this point in camp on the interior of the offensive line. How have you guys been adjusting together?
SN: We are working well together. The great thing about the offensive line is that we have a coach, Dante [Scarnecchia], that makes us do exactly what we are supposed to or attempts to. So we know what we are supposed to do and we know what to expect of the people around us no matter who it is. We know where each person is supposed to be so we get comfortable no matter who is in there.
Q: Can you talk about Dan Connolly in training camp and in the New Orleans game?
SN: Yeah, he’s a solid player and a guy that can play multiple positions. He does a really good job and it’s great that he’s in there. He’s done a good job.
Q: What have you seen out of Ryan Wendell so far?
SN: I think Ryan Wendell has been pretty good. I’m not the guy to evaluate him but he’s holding his own and staying in there. He played with all of those good guys versus the Saints. He is a good competitor and a great teammate.
Q: We heard that the Falcons had a five-minute break today in practice. You guys usually don’t do that. Was that an unusual thing for you guys? Did it matter?
SN: Early on I remember we used to have a little five-minute break after the special teams periods. I remember those times, but they’re down here in extreme heat so that’s part of the environment.
|08.17.10 at 1:43 pm ET|
Here the complete transcript of today’s Q&A between the media and quarterback Tom Brady:
Q: (On why he works so hard on every rep)
TB: If the quarterback won’t do it, then who will do it? I think that’s how I always think about it. If it’s like, ‘Hey guys, that’s all right. It was a [bad] play, but we’ll get the next one.’ That’s not the way it works. The first rep of a drill is always the most important because you never get it back. It always sets the tempo and the timing. You don’t go out and throw interceptions. You don’t walk around. You don’t jog through unless it’s a jog through period. We’re coming out here and competing. We came a long way for these practices. May as well come out and play our best.
Q: I know you’ve been competitive like that before, but is it also because of dissatisfaction with the way last season ended?
TB: Every year has been totally different. We have a very different team this year. It’s what you guys saw last Thursday night. You know we have to be able to run the football, something that we are really making a point of emphasis. [We are] getting the tight ends involved. Obviously, the receiving group we feel very good about. So we are incorporating the new players and seeing what kind of offense we can put together.
Q: (On the new guys)
TB: And those guys add a lot. They bring a lot of energy. They are excited to be out here and excited to be playing. And new scheme, and those challenges are different. It’s been a fun camp. I hate to use those two words together, but it really has been.
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