|02.27.11 at 11:17 pm ET|
The news that the Patriots are going to cut ties with veteran right tackle Nick Kaczur is the latest incident in an already uncertain offseason for the New England offensive line.
Kaczur signed a four-year, $16 million contract in August 2009, a deal that included a $3.4 million payout for 2012. However, after a 2010 season where he spent the whole year on the shelf because of a back injury, the Patriots were clearly interested in reworking his deal. Kaczur was having none of it, and so here we are.
So if Kaczur is indeed gone, the Patriots could conceivably open the 2011 season with colossal turnover along the offensive line, a position that had so much stability over the last few seasons: Left tackle Matt Light is unsigned beyond the 2010 season, and right guard Stephen Neal has talked about retirement. If Kaczur is gone, it could force the Patriots to find three new offensive linemen in 2011 ‘¦ and that doesn’t include a disgruntled Logan Mankins, who was franchised recently but could still be dealt before the start of the season.
Kaczur was never a world-class offensive lineman, but his knowledge of the system and his versatility could make his loss difficult to overcome. (There’s a reason he was named one of the starting tackles with Light on New England’s all-decade team from 2000 through 2010.) The big Canadian was on the shelf for the entire 2010 season, but before that, he was a fairly dependable presence, playing in 62 of 68 regular-season games in his five-year NFL career and has also starting seven career playoff contests. He played guard as well, and was originally ticketed to take over the left guard spot at the start of last season when Mankins decided to stay away because he was upset about his contract situation.
Without Kaczur in 2010, the Patriots were able to survive and even thrive at times along the offensive line, moving Sebastian Vollmer into the right tackle spot. If New England is going to part with Light, they would likely flip Vollmer to left tackle, a spot he occupied for the bulk of the 2009 season after Light suffered a knee injury. But who moves into that other tackle position if Kaczur is indeed gone? Expect the Patriots to invest a little heavier in the offensive line (particularly the tackle spot) in this year’s draft.
In addition, the loss of Kaczur would certainly increase Light’s bargaining power ‘ New England has few options beyond the veteran, as none of the younger offensive linemen appear ready to step into a full-time starters’ role, while one veteran lineman who served as a backup this past season (Quinn Ojinnaka) is, like Light, an unrestricted free agent.
|02.27.11 at 9:14 pm ET|
INDIANAPOLIS — There are a lot of big-name defensive linemen in this draft, and the Pats could be looking for a five-technique defensive end in the first couple of rounds.
The Patriots could have their pick of a few guys when they pick early on (most notably with their first three picks), and one guy who could make a sense based on size and experience is Temple’s Muhammad Wilkerson, who described himself Sunday as “a run-stopper, a well-charactered guy that won’t get into any trouble on and off the field.”
Wilkerson, who also could have pursued college basketball, played two years of the three-technique in the 4-3 at Temple before they changed to a base 3-4 in his junior year. There, he played the five-technique well enough to earn him a late-first-to-early-second-round grade.
“I can play both,” Wilkerson said of which scheme and psition he fits into best. “Any team that’s willing to draft me and want me to play three-technique, I can play that. If they want me to play 3-4 at the end, I can play that. I have no preference. Whatever the coach wants me to do, I’m going to be there.”
From his size (he measured at 6-foot-4 and 315 pounds), the argument could be made that he’s better off staying in a 3-4 and being a rock on the end. Though his experience in a 3-4 is a plus, the fact that he has only one year of it means he’ll continue to develop once he gets to the next level. His technique is seen as his biggest weakness, and if he can clean that up, he could be a solid starter in the NFL.
“Improvement is the main thing. There’s always room for improvement,” he said. “I feel that with my ability now, going to an organization and getting with a defensive line coach, he can help me out and improve my technique.”
Wilkerson had 10 sacks as a junior. Draft know-it-all Mike Mayock said Sunday that he feels Wilkerson (as well as Cameron Heyward) could fall to the second round of the draft. With two picks in the round (including the first of the round at No. 33 overall) the Pats can easily get him if they want him. Now, it’s just a case of whether they do want him or, like so many who seemed to make sense before him, they don’t.
|02.27.11 at 4:50 pm ET|
INDIANAPOLIS ‘ Looking for this year’s edition of Devin McCourty? How about Rutgers’ safety Joe Lefeged.
The two spent three seasons together in the Scarlet Knight secondary, Lefeged as a safety and McCourty at corner. Like McCourty, Lefeged was a special teams demon as a collegian ‘ McCourty blocked seven kicks while at Rutgers, while Lefeged blocked four in his college career. And now, Lefeged is trying to do the same thing that McCourty pulled off last year ‘ make the leap from Rutgers to the upper levels of the NFL draft.
‘He’s a competitor ‘ a great person. Someone who I look up to. He taught me a lot of things. I’m trying to follow in his footsteps a little bit,’ Lefeged said of McCourty, who was taken in the first round of the 2010 draft and quickly became one of the most indispensible rookies in the league.
‘We mostly talk over the phone. I saw him probably once during the football season. He just told me to stay focused. Everything I’ve gone through at Rutgers, the work that I’ve put in, it’s going to pay off now. Just be myself and just go out there and be ready to compete.’
While many were surprised that McCourty worked his way into the first round, his old college teammate wasn’t shocked in the slightest.
‘Nobody expected that, [but] I expected that from him because I was around him for three years. I know what he can do,’ the 5-foot-11, 208-pound Lefeged said. ‘He was a hard worker and he deserved to be a first-round draft pick. He’s someone that I look up to, someone who I follow. He was a leader on our football team. And he’s a leader now. He still talks to me often and texts me since I’ve been down here. He’s been a big help.’
Lefeged finished second on the team with 84 tackles and earned second-team All-Big East honors. Lefeged finished his career with 238 career tackles, appearing in 49 consecutive games. Like Lefeged, McCourty made his bones on special teams ‘ last fall, he set a school record with 948 yards on 38 kickoff returns (a 24.9-yard average), with his career total of 1,306 kickoff return yards, fifth-best in school history. He averaged 26.7 yards per kickoff return for his career.
Lefeged boasts the same approach as McCourty, who was billed initially by Patriots coach Bill Belichick as a ‘four-down player.’
‘I think I can play any role on special teams. I’ll return punts, I can return kicks, I plated gunner last season,’ Lefeged said. ‘I think I can do it all. I can change the game up playing special teams and that’s one thing that I take a lot of pride in. Special teams is a part of the game, and you can win a game or lose a game based on the way you play on special teams, and I know that, and that’s something I take a lot of pride in.’
At Rutgers, Lefeged says that’s just part of the game.
‘Coach [Greg] Schiano always talks about that ‘ we’re a punt-block team,’ Lefeged said. ‘One thing we do is that we don’t set up a lot of returns. We try and scheme up ways and the coaching staff does a great job trying to pinpoint and finding holes in the protection we’re going against and we try and exploit it. We’re successful a lot of the time.’
|02.27.11 at 4:40 pm ET|
INDIANAPOLIS — According to a report from the Boston Herald, the Patriots have asked offensive lineman Nick Kaczur to take a “massive pay-cut” from his $3.4 million salary, and that given his unwillingness to do so, the Patriots are “going to have to” cut the 31-year-old.
Kaczur has played his entire career with the Patriots since they chose him with the 100th overall pick of the 2005 NFL draft. The Brantford, Canada Native missed all of last season with a back injury.
|02.27.11 at 3:24 pm ET|
INDIANAPOLIS ‘ For years, Patriots’ fans have been wondering how they could go about replacing Willie McGinest. The quintessential outside linebacker/defensive end, his size, speed and smarts helped create the template for what to look for when it comes to edge rushers in New England. It’s no surprise that since he departed following the 2005 season, the Patriots have struggled to replace him.
Now, it turns out that McGinest is helping tutor the next generation. The former Patriot is working with Fresno State’s Chris Carter, a 6-foot-1½, 248-pound defensive end who projects as an outside linebacker at the next level. With the Bulldogs, Carter ‘ the 2010 WAC Defensive Player of the Year ‘ was among the national sack leaders as a senior. In 2010, he led the WAC with 11 sacks and made 16.5 tackles for losses. He was selected first-team All-WAC each of the last two seasons, and finished his career with nearly 200 tackles and 19.5 sacks.
Projected as a mid- to late-round pick, the combination of McGinest’s tutelage, New England’s inconsistent pass rush and the fact that he plays for a former Bill Belichick assistant at Fresno in Pat Hill have likely combined to land Carter on the Patriots’ radar screen.
‘We’ve been working primarily on drops,’ Carter said Sunday at the NFL scouting combine when asked about his time with McGinest. ‘I know how to rush the passer. That’s my big thing, work on drops and perfecting that, getting the hips loose. Making sure we go over the defenses 100 percent and I know everyone’s assignment. When you play defensive end, you pretty much only have to know the front-seven assignments, but as a backer, one thing they emphasized is making sure we know everyone’s assignment.’
While he doesn’t have the size that McGinest brought to the field ‘ McGinest was 6-foot-5 and 270 pounds ‘ Carter doesn’t sound worried that being ‘vertically challenged’ would be a big problem at the next level.
‘I’m not too worried about that,’ Carter said. ‘I don’t really think height makes a difference, you’re trying stay low, you’re trying to get low when you rush the end. So I don’t really get concerned with that.’
|02.27.11 at 2:56 pm ET|
INDIANAPOLIS — LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson is the best prospect at his position in this year’s draft. That’s why he likes facing the best receivers.
Peterson, who measured at 6-feet, 219 pounds, allowed only one touchdown in his junior season, which was to Alabama’s Julio Jones. He had plenty of experience playing against Jones and Georgia’s A.J. Green, the top two receiver prospects in this year’s class, but he wishes he could have seen them even more.
“It could have been even better if I could have played those guys each and every week,” Peterson said Sunday. “In the NFL, there’s and Jones and Green each and every Sunday.
“I had a chance to go against Julio Jones three years straight, and I had a chance to go against A.J. Green two years straight.”
Peterson had seven interceptions over his three years at LSU, four of which came last season.
|02.27.11 at 2:36 pm ET|
INDIANAPOLIS ‘ The last few years, the pipeline from Gainesville to Foxboro has been free-flowing with talent, as ex-Gators like Jermaine Cunningham, Brandon Spikes and Aaron Hernandez have all made their way from the University of Florida to New England. Before than, former Gators like Jeremy Mincey and Chad Jackson (not to mention veteran Fred Taylor) were among those who have spent time with the Patriots.
According to safety Will Hill, it’s hard to miss New England coach Bill Belichick when he shows up on the Gainesville campus. He’s best pals with the Florida coach, who recently stepped away from coaching full time.
‘I haven’t really spoken to him, [but] I’ve seen him around,’ Hill said when asked about Belichick Sunday at the NFL scouting combine. ‘That’s Urban Meyer‘s best friend.’
And because ‘Meyer’s best friend’ maintains an affinity for several of Meyer’s old players, Hill said Sunday he’s kept in touch with several Patriots over the last year, including Spikes and Hernandez.
‘When I first got [to Florida], nobody would talk to me,’ Hill said. ‘They took me under their wing.’
Like Hernandez (who was hit with drug allegations last offseason) and Spikes (whose involvement in a sex tape surfaced on the Internet this past year), Hill has had been dogged by character issues ‘ his Twitter feed read like an almost exaggerated account of a hard-partying college lifestyle.
But Hill said Sunday those days are all behind him, making sure to note with reporters that he has a wife and kids. In addition, thanks to his pals on the Patriots, he said he’s learned his lessons, saying the Spikes’ incident was a real eye-opener.
‘We talked about that,’ Hill said of the Spikes’ tape. ‘At the end of it he was like well you learned what to do and what not to do. I learned from his mistake also.
‘There’s rumors out here that Will Hill is a party guy. If I go out now, my wife is with me and my kids. I don’t go out to meet people or galavant. I sit back and just relax and enjoy my time.’