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Bill Belichick breaks down his philosophy (and science) of roster building

08.31.14 at 2:39 pm ET
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Bill Belichick is always teaching and planning when thinking of roster building. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Bill Belichick is always teaching and planning when thinking of roster building. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

With so much roster manipulation going on throughout the NFL over this weekend, it’s reasonable to wonder what an NFL coaching staff and front office considers when coming to decisions on the best players to keep and those best-suited to a particular system.

With the trade of Ryan Mallett to the Texans, it was clear the Patriots were waiting until the very last (best) moment to see what they could get before pulling the trigger. They made the deal and then claimed a defensive tackle off waivers from the Giants in Kelcy Quarles that many believed more talented than one or two of the tackles the Giants wound up keeping.

The move, in a nutshell, illustrates that Bill Belichick and his staff are all about opening roster spots in one area to fill needs (either in talent or depth) at another. In this case, Belichick stayed true to his recent approach of keeping just two quarterbacks, (especially when one is named Tom Brady) and building depth along the defensive line. Belichick watched last year as he lost his two most experienced and accomplished defensive linemen in Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly.

He now has a free agent out of South Carolina that could fill big shoes if Wilfork or someone else goes down along the front.

Belichick was asked Sunday if there’s a difference between building the 46-man projected roster for game day or the 53-man active roster he finalized on Saturday.

“I’d say the best 46, that’s an easy question,” Belichick said. “I’m not saying it’s an easy answer but it’s easy in that you pick the players for that particular week that you feel like give your team the best chance to win based on your matchup with that team and your game plan going into that game, which you can control. If you do a lot of one thing and less of something else, then you can configure based on the 53 players, you can pick the 46 ones that best fit that plan for that particular week and then change it the next week if you want to.

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Kelcy Quarles, New England Patriots, Roster Cuts

Report: Patriots add DT Kelcy Quarles

08.31.14 at 2:15 pm ET
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Defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles was claimed by the Patriots on Sunday, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Media.

Quarles is a South Carolina product who had 9.5 sacks last season — more than first overall pick Jadaveon Clowney — but he went undrafted this past spring. While in camp with the Giants, the 6-foot-4, 298-pounder suffered an ankle injury, which appeared to set him back a bit. But according to those who watched him, he was still able to compete for a job. He was part of New York’s final cuts on Saturday.

Here are some highlights of his work as a collegian:

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Read More: Jadaveon Clowney, Kelcy Quarles,

Patriots trade QB Ryan Mallett to Texans

08.31.14 at 1:35 pm ET
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The Patriots have traded quarterback Ryan Mallett to the Texans, per a league source.

The 6-foot-6, 240-pound Mallett, who was taken in the third round of the 2011 draft out of Arkansas, has served asa backup to Tom Brady for the better part of the last three seasons. In four games, he’s gone 1-for-4 for 17 yards. According to Tania Ganguli of ESPN, the Patriots will get a sixth-round pick in return for Mallett. (It’s known that the two teams were talking about a potential deal for Mallett as early as the spring.)

The Patriots will now likely turn to rookie Jimmy Garoppolo as the primary backup to Brady.

The news was first reported by Ian Rapoport of NFL Media.

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Read More: Jimmy Garoppolo, Ryan Mallett, Tom Brady,

Patriots sign LB Ja’Gared Davis, RB Jonas Gray to practice squad

08.31.14 at 1:18 pm ET
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Ja'Gared Davis

Ja’Gared Davis

The Patriots started filling their 10-man practice squad on Sunday afternoon with the additions of linebacker Ja’Gared Davis and running back Jonas Gray, according to a league source.

The 5-foot-9, 230-pound Gray, who has been with the Dolphins and Ravens, spent most of the 2013 season on the Ravens practice squad. As a collegian, he totaled 1,100 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns in 34 games with the Fighting Irish from 2009-2011. He led the Patriots in offensive touches this preseason with a team-high 37 carries.

As for Davis, he’s bounced on and off the Patriots’ practice squad over the last year-plus. The 6-foot, 238-pounder, was originally signed by Houston as a rookie free agent last spring, but was released on Aug. 27. He was signed and released by the Patriots last summer, but added to the practice squad on Sept. 1. He was signed to the 53-man roster the day before the Patriots game at Cincinnati and played on special teams against the Bengals. He was released Oct. 7 and re-signed to the practice squad on Oct. 9, where he spent the rest of the season.

Teams have a total of 10 practice squad spots.

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Bill Belichick indicates Rob Ninkovich ‘an option’ if Danny Aiken doesn’t return as long snapper

08.31.14 at 12:41 pm ET
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Rob Ninkovich could be an option at long-snapper if Danny Aiken doesn't return. (Getty Images)

Rob Ninkovich could be an option at long-snapper if Danny Aiken doesn’t return. (Getty Images)

FOXBORO — Bill Belichick loves versatility in his players and Sunday he hinted at using one of his best pass rushers as a long snapper if Danny Aiken doesn’t find his way back onto the Patriots roster.

“I think there are a lot of things that are potentially in transition with the number of spots on our team,” Belichick said Sunday in his conference call with reporters. “I’€™m not saying they will or won’€™t change, I’€™m not sure. We’€™re looking at different options and we’€™ll just do the best we can to put it together in the best way we feel like we can and go from there.

“There are a lot of things that we need to see between now and I’€™d say next Wednesday. We’€™ll just have to see how it all plays out. I wouldn’€™t commit to anything one way or the other on your question and frankly on a number of other positions. We’€™ll just have to see.”

Before the preseason game with the Eagles, Ninkovich was on the field practicing long snaps with Danny Aiken, Stephen Gostkowski and Ryan Allen. He has not performed in a game like Tom Brady did as the holder on an extra point Thursday against the Giants. Would Belichick consider Ninkovich as long snapper at this point?

“He would be an option,” Belichick conceded.

Aiken, picked up before the 2011 season opener after the Bills released him, was cut Saturday as part of the move to mold the 53-man roster for opening day but that roster could still change some in the time leading up to next Sunday in Miami and the 2014 season opener.

Of course, with the trade of Ryan Mallett to the Houston Texans Sunday, this opens up a roster spot for Belichick and the Patriots to bring back Aiken if he clears waivers.

As for another special teams area, Belichick admitted that the role of the kick returner has been diminished somewhat with the number of touchbacks occurring over the course of a game. Josh Boyce and Roy Finch, two players who served that role in the preseason, were cut on Saturday.

“There just aren’€™t as many of them as there were going back a couple years and obviously well before that which also plays into your kickoff coverage unit as well,” Belichick said. “Again, not saying that those aren’€™t important but I’€™d say they’€™re not as important in terms of frequency as they were at other times in this league so I think it’€™s a little bit of consideration. You certainly can’€™t ignore it because you’€™re going to have to cover them and return them. So, it’€™s not like a situation that isn’€™t going to happen but the frequency is lower than what it’€™s been so it’€™s somewhat of a consideration, yeah.”

LeGarrette Blount returned just one kick during the preseason in 2013 before being moved into that role fulltime during the regular season last year.

Read More: Bill Belichick, Danny Aiken, New England Partriots, Rob Ninkovich

Sunday NFL Notes: Have players, league reached happy medium when it comes to ‘points of emphasis’ penalties?

08.31.14 at 6:30 am ET
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Bill Belichick and the rest of the coaches around the league might be happier now that "points of emphasis" calls dropped over the last two weeks of the preseason. (Getty Images)

Bill Belichick and the rest of the coaches around the league might be happier now that “points of emphasis” calls dropped over the last two weeks of the preseason. (Getty Images)

1. If the fourth preseason game was any indication, the league and the players appear to have found a happy medium when it comes to penalty flags and the new “points of emphasis”€ that dominated the early stages of the summer. According to our pal Brian McIntyre, there were far fewer “points of emphasis”€ flags thrown on Thursday night than in games earlier in the preseason. In the first 49 preseason games, there was an average of nearly six per game. On Thursday, that average dropped to just 3.5. As McIntyre notes, there were other factors in play, but it was interesting to see that the average time of game on Thursday was 2 hours and 52 minutes, with only two games going more than 3 hours. While it’€™s debatable why the decrease occurred — referees dialing things back or players and coaching picking up on the new approach — but there was a change in the overall pace of the game. It’€™s undeniable that when historians write about the 2014 preseason, it’€™ll be with a heavy shade of yellow: In all, according to ESPN Stats & Information, there were 1,020 total flags in the 2013 preseason, with 38 for defensive holding, 18 for illegal contact and 28 for illegal use of hands. In 2014, there were 1,387 flags (a 36 percent increase from the year before): 172 for defensive holding (353 percent higher), 99 for illegal contact (450 percent higher) and 124 for illegal use of hands (a 343 percent increase).

2. We have long been advocates of the statistical smorgasbord that is Pro Football Reference — it’€™s easy to go to the enormous database looking for one particular number, get distracted and find the whole afternoon gone after you spend eight hours comparing stats. The PFR folks have introduced a new feature they tweeted about this week, a team streak finder that measures consecutive wins and losses. The stat that caught our eye was New England’€™s current string of Week 1 victories. The Patriots are third in NFL history when it comes to consecutive wins to open a season — they’ve won 10 straight season openers, dating back to 2004 against the Colts. (Their last loss came against the Bills in Buffalo in September 2003, an epic curb-stomping that remains one of the worst losses of the Bill Belichick era.) If New England wins its opener against the Dolphins next Sunday in Miami, it will have tied the Dolphins (1992-2002) for second place on the all-time list. The leaders are the Cowboys, who won an astonishing 17 straight openers from 1965 to 1981. (As of a few years ago, the Steelers were the only other team close to catching the Patriots — Pittsburgh won eight straight openers from 2003 to 2010.) Also, you might also want to check out this list also from PFR of the most consecutive seasons of 10 wins or more. The Patriots have gone 11 consecutive years with 10 wins or more, which is second on the all-time list behind the Niners, who went 16 straight seasons (1983 to 1998) with at least double-digit victories.

3. In the grand scheme of things, this doesn’t mean a whole lot to people outside the media, but both Logan Mankins and Tommy Kelly were known for their interactions with the media. Both were candid, engaging and funny interviews who knew how to work the media better than most of the players who have come through the New England locker room on recent occasions. We wrote about Mankins and his ability to spin a quote briefly here, but it’€™s worth reiterating that he was a player who was always honest with the media. And in his year-plus with the Patriots, Kelly also distinguished himself as a go-to guy in the locker room, someone who always could be counted on to fill a notebook with worthwhile observations from a veteran who had a terrific perspective on the game. Both will be missed by local reporters.

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Report: Patriots work out 12 available free agents

08.30.14 at 11:44 pm ET
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It was a busy day in Foxboro. In addition to the Patriots cutting their roster from 75 to 53 players in accordance with the league-mandated rules, they also worked out a dozen players, according to Mike Reiss of ESPN.

Among the group who were put through their paces at Gillette Stadium were defensive linemen Jermelle Cudjo, Hebron Fangupo and Cam Henderson; safety Omar Brown; cornerbacks Deveron Carr and Aaron Hester, as well as linebacker Kevin Reddick. On the offensive side of the ball, New England took a look at quarterbacks Jeff Mathews and McLeod Bethel-Thompson; wide receivers Armon Binns and Rashad Lawrence and running back Jerome Smith.

While most of these workouts are about doing due diligence on available free agents, one player who the Patriots could have a serious eye on is Reddick. New England found itself with a lack of depth at the linebacker position following Saturday’s cutdowns, and the 6-foot-1, 246-pound Reddick — who was waived earlier in the week by the Saints — might have a better chance of signing with the Patriots than the rest of the players who had workouts.

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