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Why Bill Belichick is not taking 0-2 Raiders lightly: ‘They have a lot of very experienced players’

09.16.14 at 7:29 pm ET
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Led by 37-year-old Charles Woodson, the Raiders have a formidable pass defense. (Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

Led by 37-year-old Charles Woodson, the Raiders have a formidable pass defense. (Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

Bill Belichick has made a living in the NFL by not taking any single opponent for granted. With the 0-2 Raiders coming to Foxboro this Sunday, he showed again his respect for every opponent by giving praise to the Raiders for bringing in veterans.

While he’s very familiar with the likes of Justin Tuck, LaMarr Woodley, Carlos Rogers and Charles Woodson, he has not seen them play together that much on defense. That’s where the work begins for Belichick and his staff.

“Obviously we have a lot of work to do here to get familiar with the Raiders,” Belichick said. “It’€™s a team that we don’€™t know very well and haven’€™t played against this coaching staff. Even though we’€™ve seen a number of these players on different teams, this is kind of our first shot at them with the Raiders. There are certainly a lot of very good, very experienced players on this team. But you know, guys like Woodley and Tuck, [Tarell] Brown and Rogers we saw at San Francisco, [Charles] Woodson, guys like that coming from other teams, guys that are very experienced, have had good careers.”

To Belichick’s point, Woodson leads a group on defense that collectively has four Super Bowl rings, 12 Pro Bowl selections and an average age of 34. Woodson is a strong Hall of Fame candidate with eight Pro Bowls alone and leading the Raiders secondary to two AFC title games, Super Bowl XXXVII and making the infamous strip sack in the 2001 playoff game in Foxboro that was overturned by the “Tuck Rule.” He then signed in 2006 with the Packers and led that secondary in a Super Bowl XLV win over the Steelers. Tuck was part of the NASCAR defensive front that provided the pressure that brought down the Patriots twice in the Super Bowl. Woodley was considered one of the best edge rushers in the game as a defensive end/outside linebacker for the Steelers.

That’s a lot of experience for third-year head coach Dennis Allen to work with and draw from. What has he done with it?

“They’€™re very aggressive,” Belichick said. “They have a lot of good players, a lot of very experienced players. They give you multiple looks and different blitzes and pressures, mixtures of man and zone, man, zone and pressure, man pressure, zone pressure. It’€™s a lot of four-man line but they use [Khalil] Mack as a defensive end at times. He’€™s sort of a linebacker, defensive end, whatever you want to call him. There are times when he’€™s involved in coverage as well from the defensive end position, so that gives them some flexibility as well.”

The experience has apparently paid off, at least in defending the pass, so far this season, as the Raiders enter Foxboro tied with Washington in allowing the second-fewest passing yards (164.5 yds/game) in the NFL.

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Charles Woodson, New England Patriots, Oakland Raiders

Why you should expect to see more and more of Nate Ebner in Patriots’ secondary

09.16.14 at 4:29 pm ET
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Nate Ebner

Nate Ebner

From the moment he was drafted in the sixth round of the 2012 NFL draft, Nate Ebner has always been looked at as a special teams player who could play safety in a pinch.

That approach may be changing in the minds of Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. In addition to playing 20 of 28 special teams snaps, Ebner – the former MVP of the US junior rugby squad – saw action in 14 of 66 defensive snaps playing free safety.

Is that a sign of growing confidence and growth in the 25-year-old Ebner?

“I’€™d say it’€™s yes on both accounts,” Belichick said Tuesday, before beaming about Ebner’s development. “We certainly have a lot of confidence in Nate. We’€™ve seen Nate grow and improve. I would probably put him in the, not the all-time top, but maybe in the top five percent all-time of players that I’€™ve coached from where they were in college to how they grew in the NFL.

“Nate had almost no defensive experience at Ohio State. He’€™s adapted in a relatively short amount of time€“ going into his third year so it’€™s really two-plus years ‘€“ adapted very well to the knowledge of our defense, to the understanding of opponents’€™ offenses, to instinctiveness and reading and recognition at a position that he plays right in the middle of the field, which is among the most difficult, inside linebacker and safety where the volume and the number of things that can happen are the greatest, where you have to really see everybody on the field, all 11 guys. His development has really been outstanding.”

Ebner was a “preferred walk-on player” for Ohio State and did not start playing football until 2009, but quickly became their most valuable on special teams. Even though he played only a handful of plays from scrimmage at nickel back as a back up, Ebner was a special teams standout.

In 2011 he was voted the team’€™s most inspirational player, receiving the Bo Rein Award, and the team’s best special teams player, earning the Ike Kelley Award. He was a three-time Big Ten Conference All-Academic honoree. In his 36 career games he had 30 tackles from 2009′€“11.

On Ohio State’s Pro Day, he had an unofficial 4.47 40-yard dash time, and 39-inch vertical jump. He also bench-pressed 225 pounds 23 times, ran the 60-yard shuttle in 10.99 seconds, recorded a broad jump of 10 feet 8 inches, and had a short-shuttle time of 4.04 seconds and a 3-cone drill time of 6.59 seconds.

The raw talent was there. It was the football technique that needed work and Belichick was confident that with the right training and teaching, Ebner had the brains and desire to pick up his defensive system.

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Read More: Brian Flores, matt patricia, Nate Ebner, New England Patriots

Patriots shuffle up practice squad, bring back LB Darius Fleming

09.16.14 at 4:20 pm ET
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Darius Fleming

Darius Fleming

The Patriots announced Tuesday they have signed linebacker Darius Fleming, offensive lineman Caylin Hauptmann and defensive lineman Kona Schwenke to the practice squad. Fleming was released by the Patriots last Saturday. In addition, the team released defensive lineman Cameron Henderson and running back Marcus Thigpen from the practice squad.

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

Fleming, 25, was signed by New England as a free agent on May 16, 2014. The 6-foot-2, 255-pounder, was originally drafted by San Francisco in the fifth-round (165th overall) of the 2012 NFL Draft out of Notre Dame. He spent the 2012 and 2013 seasons on injured reserve with a knee injury and was released by the 49ers on May 12, 2014. Fleming was inactive for the season-opener at Miami (9/7).

Hauptmann, 23, originally signed with the Cleveland Browns as a rookie free agent out of Florida International on April 30, 2013. The 6-3, 300-pounder, was released by Cleveland at the end of training camp and was signed to the practice squad. Seattle signed him to the 53-man roster on Sept. 23. Hauptmann was inactive for 10 games and dressed, but did not play in three others and was inactive for all three postseason games. He was released by Seattle on Aug. 30, 2014 and claimed off waivers by Cleveland on Aug. 31, 2014. The Brown released him on Sept. 2, 2014.

Schwenke, 22, originally was signed by Kansas City as a rookie free agent out of Notre Dame on May 19, 2014. The 6-foot-4, 297-pounder, was released by the Chiefs on Aug. 30, 2014 and spent 10 days on the practice squad before being released on Sept. 11, 2014.

Henderson, 24, was signed by New England to the practice squad on Sept. 9, 2014. He originally entered the NFL as a rookie free agent with the Atlanta Falcons on April 29, 2013 out of Central Florida. The 6-foot-4, 270-pounder, was released by the Falcons on Aug. 25, 2014 and was signed to the Cleveland Browns practice squad on Dec. 4, 2013. He went to training camp this past summer with Cleveland, but was released on Aug. 25, 2014. He played two seasons at Central Florida after beginning his college career at Vavarro College.

Thigpen, 28, was signed by New England to the practice squad on Sept. 3, 2014. He is a veteran of two NFL seasons with the Miami Dolphins (2012-13). The 5-9, 200-pounder, originally signed with Philadelphia as a rookie free agent out of Indiana on April 27, 2009. He spent part of the 2009 training camp with Philadelphia and Denver before playing in the Canadian Football League for the Saskatchewan Roughriders and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats from 2009 through 2011. Thigpen was signed by Miami as a free agent on Jan. 30, 2012. In two NFL seasons, he has played in 32 games and has returned 77 kickoffs for 1,910 yards and one touchdown and returned 60 punts for 580 yards and one touchdown. In addition, he has seven rushing attempts for 26 yards and nine receptions for 112 yards with one touchdown. He was released by Miami on Aug. 30, 2014.

Read More: Cameron Henderson, Caylin Hauptmann, Darius Fleming, Kona Schwenke

Following the flags: Tracking Patriots penalties for 2014 season

09.16.14 at 4:02 pm ET
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Through one game, the Patriots have been flagged for 24 penalties (second-most in the league) for a total of 263 yards (most in the NFL). For comparisons sake, the Patriots didn’t pick up their 24th penalty last season until the sixth game of the year. Here’€™s a breakdown of the calls that have gone against the Patriots this year, not including penalties that were declined or offset:

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Pressure points: Which Patriots defenders have done best job getting after QB

09.16.14 at 3:33 pm ET
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Dont'a Hightower

Dont’a Hightower

Every week over the course of the 2014 season, we’€™€™ll€™€ provide a look at the Patriots pass rush numbers. Like all stats, the numbers have to be placed on context of game-situations and personnel. And while sacks can be overrated, when evaluated as part of a bigger picture that includes quarterback hits and quarterback pressures (the latter courtesy of Pro Football Focus), it should provide a good picture as to which defenders are consistently able to get after the quarterback. Currently, the Patriots are tied for fourth in the league in sacks with seven. Based on the official NFL game books and PFF, here’€™€™€™€™s a look at the pass-rush numbers for the Patriots after two games for the 2014 regular season:

Sacks (via gamebooks)
LB Dont’a Hightower: 2 (22 yards)
DE Chandler Jones: 2 (7 yards)
DE Rob Ninkovich: 1 (10 yards)
LB Jerod Mayo: 1 (9 yards)
DB Kyle Arrington: 1 (0 yards)

Quarterback Hits (via gamebooks)
LB Dont’€™a Hightower: 3
DE Chandler Jones: 3
LB Jerod Mayo: 2
DE Rob Ninkovich: 2

Quarterback Hurries (via PFF)
DE Chandler Jones: 5
LB/DE Rob Ninkovich: 3
LB Dont’€™a Hightower: 2
DL Sealver Siliga: 2
DL Joe Vellano: 2
DL Vince Wilfork: 2
LB Jerod Mayo: 1
DL Chris Jones: 1

Read More: pressure points,

Bill Belichick: ‘I don’t have any idea’ how new NFL drug policy impacts Brian Tyms or Brandon Browner

09.16.14 at 3:32 pm ET
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Bill Belichick. (Mike Petraglia/

Bill Belichick. (Mike Petraglia/

The NFL is about to adopt a new and improved drug policy for its players but Bill Belichick has no idea if and how it impacts two of his currently suspended players.

How this will impact the players and how the NFLPA will guide their players through the new policy is still to be determined, as evidenced when union spokesman George Atallah told the Associated Press Monday that the “drug policies are currently getting finalized.”

League and NFL Players Association attorneys and officials are reviewing the documents and could approve them this week.

One key element is how the changes affect players currently under suspension, including Denver receiver Wes Welker (four games) and Browns receiver Josh Gordon (entire season). Their bans would be reduced, and the union would naturally like to see reductions before Week 3.

The Patriots have two players – defensive back Brandon Browner and wide receiver Brian Tyms – currently under suspension for violation under the old policy. Could Belichick and the Patriots get them back in time for the home opener this weekend against the Raiders? The Patriots coach says he has no idea and is not about to begin guessing.

“Certainly not anything I could share with you because I don’€™t have any idea,” Belichick said in a conference call Tuesday. “I have no knowledge of it at all ‘€“ zero. You’€™d have to talk to the league and other people that are involved with that. The drug policy in the NFL is an extremely confidential and sensitive area. I would say that in most cases, [the media] probably knows more about it than I do and certainly more in advance because of the great sources that [the media has].”

Belichick said he has not been in touch with the NFL to ask for any guidance or hints as to whether the players might be eligible to return.

“We don’€™t have any knowledge, input or really involvement whatsoever in the league’€™s drug policy. Any information that we get comes from wherever it comes from ‘€“ I don’€™t even know where it comes from. I’€™m not even sure exactly how the process works from the other end. I just know that when we receive information, then we act on it as we receive it. It’€™s not anything that I’€™m involved in whatsoever other than being the recipient of the information of suspension or if it’€™s revoked or amended or adjusted or you know, whatever. I’€™m just the recipient of that information.

“I’€™m not in any way, shape or form whatsoever involved in any part of the process. So, whatever happens, when it’€™s announced, when we know about it, then we’€™ll deal with it. Until then, it’€™s 100 percent out of our hands. That’€™s something that you should address with league people and not with an individual club, certainly not our individual club because we have no part in it whatsoever.”

Tyms tweeted his reaction to the pending new drug policy Tuesday morning, an ambiguous message that had three crying emoticons.

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Brandon Browner, Brian Tyms, George Atallah

Minnesota Governor calls on Vikings to suspend Adrian Peterson

09.16.14 at 1:49 pm ET
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Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton said Tuesday that Vikings running back should be suspended until his child abuse cases have been resolved.

Dayton questioned the team for announcing that Peterson would play in Sunday’s game.

“It is an awful situation,” Dayton said in a statement to The Associated Press. “Yes, Mr. Peterson is entitled to due process and should be ‘innocent until proven guilty.’ However, he is a public figure; and his actions, as described, are a public embarrassment to the Vikings organization and the state of Minnesota. Whipping a child to the extent of visible wounds, as has been alleged, should not be tolerated in our state. Therefore, I believe the team should suspend Mr. Peterson, until the accusations of child abuse have been resolved by the criminal justice system.

“However, I will not turn my back on the Vikings and their fans, as some have suggested. The Vikings belong to Minnesota — and in Minnesota. This has been the team’s only home, and our citizens, including myself, have been its most dedicated fans.”

Meanwhile, Houston television station KHOU reported that Peterson was involved in another case last year involving another 4-year-old son with a different mother. According to the report, the child’s mother filed a report with Child Protection Services but no charges were filed, despite texts in which Peterson allegedly admitted striking the boy while he was in his car seat, leaving the youngster with a scar on his head.

Read More: Adrian Peterson,
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