|10.28.11 at 11:52 am ET|
The Leigh Bodden era in New England started strong but ultimately fizzled as the cornerback struggled to reclaim the form that made him one of the league’s most sought-after defensive backs in free agency 20 months ago.
Signed as an undrafted free agent out of Duquesne by the Browns in 2003, Bodden bounced around the league before signing a one-year deal with New England prior to the 2009 season. That year, he was a pleasant surprise, starting 14 of 15 games, leading the team with 19 passes defensed and tying for the team lead with five interceptions. On the strength of that performance, he entered free agency as one of the most desirable corners on the market. After a brief look at some other options (including the Texans), he re-signed with the Patriots, inking a four-year, $22.03 million extension.
However, he injured his shoulder the following summer and spent all of 2010 on injured reserve. This season, even after the Patriots decided to move on from Darius Butler, the 30-year-old Bodden spent a lot of time in the slot and struggled to stay on the field because of injury — officially, he was limited in practice on Thursday because of a recurring thumb injury. According to Pro Football Focus, in five games as the team’s primary nickel corner, Bodden had been thrown at 22 times this year and allowed 12 receptions and one touchdown. He has four passes defensed and has played 222 snaps for the Patriots.
Overall, the 6-foot-1, 193-pound cornerback has 362 tackles and 18 interceptions during his 95-game career with the Browns (2003-07), Lions (2008) and Patriots.
The Patriots now have five corners on their roster: Devin McCourty, Kyle Arrington, Ras-I Dowling, Antuwan Molden and Phillip Adams. While the move won’t affect McCourty and Arrington (the two likely will continue to serve as the primary starters at corner), at first glance the move means an increased workload for Dowling, a youngster who has struggled to see the field over the course of his first season in the league. Through six weeks he’s played just 93 snaps, none of them since a Week 2 win over the Chargers. Molden also is expected to benefit from the move and get more opportunities.
In addition, New England has three players eligible to come off the physically unable to perform list in Kevin Faulk, Ron Brace and Brandon Deaderick. The release of Bodden could free up a roster spot for one of them.
As for Bodden (who is making a base salary of $3.9 million each of the next two seasons), he will be exposed to waivers. Any team that claims his contract will be on the hook for just over $2 million in base salary that remains for this season.
|10.28.11 at 10:05 am ET|
Patriots defensive back Devin McCourty made his weekly appearance on the Dennis & Callahan show Friday morning, as the Patriots prepare for Sunday’s game in Pittsburgh. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.
The Steelers are 5-2, but they have no impressive wins. They are 0-2 against teams that currently have winning records. However, McCourty said he expects a typically tough Steelers team.
“They have a physical team, they have guys that will hit you and they kind of get after it. I don’t think anybody’s that’s played the Pittsburgh Steelers kind of goes into this game thinking that [it will be easy]. They going into the game knowing they’re a very physical team and you’ve got to try to match that or it will be a long day for you.”
Third-year receiver Mike Wallace has shown no signs of slowing down after a very productive 2010, and McCourty and the Patriots have taken note.
“He’s probably the fastest receiver in the NFL,” McCourty said. “I’m sure a couple of receivers will argue that, but if you see him on film, he’s just moving past everyone.”
Added McCourty: “I think you just have to always be aware of where he’s at and what he’s able to do, getting vertical down the field. Even after he catches the ball, just try to surround him because he can break tackles. And if he breaks one tackle, he has a chance to go the distance.”
Wallace is only one of the Steelers’ weapons on offense. Of course, it all starts with Ben Roethlisberger.
“He’s a little different quarterback than really anybody in the NFL with his strength,” McCourty said. “His arm strength is good, but just his natural strength as a player, he’s able to make defensive linemen miss sometimes, break tackles. What you think sometimes is a sack, he’s able to escape and throw the ball deep — real deep — and then he’s got guys that can run under it.”
|10.28.11 at 1:18 am ET|
So how much is Wes Welker worth?
The Patriots wide receiver, in the final season of a five-year, $18.5 million deal he signed in 2007, is having a salary run like few others the league has ever seen. Through six games, Welker leads the league in receptions (51), targets (74) and yards per game (130.8), and is second in the league in receiving yards (785). He’s just off the pace to shatter the league records for most catches, but can still break the record for most receiving yards in a season — at this rate, Welker will have 136 catches and 2,093 receiving yards.
Asked about his contract situation earlier in the season, he said it’s not his focus right now, clearly indicating that he wants to leave that up to his agent, David Dunn.
‘Well, of course I want to stay here,’ Welker said. ‘But as of right now, I don’t really think about it. I just try to focus on this year and everything I can do to help the team this year.’
So what kind of offer should he expect? Andrew Brandt has a unique perspective on situations like this one. He’s been on both sides of the table — he’s worked as a representative for ProServ and Woolf Associates, was GM of the Barcelona Dragons in the NFL’s World League and served as a team vice president of the Packers from 1999 to 2008, negotiating contracts and managing the team’s salary cap.
Brandt acknowledged the gold standard for wide receivers is the deal that was signed by Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald in August, who inked an eight-year, $128.5 million contract with the Cards shortly before the start of the regular season.
‘Of the recent top-of-market wide receiver contracts, I think it is understood leaguewide that the Larry Fitzgerald contract is an outlier, an eye-popping deal that took advantage of the player’s great leverage in eliminating a franchise tag equation in the previous negotiation and coming off of the top wide receiver contract prior to this one,’ said Brandt, who writes for the National Football Post and also serves as ESPN’s NFL Business Analyst.
While that’s out of the realm of possibility, Brandt believes there is a comparable deal people might be able to point toward as a possible framework. If Welker does reach the open market, Brandt believes the five-year, $45.25 million deal (with $24 million guaranteed) Santonio Holmes signed with the Jets in July is a good model.
|10.27.11 at 12:03 pm ET|
FOXBORO — It’s one of the buzz-phrases around Gillette and the NFL this season: Setting the edge.
It’s what’s required of any linebacker who plays on the outside in a 4-3 scheme and carries with it a ton of responsibility.
It’s what has made Rob Ninkovich so valuable in the Patriots defensive system in 2011. He will be called upon to help stop the edge running game of Rashard Mendenhall, Isaac Redman and the Steelers.
But the running back is just part of the rushing game for the Steelers. They also have the game’s best blocking receiver in Hines Ward, someone Ninkovich will keep an eye on at all times.
“Hines Ward is always someone out there who’s going to be able to throw those blocks to get that outside running game going so you have to be aware of where he is at on the field so you have to be prepared to play them tough,” Ninkovich said. “He’s definitely a big guy out there and he’s coming in on those cracks [crackback blocks] so you’ve got to be alert for him because he’s out to get you pretty good.”
Mendenhall, Redman and Mewelde Moore lead a rushing attack that has complimented the passing game of Ben Roethlisberger, an attack that is surprisingly considered pass-first and run-second in the city once home to rough and tumble football.
“They’ve got great running backs,” Ninkovich said. “Everybody is explosive, they’ve got speed and you have to respect everyone they have in the backfield because any play they have the ball, they can break a big one.
“They have a rotation going on that’s maybe keeping those guys a little more fresh but they’re all running hard so you have to respect everyone they have.”
With a bigger demand for pass rushing last season and the team still playing a base 3-4 defense, Ninkovich was called upon to rush the quarterback.
In 2010, during the Week 4 game against the Dolphins, Ninkovich recorded his first career interception, and later in the game added another interception and a sack. He finished the season with a career-high 62 tackles, four sacks, and two interceptions in 16 games played (10 starts).
The Patriots signed Ninkovich on Aug. 2, 2009. He made the team’s 53-man roster and recorded his first NFL sack in Week 5 against the Broncos. The Patriots liked what they saw early on, giving him a contract extension through the 2011 season on Nov. 6, 2009. Overall, he played in 15 games for the Pats in 2009, finishing with 23 tackles and one sack.
Since then, he has become one of the most reliable (and undervalued) players on the Patriots defense, a defense that has suddenly found its groove in the red zone, helping the Patriots to a 5-1 record.
“Right now, it’s so early in the season,” Ninkovich said. “We have a long way to go. You can’t look into records.”
|10.27.11 at 10:39 am ET|
NFL Network analyst Michael Lombardi made his weekly appearance on the Dennis & Callahan show Thursday morning to discuss Sunday’s Patriots game against the Steelers and the latest news around the NFL.
New England quarterback Tom Brady has always performed well against the Steelers, running a 6-1 record against Pittsburgh while throwing for 2,008 yards, 14 touchdowns and just three interceptions, earning a 104.8 quarterback rating. Lombardi said Brady’s success against Pittsburgh is no surprise given Brady’s understanding of the Pittsburgh defense.
“Tom has a really good understanding of what Pittsburgh’s trying to accomplish with their defense,” Lombardi said. “Tom and the New England Patriots always have a game plan that’s set up to attack the checks and the adjustments within the Steelers’ defense so therefore, they’re able to get the right play off that attacks the weakness within the scheme. I think that’s really been the success.
“They have the kind of team that gives Pittsburgh the most trouble. When you can spread Pittsburgh out and you can make them defend the width of the field as opposed to trying to go in there and run the football on them, that gives them the most trouble. It puts their skill players, their corners, their safeties in a very tenuous position.”
The Steelers lead the AFC North with a 5-2 record, but Lombardi said those numbers are misleading. Pittsburgh has played just one team (Baltimore) with a winning record, and the Steelers lost that game 35-7. Lombardi said one of his greatest doubts about the Steelers is their defense against a strong offense.
“The only team they’ve played offensively that has any semblance of a passing game is Houston,” Lombardi said. “So they haven’t really faced anyone who attacks. Jacksonville obviously can’t do those things. Tennessee’s passing game is really sporadic at times, especially without Kenny Britt. I think this is going to be a true test of Pittsburgh.”
|10.26.11 at 1:08 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Before meeting with the gaggle of reporters around his locker, Rob Gronkowski made a beeline to a Patriots spokesperson and chatted for about a minute before heading over to his locker.
Clearly, just like he would during a timeout in a two-minute drill, Gronkowski was seeking advice for how he should play the next 10 minutes with the media.
The tight end had made the wrong kind of news during his bye-week break when he was photographed with an adult film star, who was wearing his Patriots jersey.
“It was good, got some workouts in,” Gronkowski said, when asked how his bye week went. “My body’s feeling good and ready to go this week. Had a good practice [Tuesday] and looking forward to today and getting some hitting in with full pads on.”
Then the questions about the tweeted pictures began.
“I didn’t intend anything or to hurt the reputation of anyone on the New England Patriots, on behalf of Robert Kraft,” said Gronkowski, who acknowledged he met with the Patriots owner and apologized for any bad publicity that resulted from the two pictures seen on Twitter. “That’s all. It was just a simple picture and that’s all, and from here on out, I’m just here to talk about the Pittsburgh Steelers and the big game this weekend.”
In the two pictures, adult film star BiBi Jones is seen wearing Gronkowski’s Patriots jersey. Gronkowski admitted Wednesday he regretted the pictures being made public.
“Just not intended to hurt anyone or ruin the reputation of the New England Patriots in any way,” Gronkowski said. “It’s a great organization here and a great football program. I can’t wait to get out to practice and get focused on the Pittsburgh Steelers because that’s all I’m worried about and all I care about.”
Gronkowski said he learned a lesson about how to monitor is public activity during times when he’s away from the team.
“Yes, definitely,” he said. “I intended to hurt no one. I love this organization and I love being here. Definitely wasn’t trying to put anyone on the map or anything.”
Last year, Gronkowski — then a rookie — had his big breakout game before a national TV audience on Sunday night football in Pittsburgh. He caught five balls from Brady, including three touchdowns as the Patriots rolled, 39-26.
“It was just execution,” Gronkowski said when asked about that performance. “That’s what we have to do this year, we have to execute, use all our weapons, use the running backs, use the wide receivers, get the running game going, definitely. We have to go out and execute on every drive, just not a couple.
“Their defense is good. All of their linebackers are huge. They’re all fast, their D-line is good. You know about their safeties, Troy [Polamalu].”
|10.26.11 at 12:48 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Center Dan Koppen made a surprise appearance in the Patriots’ locker room on Wednesday morning. The veteran offensive lineman, who fractured his left ankle in the regular-season opener against the Dolphins and was placed on season-ending injured reserve soon after, said it’s been ‘tough’ sitting and watching his teammates, but he’s found ways to get through it.
‘You want to be out there and you want to be playing, but like I said before, injuries happen. Next man up has to be ready to go. As far as watching, it’s tough. But you get used to it,’ said Koppen, who was in a walking boot.
‘I just got off crutches, so I’m pretty happy about that,’ he added. ‘I’m just getting back into working out and taking it slow. No (reason to) rush back now. Just heal it up 100 percent and be ready to go next year.’
The 32-year-old Koppen has been remarkably durable over the course of his career — he had only missed one game since the start of the 2006 season. Now, he’s been forced to sit and watch. He understands the reality of the situation.
‘It was a decision that was made — it’s a business,’ he said. ‘Things have to get done. You can’t hold spots all year.
‘People have been hurt before — I’ve been hurt before,’ he added. ‘You lean on your family. Obviously, my linemates and their support. Everybody around here has been great. It’s just been fun being around and being a part of the team and rooting them on as well as I can from watching it.’
In his absence, Koppen lauded the work of his fellow linemates, saying his replacement Dan Connolly has ‘been doing good.’ But with the Boston College product currently in the final year of his contract, it’s clear where he would like to be going forward.
‘I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,’ he said of his contract situation. ‘I’m enjoying where I’m at right now, rooting these guys on and hoping they have a great season. We’ll deal with that later.
‘This is a minor bump in the road, so we’ll be back,’ he added. ‘And hopefully, it’ll be here.’