|05.08.12 at 5:46 pm ET|
FOXBORO — For Daniel Fells and the Patriots, the second time was the charm.
The tight end nearly signed with New England in 2010 — he was ‘real close, real close’ — to joining the Patriots, but ultimately passed in favor of Denver. That experience helped him get a sense of how they do things in New England, and so when the free agent opportunity came around again this past offseason, he jumped at the chance.
‘I was able to come out here and just meet with the coaches and talk with the guys and see if it was a fit. It ultimately boiled down to a business thing. I let my agent handle things like that,’ Fells said Tuesday during a break from workouts at Gillette Stadium. ‘All things happen for a reason and it didn’t work out then, but things came full circle and it worked out for us this year.’
He signed early in the free-agent process this year, and is happy to be with the Patriots. The 6-foot-4, 252-pounder has played five seasons in the league ‘ three with St. Louis, one with Atlanta and one with Denver. Last season with the Broncos, he had 19 catches for 256 yards and three touchdowns, a year after a 41-catch effort with the Rams.
Despite those numbers, the former college wide receiver understands that with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez on the roster, he may not get the same sort of chances in the passing game he had the last few seasons. That being said, when it comes to spreading the ball around, he knows Tom Brady is an equal-opportunity quarterback.
‘They’re both real good tight ends. They went out there and they produce. They’re two of the top guys in the league,’ Fells said of Gronkowski and Hernandez. ‘But, traditionally, just looking at this offense, Tom’s going to find the open man, and that’s something that appeals to everybody.
‘I’m excited about that one. That’s pretty much the best way to say that: It’s Tom Brady. One of the greatest guys out there. I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to be out there on the field with him.’
Fells will be joining his sixth team, and he’s learned a lot along the way. Some of those lessons were learned in Atlanta working with Alge Crumpler. Crumpler, who played one season in New England (2010), served as a valuable mentor to then-rookies Hernandez and Gronkowski. He did the same with Fells when they were together on the Falcons.
‘He was like my big brother. A great guy. A true professional. I learned a lot from him,’ Fells said. ‘Alge welcomed everybody with open arms.
‘He’s the type of guy who had me over to his house for Thanksgiving. He had his family in town and I didn’t have any family in Atlanta and I wasn’t going home. He invited me over to his house and fed me. He made the Pro Bowl that year and took all his tight ends out to Hawaii with him. Paid for the flight and everything. That’s just the type of person that he was. Very giving and very humble about all his blessings. I just learned a lot from him.’
It’s reasonable to assume that, in the spirit of Crumpler, the 28-year-old Fells could still manage to impart some of the wisdom he’s accrued to the Gronkowski and Hernandez, both of who are still just 22. For what it’s worth, he’s well aware of how both young tight ends roll, saying with a laugh, ‘I’m a little bit older. I’ve been around the block. I was young once myself, but now I’m married and have a son. Things change. Times change. They’ll grow up. They’re enjoying their youth right now.’
For now, Fells knows that he’s got to worry about his own situation.
‘I can just go out here and be me. That’s the only thing and just be me,’ he said. ‘That’s what’s gotten me around the league. That’s what’s gotten me to the point of being able to play for seven years is just going out and being myself, being professional. Just doing my job.
‘As far as guiding those two? Like I said, they are two great athletes, two great competitors. I don’t really need to guide them in that sense. I’m just going to go out here and try and fill in where I can.’
Here are a few more highlights from his Q&A Thursday at Gillette Stadium:
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|05.07.12 at 7:14 pm ET|
Wide receiver Tiquan Underwood, who spent portions of the last two seasons with the Patriots but was released recently, has agreed to terms with the Bucs. Underwood, who played in 16 games the last two years with the Patriots, had 11 catches for 141 yards for New England in that stretch. In Tampa, he’ll be reunited with his old college coach — former Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano is now running the show in Tampa Bay.
|05.07.12 at 4:08 pm ET|
Here’s a collection of quotes from former teammates and coaches about Matt Light, who officially announced his retirement Monday morning.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady: ‘An exceptional player and an exceptional person and teammate. He played on out left side for 11 great seasons, in the biggest games on the biggest stages. He’s a really unique player and a unique person. He really allowed offensively to be very versatile in the things we did because of his versatility. Every week the left tackle goes up against the best the other team has to offer, whether it’s Jason Taylor or Dwight Freeney or Aaron Schobel ‘ and these are guys Matt faced week in and week out ‘ we never gave Matt help over there, he was on his own. He was a fun player to be around, he was tough, he was physical, he was a great example. He certainly brought some levity to the room. He has a great sense of humor. He did a lot of great things in the community and he’s still doing those things. He’s one of my favorite teammates I’ve ever had. I’m certainly going to miss him and I’m still going to try to talk him out of retirement because I still want him back here for a few more years.’
Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski: ‘Matt’s one of the greatest players I ever played with; he’s been a tackle here for a while. He had a great year last year and I’m definitely disappointed he’s retiring. He wasn’t just a great player, he’s also a friend and a character too ‘ always in the locker room having fun, busting teammates with some jokes all the time, getting the locker room flowing, having fun during training camp. He brought a lot of energy to the table, a lot of smarts. He was our team representative for the NFLPA. It just shows what a great guy he is overall in every department ‘ smarts, football and everything. He’s definitely going to be missed, we’re going to miss him and best of luck to him from here on out.’
Purdue coach Danny Hope, Light’s position coach from 1998-2000: ‘Matt is the best I’ve been around. He is an outstanding leader, a great teammate and an unbelievable person. He brought all of those qualities to the game, and was a real difference-maker both on and off the field.’
Patriots center Dan Koppen: ‘I became really close friends with Matt over the last 10 years. I will miss the way he goes about his business every day and he goes out and plays hard with the consistency he gives on a daily and game-in and game-out basis. You never questioned what you were going to get out of him. He had a tremendous career and will be missed.’
Patriots offensive lineman Logan Mankins: ‘It’s a little weird. I’ve been with Matt for seven years. We played next to each other and it’s been great. He’s been a great teammate, great friend. It’s a little surreal still. You don’t believe he’s leaving. It’s hard to imagine going to practice or playing in a game and not having Matt sit behind me on the bus. We sat next to each other on the plane and he was a locker mate pretty close to me. It’s going to be a little different this season, my first season without Matt. Matt had a model career that a lot of guys would love to have. His technique was flawless.’
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|05.07.12 at 3:59 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Working as a left tackle in the NFL, you get a chance to come across some of the best edge rushers in the league on a daily basis, and in his 11 years as the man charged with protecting Tom Brady’s backside, Matt Light had a chance to see them all. On Monday, I asked him about the best he’s ever gone against, and he said it was Indianapolis’ Dwight Freeney.
‘He’s a guy that I had a lot of respect for. It’s not just the way he plays the game, it’s how many different ways he can make you look silly out there, [of] which, there are plenty,” Light said of Freeney. “I can go through them all. We can go watch film of he and I, and you’ll see it yourself. He’s just an all around great player. And he’s not a guy that talks a lot out there, he doesn’t have anything to say to you, he’s not trying to beat you with his words. He’s going to go out there and he’s going to put the work in and he’s going to show you how bad you can look.
“I always appreciated that out of him — not making me look bad — but definitely the challenge, going out there and trying to face a guy like him. And he was really in our division as much as anybody else is in our division, so we saw each other a lot.
“There was a lot of great players. Early in my career, I never forget my rookie year facing a guy in Miami, a hundred million degrees, and his last name was [Jason] Taylor. Boy, he didn’t go away for my entire career pretty much. He was a menace from day one to the end. Even in our own division, guys like John Abraham, [Aaron] Schobel, and all the rest of those guys.”
Light said Monday that it always helped having the rest of the left side to provide support.
“You know, it’s always good when you can have a wingman who can support you and make you look good, so I had a great cast,” he said. “You know [Dan Koppen] and Logan [Mankins] and Steve Neal, all the other guys that were a part of it, [Nick] Kazcur, over the years there’s been a lot of different faces. I’ve been blessed to have those guys next to me, they saved the day many a time, because when Freeney spun past me, and then he would sometimes spin past Logan, he would eventually have to run into Kop, and that was always good.’
|05.07.12 at 1:21 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Matt Light‘s teammates knew he was getting close to the end of his career after a series of late-night, postgame talks this past season, according to teammate and fellow offensive lineman Logan Mankins.
‘We’re pretty close, so I’ve know for a while,’ said Mankins, who lined up at left guard next to Light for the better part of the last seven seasons. ‘I don’t want to get into dates and everything. But most of us knew it was coming.
‘We had some late nights after games here celebrating and we had heart-to-heart talks about stuff like that. I think he was sharing it and bouncing it off people. We always told him that whatever he felt was right, we’d support him.’
That was much was clear on Monday morning, as several of Light’s teammates were in attendance at his retirement ceremony at the Hall at Patriot Place. Just about every offensive lineman that was on the roster last season — save for veteran guard Brian Waters — was in attendance. In addition, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, as well as former teammates Sammy Morris and Russ Hochstein were present. (Quarterback Tom Brady and offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia spoke as part of a video tribute to Light.)
And even though they knew this day was coming, it was a bittersweet moment to see their teammate say goodbye to the game.
‘The young guys, they came out here — they just wanted to be there for him and say goodbye in a sense, even the guys he’s only know for one year,’ said center Dan Koppen. ‘He’s had a huge impact on their careers and how to conduct themselves as a professional. A guy who just comes in every day and just works hard. He’s just going to be missed. It’s sad, sad in a way. But we’re going to have to move on.’
‘It’s a little weird,’ Mankins said. ‘I’ve been with Matt for seven years. We’ve played next to each other. It’s been great. He’s been a great teammate, a great friend. It’s a little surreal still. You don’t believe he’s leaving yet.
‘It’s hard to imagine going to practice or playing in a game and not having Matt sit behind me on the bus. Or we sat next to each other on the plane. He was a locker mate pretty close to me. It’s going to be a little different this season. It will be my first season without Matt.’
‘I obviously enjoyed playing alongside Matt for four years,’ Morris said. ‘At the same time, I kind of realized that I learned about him away from the field has had more of an impact than Matt wearing No. 72. He’s a great guy. It didn’t take much for me to come out here today.’
A former All-Pro, Light developed a reputation as a world-class prankster. Light recalled an incident where he snuck an electric mouse into Bill Belichick‘s office that shocked the head coach not once, but twice.
‘The shocking thing in Bill’s office, that was probably one of them,’ Koppen recalled with a smile. ‘He did … Bill wasn’t the only guy he got. He got [Scarnecchia] on that as well. We’ve had a lot of good ones. He’s done so many. You really can’t remember them all. He really does have most of them on video. That’s a good thing.’
Mankins somehow managed to avoid getting pranked, saying he was ‘more of an assistant than a co-prankster.’
|05.05.12 at 9:26 pm ET|
With the Patriots set to hold rookie minicamp next weekend at Gillette Stadium, coach Bill Belichick took advantage of the down time and checked out at least some of this weekend’s festivities at the Kentucky Derby. (Belichick wasn’t the only member of the franchise in attendance — quarterback Tom Brady was also reportedly there.) Anyway, here’s video of Belichick and his significant other Linda Holliday walking the red carpet:
|05.05.12 at 6:53 pm ET|
The reported addition of veteran running back Joseph Addai would bring another veteran presence to the Patriots backfield. The 5-foot-11, 214-pounder, who turned 29 years old this past Thursday, has played six seasons in the league, all with the Colts, and his finest season came in 2007, when he rushed for 1,072 yards and 12 touchdowns on 261 carries.
Addai, who was released in March by the Colts, has struggled with injury as of late, having played in just 12 games the last two years. Perhaps as a result, he is not considered a traditional every down back in the mold of the other veteran free agents the Patriots kicked the tires on earlier this offseason, a group that included veterans Ryan Grant and Tim Hightower.
Instead, Addai’s strengths are more as a blocker as a presence in the passing game out of the backfield — in three of his six years in the NFL, he’s gone for 300-plus receiving yards, with his best season coming in 2007 when he caught 41 passes for 364 yards and three touchdowns. As a result, if he does join the Patriots, look for him to compete for snaps with New England’s changeup, third-down backs like Danny Woodhead and (if he’s re-signed) Kevin Faulk.
While there’s still time for the Patriots to bring in another veteran running back, it’s reasonable to assume that at least for now, the acquisition of Addai means Stevan Ridley is the closest thing the Patriots have to a No. 1 back (or at least a first- and second-down running back). The New England depth chart now has Ridley, Addai, Shane Vereen (also going into his second season in the league) and Woodhead, while Faulk still remains a possibility to return for his 14th season in the NFL.
Two final notes on Addai: One, if the Patriots do decide to bring back Faulk, that would give them three former LSU running backs on the roster in Addai, Ridley and Faulk. And two, on the first day of the 2006 draft, the Patriots took running back Laurence Maroney 21st overall, while the Colts selected Addai at No. 30. After the first round was done, Indy QB Peyton Manning reportedly texted Tom Brady to say, “You took our running back.” Maroney played four-plus seasons with New England — breaking the 800-yard barrier once — before the Patriots dealt him to Denver in 2010.
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