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Report: Veteran DT Kevin Williams visits with Patriots

06.05.14 at 5:03 pm ET
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Veteran free agent Kevin Williams visited the Patriots on Thursday, according to Tom E. Curran of Comcast Sports Net.

The defensive tackle is a six-time Pro Bowler who will turn 34 next month. He’s spent 11 years in the NFL, all with the Vikings. The 6-foot-5, 311-pounder has been durable over the course of his career, as he’€™s only missed five regular-season games since entering the league in 2003. He has 60.5 career sacks, including 8.5 in 2008.

Despite the fact that the Patriots appear to have pretty good depth at the defensive tackle spot, the news of Williams’ visit doesn’t come as a complete surprise. Earlier this week, Williams was speaking with a reporter from USA Today about the state of many veteran free agents at this time of the year ‘€” several of whom are still sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring ‘€” when he was asked about the possibility of playing for the Patriots alongside Vince Wilfork.

“Well, give them a call,’€€ Williams said of New England. “Tell them to look me up.”

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New WR Brandon LaFell focused on getting up to speed as fast as possible

06.05.14 at 4:55 pm ET
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FOXBORO — For Brandon LaFell, the goal is clear.

In his mind, the wide receiver — who signed as a free agent with the Patriots this spring — has a singular directive this spring throughout New England’s OTAs.

“The main thing I want to get out of this is learning the playbook,” he said with particular emphasis after Thursday’s rain-soaked OTA session outside on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium. “Learning this playbook, so I can play fast. And building enough confidence so [Tom] Brady can come to me with the ball.

“It’s very important. The quicker I can learn this offense, the quicker I can go out there and be reliable to play fast and know what I’m doing,” he added. “Now, I’m kind of playing a half-speed because I’m thinking so much. The quicker I can learn this offense, the better it will be for me to get on this field and help this team.”

There’s a lot to get used to in New England. According to LaFell, in Carolina, the offense was a numbers system. The Patriots use offensive code words. It’s a process getting acclimated, but LaFell feels good about where he is at this point in the offseason.

“I think it’s getting better each and every day. I continue to do that — continue to build this chemistry so we can gel right now instead of waiting for training camp,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot, man.

“But I’m nowhere near where I want to be yet.”

One thing that’s been a huge bump for him in his development has been the opportunity to go up against cornerbacks like Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner on a regular basis. According to LaFell, Revis has been as good as advertised.

“Man, Revis is … he’s a guy who has seen it all. None of your tricks are going to work on him,” LaFell said of the former Jets corner. “Browner, he’s a larger guy; long, real physical. Going against those guys every day, I think I can speak for me and a couple of other guys — these guys are making us better. I think if we go out and continue to face these guys, we’ll be able to do this against anybody in the league.”

One of the things that should make the acclimation process a little easier for LaFell is the arrival of new linebacker James Anderson. Anderson, who signed as a free agent with New England earlier this week, was a teammate of LaFell’s in Carolina. LaFell’s face lit up when he was asked about Anderson’s arrival, saying he was “surprised” his old teammate had the chance to join him in New England.

“He texted me a few weeks ago,” Lafell said, “and [Wednesday], I came in the locker room and I saw they were putting ‘James Anderson‘ up. He came through the door and I said, ‘I thought you were joking.’ He said ‘No, man. I was dead serious. I had the workout and everything, and it turned out pretty good.’

“He’s a great guy. He’s a hard worker — he’s going to do everything the coaches ask him to do.”

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Julian Edelman: ‘Durability is better than ability’

06.05.14 at 4:19 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Last season, Julian Edelman was one of those rare twentysomething pass catchers who saw his stats jump from middle-of-the-road numbers into the stratosphere. The former college quarterback had one of the best starts of any receiver of the Tom Brady era, and was the first receiver in a New England uniform other than Wes Welker to finish a season with 100-plus catches since Troy Brown turned the trick in 2001.

As a result, Edelman was rewarded in the offseason with a four-year, $17 million deal, with $8 million in guaranteed money.

But as the receiver enters his sixth season in the NFL, he says that his newfound security hasn’t changed his mindset.

“I haven’t even thought about it. I’m just trying to go out there very day and try and get better,” he said after a soggy OTA session Thursday on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium. “Every guy has a different kind of goal, whether it’s trying to make the team, whether it’s trying to contribute to something. I’m just like one of those guys — trying to earn a role and go out there and help this team.”

A major goal for Edelman in 2014 is building on his 2013 performance, creating the sort of consistency needed to truly emerge as one of the league’s elite pass catchers. That starts with staying on the field. The 6-foot, 198-pound Edelman played a full 16-game season for the first time in his professional career last year, and would love to keep that streak alive.

“Being on the field is priority No. 1, because durability is better than ability,” he said. “You guys know that this is a tough game. It’s a grind. But definitely trying to be on the field for 16 games will be on my list [of priorities for 2014].”

There’s also taking advantage of the opportunities throughout the spring practice sessions. The biggest thing to focus on throughout the OTAs is timing, and getting back into the rhythm of the game.

“You want to go in and work your timing,” he said. “You want to get reps, muscle memory on your fundamentals when you’re running routes. catching the ball at a high pace with a guy on you — stuff like that. You want to have little mini-goals of not going in and making a mistake if there’s some new material each and every day, something like that. You want to try to execute to the best of your ability the first time instead of taking one or two times to do it. Just stuff like that. It’s good to get out here and get reps like a unit and try and not to be that one guy making a mistake on one play.”

Edelman said Thursday that things have been helped along this spring with the addition of new receiver Brandon LaFell (“a great addition” and “a smart guy,” according to Edelman) and new cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. Revis and Browner — as well as returning defensive backs like Devin McCourty, Alfonzo Dennard and Logan Ryan — have lifted the play of the passing game, consistently challenging the receiving corps.

“You go out there and you’re playing against premier corners,” he said. “We had premier corners last year, and then, adding the new guys, it’s good. It’s going to make you better. You know if you don’t focus on a fundamental or if you’ll be lazy or something, these type of guys they will take advantage of that type of opportunity. It’s going to make me better and hopefully, we’ll make them better.

“All of them, these guys are instinctive guys. They know football,” he added. “If you don’t stick to your fundamentals, your concepts, your coaching points, or any of that, they will take advantage of it.”

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Patriots sign LB James Anderson, release WR Mark Harrison

06.04.14 at 6:11 pm ET
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The Patriots announced Wednesday they have signed veteran linebacker James Anderson and released wide receiver Mark Harrison.

Here’s a portion of the press release issued by the team:

Anderson, 30, is a veteran of eight NFL seasons with the Carolina Panthers (2006-12) and the Chicago Bears (2013). The 6-foot-2, 235-pounder originally entered the NFL as a third-round draft pick of Carolina out of Virginia Tech in 2006. He was released by Carolina on March 12, 2013, and was signed by Chicago as a free agent on March 24, 2013. Anderson has played in 110 NFL games with 69 starts and has registered 556 total tackles, 12 sacks, three interceptions, 23 passes defensed, five forced fumbles and eight fumble recoveries. Last season in Chicago, he started all 16 games and finished with 102 total tackles and four sacks. Anderson has totaled 100 or more tackles three times in his career, including a career-high and franchise-record 145 total tackles in 2011 with Carolina.

Harrison, 23, was originally signed by the Patriots as a rookie free agent on May 20, 2013, out of Rutgers. The 6-foot-3, 230-pounder spent the season on the Reserve/Non-Football Injury List.

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Veteran DT Kevin Williams: ‘Tell [the Patriots] to look me up’

06.04.14 at 1:05 pm ET
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Defensive tackle Kevin Williams is one of several veteran free agents on the market, but sounds like he’d be interested in signing with the Patriots.

Williams was speaking with a reporter from USA Today about the state of many veteran free agents at this time of the year — several of whom are still sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring — when he was asked about the possibility of playing for the Patriots alongside Vince Wilfork.

“œWell, give them a call,”€ Williams said of New England. “Tell them to look me up.”

The six-time Pro Bowler, who will turn 34 next month, has spent 11 years in the NFL, all with the Vikings. The 6-foot-5, 311-pounder has been pretty durable over the course of his career, as he’s only missed five regular-season games since entering the league in 2003. Williams has 60.5 career sacks, including 8.5 in 2008.

“€œI’€™m still weighing my options, man,”€ said Williams, who has visited the Seahawks and Giants. “Hopefully, I’€™ll be on somebody’€™s team in August and go from there.

“€œI’€™ve done well managing my money. I think I’€™d be fine if I don’€™t play,” Williams added. “But that’€™s my hope — I hope to be on somebody’€™s team before summer’€™s out.”€

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In Focus: Predicting Brady’s ‘decline’ using 2013 numbers misses big picture

06.04.14 at 12:39 pm ET
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By now, we all know about the recent column that said Tom Brady‘s career is in decline because of what happened over the course of the 2013 season.

A disclaimer: I like Sam Monson — I’ve leaned on him for his football wisdom on several occasions in the past. I even had him on my podcast. But here are four reasons why he was off-base when talking about Brady.

1. Measuring Brady’s career arc — that is to say, indicating the end is near based on what happened last year — using the context of the 2013 season is shortsighted at best and foolish at worst.

In many ways, the 2013 season was the most challenging of Brady’s career. Stripped of so many veteran targets over the course of the offseason (Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Danny Woodhead), he worked with new faces, many of them with precious little experience at the NFL level. For the first time in his career, he opened a season with three rookie wide receivers on the roster. Gronkowski didn’t return to full strength until late October. Another receiver who was expected to pick up the slack, Danny Amendola, missed four games. And the multidimensional Shane Vereen (one of a handful of running backs capable of pulling off a 40-catch/40-carry season) missed eight games because of a wrist injury.

Brady was bad at times. There were plenty of occasions when he was unable to jump-start the offense in the early going, leading to first-half deficits that forced the Patriots to operate from behind. The occasional sideline fits made him appear small and petty. His performance in a monsoon in an early-season loss to the Bengals — when he missed a bunch of throws — was one of the worst of his career. And he missed at least three passes in the early stages of the AFC title game against the Broncos that ultimately doomed New England.

However, his four-game stretch between Nov. 3 and Dec. 1 was as good a stretch of play as I have ever seen from Brady. Against the Steelers, Panthers, Broncos and Texans, he went 115-for-164 (70 percent) for 1,443 yards with 10 touchdowns and two interceptions — a razor-sharp per-game average of 29-for-41 for 358 yards, 2.5 TDs and 0.5 INTs. (November 2013 was one of the finest months of his career.) In the end, despite all the personnel changes, he was able to work the controls of an offense that outscored the high-octane Broncos over the second half of the regular season.

And this doesn’t even begin to take into account his penchant for dramatics. While it shouldn’t define his 2013 season — and doesn’t excuse the fact that he was at least partially responsible for digging those holes to begin with — it has to figure positively on his resume. Pro Football Reference has him down for five fourth-quarter comebacks/game-winning drives last season alone, including last-minute victories over the Saints, Browns and Bills and an overtime win against the Broncos. It was tops in the league in 2013, and tied with 2001 for the tops in his career in a single season (As defined by PFR, a game-winning drive is an offensive scoring drive in the fourth quarter or overtime led by the quarterback that puts his team ahead for good.)

There’s no denying that Brady had problems over the course of the year. But to use a half-season of woe as an indication he will soon slip into the depths of mediocrity because he struggled with pressure — in a year when the Patriots essentially asked him to hit the reset button in the passing game — misses the big picture.

2. Brady wasn’t listed among the five best quarterbacks in the game, but you’d be hard-pressed to name four other quarterbacks who could manage the personnel changes and seismic shifts in offensive philosophy that the 2013 New England offense endured and still be a legitimate part of the MVP discussion into December.

Because of week-to-week game-planning, injuries and the emergence of some relatively surprising offensive faces (LeGarrette Blount, Julian Edelman), the Patriots used 14 different starting lineups in 2013, third most in the league. Key players like Gronkowski, Vereen, Amendola and Sebastian Vollmer all missed significant portions of the season, which forced New England to turn to relative unknowns like tight end Matthew Mulligan, wide receiver Austin Collie and offensive lineman Steve Josh Kline. And among the final four teams left in the 2013 postseason (New England, Seattle, Denver and San Francisco), the Patriots had the lowest percentage of plays featuring the most common lineup at 2.45 percent.

In 2013 the offensive evolution of the Patriots went through three phases: Weeks 1 through 4, when they were still sluggish as they searched for an identity; Weeks 5 through 12, when they clearly were a pass-first bunch powered by one elite tight end (Gronkowski) and one elite receiver (Edelman); and Week 13 through the postseason, when there was a renewed focus on the running game. Through it all, the stat lines for Brady and the rest of the team ebbed and flowed, but it was good enough to get them to a 12-4 mark and the AFC title game.

Ultimately, there were are a lot of reasons why the 2013 Patriots — who ended the year with ALMOST $28 MILLION worth of contracts on injured reserve — were able to overachieve over the course of the season. But if an experienced veteran with a deep background in that offense is not under center for that team, there’€™s no way it gets as far as it did. The numbers weren’t there like they were in 2007 and 2010 (Brady had four games when he tossed for fewer than 190 yards, including the AFC divisional playoff win against the Colts), but no other quarterback was able to handle the constant personnel shifts, radical changing of the week-to-week game-planning and mentoring of young pass-catchers like Brady.
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Pro Football Focus’ Sam Monson on D&C: ‘[Tom] Brady’s decline has been in action for a while now’

06.03.14 at 11:48 am ET
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Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus joined Dennis & Callahan on Tuesday to explain why he wrote that Tom Brady is no longer a top-five quarterback. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

Monson wrote in an ESPN piece on Tuesday that Brady has been on a significant decline in recent years and no longer belongs in the upper echelon of elite quarterbacks such as Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers.

“I think he’€™s in the group with Russell Wilson, with Ben Roethlisberger, with Andrew Luck now,” Monson said.

Monson said that he took into account Brady’s relatively ineffective receiving corps and offensive line in his analysis, but said his decline was inevitable regardless of the players he was surrounded by.

“I think the receivers definitely doesn’t help,” Monson said. “When you have a receiving corps that’€™s depleted, you’€™re obviously going to struggle more. But I think the point I was trying to make was that Brady’s decline has been in action for a while now and all the receivers did was make it look worse than it would’ve done already.

“The point is though, at this stage in his career, Brady needs protection from the offensive line more than he ever has, and he didn’t get it last year. When you look at his decline over the last few years, even when the offensive line has been strong, he’€™s been struggling under pressure. I think the more pressure he’s going to get over the next couple of years, no matter how long he plays, the worse we’re going to see Brady look. Whether he has receiving options or not, he’s still going to struggle in the face of pressure.” Read the rest of this entry »

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